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The Way You Bend the Rules

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Rory remembered what it was like before his soulmate was born.

Not well, and certainly not in detail, but it had felt quiet in the world and a little empty. He of course didn’t realise that at the time, but then one day near the end of summer when he was five years old he was flooded with so much emotion he couldn’t help but drop the golf club he’d got for his birthday and cry.

“What’s wrong? Rory?”

Rory looked up at his mum as she rushed to him to check and see if he’d somehow injured himself.

“Rory, why’re you crying?”

Rory shook his head. “I don’t know!”

He kept looking around, as if he’d be able to find an explanation for how he felt. The strength of the feelings filling him were receding, but he didn’t understand where they were coming from or how something so overwhelming could also feel so right.

“Oh. It feels different here, doesn’t it?” his mum asked softly as she rested her hand against his chest, right above his heart.

Rory concentrated as hard as he could in an attempt to figure out if that’s where it was all coming from, and it did seem like it could be.

“I think so. What is it?”

His mum smiled at him fondly and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. “I think it’s your soulmate.”

From that warm September day on, Rory’s life wasn’t the same. He’d only get bursts of emotion from his soulmate after that first day when it was clear they were experiencing extreme emotions. For a time, it made sleeping very difficult for him, but he learned to use the connection to send happy thoughts back. If they were just a baby like his mum said, they were probably just waiting for their own mum or dad to come take care of them. He could help them feel better while they waited. It usually worked and soon enough he wouldn’t feel them there anymore.

By the time he was seven, Rory had come to enjoy the times he felt his soulmate, especially because he felt so much of their joy. It made him happy to know his soulmate was happy too.

And then school started up again. At first he didn’t notice much of a difference. Maybe a bit more structure, but it was still school.

But then they started learning more about soulmates and the kinds of expectations and rules that were meant to be followed. It was fun for him at first. He enjoyed learning that often the older person in the match had a better idea of who their soulmate was simply because by the time they reach the age where they can learn to control their own connection, the younger soulmate still hasn’t and will reach out and touch them without restraint. 

That was also when he learned that using that connection before both of the soulmates were over the age of twenty-one was wrong. He didn’t fully understand why it was so bad, but that was because everyone used big words like mutual consent and vulnerability and taking advantage. What he did understand was that he was the elder soulmate and he needed to help protect and keep his soulmate safe by not breaking the rules that the World Soulmate Accords had outlined.

He felt so much responsibility for his soulmate that he already loved so much. The soulmate was so happy, that was the main feeling that was sent through their connection, and he enjoyed knowing that. But if it was wrong for Rory to send his own thoughts and feelings with the soulmate touch, then he would stop.

They described it as a door and he liked being able to think of it like that. He felt like he could see a little space in his head where he would reach out to his soulmate, and before he started learning all of this it was just a wide open doorway. But now, he was learning how to build a door to fit just right and close it until their connection was stronger and they were old enough to reach out.

It was so hard the first time his soulmate woke up with a nightmare and Rory couldn’t soothe them. He wanted to so badly, he knew he could help, but he also knew that wasn’t his place. Not yet. He just had to wait another nineteen years and then he could.

 

*~~***~~*

 

“Hi, I’m Niall. Is this working?”

Rory froze where he was helping his mum with the washing up after supper. Had he just heard a voice in his head?

“I’m not sure if I’m doing this right, but my cousin said I could talk to my soulmate like this, so I thought it worth a try.”

His soulmate was a boy. Not only a boy, but an Irish boy. That should help him out with finding him later.

Then again, Rory was only twelve years old and his soulmate, Niall apparently, was seven. Old enough to be learning how to close the connection between them and know that what he was doing was wrong.

“Well, I’m going to pretend like you can hear me even if you can’t and I’ll tell you about me anyway. My full name is Niall James Horan and I’m seven years and eight months old. In class they talked about how you could tell if you’re older or younger, like, than your soulmate I mean. I can remember you a little bit from when I was just a wee thing, so I think I’m younger than you. I hope you aren’t really old or anything, though. Johnny said that if I can remember feeling you but then you stopped, that you’re probably not too old.”

Rory had started slowly drying dishes again so his mum hopefully didn’t notice anything strange, but he snorted a little bit when Niall said that last part, and it was too late before he realised his mistake.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, eyeing him with a small smile of her own.

“Oh, just remembered something Marty said today at school is all,” Rory lied, hoping his mum would accept it.

She studied his face, and he thought she was going to call him on it, but she didn’t. Thankfully. He didn’t want her to make him give the connection with his soulmate up. Not that he could think of anything that he could do to stop it anyway. He only had control over his own side of the connection. He didn’t have a way to stop his soulmate from reaching out if he wanted to.

“I want to be a singer. I’m learning to play violin and my brother and I sing for our family sometimes. It’s great fun. Sometimes I get in trouble at school for singing too loud during class, though.”

Oh God, Rory was in trouble if this was what his soulmate was like at the age of seven. He was bound to be a troublemaker when he got older.

“Anyway. I should be doing my homework, so I’ll stop gabbing. I know they taught us how to block our connection and told us we shouldn’t reach out at all until I’m twenty-one, but I don’t much care for that rule. I do like that I can control what I send you now, though. So I think I’ll just… mostly follow that rule. My mam calls it the spirit of the law, and I like that. It means we don’t have to follow the rules exactly, but if we’re close enough and trying to do our best it’s still okay. I figure that works here too. I’ll reach out sometimes just to see how you’re doing, even if you don’t ever respond. I like the idea of you knowing about me already when we meet.”

As Rory put away the last of the dishes and went to his room to finish his own homework, he couldn’t help but smile to himself.

He liked that idea as well.



*~~***~~*

 

Rory was nearly drunk. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be fully drunk or not, but he’d had more cider than he should have considering he had another competition in two days. He’d been doing pretty damn well so far considering he’d tied the record at St. Andrew’s a month ago, so he reckoned he was owed a single chance to let loose during the season and this was it.

Even if the lad’s night had turned into nothing at all like a lad’s night because it was being held at his mate’s house and his soulmate was forcing all of them to sit and watch the bloody X-Factor .

Rory hated shows like this. He knew Niall had tried out for it, but it wasn’t likely his audition would be shown since Niall had been filled with nerves and had repeated some of the things that were said to him after he sang. They don’t usually show those kinds of auditions, and if that was the case he wasn’t interested.

“Oh my God, look at that scrawny blonde lad,” Mariah squealed as she leaned forward to turn the volume up. “His cheeks are so ruddy and cute.”

Rory was still focused on his cider, trying to decide if he’d get one more or not when he heard the most familiar voice coming through the speakers.

“I’m Niall Horan and I’m from Mullingar in the midlands of Ireland.”

Rory’s breath caught in his chest and his neck cracked a little in his haste to see what the lad looked like. His soulmate.

“Seems a bit cocky considering he’s going to be standing in front of Simon fucking Cowell, trying to get on a talent show,” Ian said with a chuckle. “He really thinks that the comparison between himself and Bieber aren’t bad ones? We’ll see.”

It was all Rory could do to hold back from lashing out. How would he even explain it? He couldn’t tell them the lad on the telly was his soulmate. He’d have to explain how Niall had never fully closed their connection and while he was only bending the rules because he had given Rory the chance to ask him to stop several times over the years, he’d never reached out to ask him to do so. They were both allowing it to continue, but Niall was the one more actively in the wrong and would be harshly judged for it. Rory would never allow that.

Niall hadn’t told Rory what song he’d chosen. Niall had tried to be sneaky about his auditions as much as possible, but he’d been so distraught with how he’d done during the audition that he’d told Rory about it, only staying quiet after the first wave of upset had passed. Since then Rory had got Niall sending him nerves and excitement and sadness in equal measure, so he wasn’t sure what was going on now.

But apparently Rory would be able to watch. He just didn’t expect Niall to try out with a song by Ne-Yo. Rory was also a bit wary. He wasn’t sure he wanted to keep watching and have to listen if they aired the judges’ comments that Niall had shared through their connection when it had happened. Then again, maybe they weren’t actually as bad as he remembered.

He actually quite enjoyed the way Niall was strutting on the stage, even if he did sound quite young and unpolished. That was the point of the show though, wasn’t it? To find those who were talented and help them improve upon what they had?

“Fuck it, he’s awful. They better not put him through.”

Rory was on the last little bit of his cool head. He wasn’t born with much of one, his temper very often got the best of him, but this was his friend. They were just watching a shitty reality show his soulmate liked and it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know that the kid he was slagging off was Rory’s soulmate.

Cheryl, Simon, and Katy all told him he was cute but not quite ready. That he had talent, but maybe should try some more, but then Simon said yes, much to Rory’s surprise. And so did Louis Walsh. Cheryl said no, and the fact it was coming down to Katy had Rory already feeling bad, considering Niall was up there looking nervous as shit, laying it all on the line as he was.

But then Katy said yes, and Rory was so surprised and excited he jumped off the couch and cheered.

“Yes, lad!” Rory cried. And then froze. Fear ran through his veins, because what was he meant to do now? Just claim he was well drunk and easily excited?

“The fuck are you happy he got through for? He’s obviously a fucking overconfident bastard who can’t really sing and will be cut during the group stages.”

And that was it. Rory’s vision essentially went red, and he couldn’t stop himself from turning around and punching Ian in the face.

He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to talk to Ian again after that, but with how he spoke of Niall, he didn’t really want to anyway.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory knew his situation was an exception rather than the rule in many ways. He’d somehow been able to take his favourite thing in the world and make a fucking successful career out of it. He was about to kick off the next season and he’d been golfing well enough at the end of 2012 that starting 2013 had him near the top of the rankings. All he had to do was continue as he had been, andhe could really make his name in the sport.

That wasn’t how it went, though. He’d been surprised by Bressie and met Niall at the last London Irish Club he was able to attend before the season started and then he’d struggled from the get-go. He was distracted a bit by Niall, yes, but that wasn’t the biggest issue.

Rory had strained a tendon in his right leg during the off season and he thought that he’d taken good enough care of it and trained well enough to be able to come out of the minor injury without any effect on his game.

He very quickly learned that wasn’t the case and the whole season was a matter of disappointment followed by disappointment, and nothing he did seemed to make it any better. Rory was in the middle of one of the worst runs he’d ever had in his entire career and he was in danger of losing some of his biggest sponsors.

There was a lot of pressure for the 2014 season to not be a repeat and he’d changed his training in the off season to reflect the dedication he was putting into it. He’d got some high-tech training equipment he could use at home and was putting in decent time in the gym as well. Gerry had discovered some scientists talking about how certain weight training could help improve golfer’s game with very specific goals in mind, and they’d hired a physical trainer to help.

The improvement he was seeing in his drive alone was proof enough to him. He felt like himself again and seeing that he could possibly perform at that level helped him feel better than he had on the golf course in ages.

Things were busy, but they were going well and the only regret Rory had was that he wasn’t able to talk with Niall on the phone or via FaceTime as much as he’d got used to during the break. They were barely even texting, both of them sending a message here or there as they had time and energy. He still thought things were doing alright overall, though Niall also wasn’t reaching out through their connection as often as he used to. Rory didn’t think it was a bad thing, probably just Niall being tired from working so hard on tour. He certainly understood that.

Then, one night in June, Niall reached out and changed everything.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory had never been so filled with fear and anxiety and it had nothing to do with the stupid meeting that had supposedly been an emergency. He’d hardly been able to focus because of the ache in his heart and the ball of nerves in his stomach that Niall’s overwhelming and desperate emotions had caused. Rory was glad that the meeting was over and he could lay in bed, finally able to really think on what had happened before he could turn his brain off and finally sleep.

Thinking back on it, it was almost laughable that he thought Niall had been quiet due to his schedule and exhaustion. Niall had clearly been close to the edge for a while. Ever since he was a young child he had always reached out regularly, even when things were a bit tough, and he’d been basically absent for weeks, almost months. What he said on the phone as well as what he sent through their connection only confirmed it for Rory. 

Niall battled anxiety and it caused him to have a hard time with certain situations even on a good day, but Rory hadn’t been ready for this level of panic. He’d seen how it affected Niall during the times they’d been able to spend time together and it had come up in their conversations sometimes too. He’d even helped Niall through an anxiety attack last summer, but not even that had been enough to prepare him for tonight. A part of Rory broke when Niall opened up about how much he was struggling.

I feel so fucking alone.

Rory had never hated the rules surrounding soulmates more. He wished he could open their connection and keep it that way. He wanted to send him funny memories and thoughts of cuddles in bed covered by the weight of blankets in a cool room. He wanted to make sure that when Niall woke up in the morning he could still feel Rory there, know he wished he could be there physically but since he couldn’t at least he kept their connection open.

Even if Rory was willing to bend the rules a little bit and try to at least keep their connection open just for the night, he knew he would never be strong enough to close it again. Not the way he needed to to keep both of them safe from speculation and judgement. Because even if Niall was somehow able to not say anything, Rory wasn’t very good at keeping his mouth shut. He knew if some idiot said the right thing at the right time about Niall, their friendship, or even just his soulmate in general, Rory would lose his temper just like he had a few years ago whilst watching X-Factor.

He knew that in some ways, even if someone did find out they’d kept their connection open before they were both of age, they would get away with fewer social repercussions than others. They had PR teams for handling these exact situations and to help them navigate everything as smoothly as possible. They would still have to deal with some amount of public fallout on a much larger scale than others generally if it happened, though. Everyone would be in their business and want the entire sordid story, no matter how innocent it actually was. 

What it came down to was that should word get out, Niall’s reputation would be done for. Rory’s as well, but he wasn’t so concerned about himself. Besides, he’d already made enough of a name for himself in golf that they wouldn’t want to close him out of the sport. They’d do as they always had and turn the other way, in order to allow him to compete. Niall, however, relied on the public for his career and Rory couldn’t chance the fans that he loved so much turning against him. He would do literally anything to avoid that.

Even if it meant that the tiny bit of comfort that Rory could send in that quick moment earlier in the night was all he could allow himself.

Rory had actually been surprised at how easy it was for him to open the connection for the first time since he was a child. He had been worried about several things, reopening the connection was just one of them. What if he sent his thoughts and emotions through too powerfully? After all, he was incredibly out of practice with soothing Niall, and what worked for him as a young child with nightmares probably wasn’t going to cut it now. Not when he felt like he didn’t have anyone to help and support him through one of the hardest points of his life.

Rory also didn’t expect to feel so emotional about being about to connect with Niall through touch again, but he did. He felt alive in a way he’d forgotten he could feel, and it made him shiver now, hours after it had happened, because it was still so clear and vivid in his memory. 

If that was what it felt like now, how was it going to feel once their connection was heightened upon Niall reaching twenty-one? 

Fuck. that wasn’t so far in the future these days. It would be just another year and some before their connection would reach its apex and Niall would realise it had been Rory all along. 

With as much as Niall had openly been longing for his soulmate, was he going to be disappointed when he learned it was Rory? It was honestly one of his biggest fears. It was one of the reasons he had been so terrified to meet Niall at the London-Irish Crew gathering last year. He’d hoped he could somehow hold off meeting Niall in person so that he wouldn’t be even more attached than he already had been should Niall decide that he’d rather move on without solidifying their bond.

It was too late for that now. From the moment Niall had walked in, the little timer that had been ticking within Rory, pulling him like a magnet towards the talented man who shone brighter than his own stage lights, made it so he knew things would never be the same. He was scared out of his mind, but he also knew he wouldn’t be able to keep away and save himself. Their real life connection had been fast and natural and unlike anything else either of them had ever experienced and it was what Niall always said was one of the reasons he knew he could trust Rory so completely. He felt it in his bones.

Rory also knew that even despite all of that, Niall didn’t suspect that Rory could possibly be his soulmate.

Rubbing at his chest and shifting beneath the covers, Rory considered the time he had left until Niall knew. They were bound to meet up at least a handful more times before his twenty-first birthday and Rory craved being in his presence. He might as well enjoy as much of Niall as he possibly could, go all in so to speak, since his time could be limited. Right?

No, that was a horrible idea. If he did that, then when Niall’s birthday came around people could speculate that they’d known ahead of time and it could all be shot to hell. Rory had to do what he could to keep his distance while still being the support that Niall so clearly needed. Was it possible to be the friend and soulmate that Niall desired while also protecting his own heart and their reputations?

Niall was just so damn tempting. He was out there, bending the rules and keeping contact with Rory whilst pretending he was doing nothing of the sort and… Rory sighed. He had no idea why because in some ways it really pissed him off, but it was also incredibly sexy. Niall was just so loving and supportive and so fucking positive about it all, even without knowing who his soulmate was. 

That said, based on Niall’s birthday last year, he was also not holding himself back from having some fun before finding his soulmate. Rory couldn’t blame him for that. If Rory was even half as attractive a man as Niall was, he would absolutely use it to have some good times before settling down. Or, he would if he didn’t know that the soulmate he was waiting for was Niall. It was no use trying to go out and have some fun when Niall was the one he knew was waiting.

Their entire situation made Rory that much more concerned about Niall’s reaction when he learned that Rory was his soulmate. It was up to the younger person in the bond to accept the match. He held Rory’s entire future in the balance and didn’t even know. 

Meanwhile, Rory fell more and more in love with him every day.

Rory was about to fall asleep when he realised he’d never texted Niall so he would have a message waiting when he woke up in the morning. He wanted to be sure that Niall knew he was serious about the chat whenever he had time so that Rory could make sure he really was doing alright after such a rough night, but he also needed something to say to get Niall’s mind off of it all if he didn’t want to talk about it until they were on the phone later.

Then he remembered the end of tonight’s meeting. His team had talked about photoshoots and interviews with Rory and Niall together, since the Celebrity Pro-Am match he had agreed to this fall had decided to make them a team. Both of their PR teams were excited. They really wanted to play up the fact that Rory and Niall were already friends once the announcements were made public in August, and Rory knew that was exactly what he should talk to Niall about. 

Rory: Don’t you dare forget to call me when you’ve got a free mo’
Rory: Feel like shit I couldn’t talk to you tonight when you needed it, so let me try to make it up to you
Rory: That said, I just learned you’re my partner for the Pro-Am! Your team told you about the shenanigans they’ve got planned for us? We’re going to take the world by storm, they better be ready.

Pleased with the hopefully sincere but lighthearted tone of his messages, Rory plugged his phone back in, made sure his alarm was set, and finally was able to fall asleep.

 

*~~***~~*

 

“Niall, you’re the young playful one in this pairing, right? The celebrity who is just here to have fun, and Rory is the older, wiser, more serious of the two of you. We want to show that in these photos, so we need you to smile really wide and constantly be trying to get Rory to smile, while Rory, we need you to stand there, arms folded or holding one of your clubs, while Niall basically revolves around you and tries to loosen you up. Got it?” 

Rory nodded along with the photographer as he listened to their direction, eyeing the video camera that was filming their every move. Apparently Niall’s team had wanted to do a behind the scenes video to go along with the photoshoot. Rory wasn’t sure why, but he’d agreed to it and now here he was. Having to pretend he was not at all romantically interested in Niall.

He hated it.

“So, just act like we normally do with each other, then?” Niall laughed, elbowing Rory and bringing his attention back from the camera.

“I’m not that serious all the time, am I?” Rory asked, actually concerned. “I feel like it would be quite boring if I were.”

Niall rolled his eyes. “Of course you aren’t. It’s fine. You’re a right laugh when you want to be.”

Rory narrowed his eyes and looked at Niall suspiciously. “I’m not sure that sounds much better. ‘When I want to be,’” he said, mocking Niall’s accent.

Niall stuck his tongue out at him and Rory couldn’t help but crack a smile.

“Yes, exactly like that!” the photographer cried, snapping a few photos. “Do your best to stay serious and aloof, though, Rory! We want to show that you’re dignified, even with this silly pop star doing all he can to get you to relax.”

“Hmm, what should I do,” Niall mused as he walked behind Rory. 

Rory did his best to stay facing forward, staring the photographer down with an intimidating pose he’d used for one of his magazine covers a month or so ago. He still wasn’t all that used to performing in this way for a camera, but he had a few stock poses he knew he did well enough he could rely on and this was one of them.

“Mr Top-Golfer-In-The-World has to have a weakness,” Niall said, coming around on Rory’s left side.

Rory kept his pose and facial expression as they were, but couldn’t help blushing. He’d hit number one after winning another tournament a week ago, and he still wasn’t used to it. He especially wasn’t used to Niall alluding to it. Trying to ignore how his cheeks flamed, Rory allowed his eyes to follow Niall’s movements. He didn’t trust him a wink, especially when essentially being given free rein by the photographer.

“Catch me!” Niall cried before running up to Rory, jumping so his arms wound around Rory’s neck, and swinging his legs up.

“Fuck,” Rory cried, moving his legs to a squat and lifting his arms as he braced his body to take on Niall’s weight. When he landed in Rory’s arms, Rory had to correct his balance a bit and went a little wobbly, but was able to save them both from the floor.

“Damn, that’s hot,” Niall said with a wide smile before looking from Rory’s arms around him up to Rory’s face. “I’m not too heavy for you, am I?”

Rory rolled his eyes. “You’re a fully grown man. You’re not exactly light, but I can handle you for a few minutes.”

Niall’s grin went a bit shy and Rory could feel his blush rising.

“Perfect, this is excellent. Niall, send a wide smile my way, and Rory, maybe look up at the ceiling like you’re asking God why he’s like this.”

Rory chuckled to himself even as Niall cried out in affront.

“He would never,” Niall said, assuredly. For good measure he unwound one of his arms from around Rory’s neck and patted his cheek, making Rory close his eyes and try to arch his head away from his reach, even with Niall still in his arms. “Rory loves me just how I am. It’s why we’re such good friends. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course it is, darling,” Rory said, nose squished up as he kept trying to keep his face away from Niall’s attacks. “Shitting fuck, I’m going to drop you if you don’t stop that!”

“Of course you won’t, you’re so strong,” Niall said, swooning exaggeratedly as he laughed loudly in Rory’s face. 

Rory could see the panic enter Niall’s eyes though when he forced himself to get stoic and serious. 

“You won’t actually drop me, right?” Niall’s eyes were wide, and Rory was enjoying the fact that Niall couldn’t see right through him like he usually could.

Rory arched a brow at Niall. “Quite tempted. Besides, the flooring has that nice layer of padding…”

“Fucking fuck.” Niall started kicking a little as he scrambled in Rory’s arms. “Alright, fine, put me down. Don’t well feel like being dropped, thanks. We can do something else now.”

“Perfect, perfect,” the photographer said, moving around the space a little and taking photos the entire time. Rory wasn’t actually confident in any of these being usable, but that wasn’t his problem. “Suki, can you get Rory his golf clubs, please?”

“Can’t photograph the great Rory McIlroy without his golf clubs,” Niall teased.

“Yes, if that’s the case, though, maybe you should have your guitar,” Rory said right back. 

Niall scoffed. “I’m good for more than just my music. My pretty face is obviously what they’re looking for here, but since it’s to advertise the Pro-Am, I should probably hold a club, too. Show them I know a thing or two and they made a mistake pairing us together because no one else is going to have a chance.”

Suki brought two clubs and before Rory could grab either, Niall snatched them from her hands with a wide smile and a quick, “Thank you!”

“Rude, just taking them without asking,” Rory teased.

Niall tossed Rory a smirk before handing over one. “I’ll take the wedge. Now, stand aside and watch me work. See if you can find anything to improve upon.”

Rory folded his arms, trying to look unimpressed, but ultimately having a hard time not smiling as Niall shook his bum at him.

“Oh my God, I don’t even have to give you two instructions,” the photographer cheered. 

“Wait, what are you doing?” Rory asked, moving forward and immediately forgetting about everyone around him. “I know you know better than to lock your knees.”

Niall looked over his shoulder and winked at Rory. “You going to come and help me get my swing right too, Mr Golf Man?”

Rory laughed. “What the fuck? Come on, stop messing around. I know you can golf, but I’ve not been able to golf with you yet, so how about you show me your actual stance.”

“You’re no fun.” Niall stuck out his bottom lip, but adjusted his weight a bit. “Alright, this is it. How much am I doing wrong?”

Rory circled him and shrugged, tapping Niall’s foot with the iron he was holding. “Don’t put so much of your weight on your heels. Otherwise, it looks good. Want to do a swing for me?”

Niall wagged his eyebrows. “Should I go all slow so you can come up behind me and guide my movements?”

Cheeks flaming even worse than when Niall had jumped in his arms, Rory eyed both the photographer and the videographer before scrunching his nose and clearing his throat.

“What is up with you, today?” Rory muttered, trying to make it look like he was able to focus on Niall’s movements while he pretended to hit a ball. “The day everything we’re doing is caught on camera you decide to flirt with me?”

“I always flirt with you, you just never notice,” Niall said under his breath.

Rory froze, his hand not moving from where he’d placed it on Niall’s shoulder to help him adjust it from where it had risen near his ear. 

“You do?” he asked, genuinely interested in the answer. He had sometimes wondered, but never allowed himself to believe that it could be true that Niall was flirting.

Niall dropped the club from where he was holding it in the air and turned to Rory, his eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure if you’re playing stupid or actually are that oblivious, but yes, Rory. I do.”

Rory blinked a few times, finding he didn’t really have any words. “Oh.”

Rolling his eyes, Niall opened his mouth to say something when the photographer started yelling about getting some shots of Rory using a club and Niall trying to distract him.

“It’s okay with you that I’m flirting?” Niall asked without moving or paying any attention to the photographer.

“I mean… I wouldn’t… yes?” Rory stumbled out, ending it like a question. Shaking his head, Rory rubbed the back of his neck before messing with his hair, probably making Molly groan. 

“You sure about that?” Niall teased, the corner of his mouth turning up.

Rory was distracted by it and probably allowed his eyes to linger there for longer than he should have, but there was just something about the shape and colour of Niall’s lips that made him long to feel them against his own.

“Yeah. Definitely okay with it if you are,” Rory finally got out, sounding out of breath.

“Good,” Niall said, eyes sparkling again like they had been before any of this started. “Now, get into position. It’s time for you to show off your stuff.”

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory was fairly certain that Niall was trying to kill him.

“I know we’re meant to wear the team shirts, but they didn’t say which one on which day. Do they expect us to be all matchy-matchy? Or is that too much?”

Niall continued his constant stream of nervous jabbering and Rory did the best he could to keep from focusing too long on Niall’s chest hair. Or his bum. Or how the tight fabric of his underwear really didn’t leave much to the imagination. It was making him feel a bit like a dirty old man, but he tried to convince himself that he really wasn’t doing anything wrong. He just was incredibly attracted to his soulmate.

“Oi, my eyes are up here.”

Rory’s eyes widened and snapped up to Niall’s face to find him cackling. Great. At least he thought it was amusing how much he was distracting Rory. 

“Fuck off, it’s your own fault. Can’t you at least put on some trousers?” Rory turned around and tried to focus on something else. Anything else. 

Instead he caught Niall checking him out in the reflection of a mirror. Good. At least that went both ways.

“I’m serious, though,” Niall said, turning back to the three Nike polos he had laying out on the bed.

“I think they want us to wear the matching tops, yeah,” Rory said, trying to roll his shoulders out and keep calm. It was still early and they weren’t needed to tee off anytime soon since they drew one of the latest times, but he was feeling a little twitchy when Niall was this anxious and showing that much skin.

“Great.” Niall then walked to the bathroom without any clothes in hand at all.

“For fuck’s sake, what are you doing now?” Rory asked. He really wanted to get out to the clubhouse at least. That was his domain and he knew how to act and who he needed to be there. With Niall he was always so tempted to drop all of his walls and let go of it all, but he knew he couldn’t. Not yet. 

“Just putting on extra deodorant, alright?” Niall snapped right as the spray from his deodorant echoed out of the bathroom. “I’m going to be disgusting by the end of the first round at this rate. I’m so fucking nervous.”

“Oh please, you’re going to be fine,” Rory said, finally allowing himself to find a chair and sit down. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t before.

Niall walked out of the bathroom causing Rory to quickly focus on the very neutral, incredibly boring art on the wall.

“You’ve been acting so weird,” Niall sighed, shaking his head. “I feel like you’ll barely look at me and you’ll be relaxed and fine one moment and then the next you’re all tense and weird. Like you are right now.”

“Well if you were wearing clothes…” Rory said, holding his hand out to remind Niall he was standing in front of him in nothing but socks and a pair of boxer briefs.

Niall rolled his eyes. “As if I’m the first lad you’ve seen in this state of undress. And besides, you’ve been like this for the last couple of months and I was fully clothed when we were together then. It just…”

Rory watched intently as Niall stepped into his khakis and pulled the white polo over his head. He remained quiet and still didn’t finish his thought as he focused a bit too much on tucking the top in perfectly before putting on his belt.

“It just what?” Rory prodded. Niall often drifted off when talking and Rory was constantly left on edge until he finally finished what he’d started.

Niall sighed and licked his lips before deciding he was put together enough to stop messing with the clothes. He turned to face Rory fully, hands on his hips and staring right into his eyes. “It feels like I’ve got one version of you when we talk on the phone and another version of you when we’re in person, and I can’t figure out why.”

Rory’s heartbeat was starting to race. He had hoped that Niall wouldn’t notice, but of course he did. He was incredibly perceptive, especially of the people he surrounded himself with. It was probably a safety measure and coping mechanism he had developed once fame was thrust upon him, but it also seemed so natural that it very well could have been something he’d always been blessed with. 

“See? Look at you now,” Niall continued, holding his hand out to Rory. “You’ve gone all pale and your eyes are wide as saucers like you’re hiding some sort of secret.”

“I…” 

Rory had no idea what to say. He couldn’t even begin to bring up the subject of soulmates. Niall would surely see right through him as he attempted to skirt the lines of what he was allowed to say, what wouldn’t give anything away, and what would be too much. 

Niall was a smart lad, he was bound to put two and two together quickly, and then how was Rory supposed to continue on? They had the entirety of the Pro-Am charity match to go, and they were going to be golfing together for hours over the next several days, and that didn’t even include the dinner, silent auction, press interviews, and so many other aspects that were slated through Sunday. Neither Rory or Niall were good enough actors to get through the entire event without someone seeing that something was amiss.

And then what would happen after that? Sure, they wouldn’t be physically together as much at that point, but would Niall still want to continue talking through their bond? Once he knew that Rory was his soulmate, would he expect him to reciprocate and communicate using their connection? 

In some ways he knew that once Niall knew it was him, there wasn’t really a good excuse for Rory not using their bond. Enough would have been shot to hell at that point that he might as well go all in, but that was what he was trying to avoid. Niall deserved the best of everything in this world, and the best when it came to soulmates was absolutely not Rory. It didn’t mean he couldn’t do everything in his ability to be the best soulmate possible though, and that included following the restrictions that had been set up to protect the younger person in a soul match to a T.

“What the fuck,” Niall said with a chuckle as he walked over to where he had several caps sitting on top of the dresser. Shaking his head, he grabbed one and looked at Rory. “I just watched you go through around seventy-five emotions and you were clearly running through any number of other situations in your head. I have no idea what you’re hiding from me, but clearly it’s something big that you aren’t saying.”

Rory folded his arms and slumped back in the seat. He felt a bit like an obstinate child sitting like that, but it was one of the few things he had control of at the moment.

“I’m hiding lots of things from you,” Rory said, arching his brow. “How do you know it’s anything big? Maybe you just don’t know me at all.”

Niall snorted. “I know you better than you fucking think. It’s almost like you’ve found your soulmate or something.”

Rory froze and studied Niall’s face to see if he was serious or saying it in jest. He was laughing a little, which was a good sign, but then he turned to look at Rory. He must have seen how he was barely breathing, because then his face fell. Shit.

“Fuck me, you have, haven’t you? You’ve found your soulmate.”

Focusing on his breathing, Rory blinked a few times in fear and slowly nodded.

“Well why didn’t you say anything?” Niall said, smiling broadly, but he could see something else behind Niall’s eyes too. He wished he could place it, but he didn’t know what it meant or how to read it, especially when Niall was trying so hard to show he was happy for him and excited, but wasn’t doing a very good job of it. His smile was clearly not reaching his eyes. “I can’t believe you found them and didn’t tell me. Has your bond strengthened, then?”

Rory swallowed nervously. There was no way in hell he could say anything out loud right now, not about his soulmate. If he started he would never be able to stop and that would be it.

Niall’s brows furrowed and he tilted his head. “You’re really nervous about this, aren’t you?”

Clearing his throat, Rory choked out a quiet, “Yeah.”

“Alright.” Niall gently moved the tops still sitting on his bed so he could position himself on the corner and be close to where Rory was seated. Once he was positioned, Niall leaned down so his arms were resting on his knees. “So, I’ll ask yes and no questions and you can nod or shake your head. Is that alright?”

Niall was speaking so softly now that his voice was barely overpowering the noise Rory’s pulse was making in his ears at the moment, but he figured he could give yes or no answers to Niall. That would hopefully appease him for the time being, but also allow Rory to not actually say anything. 

Fuck. Rory had got so used to not ever talking about his soulmate, and now here he was about to give away as much information as Niall asked of him. There was no way he’d be able to deny Niall information at this point.

“If even that is too much, you don’t have to say anything. Fuck knows it’s none of my business,” Niall said, trying to chuckle. Unfortunately it didn’t work. It came out sounding more like a tense relative of his usual carefree laughter.

“No, that’s fine. Yes or no is okay, I think,” Rory finally said.

“So you’ve found them?” Niall reiterated.

Rory cleared his throat. “Him,” he said quietly before nodding his head yes.

“Him,” Niall said, looking out the window beside Rory instead of at him for a moment. “Great. Congrats. Ehm, so has he come of age, then? Is that how you found him?”

Rory shook his head no.

“No your connection hasn’t strengthened or no that’s not how you found him?”

Rory chuckled. “Both.”

“Oh.” Niall sat up straight and folded his arms. “So he’s still not reached his soul year?”

Rory shook his head again.

Niall sighed. “Sorry, mate. That sucks.”

Rory couldn’t help laughing at that. “Yeah, it does a bit.”

“I guess we both have to be patient then, hm?”

Shrugging, Rory gave him a smile. “Not sure patience is a strength for either of us.”

“Well, that’s true. But at least I know my waiting has an end date. Who knows how much longer you’ve got.” 

“Yeah,” Rory said, chuckling. He sounded more like someone was strangling him, but fuck, he was trying.

Niall came over and held his hand out to Rory. “Guess we’ll just have to wait together. If you ever feel the need to talk about him, though, you can.”

Rory nodded and took his hand, standing up as Niall pulled him forward. “Yeah, I know.”

“Good.” They both headed towards the door, where Niall’s security was knocking. “Hey, remind me later, I’ve got a song I wrote that I haven’t shared with anyone yet and I think… I think you’d get it. That you’d understand what I’m talking about in it. I want you to hear it.”

Niall sometimes would play small pieces of songs he’d been working on with him, but he’d never shared an entire song before it was fully recorded and mastered. He was too much of a perfectionist to share that much rough material with anyone. Especially not a song he hadn’t shared with others. It instantly soothed all the nerves their conversation had raised in Rory.

“I’d be honoured.”

Niall flashed a bright smile at him then wrapped his arm around his shoulders. “It’s not all that, but thanks anyway. Now. Let’s go play some golf.”

 

*~~***~~*

 

December was always a time that Rory let himself relax. He tried to go home and spend some time with his family, but he also didn’t like having to cart all of his training equipment back there. Plus, the specific workouts that his new physical trainer had started working with him on over the past ten months were clearly working, so he didn’t want to stay away from where he had his off-season routine set up and risk getting out of shape. He was going to have a hard time holding on to his number one ranking, and focusing on his training was helping him keep his mind off of Niall.

Well. Mostly. 

Niall had continued sending little messages and visions of what he was up to, though he had gone quiet for a few days after their conversation at the Pro-Am. Rory had worried for a while that something he had said or done had made Niall falter in how he was going about things with his soulmate, but then Niall had continued as if nothing had ever happened. It seemed ridiculous, but Rory was relieved.

They were also talking on the phone most every day, Niall celebrating that his album was still charting and his music was doing well. Every night Rory wanted to ask him about the song that Niall had mentioned sharing with him, but he never had the nerve to actually do it. He was worried that Niall hadn’t just forgotten, but that he had changed his mind. If that were the case, Rory would rather not know and pretend otherwise.

So Rory continued using the equipment that helped him improve his swing and tweak his form for optimal precision and distance as a distraction. He happily went to the gym for his strength training and other workouts until he was planning to start following the sun again in January, heading off to somewhere warm and sunny so he could be on a course instead of cooped up in his house in London or with his parents in Northern Ireland. He also possibly pushed himself a bit harder than he usually would, but he was still the number one golfer in the world. There were many other players trying to remove him from that position, and if he wanted to have a chance at staying in that position for any amount of time, he had to work for it.

Hearing Niall’s accent on the phone was making him a bit homesick, though. His accent was very different to what Rory had grown up with, but it was still familiar and safe in the same way. 

Maybe it was for the best that Rory hadn’t heard the song Niall had talked about. If he had, he would probably want it playing on repeat making his longing that much worse.

Just then, Niall sent through an image of his dad yelling at the telly as they watched the Derby County match, Niall laughing and flooding Rory with his happiness. As the image and the feeling faded with Niall closing their connection again, Rory stood up. That was it. He was going home. He’d just have to deal with hauling everything to his parents and hiding away for his workouts as much as possible.

Rory dug out various suitcases to hold his clothes and other necessities when his phone vibrated loudly wherever he’d set it down. He maneuvered the bags onto his bed before finding his phone.

Niall: Check your email ;) Merry Christmas x

Rory quickly sent Niall a few emojis before jumping into his email to see what he could have sent. It was odd that Niall found the concentration to do anything when he was watching footie with his dad, so it must have been something fairly important if he’d thought to email him during a match. The subject line only said “dear patience” though, which told him nothing. Rory didn’t have a clue what it could possibly be about.

There wasn’t anything actually written in the email, but there was a file attached, so he downloaded it and started listening.

The emotions that Niall’s voice conveyed along with the simple guitar and the words crashed over Rory and he had to sit down. He covered his mouth with his hands, almost like he had to physically hold himself back from making a sound, and set his phone down, right there in the middle of his bedroom floor.

The range was a little lower than what he was used to Niall singing in, and it did sound a little rough, like it wasn’t quite rounded out yet and there were a few stumbles on words here and there, but overall it sounded the same way his pleading had felt at the beginning of summer when he’d reached out, begging to know Rory was there.

This was what he thought Rory would understand? As soon as the song ended, Rory hit rewind and played it again. And again. 

Before playing it for a fourth time, he got up to get himself a drink. He could pack tomorrow. He hadn’t booked his flight yet, so he could pack at any point before he had to leave. There was nothing else he wanted to do other than sit right there on his bedroom floor, listening to Niall sing to him and only him through his phone.

As he savoured the burning and resulting tang of the liquor, Rory considered reaching out to Niall through their connection. Just letting him know he was still there, was still trying to be patient just like Niall, and still scared.

Thankfully, he stopped himself. 

It was better he talk about the song with Niall via text, anyway. Niall was the one who bent the rules, not Rory, and this was a conversation he had been having openly with Niall anyway, not some anonymous conversation with his soulmate.

Keeping the song playing, Rory pulled up the text thread.

Rory: You’re over a week early, but Merry Christmas to you too
Rory: I’m afraid I don’t have a gift anywhere close to yours. This song is really amazing, Ni

Niall typed and stopped enough times that Rory locked his phone and focused on the song and his drink. He was feeling loose and relaxed in a way he hadn’t for a while, now. That was what the combination of Niall and alcohol did to him, apparently. It was nice. He hoped it was something he could get used to when maybe the stakes weren’t so high. By then, Rory wouldn’t be fighting to stay number one and Niall would know. Their bond would be strengthened, and he would be of age.

Fuck. As time went on, Rory really felt like Niall would be likely to accept their soul match, but he hated that he didn’t know. Niall was a romantic, that much was clear, and he thought he saw the same interest and attraction in Niall’s actions and words that he felt, but what if it was just because he wanted it to be there? Crazier things had happened, and people deciding to disregard their bond wasn’t unheard of. Several had found happiness with others and chosen to cut off their soulmates. 

Rory tried to tamp down the fear that rejection was in his future. He threw back the last of his drink and set the cup down so he wouldn’t be tempted to get more. He had to prepare for the fact that Niall very much could choose to cut off their soul bond and not go through with finalising the match, but he had to do so without fear. If it happened, it was just how life went. They’d figure out what that meant for their friendship after that decision was made, and that decision didn’t need to come about for another nine months. 

It was fine. It would be alright. Everything would be okay.

What Rory needed to do was figure out a way to try to convince Niall that the best decision for him was to choose their soul match without giving anything away so when the time came, he’d already be committed to accepting the bond. He had no idea how to do that, but hopefully he’d come up with a plan.

In the meantime, maybe he should message his mum and let her know he would be arriving in the next few days and would definitely be there for Christmas. He had told her his plans were up in the air before, and continued focusing on his training. She should know he was coming home.

Rory took a deep breath and opened his text thread with her. He drank hard liquor so rarely that he was feeling warm and sleepy already, so he curled up right there on his rug as he sent a message to his mum, Niall’s voice and guitar still pouring out of his phone speakers. He’d likely regret it in the morning, but it just felt right. 

Hitting send, Rory saw that Niall was sending him more texts, but with his eyes feeling heavy and Niall’s voice wrapping him in an emotional blanket, he made a note to himself to reply to them when he woke up later.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory walked into the copse of trees beside one of the holes, Niall following behind him. One of Rory’s favourite parts of the Masters was everything they had surrounding it. It had such an air of history and tradition, he loved being a part of it. 

One of those traditions was the Par 3 Contest. It was so much fun to see other golfers out there with friends, family, and children. Rory’s team had floated the possibility to Rory around Christmas that he have Niall be his caddie, and as he was still looking for a gift for him, he hoped that would work. With Niall’s love of the game, he hoped it would.

Niall had gone more still than Rory had ever seen him when he suggested it over FaceTime on Boxing Day. It was one of the best moments of his life. It almost beat the moment he’d seen Niall come strutting out of his hotel room wearing the white caddie uniform and Masters cap.

“This jumpsuit keeps riding up places it really shouldn’t,” Niall mumbled, making Rory laugh before turning to focus on the reporter waiting for them.

“Hi!” Rory smiled at the reporter for Sky News as she continued her hellos. “Hi, Rory. Hi, Niall!”

Rory turned to watch Niall approach, and his smile quickly fell off his face as he watched Niall slip on the pine needles and lose his balance, tilting too far to the side and the clubs pulling him right down.

“Oh no, Niall!”

Rory was mortified. He knew this moment was huge for Niall, and he was likely to be incredibly embarrassed. Niall got up and smiled, letting everyone know he was okay, but Rory could see his inner turmoil plain on his face, even as the reporter continued to ramble to their live viewers.

Live. Shit.

“Uh, Rory! Let’s ask you first. What’s it like having him as a caddie? That’s what everyone wants to know.”

“Oh, he’s taken to it like a duck to water,” Rory said, flashing Niall a supportive smile. “No, he’s done well! He has. I’ve sorta… I’ve stuck him with a big bag for nine holes. I think he was expecting something a little bit lighter. But, uhm, it’s been good. It’s been fun, which is what we’re here for. It’s been a really good afternoon.”

Niall was widening his eyes at Rory like he was pleading for him to wrap up his answer. Rory squished his nose at him in apology. His deflection had clearly not worked well, but he’d tried.

“Absolutely. Now, Niall, what’s it been like for you? What’s it been like here at Augusta for you?”

Rory turned to Niall and listened to him talk about how great it was to be back in Augusta, and to be able to really be a part of it this time. “You know I was chatting with this man here back in December and knew I had the time off to be here for the tournament again. He asked me did I want to carry a bag for him on Wednesday, and, of course,” Niall said, looking back at Rory, both of them smiling wide at each other. Niall chuckled a little before turning back to the reporter and saying, “The world’s number one asks you to carry a bag, you carry it.”

“We saw you out on the tee out there, so which one is more nerve wracking for you? Taking a tee or singing on stage to thousands of fans?”

Niall didn’t pause at all. “That.” He nodded towards the tee and laughed. “Definitely that, yeah. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that nervous, but having everyone watch while I was out there? Yeah, definitely.”

When Niall looked back at Rory, he winked a little and Rory couldn’t help but sputter a laugh. He’d barely convinced Niall to take the shot, and as it was he had paid a price for it, but to see Niall golfing at Augusta National during the tournament was something special Rory wanted to give him. He hoped it was an experience Niall would never forget and consider a good one overall.

“Oh, you’re laughing. What do you have to say about that?”

Rory turned in surprise to the reporter. He’d almost forgotten she was there. He was getting far too wrapped up in Niall’s presence if he was that easily distracted. He needed to work on keeping his focus better.

“Oh, you know. It’s really hard when you have someone step out of their comfort zone like that, and it was really hard to get him to even take that shot. In fact, he would only do it if I agreed to stepping out of my own comfort zone with thousands of witnesses.” Rory glanced at Niall, and found him watching Rory answer with a bit of a smirk on his face, and it was so handsome he couldn’t keep looking or he would lose his concentration again. “It turns out he’ll be performing in Boston this summer while I’ll be there, so he’s going to pull me on stage to sing a few lines with him. I’m a man of my word, so I’ll do it, but I’m not looking forward to it, no.”

They wrapped up the interview and were a bit more careful leaving to ensure they didn’t slip on the pine needles again.

“I can’t believe you told them about our deal. Now you really can’t back out,” Niall said, shaking his head.

“I had to distract them somehow,” Rory explained, watching how Niall was walking under the weight of the bag. “Hopefully they’ll remember that more than your spill. You alright? Didn’t twist your ankle or anything, did you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Trying not to beat myself up over it, but fuck.” Niall shook his head. “It was my chance to have some people see there’s more to me, you know? See I take golf seriously like I do my music and show them I have another side and all that, and I slipped and fell on fucking pine needles.”

“Careful, there’s children around,” Rory warned, looking around and smiling a little. “Still. People already knew that about you because of the Pro-Am. You showed you’re a talented golfer and you did that for charity. I feel like that speaks for you more than today does.”

Niall shook his head. “This is different. It’s the Masters.”

Rory nodded. He understood. It did have a different weight to it.

“But really, you alright other than, you know, being embarrassed?”

Niall glared at Rory. “I’d be better if you acted like it didn’t happen instead of continuing to bring it up.”

Rory lifted his hands. “Alright, alright. Just wanted to be sure you’re okay.”

Niall shook his head and tried to push Rory away. That of course did just the opposite and made Rory put his arm around him and pull him closer. 

“Oh, come on, now,” Rory joked, not letting Niall pull away, even as he dropped the clubs to the ground. “Don’t you want to be close to your best mate? You still calling me your best mate, or has that live broadcast of your slipping on pine needles taken away my title?”

“I hate you. You’re not going to get away with just a couple of lines at my concert in Boston. You’re going to sing an entire fucking song solo.”

Rory laughed and pulled away, remembering that he had tried so hard to keep his distance and keep them far enough apart that there wouldn’t be much touching this week. Niall was a fairly big fan of cuddling and hugs and Rory was usually more than fine with it, but it had got hard enough that he couldn’t pretend it was just platonic anymore. Last time they’d held their goodbye hug a little too long, Rory had found himself trying to get a whiff of Niall’s hair. After that he knew he had to cut himself off. He had clearly forgotten that, though, as soon as Niall had slipped and he found himself wanting to do anything he could to rectify the situation for him.

“Come on, Golf God,” Niall said, still with a straight face before pulling out a club. “Time to show everyone why you’re the best again.”

Rory took the time he was focusing on the next hole to also build the walls again. Based on the shift in how Niall was holding himself, Rory could tell that he knew and saw for himself that they were back in place. He looked almost resigned after studying Rory’s face as he teed up. Rory hated creating the separation, but he had to. He had to make sure that they were kept above reproach in every way leading up to Niall’s birthday. It was only a few months away, and with both of them incredibly busy leading up to it, he knew the time would pass quickly.

“Sorry,” Rory whispered, handing the club back.

Niall shook his head and gave him a weak smile. “It’s alright. I know you’re just being a good soulmate.” Niall hesitated a little before picking the bag up and turning towards their last hole for the day. “Your soulmate is really lucky, you know? I hope he knows that when he learns it’s you. You’re a good guy, Rory, and I can only hope that mine is even half as good.”

Rory smiled and nodded, but he also couldn’t help but wonder if Niall would still feel the same way when his birthday came around.

 

*~~***~~*

 

“Where exactly do you think you’re going?”

“Hey, Gerry,” Rory said, wincing a little. He had hoped that his manager wouldn’t notice that he was gone until he was already on the flight. 

He’d been warning his manager that he wouldn’t be continuing the competition for the play-offs because he had to have September 11th off until he was ready to return. He knew from the way Gerry had been acting that he wasn’t taking him seriously, but he’d done what he could without giving everything away.

Oh well. Now was the time to explain, he supposed. Gerry was his manager, after all, and he would be incredibly busy over the coming weeks, no matter the outcome.

“I asked where do you think you’re going?”

Sighing, Rory paused his packing and turned around. “I’m not competing in this week’s tournament. I’ve already told them I’ve pulled out. Possibly won’t be next week either, we’ll have to see.”

Gerry was turning bright red and his eyebrows had risen nearly to his hairline in shock. 

“The fuck are you on about, lad? You’re the top golfer in the world! You can’t just drop from the competition!”

“Sure I can,” Rory said, walking around Gerry to gather his things from the bathroom. “And I already did. I’ve got a plane to catch if I have any chance of getting there in time to get over my jet lag before it all happens.”

“Before what all happens?” Gerry asked, getting near yelling. “You still haven’t told me where the fuck you’re going! I’m your manager, you need to give me these kinds of details, especially if it is going to affect your ability to compete!”

“I’m going to Ibiza for Niall’s twenty-first birthday party,” Rory said, keeping his voice as calm as possible. It still had a little bit of a shake to it belying his nerves, but he was doing a fairly good job overall. 

“No you bloody well—”

“Niall’s my soulmate, Gerry.” Rory stood, looking Gerry in the eye to make sure he fully understood what he’d just said. Sometimes when he was getting really worked up his temper took over and what Rory had to say back didn’t compute immediately.

Apparently he’d used a magic word, though, because Gerry deflated immediately.

“Niall? Your soulmate?”

Rory nodded. “Yeah. I’ve known for years and had to keep quiet all this time, so I’d really appreciate you not fucking this up for me in the homestretch.”

Gerry’s mouth opened and closed without making a sound. Rory nodded and turned back to his packing, giving him a minute to take it all in.

A few moments later, as Rory was zipping up his suitcase, Gerry finally said, “You know, that makes a lot of sense.”

Rory couldn’t help laughing. That wasn’t quite the reaction he was anticipating, but he didn’t mind it either.

“Does it?” Rory pulled his suitcase off the bed and turned to Gerry. “Well, that’s good. I can only hope that Niall and the rest of the world agree.”

Gerry was nodding and still looking off into space. “Yeah, a lot of shit makes sense now that I know that.”

Rory pursed his lips. “So, yeah. I’m definitely going to Ibiza, and depending how it all pans out, I might not be ready to compete next week. If it goes poorly it might take me a bit to be able to play again.”

That made Gerry pause and look at him again. “What? Go poorly? Nah, that boy is head over heels for you.”

Rory snorted. “Yeah, alright, Gerry. Thanks for the confidence boost, but I really need to be going.”

“I’m serious, he’s gone for you.”

Rory smiled softly and gave Gerry a pat on the shoulder. “I can only hope as much. Thanks, Gerry. I’ll keep you updated as I can.”

“Good luck, lad. Enjoy yourself, and get your match.”

Rory waved and walked towards the lift, wishing that he could fast forward to after Niall’s birthday had happened and things were settled. Knowing that wasn’t possible, Rory did his best to keep calm and head towards his future, praying Niall would choose to be a part of it.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory took another shot and winced as Niall crowed and started jumping up and down. The beat dropped and the entire group celebrating his birthday moved with the bass that was so loud it felt like it had settled somewhere deep within their chests.

Rory and, he assumed, the rest of Niall’s party were staying in the nearest hotel to the section of beach that Niall had rented out. Niall had originally wanted an island, but decided that if he knew where his soulmate was at midnight, the very moment he turned twenty-one, he wanted to have easier access to flights to get to him.

It was very difficult for Rory to hold back the fact that those kinds of measures wouldn’t be necessary, but also didn’t argue with him because it made it easier for Rory to board a flight afterwards should it all go to shit as well.

It was nearing eleven and Rory was sweaty, having a fun time dancing, and was definitely exceptionally pissed. The same friends that had been key reasons for Rory having his ridiculous public bout of jealousy during Niall’s birthday a couple years ago were there and helping keep the alcohol flowing and the dancing fun. The DJ was also very good at making the song transitions seamless, but Rory had reached a point where all of them were merging together. Maybe he should slow down.

“Alright, lads!” Niall yelled, holding up a bottle of water. “I’m gonna go to my bungalow and try to chill out and sober up while I wait to learn who the bastard is!”

The group of them cheered, minus Rory who just opened his mouth and held up his fist. He couldn’t make a sound because he was afraid if he did, he’d be sick.

“I’ll see you, or not, in the morning, you fuckers!” Niall did a ridiculous little dance as he walked away, facing them as long as he could before running into someone.

Yelling and jeering followed Niall as he made his way down the beach towards the seclusion of the bungalow. 

With everyone distracted by Niall’s departure, Rory knew it was the perfect time for him to slip away as well.

He really should have thought ahead of things like Niall had, because he was feeling exceptionally nauseous due to not drinking enough water. He rushed to his hotel room and thankfully made it to the toilet just in time. Once he had emptied his stomach, he felt much better physically at least, so he brushed his teeth and grabbed a water bottle before heading back out to the beach.

Rory had already been nervous, but as the evening had progressed he slowly reached a state of fear he had rarely felt before. He thought he had prepared himself for the possibility that Niall wouldn’t be interested in him and would want to sever their bond, but he had never really considered what that would be like should it happen.

Walking down the beach with Niall’s excitement flooding his veins, Rory prayed that Niall would still be happy when their connection strengthened and he learned the truth. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he’d had his entire life to learn about Niall and who he was as a person, fall in love with him, and then in the end have him removed from his life completely. 

Rory scrubbed his face as he watched the waves lap against the shore. He loved Niall with his entire self, he couldn’t deny it any longer. He had for a long time, but being with him and having the chance to know him as he was around his friends, in his profession, and even as a golfer had made his love for him only grow. He would never force himself upon him, but he would also do almost anything if it meant that Niall would remain a part of his life.

Drinking the water as fast as he could before walking onto the beach proper, Rory tossed the water bottles into the bin and made his way to the ocean. He didn’t even know how far he had gone or what time it was. He took off his sandals and lost himself getting his feet wet in the ocean as the waves lapped away what they could of his fear. 

Niall had been sending messages and images of all of his plans regarding his birthday celebrations for months now. He’d been open about wanting his soulmate to know where he would be and when he would be of age so if his soulmate chose to be, he could be there ready and waiting.

Rory hadn’t expected for that to mean he would be hiding in a place that would make it more difficult for Niall to find him should his reaction not be entirely positive.

Rory was a fucking coward.

Rather than going farther down the beach, he stopped where he was. He was so nervous that his hands were shaking and he was pretty sure his heart was trying to beat out of his chest anyway. Maybe he should sit down.

The water and the walking both seemed to have done their job and sobered him up nicely, though. Those and the refreshing sea breeze had him fully clear headed in time for his bond with Niall to suddenly become so much more than it ever had been before.

He had originally thought that when their connection was open, both ways like it had been that one single time that Rory had allowed himself to reach out to Niall, that it was the most powerful emotional experience he would ever have in his life.

It was nothing compared to what Rory felt when their connection really opened for the first time. It was unlike anything he’d ever felt and was likely to feel again. It was no wonder that when both mates were of age, they both knew. They knew not only that it was time, but they knew exactly who the other was.

As soon as Rory felt like he could breathe again, he immediately focused on Niall and his reaction. Everything came down to him. The funny thing was, as clear and strong as their connection was now, it was actually harder for Rory to focus on what specifically was happening. It was like they’d just had a straw through which they could send the most basic of emotions and messages through before, but now the entire dam had opened and he was dealing with the flood of everything like he never had before.

Finally, though, the swirling within them both seemed to calm and what Niall was feeling in that moment was definitely surprise and shock.

Panicking, Rory tried to close the connection between them. With the strength of it now, it was much harder. They’d both have to work on that later, should this be something that they would be able to keep, but fucking shit. Rory wasn’t ready to be shut down already.

He closed his eyes and curled up, hugging his knees and put his entire energy towards keeping that little door he had imagined was his gateway to Niall closed, even with the strength of it all.

He definitely wasn’t doing a good job of it, though. Niall’s irritation with how he was handling it all was coming through clear as day and with a force that really didn’t bode well. Niall already had a bit of a temper, so Rory knew that he didn’t want to push his luck, but he’d already reacted. He’d already tried to close the connection without even giving Niall a chance to fully take it all in.

Rory’s panic had gone in a million circles, immediately analysing how entirely and completely bad the situation was when Niall basically blew open their connection again. He sent through the clearest vision of Rory’s hotel room door and managed to push through exactly how mad he was that Rory wasn’t answering.

At that point, Rory didn’t have the will or the energy to fight Niall anymore. He was going to lose, anyway. Besides, did he really want to take this away from Niall? No. If he was a disappointment, then he couldn’t help that. The best he could do was make the night the best he could, even if Niall wasn’t pleased with who his soulmate turned out to be.

Taking a deep breath, Rory opened his eyes and looked around the beach. For the first time ever, he grasped onto their connection so that Niall could see what he saw. He made sure to slowly look around himself until there was a landmark that Niall recognised. As soon as he knew where to go and which direction to head in, Rory dropped the visual connection and waited.

It only took Niall a few minutes to make the journey that Rory had taken over the course of nearly an hour, and as soon as he was close enough Niall was yelling.

“It’s you!” Niall yelled, still trying to jog as his feet slipped in the sand and he continued trying to speak. It was difficult to make it all out at first with the wind doing its best to blow his words away. In a way, Rory was thankful, but he was also equally frustrated because he just wanted to know what the hell Niall was saying in its entirety. “I can’t believe, the whole fucking time! It was you!”

Rory nodded and ran his hands through his hair. It was getting quite shaggy and unruly, especially in the sea breeze. He needed to get it cut so he could keep control of the curls.

“I cannot believe it was you and you never once said anything,” Niall said, panting as he finally stopped, standing right in front of Rory. “Why didn’t you ever say?”

Rory got up and dusted the sand off of himself as best he could in an attempt to buy himself time. He didn’t even know where to begin, but it also seemed like Niall was done waiting because he asked again. 

“What the fuck, Rory,” he asked, his hands held out to his sides. “I mean, seriously. What the actual fuck?”

“What was I meant to say?” Rory finally asked, his frustration and exhaustion with holding onto the status quo for the past few years finally broke free of him. “If literally anyone had found out we had kept our connection, it could have been the end of our careers. I couldn’t live with myself if that had happened to you. You deserve so much better than someone like me or a soulmate who gave in and risked your livelihood and happiness because he couldn’t wait a little bit longer for you to be of age. It was fucking hard and at times felt like it was going to break me, but I wouldn’t change a thing. You were worth it. You are worth it.”

Niall shook his head, staring at Rory. “Don’t you think you’re worth good things too?”

“Of course I do,” Rory said, sighing. “But I don’t know that I deserve someone like you. You’re amazing, Niall. Why should you settle for someone like me? I mean, aren’t you disappointed? You’ve waited your whole damn life and now, here you are. On a beach with me, your best mate who’s good at golf and has a ridiculously horrific temper.” 

Shrugging, Rory just shook his head. He didn’t even know what else to say for himself. If he were Niall, he’d probably punch him and walk away. It was what he deserved, especially knowing how badly Niall had been looking forward to meeting his soulmate.

Rory was thinking of everything he’d done to piss Niall off leading up to this moment. He’d kept their match a secret from him for years and only ever responded to Niall once in all that time. And then, when the time came, Rory tried to close the connection so Niall couldn’t even talk to him about it. All of that on top of the disappointment of Rory being his match had to be more than enough to have Niall lashing out.

But when Niall finally stepped forward, it wasn’t with his hand open and ready to give him a harsh smack on the cheek. It wasn’t with his fist, ready to strike at the most sensitive parts of Rory’s face. 

Instead, he gingerly ran his fingers through the hair at the nape of Rory’s neck before pulling him in for the most tender and soul-aching kiss.

He and Niall had touched before, it wasn’t something new for them, but there was an electricity that seemed to start in Niall that then coursed through Rory as soon as their lips touched. 

He knew that Niall deserved so much better. He knew that Niall could be so much happier with literally anyone else, but in that moment he needed to allow himself a bit of happiness too. It might only end up being this brief moment in the long stretch of a lifetime that he would be able to feel as if he was exactly where he was meant to be and with exactly who he was meant to be with, so he took it. 

Reaching out and wrapping his arms around Niall’s waist in a way he’d only dreamt of, Rory pulled him even closer, deepening the kiss and making him gasp when he felt like actual sparks lit from their touch.

“Oh my God,” Rory mumbled before pushing back in for another kiss. He kept waiting for Niall to push him away, but it didn’t happen. Niall was just as happy to take everything Rory was offering as Rory was to give it.

When they finally broke their kiss, Rory couldn’t bring himself to look Niall in the eyes just yet. He didn’t want to see if there was sadness there because of what he was going to have to do. If Niall chose to break their bond, he’d accept it, but it didn’t mean he wanted to look Niall in the eyes as he did it.

“I had hoped it would be you,” Niall whispered.

Rory felt tears come to his eyes and he bit his bottom lip harshly in an attempt to feel something he knew was real. If he could feel that pain, then certainly he wasn’t dreaming this, was he?

The tears were quickly starting to turn into full on crying as Rory’s biggest fears were being completely thrown away and every inch of him was filling slowly with Niall’s love and affection.

“I’d been falling in love with you for awhile, but last summer I knew it was happening.” Niall’s voice was getting stronger as he gained more confidence in giving voice to his thoughts and feelings. 

Rory finally had opened his eyes but he still couldn’t help the tears that were steadily streaming down his face after years of fear and concern and the threat of rejection finally left him and were replaced by a feeling of total relief. 

Niall smiled at Rory and pressed in for another quick kiss before reaching up to wipe away his tears. Rory chuckled a little and tried to do a better job of clearing them away with the shoulder of his t-shirt, but he refused to let go of the hold he had on Niall. Now that he was allowed to hold him, he was never letting go.

“It was last year that I found myself starting to really wish that you were my soulmate, but I didn’t think it would actually happen. I’m so fucking glad it was you.”

Swallowing the thickness in his throat as best he could and trying to steady his breathing, Rory cleared his throat. “You have no idea how much I wanted to hear you say that.”

Taking another deep breath, Rory began to trace the worry lines that were slowly starting to appear on Niall’s skin, despite his young age. He carried so much weight on his shoulders, Rory hoped that Niall would allow him to shoulder some of it so he knew he wasn’t alone. He had so many hopes, so many dreams and thoughts and feelings, all of which he was finally allowing himself to feel now that he knew that Niall wasn’t rejecting him and their bond. It was going to be a lot to work through.

But he knew where he wanted to start, and that was with allowing them to enjoy each other’s presence. Just the two of them, knowing exactly what they were to each other.

“Think we could go back to the bungalow? Just cuddle for a little bit and maybe talk?” Rory asked, loving the feeling of Niall’s skin under his hand. When he finally was able to lace their fingers together, he knew that they truly would fit together perfectly in every way.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Rory had been so scared of everything he thought he stood to lose, he’d never considered everything he could possibly gain. He was more than ready to explore and dwell on every single discovery now that he knew Niall would be there every step of the way.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Rory shifted nervously in his seat, but Niall leaned into his side and patted his knee.

It’ll be fine,” Niall said through their connection before flooding Rory with calm.

Taking a deep breath, Rory smiled at him. He knew they’d be fine and everything would be alright. He just wasn’t used to these kinds of interviews. Golfers weren’t usually being interviewed by prime time talk show hosts or on late night shows. To Niall, this was all old hat, so Rory was really relying on his experience to get them through it all.

“Thank you again for joining us tonight,” Jimmy Fallon said to the cameras before waving over to the couch that Rory and Niall had sat down in not long ago. “You know, leading up to having you two on, I’ve been collecting every photo I could find of the two of you together, but there were a lot. Here you two are at a tennis match, I believe. Look at Niall’s blonde hair there!”

Niall started cackling and Rory couldn’t help fondly smiling at the two of them. It was only a couple years ago, right when they’d started becoming friends, but Niall looked so much younger. It was amazing how much both of them had changed in that time.

Jimmy continued going through their documented friendship and making them both laugh all the way until he got to some of the magazine covers they had done to announce their match publicly. It happened to come out the same week that Rory reached a full year as the number one golfer in the world and Niall reached number one with his first single off of the album that was due out early next year, “Dear Patience.”

“You two always looked like you were so close and having so much fun,” Jimmy said, sitting forward at his desk as if he was so excited he needed to be closer to them. “How was it really? Was it hard for you two to remain just friends when you could probably feel that connection between you?”

“Oh, I made it a bit more difficult than I even realised, actually, because I was always bending the rules a little bit, regarding the connection between soulmates before we were both of age.”

Rory pulled back in surprise. “A bit? That’s a bit of an understatement.” Even with his shock at how Niall was painting the whole thing, he knew he looked entirely love struck and he didn’t even care.

Jimmy was laughing and yelling, “Ooh, their first lover’s spat!”

“Nah, that happened the moment I came of age, we’ve had several since then,” Niall said, laughing. 

“Okay, but for real. You were out there making things difficult for Rory by, uh, bending the rules,” Jimmy said, wagging his eyebrows. “Did Rory ever bend the rules as well?”

“He was always the perfect gentleman,” Niall insisted, leaning back into Rory and taking his hand in his. “He only responded back to me through our connection once, and I was near a panic attack, so I really do appreciate him helping calm me down that night.”

Jimmy smiled and took them in. “You’ve been friends for years, though, and you only just turned twenty-one, right?”

Niall nodded. “Yeah, and he never once let on. I was completely shocked when I came of age and learned he was my match.”

“It was difficult keeping quiet and not giving it all away, too, don’t let him get off easy,” Rory said, once again making Jimmy and the entire audience laugh.

Niall just rolled his eyes and shrugged.

“You two are just too perfect for each other. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me and share a bit of your story with me. We’re going to take a quick break and then Niall will serenade us with his newest hit, the single that just hit number one in the charts off of his upcoming album, ‘Dear Patience!’ Right after this.”

The set started teeming with workers getting everything set up for Niall to sing, but when Niall turned to Rory and leaned in for a quick kiss, it felt like no one else was in the room.

“I don’t think I’ll be unhappy ever again in my life,” Niall said with a wide smile on his face.

“Oh, sure you will,” Rory said, teasingly. “At some point I’ll spend too much time playing golf and you’ll spend too much time writing or recording or performing music and we’ll have an awful fight and you’ll be absolutely miserable.”

“Hey,” Niall said, pouting. “Take that back.”

“No, because it’s the truth,” Rory said, smirking. “Plus, we already have learned we load the dishwasher differently, so I’m sure that’s bound to spark some fights too. But don’t worry.”

“Why not?” Niall asked, his blue eyes bright with happiness.

“Because that just means that after the anger and hurt and frustration from us both losing our tempers and saying shit we don’t mean, we’ll get to make up all over again.”

“Mmm, I do like the sound of that,” Niall said quietly.

“Niall, we need you to get your mic pack.”

Niall nodded before turning back to Rory and winking. “Duty calls.”

“Good luck. Sing my song nice and pretty, cause I was worth the wait, right?”

“You sure were.”

Leaning in for one more kiss before he ran off, Niall smiled brightly and Rory felt without a single doubt that he could not possibly be happier than he was in that moment.