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But I've Got Promises to Keep, And Miles to Go Before I Sleep.

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Niall was only half listening to Paul as he goes over the things they’d probably be asked and how they were expected to behave. Do they really need this though, how many interviews have they done…talk shows have they been guests on, in their 3 years as a band? Plenty, that’s how many.

If they don’t know the drill by now they never will, just sayin’.                                                       

In the back of his mind he knows the ‘act accordingly’ is directed at him more than Louis because unlike Louis, Niall has secrets to keep. And those secrets are weighing heavier and heavier on his narrow shoulders with each passing day.

He knows why he keeps those secrets though. Or tries…Their fans aren’t stupid, not by any means. It only took a few ‘OMG another Narry date,’ or ‘My OTP’s real bitches,’ to get their management all up in their shit again.

‘Tone it down,’ they had said. As if that was a reasonable request. As if it was simple. Niall’d like to see them try and hide who they really are; now he’s got to pretend he isn’t completely gone over his band mate and best friend and not-so-secret boyfriend. He knows why they asked them to do it, they wanted to keep the bands image intact as their new cd hit the shelves, they didn’t want to jeopardize the album sales, and none of them wanted to disappoint the fans or let them down…that didn’t mean being told to reign it in a little didn’t hurt. Because it did hurt, why is being who they are so wrong?

He’d wanted to say no, oh how bad he’d wanted to say no, but Harry had squeezed his hand where they laid clasped together on the table top. A silent reminder that he was there, that Niall would always have him, regardless of how hard their management tried to make it look to the outside world like they didn’t. Have each other, mind, body and soul, that is.

The other boys had angled themselves toward them, like they could shield Niall and Harry from managements devastating blow. Niall can’t remember the last time he’d seen Louis that pissed or Liam go that quiet, fury blazing in his usually welcoming brown eyes. Paul was up in arms too, but he didn’t say anything, he just pulled Louis back to his seat when he’d tried to lunge across the table. As if shanking Paul’s cell phone would help. Niall appreciated it regardless.

He agreed though. Of course he did.

Harry had stayed fairly silent through the phone call (which they all knew meant he was upset and trying not to show it) looking at him after their bosses had told them they needed to be less ‘obvious.’ Niall could tell he was upset by this whole thing too but the way he looked at him, like he’d be okay with whatever Niall decided. Whether it was to disobey orders or agreeing to ‘see’ other people to get some of the heat off their relationship or staying together with the promise of going on less golf dates and not being in vines together as often. Niall chose the latter one; Harry looked pleased, sending him that cute little smile meant only for him. “We’ll just have to become homebodies,” Harry had said, “Guess we can finally clear up some space on the DVR, got a lot of Eastenders to catch up on.”

In the end it was an easy decision. He would never risk the band, he’d never want to mess this up for Liam and Louis and Zayn and Harry. Harry, always Harry…he could do it, this. He would, for Harry and the boys because how could he not? You do whatever you have to for your family, for the people you love and Niall loves his boys more than he’s ever loved anything else.

Standing in their dressing room waiting for their call to the green room of the Jonathan Ross show, things are getting a little fuzzy. Fuzzy and tough to deal with, because he has to go out and smile to a host, and an audience and act like he doesn’t want to put his arms around Harry, or run his fingers through that brushed back hair, or anything. He can’t look for too long and he can’t laugh too loud at the things Harry says, and his smile can’t be too fond or wide or happy or loved up and it’s hard okay. It’s just really fucking hard.

It hurts and who says he has to be 100% okay with this? Niall hardly ever wallows, usually just rolls with the punches but he thinks he’s entitled to this little bit of sulking he’s doing, all things considered.

He spaces out as his fingers mechanically button his maroon shirt while Paul tries to regain Louis’s attention on the other side of their dressing room. The feeling of eyes on him makes him lift his gaze from where he was smoothing out the non-existent wrinkles in his shirt. Harry’s bright green eyes meet his through the mirror he’s standing in front of, words unspoken pass between them, ‘you okay,’ a shrug of the shoulders, a smile that doesn’t light up emerald colored eyes, ‘I love you, if it helps,’ ‘yeah that helps, that helps a lot.’

Zayn’s laugh, Paul and Louis bickering good naturedly, Liam egging Louis on, becomes background noise as Harry moves around the room, eyes connected with Niall’s the whole time, to come and stand behind the blonde Irishman.

“You look so handsome,” Harry’s slow drawl says to Niall’s reflection as big hands land atop Niall’s slim hips.

He’s quiet, they both are, just looking at each other in the mirror and Niall knows that in a few minutes they’ll have to put on their masks, and Harry can’t think Niall looks handsome, and Niall can’t say what he really feels so he seizes the opportunity while it’s still his to seize.

“Don’t know why I can’t shake this. Feel like I’m gonna fall apart, ya know,” it’s a bit more choked then he’d like it to be and he hates the pained look it puts on Harry’s gorgeous face.  The younger boy nods his head slowly before he presses a kiss to Niall’s temple.

“Cheese alert,” Harry warns him before continuing “I’ll always be there to put you back together.” It is so cheesy but it makes Niall smile; really smile for the first time in days. “Don’t ever forget that,” Harry whispers as he kisses his cheek. Niall’s eyes drift shut as he sags back into the strong body behind him, he knows he won’t forget because he knows if ever he does fall apart, Harry will be right there to pick up the pieces and the other three would probably bring the glue.

Harry’s warm, minty breath against his skin, face in his neck, arms around his waist ground him. He shuts his eyes to better soak up Harry’s warmth, tips his head back against that strong shoulder, revels in this moment before Paul’s deep voice is pulling him back.

“Guys,” Niall’s eyes meet their tour directors’ through the mirror, “You know I would never ask you to hide if…” He trails off. Whether he doesn’t know where he was going with that or he saw the way Niall’s stance tensed slightly, he doesn’t finish his sentence.

Harry’s arms tighten around him to the point of pain but Niall relishes the way it squeezes the air out of his chest because he can feel it, he needs to feel it, he doesn’t want to stop feeling it, this, Harry. It feels like the loose pieces of his sanity are being forced back into place by Harry and his strength and warmth and love and he actually feels better. Here’s to hoping Harry gets the telepathic message he’s sending his way to never, ever let him go.

The taller boy mumbles into his neck, words that are hot against his pale skin, that sounds an awful lot like, ‘If management hadn’t asked you first.’ And Louis says something fresh that makes Zayn snicker into his hand, but Niall doesn’t hear it.

He tugs at Harry’s long fingers till they turn to let Niall slip his own in the spaces, they stay like that, plastered back to chest, clutching at each other’s fingers till someone from the studio knocks on their door, saying they’ve got 20 minutes till show time.

“It’ll be okay,” Paul says and Liam echoes it and Zayn nods and Louis smiles with his eyes all bright and happy but Niall doesn’t listen till Harry says it to him.

“Promise,” Niall asks, sounding small with his eyes wide and unsure as he stares at the other but Harry gives his fingers a reassuring squeeze. “Cross my heart,” low and slow and every bit the Harry E. Styles that Niall fell in love with all those years ago.

He spins in those strong arms, smiles with purpose up at his boyfriend as he twines his fingers into soft brown hair, “Got me,” Niall whispers as Louis groans, but everyone in the room knows he secretly loves the thing Niall and Harry do before they go out to do anything with even a semblance of an audience.

A laugh rumbles deep in Harry’s chest, “Got you forever.”

The words aren’t always the same, sometimes it’s just ‘I love you’s’ and quick kisses but this time they have a reason to cling to each other and whisper soft words of encouragement.

Harry whispers “Not going anywhere, I’ll be right there,” a few times in between the soft kisses he lays against Niall’s smiling lips. There’s quiet laughter and louder gagging noises in the background but Niall doesn’t care and Harry doesn’t stop, just presses Niall closer as he nuzzles their noses together.

“Love you, yeah,” Harry says as Niall wraps his arms tighter around his shoulders, tugging him down to rest their foreheads together, “Yeah.”

Harry pulls back slightly, sends him a look but there’s a playfulness in his eyes, “Promise?”

“Cross my heart,” his accent thick and heavy in the limited space between them. He arches his neck, stands on his toes to kiss those rose red lips.

Another knock on the door forces them apart and then they’re being ushered to the studios’ green room right off the stage.

Right outside the waiting area the boys gather around them, their security team moves off to the side to give them their space. Liam promises them it’ll be okay, and Louis makes a joke and Zayn squeezes Niall’s shoulder and they pull each other close and Niall’s happy he’s got 4 people he knows he can count on, lean on, 3 brothers and 1 lover to help him through. He and Harry don’t have to hide, at least not from them, there’s a sense of relief that comes with that knowledge that Niall can’t even begin to explain.

“Here for you,” Liam whispers to him as they enter the green room, he adds the ‘cross my heart’ without missing a beat and Harry whines that that’s their thing, pouts at Niall who smiles at him, wide and open and the other four actually stutter step when they see it before they’re all over him again, roughing him up and being his best friends.

“Twats! Get off me,” Niall exclaims and the boys cackle wildly at him. Not having realized the door to the room was wide open, he turns bright red because holy shit, Oprah totally just heard him refer to his band mates as a woman’s genitals.

Well fuck.

***

Jonathan Ross is hilarious and Niall’s been a fan of the show for the couple of years its been on so naturally he’s excited to be a guest.

It’s easier than he expected it to be, acting like the happy-go-lucky leprechaun that everyone knows him to be rather than the tortured pop star who really only wants to be able to hold his boyfriends hand without being told he’s wrong for wanting it.

He jokes with Jonathan and laughs at the stupid shit Liam says, hams it up for the audience but there’s Harry looking at him like he loves being Niall’s dirty little secret, like he’d hide every day for the rest of his life if it meant he’d still have Niall to call his own when all was said and done.

It’s that look from Harry and his excitement towards the whole situation that turns out to be his downfall though.

But really, how can you not be smitten’ with a guy like Harry, that’s what Niall wants to know.

He forgets that he’s not supposed to be acting all loved up with his best friend and he probably isn’t supposed to throw his arms around him when asked about being the only single chaps left in the band, as if to imply that they aren’t single because they’re taken by each other. Which is the truth but Niall’s not supposed to be making it so damn obvious. He laughs it off though the way friends would, not hinting at the fact that his heart just basically exploded in his chest at the way Harry just let himself be tugged into Niall’s chest, not even flinching and certainly not pulling away.

‘Careful,’ the word rings through his head, he doesn’t know if anyone else heard it but he nudges Liam, hoping it comes off playful and friendly to anyone watching, the older boy elbows him back. It speaks volumes of their friendship, of this band as a whole. It doesn’t say anything like, ‘behave yourself, you’re not listening to management’, its more ‘I don’t want you to get in trouble, I’m looking out for you, let me look out for you,’ and Niall will, of course he will because he can’t lose Harry. He won’t.

He’s glad, almost happy for Liam’s gentle reminder because he’s lucky to have him to keep him on the right side of sane, and he’s lucky to have Louis who’d make him laugh when he feels like he’s gonna cry, who would go to war for him, slashing down everyone who dares speak out against either he or Harry, and lucky to have Zayn, ever the silent protector, friend, confidant, who wouldn’t think twice about joining Louis’s ranks to defend them.  And he’s lucky to have Harry.

So fucking lucky to have Harry who keeps sending him these little smiles and looking at him out of the corner of his eye, the fans will think it flirty, a sign of their love and they’d be right but he’s not supposed to playing that up. So he tries from then on to keep himself in check and he thinks he manages it pretty well, actually.

He doesn’t think it’s written all over his face that’s he’s bothered when Jonathan mentions Harry’s very obvious appeal and all the famous women he’s had on his arm as a result of said appeal. He takes cues from the others though, laughs when they laugh because if Louis finds it funny, he should too. He keeps a smile on his face and is glad that he’s so damn good at pretending. 

He’s even gladder though when Harry, his perfect, precious Harry acts uncomfortable with the questions and almost a little guilty in the way his laugh changes in pitch (something only they would notice,) or he starts chewing on his bottom lip. Niall resists the urge to pull it till he lets it go, television, audience, platonic…right, got it. It's all good. It’s better though when Harry sits back after the attention is directed away from him, and presses himself into Niall, nothing that’s too obvious but enough to make Niall want to answer any and all questions asked with a smile on his face.

The smile stays intact the whole time, and everything just seems a little easier. The boys make it easier. Zayn’s eyes keep meeting his over Harry’s head and the twinkle in them gives him courage, Liam’s shoulder keeps bumping his and the touch makes him feel safe, Louis’s quick humor and cheeky smile that keeps being directed at him and the fun of it makes him feel lighter. He’s got the boys, who Niall decides, keep him from floating away and then there’s Harry — Harry who’s this constant, solid warmth against his side, who gives him a million and one reasons to want to stay on the ground.

When Harry talks about learning to appreciate a nice view and then brings up Oslo, Niall has to suppress a blush because of course Harry found a way to sneak that in there. He stutters out a response, “Oh, oh yeah forgot about that, sorry,” and Harry’s eyes are positively on fire. Oslo was a good city, awesome fans, good concert too but it’s what happened after the concert that has Niall swallowing hard, smiling to himself, small and secret and he knows Harry’s doing the exact same thing.

And this, Niall thinks is how it should be, though to everyone else it probably doesn’t look any different. But he supposes that’s sort of the point.

As the interview draws to a close Niall can’t remember what he was freaking out about before coming to the stage.

***

“Good show boys,” Paul says as they amble back into the dressing room.

“Yeah, not so bad that,” Liam says but it comes out as a question and Niall feels all eyes on him as he starts in on the buttons of his shirt.

Smiling to himself he turns around, “Yeah, not bad at all.” His eyes lock with Harry’s across the room, sends him a smile that makes both of their eyes light up while Louis starts cheering and Zayn grabs him in a head lock while Liam jumps on Paul’s back who groans and tells them to hurry up so they can all go home and sleep in their own beds before they were back to long airplane flights and living out of their suitcases. 

Niall continues getting undressed, quicker than before because sleeping in his own bed sounds like absolute heaven right now and by the way everyone else goes about getting ready he can tell that they’re all thinking the exact same thing.

Walking down the hall towards the back entrance of the studio where their cars are waiting to take them home, Harry’s fingers lace through his and its perfect because its Harry and he’s Niall and they were meant to be together so any acting that needs to be done will get done, simple as that. He can play pretend as long as he needs to, so long as he can still be Harry’s and Harry can still be his. Anything for Harry…everything for Harry.

Harry brings their hands up to his mouth to kiss along the knuckles of Niall’s hand as the screams outside grow louder and louder, and then the doors are being opened and Harry’s hand isn’t in his anymore but he doesn’t mind because he’s doing what he needs to in order to keep his promises, to Harry, to the band, to himself. And he’ll keep those promises forever because he loves Harry and he’d really like to keep him for the rest of his life. And maybe, just maybe Harry would like the very same thing.