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the heart not to lose it

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i.

Niall runs in his dreams; far and fast, through wide open fields, along sandy beaches, across desert sands, dozens of things he's never even experienced. Once upon a time the dreams used to be simpler; a run through the forest chasing small prey, a rabbit or maybe even a deer. Then once the world started changing, he'd be running just to feel the wind on his face, freedom even as the world collapsed. He always wakes up sweaty and disoriented, grabbing for any leftover water he's managed to keep, knowing it won't make up for the hunger deep in his bones. For awhile he'd tried sleeping only a bare minimum, not letting himself find comfort long enough to settle into a deep sleep, but it wasn't a sustainable way to live, a fact he'd always known. Now he mostly sleeps in the car, doors locked and traps set, so at least when he wakes up with that primal urge to Get Out And Away, he can press on the gas a little harder for a couple minutes and speed down a deserted stretch of road until he hits the next obstacle or, more recklessly, runs out of fuel.

Today, he's run out of fuel.

Nothing out the ordinary has happened to him in the last few days for this mistake to even be excusable; the weather had been chilly of course, but mild, last remnants of what passes for autumn creeping by, fog-like dust still lingering heavy in most areas. He’d passed through an abandoned town hours back, picked through a couple of houses looking for canned foods and maybe a new book to start reading if he ever felt the urge rise again. He’d found a few cans and even an unopened pack of gauze that may come in handy someday, but no book; looking for cars hadn’t even crossed his mind. If Niall had two good legs, he’d kick himself for the lapse.

There's a figure on the side of the road up ahead, slouched and shuffling, like they're trying to make themselves unnoticeable on a open deserted highway; Niall can sympathize with this instinct, at least. He's mostly certain they're not a mirage, the sparse warmth of sun barely peeking through the fog. He’s been walking long enough that the car is a distant speck. He thinks about turning around or stopping so he won’t have to interact with the stranger, but he can’t see any trustworthy shelter nearby other than the car, waiting for him far away; he needs to find fuel soon, or that's all it will ever be.

The figure coughs twice as Niall approaches, checking his gait as best he can in case he needs to posture up as someone far more capable of defending himself than he actually is. "Hey," it rasps out, when Niall gets near. A boy; a young man. Niall takes a swig of his water canteen, offers it over. "Thank you," the stranger says, clearing his throat. "Didn't realize how thirsty I was."

Niall nods. "I know that feeling. The dust..." he trails off, waving his hand around. There's always the dust now.

"You armed?"

"No," Niall says, even though he is. He does have a gun, though he's not sure how useful it is in the world anymore, and a knife that he unfortunately knows can be just useful enough at the last minute.

"No," the stranger repeats, pursing his lips. He waits a minute, like he's deciding something in his head, before saying, "I'm Harry. I'm not armed either."

"But you don't need to be, do you.” Niall says it as a statement, knowing that even with his rusty but still heightened senses that Harry is more than just a wandering human. Knows Harry can tell the same about him in reverse.

Harry regards him a minute, cocks his head and takes a deep breath. "No. I don't."

“Why are you out on the open road?”

“Why are you?” Harry counters.

“I have to be,” Niall returns, intentionally cryptic.

Harry stares at him for a minute, posture stiff. Niall wonders if Harry will shift into a wolf right in front of him and run away. Eventually Harry says, “I was looking for help.”

Harry's mouth runs a mile a minute once Niall agrees to try and help him find his mate, but Niall's not spoken much in recent days, let alone heard anyone around him speak anything beyond angry shouting. His temper flares up the longer Harry rambles on about the group of humans they met up in Delphine.

Eventually he yells, "Can you just shut up for a moment," his voice breaking at the end and sending him into a coughing fit like none he's had in ages. The air's not as thick as it once was, but sometimes it still catches his body off-guard, how it has to breathe heavier now than it did the first twenty some years of his life.

Niall's raised voice causes Harry to flinch and shrink back a few steps as Niall recovers his breathing, taking up the posture he'd had when they first met a few hours ago, but even more pronounced; wary, scared, ready to run at any minute.

"I'm sorry," Harry near whispers, "I didn't mean to make you mad. I was in panic mode and then I met you and there was a glimpse of hope again. I promise I don't usually talk this much." He shuffles from foot to foot and keeps his head kinda ducked down, eyes only glancing up at Niall once through his apology. He pauses a minute once he's done, looking up at Niall expectantly, before rushing out and then immediately looking back down, "Louis would point out I don't usually talk this quickly, either."

He's skittish and submissive and scared and Niall understands, oh how he understands. Niall is still wary of him; the world has made him wary of anyone, especially his own kind, but he thinks the hope Harry has discovered in finding him has somehow rubbed off in some way. He finds himself stepping closer to Harry, slowly, watching as Harry wavers slightly but stands his ground, eyes downcast. Niall marvels how Harry can make Niall feel so much bigger than him despite the fact that Harry definitely has the size advantage.

He waits until Harry looks back up at him again, then nods once. "I understand, Harry," he says, cracking the briefest of smiles. It feels stiff on his face, not an expression he's made in awhile, but it seems to settle Harry a bit. He takes another step back from Niall, re-establishing a large personal space bubble, but he stands taller again and returns a small smile.

"Let’s go find Louis."

 

ii.

It takes them most of the day to pick up Louis's scent, Niall mostly relying and trusting Harry's nose but offering up his own ideas whenever Harry seems discouraged. He's learned to track on two legs using his eyes and hands, which works in their favor twice over when Harry loses the trail they've been following by scent; they come at it from two different perspectives. Niall thinks they're close to Louis by the time the day nears its end, but he's too exhausted to be of much use and he insists as much to Harry while gently reminding him that he too is probably only running on adrenaline alone. Harry doesn't mention how long Louis has been missing, but he comments more than once that he’s been 'at wit's end' and as the day grows long Niall notices how frayed Harry's nerves are with every stray noise and drift of wind that passes by.

Niall forgets about the car until almost halfway through the day, inexplicably caught in the pull of Harry's magnetic orbit. They’ve strayed from the road quite a bit, but they find a car with a gas can and a dead body next to it hidden in some dying brush cover. Harry coughs heavily as Niall pilfers fuel out the tank, whole body hacking that Niall hopes won’t alert anyone nearby who may have killed the person.

“My car isn’t far from here,” Niall says.

“How do you know?” Harry asks.

“I pay attention to where I am.”

“Louis always says I don’t pay enough attention to my surroundings. I guess he’s right. I didn’t grow up having to…” he trails off, looking suddenly at the ground.

Niall doesn’t know what to say back to that, so he says nothing. They walk in silence until the car appears like a port in a storm, and Niall feels his nervousness recede, feels exhaustion take hold.

"We’ll sleep for the night and then be fresh to go after Louis again in the morning,” Niall says. Harry doesn’t reply. “We can both fit. The back seat's big enough for your long legs, I promise. It's a good car,” he says, vividly aware he's never let anyone in the car - his car, although he's hesitant to name anything as such for fear it immediately be stolen from him. He’s been driving it for around five months now, found her on display in what appeared to be some sort of personal museum; a Chevelle with oversized tires and a perfectly pristine green coat of paint that barely shows most days. It’s since been chipped a bit, and he’s had to replace the windshield wipers twice, never finding the right size to match, so about one quarter of the windshield is always coated in heavy dust unless he takes care to scrape it off every time he stops. He’s no mechanic and he knows one day she’s just going to give up on him and he’ll have no clue what to do, but he supposes she’s the closest thing to a home he has now.

Harry mumbles something Niall doesn't catch, stares down at his feet and kicks up a bit of dust as he struggles his way through another coughing fit. Niall just blinks at him expectantly. Finally Harry repeats himself, still a low mumble Niall barely catches. "I usually sleep as a wolf. We. Sleep as wolves."

It's the first time either of them have acknowledged out loud specifically what they are, that they are, and it's been so long since Niall has peacefully discussed anything with another of his kind that he mentally recoils a bit. It's not like he ever forgets the wolf he was born with, always an uncomfortable grating itch under his skin, but it's been so long since he's acknowledged it as a part of him that it takes him a minute to process, to work through the fact that it would make sense for them to feel more comfortable in sleep as their wolf selves.

Harry sees Niall's hesitation and mild existential crisis, and rushes out, "But it'll be good to just have shelter with someone else, the car is fine, thank you," and yanks open one of the doors.

"Hey, be gentle, she's lived a thousand lives already," Niall scolds, regretting how stern it comes out the instant Harry jumps.

"I'm sorry!" Harry practically shouts, taking several steps back.

"Hey, no, I'm sorry. I keep forgetting you startle easily," Niall replies, hands up.

Harry sniffs a bit. Niall can see he regrets it instantly, face screwing up as he fights through three sneezes and a massive barking cough. Eventually he hangs his head and deflates against the car, with Niall still watching him quietly. "I don't when Louis is around. I'm not usually like this at all."

"Big manly werewolf type, are you?"

"Could never quite be that, I don't think. But. Can usually take better care of myself. Protect me," he says fiercely, looking up. "Protect my pack," he laments then, crumbling suddenly. "He was there behind me, we were running and playing and being stupid and then suddenly he was gone. I didn't even have a chance to protect him."

Niall doesn't step toward him or make any move to comfort him, just considers him for a moment; how his hair clings around his neck heavy with sweat and dust, the tired bruised look around his eyes. His jeans are ripped at the knee and there are fresh fingernail marks on one of his biceps where Niall thinks he’s gripped himself too tightly trying to hold himself together on their way back to the car and possibly away from Louis.

Niall imagines he looks similar from Harry's perspective. He pulls one of the blankets out of the trunk and holds it out toward Harry. "The backseat is still yours. You can shift if you'd like."

Harry takes a step toward him and gently takes the blanket. Steps back. "Do you? Shift?"

"Not anymore," Niall replies curtly, tucking a backpack under his head as he crawls into the front seat, taking care to not bump the gear shift with his bum knee.

 

iii.

Niall hasn’t gone near a vampire in at least a year, but he recognizes the scent only moments after Harry stiffens beside him. “Louis is with them,” Harry whispers. Niall’s heard about vampires going after wolves now, after anything they find, supply of humans dwindling due to their gluttony and the conditions of the environment. Most of Niall’s meals come from dented cans these days, a stark change from his upbringing of having fresh meat almost always in supply; he can almost sympathize. Almost.

“I hate vampires,” he whispers back. Harry makes a sound of agreement. “Can you tell how many?” Niall asks.

Harry shakes his head. “We’ll have to get closer.” He pauses. “Louis smells...scared.”

Niall can smell something underneath the stench of the vampires, but he’s too far out of practice to be able to pinpoint fear, not to mention he doesn’t know Louis at all, but he knows he’d be scared in this situation; it’s not surprising to him that Louis is. Niall wonders how fearless Louis normally is, that Harry finds his panic such a startling concept in the face of capture.

The trees clear off a bit, and Niall almost misses that there’s a small campfire ahead when he trips over a root, snatching at Harry’s jacket to keep his balance. Harry hisses loudly, then clamps a hand over his mouth. Niall would find it endearingly comical, if not for their situation. He yanks Harry quickly back into the cover of the forest.

“Two visible,” Harry whispers frantically, “one nearby somewhere. They’ve hurt him.”

Niall’s nose pings the smell of pain just as Harry says it, a low growl rising up out of him, startling him a bit; it’s not a response he’s had recently. Harry places a hand on his chest to settle him, the first time he’s voluntarily touched Niall. “Still a wolf in there somewhere, isn’t there?”

Niall doesn’t respond. He takes a cautious step around the trees, getting a good look at the two vampires by the fire before taking a peek at Louis. He’s tied up and appears unconscious, which might explain why they’ve chosen to set up a campsite; dragging a dead weight body of any sort around is a vulnerability, regardless of kind.

"They've hurt his leg, haven't they," Niall says, disgusted, noticing the dried red patch down Louis’ jeans. "We'll have trouble escaping if neither of us can run at your speed, Harry."

Harry’s eyes grow wide as he studies Louis’s propped-up form. He stirs slightly, causing the vampires to glance back at him for a minute. Niall and Harry hold their breaths, unsure they want to know what the vampires intend to do if Louis wakes up. Thankfully, Louis doesn’t seem to stir further. Harry shakes head and swipes at the hair that falls into his eyes, clumpy and dirty after days of neglect.

He says, "It's okay. I'll distract them in the opposite direction. They’ll chase my wolf and you can get him out safe."

They argue in whispers, Harry’s frantic drive of pack outweighing Niall’s calm detached human logic in the end.

"There’s still one more-"

"It’s a risk we’ll have to take."

“He’s unconscious!”

“He’ll wake up. He knows I’m here. He’ll wake up!”

“Harry-”

"I'll die before I let him die, Niall. Save him." Harry shifts to wolf in the blink of an eye, large and dark and intimidating before Niall’s even had a chance to think of any more reasons why it’s a terrible plan. He howls once, a lament, then takes off charging toward the campsite. Niall watches from his cover as Harry runs circles around the vampires, drawing their attention to him, before sprinting off in the opposite direction of the car. He holds his breath until they follow after Harry at a run, then rushes over toward Louis.

Louis does in fact wake up when Niall gets near, his eyes widening in fear before he catches wind that Niall doesn’t smell like his captors. “Harry?” he croaks out.

“Nearby,” Niall replies. “Can you move?”

Louis frowns. “Not sure.”

“Work on it,” Niall says gruffly, using his knife to untie Louis’s wrists, rubbing at them harshly to help Louis regain some feeling in the brisk night air. Louis hisses when Niall reaches toward his ankles to cut the binding off them as well; Niall waves the knife back at him. “You want to get out of here or not?”

“Be careful.”

“Always,” Niall shoots back, but he takes extra care best he can in his hurry to not put too much pressure on Louis’s leg as he pulls the tangled rope free from around his legs.

Louis clambers to his feet, his movements stiff from inactivity. He nearly collapses when he takes a step onto his injured leg, grasping at the tree next to him. “Shit!”

Niall shushes him, unsure of how far away Harry’s led the others and afraid of drawing them back, but it wouldn’t matter anyway, as the third vampire of the group bursts out of the treeline with a speed only their kind has, tackling them both to the ground, Niall’s knee jostled when he lands. He swipes at the creature with his hunting knife he had still in hand, the teeth of it catching mostly on cloth.

“Can’t kill me with that,” the vampire says, wrenching it out of Niall’s hand. Niall struggles with him, a growl rumbling its way up as he tries to draw up strength from some deep reservoir inside him. He kicks out and manages to shove the vampire off him long enough to shake his knee out, suddenly thankful the vampire didn’t decide to snack on Louis in the night so they’re maybe equally as weak and worn out. He lunges with his bare hands, well aware that he’s not strong enough to kill with them but hoping he can maybe do some debilitating damage, enough for Louis to get back to Harry, at least.

The vampire rolls swiftly out of the way, putting now Niall at the disadvantage. He braces himself for the next blow, but it never happens, his knife suddenly appearing through the vampire’s throat, slow trickle of blood following shortly after.

Louis gives the body a shove, staggering slightly as he does it, and it falls to the ground with a thud next to Niall.

“Can too, asshole,” he spits, heaving out a cough. He wipes his face off, then wipes the knife against his leg, the vampire’s blood mingling in with the stain of his own.

Niall nods at him, breathless and grateful.

“Take me to Harry,” Louis demands with his jaw clenched, already limping forward in the direction of the car, like he’s following Harry’s scent before he even realizes.

Niall starts walking, taking the lead from him. He doesn’t look back at Louis; he can hear him pulling himself along from tree to tree with determination. He gets lost in his own thoughts, hoping Louis can make it back, wondering how far away Harry led the other vampires and hoping it’s far enough. The leftover excitement from the struggle with the vampire thrums inside him too, and he feels almost giddy from it; he knows he would’ve died if not for Louis but he’s almost certain he would’ve been...satisfied...that he would’ve died in battle. That he would’ve gone down fighting, like a wolf. He staggers to a stop at the realization and Louis bumps into him, startling an ‘oomph’ out of them both and knocking them off balance, both of them grabbing for trees to steady themselves, both of them watching the other carefully as they limp forward, one foot unevenly in front of the other toward the increasing smell of Harry, Harry, Harry.

He’s waiting at the car when they make it back. He starts toward Louis at a full run, tears streaming down his face, but Niall catches the moment he checks himself before slamming full force into Louis, watches how Harry gently slides himself underneath Louis and props him up so he can walk the few steps left to the car with less struggle. Louis lets out a giant sigh as Harry drops him into the backseat, and the sigh leads to a coughing fit. Niall wishes the car had working air conditioning so they could all have a chance to breathe clean air, if only for a moment. He wonders idly if anyone remembers what fresh air feels like anymore as he climbs into the driver’s seat.

“There’s a shelter house, a bit ways back,” Louis manages after a bit. “Stayed there a couple nights ago, all they did was bitch about how human it smelled. It’s doubtful they’ll return. Didn’t have much way of supplies, but. Could do for the bed, honestly.”

“They don’t know how many we are, either,” Harry says, eyes pleading with Niall.

“Are they only two?” Niall asks, hands gripping the wheel tight enough to turn his knuckles white, already knowing he’s going to turn the car in that direction.

Louis coughs more, whole body-wracking heaves that twist his face up in anguish. “Yeah, now.” he finally gets out. “Were part of a bigger group, but like all things these days, numbers dwindling. Hadn’t fed in awhile, they said. They did a lot of reminiscing, talked about how excited they were to have,” he makes limp air quotes, “‘found a hunt.’ More like they stumbled across a couple of unprepared pups.”

“Rude,” Harry mumbles.

“But true,” Louis snaps back without any real bite. Harry smiles a lopsided smile at him, and it’s then Niall can see the change being once again in Louis’s presence has had on him, the calming effect. “I know everyone says no one was prepared for this world, but you’d think werewolves would at least have a one up on it, but I guess that only works if you’re properly raised. You’ll have to forgive us for being wolf heathen,” Louis says flippantly, but Niall can tell there’s some bitterness behind it.

Niall hasn’t thought about his family in a while, what happened to his mother and brother. Louis is right; some wolves were more prepared for a world without comforts and sunny days. He’s thankful that he comes from a more traditional pack and an upbringing that taught him how to hide himself from humans, to be wary of any strangers. When he was a child he thought it silly all the precautions his pack would follow; now he thinks and hopes that some of his pack survive to this day because of their cautiousness.

“Alright then,” Louis says, shifting against Harry’s shoulder. Niall can tell by the wince he lets out he’s in no small amount of pain. “We’ve got time. Tell us how you became this sad lone wolf, then.”

“Louis!” Harry hisses.

“What, you want to tell yours first?” Louis shoots back. Harry grunts. “I didn’t think so. Figure I’d like to get to know the wolf that saved my life but okay, I’ll start. I’m Louis.” he pauses dramatically. “Tomlinson.”

“Oh,” Niall breathes out, throat choking off as he’s reminded of the start of life as it is now. He gets lost thinking about how much more strict pack security became once the news got out that entire packs were being wiped from existence, that the human war had expanded enough to affect their world, that soon there wouldn’t be any world to have if they weren’t all careful. And they weren’t. Finally he says, “I remember hearing about your pack. I thought everyone was killed. I’m sorry.”

"Yeah, I'm the Anastasia of the story," Louis says sharply. Harry mumbles something Niall can’t make out; he glances up in the rearview mirror and meets Harry’s gaze, then looks down at Louis, face still twisted in pain against Harry’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he says again quietly, not sure what he’s actually apologizing for anymore.

“Yeah,” Louis grits out. “Sharing and caring was a bad idea. You were right, Harry.”

“Lou-” Harry starts, but Louis cuts him off.

“Should be just up ahead,” he says, voice dropping off at the end of the sentence.

No one says anything else for a long while after that.

 

iv.

"I need to hunt," Louis says one night, several days after they make it to the shelter, barely a solid structure in between thick forest cover. It had a bed like Louis remembered, and a little wooden fire pit that Niall and Harry cut a good chunk of wood for, and it kept them safe from the dust shower raging on outside.

Harry immediately jumps up, declaring he can hunt enough to cover them both. "You know that's not what I mean," Louis responds sharply. "I feel the call."

Niall hasn't felt the call in a while, and it must show on his face. He didn't even realize the moon was full.

"You're not well enough," he tries, voice coming out taut and hoarse.

Louis glares at him in a way that makes Niall think he could see straight through his insides into his bones, like he'd destroy anything standing in his way. Not for the first time Niall wonders how anyone could ever get the drop on Louis Tomlinson.

He knows what Louis is about to ask even before he asks it. "Can you still change?"

"I haven't tried in so long I don't know," Niall says quietly. "I imagine it'd be quite painful now it's been so long, if I even could."

Louis is silent.

"You still feel like a wolf to me," Harry says, knocking an elbow gently against Niall’s side. It's new, the touching, something Harry had only started since they'd found Louis. Niall thinks he understands now what Harry meant when he said he was a different person with Louis, how Louis settles him and makes him the person he should be. It's what a pack should do, Niall supposes.

Niall lets himself drown in their surrounding comfort for an instant, lets himself feel like the person he should be.

Eventually he says, "Okay. It might be good for you to shift and test it out for a minute, see how it feels as it's healing. See if it's set in a way that won't affect you too much once it heals." The 'unlike mine' is unspoken, but Niall can see the instant Louis understands when his eyes drop to Niall's mangled knee and gives a curt nod.

"I think I want to be alone when I do it," he says quietly to Harry. "Just in case it hurts too much. I don't want you to see me in pain, babe.”

“I don’t like the idea of you out there alone,” Harry mumbles and Niall finds himself agreeing. He knows Louis is stronger than him, but he also knows what it’s like to not be able to run away from trouble in wolf form and he doesn't wish it upon Louis in the slightest.

“I won’t go far,” Louis says, gently positioning himself on all fours on the floor, looking up at Harry expectantly.

“I’m staying,” Harry says, determined. Niall stays silent, can see this is some sort of important battle of wits between the two of them and he should stay out of it. But then Harry looks over at him, expression almost beseeching him to say something.

He clears his throat. “Just in case you can’t move once you change,” he acquiesces. Louis huffs low in his throat, but doesn’t respond, already concentrating on bringing the shift forth.

Niall knows it’s not as hard when it’s the time of the full moon, and from everything Harry has said they shift frequently enough that it probably feels rather natural, but Louis’s face contorts as the change happens, pain from his leg reverberating deep into his shifting bone structure. It’s over quickly, Niall holding his breath the whole time as Louis’s fur grows thick and his face grows longer and sharper, his eyes taking on the glow that only werewolves have. He’s a small, thin wolf once he’s all done, a lighter, richer color than Harry, but he holds himself in a way Harry never could, commanding and... regal, Niall’s brain supplies. He realizes with a start that Louis would be pack royalty, were his pack still around.

Louis the wolf takes a tentative step forward, and then another, staggering a bit when his full weight hits the injured leg. He lifts it, takes another few steps forward on just three legs, then puts it gently down again, adjusting his gait to compensate for the pain. Louis sniffs at the door and Niall holds it open for him; he looks up in acknowledgement, then darts off into the forest, brown fur blending into the dusty landscape in an instant. Harry lets out an involuntary low whine.

Louis returns exactly two hours later, limping a considerable amount and balancing himself on three legs when he stands still, but he stands tall and holds three rather large rabbits in his jaw. He clearly counts it as a win and Niall tends to agree.

Harry immediately shifts to wolf and nips at Louis’s jaw until Louis drops the pelts and flops down on the floor, letting Harry nose at his knee. Niall gently picks the smallest of the three rabbits from the pile and begins to prepare it for himself over the fire, glancing back at the two wolves occasionally to make sure they’re okay.

 

v.

A car door squeaking open instantly snaps Niall out of his light sleep. His car door. He hobbles his way out of the little shack, sticking as close to the shadows as best he can, reaching for what's left of his wolf senses to assist him in being as stealthy as possible. His whole body is stiff from sleeping on the floor, the cold of the hard wood settling in his bones and joints moreso than the broken leather of his car ever has; he can't shake the sluggish feeling of just waking up.

"Hi, Niall," Harry says shyly, once Niall rounds the corner of the shelter. Harry's sitting in the backseat of the car, legs still on the ground outside. "I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to interrupt Louis’s. Should've known I'd wake you instead. Sorry."

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I think he will be. He was right, of course, going on a hunt was good for him.”

“Were it a different time he’d make a good alpha, I think,” Niall muses.

“I think you would too,” Harry says, startling Niall. “I mean it. You took care of me.”

Niall leans against the car, using it as ballast as he stretches out his joints, letting their pops and cracks fill the silence. Harry just looks up at him, watching, his face softly lit by the full moon. Eventually Niall says, “It was nice to have someone to take care of again.”

Harry hums in agreement, gently reaching up and brushing his fingertips against one Niall’s before taking his hand and squeezing; he doesn’t let go. “Thank you,” he says.

“It’s no problem,” Niall rasps out. Harry pulls at his wrist, scooting over the crackled leather seat to make room for Niall to sit down. Niall doesn’t resist, sliding in and leaning against Harry’s very warm side.

Harry presses a thumb against Niall’s mouth, rubs gently at his chapped lips. Niall shivers, still unused to being touched, especially in such an intimate way.

“You went out on a limb to help me when you’re clearly used to being on your own. And I don’t know what I’d do without Louis,” Harry brushes his lips against Niall’s cheek. “We both owe you.”

“Louis saved me too, back there. Neither of you owe me anything.” Harry’s thumb is replaced by his index fingers, shushing Niall, followed by his lips, tentatively kissing him. Niall feels something shake loose inside him; he kisses back, warmth and contentment flooding through him.

"It's been awhile since I've done this," Harry says, tracing a hand along Niall’s jaw. They’re incredibly close in the backseat, and Harry shifts so Niall is just slightly on top of him.

"Not exactly a plethora of comfortable places to go about it in the world today," Niall returns, placing a line of kisses down Harry's jawline once they settle in, his knee bent in an uncomfortable way he immediately tries to adjust. Harry frowns slightly.

"Hey, it's fine, I can deal with some discomfort. Reminds me that you're real," Niall tacks on with a dopey smile that stretches his face in an unfamiliar way; he aims for it to come out like the cheesy pickup line it sounds like.

It works; Harry smacks him gently in the chest and scoffs before leaning in and tucking his head into Niall's shoulder and inhaling deeply. "Idiot," he says fondly. Niall shivers as he drops little kisses along his neckline, his hands dropping further down Niall’s chest. "You do still smell like a wolf, you know. I meant it."

Niall shushes him with a heady kiss, grabbing Harry’s hand with determination and pressing it into his crotch. He hasn’t had anyone in so long and Harry’s so warm and inviting he feels like he’s burning up inside. He moans at the pressure and jerks strongly up into Harry’s hand as he rubs it against the denim, against Niall.

Harry laughs at Niall’s reaction, a full-on belly laugh that rattles something in Niall’s heart loose, and suddenly he’s laughing against Harry too, batting hands out of the way to unbutton his jeans. He gets lost in Harry’s dimples as he laughs, cataloguing how much brighter his face looks with them, how much less weary he looks now that he’s got Louis back, now that he’s relatively safe here in Niall’s car. Safe with Niall.

Niall feels safe, too. Settled in a way he hasn’t felt in a very long time. He knows that somewhere still nearby there are two worn-out vampires, that the dust still falls enough to mute the sun most days, that the nights are soon going to be too cold for man alone, or lone wolf; but maybe he isn’t a lone man or wolf, anymore.

Harry’s hand is fire when he wraps it around Niall, unbuttoned jeans flapping loosely around his wrist; Niall hisses. Harry’s still smiling, one dimple popping out behind a strand of greasy hair. Niall reaches down and tucks it back behind an ear, then gently pokes a finger at the dimple. Harry snaps at his finger playfully.

“Easy, pup,” Niall chuckles.

“Woof,” Harry replies, moving his hand faster around Niall. Niall’s body tightens up too soon, aches with the pleasure of it, his back arching up and away from Harry even as Harry presses himself closer.

There’s never a good angle for sex in a car; Niall had learned that even before the sun went away, but Harry manages well enough, wiggling Niall’s jeans the rest of the way down his legs until they pool at the floor. He pushes Niall off him, and Niall starts, “What-” But then Harry’s wiggling his way out his own tattered jeans and pushing Niall down flat on the seat and climbing on top of him, nearly sitting on Niall’s face, both their bottom halves completely exposed.

“Oh,” Niall breathes out, his mouth watering.

“This is okay, then?” Harry asks, voice smaller as Niall’s heartbeat thumps deafeningly. Niall licks the very tip of Harry’s cock, laughing brightly when Harry gasps. “Take that as a yes, then,” he mumbles, fitting his whole mouth around Niall’s very aroused cock in one swift motion. Niall’s knee throbs with the weight of Harry; his whole body echoes it, pulsing with a desire he hasn’t felt since he was fifteen and running with the pack for the first time, feeling of freedom and pleasure mingling with the fondness and affection of everyone around him. Of Harry around him, surrounding him, their scents soaking into Niall’s leather seats, into every corner of Niall’s car, of Niall’s home.

Niall comes first, already on edge before Harry ever settled down on top of him, his body rolling over a cliff, free-falling peacefully into the below; he focuses on pulling Harry with him once he lands. He’s feeling too much all at once, vision a little blurry on the edges and his heart in his throat.

He pulls and licks at Harry as hard as he can, not giving him any chance to take a breath, his jaw aching with the use; he’s done more with his mouth in the last few days, talking, sucking, kissing, than he’s done in years, and he knows he’ll feel it for a few days. Hopes he’ll have a chance to get more practice in, get used to having someone to use it with. Someones, even.

Harry comes with a shout, loudest noise for miles around. He follows it with a laugh of pure unbridled joy, his breath tickling at Niall’s thigh in a way that makes him jerk up; Niall gets the sense that sex didn’t always hold the same elation for him as it does right now.

Niall pushes Harry off him playfully, grumbling about his knee with no real bite. Harry slides into the floorboard, wiping his mouth off as he goes. Niall kicks his jeans off from around his ankles and snatches for the blanket he left in the front seat days prior, settling himself back down in the seat, ass bare against the warmed up leather. It’s maybe not the best idea, but the endorphins are quickly wearing off and the exhaustion slamming in; he bets Harry’s even more tired than him.

“Get up here, pup,” he says to Harry, still kneeling in between seat rows. Harry climbs up under the blanket, languid and pliant, nuzzling against Niall’s neck.

"Smell like pack," Harry mumbles sleepily after bit, burrowing down against Niall in a way that radiates head to toe so much he’s not sure he needs the blanket. Niall pretends he's already drifted off, but he smiles.

 

vi.

Louis pounds on the car window shortly after sunup. Harry yelps and startles so hard he whacks his head on the door handle before sliding off Niall to the floor, sad wolf face looking up at Niall as Niall comes to, his body foggy coming out of a sleep deeper than he's slept in quite some time.

"You two have sure gotten cozy," Louis hollers, voice slightly muffled by the window glass. He pulls open the door with more gusto than needed, the loud squeak of it only adding to the morning discordance. Harry promptly takes off running out the car and into the forest, still in wolf form.

“Huh,” Louis breathes out, staggering back a bit before catching himself on unsteady legs. Niall can see Louis’s injury through his ripped pant leg, the edges of the wound growing pink as it heals with werewolf speed; he’s luckier than Niall had been. Niall stares at the wound for an increasingly awkward amount of time before Louis clears his throat, causing Niall to look up.

He stumbles over his words, trying to find an excuse. “He wasn’t a wolf when we fell asleep,” is what he comes up with, pulling the blanket tighter around him.

Louis barks out a short laugh. "Yeah, he does that,” he says fondly. “And you don't need to apologize. Just haven't seen Harry let anyone touch him like that ever, didn't know he would even want it anymore. Never wanted it from me, but then again I was never very into sex. I think that’s probably what made him warm up to me in the first place,” he pauses, considering. “It's his story to tell."

"Yours too, a bit, sounds like,” Niall replies, but doesn’t push. They’re still mostly strangers, after all, even if they are getting to know each other there’s no reason he needs all the details right away; he finds himself hoping there will be plenty of time for that later.

Niall grabs for his pants, struggling to put them on under the blanket as Louis stands there, judging. “‘Been awhile’, he said, I just assumed. I’m sorry."

Louis shakes his head. “I don’t need any apology, I said. Don’t think he will either, even if he did go skittering off like a scared pup. He’ll figure it out. Come inside,” Louis motions toward the shack. “I know you’re thinking we’ve stayed here long enough and we should move on and you’re probably right. Let’s enjoy it while we still have the chance.”

Niall wrinkles his nose, following Louis inside, matching limping gaits leaving footprints in the dusty ground. “I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the right word here, given all the mold and dust and that...funky smell, but it is nice to have room to stretch my leg a bit.’

“You could stretch it more if you shifted, maybe.”

“No, Louis.”

“Just something to consider. That funky smell will be even better through a wolf’s nose, let me tell you,” he makes a face that startles a laugh out of Niall. “Besides, you’re feeling better after the rabbit last night, aren’t you? Even if you did cook it.”

Niall won’t admit that he does, indeed, feel different today. Brighter, somehow.

"Look,” Louis says, whipping around so suddenly Niall’s afraid he’ll lose his balance and collapse onto his injured leg. “Harry is my pack; I'll cuddle with him any day of the week and every spare moment that we can. No one has ever made me feel as comfortable in my own skin as he does and I imagine the same is in reverse. I don't need to have sex with him to know that he's my family and he always will be."

Louis pauses and regards him, assessing. "But I think maybe he's just claimed you as our family, too."

Niall doesn’t miss the ‘our’ in Louis’s sentence. "Would you be okay with that?"

Louis sighs, then takes a step towards Niall, then another. He slowly and obviously reaches up to put a hand on Niall’s chest, and Niall lets him. “You feel different today,” he finally says, not answering Niall’s question.

“I do feel different today,” Niall says, meeting Louis’s stare. They’re nearly the same in height, but Niall feels smaller under Louis’s gaze, almost like he should fall to the floor beneath him; he chooses to smile instead, the feeling of the way it stretches his face and cracks through some of the dried dust forever caked on his skin still a bit strange.

Louis smiles back. “Harry really likes you,” he says.

“I think the feeling is mutual, honestly,” Niall admits. “Haven’t met anyone like him before.”

“Yeah, he has that effect on people.”

Louis’s hand is still on Niall’s chest, and it flexes a bit, fingers pressing in like he’s trying to dig into the skin and pull out Niall’s heart, assess whether or not it can handle the weight of Harry. Maybe whether or not it can handle both of them, Niall’s not sure either way. “He wasn’t always so...magnetic,” he continues, fingers still digging in, almost painful, “but he still had a pull I couldn’t escape. So I rescued him.”

His fingers prod hard enough Niall squawks, finally uncomfortable. “Sorry,” Louis then rushes out in return, massaging the skin. He looks at Niall, less intimidating than before, and steps even closer. Rubs his cheek against his hand, against Niall’s chest.

“Louis-” Niall starts, at a loss for words.

“I think I’m okay with it,” he says, answering Niall’s earlier question.

There’s a noise at the door behind them and they jump apart, like they’ve been caught out doing something they shouldn’t; Niall’s not sure if they have or not.

“I think I’m okay with it,” Harry echoes, stepping into their huddle. He presses into Louis, nuzzling at his neck, then leans into Niall, placing a gentle kiss his jaw and whispering, “Hi. Sorry I bolted.”

Niall leans back into him, wrapping an arm tentatively around him. “Apology accepted.”

They cling to each other for a bit, arms linked and heads bowed together; Niall doesn’t remember the last time he felt so warm. "Car's gonna be a little tight for three people," he says after a bit.

“Guess you’re gonna have to get used to the weight of two wolves on top of your scrawny human form, then,” Louis shoots back, nipping at Niall’s neck before pulling them all toward the bed, mumbling about his exhaustion; Niall can’t help but agree.

Louis curls tentatively around him, careful of both their human shaped knees, the heat of Harry radiating against Niall’s other side. He can feel his body’s recognition of pack and for the first time in a long while feels the call of the wolf inside him; he makes a split second decision to just, let it happen. He can hear Louis’s shocked gasp on the bed next to him, and then there is a sharp wave of pain, pain like he hasn’t felt since his knee was injured. But then there is comfort and approval and acceptance, and three brown wolves in a tiny shack in a large dusty forest.