If Niall Horan knows one thing, it’s that the United States are, in fact, very far away from the United Kingdom.
That little bit of trivia is now being called into question, however, as he was definitely in a train station at York two minutes ago, and now he is standing at the edge of a field next to a sign that is claiming that he is at the Ohio State University airport.
There are cows.
“What the fuck,” Niall whispers, shielding his eyes from the sunlight. He takes his phone out of his pocket, only to find that he has zero signal (will a UK-based sim card even work in America? It’s not a question he’s ever had to ask himself), and the time (12:06pm) showing on the screen definitely doesn’t match his early morning commute of only a few minutes ago.
“What the fuck,” he whispers again.
He wonders if this is what it feels like to be in a dream in the moment, and maybe he’ll wake up soon and this will all feel very distant and cloudy and properly dream-like. If that’s the case, though, it really doesn’t explain the sweltering heat or the way his shirt is starting to stick to his back with sweat. He packed for a day taking classes in buildings with temperatures in the high sixties, not… whatever this horrible place is.
He starts walking, only because he can’t think of another option. There’s a dirt road to his right that claims to be an airport, although it doesn’t really look like one, and cows in the fields surrounding it. To his left there’s a row of huge, American-style houses that look like each of them could fit a family of twelve easily. Seeing as how it’s the middle of the day, he’s not sure how much luck he’d have trying the doorbells, or even what he’d say. Hello, I was in England a second ago. Can I use your phone to call the British Embassy?
Oh, the British Embassy. That’s not too bad of an idea, is it? Sure, he has no idea where that is or what he’d tell them, but certainly something to keep in mind.
It’s a good fifteen minutes before Niall reaches an intersection on this road. The one connecting it is significantly busier, with lots of cars and rows of big, warehouse-style shops. He can see a Walmart, a Whole Foods, a Golf World (now that one’s interesting), and in the distance…
Starbucks means internet.
It’s still a ways off and he’s got a wet patch of sweat on his front from the sunlight directly overhead, but without any better options available, Niall sets off in that direction, hoping his phone has enough juice to connect to the wifi and he can figure out… some sort of solution.
Niall has no American money, but hallelujah, scanning his Starbucks app works and he’s informed that his vanilla latte will be at the counter soon. Niall could kiss the barista, he’s feeling so much better now that he’s in an air conditioned building and out of the direct sunlight. He’ll look like a lobster soon, he’s pretty sure.
Finally, collapsing into a chair after almost forty five minutes of walking, he takes out his phone and connects to the WiFi. The messages on his GroupMe begin pouring in, unleashed like a flood.
Louis: Where’s Niall
Zayn: I don’t know, I’m not in your class
Louis: I mean you could still know where Niall is but go off
Zayn: Don’t be like this
Liam: Stop fighting go back to sleep
Louis: Put your phone on silent, Limo
Zayn: Does anyone know where Niall is though. Seriously.
Louis: goddamn it liam u haven’t found him?
Niall rolls his eyes.
Niall: I’m not making it to class today
Niall: I got on the wrong train or something and now I’m in America
“Niall!” calls the barista at the counter. Niall walks over to grab his drink (in retrospect why on earth did he order something hot?) and sees the name scribbled across the side; Nile.
He’s had worse.
How did you get on the wrong train literally only one train goes to that station
Louis: Is that a euphemism for being hung over
Niall actually has no clue how to explain that, but it turns out he doesn’t have to, because at that very moment, a man walks into the cafe, and makes direct eye contact with him.
“Niall Horan,” the man says.
Oh shit, thinks Niall. “Um. No?”
The man, American by his accent, with short dark hair and dark eyes, stalks over to his table like he’s on a mission. “Niall Horan,” he says again.
“Definitely not,” says Niall.
“You wandered off!” the man accuses him.
Niall wonders if this man is here to murder him. “I don’t even know you!” he says, trying to figure out if he can get around this man and make it to the door fast enough. Maybe he could knock the table over- no, it’s bolted to the ground.
The man sits at the table. The barista is giving him a dirty look. Niall thinks he should have bought a drink.
“I’m Rory,” he says. “I’ve been tasked with protecting you.”
Oh, this is still a dream, thinks Niall. Then, This is a really long dream. No wonder I’m always tired when I wake up.
“You did a shit job of it,” Niall says, deciding to feign confidence. “Considering I was in a whole different continent this morning.”
“Well this morning your life wasn’t in danger,” hisses the man apparently named Rory, exasperated.
“Pretty sure my life isn’t in danger now either,” Niall points out. “But my grades are, considering I’m missing all of my Wednesday classes.”
Rory gives him a look. It’s an exasperated sort of look. It’s strangely familiar, somehow.
They’re interrupted by a beeping coming from something resembling a smart watch on Rory’s wrist. He glances down at it and then stands. “We have to go,” he says.
“I can very much assure you that I’m not leaving,” Niall says. “It’s hot outside and there’s aircon in here and also I definitely do not know you, which I’m pretty sure means I’m not supposed to follow you to a secondary location. I know all about stranger danger.”
“I swear to the Great Moths above,” Rory mutters, looking heavenward. “It’s not stranger danger, I’ve known you since you were five. Now if you’re not willing to walk out of this Starbucks with me, I will transport us from in here but it’s going to make a lot of people think they’ve gone insane.”
“It’s a dream,” Niall says. “No one will notice, that’s how dreams work. I’m not moving.”
He sips his latte. It’s luke warm.
“Right,” says Rory. “Not a dream, but whatever makes you feel better.” He fiddles with his watch until it begins to glow, and then reaches across the table and grabs Niall’s wrist.
His grip is strong and his hand is large and Niall… well he’s not entirely against what’s going on here. All the same, he reminds himself. Stranger danger. He grips the table in case this mysterious Rory tries to do some sort of… martial art technique. Or just pulls.
“Don’t grip the table,” Rory says. His watch glows brighter. “This’ll transport whatever we’re holding onto and since the table is bolted to the floor the whole building will come with us.”
“I’m not letting go of the table,” Niall says, then quotes; “You’re not gettin me to no secondary location, sista’.”
Rory reaches out his other hand and slaps Niall’s hand, lightly. “Stop acting like a spoiled child.”
“I am a spoiled child,” Niall says. “I’m the youngest.”
“You’re the oldest, actually,” Rory says. His watch’s blue glow has spread until it’s almost encompassed both of them. “Now let go of the table or else everyone in this establishment will suddenly find themselves outside and then they’ll all have to go to therapy.”
“No,” says Niall, petulantly.
“Yes,” says Rory, and slaps his hand again.
Then, in the blink of an eye, a white light erupts from Rory’s watch, blinding Niall, and he feels his ears pop.
It takes a few moments before Niall’s vision returns, but when he does, he finds that the Starbucks is much dimmer, and much, much emptier.
Rory has a hand over his face. “You held onto the fucking table,” he groans. “I’m going to get in trouble for this.”
It’s also eerily silent, Niall realises. They’re the only two in the building now, and there’s no coffee machines running, no air conditioning, no Hamilton remix playing over the speakers. “What the fuck,” he says.
“Well, might as well face his wrath now,” Rory says, standing up. “Listen, you can stay here alone if you want, but you’re already in a secondary location. You might as well just come with me at this point.”
“Are we still in Ohio?” Niall asks. He realises his latte is gone. He stands up.”
“We’re not,” says Rory. “We’re not even on Earth anymore.” He turns and walks toward the doors. “Welcome to the planet Salorius. You’ve been gone almost six years.”
Niall, not wanting to be alone in the eerie Starbucks, hastens to follow after him.
Outside the Starbucks they seem to be in a meadow. It could be any old meadow, if not for the fact that there are three bright moons in the sky above, and the occasional flowers they walk over glow with a soft white luminescence.
“This must be the longest dream I’ve ever had,” Niall says to himself in wonder. “Maybe I’m in a coma.”
“You’re not in a coma,” Rory says, a few steps in front of him. “Once again I will reiterate; not a dream.”
“Not really another option!” Niall shouts, rushing to keep up. Rory keeps getting further in front of him, it’s not Niall’s fault his legs are shorter.
“The other option is that you’ve lived on Earth for the last six years because we didn’t consider it safe for you to stay on your home planet,” Rory says, as if this is a perfectly logical thing to say. “But now that it looks like you’ve been found, it’ll be easier for us to keep an eye on you from back here.”
“Pretty sure I remember growing up on Earth,” Niall says, huffing. Is Rory a professional speed walker? “In Ireland, to be precise. In fact, I have a very clear memory of falling down the stairs in secondary school and a scar to prove it.”
“Memories are easily altered,” Rory says, finally slowing to a stop “You got that scar from falling down the stairs, but you did so in the castle tower after your father explicitely told you not to try mattress surfing.”
Mattress surfing. That does vaguely ring a bell.
“Ah,” says Rory. “Here we go.” He leans down and reaches for something in the tall grass, fiddling with it until Niall hears a clink and a shunk and then a softly glowing set of stairs is revealed.
“How the fuck did you find that?” Niall asks.
Rory points to his watch. “GPS.”
Well. That would make sense.
He follows Rory down the stairs, because okay, he’s right, Niall’s already in a secondary location. This is like the fourth-undary. It’s too late for him.
The stairs, walls, and sloping ceiling are all a brilliant white marble, and they descent for what has to be at least four floors. The door that they stop at is flush with the wall, although the stairs continue down below them.
“I’m going to tell him it’s your fault there’s a Starbucks up there,” Rory warns Niall as he opens the door.
“Well I don’t think that’s really fair,” Niall says, following him. They enter a large room with screens of different sizes covering all the walls, and one man in the middle sitting in a tall chair and surveying them.
The man actually looks close to Niall’s age, with long curls and a cutting jawline. He looks rather put out, eyeing Rory.
“There’s a building in my meadow,” he says crossly.
“That is not my fault,” Rory says immediately. “Blame Niall! I told him to let go!”
The man focuses on Niall now. “Welcome home. You’ve put a Starbucks on my lawn.”
“In my defense, I think I’ve been kidnapped,” Niall says.
The man lets out a honking laugh, which startles Niall, although he grins after he recovers.
“Welcome home, Niall,” the man stands and walks over, holding out a hand. “I’m Harry. You won’t remember me, but I’ve been keeping a close watch on you.”
Niall shakes his hand, but frowns. “Do… you mean that literally? Is that what these screens are for?”
“Absolutely,” Harry says. “You know, nobody covers their laptop or phone cameras. You all should really start doing that.”
Niall suddenly feels very self conscious, remembering all of the time he’s watched Netflix on his iPad in the shower.
“So is this a Truman show sort of situation?”
“It would be,” Harry says. “Except I’m the only one who’s been watching. It’s my job - you were dispatched to Earth six years ago to keep you safe, and now that that safety’s been compromised, the safest place is likely back here.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Niall says. “Like, are we talking soldiers? Is someone trying to kill me? And if I’ve only been on Earth six years, why do I have memories of living my whole life there? Your logic feels flawed, here.”
Harry points to a screen then snaps his fingers. The image on it changes, from that of the dark meadow with the Starbucks in it, to a video feed of Niall’s Music Theory classroom. The camera is pointed right at him, and Niall recognizes it as Monday, because he’d been too lazy to get dressed that morning, opting to go to class in his green Love is Love pyjama shirt that he’d gotten for free on his first day of class.
“This is so creepy,” Niall says.
“You really should dress better,” Rory says.
“Shush,” Harry says. “Look over there, at that window.”
The window, from the camera angle, is almost directly behind Niall. It’s got a lovely view of the campus green, but as Niall watches, a man walks into view. He looks old and rather misshapen, his cheeks covered in graying unshaven beard and his eyes gazing blankly. He looks straight into the window, sending shivers down Niall when he seems to look right through him, but then his professor walks up to the podium, and as soon as he reaches it, the man in the window seems to dissolve into a purplish blobby texture, melting out of view.
“Oh gross,” Niall says. “So what, that old man is after me?”
“That old man is after the crown,” Rory says. “So yes, he’s after you. He’d be next in line, through distant relation.”
“The.” Niall blinks. “The what?”
“Ah yes,” Rory says. “We haven’t explained that part. It’ll be easier to just get your memory back to you.”
“Hold up,” Niall says. “First of all what the fuck, but second of all you just left that guy there? Why didn’t you just, I don’t know, kill him?”
“That’d technically be illegal,” Harry says, looking uncomfortable. “Our jobs are just to protect you, and as you’re not in direct danger, as much as we’d like to, I don’t think any of us want to risk ending up in prison.”
“But-” Niall looks at the screen. The him of two days ago is whispering something to Louis. “I have friends there! What if he goes after them?”
“That’s not our priority,” Rory says. “Our priority was getting you out of danger.”
“Although I do want the cute one to be safe,” Harry mutters.
“Our priority now is going back into danger,” Niall says. “I don’t know what the fuck is going on but if you’re not bullshitting me then I’m some sort of royalty or something, so you’ve got to do what I say, right?”
“Absolutely not,” Rory says. “We serve you, but we also serve the kingdom. The kingdom needs you alive.” He puts a hand on Niall’s lower back. “Now, we need to get your memory back. I think that would help you remember where your priorities need to lie.”
“Alright,” Niall says. “We get my memory back, and then we go get my friends. How about that?”
“You always did have a rebellious streak,” Harry says, grinning. “Come on, Rory, we get his memory back then collect his friends!”
“Don’t encourage him,” Rory says, voice low. “Look. Memory first, and then… we go from there. Okay?”
“Good enough,” Niall says. “How do we do that?”
“We come this way,” Rory says, the hand at the base of Niall’s spine guiding him around and toward the door again. “And we don’t say things that would give us away while out in the kingdom.”
“I’m full of idiotic remarks, just try and stop me,” Niall says.
“Wait for me!” Harry shouts, following. “My job has been watching you for six years! I can’t just not come now!”
Rory leads them out, and down. Out the door to the marble stairs and down, down, down the stairs again. They pass a few doors but the stairs are otherwise entirely deserted and quiet (besides Harry’s chattering, because he seems very excited to talk about all the Earth television that Niall watches).
It feels like they’ve gone down for nearly a mile before the stairs finally end at a much larger iron door. Rory stands in front of it and a blue light flashes across him. A ka-chunk sounds and the door swings inward.
“Welcome to your kingdom, your royal highness,” Rory says.
They walk through the door and Niall is met with bright and busy and hordes of people. It feels like he’s stepped into the heart of London, except the sky above them is white and very clearly a roof high above them. There’s also not the familiar smell of car fumes that Niall is used to in a big city.
People walk this way and that, and they all look terribly fashionable, but like a fashion from a few years in the future. Something just… a little different.
“Your castle is up that way,” Harry says, pointing to a light tan colored castle in the distance. “It’s very nice but a little draughty in the winter if I’m honest.”
“We’re not going there, though,” Rory says, leading them down a side street. Niall looks behind him, at the building they’ve just left, and it seems to be a door that leads right into the side of a grassy knoll. He has flashbacks to the Teletubbies.
Down three more side streets and then into a very normal looking building, Rory walks up to the desk and asks for a Dr. Higgins.
Niall has begun re-thinking his life choice as they are taken back to an exam room. This is looking less like a dream but also maybe he’s been abducted by aliens. Harry and Rory seem nice but he can’t possibly trust them. They’re complete strangers, after all, and Harry seems nice enough and Rory seems, well, exasperated and worried but also very good looking with large strong hands and hairy arms but gosh that really isn’t technically the point, but—
A man in a white doctor’s outfit reaches out a hand for Niall to shake.
“Hello person I’ve never met,” Niall says, shaking his hand.
Dr. Higgins smiles. “Yes, that sounds about right. Listen, today all I’m going to do is take the little receptor out of your arm that’s been blocking and replacing your memories. Give me two minutes, it’s just a little bit more work than a shot.”
“I feel like you’re going to kill me,” Niall says, because he feels like being honest.
“That’s fair,” Dr. Higgins laughs. “But I promise I am not, in fact, going to kill you. It does sting a little though, so you might want to hold Rory’s hand. You did last time.”
Rory holds out his hand. He looks rather sullen at the prospect.
“I don’t think Rory wants to hold my hand,” Niall says.
“I do,” Rory disagrees. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“That face!” Niall argues
“This is just how I look!” Rory argues back.
“Oh just hold his hand,” Harry says, grabbing both of their wrists and forcing their hands together.
“I see you haven’t changed a bit in your six years of seclusion, Harry,” Dr. Higgins says.
“Never will,” Harry replies brightly.
Rory’s hand is warm and strong in Niall’s, and he grips it because he has no idea what’s coming. God he’s always hated the doctor. He shuts his eyes tight and tries to think happy thoughts. The rams winning the championship. Passing his classes with high marks. The year he took before university to go to Spain. The way Rory’s eyes look. Their first kiss when he turned eighteen-”
Niall opens his eyes. There’s a pinprick of pain in his shoulder that Dr. Higgins is covering with a plaster.
“Hey,” shouts Niall, pulling Rory closer to him by their still conjoined hands. “You didn’t think to tell me, in the last few hours, that we’re engaged?”
Rory shrugs. “I thought it would be a lot of explaining when we didn’t have the time.”
“You didn’t think it would maybe be worth it to tell the love of your life that he’s the love of your life?” Niall shrieks.
Harry lets out a loud and startling laugh. “This is what I was hoping for!”
Niall wrenches Rory’s arm toward himself and the rest of Rory follows. “In my defense, you didn’t wait for me when I transported you, which is by the way very hard to do from a distance, and then you insisted on taking all of a Starbucks with you. You didn’t seem in the mood to listen.”
“You infuriate me,” Niall says.
He leans forward and kisses Rory.
Rory kisses back.
Niall takes that moment to grab onto Rory’s other wrist and smash his palm onto the transporter. “Now we’re fucking going to earth,” he says as it starts to glow blue. “And then you’re going to fucking kiss me again.”
“I’m coming too!” Harry shouts, grabbing onto Rory’s shoulder.
“You’re just as stubborn as ever,” Rory says, and Niall sees the grin that spreads across his features just before they’re all enveloped in blue light.
The transporter pinpoints location through thought analysis, and Niall maybe should have concentrated on a place, rather than a person. Concentrating on a person can be a much more dizzying experience, as the transporter has to triangulate their location and it can take a little longer to get to them.
Still, Niall had concentrated on thoughts of Liam, because if anyone was going to be both an easy target and unable to defend himself, it was going to be Liam.
When they finally touch down, Niall stumbles to his knees before scrambling back up again, blinking furiously to try to clear his vision. Rory doesn’t let go of his hand, which does sort of hurt because they’re twisted in odd directions, but Niall is thankful for it considering he has no idea where he is.
When he’s finally able to see again, as well as register the noise going on around him, Niall finds himself in the middle of a very confusing situation.
Rory is next to him, stance slightly crouched like he’s ready to throw a punch. Harry is to his other side, standing tall and looking concerned and unsure of what to do.
In front of him seems to be Liam and Louis’ dorm room, judging by the messy unmade beds and Rover and Wolves posters on opposite walls. That’s more of a side point, though, considering the height of the action lies where Liam is sprawled out on his bed, hands up in surrender, the man that Niall saw through that window earlier is leaning over him, yelling and holding what looks to be a TV antenna like a sword. Behind him and Louis and Zayn, each brandishing steak knives that definitely aren’t clean because none of these people ever do dishes.
Probably Louis was previously yelling something about “let him go or else,” but now he’s looking in Niall’s direction and yelling something more along the lines of “what the fucking shit is going oooon”.
“Rory!” Niall shouts. “Kill him! He’s threatening Liam with an antenna, that means you can kill him!”
“I literally don’t have a weapon!” Rory shouts back, but he lets go of Niall’s hand, picking up a large, heavy laptop from the floor and throwing it like a frisbee at the man’s head.
The man swerves, but it goes through part of his forehead, and a chunk of purple goo goes with it.
“Oh that’s gross!” Niall yells.
“What the fuck,” Louis yells.
“This is so cool!” Zayn yells.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Liam yells.
Harry just sort of flails.
Rory goes for something else to pick up, and finds a textbook of medieval history, chucking it at the goo man as well. It hits him and takes out a corner of his shoulder.
Goo man growls and turns on them. “You!” he shouts. “You will die, Niall Horan! I will be king!”
“What’s your name?” Niall shouts back. “I seriously can’t remember!”
The man brandishes his TV antenna in Niall’s direction and it starts to glow at the tip. “I will be King Simon of the Three Realms!”
“Just three?” Niall asks. His memory is still a bit foggy on the bigger picture. He asks this right before Rory pushes him out of the way of a beam of light that burns a hole in the carpet.
“Be thankful for the three, they’re nice realms!” Rory shouts at him before grabbing a steak knife out of Louis’ hand. “All of you are rather useless, you know that?” He rounds on Simon, very much not a king, and slices clean through his neck with a steak knife that clearly has pad thai encrusted on it.
Simon’s head liquidizies, as does his body moments later. Immediately it disperses, soaking into the carpet or through the wooden floor.
“You did it!” Niall shouts, grabbing Rory by the waist and kissing him, because they’re engaged, you know. He has a vague memory of telling Rory that he was going to marry him when they were only seven. Ah, the older memories come back slower but they sure are good ones.
“I very much did not,” Rory says. “He’s not dead, just gone to recollect himself somewhere else.”
“Yeah but none of my friends are dead,” Niall shrugs. “Ooh! And now I guess we have no choice but to put them all in witness protection at the castle with me. It only makes total sense.”
“This is very confusing,” Louis says weakly.
“I’m rather sure I’m going to vomit,” Liam says.
“If I’m going into witness protection, I want a cool new name,” Zayn says.
Niall smiles brightly at Rory, who rolls his eyes.
“Whatever you say,” Rory says. “We all know this is how you ended up with deer as castle pets.”
“And they’re the best pets,” Harry says. “Especially Anathema, she trusts me enough to ride her when she flies now!”
Witness protection is a very loose term, as Liam, Louis and Zayn all have transporters so that they can continue to attend their classes. Even though Salorius is nine universes away, they’ve recently switched to wind power for the sake of using clean energy, so the transporters are charged fast enough that they can make up to three jumps a day.
(Which has landed Louis, especially, stranded several times when he’s gotten overexcited).
Niall and Rory are married on the cliffs of Rhulan, overlooking the castle and as close to the surface of the planet as is possible to get. The finest of the kingdom is in attendance, and when they are crowned Kings that night at midnight, as is tradition, Harry gets his first kiss.
(It’s hard to date when you spend six years straight in a room watching another guy live his life and then falling hard for his best friend).
Simon makes his final appearance four years later, but he does so in the palace, and as all Salorius deer are carnivorous, when Niall gives the command he is quickly devoured. It’s not a bloodbath, per se, but it is rather gooey.
The three kingdoms of Salorius live peacefully through the end of Niall and Rory’s reign.