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In The Dirt

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Harry wakes with the taste of dirt in his mouth. He blinks slowly for a minute, lifting his head from the cradle of his arms. It's dark, still the middle of the night. Beside the sounds of Liam snoring just a few feet away from him, it's all quiet.
They'd found this abandoned farm house just before sunset. They'd spent an hour digging through its remains. Looking for food, alcohol, anything that had been left behind by its former inhabitants. They'd been lucky to find a fair amount of food, and also a fair amount of wine.
As he lays there, the silence only gets louder. His breath is in his ear. So is the brush of his uniform against the ground beneath him.
Finally, he gets to his knees and then to his feet. He rummages through his pocket in search of a cigarette. He tucks it between his lips while he feels around for a match. When he finds it he lights his cigarette as quickly as possible, shaking the small flame out, the thin tendrils of smoke curling in the air around him. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He waits a few seconds, lets the smoke fill his lungs, and takes another puff, opening his eyes again.
It’s all quiet until it’s not. Until he hears footsteps running towards him. He only has time to drop the cigarette into the dirt and stomp on it before he's being knocked to the ground.
Harry pushes the person off him as quickly as he can, scrambling back a few inches himself, desperately searching for anything he could use as a weapon. The man sits up and looks at him. It’s hard to make anything out, but a look at his uniform shows that he's not the enemy. Harry can feel his body instantly relax. "Sorry, thought you were German."
Liam's no longer snoring now and he can hear a few other men rousing. Several of them drawing closer, their voices hushed. The stranger’s gaze darts back and forth between the different men.
There’s something wrong with him. Harry can tell. He can always tell.
"Are you hurt? Are you alright?" he asks, moving slowly closer, his hands raised up.
"I'm fine," the stranger replies rather pointedly. He's Irish by the sound of it. Harry can count on one hand the number of Irish people he's met in his life.
Harry doesn't believe him, and it takes him only about ten seconds of observation to notice the blood on his right wrist and hand. He reaches for the arm, gently tugs his sleeve up for a better look, but the man pulls his arm away. "I'm fine," he repeats.
"I'm with the medical corps. I need to examine and dress your wounds. We don't want them getting infected. Let me help you."
The man just looks at Harry and he just looks back until eventually the man extends out his hand.
It's dark, but Harry can see there's a deep gash in his hand and some cuts on his wrist from some sort of shrapnel. There may be some nerve damage, but nothing life threatening, thank God.
"What's going on here?" Louis asks, stopping to stand behind Harry's back. He, like Liam, is just a stretcher bearer, but he always acts with the confidence of an officer. "Who are you?"
Harry doesn't drop Niall's hand, nor does he stop examining the wound. "He was running and he happened to run into me."
"What's your name?"
The man hesitates, and then like before, gives in. "It's Niall."
"Well Niall, what are you doing here all alone in the middle of the night?" He pauses. "What were you running from?"
"Was running from the Germans," Niall says, his head tilted down, focusing on the ground.
Harry can hear the tension in Louis’s voice when he asks "Were you ambushed? Are they close by?"
Niall shakes his head. "They're further north. We were ambushed by a group of them. They just about finished us off."
So why are you here? Harry wants to ask. But maybe it's obvious enough.
"You're a deserter then," he hears Thomas call out. “You left your fellow men to be slaughtered by the Huns.”
Niall doesn't contradict him.
"You’re nothing but filth, you Irish bastard,” Thomas mutters, spitting in Niall's face.
Niall doesn’t even flinch.

Harry squints his eyes and checks one last time for any remaining shrapnel before he wraps it. Niall remains silent as Harry works, the pale cloth winding round and round his hand slowly. "How does it feel? Is it alright?" Harry asks.
Niall gives a small nod. Harry wonders if he should say something. But what could he say that would offer any form of comfort to Niall? Especially when less than ten feet away from them, the rest of the men are huddled together discussing what they should do with this Irish deserter. So, Harry keeps his mouth closed and wraps his fingers around Niall's wrist, squeezing it gently.
Deserters are typically given a trial in front of a court martial and then sentenced to death. They all know this, have heard the stories, and the majority of them support it. The question then is whether to escort him to their superiors, or simply take matters into their own hands. They don't reach a decision. Half arguing for them ending it right here and now, the other half, argue that the man should get a trial. They decide to bind Niall’s arms and legs together and let the matter rest until morning.
Harry lays down just a few feet away from Niall. He shifts from stomach to side to stomach, unable to stop thinking about what's happened.
He'd joined the Royal Army Corps when conscription began, because the thought of killing, of being forced to kill someone else, filled his mouth with bile. If he were in Niall's shoes, wouldn't he do the same? Wouldn't he run so far away that no German or Englishman could find him ever again? Was there any man among them who had not entertained the idea? Why should death then be the ultimate punishment for desertion? Why should they stoop to killing one of their own men?
He decides right there and then, maybe foolishly, that he’s not going to let Niall die.

Harry presses a finger to Niall's lips before he begins untying the bit of rope they'd found in the barn earlier. He then grabs hold of Niall's arm and pulls him to his feet. With Harry guiding them, they walk as quietly as possible.
"Go," Harry whispers when he thinks they've reached a safe distance from the other men. "Don't stop. Don't hesitate. Not till you're far from here."
"Thank you."
"You're welcome, now go," he insists.
Niall takes a few steps, but then freezes, his body stiffening/
"What is it?" Harry whispers.
He hears the footsteps then. "Harry, what are you doing?" It's Thomas's voice. Nononono.
Harry takes a deep breath, his mind sifting through possible excuses. Surely there has to be something, anything he can say to rid himself of suspicion. He starts to turn towards Thomas. He is stopped, however, by a low growl, and when Harry looks back over his shoulder, there's a large wolf where Niall once stood. It's got dark, matted fur and bright blue eyes. It bares its teeth and not for the first time Harry wonders if this will be the moment he dies.
Its attention is on Thomas though, and it's Thomas who the wolf dives for. Harry stands there, unable to do anything but watch as it sinks its teeth into Thomas's shoulder. Thomas lets out a choked cry of pain as he struggles to fight the beast off him, the sound of fabric ripping making Harry shiver. Thomas is not conscious for very long though, and the wolf seems satisfied with that, turning its attention towards Harry. Harry remains frozen. He waits for the wolf to stalk towards him, to show its bloody teeth, and to rip into him. The wolf does not do this, rather its form immediately begins to contort, to twist and shape with the sickening sound of bones being broken and reformed until it resembles a human. Until it resembles Niall again. The top button of his uniform is undone, his hair disheveled.
Harry moves towards Thomas. He has to check his pulse. He has to help him. Niall stops him with a hand to his shoulder, Harry flinches away.
"He had a gun pointed at you," Niall explains hurriedly, almost desperately. "I had to do something. He was going to kill you."
His words don't help ease the panic that has taken root in Harry's stomach and spread throughout his body like a weed. He takes one step back and then another one.
"Come on. One of them will have heard what’s happened. You can't stay here. If you do, they’ll be deciding what to do with you next.”
Niall takes matters into his own hands. He grabs Harry's hand and starts pulling him along. Harry's feet drag across the dirt for only a few feet before Niall growls low in frustration and snaps at him. "If you don't run, they'll kill you."
They hear a voice in the not so distant distance, and Niall’s words finally sink in. He’s a traitor, and they kill traitors. His feet make the decision for his head. He starts running.

They run until the sky begins to lighten and Harry begins to fall behind, his steps growing clumsy and halfhearted. When he stops, he all but collapses into the dirt. Niall sits down a few feet from him, his eyes sweeping the area. They’re in some field, beneath a clump of trees. The crops around them are sparse and withered, dull brown in color.
Harry can make out Niall's features better now than he could before. His hair is a dark brown, sticking in places to his sweaty forehead and neck. There's dirt and dried blood smudged across his cheekbones, across the perfect slope of his nose, even across his thin lips. He's handsome. Harmless looking even. Harry can still hear the sounds Thomas was making as he struggled beneath Niall. He curls his hands around the bottom of his trousers and holds on tight.
"Stop looking at me like that," Niall says.
"You hurt him.”
"I did," Niall concedes, his voice calm and level.
"You hurt him.”
"He'll be fine. That wound won't kill him."
"You don't know that.” Harry’s voice gets louder. How can Niall not understand the significance of his actions? “I didn’t get a good look at it. It could get infected or-"
Niall pushes closer, his face unexpectedly close to Harry’s. He looks suddenly dangerous, Harry leans back, his anger disappearing instantly. "I wasn't trying to kill him! All I was doing was trying to save you! To not let you get hurt. Would you rather I had let you die? Let us both die?”
Harry watches his chest heave. It’s not fair of him to blame Niall, and he knows it. The fault is his own. He’s the one that decided to save Niall. To run when the honorable thing to do would have been to stay behind.
He thinks of those he’s just left behind. He thinks of Louis and Liam. Of how Louis always persuades others to give him their rationed portions of tea, and how Liam keeps a picture of Cheryl on him, and how he often takes the picture out for a look when he thinks no one is looking. What must they think of him now that he’s left them behind? Maybe, they would let him come back. They could lie to their superiors, to the others. Then things could go on as they had been. No…no that wouldn’t work. It would never work. It’s not likely that he’ll even see them again. That realization hits him like a heavy bag of flour.
He’s never going to see them again.
He’s never going to see England again. Never going to see the flowers his mother always brings in from the gardens, never again going to take the train to London to visit Gemma and her husband, never going to hear Sophie laugh at him, run his hands through her smooth red hair as he licks the sugar from her lips, never going to see his bakery again. It’s all gone. Gone gone gone. Lost to him all for this one stranger and his own actions.
“What have I done?” Harry mumbles as he pushes his face into his hands.
He cries loudly for a long time, the sound of it filling the air. It lasts until his throat hurts, until his face is covered in tears and mucus, and the tight ball has been unwound to a point where he feels numb, almost hallow. Niall sits quiet the entire time, not looking at Harry. Harry sniffs and wipes his face on the sleeve of his jacket.
Finally, after a few more minutes of silence, Niall gets to his feet and begins tugging on Harry’s arm. Harry flinches away from him again. “Up. Come on.”
Harry doesn’t respond, keeps his eyes focused on the dried mud on his boots, but Niall persists. “I’m not the scariest thing you’ve seen. If you stay here, that’s what you’ll have to deal with.”
He’s right. He’s not the scariest thing Harry’s ever seen. Sometimes at night he sees the flash of enemy artillery and the silhouette of mutilated men, moaning and calling out for help on the back of his eyelids. So, he lets Niall pull him to his feet.
And on they go.

They come across a small white house. The windows are cloudy and cracked. There’s a pair of boots positioned by the door, a large hole in the heel of one.
“Stay here,” Niall says, an edge of authority in his tone.
Harry complies. He shifts from left foot to right foot, back and forth as he watches Niall cautiously approach the door. He knocks, pauses, and then pushes the door open. When he seems satisfied that the house is empty, he gestures to Harry, and Harry follows him inside.
Niall begins rummaging around immediately. Harry just stands there, allows his eyes to wander across the long room. There’s a small, dirty wooden table, a drawer, a fireplace, two beds pushed up against the corner, the blankets all twisted in a pile. It feels lived in. They don’t belong here.
“We shouldn’t steal,” Harry says. There’s no conviction behind it though. He knows Niall’s just going to ignore him. He’s right. Niall continues behind him like he hadn’t heard a thing.
Finally, Niall finds what he’s looking for. He pushes a shirt and a pair of trousers into Harry’s hands and says “We need to look less conspicuous.”
Niall turns his back on him and starts removing his clothes immediately. Harry hurries to do the same, reaching down to undo the buttons of his tunic.
He finds himself stealing a glance over his shoulder. He traces the broad line of Niall’s shoulders, sees an ugly red scar that’s long since healed. His gaze moves down the line of his spine, catching on the few freckles dotting the expanse of Niall’s back. He’s still watching as Niall leans over and pulls his trousers down his legs, exposing his pert arse. Harry’s mouth goes dry.
Niall looks over his shoulder at that moment, meeting Harry’s eyes. Harry quickly looks away, his whole body flooded with heat. His fingers fumble over the last button of his tunic as he shoves it off his shoulders. He's only ever seen Sophie naked. The first time had been after a picnic they'd had by the river. It had been so hot that Sophie had suggested they go for a swim. He agreed, not expecting her to strip bare. He'd not know what to do. And strange enough, he feels that same feeling now.
In the time it takes Harry to finish dressing, Niall’s found half a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. He hands the bread to Harry. Harry mutters a quiet, “thank you,” and tears a piece of it off. It’s not fresh by any means, but he listens to the crust bend and break beneath his teeth, lets the soft insides dissolve on his tongue before he swallows.
Niall doesn’t waste time trying to savor it. He puts the rest of it in his pocket.
They leave their uniforms in a pile behind the house. Niall doesn’t look back, so Harry doesn’t as well.

They find a small river in the late afternoon. They’ve been walking for just over an hour or so, Harry doesn’t really know, passing the bottle of wine back and forth between the two of them. Harry’s not partial to the sour taste of wine, but it had felt good on his dry throat. His head still feels fuzzy, his face a bit warm as he gets down on his knees and puts his mouth to the water.
Beside him, Niall dips his hands into the water. Harry leans back, wipes his mouth, and washes as Niall washes his face, his neck, and then his fingernails. The cloth on his hand is damp, and now a dull brown in color.
Harry reaches out for it almost on instinct. “Let me have a look at it.”
Niall stills, watches Harry, as he slowly unwraps it. The wound is a bright red, but already partially healed. That should be impossible. The cuts on his wrists have disappeared entirely.
“I heal faster than most,” Niall explains, almost a little self-consciously, drawing his hand back and rewrapping it himself.
They both decide to settle there along the bank of the river for the evening. Niall splits the remainder of the bread between the two of them. As they start to eat, they fall silent, the same sort of silence that’s been following them all day.
"I have a bakery back home," Harry finds himself saying, his mouth full. "Well, it was my father's bakery, but he died about five years ago, so it's mine now." He pauses to swallow, steals a glance at Niall, who is watching him now, seemingly listening to his useless babbling. Louis would have told him to shut up by now. "But I used to get up before sunrise every day to make bread. It took hours. Because you have to knead the dough and set it aside and let it rise before you can bake it." He can picture the dark, narrow staircase that led down to the kitchen, how cold the kitchen always was in the morning before he turned the stove on, the stretch of the dough beneath the palm of his hands.
Niall swallows the last of his bread down. "What happened to it when you left?"
"My mum and my sister are looking after it. Though…I'm not certain how they manage it now. Gemma says everything is so expensive now, that they’re telling people to buy less bread.”
Niall lays back in the grass, his eyes fixed on the sky above him.
"What about you?"
“What about me?”
“What was your life like? Before the war.”
"I just finished at university.”
When Harry was little, his mother had carried the hope that Harry would be an Oxford man. In the end, Harry didn’t have either the money or the desire to be an Oxford man. After all, he didn’t need to go to Oxford to become a baker.
“What did you study?” Harry continues. “No wait…I’ll guess,” he says seriously, looking down at Niall. “You look like you could be a writer, maybe a poet.”
This makes Niall smile, his whole face brightening. “I studied physics,” he admits.
Harry blinks, a bit surprised at being wrong. Niall throws back his head, erupting in a burst of laughter when he sees Harry’s reaction, laughing so hard he’s almost breathless with it. Without really meaning to, Harry smiles as well. “Not as interesting as you hoped it would be?”
“Certainly less romantic.”
“It’s dull, sure, I’ll give you that, but it’s necessary for astronomy.”
“Is that what you want to be? An astronomer?”
Niall nods.
“Why’d you enlist in the army then?”
Niall frowns then. “Lots of reasons, but mostly I was just desperate to get out of Dublin. Out of Ireland."
Harry's about to ask him why, but Niall closes his eyes then, and Harry takes that for what it is. An end to the conversation. He lays down on his stomach, props his head up on his arms. His body feels so so heavy with fatigue. It takes him very little time to drift off.

The first thing Harry sees when he opens his eyes is a large brown wolf asleep beside him. He jolts up, lets out half a scream before the wolf opens its bright blue eyes and Harry recognizes Niall.
Niall shifts immediately. "It's just me."
"Does that always happen when you sleep?"
"Used to. Not anymore though. I just wanted to stay alert. I can hear and smell much better as a wolf."
"How…how long have you been like this?”
"Like what?" Niall asks innocently.
"You know…”
Niall sighs. "Since I was seven. Was visiting me uncle's farm in the countryside when I was attacked. I don't remember what the wolf looked like but I remember the bite.” He presses a hand to his shoulder. “Hurt more than anything I'd ever felt."
"What happened after that?"
"You ask a lot of questions. I promise you it's not that interesting. Anyway, we should get going."
"Have you ever found another person like you?"
"I haven’t. For all I know, I might be the only one left in the world.” And though Niall smiles as he says this, there’s nothing happy in Niall’s eyes when he says it.
Much like before, Harry gets the sense that Niall doesn’t want to talk about it. So he drops it, focuses instead on what’s ahead of them.
"Where are we going to go?” he asks, brushing the dirt of the knees of his trousers. We can keep walking, but wherever we do go we'll be seen as traitors."
"We can't stay in France," Niall agrees. "But...I've been thinking and," he pauses and scratches his cheek. "I think we should go to Switzerland.
"Switzerland?"
"It's a neutral. Historically, it's been a place of asylum for refugees and the likes. I reckon it's the safest place left for us until the war is over."
Until the war is over.
Harry hums, stops himself before he can ask if Niall means that maybe England isn't lost to him forever, that he can go home one day. He's not sure if he could handle Niall saying no. He cannot allow himself to hope. And yet, it's already there. His mum will have the kettle on the stove for tea when he comes home, Gemma will have a cake baked for him. And he'll wrap them up in his arms and never let them go.

As they walk through stretches on greengreen fields that look somehow untouched by the war, Niall tells Harry about his parents, how his father's a butcher and his mum's a schoolteacher. Growing up, his mum would always be reading history books. She read more than most people he knew and she loved sharing facts over the table while they were eating. Harry wonders if Niall can somehow read his mind as well as turn into a wolf.
"I find myself remembering the strangest things," Niall says, scratching behind his ear. "Like the day Napoleon was crowned emperor."
"What day was it?"
"December second, eighteen oh four."
"Impressive."
“I’m full of them,” Niall replies, kicking a stone in front of him, sending it skidding several feet in front of him.

 

After walking for a few hours, Harry begs rest, sits himself beneath a tree and watches Niall pace until he decides to find food, a stream, anything useful really.
He's not alone long, maybe ten minutes or so when he hears a scream. It's shrill and it makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He stands slowly, follows the source of the sound through the trees until he hears more noises. Men speaking. He freezes for a moment. He should turn back now. Find Niall. Keep moving. But he doesn't. He continues forward until he's found what he's looking for.
There are two German soldiers, the bright green of their uniforms matching the grass below them. One of them's short and stocky, the other one tall and thin. They've got a young woman pinned against a tree. Her face is flushed, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. A few strands of her blonde hair have escaped the braid on the top of her head. The tall one's got his hand beneath her dress.
Harry doesn't think before he moves. He closes the distance between him and them. The men don't have time to register Harry's presence before Harry's first collides with the taller one's jaw, knocking him off his feet. Harry feels the impact of the hit in his hand almost immediately, a sharp throb in his knuckles. "Damn," he hisses.
He moves to hit the shorter man, but he's lost the element of surprise now. The man dodges him easily, throws a punch right at his gut, and then another one. Harry feels as if all the air has been pushed out of him. He doesn't get time to recover before he's being hit in the face, his nose bearing the brunt of the force. He stumbles back a few steps, tries to create distance between the two of them.
The tall one gets back to his feet. Harry can hear him. Regardless, he doesn't expect the arm that wraps around his throat. He paws at it, tries desperately to break free. He's gasping for breath, tasting the blood gushing from his nose. He's very quickly starting to feel lightheaded.
The short man suddenly shouts, says something in German that is beyond Harry's comprehension, and he's suddenly dropped to the ground. He lays there, panting, desperate for air, his body curling in on itself for protection.
He hears a loud growl, feels one of them kick him as they try to run. They must not make it far, a few seconds later the air is filled with the sound of their screams, which grow louder and louder. Harry can hear their bodies hit the ground, hear the snarls of a familiar beast.
He feels something wet press against the side of his face, and then there's a low whine. When he opens his eyes he sees Niall's face hovering over him, his brows furrowed, his hair even more disheveled. "Are you alright?"
Harry nods, his head hurting a bit as he does so. "Is the girl safe?"
"She is. Ran off when I arrived."
Niall presses his fingers gently to Harry's jaw, tilts it to the left and to the right to get a good look at his face. "Is your nose broken?"
"Just bruised I think."
The worry melts from his face, but seems to quickly be replaced with annoyance. "If you weren't so bloodied up, I'd hit you meself. What were you thinking? You were outnumbered, you don't have any damn fighting experience, and-"
"Someone had to help her. No one else was around."
Niall's face softens a bit, he looks down, tears a bit of his bandage off and wipes the blood from under Harry's nose. He feels a bit unsettled by how focused Niall's eyes are on his face. He swallows, and tries not to wince when Niall touches his nose.
"You're the most impulsive person I've ever met," Niall says eventually. "Can't leave you alone for two minutes. Don't know how you're still alive."
"Don't know either," Harry admits.
"Think you can get up? There will be more Germans where they came from."
Harry nods. He pushes himself to a sitting position. Niall's arm comes around his shoulder, and he helps him to stand. Harry avoids looking at the two bloodied corpses on the ground as they walk away.
Niall stays close to him for the rest of the day, fussing over him. It makes Harry a bit uneasy. He's the one that usually does the fussing and the preaching, especially with how often Louis and Liam disobeyed orders, brushing against death's fingertips for the sake of men who've been left to die. He puts some space between them, ignoring the way his stomach seems to drop when Niall frowns.

Harry wakes to find Niall curled up against him, his head resting on his chest. Harry shifts slightly, causing Niall's large ear to twitch. He keeps his eyes shut though and Harry lets himself fall back asleep.

The rain starts in the early morning and gets worse as the day progresses. Their clothes cling to their bodies.
They take refuge in an old barn, which in certain places looks as if it's about to collapse. Niall is cautious, says as always that they should keep moving, but Harry insists they stay. It's not smart to stay outside when it's raining so hard, especially when Harry’s already shivering, and plus they could use a break. Niall finally agrees, though only waits five minutes before he leaves to go look for food.
He returns with two rabbit carcasses hanging from his mouth, dropping them at Harry's feet. His fur looks even darker wet.
"How are we meant to cook these?" Harry says, his stomach turning slightly at the sight of the small bodies.
Niall puffs out a breath of air that sounds an awful lot like a sigh. He steps forward, nosing at the rabbits, letting himself take a few bites before he carries them outside the barn.

He returns again almost two hours later with a small burlap sack. When Harry opens it he finds some cheese and a few pieces of bacon. "How far did you go to find these?" Harry asks.
"Not too far," Niall replied, though Harry knows he must be lying.
He eats the food regardless.

"Do you...have a sweetheart back in Ireland?" Harry asks, his head tipped back against the wall, his legs pulled up against his chest.
"No, I don't." Niall pauses. "Since you're asking though...I take it that you do?"
"I do," Harry nods. "Her name's Sophie. We met when we were children. She always used to come into my father's shop with her mum to buy bread. She always had her hair in like a sort of crown on the top of her head, and she once convinced me she was a princess." "She wasn't too happy about me leaving. Furious actually, even when I told her there was no point waiting for the papers to come take me off to war. She wouldn't speak to me for three days, but she did come see me off...I've only received one letter from since I got here. Liam says the post system is not always reliable, but I've always gotten my mum's and my sister's letters."
"Maybe she's afraid to hear about what's happening to you."
"Regardless, it’s just nice to hear from someone on the outside. Otherwise it feels like my old life...like life outside this damn war, doesn't exist anymore."
Niall puts his hand on the nape of his neck. The pressure, the feeling of being touched, is comforting to him. Harry takes a deep breath and looks up into Niall's eyes.
"I feel the same way," Niall says softly. "Most times I feel more monster than man." He smiles slightly, as if he can hear the irony in his own words.
"Will you...tell me about why you ran?"
Niall pales, and an apology immediately begins to form on Harry's tongue, but then Niall swallows and starts to speak. "I first enlisted with me mate Eoghan. We did everything together at Trinity College. I watched him get his entire leg blown off. There was no one to help. He just kept begging me to save him, kept begging me to take him back to Ireland. I couldn't do anything. All I could do was watch him lay there in the dirt and die. And after watching that...I couldn't just stay. I had to get out of there as fast as possible."
"I'm sorry," Harry whispers. He wishes there were some way for Niall to feel his sympathy, this burning in the middle of his chest. "I'm so sorry."
Niall doesn't say anything, just moves his hand to cradle Harry's face, and then slowly rubs Harry’s lower lip with the pad of his thumb. Harry’s got the sense that something important is about to happen.
He leans in, meets Niall’s lips halfway. The kiss is nervous. Harry feels the light press of Niall’s fingers on his jaw. The brush of their noses, Harry’s still feeling sensitive. Niall’s breath tickling his upper lip. Everything it seems but his lips. Harry nudges a bit closer, places his hand on Niall’s forearm and wills himself to be calm for the next kiss.
Niall’s lips are chapped, but warm. Harry settles his free hand on the nape of his neck. He squeezes his hand when Niall closes the awkward distance remaining between them, and then again when Niall parts his lips and starts kissing him more adamantly. It feels-tastes different than kissing Sophie. There’s the friction of Niall’s stubble scraping against his chin, the firmness of his chest, and the smell of sweat.
Niall bites down on his lower lip, lets it slowly snap back. Harry chases his lips, kisses him until his lips are red and swollen.
Niall looks down at Harry's chest. Harry wants Niall to touch him, wants to touch Niall in return.
Niall pushes Harry to his back and slowly, almost too slowly for Harry’s liking, unbuttons Harry’s shirt. He bends down and tucks his nose into Harry's neck, breathes in deeply for a long moment. It’s so intimate that it makes Harry blush, makes his heart pound. He hears Niall mumble something as he begins smearing wet kisses along his collarbone, but he can’t make much sense of it.
He moves his open lips down his torso, pausing to mouth at Harry’s nipple, a zing of pleasure moving through his body. He lets out a soft sound, Niall responding by tugging on it with his teeth, moving on to the next one before Harry can get used to the sensation. Harry’s body grows increasingly restless, increasingly wanting, as Niall’s mouth continues moving down his torso, his teeth scraping at the soft skin above his hip, sure to leave a bruise, and Harry's hips stir.
He pulls Niall's face up to kiss him again. "Take your shirt off," he commands against his lips. If Niall’s surprised by Harry’s tone, he doesn’t let it show. He simply nods, lifting himself off Harry so he can remove both his shirt and trousers. His stomach is soft under the palm of Harry’s hand when he reaches up to touch him. He can feel the faint line of Niall’s ribs, traces them with his fingers. There’s a patch of hair beneath his navel, a thin red scar on his hip. Harry can see how much Niall wants him, and the thought of Niall being just as affected by him, overwhelms him, makes him palm himself through his trousers.
Niall pulls Harry's trousers off as he settles between Harry's spread legs. Niall seems to sense his nerves, squeezes his hand presses a few open-mouthed kisses to his inner thighs. Harry comes not long after in the warmth Niall's mouth, his fingers buried in Niall’s hair.
Harry returns the favor with his hand, tugging Niall off with firm strokes of his hand. Niall’s quiet when he finishes, his mouth seemingly instinctively find Harry’s neck, sinking his teeth in.

He thinks he’s dreaming when he hears the hum of an engine outside the barn. It’s when he feels Niall pressed along his back, his face pressed against his shoulder, their bodies still sweaty from what they’d done earlier, that he realizes that he’s awake. His body goes rigid. Niall stirs then, seeming to sense his distress. “Harry?”
“We’re not alone,” Harry quickly whispers.
Niall sits up quickly and stills, listening to the air. It’s quiet now, almost silent, and Harry finds his hand wrapping tightly around Niall’s wrist. “What do we do?”
“You stay here. I’ll go.”
Harry sits up then as well, struggling to keep his voice quiet, his nails now digging into Niall’s skin. “No. Absolutely not. I’m coming with you.”
“You’re staying where it’s safe. Where I can protect you.”
Harry finds himself letting go of Niall’s wrist. “You can’t protect me if you’re dead.”
“I can take a bullet. You can’t.”
Harry starts to open his mouth, but Niall interrupts him, presses a firm but quick kiss to his mouth. “I’ll be right back,” he whispers.
He shifts into his wolf form before he’s even made it to the entrance of the barn. Harry tries not to worry about him, focuses on dressing himself again, putting on first his trousers and then his shirt.
He hears a gunshot and then another one. He can feel his hands start to shake, wills them to stop. There’s one last shot, and Harry’s hands press to his stomach as he empties its contents onto the barn floor below him.