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Always Wanna Blow Your Mind

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“Not sure I heard you right, mate,” Niall says. “You might have to say that again.”

“Alright, so,” Harry says, wringing his hands, “remember that time we played in Amsterdam? Two weeks ago? And before we had to check into the arena, I, like, disappeared for a few hours because I wanted to poke around the shops near the hotel?”

“Wait, I do remember this,” Louis says, swinging his legs off Niall’s lap and sitting forward. “Paul was mad as hell that you slipped out without any security.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Liam says dutifully, ever the responsible one.

“It wasn’t a big deal!” Harry says. “I had on a hat and sunglasses bigger than my face. No one recognized me. It was fine!”

“Except for the part where you’ve gathered us here cos supposedly you have something ‘very important’ to tell us,” Niall prompts. He has, he thinks, a bad feeling about all of this. His oh no Harry senses are tingling.

“Bloody hell,” Louis says, “you didn’t get papped hooking up with a prostitute, did you?” An evil smirk forms on his face. “Tell me at least you wrapped up your willie. Only enough room in this band for one fit young dad, and that spot’s taken already.” They all know what’s coming next as Louis fishes out his phone, a compulsion he can’t help. “Wanna see—”

“We can look at photos of Freddie another time, can’t we?” Harry says. Louis scowls at him. “Anyway,” Harry says more loudly, continuing to wring his hands to the point where Niall’s concerned he’s going to pop them straight off his wrists, and then where would they be. “I did not hook up with a prostitute in Amsterdam. It’s much worse! I went into a thrift shop and accidentally bought a magical sex ring.”

“Come again?” says Niall.

“How many drinks did you have tonight?” Liam asks.

“I’m bloody serious!” Harry says. “There was this shop at the end of this long, twisty alleyway with cases full of vintage jewellery, and I bought this quite nice ring from them, and ever since I been wearing it, I’ve had all these weird sex powers!”

Louis starts laughing so hard he falls on top of Niall on the couch. Niall shoves him off and says, “Like what sort of powers? Come on, Haz, you’re taking the piss out of us, right?”

“All sorts of powers,” Harry says desperately. “Stamina, for one—”

Liam blanches. “Do we really got to talk about this?” he groans. “Thought I’d make it to the end of this new tour without having to know every stupid detail of all your sex lives.”

“So what,” Louis says, “you can last a whole five minutes in a girl? Congratulations, Harold, the hiatus must’ve been good for you. Welcome to manhood. Shall we throw you a party?”

“Fuck off,” Harry says, “and I don’t mean regular stamina. Ever since I put on this ring, I’ve stamina like a horse. It’s crazy. Can go for hours, come, and get hard again right away, no break in between. Then do it all over again. That ain’t normal! Never used to have multiple orgasms like that before.”

Niall feels his face turn tomato red. It’s not like he hasn’t mistakenly walked in on Harry bollocks-deep in someone a million times by now on tour, with the way Harry’s always forgetting to close his door properly or borrowing someone else’s room to do it in, but to hear him talk about it like this is another thing entirely. He agrees with Liam. There’s some shit he doesn’t need to know about his bandmates.

Unfortunately for them all, Harry continues. “It’s not just that! There’s other powers too. My spunk tastes amazing now, tastes like a gob full of candy—”

“You mean you tasted it?” Niall asks weakly.

“Of course!” Harry practically shouts. “My spunk does not normally taste like that! And it’s got healing properties now too! Can make scrapes and bruises go away if you rub it on you. Got no gag reflex anymore. And my arse has been self-lubricating whenever I get turned on—”

“Wait, what,” says Niall.

“—and every time I get off with someone, we can hear each other’s thoughts for a whole day afterwards, like the world’s most intense afterglow!” Harry finishes, looking wild-eyed and a bit crazed and honestly not like the sort of bloke who deserves weird magical sex powers.

“Hold on,” Louis says, “let’s say we believe you. You started having these, uh, abilities after you put on this ring you bought, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods.

“So what’s the downside?” Louis says. “This sounds fucking amazing, mate.”

This seems to take the wind out of Harry’s sails. Niall can see him visibly deflate, shoulders slumping forward, indignation spooned out of him. “Well, it’s a bit weird, innit?” Harry says. “Being a sex wizard and being able to hear people’s thoughts. Plus I can’t seem to take the ring off.”

They all look at his hands with sick, keen interest. Harry’s wearing it on the ring finger of his right hand, a chunky black bakelite ring with gold specks around the band. It’s noticeably bigger and flashier than the other rings Harry’s always got on. Harry lifts his hand and makes an obnoxious flutter with his fingers like newly engaged brides do, and then drops his hand to his side. “So yeah,” he concludes, “that’s what I wanted to tell everyone. It’s been going on for weeks, so I thought you deserved to know.”

“Very considerate, that,” Liam says sarcastically.

“What about butter?” Niall asks.

“You calling Harold butterfingers now?” Louis cackles. “Is that another one of his new sex powers?”

“No, I mean,” Niall says, “what if we used butter to help slide it off? It can’t actually be stuck on you, Harry. If you got it on, there’s gotta be some way to get it off.”

“Oh, I’m sure Harry gets off in loads of new and exciting ways now,” Louis says, while Liam groans and takes it upon himself to tackle Louis to the couch and shove his hand in Louis’ mouth to shut him up. “Gerroff me, you crazy bastard!” Louis shouts, while Liam gives him no quarter. He ends up sitting on top of Louis while Niall dials room service and asks them to bring up a tin of butter, please thanks.

Harry meets Niall’s eye when he hangs up the phone. “I did actually try this already,” he says. “Was the first thing I thought of. Even tried to use my own arse lubrication, in case it was, like, a sorcery thing.”

“Did not need to know that,” Niall says firmly, turning even redder at the thought of Harry sticking his fingers up his arse to scoop out slick. “Besides, you might look like Tarzan on a bad hair day, but I’ve seen you try to open pickle jars, mate. You’re as weak as a baby. No, don’t argue, I know you are.”

Harry shuts his mouth with a snap. “Worth a shot, I reckon,” he says.

The butter doesn’t help. When room service brings it up, Niall uses his fingers to rub a chunk of it all around Harry’s ring until the butter’s gross and melty, dripping off Harry’s hand to the carpet where they’re going to have to leave a huge tip for housekeeping. He gives the ring a tug then, feeling it slip a little in the sea of butter Niall’s built around it, except it won’t move beyond a minute wriggle. He tries again, harder. “Let me know if this hurts,” he tells Harry.

“Go on,” Harry says, strangely bright-eyed.

Niall gives up on being gentle and yanks at the ring with all his strength. Harry yowls and gives him a betrayed expression, as if Niall didn’t warn him about this exact thing two seconds ago. “Let me try,” Liam says, and Niall knows when he needs to step aside for the big guns, except Liam can’t get the ring off either.

“Alright, you tossers, let daddy come and do the job,” Louis says, rolling up his sleeves, but they all ignore him. Louis goes and sulks in a corner.

“See?” Harry says when Niall and Liam are giving each other puzzled looks, staring at his hand that looks like a cow’s had an orgasm all over it. “I’m stuck like this,” Harry says mournfully. “Stuck being amazing at sex for the rest of my life.”

 

:::

 

In light of all the unbelievable things that have happened in Niall’s life, like fame and fortune and being part of a band that sold out fucking Croke Park when just a few years ago he was kicking around a football in Mullingar, just a boy with guitar callouses and a dream — in light of all that, he learns to roll with the fact that Harry’s now a sex wizard.

It doesn’t change things all that much for the band. Harry’s no different than he always is, self-lubricating arse aside. It makes no difference in their shows, in their interviews, or late at night when the lads are hanging out in Liam’s hotel room, playing Fifa on the Playstation and destroying a six-pack.

Harry’s Harry, and secretly Niall’s always assumed that Harry must be pretty good in the sack, he’s so tactile and giving and genuinely interested in other people, so none of this comes as a world-shattering revelation, like.

It takes a while for him to even notice that Harry’s a little hornier than usual, a little more on edge. In his own defense, even regular non-supernaturally-enhanced Harry’s pretty damn antsy, always humping mic stands and walls and his friends like his prick’s got a magnet attached to it.

Niall had pretty much resigned himself to lifetime of being a human scratching post for Harry’s cock, the same way he’d resigned himself to letting Louis make fun of his fair Irish complexion or taste-testing Liam’s horrible protein shakes that he makes in his NutriBullet at one a.m. in the morning. It’s all part of being tangled up in each other’s lives on tour, taking and giving pieces of yourself, like how he even starts talking like the other lads at the end of each tour, picking up their little tics and habits until he’s no longer sure who started what. He still talks like Zayn, sometimes, when he forgets not to.

“Harry’s been pulling a lot lately, you noticed?” Niall asks Liam casually one day when they’re in the hotel gym together. “Going out to clubs every night, chatting up the fans. Think it might have to do with—?”

“Hard to say,” Liam says, looking pained at the mention of the whole ring business, which they haven’t talked about much since it started. “Maybe? You know he’s always been good at getting girls. Just gotta flip his hair out of his eyes, smile, and they come flocking.”

“Yeah,” Niall says, “I know.” He does a few more squats. “Good for him anyway.”

“I stuck some extra condoms in his bag, just in case,” Liam says. “Though who knows, maybe the ring’s already taken care of that. Better not risk it, though.”

“Right-o, Payno, not like the ring came with an instruction manual,” Niall agrees, and then they both make faces at each other because it’s hard to believe they’re having a serious conversation about the abilities of Harry’s mysterious thrift shop sex ring.

Harry’s always pulled more than the rest of the band, definitely more than Niall anyway, who likes sex as much as the next bloke, only he also likes nights in with the telly on and a bag of popcorn in his lap, watching Liam Neeson take on bad guys while texting his friends back home. Trawling for sex all the time is tiring, especially after concerts, so he leaves it to Harry to be the man about town.

One thing Harry’s never been good at, though, is detaching himself from people. Which is why he and Niall’ve had a system for a couple of years now, where Harry’ll text Niall on mornings after, and Niall will go over to Harry’s hotel room and make up some excuse about why he needs Harry to come with him right away, like a band meeting or summat. One time he forgot what to say and blurted out the building was on fire, everybody run.

More often than not, Niall can’t or don’t feel like walking over on the drop of a pin, and Harry’ll be hiding in the bathroom pretending to shower when Niall finally gets there, with some gorgeous girl sitting on the bed blinking owlishly.

They get the hint, usually. “What’re you, his bouncer?” one girl had asked in amusement, swinging her long legs over the side of the bed. “No need, I’m going.”

Niall’s probably had more morning-after conversations with Harry’s girls than Harry’s had. When he jokes about it with Harry, Harry usually looks all apologetic. “I get so flustered when it’s time to say goodbye,” he’s said. “Don’t want to hurt their feelings, and then somehow I’m telling them let’s do this again, here’s my phone number, text me, and it’s so awkward, I’m so bad at it.”

Normally Niall don’t mind. It’s whatever, yeah? Some small part of him likes that he can help Harry out like this when Harry’s so independent, doesn’t seem to need the band quite the way they need him. Niall wasn’t even sure Harry’d want to come back after hiatus, he’d seemed so settled into his L.A. ambitions. Was surprised when Harry said yes, one more tour, and then let’s see.

Harry’s someone Niall will always take the chance to get closer to, because Harry’s the one he worries most about drifting apart from. So he helps Harry out, though he’d noticed he wasn’t getting asked much lately. Now he gets why, because now that Harry’s told him about the ring and is texting him again, the conversations with the girls have gotten right odd.

“I think I’m psychic?” one girl says, smacking her ears in wonder. “I can hear Harry’s thoughts — he’s thinking about pizza right now.”

“Holy shit, what’s happening to me,” another girl says. “Am I dying?”

“Pretty sure I’ve got Harry Styles’ voice in my head,” another girl says. “What a fucking pervert he is,” she adds approvingly.

“Do you want me to tell them or not?” Niall asks Harry after it happens a couple of times, and he’s had to convince girls that no, they’re probably fine if they don’t call a doctor. “It’s honestly freaking some of them out.”

“No, I don’t think so?” Harry replies helplessly. “It only lasts about twenty-four hours, and if I confirm, then it might be all over the tabloids. If I say nothing, maybe they’ll think it’s a drunk dream when it’s over.”

Niall thinks about the headline I HAVE A SEX-INDUCED TELEPATHIC LINK WITH ONE DIRECTION’S HARRY STYLES, ASK ME ANYTHING, and shudders. “Alright,” he says, “I’ll just mention there’s a flu going around, make them think it might be that. While you’re at it, try to control your thoughts, won’t ya?” He tweaks Harry’s nipples. “Don’t want strangers knowing every bloody thing about you when the twenty-four hours are up.”

Harry wraps his arms around him and and spreads his fingers like grabby tentacles over Niall’s chest. “You’re the best, Niall Horan,” he says, “you’re my very favourite. Have I ever told you that?” He tries to pick Niall up off his feet, except that Niall kicks him in the shins.

“Get off me, you horny bastard,” Niall laughs, and Harry wrestles him to the ground while trying to ride his thigh. Par for course, really.

It ain’t just girls who spend the night in Harry’s bed. It’s blokes too. Niall’s always known this, or at least suspected it, but it’s like Harry don’t care much more about hiding it from him, trusts him to be discreet, which. Niall’s very good at being discreet, loads better at it than Harry at any rate.

“My mum always said she had a little ESP in her,” one bloke says dreamily, lying naked on top of the bed while the shower’s running in the en suite. Niall tosses a blanket onto him for modesty, but the bloke doesn’t move. “Now I think I have it too,” he says in that same wistful voice. “Me and Harry, connected for all of eternity.”

“Don’t think it works like that, mate,” Niall says, “but how about some breakfast? I hear they’ve some great croissants downstairs.”

“Harry likes croissants with chocolate filling,” the bloke says. “He told me so. In my head.” His face falls. “He also wants me to go. He didn’t tell me that in my head, but I can hear it anyway.”

Niall feels bad, don’t like to see people hurt any more than Harry does. “That’s just Harry for you,” he says. “He means well but don’t know how to let people down easy. Come on,” he says with what Liam describes as his boy next door smile. “You deserve better than that. Let’s go, yeah?” and the bloke, very slowly and very sadly, does.

“Well, he was kinda heartbroken,” Niall comments when Harry comes out of the en suite sheepishly with a towel wrapped around his hips.

“I know,” Harry says, fiddling with his ring. “Should’ve backed off the moment I realized he weren’t looking for a fling. Should’ve tried harder to control my thoughts too, but they leak out no matter what.” He screws up his face like a small woodland animal trying to cross a highway. “Notice it only happens when I, y’know, come when I’m with someone, like the ring thinks I’m sealing the deal with my jizz,” he frowns.

“There’s this time-honoured tradition of getting off without psychically fusing your brain to someone else’s,” Niall says. “You might’ve heard of it before. It’s called wanking.”

“I tried that,” Harry replies, hands on his hips, “but the ring won’t let me, uh, finish. Gives me blue balls for days if I try to wank it out. It’s only satisfied when it’s — other people.” He blinks. “Being a sex wizard is a bit shit, really.”

“Oh,” Niall says, because what else can he say. “If it makes you feel better,” he shrugs, “I reckon the bloke would’ve realized you didn’t want a relationship with him anyway, telepathy or no.”

“Yeah, probably,” Harry says, but he looks worried.

 

:::

 

Thing is, Niall always did sort of anticipate a day when he would accidentally sleep with Harry. Not that he’d ever planned for it to happen. Not that he’d ever approached it in any purposeful, deliberate way, because while Harry is fit and like blokes, and hey Niall’s fit and also likes blokes, they’re in a band together. And they’re friends. These are all important things to stop Niall from ever putting the moves on Harry.

But he always thought, maybe. If they got drunk enough. If they forgot for one moment all the important things. It might have a chance of happening.

It does happen, in a club in São Paulo. They’re coming off a fucking amazing concert, where Niall swears he can still hear the screams of the fans ringing in the roots of his teeth, and his whole body feels pumped full of energy, his skin cool with dried sweat until they hit the club and he’s hot all over again pressed up against dancing bodies and a thick, heavy beat.

He’s on top of the world. He’s got his boys with him, and they’re all feeling it tonight, Louis and Liam both newly single and their dicks as wet for it as Niall’s is. That Harry’s up for it goes without saying, because Harry’s been buzzing all night, even before the concert, restless and itchy and hungry, palming Niall on-stage every chance he got, riding the ensuing shrieks from the crowd.

In the club they knock back tequila shots and hit the dance floor, Niall shaking his skinny arse and matchstick legs while laughing, giddy, because it don’t get much better than this. His armpits and the flat of his palms are slick with sweat, and he’s got a gorgeous Brazilian girl named Flavia dancing with him, smiling as he puts his hands on her hips and then slips them lower, over the curve of her full, round arse.

“Good night, isn’t it?” she shouts in his ear.

“The best!” he shouts back, and they grin some more at each other, knowing where this is going, until someone grabs Niall’s hips like bicycle handles and starts grinding on him from behind.

Niall knows right away it’s Harry because he can smell Harry’s cologne. And besides, Harry’s done it so many times, it’s like he’s bred all fight or flight response from Niall’s body at being randomly touched in that particular area. Someday Niall’s going to accidentally let some serial killer rub his cock all over his bum and it’s going to be one hundred percent Harry’s fault. Tonight, though, it’s just Harry and Harry’s out for the count already, three sheets to the wind, face flushed and hair curling wetly around his temples.

“Niall,” he whines. “Niall, go get me some more tequila shots.”

“Bit busy here, mate,” Niall says, gesturing at Flavia.

“I think I—-” Harry hiccups, “I think I lost my wallet.”

“Nah, prolly Liam took it from you for safekeeping,” Niall says because that’s what Liam does when Harry gets like this. He tries to turn away from Harry, giving Flavia an apologetic shrug — surely she’s got annoying mates to deal with too, knows what it’s like — except Harry grinds against him harder and then trips, taking Niall down with him.

“I’m going to leave you gentlemen to it,” Flavia says, eyeing them on the floor, Harry clutching Niall like a lobster to its shell. “Good night, Niall,” she shouts over the music, “it was nice to meet you.”

“Shit, man, look what you did,” Niall says, untangling himself from Harry before the other dancers can step all over them. He helps Harry up too, just because Harry getting trampled on a dance floor in Brazil would be bad press, and he’s not keen to figure out who’ll get Harry’s parts in songs if Harry were to tragically die tonight, anyway. Seems like more effort than it’s worth.

Harry throws himself at Niall and sticks his face in Niall’s neck like some confused baby vampire. “You’ve your wallet,” he says, like some confused baby vampire who’s confused blood for tequila. “You can buy us some more shots.”

“Yeah, alright,” Niall says, because it’s still early in the night and he’s got no plans to go back to the hotel yet. His plan is to drink some more, get loose and limber, and hit the dance floor to try again. This would normally be Harry’s plan too, except a few tequila shots in and Harry’s glued to Niall’s side at the bar, his mouth sticky with lime juice and salt, and he’s giggling, which makes Niall giggle too.

“Y’know what I was thinking the other day,” Niall says, after his umpteenth shot.

“What? Tell me,” Harry says, leaning closer.

“If you’ve a magic sex ring,” Niall says, “does that make you—” he snorts, “the lord of the rings?”

Harry laughs with his mouth hanging open, and it’s honestly not that attractive, Niall thinks critically, because Harry’s mouth is wide and sort of froggy, save for the part where he is definitely, horribly attracted to that.

“Nah,” he says a moment later, “don’t think you’re lord of the rings. You and the ring, you’re, like,” he waves his hand, “stuck together. It’s your precious. You’re more like,” he giggles, “Sex Gollum.”

Harry screeches at him and starts hitting him with his fists. “‘m not Sex Gollum! Take that back!”

Niall nearly topples backwards, he’s laughing so hard. Harry’s gone from trying to beat him with his fists to headbutting him, and Niall just grabs Harry by the shoulders and wheezes even more loudly, until his ribs feel like they’re going to crack. Harry’s fingers curl around the soft fabric of Niall’s shirt and he’s shaking with laughter too, lifting his head to meet Niall’s eyes, and oh, this is definitely a Sex Gollum moment, because without him really meaning to, they’re swaying closer together and kissing. Huh, maybe Niall’s not as discreet as he thought he was.

But it’s so good. Niall licks the tequila out of Harry’s mouth, chases every last drop. Harry shivers and puts his lips against Niall’s ear. “Come back with me, yeah?”

“Yeah, alright,” says Niall, dizzy with it.

They’re both so plastered it’s kind of amazing they manage to find their driver and get back to the hotel, navigating the elevator and dodging the paps to get to their reserved floor. They do manage it, somehow, with Paul’s help, though Niall’s probably going to have black and blue shins tomorrow from all the wrong turns and falls along the way.

It don’t matter, though, not when he’s drunk, happy, and tugging Harry along by the sides of his barely buttoned slip of a shirt, pretending like nothing’s going on until Paul leaves, and then they’re kissing again. Harry kisses him breathlessly, giggling the whole while, even when they scramble out of their clothes, fall onto the bed, and Niall’s got Harry kneeling between his legs, wrapping a hand around Niall’s cock.

What’s really amazing is that Niall can even get it up, seeing how much he had to drink, but maybe that’s another one of Harry’s new powers, the ability to summon boners even out of unlikely situations. Harry’s probably always had that ability though, if he’s being honest.

Niall lets himself lie back on the sheets and watch Harry jerk him off, seeing that black ring press into his cock like a kiss. It’s so good, he thinks again, sweat pooling in his collarbones, mouth kiss-bitten, and head somewhere in the upper stratosphere when he comes.

 

:::

 

Shit, Niall thinks when he wakes up and his head’s a pounding warzone. He’s laying off tequila for the rest of his life.

Harry’s stolen all the blankets overnight, and his mop of a head’s poking out of the blanket burrito he’s made of himself. “What time is it,” he groans pitifully.

“Dunno,” Niall says through a mouthful of dirty sock taste, “but don’t think we got anywhere we need to be for a while, thank god.” He sees Harry’s hair bob up and down in agreement, and it’s sort of mesmerizing the way each curl seems to defy gravity on its own terms, springing in every direction like a slinky. Harry shuffles up by digging his feet into the mattress, and his face peeks out of his blanket burrito, followed by his neck, on which there is a livid purple bruise.

Niall, who doesn’t remember much of last night, honestly, but does remember sucking that bruise, quickly looks away. They ought to talk about what happened, he thinks, make sure nothing’s weird between them, but that’s the last thing he wants right now, finding the right words to smooth this over.

Harry yawns, sends a blast of truly dreadful morning breath into Niall’s face. “Gross,” Niall says, “guess the ring don’t fix that.” Harry waggles his eyebrows and breathes at him again.

Niall grabs the blankets from Harry’s torso and yanks them towards himself, rolling over to face the other side. “Hey!” Harry says, trying to tug the duvet back. But Niall’s got a death grip on it, wedging a good portion underneath his body, pinning his weight on it, and faking a series of snores. He hears Harry struggle for a little while longer until Harry gives up and stomps to the loo.

Niall smirks. He hears Harry brush his teeth, and then flush the toilet. The tap turns on again, and when Niall next peels open his grubby eyes, Harry’s setting a full glass of water on his side’s nightstand with two paracetamols. “For the hangover,” Harry says.

“Thanks,” Niall says with real gratitude.

“I’m gonna take a shower now.”

“Mmkay,” Niall says, “erm, do you want me to leave then?”

“No,” Harry says, sounding surprised at the suggestion. “Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn.”

That sounds like a brilliant idea, so Niall does. He flushes down the paracetamol with a gulp of water and slips back into drowsiness, listening to Harry turning on the shower and arranging his approximately one million specialized bath products that he bought off Etsy, and then the low, comforting thrum of Harry singing Fleetwood Mac as he soaps up. Niall floats between sleep and wakefulness for a while, manages to surface slowly when Harry’s finished with his shower and comes out of the bathroom in a pair of tiny yellow shorts with a happy face over the crotch and his hair all toweled up.

Harry faces the window and stretches with his hands above his head, pulling his entire body into one taut line. His arse flexes. It’s obscene. “What are you doing,” Niall asks from the bed.

“Yoga, duh,” Harry says, “Water, meds, shower, yoga, face mask. In that order, and you’ll beat any hangover in no time. Come on, hurry up,” he adds, “I left you a robe on the toilet seat.”

“Oh,” says Niall, whose own hotel room and shower is two doors down and not exactly a difficult trek. But Harry did leave him a robe, which he ain’t so rude to refuse, so he takes his shower in Harry’s bathroom and rummages around for a spare toothbrush before giving up and borrowing Harry’s. It’s Harry’s own fault, he thinks, brushing his teeth while standing in the shower, spitting out the foam into the water as it swirls down the drain.

When he exits the bathroom, Harry’s still doing yoga, lying on the floor with his face down and knees drawn up. He looks like a lump of potato. Niall playfully steps on his back.

“Ow!” Harry says. “This is child’s pose, you wanker.”

“Wanked so much I probably clogged up your shower with all me spunk,” Niall says cheerfully. “At least one of us can still have a good old-fashioned tug.”

Harry lifts his face from the ground and frowns. Bits of his hair are plastered to his cheeks. “You needn’t make fun of my delicate situation. It’s not my fault the ring has demands.”

“You bought an evil enchanted ring cos you thought it was pretty,” Niall snorts. “Think that makes it exactly your fault.”

“It’s not evil,” Harry hums, “just — single-minded.” He looks down at his hand where the ring is. “Oh!” he says, suddenly, scrambling to his feet. “Don’t move, Niall! It’s time for face masks!” He lopes to the loo where he fetches a black tin that, when he opens it, contains thick goop in a concerning shade of green. It smells like green tea. There’s a little wooden spatula that’s supposed to be for putting the tea goop on your face, Niall assumes, though he’s not sure why anybody would want to. Anybody other than Harry, who says happily, “Let’s take turns. I’ll do you and you do me.”

“I feel like one of them gorillas that picks lice out of other gorillas,” Niall says as Harry starts applying the goop to his face with swift, determined strokes of the spatula. His ring bumps up against Niall’s nose.

“I’m gonna make you so beautiful,” Harry croons, “the most beautiful gorilla of them all.”

This is how Niall spends his first morning after sexing up Harry Styles: with his face goblin-green and cracked dry, ordering room service, and crawling back into bed where they pick through their plates of bangers and toast while watching Brazilian music videos and debating if they tried to incorporate those dance moves into their own choreo, which bone they’d likely break first. When it’s finally time to wash the masks off, Harry won’t stop pinching Niall’s cheeks because his skin’s so soft.

“Oi, you’re gonna get my face stuck like this,” Niall complains.

“Like what?” Harry says. “Dewy and glowing?”

It’s surprisingly normal, is all, nothing like the drama that usually trails Harry’s bedmates. Makes him suspect them shagging was a one-time thing, like they’d worked it out of their systems and now Harry’s determined to be proper mates again. Which is — fine, if you ask Niall, he gets it, it’s what makes the most sense. He likes Harry best like this anyway, soft and affectionate and going off on his oddball tangents, uncomplicated in a way sex is never going to be.

They fly that afternoon to Rio, and the concert that night is just as good as the last one. Even with them all hungover, they smash it out of the fucking park, nailing every single one of their songs, holding every last note, and the fans go crazy for it, fill up the bones of the stadium with their screams. When Niall comes off the stage, he’s still shaking with adrenaline, jumping all over Louis’ back and whooping. They go down in a jungle mess of limbs, Louis grunting, and then Harry and Liam jump in, until they’re all rolling across the backstage floor like wild animals high on the best time of their lives.

“That was us!” Niall shouts, tickling Liam’s ribs. “That was all us!”

Later, still riding that high, he’s not expecting Harry to follow him to the loo and push him into a stall. He’s not expecting Harry to drop onto his knees with a mischievous smile. “Fuck, are you sure?” Niall asks, voice breaking on an embarrassing note, but oh yes, Harry’s very sure, because he’s making quick work of Niall’s fly and then swallowing Niall’s cock down in one go. He wasn’t lying about no gag reflex anymore, Niall thinks with hysterical wonder.

He moans, hips rocking into Harry’s face, his fingers stuffed into his own mouth to keep from being too loud. Harry sucks him with eager, clumsy pleasure, his tongue playing with the mushroom head of Niall’s cock, until the sight of it, Harry licking his prick like an ice cream, is too much and Niall bites down on a whimper as he creams Harry’s face.

“Shit, fuck, sorry, sorry,” he gasps, using the edge of his shirt to wipe his come off Harry’s cheeks, only Harry’s smirking and licking at himself like a satisfied cat. When Niall glances down, he sees how huge Harry’s tenting, spreading a sizable patch of wet over the front of his trousers.

He starts undoing Harry’s fly, knuckles brushing the outline of Harry’s needy, leaking cock through his briefs, making Harry shiver beautifully, when there’s a bang of the door flying open and Louis’ shouting, “What the fuck’s taking you two so long, the bus is gonna leave without you.”

“Oh, we better go,” Harry says, his voice hoarse and fucked out. I did that, Niall thinks dazedly.

Later, it occurs to him that he’s slept with Harry twice now, and hasn’t been able to read his thoughts even once.

 

:::

 

It’s helping Harry take the edge off, is what it is. Nothing deeper than that. What Niall gets out of it is some really fantastic sex with someone who knows practically everything about him already, someone he doesn’t have to pretend around. What Harry gets out of it is someone he doesn’t have to let down in the morning, or freak out with his weird powers. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement, and they still get to sleep with other people when they want to.

Harry definitely does. Neither rain nor snow nor the cataclysmic end of the world’s like to stop the parade of beautiful people swinging through Harry’s door. Jesus, talk about stamina, Niall thinks and is impressed.

He’s game to help Harry pull in clubs, and in the mornings abracadabra, he transforms into Harry’s anti-wingman, showing up at Harry’s door making excuses so Harry can get out of having repeat sex he doesn’t want. He gets to deal with more of the telepathy business then, gets to recognize that look folk have when they’re sitting on Harry’s bed like they’ve a really bad headache.

Some take it better than others. “I heard about this, I did,” one girl says. “That when you have sex with Harry Styles, you get psychic powers. I read it on tumblr.”

“Yeah, pretty sure I read about this,” a bloke says, stretching out calmly. “Thought it was an urban legend, though.”

“Urban legend?” Niall says. “It’s only been three weeks!”

“He… thinks a lot,” another girl says diplomatically. “Like, I’d know right away those weren’t my own thoughts because no way do I think like that. I’d die of exhaustion.”

“Pretty sure he’s an alien,” another bloke muses. “He was leaking out of his ass and if that wasn’t alien fluid, then I don’t want to know what it was. Also, he thinks a lot about flower arrangements.”

“Do you really got to leave me alone with them?” Niall asks Harry. “Feel like I’m Oprah having high tea with your shags.”

“Well, the mind-reading thing’s even worse when I’m in the same room with them,” Harry says huffily, toying with his ring. “Volume gets dialed up. It’s like having someone shout in your head.”

“But what’s the point?” Niall asks. “All that other stuff — alright, I get it, makes you an amazing lay, but temporary mind-reading? What’s that supposed to do?”

“Like I said, it’s like the world’s most intense afterglow,” Harry frowns. “When you hear their thoughts, it makes you want to be, I dunno, close to them emotionally as well as physically.”

“What if they’re thinking about what a terrible shag you are?” Niall asks.

“But I’m not,” Harry says, “cos I got the ring.”

“Christ,” Niall says, staring at it on Harry’s hand, “we’ve got to find that shop you bought it from. We’ve that two-day break coming up soon, yeah? Let’s fly back to Amsterdam and figure out their fucking return policy.” Harry’s nodding yeah, yeah, and Niall continues, in a rush of indignation, “And the ring must be broken too, cos when you and I do it, we can’t read each other’s minds at all, so it doesn’t even have a hundred percent success rate, what the hell.”

“Erm, yeah,” Harry says, “must be malfunctioning.”

“What’s malfunctioning?” Louis asks, walking by with an apple. “Harry’s magical jizz? Too bad. Was gonna bottle it up and sell it like a tonic.”

Niall cracks up. “A spoonful a day keeps the doctor away.”

“Come one, come all!” Louis bellows. “So long as Harry comes first!”

“I dunno why I’m even friends with you lot,” Harry complains and wanders off to get some sympathy from Liam instead. He comes back later that night, though, when Niall’s in his PJs and studying himself in the mirror wondering if his teeth are getting crooked again because he never wore his retainer as religiously as he ought to. Harry lets himself into Niall’s room with the spare key card Niall gave him earlier, and Niall ambles over to the bed and says, “Hey.”

“Heyyyy,” Harry says, grinning at him. Niall pulls him onto the bed and they snog for a bit until Niall rears back, curiosity getting the better of him.

“Can you really heal stuff with your jizz?” he asks.

“Uh, yes?” Harry says, trying to kiss him again. Niall kisses him back for a moment, slow and sweet the way he knows Harry likes it, before pursuing his original thought.

“I cut myself shaving this morning, see?” he says, tilting his neck to show Harry the tiny nick. “Wanna see what your ring’s success rate is with that?”

“What am I, your science experiment?” Harry says, licking Niall’s cut with his tongue.

“Doubt this is anything science can explain, mate,” Niall says, and lets Harry climb onto his lap to nuzzle at him some more. Harry buries his fingers in Niall’s hair, tugs, and sucks long, bruising kisses into the column of Niall’s throat, until Niall’s squirming and saying, in a breathy voice he hardly recognizes as his own, “Think you’re supposed to be healing me, not messing me up even more.”

“But you’re so much fun to mess up,” Harry says earnestly, and proceeds to stick his hands down Niall’s trousers. “Wanna mess you up all day,” Harry says, maneuvering them onto their knees so that he can cup his hands around the curve of Niall’s arse. He presses the sides of his fingers into Niall’s bum so that Niall can feel the cut of his rings, and Niall’s whole body goes flush, heavy, and warm.

He’s like jelly, the way Harry manipulates him, the way Niall goes along with it, so that they’re pressed up against the headboard, still on their knees, Harry pushing Niall’s thin PJ trousers and his Calvin Kleins halfway down his thighs. Harry makes Niall take off his shirt so he can kiss the slopes of Niall’s shoulders, the line of hair down Niall’s chest, the soft skin beneath Niall’s ribs, and then he’s got one big hand around Niall’s very interested, very hard cock.

Harry surges, pinning Niall to the headboard. It ought to be be too pushy, too forceful. Niall doesn’t normally like being manhandled during sex, don’t like being made to feel small when he’s with other blokes, but when Harry does it, all he can do is moan and clutch at Harry’s shoulders, pleasure looping through his brain like a song on repeat.

The headboard’s digging into his back, gonna wreck his spine something awful tomorrow, but pressed up all over his front is Harry kissing him deep and wet, muttering filth into Niall’s over-sensitized skin as his hand works over Niall’s prick, tugging him just the right side of rough.

Harry starts grinding his cock on Niall’s thigh, and Niall trembles, feeling like he’s going to collapse, but he’s got Harry to hold him up. Harry to ride his thigh, Harry’s ringed hand to bring him off, until Niall’s crying out into Harry’s mouth as he comes. Harry convulses against him, arching his back, fingers going tight in Niall’s hair.

Harry’s still fully dressed, which makes Niall squirm after they come down, embarrassed because he’s a mess, come splattered over his belly with his kit rucked down to his knees. At least he got jizz over Harry’s hideous floral shirt, he thinks vindictively, rubbing it in with his fingers for good measure.

He nudges Harry off him a bit, just to give them space to breathe, since it doesn’t seem likely Harry’s going to move of his own volition. Harry’s still kneeling before Niall, panting hard, staring down at his hand that’s slick and slippery with Niall’s come. There’s a pearly drop of it on Harry’s black ring, and Niall watches as Harry brings it to his mouth and licks it off. “Fuck,” Niall says meaningfully.

He sneaks a glance at the front of Harry’s trousers where it’s — god, completely wet, like, soaked through, only Harry’s hard, painfully so if his expression’s any indication.

“Weren’t kidding about that refractory period, huh,” Niall grins, and stuffs two fingers down Harry’s trousers to swipe at Harry’s wet prick. When he licks them, hoping he can pull off slutty-sexy like Harry does when probably he’s just going to look ridiculous, he pauses because the taste of it isn’t anything he recognizes as spunk. Nor the look of it either. It’s clear and thin, like translucent sap.

It’s Harry’s slick, he realizes, not come, which makes him go fishing in Harry’s pants again before Harry can push him away. There’s no come on his second swipe either. Harry’s turning red.

“You didn’t—” Niall asks, confused. “You didn’t, erm, finish?”

Harry tries to roll over so Niall can’t see, but rolling over gives Niall a nice long view of his backside, which is — always a pleasure to look at, really — but he can see how the wetness from the front spreads all the way back to Harry’s, well, Harry’s self-lubricating arse. Niall blurts out, incredulously, “Were you faking your orgasm?”

“What, no,” Harry says, looking shifty and also like a man who desperately wants to get off. Niall rolls his eyes and reaches forward, happy to return the favour, but Harry bats his hands away.

“I’m knackered,” he whines. “It’s fine, honestly, Nialler — don’t worry about it.”

“You don’t want to—?”

“I’d rather cuddle,” says Harry, which shoots Niall’s eyebrows straight into his hairline because that is something no man has said in the history of the world, and now he’s worried the sex ring’s gone and scrambled Harry’s brains.

“Is this a delayed gratification thing or summat?” Niall asks. “Cos if you’ve some kinky plan in mind, I’m down with that.”

“No,” Harry breathes, blowing hair out of his face. “I’m actually quite tired tonight.” He opens his arms. “Cuddle please?” And Niall flicks his gaze down at Harry’s very impressive hard-on, and then back up at Harry’s pleading face, and he’s not sure what’s happening, feels a bit like a shit lay if he’s going to leave Harry hanging, but it’s Harry who’s telling him he doesn’t want Niall to get him off, so it’s all very — very confusing, is what it is.

“Fine, whatever,” Niall says, chalking it up to another weird sex ring thing, and after he cleans himself off with a flannel, he crawls into Harry’s arms where Harry immediately braids them together head-to-toe like a piece of dough. His stiffie pokes into the cut of Niall’s hip, where it stays for the rest of the night.

 

:::

 

Turns out Niall’s never met anyone as scared of having an orgasm with him as Harry fucking Styles. Harry’ll corner Niall, take him apart with his hands and his mouth, make Niall white out with pleasure, and then he’ll flop over and demand cuddles. It makes Niall think back to the handful of times they had sex before, and how, if called to the witness stand in the court of sexual reciprocity, he wouldn’t be able to swear without doubt that Harry didn’t fake those orgasms too.

It’s not like Niall ever gave him a good fondle afterwards to check, your honour, not when Harry used to leave him right after more times than not, swaggering off like the king of the world. Or they’d be too drunk for Niall to pay attention. It’s not the best excuse but it’s the one Niall offers up to appease his brain.

Well, now he knows, and he’s always up for a spot of challenge. Won’t lie and say he’s not got his pride on the line too. If he’s going to throw caution to the wind and shag Harry on the regular, he’s going to goddamn blow Harry’s little moppet mind.

Instead of letting Harry corner him, he corners Harry first, follows him to his hotel room after their concert and gets his hands on him first chance he gets. Doesn’t even let Harry make it to the bed because Niall’s got him pressed up against the door, kissing him and running his hands over Harry’s chest, using his nails because it always gets him a moan. He’s starting to figure out what Harry likes best, and he pulls out all the stops, yanking Harry out of his kit and mouthing his laurels, pressing tiny little bites with his teeth before getting on his knees and swallowing Harry down.

The sound Harry makes when his dick is in Niall’s mouth — Niall’s going to be wanking to the memory of that for the rest of his life. He makes it good for Harry, gives him everything he’s got, blowing him slow and sloppy, loads of saliva, letting himself choke on Harry’s big cock because it makes Harry’s knees shake.

Then Harry’s pushing him away insistently, curling up into a ball on the floor. “Can’t,” he gasps. “That’s enough.”

Fine. Niall will have to try again. He wakes up the next morning with a new game plan, and sends Harry a picture of him in his bathroom mirror, shirt off, flexing his right arm to show off his guns. Harry sends him a sunglasses emoji. Niall eats breakfast at the hotel bar and returns to his room to send another selfie of him lounging in bed in his briefs and naught else. Harry replies with an angel emoji.

After lunch, Niall sends a selfie of him making a duck face. Harry sends back a blushy face. Finally, right before the concert, Niall gives in and sends him a dick pic. Harry responds with an aubergine emoji.

In the dressing room, while Lou’s teasing Harry’s hair into its quiff, Niall walks by eating a banana with more tongue than any banana strictly deserves. Harry’s eyes widen, and it’s perfect, because Niall had calculated this knowing both Harry’s inexplicable sexual attraction to fruit and also, apparently, blond Irish lads. He waits until Lou’s done with all the predatory patience in the world, and then sits on Harry’s lap and finishes his banana with a moan.

“I know what you’re doing,” Harry says.

Niall grinds down on Harry’s lap. Harry whimpers and throws his head back.

“Oi, Gandalf, keep it in your pants,” Louis says from the dressing table one over. “Ain’t nobody dying here that needs to be saved with your unicorn jizz.”

Niall bites the lobe of Harry’s ear when Louis’ not looking. “You can save me,” he whispers, and Harry shoves him off his lap in panicked haste, but not before Niall’s noticed a familiar hardness poking him in the thigh.

Harry spends the concert alternately ignoring Niall, or trying to ride him like an exercise bike. The fans love it, scream so loud Niall’s pretty sure he’s going to have permanent hearing damage after this. It’s worth of every dollar of future-Niall’s medical bills.

“No but really, is this a tantric thing?” he asks that night when he’s sucked Harry off until Harry ruins the mattress with how much slick he’s leaking, and then Harry’s trying to pry him off his prick with white-knuckled desperation. Niall balances himself on an elbow and gives Harry a mild look. “You know I don’t mind your daft ideas, normally, but you’re kind of giving me a complex here.”

“Yes,” Harry nods earnestly, hitting himself in the face with his hair. “Definitely. It’s a tantric thing.”

“Alright,” Niall says, “cool.”

The next day he catches Harry reading the Wikipedia article on tantric sex, like he’s trying to memorize every word for an exam. “Boo!” Niall says, making Harry shriek and drop his smoothie. They watch it go splat on the ground, lid rolling off, and Harry’s expression is tragic like he’s mourning the death of vegetables everywhere. Niall wraps an arm around Harry’s shoulders companionably and remarks, “You’ve no idea what tantric sex is, do you? Thought you were supposed to be the sex god here.”

Harry sighs and twists the black ring on his finger.

“Look, mate,” Niall says gently, “whatever it is, I’m not going to judge ya. Whatever you want to do, or don’t do, in bed is totally up to you. Even if what you want to say is ‘oi, Niall, you’re really rubbish at shagging and don’t know how to get me off properly’, that’s okay too.” He laughs. “I’ll just have to go to remedial sex courses or summat. Take Liam with me.”

“You’re not rubbish at shagging, and you’re not allowed to take Liam with you to any sex courses, remedial or otherwise,” Harry says, looking at him guiltily. “Didn’t mean to make you think—”

“Don’t matter what I think,” Niall says. “What’d you want, Haz? This,” he waves between them, “you get to set the pace.”

Harry twists the ring again, hard enough that he winces. “I don’t want to come when I’m with you,” he finally says, “because I don’t want you in my head afterwards.”

“Oh,” says Niall.

“Sorry,” Harry says, looking miserable.

“No, that’s,” Niall swallows, “that’s alright, thanks for telling me. Glad it’s not cos I’m rubbish at sex.”

“You’re not,” Harry promises, and reels Niall in for a tentative kiss. It’s sweet, and apologetic, and Niall doesn’t know what to do with it other than to kiss him back, pressing his thumbs to Harry’s cheekbones and stroking.

“Are you mad?” Harry asks quietly, when they stop kissing.

“No,” Niall says, biting his lip, “like I said, I’ll take this wherever you wanna take it. It’s your head, mate,” he shrugs. “You get to decide who gets in it.”

 

:::

 

He means it, too, but that doesn’t mean it don’t hurt. Like, it’s one thing for Harry to decide he doesn’t want a sperm-fueled mindmeld with someone every time he gets his rocks off, thanks very much — that’s just good sense. But it’s different when Harry’s perfectly happy doing it with people he doesn’t even know, who could be risky inside his head, and deciding he doesn’t trust Niall there.

It’s not like that, Niall tells himself. It’s probably because Niall’s not a stranger that’s making Harry cautious, because Harry’s got to see Niall every single day on tour, where a stranger he can just blow off.

Either that or Harry’s a serial killer.

God, Niall really hopes Harry isn’t a serial killer.

He doesn’t press it further, anyway, because if Harry’s made his decision, then he’s made his decision. He seems to still be interested in having sex with Niall, and it’s not exactly a hardship for Niall to get that single-minded attention in bed where Harry’s one goal seems to be making Niall come as many times as possible. If Harry’s leaving him afterwards blue-balled and bow-legged, Niall feels guilty but it’s Harry who’s suffering in the end, not him.

Well, not that Harry’s all that sexually frustrated, in the grand cosmic sense of things, because he’s still pulling fit blokes and lovely ladies in clubs. Still falling apart in orgasms between their legs, and then splitting room service brunch with Niall in the morning with the voices of last night’s shags ringing in his head.

“What’s it feel like?” Niall asks curiously, one morning, smoothing marmalade onto his toast.

“Like you’ve the radio playing in the background,” Harry says. “Like you’ve forgotten to turn it off, and maybe you don’t pay attention to it all the time as you go about your day, but it’s still there.” He bites into his toast. “You can still hear it,” he says, gob open as he chews, “especially if they think anything interesting.”

“Yeah?” Niall asks. “Anything interesting then?”

“You know I don’t kiss and tell,” Harry says primly. He sits back in his chair, and cocks his head. “But I think I get it. Why the ring gives me this power. When I know more about them, like really get to know them, even if only for a day, it makes me feel… bad.”

“Bad how?”

“Like maybe I ought to have treated them better,” Harry says.

“You’re not a bad person, Haz,” Niall says, reaching over to pour Harry some orange juice. “You don’t have a mean bone in you.” They’re sitting on a balcony in Melbourne with the wind coming off the coast, tinkling the cutlery and the white tablecloth, and he feels like they’re characters in an Audrey Hepburn film. “Your problem, I reckon,” he says, “is that you go round in really fucking useless detours instead of being honest with people.”

“Oh, what’s this!” Harry crows. “Niall Horan pointing out my flaws! You’re one to talk.”

“Go on then,” Niall smirks, crossing his arms, “tell me what’s so awful about me.”

“Where to begin,” Harry muses. “Since you’re asking for honesty and all that.”

“I’m waitin’, darling.”

“You’ve… you’ve got really fucking skinny legs!” Harry says, eyes crinkling. “You’re like one of them pond skater bugs. ‘m always worried your legs can’t carry the weight of your fat arse and one day they’ll just collapse on stage, and I’ll have to think of some clever tweet when you’ve traumatized all our fans and you’re in the hospital getting your stick legs replaced. But don’t worry,” he adds, “I already thought of the clever tweet.”

“Kind of you,” Niall says, “always thinking of me health.”

“Mmm,” Harry says, sucking marmalade off his knife. “Your fat arse does keep me well occupied.” Niall throws a piece of toast at him. “Speaking of, I really,” Harry says, dodging it easily, “I really wanna—”

“What?” Niall asks.

“I really want to eat you out,” Harry says.

“Well,” Niall says, mouth gone dry, “there’s a bed right over there.”

 

:::

 

“It’s not,” says Liam, and then snaps his mouth shut. “No one’s gonna believe her,” he says at last. “Think about it. It’s one random fan twitter out of an entire sea of them.”

“One random fan twitter with three thousand followers,” Harry says, sitting in front of Louis’ laptop with a stony expression. He’s already scrolled through the tweets once, but he does it again, and Louis looks like he’s sorry he ever brought it to their attention at all. He tries to grab his laptop back from Harry but Harry hunches over it and won’t let him. Louis shoots Niall an aggrieved look, but Niall’s chewing his lip, staring over Harry’s shoulder.

The account’s harryangel117, with a profile pic of a brunette standing in front of the sea. The latest tweets start about twelve hours ago, where she gushes that she met Harry at a bar after their Melbourne concert — “complete coincidence!! didn’t know he was gonna be there” — and he took her back to the hotel.

our H is so easy, she writes. he went down on me (twice!!)

and he gets really really wet like a girl (SO wet)

Which is — all in poor taste, yeah, but it’s nothing they’ve never dealt with before, one night stands getting a little too detail-happy with their friends. Usually they’ve their PR team to handle it if it gets too bad or reaches the bigger websites. But as Niall reads on, his stomach drops because while he doesn’t think the media’s going to grab onto this, it’s awful in its own special way.

It’s not just harryangel117 bragging about what a great shag Harry is. That’s, well, whatever, dirty laundry that can be washed out, no one’ll remember in a few days, weeks, months. But it’s her saying, I learned lots of verrrrry interesting new things about our Mr. Styles too and don’t ask me how I know (you wouldn’t believe it). It’s the look on Harry’s face, blank and shuttered, as he rereads the rest of it.

Dozens and dozens of tweets follow, and Harry grimly clicks through them all, ending on a final link to Storify where they’ve collected the entire tell-all. Niall feels like him and the other boys ought to back off and not watch this, to give Harry some privacy, but it’s hard to look away, and Harry doesn’t ask it of them.

There’s tweets about Harry’s family, his parents’ divorce, about how Harry’s biggest fear is that no matter what he does or how much he prolongs it, he’s always going to one day be a washed up pop star, someone who burned out too quick and too soon. How he loves One Direction, glad they came back from hiatus, is proud of their new album, but he doesn’t think they’ve any more songs left in them, and he has an entire notebook of songs that aren’t One Direction songs, and worries that makes him selfish.

Tweets about how he texted Zayn after Zayn quit, and never got a reply so he won’t try again, and he’s still furious about it, listened to Zayn’s album with his bedroom lights turned off and a bottle of whiskey, and when he was done he drank himself sick over the end of one of the most important friendships of his life. How he loves all the lads but is intensely codependent with Niall, always thinking Niall this or Niall that, ”like literally I lost track after the first hour.”

It’s crude stuff, inelegantly described, and the worst of it, Niall thinks, isn’t whether it’s true or not. It’s that no one’s a sum of a handful of their thoughts. Niall’s known Harry for years and years, his knowledge of Harry a lived-in home, a room whose edges he can navigate even in the dark, but even then. It isn’t enough.

“Jesus,” says Liam, stricken. Louis pulls his lips back to bare his teeth, looking like a fox.

“I thought she seemed nice when I met her,” Harry says quietly. “She showed me pictures of her dogs. We talked about who we thought would win the Oscars.”

“It’s total bullshit,” Louis says. “No reporter’s gonna make a story out of this.”

Harry starts clicking some of the hundreds of replies, and it’s things like girl please, and ths isn’t funny and it’s so disrespectful to harry, and WHERES YOUR PROOF, and fake cuz Harry’s dating Louis, not Niall.

“See?” Niall says, making his throat work. “Even her followers think she’s rubbish.”

“It’s got no teeth,” Liam declares. “Like, look at that last reply. Remember how many people on the internet think you and Louis are in some secret relationship? People post whatever they want, it don’t make it real.”

“Right,” Harry says, “like the stuff about me and Louis hasn’t affected my life at all.”

Louis frowns, remembering, but he reaches over and messes up Harry’s hair. If it’s a little awkward, none of them mention it. “That’s our point, innit,” he says. “If rational people don’t believe you want all this,” he thrusts his pelvis forward, fluttering his eyelashes, “then they’re not gonna pay any attention to this new bollocks, are they? Since I’m loads better-looking than Nialler.”

“You’re like five feet tall, you look like a Smurf,” Niall says, punching him in the arm. “Don’t you think so, Haz? Come on, put away that laptop and let’s do something else.”

“Yeah, Rapunzel,” Louis says, “you haven’t let me thrash you in Fifa for a whole week.”

“A whole week,” Harry says faintly. “How do you even live.” But he lets himself be dragged away from the laptop and towards the Playstation.

 

:::

 

Their two-day tour break creeps up fast. Liam stays in Melbourne to visit some friends, Louis flies back to California to see Freddie, and Niall and Harry get on a plane to Amsterdam. “You don’t have to come with,” Harry says when they’re boarding, which is hilariously useless timing, and also entirely unconvincing.

“Are you kidding?” Niall says. “If I leave ya alone, you might end up buying a sex cardigan.”

“That’s not playing fair,” Harry says, “cos all cardigans are sex cardigans.”

They’ve only an afternoon in Amsterdam before they have to fly out to the Asia leg of their tour, so Niall comes prepared with a plan. He’s got maps, charts, spreadsheets, everything. He tells Harry not to bring most of his luggage — they’ll send their shit along with the crew to Tokyo. Only thing they’ve got with them for this day trip are their backpacks.

It’s a long, weary flight from Australia, but Niall’s not going to let them waste time having a kip in a hotel. They can do that when they’ve gotten the bloody ring off Harry’s hand. He plies Harry with Red Bulls and lattes, and rents them a cab from the airport to De Pijp. Harry doesn’t recall quite where the shop had been — “I wandered,” he admits, “and then had to call Paul cos I got lost” — but De Pijp is the neighbourhood where their hotel had been in, and the Albert Cuyp Market the sort of place that’d most draw Harry’s magpie attention.

They start at the hotel, the Sir Albert. “Alright, walk us through it,” Niall says. “Where would you have gone from here?”

Harry, clutching his latte, says, “This is a lot of pressure, you know.”

“Mate, you sing to stadiums full of people with cameras every night,” Niall says. “You can manage to take us on a spot of jewellery shopping.”

Harry thinks about it, sniffs the air like a bloodhound, and then starts walking. Niall trots after him peaceably, letting Harry do his thing. It might not be the smartest idea, visiting an open market in central Amsterdam without security, but they walk quickly and don’t make eye contact with other people. It helps that it’s a Tuesday afternoon where fans might be in school or at work.

It also helps that they’re both wearing oversized hoodies with snapbacks and sunnies, a getup that Niall lives in most days, but which he thinks looks unnervingly hilarious on Harry. Harry who’d gone to the airport in a camo jacket with his hair wrapped in a hot pink scarf that made him look like a lady at a beauty salon. Harry’s been getting more and more high fashion as time goes by. Harry in a hoodie and a snapback makes him think of a much younger Harry, a lad Niall once met from Holmes Chapel, and days long gone.

If Harry were his boyfriend, and they were two ordinary uni students browsing the market, looking at fresh produce to take home to their dingy, cramped flat, Niall would take his hand right about now. But they aren’t, and Harry isn’t, so Niall walks a good two feet from him, empty palm swinging, as Harry tries to recreate his afternoon in Amsterdam.

Harry leads him out of the open market area and through a series of alleyways, where the shops get smaller and cheaper. “I think I went this way,” Harry says to himself, “wait, no, maybe the other way.” He leads Niall past trash bins and delivery vehicles, past cigarette butts and whorls of graffiti. “Here!” he finally says. “I swear it was right here.”

He’s pointing at a little shop selling international calling cards and imported cigars. The door’s open and they can see straight to the back wall of it. “This is where the thrift shop was,” Harry says. “Feel it,” he shoves his hand in Niall’s face, “the ring knows it too.”

Niall, who’s never touched Harry’s black ring before now, pats it tentatively. It’s hot beneath his fingers like a piece of coal. “Shit,” he says, pulling away quickly, “yeah, you’re right.”

“It’s not there anymore,” Harry says. “What do we do now?”

Niall thinks about the maps, the charts, the spreadsheets he’d made with all the thrift stores in a ten kilometer radius mapped out. “I don’t know,” he admits, because he’s an ordinary bloke and this sort of wizard shit is so far from his comfort zone it might as well be on Jupiter. He glances at Harry and then halts because the look on Harry’s face, upset but trying not to be, makes his chest feel hollowed out with hurt.

“Let’s just go back to the airport,” Harry says thickly.

“Nah,” Niall says, “we’ve still a few good hours before we need to catch our flight. We’re in Amsterdam,” he says, putting a smile on his face, “and you know what we never got the chance to do last time?”

“What?” Harry asks suspiciously.

“Ride a bike.”

“I think I’d rather go back to the airport and drink my sorrows away, if it’s all the same,” Harry says, but Niall’s already grabbing his hand and dragging him back to the main road, where he finds them a cab and shoves Harry into the backseat.

“Where’s the best place to rent a tandem bike?” he asks the cab driver, cackling. “And where’s the best place to ride it without getting run over and killed?”

“Noooooo,” Harry moans from the back, but Niall knows all his weak spots, and this is the sort of quaint and cutesy shit that Harry loves best. “No, really, a tandem bike?” Harry asks hopefully, covering his face with his hands, and Niall crawls in beside him and plants a wet kiss on his knuckles.

“I’m gonna make all your manic pixie dream girl fantasies come true.”

Their driver deposits them at a bike rental outside Nieuwmarkt Square, where the shop clerk looks at Harry’s flailing limbs and Niall’s clueless cheer, and makes them sign waiver forms, “just in case, boys.” When she takes them to the tandem bike locked up in the courtyard, Harry makes them wait so he can take a series of artful photos for Instagram. He debates which filter to use before Niall tells him what does it matter, he’s only going to turn it black and white anyway, and get on the fucking bike already before Niall, like, gives birth to twins.

“Oh god,” Harry says, climbing on, “do you think the ring can make that happen?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, I hope not,” Niall says, “because I don’t think I have the right hips for it.”

“Obviously the baby wouldn’t be coming out of your arse, that’s ridiculous,” Harry replies. “You’d have a C-section and I’d be supportive and helpful and attentive throughout the entire procedure. And I’d buy you diamonds as a push present, even though you technically didn’t push.” He hums thoughtfully. “If we had a baby, what’d you think we ought to name it?”

“Conchobhar.”

“I didn’t even tell you if we were having a boy or a girl,” Harry says. “You didn’t let me finish.”

“Hey, you never finishing with me is your own fault, not mine,” Niall says, and then bursts into laughter because he is the funniest person to ever live, not that Harry appreciates his keen wit with the way he’s rolling his eyes.

“I think we’d have a girl,” Harry declares, “and we’ll name her Lily.”

“Ow,” Niall says, straddling the bike seat and wobbling for his effort, “the way this thing is smushing our bollocks, pretty sure we’re not making any Lilies any time soon.”

“You’re unbalancing us!” Harry says.

You’re leaning too far to the right.”

“Cos if I don’t, we’re gonna topple to the left,” Harry says. “Alright, we can do this. On the count of three. One, two—”

It takes them fifteen minutes to mount the bike properly, and twenty minutes to pedal out of the courtyard and towards one of the bike routes the shop clerk recommended. They wobble precariously the whole while, Niall in front and Harry in the back, Niall clutching the handlebars until he’s sure he’ll have the grooves permanently tattooed into his skin.

Harry starts singing. “Daisy, Daisy—”

“Oi, thought our daughter’s name was Lily!” Niall shouts. “She’s gonna be so sad you forgot!”

“--give me your answer do,” Harry sings loudly. “I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage,” he trills. ”I can’t afford a carriaaaaaage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for twoooooo.”

“Pull up in the monsta,” Niall begins, and he can hear Harry’s sharp, amused intake of air behind him. Niall grins and continues, at the top of his lungs, because if you have only one chance to do tandem bike karaoke, you ought to never waste it, in his opinion. James Corden, this one’s for you.

“Pull up in the monsta, automobile gangsta,” he sings as fast as he can, “with a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka / yeah I’m in that Tonka colour of Willy Wonka / you could be the king but watch the queen conqu-ah.”

“Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for,” Harry screams.

“I’M A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTA.”

“Nicki and Adele, we’re coming for ya!” Harry shouts, pedaling hard and fast enough that they nearly sideswipe a parked car. “Oops,” he says, bringing them to a stop so sudden that Niall falls off the bike. “Also, we’re not very good at rapping, are we?”

“No, we’re horrible,” Niall says, getting up from his hands and scraped knees. “Almost as horrible as we are at riding this bike.”

“Let’s take a selfie on the side of the road and put a mysterious caption on it that’ll leave people guessing for days, that only we know the meaning of,” Harry suggests.

“Sure,” says Niall, “let’s.”

 

:::

 

“What have I ever done to you,” Niall gasps, “to deserve this?”

“You looked at me all sexy,” Harry says, circling his hips, and Niall has to bite down on his lip to keep from crying out. He’s on his hands and knees, clutching the headboard to keep steady while Harry fucks him in slow, liquid motions. “I couldn’t help it.”

“I only came in to ask if you had any extra toilet paper,” Niall grits out. “My room’s missing a roll.” He bows his head and pants, biting back a moan as Harry nails him in that perfect, sweet spot he’d so unerringly found right away. “Was planning on having a nice night in,” he adds, just to be a dick. “A bath, a movie with lots of explosions, my favourite slippers. Til you came and right ruined it.”

“Sorry,” Harry says, and laughs a little before wrapping a hand around Niall’s hip and picking up the pace.

It’s — too much, Niall thinks, sweat stinging his eyes, his hair soft and rumpled, unspooling from its quiff. Harry’s fucking him so good and so well, and his body feels like a bell that’s vibrating with tension, little shocks of pleasure ringing through his muscles and his bones. He’d already come once tonight, from Harry’s mouth wrapped around his dick, Harry’s cheeks hollowed out, Harry’s lips shiny wet with Niall’s come. And he thought that’d been it, a bloody fantastic orgasm to top off a bloody fantastic concert night, but turns out Harry’s got other plans in mind.

Harry’s fucking him on all fours, driving his cock into Niall where he’s dripping lube and swollen hot, and Niall’s whimpering for him like a cat in heat. He can’t believe the noises Harry’s managing to pull out of him, can’t believe that he’s hard and ready to come again so soon. Harry stretches over his back, covering him with his solid weight, and his hair falls over the tops of Niall’s sun-freckled shoulders, heavy with perspiration and product, a filthy mess, and Niall moans.

The smell of Harry is filling his nostrils, sweat and coconut oil and woodsy cologne and — sex, so much of it, it makes him feel dizzy and weak, and he breathes it in huge gulps, greedy for more. He hasn’t told Harry this but he’s only ever let one other man fuck him before, and it wasn’t good, he didn’t like it, it’d hurt too much. But then tonight Harry showed him the lube with a hopeful expression, and it’s like Niall was burning up at the sight of it, excitement and nervousness buzzing in his ears, knees falling apart to let Harry crawl between them and open him up.

He’s not sure he can deny Harry anything, which is what terrifies him. Not sure why he ever would, when Harry’s so good at this, makes Niall practically float out the top of his head with starstruck pleasure. Harry’d fingered him sloppy with lube for so long, by the time he’d slid in there’d been no resistance at all, no pain, only shivery want and the sound of Niall’s heart flopping in his throat.

Harry’s making pained noises behind him, wounded and desperate, and it must be hell for him, Niall thinks dazedly, to keep his head about him and not come. He’s never thought of Harry as a particularly controlled person before, but he’s also never had Harry fuck him deep and long, with his bollocks swinging against the backs of Niall’s thighs. Niall’s hand is trembling where he reaches behind him and digs his nails into Harry’s hip.

“You’re doing so good, pet,” Niall says. “So good — fuck, ah! Just like that,” he gasps as Harry’s thrusts quicken.

“Niall.” Harry sounds like he wants to cry.

“Yeah, babe,” Niall says, “nobody’s fucked me the way you’re fucking me now.” Harry moans and buries his face in Niall’s hair. “Won’t be able to sit down for a week. Won’t be able to walk straight.”

“Fuck,” Harry trembles. “Gonna ruin you for everyone else,” he says, his voice deep and gravelly, and the sound of it scrambles Niall’s insides. That and a well-placed series of quick rabbit thrusts make Niall’s legs shake as he starts to come, vision whiting out, biting down on the pillow to keep from bringing the hotel down with his screams.

“Oh my god,” he says, “oh my god,” but Harry’s still fucking him, turns Niall around onto his back and pushes inside his arse, sure of his welcome. Niall’s hips come off the bed while his shoulders dig into the sheets, and he shouts, overwhelmed and too-sensitive, and he’ll kill Harry if he stops.

He’s so sore, reamed out by Harry’s huge cock, and there’s so much wet between them, they’ve thoroughly soaked the bed. Lube and jizz and Harry’s copious amounts of slick, and Harry pumps into him silken smooth, wringing out a loud squelch each time their bodies slap together. Niall presses two fingers to the curve of Harry’s arse, dipping between his cheeks where he feels another obscene spurt of slick, joining the rest of the mess as it drips down Harry’s thighs.

Harry’s ring-induced stamina is amazing. He can seemingly fuck Niall like a beast without ever getting tired, without his thighs cramping up. But Niall’s own very human, very ordinary body is giving it a good rally too, because his prick stiffens for the third time as Harry fucks him so roughly he’s banging Niall up against the headboard, and he cups a hand around the back of Niall’s head, as if to protect him from the blow.

Niall slings a leg over Harry’s shoulder, giving thanks to all those gym sessions Liam dragged him to, and reaches between them to press at Harry’s cock splitting him open, and Harry’s bollocks, which are huge and wet, angry red and swollen with come. They must hurt so bad right about now, Niall thinks, and fondles them gently while Harry makes a keening sound at the back of his throat and pulls off.

“Don’t,” he gasps.

“Sorry,” Niall breathes, and looking at Harry’s flushed, needy face, he wonders if any of Harry’s other partners have seen him like this before, wants selfishly to be the only one.

“I wanna make you come again,” Harry says, crawling up his side. He closes his eyes and takes several deep breaths to calm himself down. When he opens his eyes again, he looks a little less wild, a little less ruined, but only just.

“Not sure if I can,” Niall admits, tracing one finger over Harry’s laurels and then reeling him in for a kiss. “Besides,” he murmurs into Harry’s mouth, “three orgasms to your none, it don’t seem fair, does it?”

“Shagging’s not a competition,” Harry says, “there’s no one keeping score.” He shimmies down Niall’s body and spreads Niall’s legs, smiling fondly as he studies the scratches and finger-shaped bruises like landmarks on the geography of Niall’s hips and thighs. He arranges Niall’s left leg over his shoulder again, pressing a butterfly kiss on his ankle bone.

“What are you — oh, fuck,” Niall says, heartfelt, as Harry puts his mouth over Niall’s puffy, abused hole and starts licking him out.

 

:::

 

“Think I’m gonna lay off having sex with strangers for a while,” Harry tells them, and Niall keeps his expression neutral because he’s not supposed to have a horse in this race. “It’s,” Harry says slowly, “getting too complicated, you know what I mean? With the mind-reading after.”

“I think that’s probably a good idea, mate,” Liam says. “Until we get this whole business sorted out. I was thinking — the internet knows everything, right? Someone on the internet’s got to know more about this ring.”

“What,” Louis says doubtfully, “we’re just gonna post on Reddit or summat?”

“Why not?” Liam shrugs. “Worth a shot.”

“Yeah, alright,” says Harry, “‘s not like I can think of a better idea at this point.” He twists the ring on his finger and grimaces.

“Hey,” Niall says that night, when Harry’s crawled into his bed for the express purpose of throwing his limbs everywhere and taking up his entire duvet. He smells like bourbon and sugar cookies and all of Niall’s favourite things. “I agree with Liam, maybe best not to do it with strangers for a while,” he says. “But don’t you, like, still need some way of getting release? You said the ring makes it worse, when you haven’t come for a while.”

“Mmm,” Harry says into his shoulder, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

“We could call someone you trust?” Niall suggests. “Nick, Kendall, I dunno. We could go through your phone. It doesn’t have to be a stranger.”

Harry yawns and covers his mouth to muffle the sound. “I’m in bed with you right now, stop trying to shove me off on other people.”

Niall laughs hoarsely. “Just looking out for you, Hazza.” He pauses, and runs a hand through Harry’s hair, coming across a tangle and trying to pick it apart gently. “You know I’d never,” he begins, feels his thoughts fumbling, and then tries again. “I’d never tell anyone either. If I saw into your head.”

“There’s stuff there you wouldn’t want to see,” Harry says softly.

Are you a serial killer then?” Niall asks, picking apart the knot and combing his fingers through Harry’s hair. Harry purrs and presses closer to him. “You better not be thinking about making a skin suit out of me,” Niall warns.

Harry tickles him in response, making Niall wheeze with surprised laughter and try to roll away from him. He nearly rolls off the bed, but Harry catches him in time and yanks him back, one hand on Niall’s ankle. Harry’s smiling as he leans down, hair a curtain over both their faces as he kisses him.

Niall still can’t let it go, though, always has to say the worst thing to ruin a good moment. “I just don’t want you to get nothing out of this,” he says. “You’re so fucking good to me,” he thinks of last night, “giving and giving like—”

“If you say Sex Gollum again,” Harry says, “I’m gonna make you regret it.”

“—Sex Santa,” Niall finishes.

“That’s… really not any better,” Harry says. “If I’m Sex Santa, then that makes you one of the elves, don’t it?”

“Nah, I don’t think Santa would have sex with one of his elves,” Niall says. “That’s abuse of power, innit? Elf unions would riot. I’m more like a lad on his naughty list. But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to say! Forget Sex Santa!” Harry nods wisely and bites Niall’s collarbone. “I just meant,” Niall says, hissing with pleasure, “that you’re so good to me and I feel like a twat, doing nothing in return.”

“Mmm,” Harry says again, “you ever seen yourself when you come?”

“No, how would I,” Niall says crossly, trying not to turn red and failing.

“We could make a sex tape, and then we could watch it together,” Harry says slowly. “I’d do it too, if I didn’t think PR would kill us, cos we’d have the best sex tape ever, wouldn’t we? Nothing else would compare, we’d win the Sex Tape Olympics.”

“Harry,” Niall whines, “not my point either.”

“I mean,” Harry says, “if you could see yourself when you come, you’d know that I’m not doing this out of the goodness of my heart.” He spreads his ringed fingers over the left side of Niall’s chest, like he’s trying to capture the feel of Niall’s heartbeat. “I’ll be okay,” he says. “Maybe I’ll get so tantric without orgasms, I’ll reach enlightenment.”

“Mate,” Niall says, “I once saw you lose the keys to your flat and try to pick the lock with your necklace. For two hours.”

“I could be enlightened,” Harry huffs, “and you just don’t know cos you’re still stuck on this earthly plane.”

“See if I make any throwaway Reddit accounts for you ever again,” Niall says as Harry bends down and kisses him with decidedly unsaintly tongue.

He does, though. Make throwaway Reddit accounts so they can investigate Harry’s ring. All the lads do, on Reddit and other sites as well, trawling the darkest corners of the internet for the places where the weirdest people gather — forums, conspiracy theory sites, witch pages. Ring that gives you sex powers once you’ve put it on (and can’t get it off again), Niall types. Anyone had this happen to them before?

“I read once,” says Liam, “that at the Google headquarters they’ve this live feed up on a wall, and it shows real time searches as they come in.” He starts a new forum topic on a site dedicated to Tolkien jewellery. “I think about that a lot.”

“It’s prolly just the word ‘porn’ being searched 24/7,” Louis smirks.

“No, I bet they block that or something,” Liam argues. “Can’t imagine walking into Google for, like, an important business meeting and watching some bloke’s porn searches on a giant wall.”

“Lads, can we focus?” Niall snaps. “Look, we’re already starting to get replies.” They’ve set up a shared email account all of them have been using to create their fake accounts — harrysexring@gmail.com, he shouldn’t have let Liam choose the name, Liam’s the worst at naming things — and now he’s clicking through the notifications. Harry comes and drapes himself over Niall as he looks through the replies. It’s mostly junk, to be honest, spam and weirdos and invites for sex. “Louis!” Niall yells. ‘I told you not to use Penelope Cruz as your user pic!”

“It gets people’s attention, don’t it?” Louis sneers. “Better than Liam using a pic of the Green Lantern.”

“Comics version or Ryan Reynolds version?” Harry asks.

“Ugh,” says Niall, while Harry laughs quietly into his shoulder. Niall keeps an eye on the inbox for the next few days, spending a couple minutes sorting through it after breakfasts, until he finally sees a reply from user ladysinatra on Metafilter.

I know people think this is a joke post, she writes, but this really did happen to me too. I bought a ring from a thrift shop in Barcelona, and once I put it on, weird things kept happening to me during sex. She goes on to describe some of those weird things, which includes, yes, Niall realizes with excitement, temporary telepathy with sex partners after orgasm.

His fingers shake when he sends her a private message. How did you get the ring off? *Did* you ever get the ring off?

Her reply is sitting in the inbox after their concert in Manila. It did come off. I don’t really know how or why, but it happened after I had sex for the first time with the man who’d become my husband. That’s all I know, sorry.

“Where’s Harry?” Niall asks, cornering Louis in the hotel lobby. “I got something to tell him.”

“Think he went off with Paul to look at an aquarium or summat,” Louis says, stuffing his face with a bananacue he bought off a street vendor. “You know how he feels about fish. Watched Finding Nemo one too many times.”

Niall makes a frustrated noise, and Louis looks at him cannily. “You two are getting quite chummy, aren’t you?”

“What’d you mean?” Niall asks warily.

“Don’t act like I’ve not heard you twats through the wall,” Louis snorts. “But then again, you two have been close for a long time. ‘Specially after Zayn,” he says. “We fractured a little, didn’t we, after he left? And after the cracks formed, it was me and Liam, and you and Harry. But that’s alright,” he says, eating the rest of his bananacue. “Think maybe it was meant to be that way all along.”

He’s not wrong, but. “You’re all my best mates,” Niall says. “You’re my Tommo, always.”

Louis laughs. “Some of us are your mates, and some of us are your mates that you wanna stick your dick into. There’s a difference,” he says, “but cos we’re all mates here, I also don’t want to see you—”

“What, hurt him?” Niall asks, eyebrows raised. “Reckon it’s more likely to be the other way around, when this is over.”

“You sure about that?” Louis asks.

Niall sticks his hands into his pockets, rocks on his heels. “Hey,” he says, “I haven’t seen any pics of Freddie for the last forty-eight hours. Any new ones to show me?”

“Oh, dirty pool, very dirty pool,” Louis says, but whips out his phone anyway.

 

:::

 

The no orgasms thing is making Harry miserable, and when he crawls into Niall’s bed that night, as he’s wont to do these days, he humps Niall’s thigh a little, and Niall lets him. “How’re you feeling?” Niall asks, setting down the Tsingtao he’d been drinking while watching telly, propped up on a mountain of soft, fluffy pillows.

“I’ll live,” Harry says dryly. “Whatcha watching?”

“Nigella, actually,” Niall says. “Didn’t know they played Nigella in Hong Kong, what a happy surprise, right?” They both watch the screen for a while where Nigella’s explaining how to make her delicious, no-fail French toast. Chinese characters scroll by on the bottom as Nigella talks them through the process, and Niall listens to Harry’s breathing even out to a slow, steady beat.

“I really want some of that French toast right now,” Harry says.

“Me too,” Niall admits.

“Hong Kong’s got cafes open all hours of the night,” Harry says, sitting up onto his knees. “Wanna see if we can find one that serves French toast?”

“Or,” Niall says, “we could make it ourselves.”

“With what kitchen?”

“There’s a fancy pants hotel kitchen like twelve floors beneath us,” Niall says. “Bet they’ve everything you need to make Nigella’s French toast just the way she’d want us to.”

“Somehow I don’t think they’d want two random pop stars using their professional kitchen at one o’clock in the morning,” Harry drawls.

“We’re boyish and charming, aren’t we?” Niall says, grinning. “Bet we could make a good case for it. If all else fails, we’re rich now too. You really think they’ll say no? Come on,” he coaxes, scrambling out of the bed and leaving his beer on the nightstand, “do it for Nigella.”

“Oh, well, for Nigella then,” Harry says, and follows him.

It takes fifteen minutes of Niall’s excellent persuasive skills, Harry’s sleepy doe-eyed dimpled smile, and a crisp hundred euro note out of Niall’s wallet before the hotel lets them into their kitchen. As befitting a hotel of this size, it’s huge, and half of it is still going, even at one a.m., where cooks are taking room service orders. The other half, divided from the main kitchen by a partition, is quiet, and immediately Niall and Harry sprawl over its steel counters and start trying to remember what Nigella told them to do.

It takes them some time to poke through the larder and the walk-in fridge to find what they need, but that’s half the fun, getting to peek into other people’s spaces. Niall finds a loaf of thick, crusty bread in the pantry and starts slicing it, while Harry beats together four eggs with milk and cinnamon. Niall grabs a handful of oranges and starts zesting them.

Harry cracks open his jaw and yawns, mixing bowl tucked into the crook of his arm like a space helmet. “Heard any more replies from helpful internet people?” he asks.

“Just that lady so far,” Niall admits, zesting flakes of orange peels into a bowl like a little citrus snowstorm.

“Not particularly helpful though, is it,” Harry says. “Unless you think I ought to sleep with her husband cos he’s the key to breaking this whole spell.” He looks down at the ring. “Could message her back and suggest a threesome, maybe.”

“Honestly?” Niall says, arms aching from how much he’s zesting. “If a threesome’s all it takes to get that ring off you, I’d say go for it.”

“Or maybe,” Harry muses, “for her it was her husband, but for me it’ll be someone else.”

Niall has trouble meeting his eyes. “Could be,” he says, except Harry ain’t exactly looking anymore, is he? As far as he knows, Niall’s the only person he’s been shagging lately. If there’s something Harry wants to say, he ought to come right out and say it, only Harry doesn’t seem to want to say anything. Doesn’t seem to want to do anything other than stare at the side of Niall’s head intently, and when Niall manages to look at him again, it’s Harry who glances away.

“Here, done,” Niall says, and dumps the orange zest into Harry’s mixing bowl.

“Here’s an enlightened question for you: if we came back in our next lives as desserts, what desserts do you think we’d be?” Harry asks when they’ve got a pan on the hob, and they’re melting butter on it while dipping the pieces of bread into the egg mixture.

“That’s easy,” Niall says. “You’d be a trifle. Fruity, spongy, gaudy as fuck.”

“Thanks!” Harry says happily. “Trifles are delicious.” He starts laying the pieces of bread onto the sizzling pan, and Niall stops him from trying to put them on all at once, hip-checking Harry aside to make sure there’s spaces between the runny slices. “You’d be an oatmeal biscuit,” Harry says, watching him play bread tetris.

“A boring old oatmeal biscuit?” Niall makes a face. “Gee, thanks.”

“They’re not boring!” Harry says. “You ever had a soft oatmeal biscuit straight out of the oven? We used to make them at the bakery — god, they were so good.” He closes his eyes, smiling, like he’s trying to recreate the memory in his mind of a time before One Direction. “They remind me of home,” he says when he opens his eyes again. “And my nan.”

“I remind you of your nan?” Niall asks, voice going high and funny.

“She’s a fine woman!” Harry cackles. “And your knees are certainly knobby enough!” Niall scoops up the last dregs of the egg mixture from the bowl and flicks it at Harry’s face. It hits Harry’s cheek with a yolky splat, and then Harry’s all up in his space, trying to wrestle Niall into a headlock, laughing with outrage as Niall eels out of his grip.

They nearly burn the toast, but Niall remembers at the last moment to save it, and they eat it hot and sweet with sprinkled sugar on their fingers, sitting on the counter side-by-side. And Niall thinks, this is the memory he wants to keep in his head the most when the tour is over. Not the concerts, not even the sex, but this — him and Harry mucking about in a hotel kitchen, eating French toast and talking about their nans, and Harry looking at him like he can’t stop smiling, knocking their ankles together every chance he gets.

They clean up after themselves, washing the bowls and the pan, swiping down the counter, because it’s only polite. When they’re done Harry turns around and puts his soapy fingers on Niall’s face, pulling him in for a kiss, and Niall drags him back to his hotel room, or Harry drags Niall, it’s hard to say. They end up tipped over on the bed licking the sugar out of each other’s mouths. Niall straddles Harry’s hips, pinning him down, and Harry goes mad for that, gasping into Niall’s mouth and grinding against him.

They don’t go any further, though, don’t feel like they need to. There’s no urgency in it, only slow boneless want, parceled out piece by piece. Harry unspooling beneath Niall, and Niall melting into Harry’s warmth. They snog like that for hours, dragging kisses from each other, until they fall asleep tangled up like rope, and it’s morning when Liam’s pounding on the door telling them they’re going to miss bus call.

 

:::

 

They’re at the last stop of their tour, in Singapore, and Niall celebrates by bending Harry over the bathroom counter at the Grand Hyatt with two of Niall’s fingers up his arse. Harry’s got his elbows on the countertop as he pushes back greedily, taking Niall’s fingers deeper. The entire time he’s staring, open-mouthed and devastatingly flushed, at their reflections in the mirror, and when Niall crooks his fingers to find that sweet spot, Harry bites the inside of his cheek and mewls.

Niall drops a kiss into his sweaty shoulder. “Doing so well,” he murmurs.

Harry moistens his lips with a swipe of his tongue, and Niall watches it in the mirror, sees how his eyes go dark when he notices Niall staring, how he gives Niall a deliberate, sly look from beneath the fringe of his lashes. What a fucking tease, Niall thinks fondly, and retaliates by slowing his pace and pushing his fingers into Harry with leisurely indecision, drawing it out so that Harry keens, desperate, arching the gorgeous line of his back, jutting his arse out into the flat of Niall’s waiting hand.

He’s so wet, and Niall’s never going to get used to the ring doing that, the amount of slick Harry makes when he’s turned on, how messy-easy that first push into him was, like Harry’d been leaking for him for hours. It coats the inside of Harry’s thighs, shiny, and gets all over Niall’s hand. When Niall licks it, the taste is mild, a bit like apples, and Harry groans at the sight, canting his hips to get Niall back inside him.

“Tell me when to stop,” Niall whispers into his hair.

“I will,” Harry says. “Not yet — ah, god. Keep going.” He collapses onto his elbows and presses his cheek to the countertop, watching the mirror dreamily, closing his eyes and shuddering when Niall quickens his pace.

Niall could do this forever, he thinks, could quit the whole musician gig and fingerbang Harry as his full-time job. Hard to remember reasons not to, the way Harry’s so sweetly eager for it, so responsive, and so fucking pretty when he’s keeping himself teetering on the edge, not letting himself go over. Harry looks good in everything, posh clothes on the red carpet included, but he looks best like this, Niall decides, naked and pinned beneath Niall with his cock stiff and needy, smearing wads of precome where it’s trapped between the counter and his belly.

“You’re tightening on me, sweetheart,” Niall says, fingering Harry’s open, pink hole. He rubs his thumb over Harry’s perineum, touching the hot skin there. Harry shudders. “You sure you can keep going?”

“‘m sure,” Harry says. “Don’t stop, please.”

“Looks like it hurts,” Niall says, pushing two fingers back inside Harry. “Your bollocks are so tight,” he says, using his other hand to cup them, “pulled so high. Feels like you’re gonna shoot off any moment.”

“I won’t,” Harry cries out. “Promise, Niall, I won’t.”

“Could keep you like this for a long time, I reckon,” Niall says, emboldened. “All day, maybe. Could get you a plug, hold you open you loose and sloppy. The other lads wouldn’t know, watch you squirm and think it’s nothing. But it’d feel so good, wouldn’t it, something in you all day.” His cheeks in the mirror are pink as he talks, and he’s fumbling a bit over his own words, but Harry doesn’t laugh at him, doesn’t tell him to sod off, just moans pitifully and gushes even wetter over Niall’s fingers.

“Not as good as me inside you, though,” Niall says hoarsely. “Would you like that, princess?” He thrusts his fingers in, deep. “Could fuck you full of my come, then send you to Liam and Louis with your pants soaked.”

“Oh my god,” Harry says.

“Should I — stop?”

Fuck,” Harry says, clutching the countertop so hard his ring clinks into it. “Niall, I can’t— you’re so—”

“I could cream you so many times before our concert tonight,” Niall says. “Come in you, bollocks-deep, and then do it all over again. Watch you struggle not to peak when I spread you out on my bed and fuck your brains out.” He cups Harry’s arse, pushing him tenderly onto his fingers, and Harry’s body gives a violent clench as his mouth hangs open, gasping Niall’s name over and over again. Harry shoves back onto him, wildly, standing on his tiptoes, neck stretched out, shoulderblades flaring. When Niall realizes what’s happening, it’s too late, and Harry’s starting to come.

Harry’s sobbing as he orgasms, spasming around Niall’s fingers, cock juicing come onto the bathroom counter, streaked across the mirror. The sound Harry makes is more animal than human, desperation and relief and shame trembling together at the base of his throat. He comes and comes and comes, and Niall holds him through it, awestruck, grounding him to the earth as Harry tries to shake out of his skin. It’s like watching an earthquake, a cataclysmic event, and Harry’s squeezing tears from the corners of his eyes, he’s so overwhelmed.

“Fuck!” he says when he’s got control over his voice again, and he scrambles out of Niall’s arms.

“What?” Niall asks, panicked. “Did I hurt you?”

The telepathy hits them both at the same time, like a slap upside the head. Want him so much, tried not to for so long, but can’t stop, want him with me every day, all the time, would he come back to California with me if I asked, but I can’t, he don’t feel the same way, it’s just fooling around for him, god, fuck, I don’t think my legs work properly anymore.

Harry’s yanking at the ring, tugging at it with renewed frenzy while wobbling on his orgasm-weak legs. “Fuck!” he says again, shouts it into the echoing tile of the bathroom, and Niall’s stepping forward, putting a hand over his.

“Stop, you’re hurting yourself,” he says, and Harry gives him a look that’s wild-eyed and afraid.

He knows, he knows, he knows.

“I — gotta go, forgot something in my room,” Harry says, tugging his trousers back on, and dodges past Niall out the bathroom. He nearly bangs into the frame but he swings round at the last moment, avoiding it, and makes a beeline for the door.

“The fuck?” Niall asks, following him, feeling overwhelmed and confused and uncertain, not sure which voices in his head are his and which ones aren’t. It’s a cacophony of sound, not at all like Harry had said, a radio. More like ten radios turned on at the same time, each of them broadcasting on a different frequency, and is Harry’s head always like this, and why is he so fucking rattled? Niall feels bad, it was an accident, he hadn’t meant to open up that link with Harry, but Harry’s reaction seems a little extreme even then.

He waits a minute to find his bearings, feeling pretty wobbly himself, before going after Harry and knocking loudly on his closed door. “Haz, come on, what the hell,” he bangs with his fists. “Did you just — run out on me? Open the goddamn door.”

Don’t want to, he hears in his head.

“So what, you’re just gonna leave it like that?” Niall says. “I know you’re freaking out, but your freaking out is making me freak out, and if you’d just come out and talk to me for a bloody second—”

“Will you two,” Louis roars from his room, “shut the fuck up!”

“It’s none of your business!” Niall shouts.

Louis wrenches open his door and glares at him in the hallway. “It is my business when I’m trying to have a kip before the concert and you two are twatting it up like a pair of banshees.” He goes over and bangs on Harry’s door. “Harold, come out and talk to your fucking boyfriend! Some of us are trying to sleep!” He turns around and slams back into his room.

Fuck you, Louis, Niall hears in his head.

Tommo’s right, though, Niall thinks purposefully. Stop being such a diva and come out and talk to me. I promise I won’t bite.

Harry starts humming Joni Mitchell to himself.

I know you can hear me, Haz, Niall thinks, before his head gets filled up with Harry thinking very intently about cuticle cream, like he’s grabbed the closest thing to him and is reading the list of ingredients while contemplating every single one of them with scientific obsession. It’s white noise, is what it is, and Niall huffs back to his own room, which is right beside Harry’s, and falls onto his bed.

Harry is — such a bloody wanking drama queen, he thinks, and doesn’t even mean to broadcast it at Harry, except he can hear Harry’s derisive snort, followed by more dedicated cuticle cream thoughts. Niall rolls over and looks at his balcony window. He gets an idea. He trots over to the balcony and thinks about how, if Harry won’t open his door, he’ll just have to monkey his way over from his balcony to Harry’s adjacent one, never mind they’re on the fifteenth floor and it’s a straight drop down onto concrete.

You’re bluffing, Harry thinks.

Try me, Niall thinks, and has one foot on the railing when Harry appears on his balcony, bundled up in hotel bedsheets so that he’s more toga monster than Harry Styles. He’s got his green tea gunk on his face too. It’s honestly so disorienting that Niall actually does teeter on the railing, and then hurriedly pulls himself back.

If you fell, that would’ve been really fucking dumb of you and completely your fault, Harry thinks.

“Don’t lie,” Niall says out loud, “you’d cry if that happened.”

Harry’s face goes blank, which ordinarily would be devastatingly effective, Harry’s indifference being his greatest weapon against others. But not so much when Niall can hear his jumbled up snakes basket of a brain. Harry’s still freaking out, worrying about how much Niall knows, worrying about how Niall’s going to reject him now, how he’s just fucked up the band, never mind that this is likely their last tour, the reunion shows are going to be a bitch, he’ll have to change his name and move to Romania, what’s a good solid Romanian name, he ought to look it up on Google to be prepared — and it’s all so tiring that Niall shuts him up.

“Listen,” he says, and Harry frowns at him, baffled like he’s not sure what Niall means. Trust Harry to have a meltdown over his own leaked thoughts without remembering that this telepathy thing is a two-way street. “Listen,” Niall says again, and hides nothing.

“Oh,” Harry says.

“Yeah, ‘oh,’” Niall replies. “You get it now?”

“I thought,” Harry admits slowly, “that I was like that bloke, the one who had feelings for me and had to hear it in his head that I don’t feel the same way.” He tugs at the ring. “Thought it was like that for me, with you. Thought if I ever let you into my head, you’d feel sorry for me.”

“Little hard to feel sorry for you,” Niall says, “when I’m so blinded by soppy emotion the rest of the time, yeah?”

Harry twists the ring some more, and looks up with a brilliant smile.

“C’mere, darling,” Niall says, and leans over the railing that divides their balconies to yank Harry into a kiss. Harry flails for a second, stepping on an edge of his sheet toga and tripping backwards, pulling Niall with him and nearly smashing Niall’s chin on the railing.

But they set themselves in order with a minimal amount of fractured bones, and Harry kisses Niall back with hopeful eagerness. He’s still wearing his face mask, which is kind of gross, because it feels like chunks of Harry’s face are flaking off onto them, but his hands are on Niall’s wrists, his smile is against Niall’s mouth, and his thoughts are in Niall’s head, soft and light like air bubbles inside a loaf of bread. It’s so, so good. Niall can’t believe he gets to have this, that it wasn’t just him all along, and when Harry hears him thinking it, he kisses him all the more deeply, tries more or less to eat Niall’s face.

The railing’s digging into their stomachs, though, and is a literal cock block. “Maybe we should—” Niall begins, and then he looks down to see Harry’s dropped the sheets from his shoulders, is mostly naked and very distracting, and also practically climbing the lattice.

“Maybe we can do this in our rooms,” Niall suggests, “with both feet on the ground, and your face a little less, erm, green.”

“No wonder I never let you make me come,” Harry says, “when this is the afterglow I get.”

Don’t worry, Styles, Niall thinks, grinning at him. You’ll get your bloody afterglow.

Meet me in mine?

It’s like you read my mind, Niall thinks because he’s a dork and can’t help it, and Harry, lovely gentleman, beautiful prince that he is, lets him have that one graciously.

 

:::

 

The ring comes off twenty-four hours later, when they’re in bed watching more Nigella and Harry’s feeding him a bag of crisps while giggling. Niall nearly swallows the damn thing.