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Tea For Two

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DEV

It’s the first football match ever I go to without Baz and it’s a little weird, but I try not to acknowledge the pumping void in my chest. It’s not like it’s a goodbye, he’s just… right on the other shore of the ocean.

It’s not that I already miss him, not really, it’s just that I’ve never been without him before. He was always just one call away or even closer and now he’s not anymore.

I successfully managed to avoid being alone with Niall for a whole week – which isn’t a task as easy as one would think, because the guy is very insistent. He kept calling me every day, more than once if I didn’t pick up. That’s just how Niall is: he cares.

He cares so much about everything.

(He cares so much about me.)

(Why does he care so much about me?)

But, even if I've been avoiding him, I could never miss his match. Never. Because, even if I’ll never admit it  out loud, I care about him just as much as he does about me. Stupid traitor heart.

Stupid awesome Niall, with his stupid shaved head and his stupid tattoos and his stupid Irish accent. I don’t want it, any of that.

Even if he’s smiling at me from the pitch like I’m the only thing he sees. I stubbornly roll my eyes at him and I can see him laugh even from where I am on the stands.

He’s scored two goals by the end of the match, because he’s amazing like that.

The little stadium where his team practice is quite crowded, even if it was just a friendly match, so I wait on the stands, because I know it’ll take Niall like eighty hours to get ready. By the time he texts me, I’m alone and the stadium is empty.

Bro, locker room! Huge problem, please hurry.

My feet are moving even before I realize it, because I can’t stand the thought of Niall being in trouble, or worst, hurt.

The locker room is empty, but I hear one of the showers running. It’s not the first time (nor the hundredth) I get in the locker room and even if Niall’s teammates were here, they wouldn’t mind me, because they’re used to us (Baz and I) sneaking on the pitch to play with them from time to time. I always hated the smell of this room: men and sweat and dirty socks.

“Niall?” I say, looking around.

“Shower!” Comes his answer, from this other room.

I swallow loudly and I curse myself because why – why! – do I have to make such a big deal out of this? It’s not like any of this is new, but without Baz here with us, it seems so much more than it always has been. When Baz was here, it was all easier. Now… Well, now it’s just the two of us.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, cocking an eyebrow, hoping with all my essence that the stall of the shower is closed. Or, at least, that he's not naked.

“Fucking Mike took my clothes, not cool, bro! I can’t get out.” He groans, turning off the water.

I sigh, because fuck my life. “But the locker room is empty, no one would’ve seen you anyway.”

“And how the fuck am I supposed to go home, you genius?” He says, opening the stall and peeking at me with an amused look on his face. “Why are you all lawyer-y?”

I look at my white shirt, a little wrinkled, and I shrug, “I came here from the office.”

“Aww, thanks, man!” He says, smiling. “Now, if you could just find me some clothes, it'd be awesome, so I can come out and punch you for ignoring me all week. Go, find clothes, then come back and let me punch you!” He says, shooing me with his hand.

I roll my eyes at him, before turning on my heels, “Oh no, the only clothes I can find are the cheerleaders’ ones! What a shame.” I shout at him, trying to hide a laugh when he swears loudly. For how funny seeing Niall in a skirt would be, I manage to find some sweatpants and an old team sweater in a locker.

I also grab a towel, because I really, really don’t want to see Niall naked. Ever.

“Here you go, asshole.” I say, opening the stall just an inch and handing him the clothes.

“Thanks god, I’m starving.” He moans, and after a while he steps out of the stall, hair wet and shirtless.

My heart flutters at that, even if I desperately try to stop it from doing the funny things it’s doing in my ribcage, because I’m pretty sure Niall will hear it too if it keeps doing this.

Luckily for me, Niall is a little oblivious – or deaf. He ignores whatever it’s happening in my chest and punches my arm instead, “Not cool, bro! All week. All. Week. We haven’t seen each other once since we dropped Baz at the airport!”

“Ouch!” I groan, stepping back, I rub my hand over my arm, “I’ve been busy. Work and stuff.”

“Yeah, work and stuff.” He rolls his eyes, “You mark my word: if you keep ignoring me I’ll camp in your living room and you’ll never get rid of me. I’ll haunt you, Dev. And we both know I’d be a very annoying hunter ghost.”

I shake my head, trying to look anywhere but at the tattoos on his chest that are staring right at me. “Get a damn shirt on,” I tell him, trying to keep a sigh, “I have pizza at home, c’mon.”

He follows me happily, finally – finally – getting the sweater on (even if he’s doing it painfully slow, all muscles flexing and skin shining under the neon light).

The car ride is filled with Niall summarising me the match (as if I wasn’t there) and if I keep my hand on the stick shift just to make my knuckles brush against his knee, well, it’s no one else’s business but mine. He doesn’t move the leg away, though.

The pizza is waiting for us on the kitchen counter, and I grab two plates, before reaching Niall on the couch, where he’s sprawled, filling as much space as he possibly can. I put the pizza’s carton on his lap and I sit next to his feet.

“You’re the best.” He sighs, taking a slice to his mouth and biting it like he hasn't eaten a week (which I'm pretty sure it's not what happened, because he sent me a pic of his giant burger just earlier at lunch). He says I'm the best like I’m not just giving him a cold pizza, but the greatest gift ever. I feel my cheeks flush a little, so I turn on the telly to distract myself, but I mute it, because I don’t really want to hear anything but Niall’s voice. God, that sounded so sappy.

He pokes me with his foot, “Not hungry?”

I shrug, “Just tired, long day at work.” I tell him, but I take a slice of pizza nonetheless.

“You’ve been sleeping okay?” He asks, studying my face. It hits me like a lightning-bolt just how well he knows me, and I’m not sure why I’m surprised by that, as we grew up together. As he’s my best friend.

I don’t want to lie to him, but I also don’t want to admit that no, I haven’t been sleeping at all lately, so I say nothing and hope it’s enough. It is, with him it’s always enough, because the next thing he says is, “I miss Baz too, you know. It’s okay.”

I snort, even if he said exactly the right thing. “It’s just… I don’t like when things change.”

“I know.” He says, like it’s easy. “You still have me, you know. You’ll always me. And Baz too, even if he lives far away now.”

“I know.” I echo him and I let my head fall back against the couch’s pillows.

“Then stop being a jerk and ignoring me, dude.”

I turn my face to look at him and our eyes lock together, and I’m falling falling falling, crushing on the ground. “I’m sorry.” I mutter, barely more than a whisper.

“Uhm, what was that?” He teases me, with a grin, poking my arm.

“Asshole.” I snort, rolling my eyes.

I don’t even realize that I fall asleep halfway through whatever movie Niall is making me watch, but at some point, I feel a hand running in my hair softly. Niall is tenderly smiling down at me when I open my eyes, “Come, let’s get you to bed. You’re not young enough anymore to sleep on the couch and not have a stiff neck in the morning.”

I sniff lightly, but I let him pick me up and drag me to my bedroom, holding me tightly against his side, an arm wrapped around my waist. I’m too tired to keep myself from leaning on the heat of his body, but it doesn't mean anything.

I lay on the bed and try very hard not to notice how carefully he tucks the blankets around me. I’ll probably regret it in the morning, but right now I can’t care less of what I’m about to say, “Wanna sleep here? It’s late.”

He tilts his head for a while, unsure, something flashes in his eyes, before nodding. He slides under the blankets with me, leaving a bunch of inches between us (sadly)(but also luckily, because I can’t – I can’t, I can’t!).

“I like sleepy-Dev better than any other Dev.” He whispers in the dark, after a while.

“Why is that?” I mumble, more asleep then awake.

“Because sleepy-Dev lets us have this.” He says, voice lighter than a feather.

And I think: this is a very beautiful dream. The most beautiful one. So, I move a little closer to him and I look for his hand, but he’s evidently doing the same, because we meet halfway. Our fingers intertwine perfectly together, like they were made to fit. Two puzzle pieces finding each other.

And for the first time in days, I sleep. Not even a single nightmare knocks at the door.

Chapter Text

DEV

The first thing I think when I wake up is: fuck, I’m still dreaming.

Because there is, in fact, Niall sleeping curled up in my bed, pressed tightly against the side of my body, exactly like in my dream (even if there were less clothes ensued in it); but it’s not possible, is it? Why would he be here?

However, the heat of his body and his scent are very real and very overwhelming. His forehead is leaning against my armpit and I feel his warm breath on my skin, sending all kinds of feelings down my spine.

So, I’m not dreaming, I’m very much awake when he hums lowly in his sleep. That’s when I realize that our hands are intertwined together and I wonder – God, I wonder – who is the one who made the first move. I hope it’s Niall, but I can’t run the risk that it’s my fault, so I move my hand away, free from his grip.

I concede myself all of three seconds to take in on everything: his scent, his breath, his warm skin, his shaved hair tickling my shoulder, his cold feet pressing against mine. Then I get up, as slowly as I can, because I don’t have the guts to wake him up and meet his gaze right now.

God, I fucked up. I fucked up so bad.

Baz is gone and now I’m ruining my friendship with Niall with this… thing that lives rent free in me. Good job, Dev, keep this up and you’ll be alone in a blink.

I take the clothes I need for the day and I leave the room, closing the door behind me. A cold, fucking freezing, shower is what I need to clear my mind, so that’s the first thing. As the water runs down my body, I wonder what I can do now: act like nothing happened and hope Niall won’t remember anything or tease him for it.

I managed to ignore these weird feelings for months now, but last night was a mess and now I fucked up. Damn it.

I’m ready in no time – even if usually it takes me a lifetime to work in the morning – willing to leave this house as soon as possible. Niall is still sleeping when I peek at him from the door and I almost choke when I realize that he’s hugging my pillow; it’s probably nothing, anyway.

Niall is just like that. Physical.

I write a quick note and I leave it on the table, I don’t write anything about last night, because it’s easier.

You know where the Tea is, Asshole :) p.s. remember to close the door when you leave.

I feel a little like a douchebag, almost as if I’m telling him that I don’t want him to be here when I come back this afternoon after work (imagine?), but it’s easier. Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t have the keys and can’t come here whenever he wants. Baz does too, but he probably won’t need them now that he lives in New York City.

Niall doesn’t write back. Not a single text all day.

Asshole.

Maybe I’ve fucked up even more than I imagined. What if last night I said something wrong? I can’t really remember what happened after I fell asleep on the couch, because the memories are a little fuzzy and I’m not sure what was reality and what was me dreaming of what I can’t have.

Work is hell today, because there is that little itch at the back of my neck that keeps reminding me to check my phone, that maybe Niall has texted me. He hasn’t.

When I get home, I let out a deep sigh. “Niall?” I call, unsure if I’m alone or not. The only answer I get is silence. Thundering silence. Another sigh, because maybe I hope he’d still be here waiting for me.

I drop the coat on the couch and I notice the post-it note I’ve written this morning on the coffee table, under my handwriting, there are two messy words written in a rush.

Door closed, it says.

I don’t remember punching the wall, I just feel flashlights of pain crawling on the flesh of my hand. Fuck.

-

I don’t call him and he doesn’t call me, even if we were supposed to go to a party together tonight. I need time off. Off of everything and everyone. So, I just go there alone, because I absolutely don’t hope to see him there.

The house is already overcrowded when I get there; it’s the house of a college friend, a total douchebag, but it’s just an excuse to see some old friends and drink all my thoughts away.

I’m at the fourth tequila when someone grabs my arm and turns me around, “Dev Grimm, is that you?” the rather sharp voice of Kate says.

“In person, milady.” I grin at her, right before she hugs me, tightly.

Kate, the closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve ever had. Okay, not really a girlfriend, but we’ve had so much sex back in college. She’s awesome, really, she just doesn’t want to be tied to anyone romantically and people often underestimate her because of her baby doll look.

“Where are your shadows? I haven’t seen you without those two in like… never, I’ve never seen one of you without the others.” She says, brow furrowed, drinking a weird purple cocktail and peeked over my shoulder, almost as she thinks I’m hiding my friend behind me.

“They’re not here,” I shrug; at least, Baz isn’t. I’m not sure about Niall yet.

“How’s work?” She asks, refilling my glass, “Still a lawyer?”

“Eh, I tried becoming a ballerina, but they said my feet are too big.” I shrug, sarcastically and she laughs, catching all the guys’ attention.

“Such a shame, I bet that with those legs you’d be hot in a tutu.” She says, flipping her hair.

That’s when I see a very familiar shaved head on the other side of the room, so I swallow whatever is in my glass and stubbornly focus all my attention on Kate.

“Do you want to dance?” She asks, pointing at the other room with a nod, “For old time’s sake.”

“Why not.” I reply, taking her hand and following her.

My vision is a little blurry, alcohol running in my body, making me feel like I’m moving underwater, but there is one thing that doesn’t go away. One thing that not even the alcohol can hide.

Niall’s gaze on me.

I try my best to ignore it, to not meet his eyes, while I slowly dance with Kate. She’s rubbing against my body, just like we used to in college, always touching touching touching, even if at the time, it felt good. Now, it just feels… wrong. Unnecessary.

And I hate this feeling.

“Kate.” I mumble in her ear, her back pressed against my chest, while she waves to the rhythm of the music.

“Yes, babe?” She asks, spinning in my arms to face me.

“Do you-“ I say, but the rest of the words is lost on her lips, because then she’s kissing me. She’s kissing me and it’s not gentle, it doesn’t feel right; it tastes like vodka and regrets.

Her tongue is chasing mine and that’s when I raise my gaze and see him, right on the other side of the dance floor, speaking with some guys. He’s laughing at something, but as soon as our eyes meet, his smile dies. I see his jaw clenching while he stares at me. At me and at the girl currently smashed on my lips.

For a single second, my brain thinks, This could be him. You could be kissing him. But I shove that thought away, blaming it on the tequila.

And then he’s leaving.

I gently push Kate back, giving her a tiny smile, “Sorry, just… I’m…”

“Oh, c’mon, it was just a kiss, Dev! It’s not like we’ve never kissed before.” She laughs, but then she frowns at my expression, “Unless there is somebody else?”

“No no, there is no one else.” I mumble, but it almost feels traitorous, even if I’m not sure why. “I gotta go, sorry. Thanks for the dance.”

She kisses my cheek, before disappearing in the faceless dancing crowd.

And then I’m leaving too.

It doesn’t take me longer to find Niall, who’s drinking a beer sitting on the edge of the sidewalk. I stumble my way to him, feeling waves of something roll down on me at his sight.

I sit next to him, leaving as little space as I can between us but not touching him.

“Hey.” I say, after a while of silence.

He snorts, without looking at me. “What are you doing here? You seemed quite busy.” And his voice is wrong, because it’s not as soft as it normally is and this discovery makes me ache.

“It’s Kate, you know how she is.” I shrug.

“Yeah, I know how she is. I know pretty damn well how she is with you.” He spits it out like it’s venom burning his tongue.

I didn’t exactly plan to say it, but my brain isn’t working properly right now, so my mouth says, “You’ve slept with me last night.”

This takes him off guard, I can see it in the way his eyes widen. He turns to look at me, brow furrowed. “I did.” Then, “That’s why you’re a fucking idiot, Dev Grimm.”

“What.” I mumble, because what?

“We’ve slept together and the only thing you manage to tell me is ‘close the door’, then I find you here with someone else’s tongue down your throat. Good job, dude.”

“I –“

He shakes his head, getting up, “You’re drunk, I’m taking you home. C’mon.” And I know he’s really angry because he doesn’t offer me his hand to get up.

I follow him to his car and I can’t quite stop staring at him while he drives, even if he’s a little out of focus. What I notice, though, is how tightly is grip on the steering wheel is. White knuckles shining with the night lights.

He opens the door of my flat for me, after snorting at my attempts to open it myself. And as I can’t embarrass myself further, I ask, “Are you sleeping here again?”

“No.” He says, rolling his eyes. He doesn’t even take off his jacket.

I accidentally knock my hand on the counter trying to grab a glass and I groan in pain, because my knuckles are still hurting from earlier. “Fuck!”

Niall appears in the kitchen half a second later, even if he looks a little annoyed, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I just…” I say, gesturing toward my hand, where there is a dark bruise.

“What did you do?” He asks, stepping closer and carefully grabbing my hand, brushing his fingerprint over the damaged skin.

“Punched the wall.” I shrug.

He looks at me with an eyebrow cocked, then he shakes his head and sighs. “Go to sleep, man.”

I almost almost almost ask him to stay, but the words are stuck in my throat and I just nod, because it’s easier.

He opens the door, but right before leaving, he says, “Call me tomorrow?” I’m not sure if it’s a question or something more that I can’t quite place, so I nod again.

“Goodnight, then, Dev.” He murmurs and then he’s gone.

And I’m left there, with an aching hand and a blurry mind, thinking that maybe – maybe – I’ve lost both my best friends and I have nothing left. I’m not quite sure I can deal with life without Niall and Baz by my side.

Niall. Always Niall.

Chapter Text

DEV

I don’t even think of calling him, one moment I groan squeezing my eyes (fucking tequila), the next I hear his voice in my ear.

“You do realize I’m working, yes?” Baz asks, sarcastically, “It’s like 4 pm here.”

“As if you do anything but pose around.” I snort, “How is New York treating you, Bazzie?”

“I don’t pose,” He snaps back and he’s totally rolling his eyes right now, “I’m fine, I just don’t have anyone to play football with.”

“Yeah, well, me neither.” I murmur, even if I wasn’t planning on saying it out loud.

“What about Niall?”

“What about him?” I ask, tensing, even if I’m not sure why.

“You can play football with him.” He says, after a bunch of seconds.

“It’s not the same without you here,” I shrug, “Don’t let it get to your head, though, asshole.”

I hear him laugh on the other side of the ocean and I realize just how much I miss him. “You’ll eventually have to find a way to make it work, even if your world is shuttering to pieces without me. I don’t see myself coming back to England any time soon.” And I know he’s joking, but it somehow hurts to think about it this way. “Take care of Niall, he called me this morning and he sounded a bit… lost.”

That gets my attention, “Why?”

“I don’t know, it’s probably nothing important, though. Huh, I gotta go… my personal assistant is back with my tea.”

“What an idiot,” I snort, laughing, “God bless the pour soul of whoever has to keep up with your mood swings now. I hope you are paying them enough.”

“Oh, you bet your ass I am. Bye, Dev.” He says, probably grinning and then he hangs up.

I am, possibly, more confused than before and the hangover isn’t helping at all. At least I know that Baz is still Baz.

Lost, he said.

Lost lost lost.

I blame it all on last night’s shots of tequila, when I knock on Niall’s door two hours later, with a bag full of Chinese take-away. Which, honestly, is a stupid thing, because I’ve had the keys of Niall’s flat since when he moved here after high school, so I could just get in… But something has changed and I’m not quite sure if this is something I’m still allowed to do (if it’s something I’m allowing myself to do).

His eyes widen a little in surprise when he sees me, maybe because I knocked, maybe because I’m here at all. “I almost thought you were still ghosting me, when you didn’t call.”

I roll my eyes, “I wasn’t ghosting you, I told you –“

“Yeah, yeah. Work and stuff, I remember.” He says, waving his hand, then he points at the bag in my hand, “Food?”

“Yes.”

“Then I guess I can forgive you,” he says, with a smile that makes my knees go funny, “Come in, man. I’m gonna destroy you at whatever videogame you want. But first, food. I’m starving.”

“So what, you were gonna let yourself starve to death if I didn’t show up?” I snort, hiding a smile and taking off my coat.

“Maybe I was sure you’d come,” He shrugs, sinking on the couch in a familiar way that, oh fuck, I missed him. His words click in my brain a second too late to actually snap something back, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“No soy sauce?” He asks, pouting, after placing the food on the coffee table.

“Catch.” I say, tossing the tiny sauce sachets. His eyes light up in a way that I really, really try to ignore – as if I could forget after more than twenty years of friendship, that he puts litres of soy sauce on his Chinese food!

I sit next to him and he bumps his box of noodles against mine in a weird toast, before starting to eat happily. “I heard Baz this morning, said that he has already found someone to annoy to death, Simon something. He sounded pretty fond, actually.”

“Is that the personal assistant?” I ask, scoffing a laugh.

“I guess,” he laughs, “Wicked. Only Baz can do something like that.”

“Only Baz.” I agree. Then, because I recall what he told me on the phone earlier, “How are you doing since he left?”

“You mean besides the fact that you’ve been an obtuse fuck and kept ignoring me?” He asks, voice so soft that I want to punch him. He doesn’t even sound angry, he just sounds… true, because that’s just how he is. “Quite lonely, but fine.” He says, with a little shrug.

“I’m… sorry. About that.” I mumble, poking his ankle with my foot.

“You better be,” He replies, then, with his tiny smile – the one where he curls up just one corner of his mouth and his eyes wrinkle just a little, freckles crinkling on his nose – he adds, “I missed you, dude. Stop being an idiot about this whole thing. I know you always freak out when things change and that’s why I agreed to go with this slow pace, but don’t take thirty steps back every time I think we’re taking one forward. Okay?”

And I just short-circuit for a second, because what? What is he talking about? I feel my mind spinning at ninety kilometres per hour, trying to find an answer, but finding just more questions.

He waves his hand in front of my face, “Oh my god, did I break you?” He asks, laughing.

“No,” I scowl, but I feel my cheeks burn (not just my cheeks, but my whole body).

He rolls his eyes, smirking, “You know what? Here, shoot at someone, you’ll feel better.” He says, giving me the Xbox joystick. It does, in fact, make me feel better, even if I’m hyperaware of his knee pressing against my thigh, because he’s sitting cross-legged right next to me on the big couch.

He tells me about his football practice, about his revenge on his teammates for stealing his clothes, about how he wants to take a road-trip, because he’s exhausted of the city’s grey sky. And I tell him about work, about that new show I started watching last week, about how yes, I’d really like to come with you to the country-side, Niall, because he’s watching me with his big green eyes and I don’t have the guts to tell him no (and I don't even want to tell him no, to be fair).

And before I notice it, it’s dinner time and we finish the leftovers of the Chinese food, still chatting and laughing together, because it’s always been like this between us: easy.

I don’t really like to talk a lot, but when I’m with Niall, the words just keep coming and coming and I end up telling him about that time I broke my tooth while hitchhiking when I was like eight years old, and he laughs laughs laughs, even if I’m pretty sure he already knew the story.

I find myself stare at him in awe every time he laughs, because there is just something in the way he squeezes his eyes and throws his head back that makes it impossible to look away.

(But it means nothing, really. It’s no big deal. Everything under control.)

At around 9 pm an alarm goes off on his phone, “Oh, shit, bro! I forgot!” He exclaims, jumping up from the couch in less than a second.

“What?” I ask, brow furrowed, because it’s actually Saturday night, what if he has a date? He would’ve told me, right? I’m his best friend.

“I gotta go! I absolutely forgot it was tonight!” He half-screams, disappearing in his bedroom.

Even if the thought itches, I put up a grin and ask, “What, you are seeing someone and didn’t told me?”

Silence. Thundering silence.

Then I see his head peeking at me from his bedroom door, eyebrow cocked, like I just asked the dumbest thing in the History of dumbness. Then, almost as if he’s talking to a child, he says slowly, “Remember when I told you not to take thirty steps back right when I start to think we’re taking one forward? Because you’re doing exactly that.”

“I’m not…” I groan, taking my head in my hands, “Where are you going?” I ask, because it’s easier.

“Tonight there is a comet,” He says, appearing from his bedroom fully winter clothed (scarf, gloves and hat), “C’mon, you’re coming too, get your ass up, dude. Comets don’t stop for anyone, not even you.”

 Astrology and football, the two things in the world Niall loves the most (and puppies and stupid-ass novels, because that’s just how he is).

“Fine,” I snort and I dress up, “But you’re driving, because I’m tired.”

He wraps one of his scarfs around my neck tightly, his hands brushing my cheeks, “It’s freezing outside,” He says with a tiny sheepish smile, almost as an apology, stepping back.

The car ride is more than an hour long, we’re going to a little hill right outside the city, where the sky is not so polluted by lights. We’ve been here countless times, both to stargaze and get wasted when we were younger, because the view it’s absolutely amazing and there is no one around.

We lay on the back of Niall truck, where there are pillows and blankets he puts there when we left. Our sides pressed together under the thick blanket. There is not even an inch of bare skin, all dressed up as we are, but I still feel my body tremble at the touch. Or maybe it’s just the cold breeze. It could be.

The comet is just literally a bright dot in a shit ton of other tiny dots, and I really don’t see the point of spending hours in the car just to get here and see that.

However, it’s totally worth it to see the mesmerized look on Niall face when he looks up at the stars. His eyes lights up with passion and beauty and I can see the sky in his bright eyes.

“Just how you imagined it?” I ask, murmuring, because I'm almost afraid that if I speak any louder, I’ll break whatever spell he's under.

A smile blooms on his lips and I stare at it for a second too long, “Even better,” he murmurs back, voice low and hoarse, his accent thick. He turns his face to me and there is barely a heartbeat of space between us, noses almost brushing together. “I didn’t think you’d come with me.”

“You didn’t ask.” I point out, feeling like an asshole, because I’m the one who cut him out since Baz left.

He doesn’t say anything, just look at me.

He’s here to stargaze and instead he’s looking at me.

“You know, I’d never miss your football matches nor whatever astrology thing you want to see. You just have to ask and I’ll be there.” I whisper and I hope it’s enough. I’m not like him, I can’t talk about feelings, but I need him to know that I care.

He moves his head just an inch closer, leaning the tip of his nose against mine; his hot breath sends shivers down my spine.

Lightning-struck.

“Thank you.” He murmurs, with his impossible low voice.

“For what?”

“Coming back to me after whatever you’ve been through since Baz moved. I missed you, please don’t do that ever again. Don't disappear, not from me.” He says, lightly. Here’s the first thing I learned about Niall when we first met: he always says what he’s thinking. There are literally no filters between his head and his mouth. That’s probably why he’s so open, so ready to talk about feelings and say things like I missed you, like it’s nothing. Like he’s not setting me on fire.

I’m well aware what I’m supposed to say, but my mouth evidently does not, because what I tell him is, “I didn’t want to kiss Kate last night.”

Why, why, why am I like this.

“Didn’t you?” He asks and there is a glint of something in his eyes, like he’s amused or relieved. Maybe both.

Or maybe he doesn’t care.

I shake my head and our noses rub together, reminding me just how close we are.

“Good.” He says.

“Yeah?”

Yeah,” he smiles, the corners of his eyes wrinkling in that lovely way.

For a second – less than a second – I think about how easy it would be to just lean in a little and press my lips against his and I feel every inch of my body come to life at the thought. But I don’t, because I can’t.

I move my pinkie against his, just a little, maybe he won’t even notice. His gloves are soft and I feel the warmth of his skin right under the fabric.

And then he does the most surprising thing ever happened to me. He slides his hand under mine and intertwine our fingers together, squeezing tightly, his gaze never leaving mine.

My breath catches in my throat and my cheeks flush red because of it.

“Damn, I really wish I didn’t wear gloves tonight!” He sighs, grinning widely and my body starts to shake with laughters, because how can someone like this beautiful, incredible man even be real?

He laughs with me and we stay there, under a dome of stars, looking at each other like the world is ending.

Chapter Text

DEV

We sleep together again when we come back home from the hill, even if Niall has an empty bedroom right next to his. There aren’t questions asked, it’s just as a fact; when we arrive, we go straight to his bedroom, still holding hands. We lay there, not quite holding each other, but standing as close as possible, fingers finding their way back to each other intertwining again under the sheets.

It feels oh, so good. So right, yet so thrilling.

We spend all Sunday curled up on the couch playing videogames, sitting just a little bit closer than usual, talking and laughing so much that by the end of the day my cheeks hurt.

It’s just like old times, except that now we keep finding excuses to touch each other; it’s just that Niall’s skin is so soft and warm. And every time I look at him, he is already looking at me.

Oh, what if.

Sadly, I have to head home after dinner, because I still have a couple of things to do before work tomorrow (not that I want to sleep here again or something), so I leave him with a very awkward fist bump, because I don’t really know what to say or do, but he doesn’t seem to mind, because he smiles brightly at me, dimples in display.

We text almost all week, even if we don’t get to see each other, because I’m stuck in office for more time than I’d like to and he has extra hours on the pitch for a big match coming in a few weeks. So, when he calls me Friday morning, I’m almost relieved. Almost as if he dissipates a weight on my chest I didn’t even know I was carrying.

“I have practice today,” he says, with his sleepy voice, because he probably just woke up, while I’ve been at work for two hours already. Not fair.

“You have practice every day.” I point out, tapping on my laptop, phone squeezed between my ear and shoulder.

“Yes, but today I finish late, at about dinner time, so I’ll need someone to bring me food.” He sighs, dramatically.

I roll my eyes, biting back a smile, “I feel like you’re keeping me around just for food.”

He laughs, “Oh no, also because your parents have a pool.”

“Asshole,” I snort, “At what time?”

“Seven.” He says, probably smiling. I can picture his wrinkled eyes and his dimples perfectly.

“Fine, I’ll be there, even if you’re really annoying.” I tell him, as if I haven’t been waiting to see his face all week.

“Good!” He says, then, in a rush, “Bring extra clothes, pyjamas and stuff. Bye, man!”

“Wait, what-“ He hangs up.

I exhale slowly, trying to ignore all the funny things happening in my belly, trying to not think about why would I bring a pyjama, because I’m still stuck in office for way too many hours before seeing him and I can’t be distracted by certain thoughts.

I lowkey panic around six, when I open my closet and stare at my clothes. Clothes, pyjamas and stuff, he said. What’s that even supposed to mean? I can’t even call him to ask, because he’s on the pitch right now and he wouldn’t answer me.

Clothes, pyjamas and stuff. Okay, fine. It’s no big deal at all, we’ll probably just play videogames and sleep (together). God, I hope so.

I find myself wondering when exactly the prospect of playing videogames and sleeping with Niall has become so exciting; he broke me.

When I get to the stadium, he’s already waiting outside, even if it’s barely seven, a big bag hanging from his shoulder. He gives me a bedazzling smile as soon as he spots my car and I run a hand through my hair, just to be sure they are in place, even if it’s just Niall. It’s absolutely no big deal. No big deal at all.

“Hey,” he says, sitting on the passenger seat, face lit up like a fucking Christmas Tree. “I’ll pretend you’re not late if you brought food.”

“I’m not late, asshole.” I roll my eyes, but I reach the big paper bag on the back seats and place it on his laps.

“God, McDonald’s, you’re like prince charming but real.” He says, letting out a little moan, already eating the fries.

I absolutely don’t flush at that. “Where to, milady?” I tease him, starting the engine. “Your place?”

“No,” he shakes his head, devouring a mouthful of fries, “I have plans. You just drive, I’ll tell you the road as we go.”

“What?” I mumble, brow furrowed, but I start to drive anyway, “Are you kidnapping me?”

“Maybe,” He shrugs, winking (the nightmare!), “I’ll bury you in the woods.”

“And how exactly do you plan on killing me? Starving me?” I snort, reaching out my hand and he places a couple of fries on it. Cold McDonald’s fries: the worst thing ever, but Niall still looks like a kid on Christmas.

“I don’t know just yet. Pillow on your face, maybe. Slow, sensual. Just the two of us, you know.” He says, grinning at me.

I almost choke. He laughs.

“Oh, c’mon, dude! It’s an adventure, take off your lawyer face and put on your happy one, I know you have it somewhere in you, I’ve seen it.” He says, poking my cheek with his finger, “Please. For me.”

I groan, but he already knows he’s won. So I drive, following his directions unwillingly. We stop at some point, just outside the city, to eat. It’s messy and terrible and uncomfortable and probably the best dinner I’ve ever had, because he keeps looking at me that way and I can’t think straight (quite literally).

I allow myself to just look at him. I see him for what seems like the first time.

His green eyes are happy and shiny, his lips bright pink and his cheekbones would probably cut my thumb if I brushed it over them (not that I’ve thought about doing it, because I totally have this thing under control); tiny freckles on his nose that are there only when he's been in the sun; the way his tattoos climb up his arms, followed by his impossible visibly veins. His marble squared jawline.

He’s beautiful. Painfully so.

“Like what you see?” he grins, after a while and I realize that I’ve been staring at him for a bunch of time, so I abruptly look away (reluctantly).

“I was just checking to see if you had any trace of serial killer look on your face, I’m still not sure that you won’t actually bury me somewhere.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me, amused, “Did you find any?”

“Yes,” I groan, starting the engine once again, “You’ll be the death of me, it’s written in your freckles.”

He runs his thumb over the knuckles of my hand on the shift stick, but doesn’t say anything. I feel his gaze on me, burning holes through my soul.

After a little more than two hours, we stop in front of a tiny house in the middle of nothing, next to a lake. I’ve already been here once, when we were like ten and Niall’s parents brought Baz and me with them on holiday.

“What are we doing here?” I ask, taking in on the place, despite the darkness of the night I can see the trees and the pier of the lake.

“Mom called and said that tomorrow someone will come to check the generator, routine checks or something, I don’t know, man! Anyways, you seemed pretty stressed lately, so I offered to come. I thought you could use being away from the city for a while… We can stay till Sunday, but we can go back, if you want to. We don’t have to stay. Slow pace and all that, I know. I just thought –“

“Thank you.” I cut him off, squeezing his knee, resting my hand there just for a second longer.

He smiles at me, it’s both devastating and incredible.

I take the bags inside while he turns on the electricity and the water; I change in my pyjama, because I’m honestly tired as hell and I want nothing more than to sleep. Science says that I suffer from insomnia only when Niall isn’t around, so I do really hope he’ll sleep with me, because I need him to. I’ve barely slept since Sunday.

I sit at the desk and I wait for him (I don’t want to assume, so I stay away from the bed for now)(I don’t want him to feel trapped or obliged to do anything), I try to check my emails just to be sure nothing bad happened at work, but there is no range, so my phone is absolutely useless right now. Not that it matters, since I have Niall here, so I won’t probably need anything else. Fuck, sappy.

“Oh,” He says, when he gets in the bedroom, eyes rolling down my body, “You’re already ready to sleep?”

“Fuck, yes. I’m knackered.”

“So old.” He chuckles, but he disappears in the bathroom to change his clothes.

There is a lowkey level of panic running through my body for the sleeping arrangements, but I stubbornly ignore it at my best. I stand there, frozen, waiting for some sign from the universe. Or from Niall, I trust him on this because he seems to know what he is doing.

When he comes back, he’s wearing damn tight grey sweatpants and an even tighter white shirt; fucking footballer body. I swallow loudly and I look literally everywhere but at him. His thighs are just there, fuck my life.

He scoffs a laugh, shaking his head, “What?”

“Nothing.” I snort, focused on a very interesting point in the linoleum.

“Why are you still at the desk?” He asks, amused. His bare feet shift in my vision for a second when he walks past me and reaches the other side of the bed.

“I was… waiting.” I scowl at him, who still looks like a happy puppy.

He cocks an eyebrow in challenge, smirking, “Well, I’m here now, what are you gonna do?” Oh, the incredible audacity of this asshole! He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Without another word, he flips the blankets and slide in the bed, he cross his arms behind his head and stares at me, one corner of his mouth still curled up. He's all armpits and green eyes and he's staring at me, so my brain short-circuit, because that's asbolutely not fair.

I scowl at him, but he doesn’t seem affected, which makes me scowl even harder; I get up from the desk, gesturing toward the door, “So, I’ll… I’ll just – you know, go… in the other room, yeah. I’ll go.” I mumble, mentally cursing myself for being like this. Weak

When I’m at the door, he calls me back, “Dev.”

“Yes?” I turn to look at him, biting the inside of my cheek.

“Come here, you idiot.” He says, half smiling half snorting, and I really can’t say no to that, so I go.

I lay next to him, we’re both on our sides, facing each other, just a heartbeat of distance between us. That’s the same heartbeat that just always seems to be between us and for a second I wonder if it’s my fault that it’s there, but then Niall’s hand finds mine and everything is okay.

“You look like a damn zombie, man. Have you slept in the last century?” He murmurs, smiling at me, totally not acknowledging my red cheeks.

I roll my eyes, but I nod unwillingly, “I haven’t been sleeping good lately.” Because you weren’t there, I want to add, but I don’t.

“Sleep, then.” He says and his eyes are locked in mine when he brings my hand to his face and kisses the soft skin of my wrist, right where he could feel my messy heart doing funny things if he only tried hard enough. His lips are there for two, three seconds, then they aren’t anymore, but his fingers are still intertwined in mine and it’s enough.

More than enough, it’s spectacular.

Okay, maybe I don’t have everything under control. Fuck. 

Chapter Text

DEV

When I wake up, the situation is getting even worse and Niall isn’t doing anything to help me overcome these… feelings, as he’s holding me like a fucking koala. I’m on my back, arms wrapped around him, but it’s his fault! Because his head is on my chest and one of his impossible fit tights is leaning on my lap, his foot pressed on the outside of my leg, arm draped over my chest. I can’t really do much but hold him tightly, but it’s definitely his fault.

I reckon that I haven’t slept this good in a lifetime, regardless of the 6’5 tall beautiful man sprawled over me like a damn blanket.

I run my thumb lightly over his armpit (because honestly, what else am I supposed to do?) and his skin is so soft that I feel the urge to trace it with my lips. I squeeze my eyes: noNo, no, no. Stop it.

This is Niall, your best friend. You’ve literally grown up together and he’s a man. Stop it, stop it. You’re broken.

But he’s so soft!

No, stop it.

Somewhere between my inner conflicts, he wakes up and stretches his body lazily against mine, rubbing his nose right against my chest, like he’s taking in on my scent.

And I panic, because what do I do? If he realizes I’m awake, he’ll let me go and I can’t let that happen, but it also feels wrong to not tell him that I’m absolutely and totally aware of how tangled up in each other’s arms we are.

And my traitorous heart is doing exactly nothing to help me.

I feel his fingers tracing little circles on my hip, “Dev, stop it.” He murmurs, his hoarse voice struck me like a lightning bolt.

“Mmh?” I mumble, because my voice is catching in my throat. So, he knows I’m awake and he’s still holding me; that’s unexpected, to say the least.

“You’re overthinking, stop that.”

I snort lightly, because he’s absolutely wrong, but I don’t move, because I can’t make my body work properly. The warmth spreading from him is nerve-wrecking overwhelming.

“You do realize that my ear is right over your heart, yes? I can hear it drumming. You’re overthinking.” He whispers.

“Well, yeah, it’s because you’re hugging me, asshole.” I point out in my defence, because the last thing I need is him questioning why I’m overthinking it.

“Am I?” He asks sarcastically, still rubbing circles on my hip.

“Yes, very much.”

“How bizarre.” He snaps back and I just know he’s smiling, dimples digging in his cheeks. That does nothing to quiet my heart. Nor my body, that seems to be made of electricity.

Oh. What? “Are you planning on letting me go any time soon?” I ask, a little meaner that I intended, since I don’t really want him to.

He’s silent for a bunch of seconds, then he stills his fingers and looks up at me through his long eyelashes, “Will you freak out about waking up like this if I let you go?”

Yes. “No.” I’m already freaking out.

He probably can read it on my face, because he scoffs a little laugh (damn it), whispers, “Just don’t run away.” and reluctantly takes his leg off of me, freeing my body. The only thing he adds is, “Breakfast.” Before rolling off the bed and disappearing in the hallway in a tornado of tight and very revealing clothes, leaving me there to question all my choices in life.

A cold, cold shower will do.

When I get in the kitchen, he’s eating breakfast at the table, reading some novel that is probably too cheesy and sappy for whatever other human being, but he probably loves it, since he’s smiling to himself.

There is a bowl of cereal – my favourite brand, nonetheless – waiting on the other side of the table, so I sit there and I start to eat in silence.

He closes the book and looks at me, like he’s waiting for me to start screaming or something (I seriously thought about it, but I still have some sort of dignity, so I tossed the idea aside). I cock an eyebrow at him, “What?”

He shrugs, with a dumb smile, “Wanna go for a hike today?”

I nod, in silence. What is clenching my organs is the fact that fine, I’m not talking about what happened earlier, but he isn’t neither. I do have a good reason for avoiding the topic, but what about him?

He pokes my foot with his, still smiling a little. He’s always smiling, damn it! He just likes to make it impossible to look away from his face. Asshole.

Really not making this easier, Niall. Not at all.

“Are you okay?” He asks and I nod again, avoiding his gaze.

The electricity guy comes a little later and while Niall is with him, I do the dishes and change my clothes for the hike, before sitting on the pier. The lake is almost completely frozen and the trees reflect on it like a mirror. I’ve always loved this place, it just makes the soul at peace.

We leave the house after about half an hour, following the tiny path that disappears in the woods. We walk past the tree where our wooden fort stands still after more than ten years, but Niall doesn’t stop, so I don’t either.

“So,” I say, after quite some time, just because the silence is apparently far worst than anything else (my thoughts get too loud and I rather they didn’t), “Is this the moment where you kill me?”

“Maybe,” he replies, with a little shrug. He’s just as lost in his mind as I am.

We stop on the top of the little hill, at the tiny wooden bench that vigil over the valley, and Niall takes a thermos out of his backpack and pour two coups of something hot, before handing me one.

His eyes are stuck on the landscape in front of us, but somehow I feel like he’s seeing right through me when he says, “I’m sorry for earlier.”

That takes me a little off guard, “About what?”

His cheeks flush a little, as his neck, when he waves his hand, “The bed thing.”

“Oh.”

He smiles a sad sheepish smile that breaks my heart in a million pieces, “I know you aren’t ready, I just… couldn’t resist.”

“Ready?” I repeat, brow furrowed.

Yeah,” he breathes out, unreadable look on his handsome face, then he turns around, almost worried and adds, “I mean, I’m not blaming you or something, it’s just… I – I shouldn’t have. I should’ve known better.”

I cock an eyebrow at that, “What are you even talking about?” Because what if he knows how I feel and he’s trying to discourage me to make the first move (as if I’d destroy his face with mine right here and now!)

The dimples appear on his cheeks, “You still don’t know, do you, dude?”

“Don’t dude me.” I scowl, not even sure why that bothers me. If the earth could just open under my feet and swallow me whole right now, I’d be grateful.

He almost looks pleased at that, “Yeah, right, not dude.” He grins, then, “Dev.”

When Niall says Dev, he means Dev, and that shouldn’t make me feel how it does.

Our knees are pressed together after one another and I shift my gaze from there to his eyes a couple of times, before saying (with all the courage I have), “What are you talking about?” I ask again. 

And Niall, impossibly adorable Niall, born with his heart outside his chest, smiles. He’s smiling as bright as the sun when he says, “Us.”

I swallow loudly, “What about us?”

“Everything about us, Dev.”

And that is, well, fucking confusing.

I jump up from the bench, spilling some tea on my hand, but honestly who fucking cares.

I’m a motherfucking lawyer, for fuck’s sake. My brain works with logic and tactic. That’s why this – this – is so difficult to understand; there is not logic in what is happening inside me. It’s messy and confusing and complicated.

I walk away as fast as I can. He doesn’t try to stop me.

While I walk in the woods toward the house, I mentally write a list of things that no longer make sense.

  1. I can’t sleep if I’m alone;
  2. The shivers and goosebumps I get when Niall is too close;
  3. The fact that I don’t think that something like ‘too close’ exists, he’s always too far;
  4. My body not working properly;
  5. HE’S MY BEST FRIEND FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Shall I add the fact that he is a man? And when did he become so beautiful? Goddamn it.

Before I even realize it, I’m standing in front of my car, out of breath, fists clenched at my sides. “Fuck!” I blur out, before getting in the car and slamming the door.

I hear him sit next to me on the passenger seat a long time later, when the sky is getting dark. He doesn’t say anything and I don’t raise my head from where it’s dropped on the steering wheel, but I let out a shaky breath.

 

NIALL

“I’m sorry.” I whisper, looking at his clenched jaw. I shouldn’t have said anything, but sometimes the words just get out of my mouth before I want them to.

Oh, Dev. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to freak you out. I know how scared of changes you are and the last thing I want to do is scare you, even though I need things to change. Between us. And I know you need the same.

He doesn’t say anything, but I almost feel his brain spinning. At least, he hasn’t driven away, that’s something. He could’ve left but he didn’t.

“Please, come inside. I’ll make you dinner.” I tell him and I resist the urge of touching him – it would be so easy. “Then you can scream and break things and I won’t get mad.”

He’s still quiet and it freaks me out, because I need him to react. I don’t want to push, though, so I’ll take a step back and gives him the space he needs.

“I’m sorry.” I whisper again and before I open the door, he throws his head back and lets out a bitter laugh that makes me freeze.

“You’re sorry? You are ruining me.” He blurs out, eyes on fire.

“What?” I mumble, brow furrowed. There is something in his voice that just kills me.

“I don’t know!” He shouts, dropping his head in his hands, his fingers digging furiously in his hair. “I don’t know.” He repeats, desperate and hopeless. Defeated. “Something is broken in me and I have no idea how to fix it.”

Oh, Dev. Dev, Dev, Dev. My heart crumples at seeing him like this. This is my fault, I should’ve gave him more time, fuck.

“Nothing is wrong with you.” I tell him. Can’t you see all that you are? I want to add, but I don't. Not yet.

“How could you possibly know?” He whispers, voice scratched, hands pulling his hair.

“Because I know you,” I tell him, as soft as I can and I think: please, understand. “I know you better than anyone else and you know me, you know I wouldn’t lie to you. Especially not about this.”

He sighs, “There is… something in me that shouldn’t be there and I don’t know how to make that go away.”

“You don’t have to make it go away. You can be you and happy and thing will be okay, even if they are not exactly as you planned them.” Please, please understand.

I need you to know.

 “You don’t even know what I’m talking about,” he groans, in frustration.

I clear my throat, “Actually, I do. Because I have it in me, too.”

He raises his head slowly, painfully so, and he looks at me. His eyes run on every inch of my face, exploring, searching, discovering. I let him, because I know the answers he needs are all written there, if only one knows how to read them. I couldn’t hide something that vast even if I wanted to.

“Yeah?”

Yeah,” I say, with a tiny smile and he smiles back in his stubbornly way that it’s enough to make up my mind, “Now I’m gonna do two things, okay? They don’t have to mean anything, if you don’t want them to.”

I wonder if it’s the right time, the right thing to do, but I need him to understand that he’s not broken.

He nods, brow slightly furrowed.

“Okay, I’m gonna go and cook dinner for two and you can either decide to come eat with me or go back to London and take your time to figure this out.”

His voice is still scratched when he says, “What’s the second thing?”

I take up every single spark of courage in my body and I smile softly at him, “I’m gonna kiss you, if you want me to.”

His eyes widen, lips lightly parted, when he whispers, “Oh.”

I lean just an inch closer to him, cautiously. He doesn’t say anything but look at me like the world is ending and he can’t do anything about it. That makes me feel bad, like I’m forcing him, so I mumble, “We don’t have to.”

“No. No, no. I mean, yes. I – yeah, that. I want that. You can – yes.” He mutters, cheeks completely flushed red, eyes as wide as the universe.

And before I can register it, I’m kissing him.

It’s barely more than lips brushing together for a second, but his mouth is so warm and soft and when I move back, it almost seems like his lips are chasing mine. His eyes are still wide open, almost in shock and I smile at him, before getting of the car.

Wow. 

Chapter Text

NIALL

My heart almost shatters when I hear him starting the engine of the car and drive away, but I somehow manage to hold the pieces together. I knew that could happen, that he’d probably freak out. I wasn’t completely ready for it, though.

It doesn’t mean anything, because in the end, I know that he feels about me the same way I feel about him, even if he can’t see it yet.

I eat in silence, alone. He will come back, he will. I keep repeating to myself, but that isn’t enough to stop a few burning tears to roll down my cheeks.

I’m weak when it comes to Dev Grimm.

I eat way too much ice cream (the coach will probably kick my ass, but right now, it seems like the only thing helping) and I curl myself in bed.

The sheets smell exactly like Dev, but also like me, and that makes me feel even weaker, but I hug his pillow anyway and breathe deeply, till I eventually fall asleep. Alone and sad.

 

DEV

A coward, that’s what I am.

He kissed me.

Niall kissed me.

And it was so fast, that I feel the urge to do it again and again, to see if it was really that good.

My brain was torned between Why did he kiss me? and Why did he kiss me just once? So I had to drive away, clear my mind.

The funny thing is that it didn’t even feel wrong. Nothing in my life ever felt as right as kissing Niall.

And I need answers, so many answers, to questions such as Why me? Since when did you want to do that? Did it make you feel like you were about to explode? Because that’s how I felt.

It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend driving, in the end I find myself right at the start point, parked in front of the house on the lake. All the lights are out and for a second I panic that maybe Niall isn’t even here anymore, but that’s lame. He doesn’t have a car here and I don’t think he’d call an uber this late.

I let out a deep breath when I find the door open. My second thought is: fucking idiot, have you never seen a horror movie? You could have been killed by an assassin with an axe.

I think about sleeping on the couch, but my feet bring me to Niall’s room.

He’s curled up like a cat, holding my pillow for dear life. My heart flutters at that. I’m a douchebag.

And he’s oh, so beautiful, even if his face is wrinkled in a worried expression, almost as if he’s having a nightmare.

I don’t know what to do. What is supposed to do someone whose world view has just shifted in the last few hours? When your life-long best friend kisses you and tells you that you’re not broken, but you leave him anyway because you’re absolutely frightened? What do you do?

You run your hand over his shaved hair, that’s what you do. “Niall,” I murmur, before I change my mind and run away.

He hums in his sleep, leaning in the touch, before blinking a couple of times and getting up like a damn spring; he looks at me with big sleepy eyes, crushed against the headboard of the bed, blankets pulled up like a shield. I see a glint of confusion in his eyes, before he relaxes a little, “Dev.” He says.

And just like that I feel broken all over again. I’m falling falling falling again, I wonder if it’ll hurt when I’ll hit the ground.

I should say something, apologize for running away, ask the billion questions spinning in my mind, but somehow I can’t find my voice anywhere.

He looks at me like I’m a ghost (and maybe I am), but then he slides away a little and pats the mattress next to him, so I sit there, leaving a bunch of inches between us.

At least he hasn’t punched me, yet. That’s something.

I’m lost.

I honestly have no idea what to do or say and I feel panic drumming in my belly, that sense of loss and bewilderment that clenches my organs and makes me shiver. It’s hard to breath.

I’m so fucking lost.

I pull at my sweater’s neck, looking for air. I need… air. It’s. I can’t breathe.

“Hey,” He says, moving to be in front of me, voice worried, “Breathe.”

“I can’t.” I say, through gritted teeth. My body aches, it’s like twenty-four thousand needles are digging in my skin and I can’t move.

“Look at me, hey, look at me, Dev.” I see him reaching out a hand almost as to touch me, but then he lets it fall, “It’s just me, okay? You need to breathe, slowly, okay?”

My eyes squeezes shut, blood throbbing in my ears. I try to take a deep inhale, but my throat itches and I cough. “Fuck!” I blurs out, getting on my feet. I wrap my arms tightly around myself, trying to stop my body rom trembling. “Motherfucker, stop it!” I tell my body, but it isn’t listening.

I feel light fingers brushing against my cheeks, that are wet, and Niall says, “Open your eyes, look at me.” He runs his fingertips over my eyebrows, my cheekbones, my forehead, light as a feather. “Can you do that for me?”

And I can, but my body can’t. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t listen. It shakes and shivers and aches.

“Just listen, okay?” He murmurs and I can barely hear him over the noise in my head, “You can control this, I know you can. You’re stronger than you think, you just have to start believing it. You are Dev Grimm! I’ve seen you overcome panic attacks more times than I can count, so I know you can do it. I need you to do it, because I need you to be okay.”

My eyes cracks open, just a little, and I see him standing right in front of me, brow furrowed, eyes as deep as the sky, brushing every inch of my face with studied calm.

“I’m sorry this is happening and I’m sorry because I feel like it’s partly my fault; I shouldn’t have done it. But it’s just me, okay? I’m the guy who was with you when you graduated and at your first hangover, when you got your driver license. I was with you at your first concert and that time you broke your arm falling from the bike. I’ve been with you all along and I don’t plan on going anywhere. There are tons of things that can happen, but me leaving you isn’t one of them. You hear me? It’s not gonna happen, Dev. Whatever happens. I don’t care where we go, I just care you’re okay. Please, be okay. Breathe.”

My body shivers once more and I fall to my knees, but he catches me in time and kneel in front of me. He murmurs, “Breathe.” And then I start crying. I grab a handful of his shirt and I pull him to me, sinking my face in the crook of his neck. He wraps his arms tightly around me whispering in my ear that it’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, Dev, I promise.

I don’t know how much times passes, if three seconds or three centuries, but eventually, somewhere between Niall’s scent and his warmth, I find my breath again. I press my forehead against his neck and he’s holding me so tightly that it’s almost bones-wrecking; I don’t ever want him to let go. He never stops murmuring and that’s all that matters right now.

“I’m sorry.” I crack out, when I get my voice back. My vision is still a little blurry and my body isn’t properly working yet, but it feels the tiniest bit better. Why, why, why do I have to be like this.

“No, hey, don’t you dare be sorry for this.” He says, voice still soft, calm, like the ocean, “Never, not with me.”

His neck and shirt are wet with my tears, but he doesn’t seem to mind at all; his cheek is pressed against the top of my head and he’s wrapped all around me, almost as if he’s trying to shield me from the world. I’d gladly let him do that anytime.

This is, life’s irony, the safest I’ve felt in weeks, despite the panic attack I just had.

“I didn’t want to be like this, shit.” I mutter, feeling helpless. Hopeless. Embarrassed and bruised. This is not who I want to be: broken and weak. But here I am: a muttering mess.

“That’s a shame,” he whispers, “Because I wouldn’t want you any other way. I like you just as you are. Even when you scowl.” He seems to think about it, then, “Especially when you scowl, to be honest.”

I let out a shaky breath that’s almost a laugh, “You are terrible.”

“I know,” he says, probably smiling a little.

“A nightmare.”

“I know.”

“You kissed me.” I say, without thinking.

“I… know.” He swallows and his Adam’s apple move right against my forehead, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.” I tell him and that’s the closest thing to the truth I have the guts to say.

If possible, he holds me even tighter and for the first time, I feel that there isn’t any heartbeat of distance between us. We’re two hearts that beat as one; two souls that blend together.

“Was the panic attack my fault?” He asks, after a while.

I shake my head, “I just… don’t know who I am anymore.”

“And that scares you?”

I nod.

“Don’t be afraid, this is the part when you find out who you really are.” He whispers in my hair, “Do you know when I found out who I am?”

I shut my eyes, listening to my favourite voice in the whole world. We’re sitting on the floor, pressed together, my legs behind his back, his behind mine; connected from hips to heads.

“We were halfway through last year of high school and I saw you kissing a brunette on the football pitch stands; I remember thinking ‘why won’t you just look at me, instead? You’re here to see me play, look at me’. I didn’t know where that came from, but it felt like someone was punching me. I went home and just screamed into my pillow. I just wanted you to see me, but at the same time I didn’t want to lose my best friend, because that thought was unbearable.” His voice breaks a little, scratching his throat. “I can’t lose you in any way.”

“High school?” I mumble, shocked. That’s like. Six years ago.

“Yeah,” he says, “Pathetic, I know.”

“It’s not,” I scowl, defending him from… himself? “Why did you never tell me?”

“Because you didn’t feel the same way and I didn’t want you to treat me differently; that would have probably been even worse than you leaving me.” He tells me.

“I would never do that.” I say, snorting. Ridiculous. “Leave you. Never.”

“Then things changed, though. Didn’t they? I felt it, somehow. During your last year of college. Every time I looked at you, you were already looking at me. And then I started to notice all the little things you did around me and I figured that your feelings could be somewhere near mine. Every time I’m on the pitch, you never look away from me. You don’t even follow the ball, you just look right at me. And I know, because well, I always look at you too. Don’t tell my coach that, though.” He chuckles a little. A sad laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.

And that… well, that. That is true. Even if I realize it just now. How could’ve I been so blind? So stupid?

“You still didn’t told me anything .” I breathe out. The pieces are clicking in my head one after one: every touch, every look, every word. It all starts to make sense.

“I knew you needed time. I know you don’t like when things change.” He whispers, then he pulls my hair back a little, to make me look at him, so I move my head back and meet his gaze. “Things don’t have to change, if you don’t want them to. If you don’t want me. The only thing that’ll change is that now I won’t pretend to not look at you all the time, because I’m honestly tired of pretending.”

His smile is soft and now I know that his lips are even softer that how they look, so I lean in and press my mouth against his. I take him off guard, but then he’s kissing me back, still holding me tight. He’s kissing me with all that he has, I feel it in the careful brush of his lips, almost like he’s afraid I might break under his touch.

My brain says: You are kissing your best friend.

My heart says: Finally.

My body says: More.

So I move my hands from where they are trapped between our chests and I bring them to the back of his neck, pulling him closer closer closer.

It’s new, but also so familiar that I feel like it’s tearing me apart.

He is kissing me with such tenderness, that I feel reborn. But I want more.

More, more, more.

I brush my tongue against his bottom lip and his lips part, so I chase his tongue with mine in a intricated dance and it’s oh, so overwhelming. So good. So right. My body is shivering again, but for whole different reasons than before.

He bites my bottom lip gently, pulling it back a little and I let out a very shameless moan. He smiles bright as the sun at that and brushes the top of his nose against mine. “Can we pretend this was our first kiss and not the one in the car?”

“No way.” I grin at him, feeling as light as ever. 

Chapter Text

DEV

We don’t talk about anything else, we just curl up in bed together and he holds me tightly; he presses a kiss on the top of my head every time my body trembles, because he knows how it goes when I have a panic attack: my body and my mind come back at different times.

Now that I think about it, he was with me the first time ever I had a panic attack. He’s always been with me. I was eleven and I accidentally broke my dad’s car’s mirror while we were playing baseball; at first I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. I just knew that one moment I was fine, the next my body was shaking and it seemed like my lungs weren’t working anymore. I thought I was dying.

But Niall was there and he told me that I was gonna be okay, that I wasn’t allowed to die because his birthday was in a few weeks and I couldn’t miss it. He said, “You’re gonna be okay, Dev.” and I believed him.

After that, I didn’t have any more panic attacks till high school. In high school, though, I had way too many. In college too. Just because I’ve dealt with this thing for most of my life, it doesn’t mine that it gets better. I still feel like I’m about to die every time it happens.

That’s why Niall knows so well what’s happening. He’s seen me at my fucking worst multiple times.

(He is still here, though.)

And just like the first time, he murmurs in my ear that I’m gonna be okay, he won’t let anything happen to me, Dev, I promise, I promise.

I believe him.

Maybe it’s not all the answers, but it’s enough to start putting the pieces together.

When I wake up, I feel his gaze on me. I feel like I’ve slept for ten minutes, my body is weak and tired, but warm. So warm, pressed up against Niall’s.

Everything we said to each other last night comes back to me in a rush.

There are thick dark circles under his eyes, but his expression is soft when he smiles at me, with his damn dimples peeking in his cheeks.

“You didn’t sleep, did you?” I sigh, feeling guilty.

“I was just… checking you were okay.” He says, voice impossibly hoarse.

“I am.” I tell him and I press a kiss on his jaw, as if I’ve done nothing else in my life, like it’s just how I’m used to wake up: tangled in his arms. His smile widens and I feel his fingers trail lightly along my arm. “You have to sleep, you have a match tomorrow, your coach will destroy you if you show up like a zombie.”

“Not tired.” He shakes his head, but he’s clearly lying.

“Here’s the deal: breakfast, then we come back here and you sleep.”

“Or?” He asks, sarcastically, cocking an eyebrow.

“Or I’ll kick your annoying ass in the frozen lake.” I snort, rolling out of his arms and getting up from the bed. “Breakfast, then sleep.”

He groans, but I walk away before he can snap back. We eat in silence, feet pressed together and easy smirks and in the end I manage to make him come back to bed (he’s probably too tired to argue, if his puffy red eyes are any proof) (I feel terrible) (I also really want to kiss him again).

I sit on the bed, back against the headboard and I look at him, who’s tilting his head at me. “Okay, will you tell me why won’t you just sleep, since you’re obviously knackered?”

He snorts, looking away.

“What?” Then it hits me, “I’ll still be here when you wake up, you know. I’m not a pipe dream and I won’t sneak away or something.”

He sighs, dramatically, but he slides under the blankets, rolls closer to me and after a moment, he gestures towards me vaguely, “Can I… mmh? Please.”

I roll my eyes, “Yes.”

He smiles at that, all pleased eyes and cute dimples, then he leans an arm over my lap and presses his forehead against my hip, pulling me closer. He’s asleep in a matter of seconds.

I dare trace my fingertips over the shell of his ear, as lightly as I can, then over his eyebrow, the curve of his nose, his sharp cheekbones (that don’t cut my thumb as I thought they would). His skin is soft and morbid and I notice mild goosebumps forming on his neck as I trace my fingers on it.

He looks impossibly fragile like this, asleep and curled around me. I need to protect him at all cost, from everything and everyone.

 I slide down on the mattress and he hums in protest, but as soon as I’m laying flat next to him, I wrap my arms around him and he lets out a shaky breath, almost a sigh in relief, and keeps sleeping with his forehead pressed against my neck.

“I’m sorry it took me so fucking long, Niall. Now I’m here.” I whisper, lips pressed against the top of his head. I fall asleep in a blink, lulled by his slow and steady breath.

We sleep through most of the day and even if I wake up multiple times trembling slightly, I always manage to fall asleep again, pulling Niall tighter against my body. The hours following a panic attack are always shit, I feel confused, weak and on the verge of void, but Niall makes it more bearable, by just existing in my space.

 

NIALL

I wake up in the middle of the afternoon; as soon as I shift back to reality, I feel my body tense, but I relax when I feel the warm body pressed securely against mine. We’re more tangled up than ever.

I can’t even begin to describe how happy waking up like this makes me, after years of wanting and pining.

But, I know that it’s difficult for Dev, especially after a huge panic attack like last night (he didn’t have one in months and I feel absolutely responsible for last night, I don’t think I can forgive myself for putting him in that position). So, I try to be here for him the way he needs be: steady.

He stretches his body a little, so I know he’s awake. He’s so warm and real. I thought about this for ages.

He brushes the shelf of my ear with his fingers, “Hey.” He mutters and I feel his voice rumble in his chest like a summers storm.

I gently run my fingers in tiny circles on his tummy, “You okay?”

“Getting there,” he says, after quite some time, “This is… very new to me.”

If we don’t count every time I’ve played scenes like this in my head, I can agree with him. “Yeah,” I whisper, “For me, too.”

“Have you never…? You know. With a guy.” He mumbles and I imagine his cheeks turning red, but I don’t look up, because I don’t want him to get more uncomfortable.

“No, never. I’m pretty much Demisexual, so I haven’t feel that way for anyone.” Except you, remains unspoken.

Go slow, don’t scare him off, I remember myself.

“Oh, that’s…” He mutters, “Now that I think about it I’ve never seen you talk about anyone in that way, huh. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed before… But then again, Baz doesn’t talk about these things, so I guess it almost made sense that you didn’t either. I don’t know, I’m an idiot, I guess.”

“Yeah, you are.” I laugh lightly and he pinches my arm.

“Asshole.” He groans, but I think he’s holding me a little tighter. “I really feel like a douchebag for all the times I kissed someone in front of you. Oh fuck, you even run on Kate and me having sex once! Fuck, I’m the biggest douchebag ever.”

I scoff, “Yeah, that was a lot.”

He makes a sound, almost as if he has a revelation, “That’s why you never liked her.”

“Yeah.”

“And that’s why you didn’t talk to me for like three days when I told you I was thinking about asking her to become my girlfriend.”

Yeah,” I snort.

“I thought you were just jealous and wanted her for you!”

“Well, yeah, I was jealous but not of you. Of her.”

“That… makes sense.” He concedes, after a while, then, “This is still all very new and weird to me; it’s… strange, to say the least. I mean we grew up together and now I’m here thinking about kissing you and it feels wrong but also, oh, so right. Yeah, new and weird.”

I raise my head from his chest and I look at him, standing just a breath away from his face. He’s biting his bottom lip, like he just realized what he said, and his cheeks are bright red. So incredibly beautiful.

“You’re thinking about kissing me?” I ask, biting back a smile, but I feel the dimples digging in my cheeks.

“Well, I mean, among other things, yeah.” He murmurs, looking almost guilty.

Yeah,” I tease him, with a little smile, “Shall we do something about that?”

He swallows loudly, then nods, but doesn’t move, so I close the distance between us slowly (giving him the time to stop me), pressing my lips gently against his. His body is completely tense, but his mouth chases mine with care. I run my thumb over his jawline (that is a little prickly, because he hasn’t shaved in a while) and he lets out a shaky breath, that I swallow whole.

I feel his hand moving from my arm to the beck of my neck, pulling me closer closer closer and I have to lean on his body, because he lets his head fall back against the pillow and he drags me down with him. On top of him.

And that’s.. huh. Wow.

I’ve never felt like this in my entire life, like there is a fire crackling under my skin and I just want it to turn me to dust. I want to be consumed by it. I want to be reborn in it like a phoenix.

I mean, obviously I’ve imagined this in my head three thousand times, but it’s never been this… overwhelming. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like, being touched like this. By him.

By Dev. Always Dev.

His tongue run over my bottom lip and just like last night, I open my mouth just a little more, chasing the feeling and his tongue find mine. I slide my fingers in his hair, that is always so smooth and smell like coconut, and I pull it back a little. He makes a sound deep in his throat and my whole body shivers; I’ll probably replay it in my head over and over again.

God, I hope this is as good for him just as much as it is for me. He has so much experience that it probably doesn’t matter as much as it does to me, but there is still hope in me that he’ll remember how our lips are shaped for each other like puzzle pieces, how my tongue tastes like, how my fingers feel in his hair.

I could never forget this. All of this. Him. Never.                                       

 “Niall,” he whispers between kisses, “Wait.”

I still immediately, trying to roll off of his body, feeling guilty that I asked too much too soon, but he tightens his grip on my body, shaking his head, “No, no. Don’t move, stay here, you idiot.”

I relax a little at that and I run my thumb over his eyebrow, “You okay?”

“No, I mean, yes. Oh my God, yes. Yeah, yes. It’s just that I don’t want to,” he mumbles, then he lowers his voice to a barely more than a whisper, “have sex.”

Oh. “Oh.” Were we gonna have sex? Doesn’t he want to have sex at all? Holy shit, were we gonna have sex?

He cocks an eyebrow, almost in challenge and says, “Yet.”

“Oh.” I repeat, turning red. “Okay, we don’t have to, if you don’t want that.”

He is almost as flushed as me, when he mutters, “It’s just that I’d rather it happens when I’m not recovering from a panic attack and I can barely feel my body; I want it to be perfect, for you. I mean, let’s make it worth the six-year-long wait.”

I feel so in love that I have to bit my lip to stop the words bubbling in my chest.

 

DEV

I feel so embarrassed that my body is probably about to auto combust (that has nothing to do with the way Niall was kissing me just seconds ago). It’s just that this feels so fucking important and I don’t want to ruin it.

This thing we have is fragile and precious and I have to protect it (from the world and myself).

He gives me a blinding smile and the universe becomes out of focus, because I can’t see anything else for a couple of seconds.

He’s smiling and biting his lip, his eyes are wrinkled in joy and there are those fucking dimples peeking in his cheeks.

How could I ever think that I could let these feelings for Niall fade.

He says, “It’s already worth the wait, Dev.”

“I still want to give you more than this.” I say, rubbing the top of my nose against his. “I just need some time, okay?”

“Okay,” He nods, kissing my cheek (even if it’s more smile-against-skin than lips-against-skin)(I’m really not complaining), “Just don’t cut me out, please. I know it’s a lot and you’re going through a whole thing, but just talk to me. We don’t have to do more than that; talk, I mean, but I need to be part of your life, as a friend or more, I don’t care. Just… don’t cut me out.”

Guilt bubbles in my body, because that’s exactly what I did after Baz left. I avoided him for more than a week, because I was scared shitless. I am an asshole. He’s always been by my side, being amazing and the best thing ever happened to me and why did I do? I run away.

He runs his fingers over my eyebrow, then down on my cheekbone, over my nose and on my cheek, till he reaches my lips. “Stop overthinking.” He murmurs, tracing my bottom lip.

I kiss his fingertip and he smiles softly, “It’s not something I can just switch off.”

“I know,” he grins, wickedly, “But I’m working on that, you just wait till we start having sex.”

My stomach drops and I almost choke, taken off guard. “Yeah, that. Yeah. Sounds good.”

Yeah,” He laughs, eyes shining in the low light of the room.

I shake my head, trying to dispel that imagine from my head because now is really not the time (especially since he’s lying on top of me and it would be so easy to…. No. It’s too important. Not like this.)

Even if I want nothing more than to stay in this tiny house on the lake sprawled on the bed with Niall, we eventually to go back to real life, because tomorrow it’s Monday and we have to work and I don’t want to come back late, because he has a match tomorrow and he needs to sleep.

During the car ride, he insists on reading his stupid-ass (but cute) novel out loud – even if I don’t really listen to the story, too caught up in his thick accent and his mellifluous voice.

When we get back to London it’s night and the reflections of the lights of the streets slide smoothly on the car. “Do we, uhm – where do I go?” I ask, because I really don’t know if I can ask him to sleep with him. I’m not sure I can tell him that I can’t sleep at all if he’s not around.

“Can I sleep at your place?” He asks, almost shy, “I mean, it’s fine if you don’t want to, but I just thought it’d be better, so I can make sure you’re okay after all the things that happened.”

I snort, but I’m silently relieved he asked, “You can sleep with me, but you don’t have to check on me.”

“I’ll always check on you, man. That’s what I do.” He shrugs, closing the book and sliding it on his backpack. “I don’t have to leave early anyway, practice is at half ten, so I still have time to go home and grab my things.”

“At what time is your match tomorrow?”

“Four thirty.”

“Fuck, I get out of office at five! I’ll be there for the second half.” I groan, annoyed. I hate missing his football matches.

“No problem,” he smiles, squeezing my armpit. “You don’t have to come every time.”

“I do,” I roll my eyes and I echoes his words, “That’s what I do.”

He laughs, “Fine, then I’m buying dinner afterward.”

“Are you asking me on a date?” I tease him, cocking an eyebrow. That simple thought shouldn’t make my body goes crazy like it does, but here I am.

His red cheeks are enough of an answer.

Chapter Text

DEV

When we meet after the match, it’s slightly awkward, because I really have no idea what to do; do I kiss him? A fist bump? A simple hello? What do I do with my hands, for fuck’s sake?

I feel like I have to re-learn all that I’ve learned about Niall in our twenty-year long friendship; I don’t know how to be around him. The only thing I’m sure of, though, is that I want to be around him. As close as I can, for as long as I can. 

He blinds me with his bright smile when he spots me by the car (I really, really avoided the locker room, because the last thing I need is to see all those inches of his skin)(lie). I didn’t make it to the match, in the end, because I was stuck at the office with an idiot who wanted a lawyer because he “didn’t know that was housebreaking”. God, sometimes I hate my job.

“You’re late, dumbass.” he grins, when he’s close enough to where I’m leaning against the car, arms crossed over my wrinkled white shirt.

“And you’re limping,” I point out, watching how he tries to not put his weight on his left leg, “What did you do?” My feet are moving toward him even before I tell them to. I grab the big (fucking enormous) bag hanging from his shoulder and I shove it on mine.

“Nothing, some ice and I’ll be good as new,” he shrugs, dismissive, “Besides, we have a date tonight and –“ but his knee gives out and he stumbles; I catch him in time to stop him from falling on the ground. So now I’m half hugging him, right next to my car, and I can’t make my arms let him go.

I scowl at him, “No dates for you, you go directly to bed as soon as we’re home. What did the team doctor say?”

He rolls his eyes, ignoring my question, but he’s smiling softly. He runs his thumbs over my furrowed brow in awe, “You’re cute when you scowl.” He says, simply, like he’s not making me want to kiss him senseless.

I swallow, loudly, then I groan, because I still have to save appearances, “Get in the car, asshole.” I tell him, as if I’m not still holding him tightly.

“Bossy,” He cocks an eyebrow, “You coming home with me, though, yes? I was promised a date.”

“Yes,” I roll my eyes and I let him go, opening the car door for him; I throw his bag in the trunk and then we’re good to go.

The ride to his house from the stadium is short and he tells me about the match, carefully avoiding the part when he got injured. (I’ll find out anyway, nightmare. You bet your ass.) When we get home, I lead him to the couch and I make him lay down, I scowl at him when he says he doesn’t need anything and I proceed on ignoring his statement. I take the ice from the freezer and I place it carefully on his knee, before I start making dinner.

He looks at me from the couch, one corner of the house curled up, arms crossed behind his head. He is quite a vision, sprawled out like this, with all his damn tattoos on display. “Are you still cooking like it’s a date?”

I shoot him a glance, “Pasta alla carbonara.” I tell him, showing off my accent and he flushes a little.

“God, I love when you go all Italian.” He admits, biting his lip (ugh), “Well, you better do it exactly as your mom does, because I’ll definitely tell her if you follow her receipts or not.”

“It’s not even a receipt, I’m just cooking it in the right way, without cream or whatever they put in it here in England.” I sighs, dramatically, “Speaking of, I have to go home next Saturday, if you want to come.”

“Sure,” he says, then his brow furrows, “I mean, if it’s not weird or something.”

“You’ve literally spend half of your life in that house, why would it be weird?” I snort, preparing the eggs.

“Because we… kiss and stuff, now.”

Oh. Oh, I didn’t think about that. I’ll have to tell my family, sooner or later, anyway. “It’s still not weird, my family loves you, you know that.” I shrug, then I add, mumbling, “Maybe we won’t just kiss in front of them, for now.”

He smiles his beautiful smile, nodding, “Yeah, okay.”

“God, I knew I kept you around for a good reason!” He says, a while later, sitting on the floor, from the other side of the coffee table as me, devouring the pasta in his plate. “This is absolutely fucking delicious.”

I scoff a laugh, “Yeah, for the food. I totally called it.”

He grins and it’s absolutely wicked, “Yeah, the food. Definitely not for your books taste.”

“Excuse you!” I snort, “Just because not all of us loves your fantasy novels, it doesn’t mean my books are bad.”

“The only book on your nightstand is the Civil Code.” He points out, eyebrow cocked.

“Because I’m a lawyer!” I scowl at him (somehow, he doesn’t seem affected by it and keeps eating like he hasn’t seen edible food in weeks).

“Yeah, speaking of,” he murmurs, leaning over the coffee table and wrapping my tie.

“What are you doing?”

“Switching off your lawyer mode.” He grins, untying the knot of the tie and opening the first two buttons of my shirt, “Way better. Hi, hello!”

I smile, unwillingly, because he’s looking at me in the cutest way possible. “You’re an idiot.”

“Maybe,” he says, moving back to eat, “But you still cooked me date food, so I’m a smart one.”

I do really need to change the topic, because I feel my cheeks starting to warm up. “What did you do to your knee?”

He shrugs, looking away, “Just fallen, nothing unusual.”

“If you say so,” I sigh, “Just be careful, please.”

“Are you worried about me?” he asks, sarcastically, with a dumb smile.

“Yes, because as already agreed, you’re an idiot.” I roll my eyes, cheeks definitely red now. He just smiles widely, pushing his ankle against my thigh.

Later that night, I find myself on his bed, tracing the tattoos on his arms with my fingertips, following the smooth lines of ink embroided in his skin. “I’ve never understood half of your tattoos.” I whisper, tracing a particularly intricate one.

“Maybe one day I’ll tell you everything.” He whispers back, his head resting on my shoulder, his back against my chest. I open my mouth to snap back, but he cut me off, smirking, “No, not today.”

“…Just one?” I sigh, very dramatically and he snorts, half laughing.

“Fine.” Then he turns his wrist and point at the feather on fire, “See this one?”

“Yeah.” I nod, it’s one of my favourites.

“It’s a phoenix’s feather, it means that even if I burn, I’ll find my way back.” He tells me, then his voice cracks a little, “I got it tattooed after John defeated cancer.”

John, Niall’s little brother, who was diagnosed cancer when he was just seven. He fought for four long years, before finally defeating it. Those were absolutely dark years for Niall, I remember the dark circles permanently under his eyes and how skinny he became, too worried about his brother to take care of himself. We were sixteen when he healed.

I’m not really sure what to say, so I bring his wrist to my mouth and I leave a soft kiss on his skin, right on the ink, his eyes focused on my face for the whole time. “I love your tattoos. Always have.”

“Yeah? You should see the ones on my hipbones.” He grins, widely. I cough, taken off guard.

There is a thing that is driving me crazy: I have never been shy or dumb with the girls I’ve been with. Never, not once. With Niall, though, only thinking about having sex, makes my brain short-circuit and makes me act like a fucking fifteen years old virgin boy who has no idea what he’s doing. Holy fuck. What the hell is wrong with me?

Evidently, Niall finds it quite funny. “You know, I don’t understand how you managed to have all those one-night stands, if you flush every time you think about sex.”

“I don’t flush,” I scowl, “And I’m absolutely not thinking about having sex right now.”

“No? I have to try harder, then.” He grins, before kissing my jaw, more tongue and teeth than lips. I moan, then, “You’re the biggest asshole in History.”

He laughs, mouth still pressed against my face and I feel his hot breath till inside my bones, “You kind of signed up for this, so you can’t blame no one but yourself.”

“And when would’ve I done that?” I roll my eyes, rubbing my nose over his shaved hair. There is something in my chest going crazy, like it’s broken and doesn’t know anymore how to work properly.

“The day we met.” He says, simply, “Second year of kindergarten, I offered you half of my Twinkie Bar and you accepted it without reading the footnotes: you were totally signing up for this. Also, what kind of lawyer are you? Everybody knows that footnotes are the most important parts of a contract.”

“I don’t think there were footnotes on that Twinkie Bar.” I snort, but the memory makes me feel warm inside, like the sun is shining through my body. I bite his cheekbone, gently, and I hear him swallow loudly. “Besides, I remember that you offered me that bar after destroying my Lego Castle, so that was more of a compensation.”

“Details.” He grins; I wrap my arms tightly around him, squeezing and pulling him to my chest.

That wasn’t a good idea, because he groans in pain and I immediately let go, “What?” I ask, confused, looking at his face twisted in soreness.

“Nothing,” he groans, “Sorry.”

“’Sorry’, he says,” I scowl, and I cup his face as gently as I can, barely more than a brush of hands, I wait till he slowly opens his green eyes and look at me, “What is it?”

He looks away, sheepishly, then, with barely more than a whisper, “Shoulder.”

“When you fell today?” I ask, clenching my jaw, “How bad is it? Does it hurt?”

“Careful, Grimm, people might think you’ve gone soft.” He smirks weakly.

“Cut it off.” I roll my eyes, “Tell me.”

“Fine,” he sighs, giving up, and looks back at me, “I almost dislocated my shoulder, the team doctor said that I damaged my rotator cuff and if my shoulder gets dislocated it’ll damage it even farther and I might need surgery. Not sure if I’ll be able to play after that.”

Fuck.

His face is unreadable, but I know that inside his head there is probably a tumultuous hell. Football is… well, everything for Niall. Always has been, always will be.

I inhale, sharply, and I try to keep my face as neutral as I can, before rubbing my thumbs over his cheeks, his neck, his jaw, slowly. Softly. He’s still looking at me, unbreakable.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I whisper, because I don’t know what to say. Or do.

“Didn’t want you to look at me like I’m broken,” he tells me, “Exactly as you’re doing now.”

“I’m not looking at you like that, because I don’t think you’re broken.” I snort and I lean my forehead against his, everything blurs out of focus but his big puppy eyes, “Not broken at all.”

Yeah,” He rubs the top of his nose against mine, fondly, “Just… don’t treat me differently because of that, okay? We were getting somewhere.”

My heart flutters. “We are getting somewhere.” I correct him, “But I need you to be okay. Please, be careful.” And I need you to be happy and whole. Please please please.

He nods.

“Can I see?” I ask, gesturing toward his shoulder.

His face blossom in a wide blinding smile, “If you wanted to get me naked you just had to ask, you know.”

I bite back a smile, “Here’s your deal: you don’t get hurt and I’ll consider having sex with you.”

(As if I’ve been able to think about anything else since he first kissed me.)

“You can’t blackmail me with sex.” He snorts, but allows me to help him take off his t-shirt without hurting his shoulder farther. There is a big red bruise on his skin. “Don’t do that face.”

“I’m not doing any face,” I retort, but I promptly clear my expression, because I was most definitely doing that face. I trace my fingers on his collarbone, sowing goosebumps after me, and even if I can feel his gaze on me, I can’t make myself look away from his shoulder.

It isn’t fragile, not at all. It looks more muscular than my whole body. But it also looks… fragile. It looks like a dream that can break so easily.

“Kiss it better?” He asks, bottom lip jutting. Voice so soft that it makes me melt.

I roll my eyes, but I do, in fact, try to kiss it better.

Chapter Text

DEV

I didn’t mean to go full Worried Dad about this thing, but I really, really couldn’t let Niall out of my sight, because it’s well known that he is an idiot and will probably get injured if I’m not there to keep an eye on him.

Okay, maybe historically speaking, I used to be the one who put us in troubles and Niall was the one who got us out of them, but I can’t let that happen this time, because this is too important.

Niall says I worry too much, that it’s nothing, that his shoulder doesn’t even hurt anymore… but I see the way he squeezes his eyes and gently massages his bruised skin every time he thinks I’m not watching.

I can’t let anything happen to him. Anything. Not now that I have him.

But you’ve always had him, says the annoying voice in my head.

That is, well, pretty much true, but now everything it’s different. Now that we kiss and hold each other every night, now that I allow myself to truly see him, now that he allows himself to say things like “You’re cute when you scowl” (I’m not, but I love that he thinks so).

That’s why I spent all week going straight to him as soon as I got out of the office, even when he was on the pitch (especially when he was on the pitch).

And when the weekend finally arrives, I sigh in relief, because fucking finally he won’t be on the pitch for two days and I won’t have to worry about his shoulder – except, I’ll still worry about it because, as already said, he is an idiot who keeps working out all the time and do push-ups and planks and things that make him looks really hot right on the bedroom floor and it’s the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up, goddamn it! How can I be mad at him when he looks like that?

Sweaty and muscular and breathless.

And he’s shirtless because he is determined to kill me in the shortest amount of time possible! Fuck.

“You’re staring.” He smirks, without even looking at me, and his voice is absolutely calm, like he’s not been doing push ups and things for the last hour like he’s doing right now. It’s not even a question, he just knows that I’m staring.

(How could I not, honestly? As I said, sweaty. Shirtless.)

“I wouldn’t be staring at you if you were in bed and not somewhere else trying to break your shoulder.” I say, grumpy. “Why the fuck aren’t you in bed, anyway? Also, why are you naked?” He’s not really naked, he’s wearing sweatpants, but he is naked enough to drive my mind in place it shouldn’t go right now.

“You were drooling on my shoulder,” he tells me, turning his face lightly to look at me, still doing push-ups. His face is beautiful flushed (so is mine now, probably).

“I wasn’t.” I groan, throwing him my pillow.

He laughs and it’s like a billion crackling suns exploding in my chest.

That, plus the way his armpits stretch and shine, tattoos shaking along his skin; his fucking veins so visible that they might as well grow out of his body, his absurdly muscular shoulders and the way his back looks smooth and soft at the same time… Ugh. I really, really need to look away. To think about something else. Like, right now.

Right. Now.

I roll over on the mattress and hide my face in his pillow, that smells exactly like him, and it does nothing to solve my growing problem.

Think of something else think of something else think of something else.

And then I feel him lay down on my back, his whole body pressing against every inch of mine, all sweaty and soft and perfect. And overwhelming, painfully so.

Now I really can’t think at all. My mind is just: Niall Niall Niall. Niall who is laying on top of you. Niall whose breath is tickling your neck. Niall who is rubbing his hands under your shirt, right over your hipbone. Your hipbone! Niall who laughs in your ear when he feels your body shivers. Niall whose – what is he even thinking about? Goddamn it.

“Get off, you asshole.” I groan, doing exactly nothing to shove him off. I probably could if I wanted to, even if he’s a little taller than me and way more muscular than me. I think I could, but I don’t want to (because I could hurt his shoulder)(Yes, that’s the only reason).

It's not that I haven’t thought about having sex with Niall, quite the opposite, really. Quite the opposite. I’ve barely been able to thing about anything else.

But… I feel like the stick is set too high, to just have a quickie as our first time.

I mean, I honestly really didn’t know much about demisexuality till he told me that he is demisexual and I definitely googled it up as soon as he couldn’t peek at my phone (I didn’t want him to think that I was judging him or something, I just wanted to understand).

He told me he’s never had sex, because he’s never felt like that for anyone but me (honestly, what did I do to ever get so lucky?).

So I really, really need to make his first time special. Special and painfully perfect, because he deserves it. There is literally no one in the whole world who deserves it more than him.

And special definitely doesn’t include shoving him against the whole because he’s absolutely hot when he works out. Or just… exist. (God, sappy.)

Let’s just say that he isn’t making it any easier for me, the absolute menace.

“Everything’s alright, Dev?” He murmurs in my ear, pulling me even closer, his hand pressed on my stomach, between my body and the mattress. “By the sounds you’re making it seems like you’re in pain or something.”

“I am,” I snort, “Because there is a fucking giant leprechaun trying to choke me with all his body weight.”

(And now I have another image in my head that I really need to wipe away.)

He gently kisses the spot under my ear, “That doesn’t sound painful at all,  just sexy.” He grins, then, snorting, “Also, vaguely racist, you can’t call someone leprechaun just because he’s Irish.”

“I can if that someone is trying to kill me.” I growl, because honestly, sexy? Low blow, Niall. “You are sweaty, it’s gross, get off.”

I really, really should think that that is gross, but I don’t at all.

“You’re always a ray of sunshine when you’ve just woken up.” He says and he trails sloppy kisses down my throat; I unwillingly move my head back to give him better access. I let out a low something that may seem like a moan, but definitely isn’t, because I have better self-control than that. “But I can forgive you if you do one thing for me.”

I shiver, just a little. Why does it all have to be so overwhelming with him? “What is it?”

He kisses the corner of my mouth, his hand rubbing my lower belly, painfully too close to where I’d want him if things were a little different. “You know those cookies with raisin? The ones your mom always bakes for the Epiphany. Can you bake them, please? For breakfast and then we can bring some to your family this afternoon.”

Oh, that really wasn’t what I was thinking. Also, “Is it today that we have to go home?” 

“Yes,” he says, amused, “So you better move your ass, because we’re gonna be late otherwise.” He seems to be thinking about it, then he lowers his voice and asks, gently, “Do you still want me to go with you?”

I nod, without any doubt. “You’ll have to try harder than that if you want to escape going home with me.”

He rolls his eyes and, in a second, he turns me around, so that I’m on my back and he sits on my lap, pining my arms over my head on the mattress. He is wild and beautiful. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

His cheeks turn bright red while he looks down at me and his mouth opens in a surprised expression; that’s when I realize that there is no way he can’t feel my boner under him.

I try to think of anything – anything – that can make it goes away, but it isn’t easy when he is standing on top of me, his damn footballer thighs on either side of me.

The worst thing is his adorable sheepish expression, like he just realized that it’s his fault that I’m feeling all these feelings.

(It is.)

“Oh.” He says, completely taken off guard and that’s when I finally see that yes, in fact, this is all really new to him (it is to me too, in certain ways, because he’s a guy). That’s because I have to stop this. Not like this, not like this. He deserves more.

And I must have made a face, because he smiles his smile and it’s so painfully Niall that it makes my heart stumbles on itself.

“Did I,” he starts, then stops. He runs his thumb over my wrist, still pinned over my head, eyes never leaving mine, then he tries again, voice low and hoarse, “Is it because of me?”

I know I shouldn’t, but I grin, wickedly, because his cheeks are red and right there and, “No, because of the other handsome man waiting for me in the shower. Now, if you could just get off, I could go and meet him, I don’t like to be late and –“

He kisses me. Beautifully.

His tongue is chasing mine desperately and if he doesn’t stop anytime soon, I won’t be able to stop myself anymore.

“Niall, Niall,” I paint in his mouth, “Stop.” Even if every single inch of me is begging for him to destroy me right here and now.

He does stop, always. Immediately.

He looks at me with his green eyes, but his pupils are so wide that I can see only black. He’s still so close that our noses brush together and he’s still pining me against the mattress. “You okay?” He asks, confused, “I thought you wanted…”

“I want.” I assure him, rising my head to kiss the corner of his mouth (this time, he doesn’t move, doesn’t chase). “I want that so fucking much. You have no idea. I really, really want. I want you so badly.”

He grins, a little sigh escaping his lips.

Then he does a wicked thing, that almost makes my brain explode and my body implode. He rolls his hips against mine, tentatively. He sends a lightning-bolt down my spine.

I’m so fucking weak for him.

“No, no.” I murmur, shaking my head, “Wait.”

And my body says "Please" and "More" and "Go on", but my heart says "Not like this", and I know which one I have to listen to.

His cheeks flush even brighter, “Sorry.” He says, freeing my hands and moving to get off of me, but I wrap my arms securely around him and I pull him down to me (careful not to squeeze his shoulder). I don’t care if it’s gross because he’s sweaty and I have a boner; the only thing I care about is that he doesn’t think – not even for a single second – that I don’t want him.

“Don’t be, you idiot, you’ve done nothing wrong.” I tell him, running my hands over the knuckles of his spine. I was right: his skin is soft and smooth as it looks, but it’s also made of hard lines, muscles and bones.

He gives me a tiny smile, like he’s confused, but doesn’t say anything.

“I just…” I whisper, a little embarrassed, “I want your first time to be great.”                     

And he laughs and he kisses me and laughs laughs laughs against my lips and I feel like I’m made of snowflakes.

I hold him tightly when he hides his face in the crook of my neck, breathless and happy. From somewhere against my skin comes his soft voice, “It’s gonna be great in any case, Dev. Because it’s you and because it’s me. Because I don’t want to do it with anybody else. You and only you. God, always you.”

Idiota.” I whisper, fondly, because I don’t have enough breath to say anything else and apparently my brain is a little short-circuited because it switched to Italian. He took all my breath away with just one touch. He smiles, because he's always a little taken off guard when I speak in my mom's mother language.

“We’ll wait if you want to wait,” he says, solemnly, then he pulls himself up, sitting on my lap again, and looks at me wickedly, grinning his grin. “I’m gonna go prepare breakfast and you’re gonna take a shower, but no touching yourself.” He cocks an eyebrow at me, “If I have to wait, you have to, too.”

“But –“

“No.” He smirks, “Doctor’s orders.”

“But –“

And just because he is the absolute menace he is, he raises his eyebrows in challenge and rolls his hips against mine once more, before getting off of me and the bed in a second. I barely have the time to register that my body is shivering, before he reaches the door.

“And Dev?” he says, looking at me from above his shoulder, body facing the door and not me. I look at his majestic back, his ass, his shoulders. Ugh.

“What.” I crack out, desperate.

“I know I said we can wait, bur remember that I’ve waited years to have you. I think that’s enough foreplay.” And then he disappears in the hallway, leaving me shattered in his bed.

Chapter Text

NIALL

My mind is still buzzing in a weird way when we get in the car and everything feels white. Bright.

I don’t know what that is, but it’s there, clear as the day. It’s like a string pulling me towards Dev, even though he’s sitting right beside me. I grab his hand from the gearstick and pull it in my lap; I trace the lines on his skin softly with my fingertips.

He’s been acting weird since this morning, like he’s walking on eggshells, and I don’t know if it’s for what I told him (hell, why did I told him that thing about foreplay? What. An. Idiot.) or because we’re meeting his family.

Maybe both. Probably both.

However, I don’t want him to act weird because of the sex thing; maybe I shouldn’t have told him that I’m demisexual, but I’d felt like a fraud if I hadn’t. I wish he didn’t act like it’s a big deal, though.

(It is a big deal. A fucking epic big deal! How does that feel? Will I be good at it? Will I like it? Will he like it? Oh, what if he doesn’t like it?)

What I absolutely don’t want to happen though, is for him to have a panic attack. Not over this, not over me. I couldn’t bear it, especially not if it’s my fault – the last time was already too much.

I want this thing between us to be easy and to feel right for him.

He lets out a shaky breath, “I’m sorry for… whatever. This morning. That.” He says, face all sharp lines and slightly flushed cheeks. It almost feels like a contradiction, but it really isn't, because Dev is just like that: sharp on the outside and soft on the inside; his cheeks and his eyes are the only things that always betray how he's really feeling. At least, they do if you pay enough attention to his face (like I do).

“It kind of feels weird,” I tell him, sincerely, and he does a face almost twisted like a slapped him, so I add, “In a good way.”

“Yeah?”

Yeah,” I smile at him, “I’m about to say something, that is probably going to make the both of us cringe.”

He snorts, lightly, but nod, like he already knows what I’m thinking; maybe he does. No one knows me like he does.

“I feel like… You are always wearing too many clothes, you know? I don’t, er, it’s weird for me. I’ve always been attracted to you, at least since high school, but not this much. Since when we started kissing, I always feel like I’m about to explode if I don’t have your hands on me. And whenever you do, then you shy away. It feels weird, because I’ve never wanted anyone to touch me. And now I just… I just…” I mumble, and he squeezes my hand, so I take a deep breath and try again, “I didn’t know I could want something – someone – that much. I feel like it’s tearing me apart, but at the same time I know that if we never did anything but kiss, I’d still be happy. You know? Because it’s not about the sex, it’s about you. I wouldn’t feel like this if it wasn’t you.”

He doesn’t say anything until he finds a clearing and stops the car, then he turns to look at me, with his big grey eyes that look like a summer storm.

He moves his hand from my lap and takes it to my cheek, his expression is so soft that I just want to reach out and press my lips against his.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m not having sex with you because I don’t want you enough or whatever, okay? That’s definitely not that. The opposite. I want to wait because I care about you too much to just take what I want, even if you’re the one willing to give it.” His eyes are searching mine like the world is about to end if he doesn’t say what he needs to, “This is quite new to me too and I don’t want to screw it up.”

“What is this?” I ask, even if I really didn’t want to say it out loud. I don’t know if I want to know the answer, “The fact that I’m a guy or…” Or what? I don’t even know.

This is something beautiful and new that I don’t want to lose, because I’d also lose my best friend and I can’t let that happen.” He tells me, rubbing his thumb over my cheekbone.

I'm surprised by the fact that he's talking so much; it's a rare and wonderful thing.

“You’d never lose me, I told you that. I’ll have you in any way you want me, even if it’s just friends.” The last word burn my tongue, just a little.

He rolls his eyes, “Friends my arse.” He says and something in my chest settles down.

I smile widely at him and he seems to finally have found what he was looking for on my face.

He catches my hands and intertwines our fingers between us, holding for dear life. “I don’t want to go back to whatever we were before.” He says, solemnly. “There is no going back now that I know what I was missing.”

I hear the cars driving past us, but in this moment, I feel like we’re the only two souls on Earth and that is completely fine by me.

Yeah, me neither.” I reply, doing absolutely nothing to bite back my smile. I want him to know exactly how happy he makes me.

He grins his grin, and it’s beautiful. His eyes wrinkles and are shiny and alive alive alive. I don’t know what’s going on in this head, where the gears always seem to spin faster than the light, but then he says, “This is a relationship, yeah?”

“Dev Grimm, are you asking me to be your boyfriend?” I ask, smirking, but my voice is barely more than a whisper because he’s taken all my breath away.

“I don’t know, Niall Murphy, am I? What if I am?” He asks, cocking an eyebrow in that douche-y way that I love.

“Then I’d probably say I’d have to think about it.” I shrug and he groans and that’s when I lean over the console and kiss him, mouths colliding, heartbeats synchronizing.

He pulls me closer by the back of my neck, so close that I’m practically more on his seat than on mine; it’s uncomfortable and messy and couldn’t be more perfect.

“Yes.” I breath in between kisses, “Yes, yes.”

“Shut up,” he growls, biting my bottom lip hungrily, then, “Yes what?”

And I know he just wants me to say it, to make it official, definitive.

“Yes, boyfriends.” That’s just as much of a coherent statement I can make, because my brain is all: Dev Dev Dev. Dev kissing me like I’m the greatest thing ever happened to him. Dev kissing me like I’m the greatest thing ever happened to planet Earth.

He moans softly and it’s majestic. Is this how non-ace people feel like all the time? Like they are about to catch on fire?

He says, “Vieni qui, ti prego. Come here, come here.” Trying to pull me on his lap and my brain doesn’t work anymore when he speaks Italian. So I decide to, in fact, get on his lap and fuck the consequences.

That’s when his phone rings.

He groans in my mouth and it’s guttural, deep in his throat, it makes me shiver. “Fuck.” He mumbles, against my lips and I sit back on my seat, laughing a little, high on his lips.

He looks at his phone, squeezes shut his eyes and shakes his head, almost as if trying to reorder his thoughts. He sighs. Then he answers the call.

I look at him, at the way he runs his fingers through his hair like I was doing just seconds ago, almost as if trying to chase that feeling. We were so close to that. I didn’t even realize, it just felt so good. So right.

“Yeah, yeah.” He says, distantly. Then he starts to speak Italian again (even if for whole other reasons now, ugh) and I just know it’s his mom on the phone.

I don’t understand anything, but it’s just so fucking hot! And I must have made a sound at some point, because he grins as me and his hand lands gently on my thigh, way too close but not close enough to where I want him. God, this is all so weird.

When he hangs up, he groans, “Evidently, my sisters are home.”

I smile at that, because I love his sisters, especially Isabelle.

He looks at me once more, he sighs even more dramatically than before, and starts the car again, ready to meet his family. We’re just twenty minutes away and the sky is already getting dark, the car windows are a little foggy.

I see him pinch his arm, hardly, and I frown at him, before pulling his hand back on my lap, trapping it between mine. “What the fuck, dude?”

“Don’t dude me,” he says, distantly.

“Then don’t hurt yourself.” I snort, squeezing his hand gently. Protectively.

“I’m trying to make it go away.” He says vaguely and my eyes immediately drop to the bulge of his jeans.

I can’t help but laugh, “That seems to happen a lot lately, huh?”

“Fuck you.” He snorts, but his eyes wrinkle and shine. Then, a little more serious, “You better stay at three hundred kilometres from me tonight or we’ll both get in troubles.”

“Yeah, okay.” I shake my head, still laughing.

He squeezes the steering wheel a little, “Does… Does your parents know? That you’re into guys?”

“I’m not into guys, I’m into you.” I shrug, “I haven’t really figured out what I am, yet. If gay, bi, or whatever.”

“You’re Dev-sexual.” He says, grinning. Softly.

“Yeah, maybe,” I roll my eyes, “but don’t let it get to your head.”

We grow silent for a little while, both caught up in our thoughts.

When he stops the car in front of his parents’ house, I nod lightly, “My mom knows.”

“Does she?”

“She… found me screaming into my pillow, around last year of high school’s winter ball. She found me like that and I broke down, she held me for the whole time, and when I finally got my voice back I told her it was because of you.” I tell him, unsure if it’s the right thing, I don’t want to freak him out (I also don’t want him to think I’m crazy), “She said that she was proud of me, even if I didn’t know about what. She said that you were a good guy and that it didn’t matter if you wouldn’t look at me like I looked at you, because you’d still take care of me, even as a friend. That was… My mom is quite literally the best. I think she told Dad, but I’m not sure. Either way, I’ll have to tell them one day.”

He turns my face to him with his hand and gaze over every inch, every freckle, every line of my face. He says, “I’m looking at you.”

And he is.

He is looking at me like I’m the fucking moon.

God, I’m so in love. There are feelings bubbling in my chest that didn’t exist in the universe until now.

He says, “I’ll take care of you.”

He says, “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long.”

He says, “I’m looking right at you, Niall Murphy, and I can’t see anything else.”

And I believe him.

So I say, “I’ll try to make you so goddamn fucking happy, Dev Grimm.”

And if the way he kisses me is any proof, he believes me as well.

Chapter Text

NIALL

Holly, Dev's sister, is out of the door even before we knock and she's smiling widely, like she always does; she's - objectively - pretty, not as Dev, whose face makes you want to do illegal thing, but pretty. Her skin is as white as a shell, with long black hair braided perfectly and grey eyes. She's also very naïve, but she’s always kind with everyone and really smart.

"You are late. Hi, hello! Were you holding hands?" She hugs us at the same time, one arm over me and the other over Dev.

His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, but no sound comes out. His face is paper white and I'm almost sure he's about to have a panic attack. Which I don't want to happen.

"I hurt my knee in a match and I can't walk straight without leaning on someone," I shrug, casually, I hate lies, but I hate panic attacks more.

She pouts a little, "Oh, Niall! Pay more attention, we need you whole!"

"I’m good," I grin at her, "How is your mom?"

She loses herself in a long monologue about what her mom is cooking and while we take off our coats, Dev gives me the tiniest smile and his eyes are screaming thank you for saving me.

I bump my shoulder against his and I hope it's enough.

Marta is, predictably, in the kitchen, cooking what looks like homemade pasta. God, I love my Italian mom.

"Oh, here are my boys!" She smiles brightly at us, and in zero seconds, she's hugging us, first Dev, then me, squeezing tightly. She pokes my cheek, her brow lightly furrowed, "You're thinner, caro. Are you eating enough?"

Dev snorts somewhere beside me, "He literally eats more than humanly possible, mamma. Let him be."

Marta Grimm is the absolute best. She's sincerely my favourite Grimm, after Dev (I don't count Baz, because everyone knows he is a Pitch first).

"Can I help?" I ask her, ignoring my boyfriend's false insinuations, and gesturing toward the kitchen counter.

She doesn't even question me, because she knows I love cooking (and learning her receipts), so she gives me an apron and says, with her fond smile, "Absolutely! I was waiting for my knight in shining armour to arrive."

Dev just sits at the table and starts answering the four thousand questions coming from both her mother and his sister. They ask him how work is going (good), if he’s heard from Baz (barely – he looks sheepish at that), if he has any news (not really, he says, looking away).

“Oh, no! Who invited these hooligans?” Isabelle snorts sarcastically from the kitchen’s door.

Ah, Isabelle! She’s Holly’s twin sister, but they are one the opposite of the other: Isabelle’s hair are dyed purple and they are short and curly, not even shoulders length. She always wears tick eyeliner and leather jackets. She’s unapologetically herself. That’s what I love most of her, besides her sharp sense of humour.

“Probably the same person who invited you, dumbass.” Dev tells her and she ruffles his hair fondly.

“Language.” Marta says, singing quietly while she finishes cooking the sauce.

She gets on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek, and appreciatively points at my leather bracelets, “Finally someone who has style in this house, I was getting kinda bored.”

“Hey, Izzie.” I smile at her, “How is uni going?”

She shrugs and takes a couple of beers from the fridge, she opens one for me and her, and hands one to Dev as well. “Boring, as I said. Too many people who wants to change the world and make History and stuff. It gets old pretty fast.”

I laugh at that, especially when Marta gently smacks her hand away from the trail, when she tries to steal a bite of something.

“I like purple better than the blue you had last time.” I tell her, pointing at her hair and she grins.

“Next week I’ll go with pastel green, I have an appointment on Friday. Wanted to change a bit.” She says, like she doesn’t dye her hair every month in a different colour. “At least now you’re home and I get an evening off Dad’s complaints.” She tells Dev and he rolls his eyes, but his lips curl up.

They may be opposite, but they have a great understanding.

When everything is ready and the table is set, Arthur arrives and sits head of the table, without hugs or kisses, just a little smile.

Now, Arthur is Malcolm’s – Baz’s dad - brother, and he’s way less terrifying than him (trust me, I’ve spent much time with both of them, growing up), but he’s very cryptical. If I have Marta figured out as the loving mom she is, I can’t say the same for Arthur.

He’s often loud and jokes with everyone, but he’s also very stubborn and old fashioned: if he says something, that’s it, and everyone has to agree (a thing that really doesn’t set well with neither Dev nor the twins). He’s also grumpy, but not like Dev or Baz who just like to scowl, he’s grumpy as an old rich man can be. However, he’s also kind and extrovert, when he’s in a good mood.

There is a load of food (as always) and the dinner is easy, as we listen to the twins and their uni adventures, about the news from America Baz shared with Marta earlier, Arthur’s job. Dev and I listen more than talk, but it’s good.

Then Holly says, “How about your injury, Niall?”

Everyone’s eyes set on me and I feel my stomach drops to the floor. I don’t wanna lie, but I don’t wanna say the truth, either, because I don’t want them to worry and because I haven’t told my family yet and I’m pretty sure that Marta and my mom would talk about that, as they’re good friends.

I shoot Dev a glance and he’s already looking at me, I feel his foot press firmly against mine under the table and I’m grateful for that. For him. He says, “He fell because he’s an idiot, I already admonished him, don’t worry.”

Marta reaches my hand and pats it gently, “You okay now, though, Tesoro?”

“Yes, ma’am, luckily for me I had Dev to look after me. I made him cook pasta and stuff.” I tell her, knowing that she’ll move her attention to her son’s cooking skills.

Dev’s foot rubs against my ankle.

“Really?” she grins, proudly, “Was that good?”

“Eh, not as much as your food.” I tell her, with a smile.

“Excuse you! That was absolutely edible to say the least.” Dev snorts.

Edible?” Isabelle cocks an eyebrow, unimpressed, “Tell that to Nonna when we see her, she’ll drown you in tomato sauce.”

“I’m not a fool, I’d never tell Gran that.” Dev says, almost shocked by the thought.

(I’ve met their Italian grandmother, I know for sure that she’s terrifying, especially when there is food involved.)

And that’s how the dinner goes. Easy chats and Dev’s foot pressed against mine. It feels like being home.

 

DEV

I leave Niall in the kitchen with my mom after she threatens me with a spatula because she has to "discuss very important matters with her boy" (as Niall was his son and not me)(it doesn't really bothers me, though, I'm glad my family loves... my boyfriend). 

How fucking weird that word is? It tastes like milk and honey.

My sisters are smoking on the roof (yes, the roof), so I sneak in Izzie's room and I reach them from the window. There is a little space right next to the chimney where you can sit comfortably enough. That's our spot, the only place in the house where we can talk without restraints.

That’s why I’m confused on why they are here in the first place; mainly we come here when something is wrong, but they both seemed okay during dinner (even if now that I think about it, they kept glancing weirdly at me).

I sit between my girls and Holly offers me her cigarette, and I accept it (I’m not really a smoker, but it’s nice from time to time). It's been a while since it's been the three of us all together. It's nice. 

Even if I’ll never ever say it out loud, I like my sisters. We’ve always had a love-hate relationship, but that’s just probably because we’re all three stubborn as hell (they always think they are right, but they obviously aren’t, since I’m their elder brother and I’m smarter).

"So," Holly says.

"Is this the part where you tell us the truth?" Izzie says.

"The secret." Holly echoes. 

"The big secret." Izzie nods. 

I hate when they go all twin-telepathy against me. I take it back: this isn't nice at all. 

I try to keep my chill, looking at the smoke of the cigarette curling lazily in the air, "Are you talking about my plan to murder you two? Because that isn't secret at all."

They both snort. 

Izzie looks at our sister and grins her mischievous grin, "Do you know what I love most of my bedroom, Holly?"

"I don't know, Isabelle. Maybe your big fat window? The one right over the driveway?"

"Yes, that, exactly! The one where we were sitting right when Dev arrived. With Niall." 

This isn't going well. This isn't going well at all. 

Now they are both staring at me, green eyes full of expectations.

I feel my stomach twist and clench on itself. 

Isabelle smacks me on the back of the head, “Oh, stop the panic thing right now, Dev Grimm. You know the rules.” She snorts, her purple hair waving a little in the wind. “Remember the rules to him, would you, Holly?”

Holly smiles, sweetly, and brushes the knuckles of my hand with hers, “You aren’t allowed to have panic attacks around us, Izzie isn’t allowed to yell at us when she’s stressed out and I’m not allowed to cut you off when things are wrong.”

“Fuck, yes.” Izzie nods, “And the most important one: no lies.”

“Rules and Regulations of the Grimm Siblings exist for a reason, Dev.” Holly tells me, smiling kindly, and I feel defeated, but strangely, not in panic anymore.

“You are both terrible,” I complain, running a hand through my hair. They fist bump right in front of me, the nightmares, but they don’t say anything else, just wait to let me find the words. I suppose, this is a right time like any other to tell them about Niall and me. “I didn’t lie, though.”

“Omitting things is still lying.” Holly says, solemnly, “And you also said you didn’t have news earlier, which was per se a fat lie.”

“But we forgive you, because there were mom and Niall in the room too. We’re confident that you would have told us the truth right away, if it was just us, since we are your favourite human beings in the whole world.” Izzie says, with a deep gaze that says don’t you dare cut us off again.

I feel a little guilty at that.

Holly chuckles, “Besides Niall. I bet he is his favourites’ favourite.”

“I hate you both.” I groan, then, “What do you wanna be to say?”

“Everything.” They both say immediately.

I sigh, “We are kind of… together?” Saying it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, even if it still sounds weird.

Then, because they are how they are and they don’t know how to be any different, they submerge me with questions.

“Since when?” Holly asks, grinning. And I really don’t know what to say, because officially it’s only a couple of hours, but the kisses go back some weeks. I tell them so.

After about six hundred questions, Izzie asks what I’ve been trying to ignore for the past days: “Does Baz know?”

“No,” I shake my head, clenching my jaw, “We haven’t told him yet.”

They squeeze me in a tight hug and say things like “It’s gonna be okay” and “Take your time” and it hits me just how much I love my sisters. They don’t even point out the fact that it’s Niall and that he is a guy and that he is my best friend. Nothing of that matters to them, they just care that I’m happy.

That’s when Niall’s face peaks from the window with a big smile and says, “Your mom sent me to check that you aren’t smoking nor on the roof.”

“How little faith she has in her progeny,” Izzie sighs, dramatically, taking a drag from her cigarette.

Holly smile at him, then turns to look at me and smirks, asking a silent question. I nod, yes, you can tell him you know about us. So she grins at Niall and says, “We won’t push your boyfriend off the roof if you don’t tell her.”

Niall’s eyes widen for a heartbeat, but then his smile becomes blinding, when he replies, “Deal, I still need him to take me home and he would be useless dead.”

“I beg your pardon!” I snort, faux-hurt, “You can sleep on the couch tonight.”

“Since we’re probably staying at my place, that really sounds unfair.” He says, carefully sliding out of the window and sitting next to us on the roof.

It’s like the old times: us, chatting and laughing on the roof, cigarettes and blankets, the starry night enveloping everything. The only thing missing is Baz.

We have to tell him the truth, soon. I don’t wanna lose him.

Niall's hand find me and squeezes it in reassurance, almost as if he knows exactly what I'm thinking about. God, this man. This magnificient incredible man. How did I not realize before that he is exactly what I've always needed?

Chapter Text

DEV

I had a plan:

  • Drop Niall at his place after leaving my parents’ house and go home;
  • Wake up early and call Niall, tell him that you two have plans for tonight;
  • Tide up the house and call a restaurant to make a reservation;
  • Buy flowers (do guys want flowers?);
  • Bring Niall to a date, a proper date;
  • Make love to him all night long.

It was a good plan, indeed (especially he last two points, to be fair).

The only problem is that I don’t even make it to the first phase of the plan, because when I stop the car in front of his house, he is laughing at something I just said and I can’t find it in me to leave him. So I get out of the car with him and he immediately grabs my hand and leads me up the stairs to his flat.

He doesn’t even let me closes the door behind me, because he slams it and pushes me against the it with all his body weight, pressing every inch of him against me.

Ugh.

He’s smiling at me, face so close that our noses touch and I can’t see anything but green green green: his beautiful eyes chained to mine.

Maybe I’m about to die and that’s why my body is freaking out like it’s doing.

His pupils widen while he looks at me, the black swallowing the green without pity. He wet his lips and says, voice low and hoarse, “Can I kiss you?”

And that is literally the dumbest question ever asked in History, so I can’t keep a little laugh, but it sounds a little choked. “Fuck, yes. Please.”

Despite all his hunger, the kiss is incredibly soft and slow, like he’s trying to transcend time and space, like he never wants this moment to end. Painfully soft and slow. His hands move from where they are on the sides of my head on the door, to my hips, fingers digging gently in my flesh.

He breathlessly bites my bottom lip, before moving his mouth to my jaw and down my neck and I throw my head back against the door, panting. He murmurs, “Take off your shirt, please.” and tugs at my sleeve a little, till I nod and I let him take my coat and shirt off.

He smiles at me, fondly, while he traces the lines of my stomach, my chest, my collarbone, with his fingertips. Reverentially.

Then something changes in his eyes and it’s like he’s lost all the control over whatever it is we are doing. He kisses me again, almost trying to gain courage and I kiss him back, thinking whatever you want it’s a yes.

His cheeks are flushed red when he moves his head back and says, shily, “I wanna mark you, but I really have no idea what I’m doing.”

Somewhere between my body on fire and my mind spinning, I find enough breath to say, “You’re doing just fine, huh.”

He smirks, eyes wrinkling and shining, “Yeah, I though the sounds you were making were a good thing.”

And it’s oh, so beautiful and easy and right, that I laugh with him, “Shut up,” I say, printing a kiss on his neck. “It’s a yes, always a yes. Whatever you want. Yes.”

My brain evidently is too high on his lips to feel shame for the embarrassing mumbled thing I just said.

He smiles, firmly grabs my hand, and leads me to his bedroom, where he pushes me on the bed and get on top of me, still wearing jacket and boots (but I really couldn’t care less about those technicalities right now).

He’s staring down at me and he has that tiny smile on his lips that he just doesn’t seem to able to take off, like his body is too full of happiness and it can’t contain it anymore.

I run my hand over his head, his short hair tickling my skin. “You are so damn beautiful.” I tell him and he blushes a little. His hands are resting flat on my chest, like he’s trying to touch as much skin as possible at once.

He looks away and takes off his jacket, throwing it on the floor, then he takes his hands back on my chest. He whispers, “I really have no idea what I’m doing, so please, tell me if it sucks.”

I don’t have time to form a coherent answer (which would’ve probably been something like you’re an absolute idiot), because he leans down and presses his lips on my skin, not on my neck, but next to my collarbone. He kisses and bites and sucks; I feel my eyes roll back and I let out a very shameless moan, that makes him just suck harder on my skin.

He does it again, two, three times, in different spots, then he sits back on my lap and looks at his creation with a breathless smile. As if I’m not already dead, he says, proudly, “My boyfriend.”

And that’s when I can’t take it anymore and pulls him to me by the collar of his shirt, “Vieni qui, mannaggia a te, vieni qui.” I tell him, and he giggles, before our mouth collides together.

We kiss and kiss and kiss, till our lips are sore and there isn’t enough air in our lungs. At first the kisses are hungry and needy, but then they become slow and fond, till they become just sweet brushes and we eventually fall asleep, still dressed and tangled together.

So, the plan doesn’t really go well, but I don’t have it in me to complain. I feel so damn lucky to be desired by Niall.

When I wake up, the sun is shining through the big window and I stretch my body, a little crooked by the way we slept. My mind registers two things: Niall isn’t in bed and I’m not wearing my shoes and jeans anymore, replaced by sweatpants.

I hope Niall isn’t somewhere working out and pushing his shoulder to the limit. Idiot. Why isn’t him still here holding me, anyway?

That’s when I feel the shower running and my first, unbelievable thought is I could join him. But I know it’s irrational and wrong, so I just slide under the blankets and let Niall’s scent overwhelm me.

The thing is that, at this point, the bed smells like me too.

The phone rings and I groan, searching it on the nightstand. “Yeah?”

“Uhm, who’s this?”

“What do you mean ‘who’s this’, you called me. It’s Dev, who are you?” I snap back, slightly pissed off, because c’mon, it’s Sunday morning and I’m thinking really hard about my boyfriend next a shower in the next room, just let me be, for fuck’s sake!

Silence. Then, “It’s Baz, you asshole. And I didn’t call you, I called Niall.”

I freeze and I glance at the phone, that – in fact – it’s not mine. Ops. I clear my throat, determined to not let anything slip out, “Hi, Bazzie.”

“Hey, Dev.” He says, and he’s most definitely rolling his eyes. “Are you with Niall?”

“Yes,” I say, cautiously, “He’s in the bathroom now, though. You okay?”

“Yeah, fine, just…” He sounds sad for a second, then his voice goes a little angry, “I literally hear from your mom than you and Niall, assholes.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I’ve just… work is shit right now.” Truth is, I feel guilty whenever we talk, because I want to tell him about Niall and me, but I don’t know how. And I don’t want to lie, so I prefer radio silence, even if I miss him.

“Yeah, here too.” He sighs, then there are muffled voices in the background and he groans, “Gotta go, Simon is saying that I have a meeting and he forgot to tell me. Bye, Dev.”

Simon? What is he doig with Simon? It's too early for him to be already at the office.

“Uhm, bye, Bazzie.” I say, but he’s already hung up.

We really, really need to tell him the truth, because I can’t stand this anymore. Maybe we could go and meet him, it’s less than a month till Christmas, after all.

I sigh and hides my face under the blankets again.

“You okay?” Niall asks, entering the room. I peak at him from under the blankets – bad idea!

There is a very naked Niall in the room, wearing just a towel hanging low on his hips, skin still sparkling with droplets of water. “That’s not fair.” I cry out, sitting on the bed.

“What isn’t?” He asks, turning from the open wardrobe, to me. His expression is soft and light, eyes a little amused.

“You and your goddamn footballer body.” I mutter, gesturing at him.

He smirks, because he knows exactly what he’s doing, there is no way he doesn’t. Not after last night. “Well, you can always look away, if it bothers you so much.”

“Fuck you.” I groan and I hide my face under the blankets again, because I don’t want him to see how flushed my cheeks are.

“I though that was your job as my boyfriend.” He laughs and that definitely doesn’t turn me on; a couple of minutes later he lands on top of me, graceless – hopefully wearing clothes.

He takes the blankets down, just enough to uncover my eyes, and place a kiss right in the middle of my forehead. “Hi.” He says.

“Hey.” I murmur, able to do not nothing but stare at him. “You okay? Your shoulder?”

“All good.” He whispers, “I went for a run earlier, but then I immediately showered because you said that if I’m sweaty it’s gross if I lay on you and I really wanted to do that without hearing your complaints.”

I laugh at that and he pouts a little, almost as if he doesn’t understand what’s funny, so of course, I laugh even more. “You’re a dumbass.” I tell him, shaking my head.

“Takes one to know one.” He snaps back, sinking his fingers in my hair, “Stop making fun of me.”

“I honestly can’t understand how you can look so tough on the outside, but be a puppy on the inside.”

He kisses the top of my nose, sweetly, and I almost melt. “That’s because I like to let people’s expectations down.” He says, with a wicked grin, “Everyone assumes that since I’m tall, fit and tattooed, I also have to be an asshole, but how are those things connected? I mean, I can have a skull tattooed on my forearm and still read sappy novels. I can shave be a professional footballer and still be an astrology geek.”

For a second, my brain goes God, I love you.

“You’re the best thing ever happened to me.” I tell him, instead. And oh, how he smiles at that.

“Beware, Dev Grimm. You’re becoming soft.” He whispers.

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?” I snort, and that’s a scary thought and I really need to kiss him, but I can’t move because my body is trapped under his, so I have no choice but to ask, “Kiss me? Please.”

“Only on one condition,” He says, eyes amused, hands stilling, but still sunk in my hair.

I groan, “Fuck you,” Then, “What.”

“Date with me tonight?” He asks, his expression spilling hope.

And I think it’s a bit too late to save my heart from becoming his anyways, so I nod, “Sure, love.”

I bite my tongue, because I really, really didn’t mean for the last word to come out of my mouth. His eyes widen a little, right before blinding me with the brightest smile ever seen on Earth (how did I ever got so fucking lucky?)

And then he’s finally kissing me, without restraints.

Fuck my plan, this is way better than anything I could ever come up with. Better than anything I could ever dream.

That frightening thought crosses my mind again, but it’s not really that scary when we share the same breath and the same heartbeat, pressed tightly against one another.

Chapter Text

NIALL

“So… Running was not the only purpose I had when I got out this morning.” I tell him, when he comes back from his shower, quite some time later.

He’s wearing shorts, but no shirt, and my love bites shine on his chest like a beacon in the night. That is… wow. It’s like he’s mine. Finally, finally mine.

And he called me love and he’s my boyfriend and I marked his body and I have all these feelings! I am the happiest I’ve ever been.

He goes to the big mirror by the wall and starts combing back his hair, “What else did you have in mind beside leaving me to freeze alone in your bed?” He says, sarcastically. It does not escape me the way he lets himself says things like this since when we made things official between us.

I’m made of butterflies wings and sand grains.

I glance at him once more, before opening the drawer and taking out two flowers: a red salvia and a blue salvia. I visited four different flower shops, before finding what I was looking for and still I’m terrified that he’ll laugh at this or won’t like it. This is dumb.

I just… wanted to do something sweet and I had no idea what was appropriate. I’m really bad at this relationship thing.

He’s still facing the mirror, so I wrap my arm around him, pulling him to my chest, and he takes his hand to the back of my neck, caressing it gently. I glance at the love bites on his chest once more, before taking the flowers out from behind my back and place them in front of him.

His gaze move from my face, to the reflection of the flowers, his lips open in a surprised O. If he sees my hands shake, he doesn’t point it out.

“Oh.” He whispers, before running his big hand over the petals of the flowers. “For me?”

Yeah.” I say, pressing my nose against his ear.

“You’re terrible.” He murmurs, still focused on the flowers, and I feel my stomach drops to the floor.

“Yeah, this is dumb, nevermind.” I shrug, dropping my hand, but he catches my wrist and takes the flowers.

“Not like that,” He says, quickly, looking back at my eyes through the mirror; he leans back against me. “You’re terrible because I wanted to buy you flowers and now I’ll have to think of something else.”

That’s my turn to mumble, “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he smiles, “I wasn’t sure you would like to receive flowers.”

“I would.” I nod, smiling back, “Not dumb, then?”

“Not dumb.” He agrees, turning his head and placing a kiss under my jaw. “Thank you.”

I wrap my arms around him more firmly, sinking my nose in his hair, that smells like me because he has used my shampoo all week. The thought sends goosebumps down my back.

Mine mine mine. Finally.  

“But,” he says, after a while, “I know you too well to think you picked random flowers. They have a meaning, right?”

My cheeks flush bright red, because fuck. “Uhm, yeah. Something like that.”

“I want to know,” he grins, fondly, “Sappy, sappy, sappy.”

“No.” I shake my head, cringing internally.

“Tell me!” He demands, turning in my arms to look at me, so I do the only reasonable thing I can: I run, leaving a scowling Dev behind me.

Since it’s basically lunch time, I start to cook lunch and Dev arrives in the kitchen a while later, scrolling through his phone, wearing a jacket.

“Where are you going?” I ask, cocking an eyebrow.

“Two can play a game, Niall.” He shrugs, still focused on his phone.

“What the fuck?” I scoff a laugh, a little terrified, because he has that look in his face that scream Troubles! And since we grew up together I know that there is no point in try to stop him from doing whatever he has in mind.

“Oh, don’t worry!” He smirks, handing me the flowers, “Can you put them in a vase?”

“Sure.” I say and I take them, careful not to squeeze the petals. “You’ll be back, though, right?”

His face soften a little at that, and he goes from a mischievous grin to a fond smile, “Of course, you idiot, we have a date tonight, haven’t we?”

Right before he opens the door, he turn to look at me and says, “A question: I found out that the flowers mean Thinking of you and Forever mine… So I was wondering, do they mean that you think I’ll be forever yours forever since you put them together?”

And with that he leaves, with a victorious smile on his face, without giving me a chance to say anything but look at him with my jaw dropped.

Struck and sunk, Niall!

He comes back a little less than an hour later, proudly holding two flowers: one pink, one red. He’s fully flushed when he gives them to me, with a grumpy kiss on my cheek. “The florist said that ‘a bouquet would’ve been better’.”

“I love them.” I tell him, pulling him to me for a proper kiss and his scowl dissolves against my lips.

I’m dying to know the meaning of them, because I’m sure as hell that Dev picked exactly these two on purpose.

“What do they mean?” I ask, trying not to sound like I'm dying to know (which I'm not). I don’t want him to think he won at this flower battle.

“Who knows?” He shrugs and he slaps my hand when I try to reach my phone. “Let’s eat.”

“But-“

“Lunch.” He repeats, pulling me to the table, where everything is already set.

“Asshole.” I snort and he laughs at that, because he’s sure he won. Maybe he did. Maybe I’m just too fucking gone for him to care about technicalities, because Dev Grimm just bought me flowers.

He puts them in the vase with the ones I gave him and sets it on the table (and then he says I’m the sappy one) and lunch goes like that: his foot pressed against mine under the table, me glancing between him and the flowers and dying to know, while he talks about anything but flowers.

I finally – finally – have the chance to search on my phone the flowers while he’s doing the dishes and I come up with this: there is a pink Dahlia (that means a lasting bond and commitment between two people) and – since Dev wasn’t satisfied by just making me just happy and decided to also destroy me – a red Camelia (that means love, passion and deep desire).

And that (both my flowers and his) is – ah, more than we’ve ever said to each other with words, but it also feels so true and meaningful, that I decide that maybe… maybe we can speak in flowers, when words fail us.

Is there a flower that say You’re quite literally the greatest thing ever existed and I hope you’ll never leave me, because I couldn’t survive life without you by my side?  Or just Thank you for being exactly the way you are, don’t ever stop scowling at me and for God’s sake never ever stop kissing my jaw when you are happy? I have to look it up.

Sometimes I feel so in love it hurts to think about it.

He falls on top of me on the couch a while later, and he places his fucking freezing hands under my hoodie, between my body and the couch, hiding his face in my neck. It’s enough to start a storm on my skin.

I run my fingers through his hair, not quite sure what to say. Not even sure there is actually something to say.

He’s the one who breaks the silence, murmuring against my collarbone, “Next time don’t pick the sappiest flowers ever, because I’d have to find even sappier ones and I really know nothing about flowers.”

Next time, my heart echoes, stumbling on itself.

“We’ll have to learn, then. We have time, if what your Dahlia says it’s true.” I murmur back. Lasting bond and commitment.

I feel his mouth blooms in a tiny smile, his cheeks are hot and probably flushed, “Yeah, fucking true.”

Yeah,” I repeat, voice calm, even if internally I’m absolutely on cloud nine.

We end up playing videogames for all the afternoon, just like we’ve always done, except that now there a lot more of kisses and touches involved; like when he’s about to lose and he tries to distract me by squeezing my thigh or when I win and ask for a kiss as a payback.

I like it better now, then before. I must say, though, that I miss Baz and I wish he were here to play videogames with us, instead of being on the other side of the world. I miss him so bad that I’d literally give up kissing-and-playing with Niall, to be the three of us and just play, like we always did.

After a long session of payback kisses that lasts more than the game itself, I make him get up from the floor to get ready for our date – because we can’t be late! I have big plans for tonight, for instance, tearing off Dev’s clothes as soon as we get back from the restaurant.

But it can never be that simple, can’t it?

Because it’s fucking snowing. Like, it must’ve gone on for all afternoon, because there are already several inches of snow covering the streets. “Oh, motherfucker! For fuck’s sake!” I swear, loudly, in front of the big window.

Dev arrives half running in my bedroom a second later, “What is it? Your shoulder? The knee? You okay?” He asks, slightly panicked, gently brushing his fingers all over my arm and shoulder.

That makes me smile, despite everything. “No no, that’s not – I’m okay… Just, ugh.” I sigh, gesturing at the window.

He scowls at me, “Don’t fucking yell unless you’re in pain somewhere, asshole.”

“But I am in pain,” I retort, drammatically, “Our date is ruined, goddamn it.”

His gaze finally moves from my face to the window and his scowl becomes a surprised expression. “Oh. It’s snowing.”

“How perceptive.” I snort, I can’t keep the bitterness from my voice. I just… really needed tonight to go well and now we can’t even get to the restaurant.

He turns to look at me, face a little curious, like he can’t quite place my bad mood, and he places his hands on my hips, squeezing gently, trying to catch my attention. “We can still have a date.” He says, voice low and soft.

“How? We can’t go outside – I had, ugh. A reservation at a restaurant and everything.” I clench my jaw, disappointed and frustrated.

“I know you probably won’t like the implications of what I’m about to say, but… I am quite good at organizing dates at home. Like, in college we couldn’t really have fancy dates except that during the weekend, so I always tried to make the best of what I had at the dorm.”

Don’t think about all the girls he fucked, don’t think about Kate, don’t think about all those girls whose hands were on him. Don’t don’t don’t.

And then he slides his hands on the back of my jeans and into my pockets, pulling me closer, a little smile on his stupid beautiful face. “We can make it work, if you still want your date.”

I roll my eyes, biting back a smile; my mind seems to clear from all the negative thoughts that were going on. Who cares about the past anyways? Now he is my boyfriend.

Mine mine mine at last.

“Yeah,” I nod, “Sounds good. What do we do?”

We do nothing,” he says, “You stay here and do whatever the hell you want and I take care of everything. I just stole your date, now it’s mine, and you’re aren’t supposed to know what I have in mind.”

“But-“

“No,” he scowls, “Doctor’s orders. You stay here and if I see your face before everything is set, I’ll punch you to next week.” Then, he quickly kisses me on the lips, to sweeten his threat.

“Fine.” I sigh, “I’ll just stay here and… work out. You know, naked, maybe.” (I’m definitely not gonna do that, but he doesn’t need to know.)

He rolls his eyes, “Whatever. Don’t come anywhere near my kitchen, though.”

“It’s literally my kitchen.” I point out and he scowls again.

Then he squeezes my ass and lets go, disappearing in the hallway and closing the bedroom door behind him.

I take the first book on my nightstand and I start to read distantly, counting the seconds, playing in my head all the different scenarios of how tonight can go.

God.

-

A knock wakes me up from my daydreams, “I really do hope you’re not working out naked.” Dev’s voice says, muffled through the closed door.

“You lost your chance for that,” I tell him, laughing, “Can I come out?”

He opens the door slightly and nods, so I get up from the bed – knees a little weak because I may have been freaking out and overthinking this whole thing for the past two hours – and I reach him, ready to follow him, but he doesn’t move, so I cock an eyebrow at him.

He wets his lips, looking a little uncomfortable, “Just… It’s just dinner, okay? Nothing needs to happen and I don’t want you to think that what I did was to get something back. It’s just dinner.” He mumbles and I notice he’s just anxious.

I smile at him and kisses his forehead, hoping it’s enough to reassure him. “Lead the way, A chroí.”

And that’s when I find out that the Irish language does to Dev what Italian does to me. Good to know.

He grabs my hand and leads me to the living room, where he set up on the coffee table our flowers, a couple of candles, wine and what looks like a marvellous Lasagna. I hear Sleeping at Last playing softly in the background, ever the romantic.

“Wow.” I murmur, sitting on one side of the coffee table, “You really know what you’re doing.”

He grins, lightly, “I learned something in college, after all.”

“Yeah, who needs that law degree anyway.” I roll my eyes, while he gives me an absolute giant slice of lasagna.

“I had to call mom to ask her about the bechamel, so now she’s convinced that I’m having an affair and she went like ‘did you finally settled down with someone?’ and without thinking I told her yes, before quickly changing the topic.” He snorts, face amused, “She called both Holly and Isabelle, telling them to ‘investigate on their brother’s love life’. My mom is the worst.”

“You’re mom is the best.” I laugh, “Did your sisters spill the tea?”

“No way,” he shrugs, “They are annoying but we have rules, they won’t say anything.”

The food is absolutely amazing and the man standing in front of me is even better. We both drink a little of wine, but just a glass – I don’t want to be tipsy, because I want to be able to remember every single detail of what happens tonight. This is my first date ever, and even if we’re not really doing anything different from every other night (except for the candles), it feels important. I’m not sure why Dev isn’t drinking either, though. At some point he grabs my hand on the table and intertwines my fingers with his: we stay like that till all the food is gone.

We go from speaking about nothing in particular to the most important things in a blink, because we’re just like that. There are no limits, no lines, between us. Everything’s is okay, because there is quite literally nothing we already don’t know about each other. It’s so familiar, that I completely forget that this is a date, that maybe things will change from tonight; I forget about everything. The only thing that matters is Dev and the way is foot is pressed against my ankle under the table.

The snows keeps falling outside.

We curl up on the floor, his back against the couch, mine against his chest; legs tangled, fingers intertwined. And it’s enough, it’s perfect.

But then I glance at the camelia staring at me from its vase and I remember that I want this. I want him. I want everything.

The camelia: love, passion and deep desire.

And I remember that he wants me as well.

I turn my head and I press my nose against his jaw, I take in a deep breath, trying to calm down my body – heart fluttering, stomach stumbling, hands shaking.

“Dev.” I say. And I mean: Dev.

He swallows, tickly, at the sound of my voice (that is a little more hoarse than usual), “Niall.” He says. And he means: Niall.

“I want to make love to you.” I say, trying not to mumble.

He’s quiet for a couple of seconds, then, “Are you sure? We don’t have to.”

“Do you want to?” I retort, moving my head back to look at him. His gaze is deep, so deep that there is barely any grey of his irises.

“I asked first.” He scowls, just a little.

I let out a shaky laugh, “I really, really want to.” I tell him, squeezing his hands.

He smiles and it’s so warm that I feel completely reborn, like a phoenix in the fire. He kisses my temple and says softly, “Okay.”

He leads me to my room and I’m grateful that he seems to know what he’s doing, because I’m barely able to make my legs work.

 

DEV

I absolutely have no idea what I’m doing. I mean, I have had sex plenty of times, like so many times, so why does this feel so mammoth? I feel like the world is spinning too fast or too slow and I can’t keep up with it.

Because the other times it was just sex, the annoying voice in my head says, Now it’s everything. He said ‘make love’ not ‘sex’. You have to give him all that you are, all that you have.

I close the door behind us and when I turn to look at Niall, he's standing like a marble statue next to the bed, torturing his fingertips.

He is so beautiful that it almost hurts to look at him, but somehow I find myself unable to look away.

I close the distance between us slowly, giving him (and myself) time to back away, but he’s looking at me with nothing but love and hunger.

Everything.  

Our mouth collides together in need, his hands in my hair, mine exploring the knuckles of his spine under his shirt. Somewhere between kisses, we land on the bed and our shirts and jeans disappear, and I’m not sure who took them off. The only thing I know it that there is suddenly so much skin to touch, travel, taste.

He seems to have the same idea, because he’s immediately kissing the love bites on my chest, with such fondness and pride, that I feel like falling.

I’m falling and I’ve never felt safer in my entire life.

“Mine.” He murmurs, traveling down my chest. Kissing and biting, brushing his fingertips reverentially all over me. “Mine, mine, mine.”

“And you’re mine.” I tell him, fingers digging in his shoulder, leaving half-moon the size of my nails. “God, only mine.”

He messily kisses my crotch through the fabric of my boxers and my traitorous mouth lets out a deep breathless moan.

My brain goes: He doesn’t want this with anyone but you. You’re the only one who gets to touch him like this.

So, I have to make him feel fucking good.

I pull him back up to me and he looks at me like he can’t believe his luck (as if he’s the lucky one here!), but then I roll us over to be on top of him and his eyes darken, getting visibly hungrier.

“This is about you, so let me do my job.” I tell him, exploring his chest with my lips.

He opens his mouth to reply, but I lick his nipple and the only sound that comes out of it it’s a loud moan (that I’ll definitely replay in my mind till the day I die).

“Not just me, it’s about us.” He says, pulling my hair a little.

I slide the tip of my finger right under the waistband of his boxers and I look up at him; his face is completely flushed and he looks wild. He’s never been more handsome. Trying to make my brain remember English, I ask, “Can I?”

“Yes, please.” He whispers, raising his hips. I slide the fabric down his absurdly long legs and his cock is right there and it hits me that I absolutely have no idea what I’m doing, but then I remember that neither does he and that we’re in this together and we’ll find a way to make it work, because we always do. Together, always.

So I kiss his hipbone and say, “Dio, sei stupendo.” And it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t understand me and that I don’t understand what he snaps back in Irish, because what matters is the fondness in our voices.

What matters is that we share the same heartbeat.

Everything.

Chapter Text

DEV

My alarm goes off not even two hours after we’ve fallen asleep and my bones feels like Jell-O (not really because of the lack of sleep, though).

Not to be overly dramatic, but tonight has been the single greatest thing ever happened to me.

Niall is laying on his back, naked and majestic, with so many hickeys that I’m not sure how he’ll be able to change in the locker room without his team noticing. I find that I couldn’t care less.

In fact, I want everyone to know.

But they sure must have noticed that the world stopped spinning tonight. That everything changed.

As soon as I move to get up, the very naked and very majestic man beside me rolls over and squishes me under his weight. “Don’t go.” He says with his stupid sexy sleepy voice.

“Gotta go to work.” I tell him, trying hard not to sigh. Nor pout. “And I also have to go home and change my clothes, so get off, or I’ll be late.”

He wraps his arms ever tighter around me and I definitely don’t shiver at the sudden friction when his thigh brushes against my crotch.

“Just leave some clothes here, so we can sleep a little longer. It’s practical.” He says, simply.

I smile, lips pressed against the top of his head, “Practical, huh?” I snort, sarcastically, determined to not let the butterflies in my belly take over my brain, “Get off.”

“No,” he grins, wickedly, “You have to stay here and give me all your attention, because I’m like very emotional and I can’t really let you go away like I’m some one-night stand. So you have to stay, yeah. All day, here in bed. And feed me, because I’m starving and you probably broke my brain because instead of thinking about food, I’m thinking about doing a lot of things to you.”

“Why do I put up with you again?” I roll my eyes, trying to bite back a laugh, but not quite succeeding.

“Uhm, something about a pink dahlia and a red camelia.” He shrugs, and runs his fingers dangerously on my hipbone, “Stay? Can’t you say you’re sick or something? Tell them that your boyfriend needs you more than they do. ”

“Does he?” I grin, “He just seems annoying to me.”

I run my hand over his thigh, distantly. Then I have an idea, “Here’s a deal: you get off of me now and I’ll introduce you to the joy of shower sex.”

That catches his attention.

-

When I’m free to leave the office, Niall’s on the pitch, so I go home; I’ll have to pick him up in a couple of hours from the stadium (he said he could just drive home on his own and meet me there, but I insisted; I don’t want him to drive with his fucked-up shoulder and the snow).

He has the self-preservation instinct of a mouse; he really, really needs me to take of him. I’m happy to fulfil the task.

A thought is going on in my head rent free all day: just leave some clothes here. Well, that and very vivid flashes of how absolutely heart-wrecking breath-taking Niall’s body is.

It feels like it’s a big step, leaving my clothes at his flat, after all we’ve been officially dating only for a few weeks. Isn’t it a little too early?

However, he slept there for more than a week straight, so it’s really probably more practical to have some clothes at his place, to avoid the need to come home and change every morning.

Yeah, I think that maybe I should just leave a couple of outfits at his place, so I can go on for a few more days in case we want to sleep together every night. Yeah, yeah. Practical. Nothing more.

And if in the end I grab enough clothes to leave my own wardrobe half bare, it’s no one’s business but mine (and probably Niall’s, but it’s his fault, so he can’t really blame me).

It’s absolutely frightening how my flat doesn’t even feel mine anymore, as cold and dark as it is. As empty as it is. 

I can’t think about this right now, I’ll deal with my stupid heart in another moment. I still have a stop along the way before going to the stadium, so I better get going.

It’s probably stupid, but after yesterday, I think that it could become our thing: speaking in flowers.

I already know what I want to get, I may have spent quite some time looking it up instead of working this morning. Three flowers: Calla Lily (magnificence, beauty), Yellow Daffodil (rebirth, new beginnings) and Hydrangea (heartfelt emotions, gratitude).

Put them all together and you get half of what I truly feel for Niall Murphy.

I should buy a fucking billion sunflowers, because I’ve never been happier in my entire life, but I still have a reputation to maintain, so I really can’t. (Right?)

While I wait for him outside the stadium, I lose myself thinking about all the new puzzle pieces about Niall and I try to make them fit with what I already knew about him; I find it quite easy.

I can’t really make a list, but if I could, it’d look like this:

  • Niall’s marble skin is so pure that as soon as my lips touches it, it flushes red;
  • If I kiss his inner thigh, his whole body shivers;
  • If I bite his inner thigh, he becomes a pleading mess;
  • When I put my lips on his –

“You okay?” Niall laughs, opening the car door, and shaking me from my thoughts, “It looks like you’re about to pass out or something.”

I grumpily ignore the feeling of relief and joy that rolls over me when I see him.

I roll my eyes at him, absolutely not internally cringing. “You’re late, I’m fucking freezing.”

As soon as he slides on the seat, his gaze lands on the flowers in the cup holder, then looks at me with a tiny smile, “For me?”

“No, for me from my fans.” I snort, sarcastically, but I put them on his hands, resting on his lap. “How did practice go? Your shoulder?”

“It was okay.” He shrugs, brushing his fingers over the petals of the yellow one. “Meaning?”

“Who knows.” I grin, teasingly, and I start the engine of the car. “Your place?”

“Yes,” he nods and as soon as we are on the road, he leans over the console and leaves a smacking kiss on my cheek. “Thank you for the flowers.”

I flush, just a tiny bit, “Nerd.”

When we get home, I can’t help but burst out laughing when I see a vase full of sunflowers on the table.

“What.” Niall snorts, “You said no sappy flowers, so I chose the ones that said happiness. Why are you – oh, man, stop laughing!”

I pull him to me, laughing in the crook of his neck.

He pokes my hip, grumpily, but he hugs me back, almost as a reflex. “Don’t laugh, I tried.”

His sad voice kicks the fun out of my lungs. “No, I wasn’t laughing at the flowers, I was laughing because that’s exactly what I wanted to buy but I thought they were too sappy.” I press my nose under his jaw, taking in his scent, “I love them, really. Stop pouting.”

“I have to look up and find out if there are flowers that says my boyfriend is the absolute worst.”

“Yes, there are. Those are exactly the ones I bought you.” I tell him, shrugging.

“Yeah, sure, you sap.” He snorts, placing a kiss on my furrowed brow.

I scowl at him, “Shut up and just kiss me already.”

He does. Oh, beautifully so.

Later – like, much later – we’re lying on the lounge’s floor (I’m not quite sure how we ended up like this, but I’m not exactly complaining), out legs tangled together, Niall laying on top of me.

I find myself trailing the lines of his shoulder, of his arms, of his back. The big tattooed crowned lion staring up at me from his skin.

He leaves lazy, slow kisses on my chest, like he’s too knackered to do anything, but can’t stop himself from kissing me anyway.

“I’m starting to see why people like sex.” He grins, his hot breath cracking my bones.

’Like’ he says.” I snort, sliding my hand on his ass to squeeze it, “I have to try harder if you just like it.”

He teasingly bites my nipple and I arch my back, following the sensation, chasing his lips. “I just meant… Is it always like this? Like… Like I’m about to die and resurrect at the same time.” He whispers, searching my eyes with his.

I shake my head, biting my bottom lip to hide a victorious grin, “No, it’s not always like that.”

He cocks an eyebrow, “But you feel it too, right? I’m not making it up in my mind.” His fingers dig gently in my cheek, studying my expression.

“Yeah, Niall, I feel like that too.” I roll my eyes, cheeks on fire.

He kisses the corner of my mouth, as a reward. “Is it better or worse than… you know, with your girls.”

“It’s different.” I tell him and he looks away, so -instead of rolling my eyes again – I catch his chin and take his gaze back to me. “That was just sex and this… This isn’t.”

His eyes light up a Christmas tree. “Because of feelings.” He says, simply, not a question, a statement. He says it like he can feel my heart stumbling on itself every time he touches me.

“Yeah, because of feelings.” I agree, biting my lips again.

“Stop doing that, it’s distracting.” He whispers, looking at my mouth, “Besides, it’s my job, not yours.” He leans closer and gently takes my bottom lip between his teeth, pulling it back.

I let out a shaky breath when he lets go, “My point is, anyway, that what we do is more than anything else I’ve ever felt. It’s even better than that thing Kate did with her –“ He covers my mouth with his hand, eyes wide and flashing.

“Don’t.” He growls.

And that’s when I remember that you shouldn’t talk about your exes (sort of? It’s not like I’ve ever had a girlfriend, but Kate was the closest thing to that label I had), when you’re naked under your boyfriend. Especially when your boyfriend is very jealous of said ex. Especially when you and your boyfriend have been together for only a couple of weeks and what you have is still new and fragile (not that I feel any fragile feeling for Niall – the opposite, really). Especially when sex for your boyfriend is a very big deal.

After all, Niall is not as lucky as me, because I know that nobody has ever touched him but me and that is the single greatest discover of my life. While I did have quite some experience. (He is my first guy, though, that should mean something.)

Anyways, that was a bad idea.

I try to kiss his palm, to soften his reaction, because what I said really didn’t mean anything, I’m just an idiot… but his eyes are made of thunderbolts.

He moves from where he’s laying on my chest and sits up on my lap, his damn-fucking-footballer thighs on either side of me, trapping my arms.

His hand is still covering my mouth and I can’t do much but stare at him and trying to tell my brain that now is not really a good moment to be turned on.

But his thighs -

And he’s basically sitting on your –

Goddamn it! Too late.

“No more Kate.” He says, an inch away from my face, his eyes impossibly alive. And angry. At me? I have no idea.

I just nod, unable to do anything else. Why would I ever want anyone else now that I have him? My only regret is all the years I’ve waisted.

He does a deep sound deep in his throat, like a wolf about to attack. “Because you are mine now.”

And my body sings yours yours yours.

I desperately need him to tell me that he is mine as well.

The light in his eyes change imperceptibly. He lows his head and starts marking the skin right over my collarbone; it doesn’t take long for my eyes to roll back. When he’s done, he places a sweet kiss over the mark, “Mine,” he repeats. Kissing his way back to my face.

“You’re gonna forget everything but my name.” He tells me and my cock is fucking twitching and I’m probably about to implode and he’s still not touching me, damn it.

I moan against his hand, rocking my hips under him, and his lips curl up in a wicked smile. “Now I’ll let you go, but you have to stand still, okay?”

Slowly, one finger at a time, he uncovers my mouth, still smiling his breath-taking smile. “Don’t move.” He says and then he starts kissing down my chest, painfully slow, trying to kill me.

He grabs my wrists firmly when I try to slide my fingers in his hair, and he pins my hands against the carpet. “I said, don’t move.” He grins and I can’t form an answer because then his lips are around me for the first time and I definitely forget everything but his name.

Holy hell.

When I come back to Earth, he’s smiling victoriously down at me and he finally frees my hands, so I wrap my arms around him and I pull him down to me, holding on for dear life.

“Was that… okay?” He whispers, his forehead pressed against my cheek. He’s back at his soft self, the sweet caring Niall that I love.

Holy fucking shit! Do I love Niall? I mean, I love Niall, of course I do, he’s my best friend. But do I love him?

“I’m not sure,” I tell him, sarcastically, “We’ll have to try again to be sure. For science, you know.”

“Asshole.” He says, and his voice is so fond that my heart flutters. “I’m not… I’m sorry. I didn’t want to go all crazy and possessive.”

“For shame,” I whisper, kissing his forehead, “Because that was fucking hot. Go crazy and possessive anytime.”

He scoffs a laugh, hot breath against my neck. His voice feels little when he says, “No more Kate, though, please.”

“For how much I love when you get jealous, you don't really have any reason to be. I just want you.” I tell him, honestly. If twenty-years-old-Dev could see me now! I thought I was never going to be trapped in a relationship. The funny thing is, that I don’t feel trapped at all. I feel safe and loved and happy. I feel like I finally have someone to take care of me. “I’m yours. Utterly and unendingly yours.”

He hums in my ear, poking my cheek with his nose. “And I’m yours.” He whispers and it feels forever.

Chapter Text

DEV

I always dream in flash and ashes, but every time it’s a dream about Niall, it somehow feels real and I’m able to move through the scene like I’m swimming in the ocean. I always remember the dreams with him in them.

This time, it’s just Niall and me. Just us, always us.

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got together, since Niall’s injury, since we told my sisters about us. It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve never been happier in my entire life. I always feel like my body is made of stardust and snow: I feel like melting and burning every time I see him, kiss him, touch him.

And yes, it’s definitely too late to save my heart now.

It was too late when I watched him decorated our Christmas trees (one in my flat, one in his); it was too late when I woke up because he was peppering with kisses my chest; it was too late when it became sort of a habit calling him love; it was too late when it became sort of a habit for him to call me A chroì or baby.

It was too late to save my heart: I'm not its owner anymore. It belongs to Niall and to Niall only now.

However, the dream.

It’s just us, alone on the stands of the stadium, Niall is laughing for something and his hair is not shaved like it is now, but he looks like when we were little: long curly red hair, falling in front of his eyes whenever he moves his head. I wonder what it’d feel like, running my hand through it. So I do.

It's soft, and it smells like coconut.

His big green eyes focus on me and when he smiles, his dimples appears on his cheeks and it’s the most incredible view ever.

“I fucking love you. You have no idea.” I tell him.

It looks like he’s about to say something, but instead, his eyes widen and he starts screaming.

He screams from the top of his lungs, he screams like someone stabbed him and he’s in so much pain that he’s about to die.

He screams screams screams and I’m frozen. Terrified.

There is a single second, when I swipe from asleep to awake, when I think “It was just in my head, just a dream”.

So why am I still hearing Niall screaming?

And then I’m fully awake.

Niall is properly screaming. I make out his silhouette in the dully light: he’s frozen and rigid, his limbs are shaking.

“Niall, Niall, hey, it’s okay,” I sit up, slightly shaking his forearm. I brush my hand over his cheek, calling his name again and again and again. His cheeks are wet and he’s still shaking, still dreaming, still shrieking.

He cries, “Don’t. Don’t! I need it, you can’t take it from me. I need it!” He begs and sobs between the shouts.

“Niall, you are here with me. Please, please, wake up. You have to wake up.” I tell him, panic and fear crackling through my body like a living fire. “Wake up. Niall, Niall, I’m here. I’m here with you, you’re okay.”

His eyes snap open, but they are not seeing anything. “I am broken.” He whispers, his voice cracking.

I quickly turn and switch on the lamp on the nightstand, before turning to him. He’s pale and sweaty, his eyes red and puffy.

“Niall, you’re okay. It was a nightmare. You’re home, with me. I’m here and you’re okay.” I tell him. I reach out my hand to caress his cheek, to comfort him, but as soon as he spots my hand, he rolls out of bed and crushes against the wall, as a frightened animal trying to save his life.

He groans in pain when his shoulder bumps against the wall and he crumples on himself, holding his arm tightly against his chest.

I don’t know if he’s still sleeping. I feel my own panic cracking my bones, but I can’t let it. Not now that Niall needs me.  

I get up too, but I don’t try to touch him again. “Niall, it’s just me, Dev. You need to breathe, breathe and focus. Listen to my voice.” I tell him, trying to keep my voice calm and steady, “You’re home. It was a nightmare, but now you’re here again and you’re with me. Please, let me help you. Please, breathe. Breathe. You’re home with me.”

He moans in pain and I see the exact moment when he comes back to reality: it’s like a lightning bolt crossing his face. One moment he is far away, only God knows where, the next he’s here with me.

He whispers, “Dev.”, right before his knees give out.

I reach for him, right before he hits the floor and I sit him gently on the floor against the wall, before kneeling in front of him.

His eyes are squeezed in pain, his arm is still clenched against his body and he’s breathing heavily through his mouth, like every breath hurts him.

“Look at me.” I tell him, “Please, open your eyes. Just… Look at me.”

Slowly, after a whole minute, he finally cracks them open. He looks at me and he seems so fragile that I feel like dying. I don’t know what to do, I just want him to be okay.

“Can I touch you?” I ask, because I really, really don’t know what else I can do.

He nods, just once, and it’s barely noticeable, but it’s there. I take my hand to his face and I wipe away his tears, touching him as gently as I can.

He seems to relax, just a little, but his face crumples up in pain again. He whines, but I can see that he tries not to show it.

“What hurts?” I whisper, trying to check out his whole body at once, looking for wounds or bruises. I can’t find none.

He shakes his head, like he’s trying to make the pain go away. Takes in a deep breath. It seems like forever goes by, before he lets it out. "It's the shoulder."

I kiss his forehead and I rush to the bathroom, I take a painkiller and a glass of water as fast as I can; when I get back, he hasn’t moved. Even the wrinkled expression is the same.

“Here, take this.” He gives me a weird look, so I add, “Painkiller, it’ll help.”

He looks at me like he doesn’t want me to be here. It hurts, it hurts like hell, but I’ll think about that later. The only thing I care about is makes him be okay again.

He shakes his head again and when I take the medicine to his mouth he says, “No.” It’s a sound so weak that I barely hear it.

“If you are in pain, you should take it. There is no point in suffering.”

“I can bear it.” He says, through gritted teeth. It’s a tone of voice so unlike Niall, that it makes me shiver. I don’t even flinch.

“I know you can, but you don’t have to.” I sigh. “I don’t want to force you, I just want you to be okay.”

He squeezes his eyes shut again.

Time passes, one painful minute after the other. Then, he finally reaches out his hand and I place the painkiller on it. He swallows it without water.

“I don’t know what to do to make it go away,” I whisper, “I’m sorry.”

It seems like it takes up all his has left to say, “Would you hold me, please?”

So I do just that. I take the blanket from the bed, I slide between him and the wall and I wrap him with the blankets and my own body, holding him as tightly as I can. I try to avoid his shoulder, so I tie my arms around his stomach and I pull him against my chest. He presses his forehead against my neck.

His body is still trembling and he still sounds breathless, he keeps his arm – the one of the injured shoulder – against his own chest. He sobs and cries, sometimes he stops breathing for a couple of seconds and the fear explodes in my head like an atomic bomb, but then he clenches my shirt in his fist and I know he’s just trying to control his body.

I wish I could take his pain away. I could bear it. What I can’t bear, is seeing him like this.

I hold him and hold him and hold him. I try to absorb him, to keep him safe. If I could, I’d open up my skin and let him curl up in my ribcage, where he belongs. He is my heart.

After three centuries, I hear his wrecked voice murmuring against my collarbone, “It’s the shoulder.”

“I know, love.” I place a kiss on the top of his head. "I'm sorry."

“I dreamt they were cutting off my arm, because my shoulder was too fucked up to save it. I fell on the pitch and the team doctors arrived and just started cutting it off. Right on the pitch. I screamed and begged, but they didn’t stop.”

“You’re gonna be okay, love.” I whisper, my cheek pressed against his hair, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“When I woke up, my shoulder hurt. Like hell. Cramps and twinges. For a second I thought the dream was real.” His voice is barely more than a whisper and it cracks around the edges, “I think I’m truly broken.”

“You’re not broken.” I tell him, holding him tighter, “You are the strongest person I know. If anyone can survive this, it’s you. It’s you, always you. And I know it’s not fair, that this is happening to you, but I can promise that I’ll be with you every step of the way. You won’t have to deal with this alone. You’re not broken, you are not shattered. You’re hurt and you have every right to feel sad and angry, you can be hurt and show it. You have the right to be fucked up. But you don’t have to pretend like everything is fine, if you’re in pain. Especially not with me, never with me. You’ve seen me at my worst more time than I can count. Just… I want to take care of you and I can’t do that if you don’t let me in. I want the real you every second, even when you feel like shit. Especially when you feel like shit. I just… I want you to be okay. But truly okay, not just pretending. You have to tell me when it hurts.”

I feel his tears roll down against my neck. “It hurts all the time. Sometimes it hurts so much I can barely stand it. It never goes away.”

My heart cracks. Loudly.

“Oh, love.” I sigh, pressing my lips against his forehead for eight, nine, ten seconds.

 

NIALL

When I wake up, we’re still laying on the floor, my back pressed against Dev’s chest, that rises and lows steadily, calming my body like a lullaby.

For the first time in days, my shoulder doesn’t hurt. It’s the first thing I notice when I open my eyes. I don’t risk moving it, but I think that painkiller is probably still working. Amen.

I suddenly feel guilty for last night. I didn’t want anything of that to happen, I didn’t want to worry Dev. It’s my burden and mine alone. He shouldn’t have to worry about me, I don’t want to add to the list of things that makes him panic. I’d never forgive myself.

I need him to be okay. I need to be a safe place for him and I can’t do that if I’m the reason he feels sad or concerned about in the first place.

“How are you feeling?” He whispers in my ear. I didn’t realize he was awake.

By the dark circles under his eyes, I can tell he didn’t sleep at all. And he needs to work today. Guilt roll off of me in waves. That’s exactly why I can’t be a weight for him to carry.

“Okay.” I tell him, clearing my voice. “Sorry, I just… the nightmare really fucked me up. I’m fine now.”

“You sure?” I can tell he doesn’t believe me at all, because he looks like he wants to scowl at me but is restraining himself from doing it.

“Yes.” I kiss his jaw, knowing he loves when I do it. “I’m sorry.” I whisper.

I’m sorry I worried you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I injured myself again during last week’s practice. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that it hurts like hell. I’m sorry and I’m scared I’ll ruin my career, that I won’t be able to play football anymore. I would. I really would tell you; you’re the only person I want to tell all these things to. But I can’t. Because you come first. You come first and I need to keep you safe.

“There is noting to be sorry about, Niall.” He says, holding me tightly against his chest. Always careful not to touch my shoulder. “I meant everything I said last night. I want you to always show how you feel, okay? Don’t hide from me.”

I almost start to cry again, but I’ve probably run out of tears, because I just nod, swallowing tickly.

You are the only thing that matters to me. Please, don’t leave me.

I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’m doing.

I’m just so fucking scared.

Don’t leave me.

 “You need to rest and eat. I’ll make you those stupid pancakes with banana and chocolate chips you like for breakfast.” He tells me, rubbing his nose against the top of my head.

Chapter Text

DEV

Leaving Niall to go to work takes every single drop of willpower I have in my body. I don’t want to let him get out of my sight for a single second, but I have no choice; that doesn’t mean I’m happy to leave him, though.

I know his shoulder is still hurting, even if he’s kept telling me that that’s not the case. I just know, I feel it in the way he moves slower than usual. In the way he’s carefully keeping his expression under control.

Usually, you can read anything on his face; when he’s happy, it’s like the sun is shining from his smile, when he’s sad, there are no suns bright enough in any galaxy to erase the shadows on his face.

While now, his expression is carefully kept blank.

I know something is wrong. I know it.

And I need answers.

Sadly, I can’t get them for four days. Four painfully horrible days in which I keep trying to make Niall tell me the truth, and him saying that he’s okay, to stop worrying. I had two panic attacks, but luckily enough, both times Niall weren’t with me and he didn’t have to add me on the list of the things currently fucked up in his life.

I don’t want him to worry about me. I can deal with panic attacks on my own, I’ve done it all my life.

The first time happened the day after his nightmare, the pain and the worry mixed with the lack of sleep, made me explode as soon as I came back home (Niall’s flat) and I didn’t find him there. Rationally, I knew he had practice and he would come home later that night. But my stupid fucking brain didn’t care about technicalities right then. I found myself curled up on the floor of his bedroom, holding his sweater against my chest, trying to breathe. I managed to hold the pieces together from the time he got home. If he noticed, he didn’t tell him. However, he held me tighter than usual that night.

The second time happened two days after that, because I couldn’t find a white heather (be safe, protection) in any flower shop and my brain just went without those flowers Niall will get hurt during practice. I broke as soon as I got home (my flat, this time, I didn’t want to run the risk of him seeing me like that). When he got home and didn’t find me there, he immediately called me. I didn’t answer because my voice wasn’t working, I texted him that I had work to do. I don’t know if he believed me.

I am going absolutely crazy.

I need to know. I need to be sure that he is, as he says, fine. He really doesn’t seem to be. Why won’t he just tell me?

So, four days. Finally, I have a chance to go to the stadium; I need to talk to his coach.

“Dev Grimm, stop trying to sabotage my team! I’ll kick your ass to North Pole and back!” Coach Grey growls at me when he spots me on the stands. He is quite grumpy, but deep inside (very deep) he has a soft heart, that’s why he let Baz and me practice with the team every time we asked him to. But still: grumpy.

(I can deal with grumpy, I grew up with Baz.)

I see Niall look at me and oh, how he smiles. My heart flutters; how is it possible that I was already missing him? We’ve last seen each other this morning. Also, I’m glad to finally be able to look over him and ascertain he’s safe and whole.

“I’m not sabotaging the team, I’m cheering.” I shrug and I hand him the coffee I bought for him on the way (because as I said, I know how to deal with grumpy people).

He groans, but accepts the coffee and takes a sip, before nodding toward his bench, “Come down here, at least I can yell at you while still doing my job.”

I smirk, before climbing over the bench and jumping on the pitch. The Coach’s gaze is fixed on the players and from now and then, he yells something and scowl at them; my gaze, on the contrary, is fixed on just one player, who keeps peeking at me and smiling his dimple-y smiles.

“Coach,” I say, after a while. “Do you think Niall’s shoulder recovered well from the injury? When he fell during the last match.”

“Oh, yeah, he was doing good.” He snorts, “Until he fell again a last week back during practice. He got it pretty bad, the moron.”

My heart pulverizes. I didn’t know he got hurt again. He didn’t tell me. Last week probably means right before he had that nightmare; that’s why he was hurting more than usual.

“How bad?” I ask, trying to stop my hands from shaking. I shouldn’t ask, but I want to hear more, to know more. I need all the information I can get my hands on.

He sighs, “He might risks his career. Worst case, he can risk his arm.”

My heart crumples. Beats once. Wrecks. Beats again.

“Isn’t there anything he can do? Like physiotherapy or...” I mumble.

“Yeah, he can begin by sticking his brain out his ass,” the coach snorts, “The doctor told him to take some time off, but as you can see, he didn’t listen.” He gestures vaguely towards Niall, “He says he can’t leave the team during football season, he said, and I quote, ‘I’ll rest when the championship is over’.”

I clench my hands in fists. I feel my nails scraping my skin, piercing the flesh. I don’t soften the grip.

I scowl at Niall, but he doesn’t see me because he’s running. He didn’t tell me that he should rest, asshole! The championship ends in three months and he needs to rest now, that won’t work. He needs to rest, he needs to be okay.

Goddamn it.

“You know that I want to win this motherfucker trophy more than anything,” he says, turning to look at me. His black eyes are two deep pool of worries. “But not at the cost of losing my best player. I need him to rest, see if you can convince him.”

I sigh, “You know as well as me that he’s stubborn as hell.” And that I won’t be enough to change his mind.

“Still, try. You’re the only one that stands a chance to persuade him, trust me on that.”

My eyes widen a little in surprise, because he can’t know about us. Can he? But he’s already yelling again at his team, so I don’t have a chance to find out.

I hope Niall’s shoulder is okay tonight, because I’ll totally kick his ass as soon as we’re alone.

Niall tries to reach me after the last whistle, but the coach pushes him toward the locker room, so he disappears with the rest of the time giving me a small smile.

I can barely see through the fog in my eyes.

 

 

NIALL

When I get out of the locker room, everyone is already gone, so I close the door and I shift the keys in my pocket, with a muffled moan when I turn too fast and my shoulder sends a lightning through my flash. It’s always worst after practice: more vivid, more painful.

“You are an absolute fucking idiot.” Dev says, walking towards me, coming out of the dark hallway of the empty stadium. I almost jump, I was expecting him to wait for me by his car. His face is pale and the dark circles that appeared the night of my nightmare haven’t left his face yet; his hands are sink in the pockets of his coat.

His tone is not teasing, not cheerful. Maybe he had a bad day at work.

“Hey, baby.” I tell him, knowing that he always melts when I call him that; I drop my bag and walk to him. I give him a smile, but he doesn’t smile back.

“Don’t baby me, Niall Murphy, you obtuse fuck.” He growls; I was wrong, his eyes don’t look tired, they look furious.

Then it’s not because of work, it’s because of me. I remember he talked with Coach and I feel like someone slapped me.

“You didn’t tell me.” He says, there are no questions in his voice. A simple statement. Then, whispering, “You didn’t tell me.”

I take a little step closer, but his gaze glues my feet to the floor, so I stop there, at an armlength distance, but without closing the gap between us.

“I told you all the things that mattered.” I tell him, biting the inside of my cheek to stop myself from crying or screaming or beg.

“So it doesn’t matter that you risk your arm?” He snorts. He has his nothing-can-touch-me face on. I hate that, especially when he has it on when he’s looking at me.

“I… didn’t say that.” I say, dropping my gaze to the grey floor between our shoes. It’s just three tiles of distance, but it feels like there is an ocean between us.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks, his mask of ice cracking with emotions, “I thought you trusted me, but evidently I was wrong.”

“There is no one I trust more than you.” My voice is scratched. I feel like I’m shattering.

“Still not enough to tell me the truth.”

I swallows, tickly. “I didn’t want you to get worried.” I whisper, honestly.

A bitter laugh escapes his wicked mouth, but there is no amusement in his eyes. “Worry.” He snorts, “I almost lost my mind trying to figure out what was wrong. You kept saying you were okay, when the coach told me you shouldn’t even be playing. He told me you injured yourself again last week. You should be resting, for fuck’s sake. And rest doesn’t include me waking up at 4 am and finding you doing push-ups on the bedroom floor.”

“I’m sorry, I just…” The tears are burning my eyes, but I push them back. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to see that I’m too broken to be fixed. I didn’t want you to leave me.”

I feel pathetic.

He scowls at me. His eyes are two deep pools of grey and black.

After three heartbeats, he growls. “You’re an absolute fucking idiot and I’m very mad at you.” He takes his hands out from his pockets and cups my face in his hands, gently. “The biggest reckless asshole I’ve ever met. You, irresponsible motherfucker. Right now I’d really punch you. You’re the worst boyfriend-best-friend I’ve ever had.”

He leans in and kisses me, still scowling. Even if his mood is sharp and angry, he kisses me with nothing but tenderness: his touch is as light as a feather and his lips brush against mine like he’s trying to tell me a secret but he can’t find the right words. When he pulls away, he rubs his nose against mine two, three times.

“I could never leave you, idiot.” He says and I feel one of the cracks of my heart being filled with gold. “Can’t you see it?”

I nudge my nose against his temple. “I’m sorry. I’m just so fucking scared.”

“That’s why you should have told me. You don’t have to do this alone.” He seems to think about it for a while, then sighs, “I know I’m not really good at this boyfriend thing, but you have to talk about this with someone. If I’m the problem, at least you should tell Baz or your brother or-“

“You’re the only one I wanted to tell to, I just didn’t want you to worry.” I say, then I lower my voice and add, “Or panic, you know.”

His eyes soften, just a little. “We’re both really fucked up, huh?”

Yeah.” One corner of my mouth curls up. “We match.”

“We do this together, Niall. No more secrets, okay? I don’t care if we see things differently, as long as you don’t cut me off and we get to hold each other every night. We’ll figure out the rest as we go.”

“Okay,” I nod, leaning in his touch. “No more secrets.” 

“Let’s go home, love.” He says, dropping his hands from my face and grabbing my hand; he shoves it in his pocket with his and grabs my bag with the other hand, despite my protests.  

-

I tell him everything that night, while we’re laying pressed tightly against each other. My fears, what the doctor said, how I feel. I didn’t realize how good telling him all this would make me feel.

Two hundred pounds have just been lifted from my chest.

I hope they didn’t fall on his, though.

He gives me his truth back in reply: he had two panic attacks the past few days. I noticed he was off, but I thought he was just tired or upset about this whole situation. I should’ve known better. I shouldn’t let that happen.

He says, “You should rest.”

He says, “I need you to be okay.”

He says, “Please, please, be careful. I need you.”

I hold him tighter. “I can’t rest because the team needs me, we are halfway through the football season and the championship is too close to let them down now. Besides, even if they could replace me, I wouldn’t want them to. It’s my team, my job. I can’t give up now that we are so close.”

“You could rest a little now, during the holidays and come back on the pitch on New Year. You wouldn’t lose any important match, just practice. It can’t hurt, taking just three weeks off or so.” He says, then, “Coach agrees with me, for the record.”

“I don’t know.” I reply, muffling a sigh. “I’ll think about it.” The truth is, that there is just a tiny piece of me that is hoping they’ll oblige me to rest and heal. However, the rest of me knows what my duty is.

“I think you should take a visit from a different doctor and hear what they have to say. Maybe a second opinion will help you make up your mind.”

“Yeah, okay. Let’s do that.” I concede, rolling on top of him. He squeezes my body in a hug, being careful to leave my shoulder untouched.

“If you hurt yourself, I’ll fucking kill you.” He whispers, pressing his forehead against my shoulder. “I can’t stand the thought of something happening to you.”

“I know,” I say, because it’s how I feel about him; I leave a kiss on his collarbone, “We’re gonna be okay, a chroì, I promise.”

Chapter Text

DEV

I brush my lips all over Niall’s shoulder; slow kisses, soft kisses, careful kisses. He’s still asleep, so I allow myself to sigh and be tender. I’m still absolutely mad at him, but not anymore for not telling me. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me; it’s for the same reason I didn’t tell him about my panic attacks and wanted to deal with them on my own.

I guess we still have a lot to figure out, for instance how to talk to each other.

I’m mad because he’s been so fucking reckless and careless. Goddamn it.

I run my fingertips all over his skin, as light as I can. It doesn’t look fragile nor broken; it’s muscular and the skin is soft. The only trace of him being hurt is the light bruises that make him look like a damn leopard.

My obtuse-as-fuck absolutely-adorable leopard.

I murmur against his skin in Italian, I don’t want to run the risk of him waking up. “Ti prego, fai attenzione” (please, be safe), “Non farti male” (don’t hurt yourself), “Non lasciarmi mai mai mai.” (Don’t ever leave me).

I feel tears burning my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall. I can’t be weak, I need to take care of him and I can’t do that if I let my emotions rule over me.

And then, just because I can and he’s sleeping and he wouldn’t understand me anyway, I whisper, “Credo di essere innamorato di te.”

I think I’m in love with you.

And then I start peppering kisses all over his shoulder again, trying to shove my feelings away; I’ll deal with them later, when there isn’t a beautiful man sprawled on the bed next to me intoxicating all my senses.

“You can’t magically cure it with kisses, you know.” He murmurs, a smile blossoming on his lips, his eyes still closed and that fucking sleepy voice of his. “Even if your mouth is that magical.”

I rub the tip of my nose against his shoulder, in a sort of Eskimo kiss. “I can sure as hell try.”

He doesn’t say anything, just takes me gently by my hips and pull me on top of him, his smile still wide on his face, despite the sleepy look on his face: eyes closed, expression soft, a light wrinkle pressed on his cheek from where he was sunk in the pillow. Achingly beautiful.

“I don’t think this is a good position for someone with an injury,” I snort, kissing his collarbone, right over the hickeys I left there last night. I try to keep my weight lifted from his body, holding myself up with my arms. “I could crush you.”

“Crush me, then.” He grins, before wrapping his arms around me and pulling me down to him. I groan in surprise and I try to make myself as small as I can, trying to avoid squashing his shoulder.

“Idiot,” I snort, “You have zero self-preservation.”

“My self-preservation is doing just fine here, hidden under you.” He says, tracing gentle lines on my back with his fingertips. “Besides, if you really didn’t want me to hold you like this, you shouldn’t have been naked and hot in my bed. Your bad.”

I lifted my head from the crook of his neck to shoot him a look, eyebrows cocked, “Yeah, I should probably avoid being in your bed at all until you’re fully recovered. Good idea, I’ll do that right away.”

I can’t move a single muscle to leave, though, because he wraps his long legs and his arms around me, keeping me in place.

“I didn’t say that.” He pouts.

I roll my eyes, but bite his jutting bottom lip gently. “I one hundred percent can’t understand why I put up with you.”

“Must be the tattoos.” He shrugs, grinning. He squeezes his eyes in pain for a second, before shaking his head. “How does one shrug without moving his shoulder?” he complains.

“You’re an absolute idiot.” I roll my eyes. Then, softly, “Any nightmare?”

“No,” he says, running his head through my hair, “You?”

“I find it’s much better now that I’m awake, to be honest.” I tell him, kissing the corner of his mouth.

He chases my mouth and deepens the kiss, till I find myself breathless. “Sappy.” He murmurs, fondly.

I kiss down his chest, holding his hands against the mattress. “You can’t move, because I don’t want you to get hurt and I don’t want to worry about you getting hurt, so you have to stay absolutely still. Can you do that?”

“It depends on what you’re going to do next.” He says, wetting his lips in a way that should really be illegal.

“Don’t move, doctor’s orders.” I smile at him, before disappearing under the sheets.

Holy fucking hell.” He moans, loudly, his breath catching in his throat.

-

“I’ll be honest, your rotator cuff has one of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen.” The doctor says, coming back in the room and looking at the x-rays.

Niall’s jaw clenches and I grab his hand, squeezing tightly. He squeezes back. He’s sitting on a black cot, shirtless, and the light of the white screen used to see the x-rays makes his skin looks even paler than usual.

“But,” she continues, “there is a new therapy we can try. It won’t cure the injury, but it’ll stop the pain and stop it from getting worse. We can limit the damages, at least.”

“What do we have to do?” Niall ask, his voice a little scratched.

“A lot of physiotherapy, two prescriptions of medicine and rest.” She lowers her glasses just a little to look at us over the border, “I’m a sport doctor and I have a brother who’s a professional brother, I know that the word rest isn’t part of your vocabulary, Mr. Murphy. However, you’ll have to learn to rest and you must do it now, if you still want to be able to play football in the foreseeable future. I’m not asking you to give up and take the season off, I’m asking you to take a month to take care of yourself and you’ll think about the championship when you feel better.”

“But-“

“That wasn’t an advice, it was an official prescription. The doctor’s prescription is literally to do nothing. No gym, no work out, no practice. For a month.” Her voice is sharp, but her face is gentle. She cares. “I figure it shouldn’t be too bad, since it’s almost Holidays time.”

“Oh, I like her.” I accidentally say to Niall, “You should definitely listen to her.”

“Thank you, Mr. Grimm.” She nods, sarcastically. “Sometimes I know what I’m doing.”

“But my team –“

“Your team agrees with me. Coach Grey called me this morning, he said and I quote, ‘tell that douchebag that if he doesn’t listen to you I’ll kick his ass’. So, you should probably take my word and rest. For your own good and to avoid Coach Grey a heart attack. It’s been a while since I last saw him, but I remember how passionate about his work is. I have no doubt he’d kick your ass.”

“You know coach Grey?” Niall asks, surprised.

“Yes.” She says, without further explanations.

She gives Niall some papers about the medicines he needs to take and they plan together the physiotherapy schedule. When we get out of the clinic, I feel a lot better than I’ve been in weeks. There’s finally a spark of hope of Niall getting better and fucking finally resting.

He isn’t very happy about it, if the snorts and the pouting are any proof.

-

“I miss Baz, I feel like I haven’t talked to him in three hundred years.” Niall says, while we’re cooking dinner.

“Yeah, I know.” I sigh, setting up the table. My heart flutters a little; maybe this is the right time to tell him what I planned for New Year’s Eve.

“We have to tell him, like now. It’s enough shitty knowing he’s not even in our same time zone, but… I feel like we’re somehow lying to him. Every time he calls, I’m afraid he can feel that now we are dating and he’ll get mad for not telling him. I just… I can’t lose him and I know you can’t either, so we have to tell him.”

“Yeah.” I repeat, “I – um…”

“No, hey, listen.” He says, poking my arm, “I know we weren’t sure how or when to tell him, but I feel like the sooner the better.”

“What if… what if we told him on New Year’s Eve?” I mutter, linking my pinkie with his.

He cocks an eyebrow, “But he’d probably be out partying or something.”

I nod, “He has organized a party with Mordelia… We could, you know, sneak in. Stole a couple of shots and tell him.” I say, casually.

“You remember he is in the US now, right?” he snorts.

“Yeah,” I clear my throat, “I might have bought two airline tickets?” It sounds like a question. Why did you have to make it sound like a question? You idiot.

“Oh?”

“For a week, we leave on the 29th December. I mean, if you want.”

He cocks an eyebrow, but his face looks completely relaxed, “Why didn’t you ask me?”

I look away, sheepishly, until he cups my cheeks and turn my face to his. “I thought you’d say no and I wanted to take you away from the pitch for a while. I might have bought them when Coach told me you needed to rest? Yeah. I just… I didn’t think you’d listen and actually rest, so I think I’d just kidnap you or something.”

He rolls his eyes, trying hard to hide his laugh, “You were plotting against me!”

“Sort of.” I grin, “So it’s a yes? You’ll come with me?”

He snorts, “What a stupid-ass question, of course I’ll come with you. I have to check you don’t fall for any American chick or bloke. Better be safe than sorry.”

I scowl at him. “Asshole.”

“Oh, c’mon. I’m just kidding.” He says, kissing my temple. “We’ll tell him together, alright? Maybe after the party, I don’t want to ruin it in case he gets mad at us… Your family has quite a bad temper, now that I think about it.”

I groan, “Oh, fuck you, I’m absolutely perfect.”

“You are.” He says. My heart stumbles on itself.

I swallow, quite loudly. “After the party it is, then.”

“Good.” He leans in and kisses me sweetly, leaning his body against mine. We meet halfway like two magnets. “Thank you.”

I sigh contently in his neck, “I just really wanted to take you away from the pitch, if we want to be honest… and I miss Baz. Don’t tell him that, though.”

“I’m sure he already knows that.” He smiles, then his eyes light up in that incredible way, “I have to go look up a good tattoo artist in New York. You keep an eye on the omelette, it’s almost ready, don’t burn it!”

“Why would you even do that?” I shout after him, but he’s already disappeared in his room.

My phone rings, so I press it between my ear and shoulder while I cook. “Yeah?”

“Hi, Tesoro!” my mom’s voice says cheerfully, “How are you doing?”

“Fine, mamma. You?”

“Oh, good, I just hung up a call with Saoirse,” she tells me and I freeze just a little bit – Saoirse is Niall’s mom – but then I remember that they are basically attached at the hips, so it’s not really a big deal. “We were planning both the Christmas’ eve dinner and the Christmas lunch menus. I think it’s already safe to say that it’ll be all delicious.”

“Oh,” I mumble, “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says and starts telling me all about the five thousands things they’ll cook.

I wish I could say I’m listening, because she’s my mom and it’s unpolite not to listen to her, but…

But!

How could I forget that my family and Niall’s always spend Christmas together?!

That is going to be very awkward, since only my sisters know that we are together and Saoirse thinks that Niall and I are just friends, even though she knows that he likes me. And my dad, oh Jesus, my dad. I think my mom won’t mind my relationship with Niall, but my dad…

Goddamn it.

I have to remind this to Niall, I’m almost sure that he forgot as well, especially with everything that’s happened to him lately.

“So, you’ll sleep here, right?” She asks me, after like ten minutes of listing food receipts.  “I’ll clean your room and get the spare mattress on the floor for Niall as well, it’ll be ready when you get here.”

Yeah, Mom… we probably won’t need a spare mattress this year.

“Yeah, like always,” I tell her, my voice a little scratched. “I think that Niall and I will probably arrive together, I’ll pick him up and we’ll be there a little after noon.”

“No, Niall has to pick up her mom at the train station, you’ll meet up here.” She says, “Also, you gotta pick up your sisters. I know you aren’t working on the 23rd, so you might as well sleep here the 23rd too and be here when the Murphy get here on Christmas’ Eve.”

“But-“

“I found it!” Niall screams, storming in the kitchen, holding his phone victoriously.

“Is that Niall?” my mom asks on the phone.

“Yeah.” I groan. I already know what’s next.

“Give him the phone, I want to say hi.”

Called it. “Yeah.”

Niall looks at me with his brow furrowed when I give him my phone and he mimic “Baz or Marta?”

“Mom.” I tell him and he smiles brightly, picking it up, “Hi, Marta!”

They talk for a while, so I get back to my omelette, which is ready by now, and I put it in our plates, before sitting at the table. Niall sits in front of me, nodding furiously with the phone pressed against his ear.

I see the exact second my mom reminds him of Christmas: his face fall off and he looks at me in panic. I just shrug it away. When they finally hang up, he runs his hand through his shaved hair, with a loud sigh.

“I completely forgot.”

“That makes two of us.” I tell him, pressing my foot against his under the table. It’s a habit.

“That’s an absolute mess, that’s what it is.” He starts massaging his temples, eyes squeezed.

“We should’ve told them anyway.” I tell him, with what I hope is a reassuring voice, “Might as well do it at Christmas.”

“I’d rather chew off my own foot, honestly.” He groans, dropping his head on his arms over the table.

Silence, for a heartbeat.

My stomach does a weird thing; it feels like it’s falling and crushing on the ground. “Oh, that’s, huh… We could, yeah. We just… Nobody needs to know about us if you don’t want to. That’s cool. Cool, cool, cool. Yeah, no problem.” I mumble, “I mean, we can go on as we are, I guess.” 

His head snaps back up and he looks at me in shock, “I didn’t mean that! No, no!” He says, abruptly. “I wasn’t talking about that, Dev. I swear. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“But it’s fine.” I shrug, casually, very pointedly not looking at him. It’s not like I want to call my mom and tell her about us now, but I thought we could tell our families one day.

He gets up and kneels next to me, grabbing my hands to stop me from picking at my nails. “I want the whole world to know about us, Dev. I was not talking about us.”

I peek at him, just a little. His face is wrinkled with worry. I feel bad about that. “Then what were you talking about?”

“My shoulder. Mom and John don’t know anything about it and I’d rather keep it this way.” He says, rubbing his thumb over my knuckles.

“Oh.”

“You idiot,” he says, his dimples digging in his cheeks, “How could you even think I was talking about you and me. Of course I want them to know about us. Well, my mom already knows I like you, to be fair.”

“Yeah, okay.” I nod, pulling him up from the floor and taking him in my lap, “We gotta come up with a plan before Christmas.”

I press my forehead against his shoulder and he kisses the top of my head, “It’ll be okay, a Chroì. I promise.”

And I believe him. 

Chapter Text

DEV

The 23rd of December arrives quite too quickly and I find myself in front of my parents' house with a bag of clothes and no one to hold my hand and tell me it's going to be okay. 

Well - my sisters are here, but that's not what I meant. 

What I meant is that tonight I'll have to sleep without Niall for the second time since we got together (the first one was in that damn four days made of panic attacks and Niall being secretly injured). I'm not sure I'll manage to. 

Jesus, when did I become so needy? It's literally just one night. I think you can survive just one night without your boyfriend, you needy asshole, I tell myself.

"Do you see that face, Holly? I told you we should've called an uber to come home. That lovesick expression is making me want to die." Isabelle snorts, punching my arm. "That's why I don't do relationships." 

"Yeah, not because you can't find anyone who can put up with your bullshits." I snap back, rubbing my arm. I didn't miss my sisters, like, at all. 

Especially because since they found out about Niall and me, they've been more annoying than ever. 

Always ready to go twin-telepathy against me, always telling me to take care of Niall (as if he's their brother and not me!), always sending me stupid-ass texts like this is the outfit you should wear for you first gay pride this June - with an attached pic of a rainbow glittery suit. No, thanks.

Holly sighs, "Ah, young love. They are cute, let them be." She grins to our sister, and I almost want to hug her, until she adds, "I mean, I'd probably be in agony too if I had a boyfriend as hot as Niall and I didn't get to check he isn't currently covered in glitter and doing a strip tease to a hot twenty something handsome billionaire who will marry him on his yacht in the middle of the pacific ocean." 

"I hate you both." I scowl at them and I almost pick the phone from my pocket to call Niall (even though I've seen him less than six hours ago) and make sure he isn't doing anything like that - which, okay. It's ridiculous, especially since Niall literally told me he's demisexual and he isn't interested at all in random hook ups. But. You can't blame me for worrying about other people wanting to touch my boyfriend. My very beautiful boyfriend. Mine mine mine. 

Ugh.

"Sure you do, drama queen." Isabelle says with her wicked smile. "Will you tell mom and dad? Saoirse? John?"

"What do you mean John." I mumble, looking at her wide-eyed. "Will Niall's brother be here as well for Christmas?" 

"Yeah," She shrugs, and I see the tiniest blush on her cheeks, "Didn't mom tell you?"

Now I really need to call Niall. I shake my head, "The more the merrier, I guess." I mutter under my breath, right when my dad opens the front door to go out, a scarf wrapped tightly around his face.

"Kids," He greets us, surprised. "Your mom is waiting for you in the kitchen, I'm heading to the pub with some colleagues." 

My sisters both get a kiss on their cheeks, I get the awkward father-son shoulder pat. "Wanna come get a beer?"

"No, thanks. I'll help mom, she sounds like she could appreciate a hand." I grin, at the sound of pans clattering coming from the kitchen.

"Oh, well, I'll see you later then." He tells us, heading for the stairs. 

"You needn't worry." Holly tells me, pulling me inside the house. "It's gonna be okay, we got your back." 

Isabelle nods solemnly in agreement. 

And that's that. 

 

My mom's face lights up when she sees us and she squeezes us in a bones-wrecking hug, even if I'm not sure how she manages to wrap her arms around all three of us at once. Must be a mom's superpower or something. 

"Finalmente siete a casa!" she says, cheerfully. Yeah, we're finally home. So why does it feel like I'm playing pretending?

That's because you're lying to her about who you are, the voice in my head says. I hush it. 

I wish Niall were here, he would know what to say, how to act. He would ask my mom what she's cooking and if he can help, he'd ask about her garden, about her book club. Because he's a better son than I am.

He is my better half, I think. 

I just really need to hear his voice. I’m a fucking wreck.

My mom doesn’t even let us sit down, because she’s already barking orders about all the things she still has to cook and how we can help her. I’m glad for the distraction; I love my mom, even if sometimes I can’t really understand her mood swings.

I wonder what she’ll do, what she’ll say, if (when when when) I tell them about Niall. About us. About him and me.

I wonder if she’ll still act like this, telling me to cut the carrots slighter. I wonder if she’ll even what me in her kitchen anymore.

The fact is, that I know my parents, but I don’t know anything about them. I have no idea how they could react. Especially my dad. But… Also my mom. Okay, both. I have no clue.

At least I’ll still have my sisters, even if the thought of losing my parents kills me.

Niall and I decided to just see how things went and just tell them if the moment was right. I guess that Niall let me deal with this like he did because his mom already knows, so it’s more about my parents than his. He said that he was okay with waiting, but he was okay with telling them; he said he wanted me to be okay. (God, how I ached at that. I almost blurred out those three words right there and then.)

But that was before we knew his brother John would be here too.

John doesn’t know about Niall. As far as I know, at least. And I bet that will freak Niall out, when he finds out. That’s why I want to call him and tell him, I don’t want to just find out John’s here when he shows up to pick up her mom from the train station.

Tesoro, you okay?” My mom asks me, some time later. I don’t know how much time it is, actually. I have been kind of lost in my mind. “You look a little spaced out.”

“Yeah, mom, just tired. Been a long week.” I smile at her and she gets on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek. My sisters peek curiously at me, but don’t say anything.

“You're just like your father, huh? Always work work work.” She looks sad while she says that and I wonder – not for the first time – who my parents are. And why I’ve never realized before that I know so little about who they really are.

I guess we’re so busy growing up we often forget that our parents are always growing old.

“How are things here?” I ask her, as she check the food in the oven, “Since the twins left for uni, you know.”

“The house is… quiet.” She replies, simply. My heart crumples just a little bit.

“You should come to London when it gets too quiet. I could make you dinner, for a change.”

“I’d like that very much, Dev.” She smiles, squeezing my arm.

 

My dad doesn’t come back for dinner.

That had never happened before, when we all lived under this roof. We were a proper family, back then. Not a perfect one, sure; but we always ate every meal together.

I wonder when that started to happen. If my mom sometimes has to eat alone. I hope not.

She seems happy, though, while my sisters tell her everything about uni and the Christmas party they attended the day before.

My mom goes to bed early, saying that tomorrow she’ll have to wake up at mad hours, because she has so many things to do before Saoirse arrives and they can start cooking.

My sisters and I watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas, because that’s tradition; we’re sitting on the couch, piled up under the thick blankets, when we hear keys and the door opening. My dad stumbles inside and I watch him with my brow furrowed, as he stumbles a little and leans against the wall.

The smell.

I’ve been drunk enough times to know that smell as soon as it tickles my nose.

No one says anything, not even when he stumbles on the stairs and disappears behind the wall, but I feel my body tenses and my sisters’ doing the same.

“What the actual fuck?” I groan.

“Did mom tell you anything about this?” Holly asks and we both shake out heads.

Three sighs echoes in the room.

 

It’s a little past eleven when I get back in my room and the first thing I notice is the spare mattress on the floor, right next to my bed. Niall’s mattress.

It’s always been like this every year. Niall has always slept here at Christmas, since when we were kids. It’s tradition.

So many traditions, now that I think about it.

Today none of them seems to make sense anymore. Seeing the mattress makes my heart prickles because I just want to be able to call him my boyfriend and have him sleep in my bed without it being a big deal. And the tradition of watching the Grinch with my sisters has just been ruined by my dad. My drunk dad. Who skipped family dinner.

I hope my mom is okay, I wonder what’s up with my dad.

I wish they’ll make it through.

I know I should just get into bed and sleep, but I really – really – need to hear Niall’s voice and know he’s fine and sleepy and not out with somebody else. Yeah, I know. Irrational fear. But everything tonight has been irrational, so my fear is also real and it’s scratching my body.

My my my Niall, who I shouldn’t bother because he needs to rest. So, instead of calling him right away, I send a text: you up?

He replies right away. Not with a text, with an incoming call. His big smiley face appears on my screen and I feel my body shivers.

“Please tell me you ain’t gonna marry a hot twenty something handsome billionaire in the middle of the pacific ocean.” I tell him leaning the phone to my ear, voice absolutely little and pathetic.

A heartbeat. His voice is hoarse and sleepy when he finally speaks, “Dev, you okay?”

I groan, hiding my face under the blankets and letting the dark swallow me whole. “I just… the mattress. On the floor. I don’t want it to be there.”

Another heartbeat, like he’s trying to chose his words. “I am not gonna sleep on the floor, a chroì. Not with you a few inches away; I’ll hold you in my arms, as always.”

My heart does its funny things and it’s just a little easier to breathe. “I wish you were here.” I whisper in the empty room.

“Do you want me to come over?” He asks and he has that voice that I am sure means he’s being absolutely sincere. He’d come, if I just asked. I seriously consider it for a second – because it would be so easy, so damn easy - but then I shake my head.

“No no, you have to pick up your mom tomorrow.” I say, then, “And your brother.”

“Yeah, I know.” He sighs, “My mom called me earlier and told me.”

I take in a deep breathe, trying to get my body to relax.

 “That doesn’t change anything, Dev.” He says, “I don’t care if John is there, I’m still okay with telling them if the moment comes.”

“Yeah, we should just totally kiss under a mistletoe and let them figure it out.” I smile quietly to myself, feeling his lips on mine. Muscular memory, what a great thing. He giggles. That lovely, soft laugh of his, and I know that he’s the greatest thing ever happened to me.

We are quiet for a while, just listening to each other’s breath.

“Niall?”

“Yes?”

“Go to sleep.”

You go to sleep.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Because you're not here.

Because I need you more than I thought it was humanly possible.

Because sleeping without you by my side doesn’t seem to be possible anymore, I think.

“I miss you.” I tell him, instead, because it’s the truth and it sounds more pathetic than whatever my heart wants me to say.

He sighs, “You’re not making it easy for me to not get in the car and come to you right now.”

“I know.” I grin, even if he can’t see him.

“Are you okay, though?” He asks, with his low deep voice that says ‘don’t you even try to bullshit me, Dev Grimm’.

“It’s just… Things are weird with my parents, I don’t know.” And I tell him what has happened. He listens. He always listens to me.

When I’m done, he whispers in his low voice, “I’m sorry, I wish I was there. I wish I could make it better, I just really want you to be happy and I know it sucks, but you’ll see. Things will be okay. I’ll make sure you will be okay, if that’s the last thing I do.”

God, I love you. I love love love you.

Instead of that, I say, “You better not be wearing that damn black shirt tomorrow, because I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my hands to myself if you do.”

He laughs in my ear and I can breathe again.

Chapter Text

NIALL

I’m out of the train station more than an hour before my family is supposed to arrive, because the house was so fucking empty and I couldn’t even work out or go for a run, nothing.

I’m absolutely lost. No Dev and no sport. I mean, I know which one is worst, but still.

It’s just for a few more hours, my mind says. And I know that, but I just want to get there already and see him.

I wasn’t able to sleep after our call, even if we kept talking for another hour before Dev finally drift off (yeah, I might not have hung up right away because I wanted to just hear his breath and make sure he was sleeping okay, without nightmares).

And maybe – maybe – I might have decided to wear the damn black button-up shirt just to see Dev look at me in that way. I’m an asshole, fine. But really, I couldn’t resist even if I wanted to (which I don’t).

I mean, realistically speaking, I know I’m quite fit – that’s what playing football all your life does do a body and I have seen how people often look at me – but when I look in the mirror I see just… me. I don’t get why sometimes Dev looks at me like he wants to eat me, but I’m glad he does.

I have been waiting years for him to look at me, to see me. And now he never stops, he never looks away.

I hope he never does.

“Mom, do you see Niall anywhere? Leather jacket or jeans jacket, tattoos, usually looks like a homeless person… I don’t see anyone like that around here.” My brother says, appearing in front of me with his big dumb smile.

“Very funny,” I roll my eyes, “I can dress fancy if I need to.” (Even if you have no idea why I really need to – definitely not just because it’s Christmas Eve.)

He pulls me in a tight hug and his beard tickles my neck. He steps back, just as mom reaches us and hugs me even tighter. “Dia duit mo ghrá.” She says in my ear.

She smells like flowers and sugar. My heart flutters, it’s been so long since I last saw her. Them, actually.

“Hi, mom.” I reply, “You good?”

She steps back to look at me and studies every inch of my body. I hope she can’t see right through me what happened to my shoulder and kicks my ass right here for not telling her. She would do just that, if she knew.

“You’re handsome as ever.” She nods solemnly, when her gaze gets back to mine, “Don’t listen to John, you look good all classy.”

Which, honestly, I’m just wearing an elegant shirt, not one of Baz’s posh suits, but I guess it’s still more classy than my usual leather jacket. Not a big deal, really. Maybe it’s the long black coat over it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because she’s my mom and she has to say things like that.

“Thanks, mom.” I smile at her and I grab her clothes bag, hanging it on my (good) shoulder. “The car is that way.” I point toward one of the exits, and we start walking. I take the chance to take them in, to check that they are doing okay.

My mom looks like always, her blonde hair styled in a ponytail, the light wrinkles around her smile-y green eyes. She looks happy, but she always does when we are all together. She’s wearing jeans and a thick coat, because my mom is not one to wear anything posh, just like me.

My brother, though, is wearing a dark suit and tie, that falls off his slim body perfectly. His blonde hair – the same colour as my mother – is shaved short, just like mine. We both shaved our hair when he was first diagnosed cancer and since his doesn’t grow back like it was before, he keeps it short. I keep shaving mine as well. Because he is my brother and I promised him all those years ago that we were in this together.

We still are.

My mom sits on the passenger seat and my brother on the back seat and then we are driving. (To Dev.) She’s telling me about all the things she and Marta have planned for this weekend – there is an awful lot of food involved; I can’t wait! – and at some point I say, my belly growling, “I have to ask Dev to try to cook that receipt when we’re back home, because that sounds like heaven.”

“And does Dev cook for you a lot these days?” My mom asks, with that sparkle in her voice. I don’t look at her, but I see her staring at me in my peripheral view.

Oh, goddamn it.

I just shrug, because I don’t wanna lie, but I sure as hell don’t wanna tell her the truth like this (and I’m still not sure how to tell John)(I mean, he’s pretty awesome and I don’t think it’ll be a problem for him – at least I hope so – but you never know how people react to coming out; that’s the sad truth: you never know.)

She pats my hand gently, but doesn’t say anything else.

Just to be sure to distract her, I ask John how his first year of uni is going. He groans, so I smile innocently at him in the rear-view mirror.

The drive is not long, a little more than an hour, and it’s filled with chat and laughter, since both my brother and I have no idea how to shut up for more than three seconds. I guess that’s probably why mom doesn’t talk a lot.

John is out of the car as soon as I park in front of the Grimm’s house, but my mom doesn’t move, so I don’t either.

“What?”

She smiles gently at me and says, “I’m just happy, honey. So very happy.” She kisses my cheek, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, mom.” I reply, brow slightly furrowed, but I give her my best smile.

She winks at me, while opening the passenger’s door. “And that shirt was a good choice. It brings out your eyes, I’m sure it’ll be appreciate.”

Maybe my mom is more perceptive than I give her credit for.

 

DEV

My mom looks absolutely knackered at breakfast, even if she tries to hide it behind her beautiful smile. The dark circles under her eyes speak for her, though. She hasn’t slept.

My dad is nowhere to be seen. Probably still asleep.

My sisters and I silently agreed to put aside our bickering for now and take care of mom, even if none of us have any idea on how to do that. It’s just… She looks lonely. More than ever. And she shouldn’t be, because she’s the kindest person ever and she is my mom. I can’t have her not being happy.

Despite all our exceptionally subtle questions (like how are things between you and dad? and are you fine, mom?), she doesn’t let anything slip out. She dismisses us with a little laugh and says she has tons of things to do.

I just fucking need Niall to get here already.

“Keeping your eyes on the door won’t make him arrive sooner, you know.” Isabelle whispers to me and I scowl at her.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do.” She snorts, “What do you think-“

I’ll never know what I may be thinking, because in that moment my father gets in the kitchen, looking dishevelled, and my sister shuts her mouth abruptly. I mean, he doesn’t look devasted, but for someone who I’ve barely ever seen without a tie on, he’s dishevelled to say the least.

Besides from the clear symptoms of a hangover – scrambled movements, thick eyebags, puffy eyes-, his shirt is wrinkled and he looks spaced out.

Maybe the situation is worst than I thought.

“Morning, kids.” He rumbles, with his low scratched voice and pours himself a glass of water.

My mom squeezes his shoulder gently, and there is a fondness in her eyes, that for a single second I think shouldn’t be there. Rationally I know my parents love each other, but I also wish that if my dad fucks up, my mom has the strength to at least tell us.

He kisses her cheek, for a second longer than usual.

Then he turns to us and asks, “Where are the Murphys?”

“They won’t be here for another couple hours.” Holly tells him, brow slightly furrowed. “You okay, dad?”

“Sure.” He nods, but he’s already walking toward the hallway. “I have some work to do. I’ll see you later.”

The sound of the door of his office is the last drop. I smash the wooden spoon I was holding against the kitchen counter and look at my mom, “What the fuck is happening in this house?” I growl.

Something flashes on her face, but then she looks at me with a hard expression. “Language, Dev.” She admonishes me, and I want to scream I’m twenty five for fuck’s sake! But I don’t. Because she’s my mom. “It’s Christmas Eve, can’t we just have a peaceful day?”

She looks so tiny that I don’t have the strength to stay here and pretend that everything is okay. So I leave the room. No one tries to stop me, because they know better.

Fuck. Niall, goddamn it, hurry. I need you.

I don’t feel panicked, I just feel very pissed off. At least, I’m not about to have a panic attack, lucky me – you’re twenty-five, for fuck’s sake! Man up!

Niall, please please please.

I climb on the roof and slide my sisters’ cigarettes from under the tile where they always hide them and I light one up. I let the nicotine stretch out the mess in my head.

Niall Niall Niall.

As soon as - hours later - I spot his car approaching the house, I’m on my feet and sliding back inside the house. Don’t be obvious, Dev. Remember that you can’t just kiss him hello like you always do.

 

NIALL

My brother John waits for us on the porch, before knocking on the door, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, impatient.

It’s almost as if he’s the one hiding a secret and not me. I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry at that thought, so I bite back a smile and wait patiently for my boyfriend to appear with his beautiful face and wicked hair.

You can’t kiss him right away! Remember that!

Holly opens the door as John drops his hand, as if she was waiting for us to knock. Funny that. She’s smiling her bright smile, her long black hair framing her face.

“Hey.” She says to us, but her gaze is fixed on John.

“Hey, yourself.” He says, with that goofy voice of his.

They just stay there and smile at each other in a way that makes me feel a little like a voyeur.

But that’s when I see Dev half running half stumbling down the stairs, like he’s trying to not make it too obvious that he is eager to see me.

How he smiles when our eyes meet.

 “Are the four of you having a staring contest?” Isabelle snorts, peaking her head from the kitchen door. "This is painful to watch."

My mom laughs quietly, “My sons often forget that staring is unpolite, when we visit your family, dear.” She makes her way between me and John and pulls Holly in a hug.

“How are you, sweetie?”

“Hi, Saoirse! Everything’s good, mom couldn’t wait for you to arrive.” She grins at her, when they step back, “You look wonderful.”

“We both know that’s a lie, Holly.” My mom laughs and pats her cheek fondly, before moving to Isabelle and hugging her, too. Holly moves slightly from the door and John gets in, stumbling a little on the doormat.

I’d get in, but Dev is still staring at me from the hallway and my body forgets how to work for a while.

Eventually, everyone disappears into the kitchen and Dev reaches the door, where I’m still standing with my dumb smile and my dumber heart, that I wear on the outside of my body.

“Hey, love.” He whispers when he’s in front of me. He’s so gorgeous, with his hair a little bit messy and his starry eyes that are so alive and chained to mine.

I smile more brightly, my knees feel funny. My belly even funnier. “How are things with your parents, a chroì?” I ask, brow slightly furrowed. “Are you okay?”

He shrugs, looking away for a second. “I’d tell you, but I have no idea.” He says, and I’m not sure if that’s the answer to the first or the second question.

I shove my hands in my pockets, because I have the physical need to reach out and grab his hand in mine. And I can’t.

“I’m sorry.” I whisper. Then, “I’m here now.”

He smiles his beautiful smile that is only meant for me. The one that makes me feel whole.

There’s a clattering of plates and loud laughters from the kitchen and we stumble back to reality, where we are not the only two people left on the planet.

With a sigh, he steps back and lets me in, closing the front door behind us. We’re so close in the entryway that the tip of our shoes touch, but none of us move; nor to get closer, neither to move away.

And I have to do something because if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll just kiss him right here and now. So I busy myself unwrapping the scarf from my neck and unbuttoning my long coat. I hang in on the wall behind me, “Did you know that our moms have planned like four different main courses for –“

I can’t finish whatever I’m saying because when I turn back to him, he’s biting his bottom lip in a way that makes me go completely crazy and his eyes are focused on my shirt.

Oh, I forgot about that. The look on his face is absolutely worth leaving my leather jacket home. Holy hell.

“Oh, you didn’t!” He growls, deep in his throat. He lowers his voice to barely more than a whisper, “You are an absolute fucking menace, I have no idea why you aren’t locked up somewhere, for the sake of everybody. You are just. The. Worst.”

“You like the shirt that much, huh?” I tease him, grinning widely.

My body is made of butterfly wings.

He scowls at me, but it’s not really intimidating, because he’s also wetting and biting his lips and all I can think about is how lucky I am to be the subject of such worship.

He grabs my wrist and drags me after him, muttering under his breath obscure threats against my person that just make me feel warm and fuzzy, because I worked him up like that and all I had to do was just wear a black shirt. Wow.

The only one who notices us is Isabelle, who grins wickedly at me when we walk quickly past the kitchen.

“A menace. I’ll destroy you if that’s the last thing I do.” He mutters, squeezing my wrist gently (but not too gently) as if to make sure that I’m still following him. “The audacity you had, you asshole. I’ll destroy you, I'll annihilate your body. I’ll –“ he opens the door at the end of the hallway, the one that goes to the basement and shoves me in the little hallway that leads to the stairs.

I can’t stop smiling.

As soon as the door closes behind us with a muffled click, he pushes me against the wall with his whole body, colliding his lips against mine. That’s absolutely not a hello kiss. That’s not soft and light (even if he’s still careful not to hurt my shoulder).

His tongue immediately finds its way in my mouth and his fingers dig the flesh of my hips, trying to find any inch of skin, anything at all. I sink my hands in his hair, pulling him as close as physically possible. He moans softly against my lips, pushing his hips against mine.

My brain short-circuit.

“Dev.” I moan, when he starts kissing my throat. “Oh.”

“You’re an asshole.” He groans, his voice low and wild. “This damn shirt.”

“I know.” I smile, breathlessly. “I wanted to remember you why you want me to be your boyfriend.”

“As if I could ever forget.” He snorts against my skin, then moves back a little and leans his forehead against mine, “Besides, it has nothing to do with your body, you nightmare.”

“I thought it was the tattoos that did the trick.” I tease him, wrapping my arms around him. My shoulder aches a little, but I couldn’t care less right now. I just need to hold him.

He rolls his eyes and kisses me again, this time softly, like a secret. “You are not allowed to make me sleep without you ever again, thank you very much.”

I pushes a lock of hair away from his face, “I missed you, too.” I tell him, rubbing my thumb against his cheekbone and he sighs contently, leaning in the touch.

We just stay there, looking at each other – seeing each other - knowing that we’ll have to keep a little of distance between us as soon as we leave this safe hideout.

As if reading my mind, he says, “Things are a little weird at the moment, maybe it’s not the best time to tell them about us.”

I nod, “Whenever you are ready, Dev.” Then, “I think my mom might have figured out that something’s up. She told me that my shirt would surely be appreciated.”

He smirks, “Saoirse is a force of nature.” Something crosses his mind and his expression changes in a scowl, that lovely scowl of his. “You need to change.”

I laugh, “What?”

His eyes go big and dark at the sound of my laugh, “You need to change!” He repeats, “I won’t be able to look away from you if you are wearing this!”

“What a shame.” I shrug, dramatically. Sarcastically.

He scowls harder, “Asshole.”

I pull him closer, my lips brushing against his when I murmur, “If I change now, you won’t get to take it off of me tonight.”

He groans, even if I’m not sure he knows he’s doing it. “You bastard.”

“You like me.” I remind him, kissing him with my smile still on.

“’Like’ is an euphemism.” He snorts and my heart stumbles all over itself.

Oh, Dev. You can’t just say things like that and don’t expect me to melt and implode and catch fire. I pepper kisses all over his face – his heart-wrecking beautiful face - till he eventually starts giggling.

“Okay, okay, okay,” he breathes out, still holding on my hips for dear life. “We have to go or they’ll start to get suspicious.”

“What if we just told them we are playing x-box or something in your room.” I suggest, not really willing to let him go, even though I know I have to.

“You mean the x-box that is in the living room, because I don’t have a telly in my bedroom?” he rolls his eyes, “That wouldn’t be suspicious at all.”

“Oh, crap.”

“Yeah.”

I sigh, “Fine, then.” I let go of his body, but cup his face, holding him in place just for one more second. “If things become too much, you tell me. Okay?”

“Yeah, same goes to you.” He nods, brushing the tip of his nose against mine, “Speaking of, how is your shoulder?”

I shrug, “As usual.” And since he’s looking at me expectantly, I add, “I don’t think anyone noticed for now, so that’s for the best.” Because I sure as hell don’t want my mom to know about that.

He nods (he wasn’t happy about my plan of keeping my injury a secret, but I know he won’t say anything and I love him a little bit more – if that’s even possible - for accepting my decision, even if he thinks it’s a stupid-ass decision).

We try to fix ourselves as best as we can, even if his hair is completely messy and my shirt has wrinkles all over it. Our red lips do nothing but make it worse (both because it’s obvious they are kiss-red lips and because they make Dev looks sexy as hell)(I never want to leave this hiding place, ugh.)

However, no one seems to notice us, when we meet our family in the kitchen, all too busy cooking and chatting and laughing. Happiness is an encompassing feeling, after all.

Chapter Text

DEV

The cheerfully sound of forks and plates clattering, mixed to the sound of laughters and chats, is a relieve, especially after everything that’s happened since I came home.

My dad looks put together, even if he’s not really taking part in any conversation, but that’s okay.

And my mom. My mom looks happy, giggling with Saoirse about everything, like they are two fifteen years old who just sipped wine for the first time and they can’t keep straight faces.

I love seeing her like that, it makes my heart lighter.

And since this is tradition and we’ve done it for years, there are things that were already settled, like our seats.

My parents are at the two head of the tables, next to my mom is Saoirse and on her side of the table there are Niall in the middle and John between him and my dad. On the other side of the table, it’s me and my sisters. Holly in front of John, Isabelle in front of Saoirse.

Yeah, that leaves me. In front of Niall, of course.

As if not staring at him with that shirt on (but honestly, he could be wearing anything and it would’ve had the same effect on me) wasn’t hard enough already. No, I also have to have him right in front of me, looking at me with his stupid green eyes that are so fucking bright and beautiful. Ugh.

My only comfort is that at least I get to press our feet together under the table, like we always do. I try to keep a sigh of relief when I finally find his boot and hook my foot around his ankle, just to have him as close as possible even if we have to stay apart.

He gives me a little blinding smile, because he knows – of course he knows.

And exactly because he's well aware of what he is doing to me, he rolls up his sleeves, while never tearing his eyes away from me. Wanker! I've never wanted so bad to punch him - or kiss him. I just want to destroy is body with my body, preferably his face with my face. And tear that damn shirt!

The lunch goes as always: too much food, a lot of Italian wine (thanks mom), two cakes and coffee. That’s just how these things go with my family. But there are also joy and calm and bad jokes and uncontrollable laughs.

It starts snowing somewhere between the first and the second course and there is a choir of “Oh” at the table when we notice the big snowflakes falling outside.

The snow reminds me of my first date with Niall and if the glint in his eyes is any proof, he’s thinking about the same thing.

Everything’s fine, for now. I thought it’d be worse, honestly – except for the whole don’t-stare-at and don’t-touch Niall thing; that is hard as hell.

God, I’m going to kiss him stupid tonight.

I can’t wait.

It’s mid-afternoon when we’re done eating and it’s my sisters' turn to do the dishes, because we have a routine for that too. My turn is tomorrow at lunch, with Niall. But since John is also busy doing something in the kitchen, I figure Niall and I can sneak away for a while. Unnoticed.

I just have to find an excuse.

Sadly for me, when I get back to the living room, Mom and Saoirse have trapped Niall in a card game, so I can’t do much both sink on the couch next and watch the telly (I’m definitely not staring at Niall, I swear.)

My dad is on the armchair, reading the newspaper. I take a chance, because I need fucking answers.

“You good, dad?”

He nods, distracted, without tearing his eyes off the pages. “Sure, kid.”

“I’m not a kid,” I tell him, “You know that. Not anymore. You can tell me if something’s wrong.”

He looks at me for a second, his eyes a little lost, but then he shakes his head. “All good, Dev. Don’t need to worry or panic.” He pronounce the last word as if I might have a panic attack right then and there.

Because I’ll never be more than the kid who has panic attacks in my father's eyes.

I’m not about to have one, I’m just pissed off. And I know he can sees it on my face, “Yeah, sure. Because alcohol is a better coping mechanism than panicking.” The words are out before I can stop them and they are like a slap on the face for the both of us. “We are two fucks up, but at least I know I am.”

He shoots me a glance, that says all and nothing, because it’s just how it is: you can’t just scold your father, even if he’s fucking up. Right? What a stupid-ass thing.

My mom says, voice shocked, “Dev, you apologize to your father. Right now.”

“I didn’t say anything that was untrue, mom, and you know that.” I snort, still staring at my father. His face is a marble mask.

“You are talking about things you can’t understand.”

Why are you defending him! I want to scream at her, He was drunk! He was fucking drunk and he doesn’t even care!

I scoff a bitter laugh, “Oh, right. Because I’m only twenty-five and I know shit about the world, right?”

My father stands, throwing the newspaper on the coffee table. His voice is ice cold, “You always were an angry kid, Dev. Don’t talk like that to your mother.”

Angry kid, my mind echoes, they’ll never see you like more than an angry kid. That’s what you are.

I stand too, clenching my hands in fists, staring at him. I speak through gritted teeth, “I pretend to know the truth about what’s going on. This is my family as well, I’m a part of it as much as you are.”

I’m three seconds from yelling at him, the anger bubbling under my skin like magma.

But then Niall says, “Dev.” And he means: Dev. His hand is squeezing my armpit, even if I have no idea how or when he got so close to me.

I get a spark of my sanity back.

He pulls a little at my arm, “Let’s go for a walk, shall we?”

I let him drag me away from the living room and into the entryway, but I still notice the way my father’s shoulders clench forward a little, like the air is being sucked from his lungs.

I throw my jacket on and walk out of the house as fast as my feet can go. Niall is right at my side, looking at me like I’m about to break.

I don’t know why, but that pisses me off even more.

I sink my hands in my pockets and groans, looking stubbornly in front of me as we walk down the sidewalk, “I’m not about to have a breakdown.” I tell him, angrily.

“Okay.” He says, like it’s that easy. His arm brushes against mine at every step, but he doesn’t try to stop me or grab my hand.

I kick the snow as I go and I don’t stop until we’re at the little park where we used to play with my sisters. I lean against the trunk of a big pine and take a deep breath, my eyes closed, and I feel the snowflakes melting on my face.

I know Niall is right there, because I can hear his breath, but he doesn’t say anything.

There is only one thing I can think about right now and it’s: weren’t they right? Aren’t you acting exactly like an angry kid? You run away from home and now you are in the stupid park, pissed off for no apparent reason.

Shut up, shut up! I hiss back at my brain.

Angry, angry kid.

“Dev.” A voice whispers and it doesn’t sound like the voice in my head at all.

I want to talk, but I can’t do much but nod. I hear you, Niall. I hear you even above all the noise.

“Can I touch you? There is no one around.”

I nod again.

Don’t fuck things up with Niall too. Otherwise you can just lay down and wait to die, you’d have nothing left. You’d have lost your family. Your best friend and your boyfriend, all in the same day. Isn’t that pathetic?

Shut up! Please, shut up…

Pathetic.

There is a warm hand on my face, wiping away the snowflakes from my cheek. Maybe snowflakes and tears, I don’t know. “We can go home if you want.” He whispers, “You just say the word and I take you home and then we can just cuddle on the couch and eat bad Chinese food and have a beautiful Christmas in our own happy bubble.”

My heart flutters and it would be so easy to let him take care of me, but I shake my head; I can’t take him away from his family.

“Would you look at me?” He murmurs, rubbing his warm thumb against my cold cheekbone, “Please.”

I take a deep breath, count to ten. Open my eyes. And he’s there and he’s blinding.

But his eyes are wrinkled in worry and I immediately feel guilty. “I’m sorry.” I croak out. “I didn’t want to ruin your Christmas.” Nor anyone else’s.

He gives me that little smile of his, “You kidding? It’s the first Christmas – well, Christmas Eve - that every time I looked at you, you were already looking at me. Best present ever.”

I bite my bottom lip and just let myself have a moment to properly see him today. No sneaking glances, no stolen gazes. I just look at him and he’s the best thing I’ve ever seen, with snowflakes trapped in his eyelashes and impossibly red cheeks.

God, I love you. I love you! Don’t you ever leave me.

I grab him by his coat and pulls him closer, till our knees knock together. And I just need him to know. I think I might tell him, but then he speaks and I lose my train of thoughts.

“I wasn’t joking, you know. We can go home if it’s… too much here.”

“I want you to stay with your family,” I tell him, honestly. “I don’t want to ruin your Christmas or theirs. I can deal with my father for another day.” He opens his mouth, so I quickly add, “And my sisters would hunt me down and kill me if we left.”

He grins, “They would, yeah.” He lets his hand fall from my face and wraps his arms around me, pushing me gently against the trunk. “Your father was just… I don’t know, hurt or absent. He didn’t mean it. You are not an angry kid. You are awesome and brilliant and your family knows that as much as I do.”

I enlaces my fingers behind his neck. It would be so easy to hold onto my anger, but I just want to see Niall smile right now, so I let it go. Sometimes it's as simple as that. “Awesome and brilliant, huh? What else?”

“You’re also a pain in my ass.” He shrugs, but his eyes are mischievous, as he leans closer and I rub the tip of my nose against his.

I smirk wickedly at that, “I’ll show you just as much a pain in your ass I can be as soon as we’re back home.”  

“Oh, I’m looking forward to it.” He smiles, like he doesn’t have a care in the world and I can breathe. “But, seriously, you are amazing, Dev Grimm. Absolutely amazing.”

I close the distance between us, kissing him with all that I have. With all that I am. It’s gentle and sweet and he’s holding me close, impossibly close. So close that I can feel his heartbeat echoes inside me and in this moment I know that this is it. It’ll always be Niall.

 

When we get back to my parents’ house, it’s already dark outside and everyone is looking at me like I’m some sort of tickling bomb, but it’s fine. Because it’s snowing and Niall’s lips are red and soft and he’s made me smile so much that my cheeks hurt.

My mom is in the hallway and she’s looking at us cryptically. So, since I’m a man and not an angry kid, I say, “I’m sorry for earlier, Mom.”

She nods and gives me a smile, “Don’t get my carpets wet and dirty with those boots of yours! You go change your clothes, dinner is almost ready.” And that’s how I know we’re good.

“Yeah, mom. We’ll be back in a heartbeat.” I tell her and I let her kiss my cheek when we walk past her. I hear her muttering something to Niall, but I can’t make out what it is.

My dad is still on the armchair and my sisters are in the kitchen with Niall’s family, helping to get dinner ready. That means no one is upstairs. Oh, well…

It’s almost funny how we are literally going to my bedroom and everyone knows it, but no one cares because it’s always been Niall and me, always been best friends. Grew up together, even. So, no one questions it.

If they only knew better, I grin to myself.

I push Niall in my room and close the door after us (obviously locking it), before kissing him messily, my fingers immediately working on the button of his jeans. He laughs against my mouth, sending a lightning bolt down my spine. He grabs my wrists and bring them behind my back, holding me steady and close to him. “What are you doing?” He asks, rhetorically, with his wide bright smile. “Our families are literally downstairs.”

“But I don’t see anyone here in the room with us, do you?” I smirk, pushing my hips against his. He groans, deep in his throat, and there is no way I’ll be able to stop after hearing that sound.

“We can’t have sex, they could hear us.” He whispers, eyes wide open and amused.

“That’s what makes it exciting.” I whisper against his neck, leaving wet kisses on his Adam’s apple that is bopping up and down frenetically.

“What makes it exciting is that it’s you.” He says, quietly; my chest suddenly feels too little to contain my heart.

Ah, I love you. Goddamn it, Niall.

That’s when I realize that he’s never had one of those sneaky make out sessions that you always have in high school, when you want to kiss whoever is in front of you, but you also have to keep the door open and your parents are just downstairs. Uh-uh, I can’t let him live without such an experience now, can I?

And I’m not saying it just because I have the absolute fucking need to touch him right now or else I’ll die.

“I never like what happens whenever you make that face.” He sighs, freeing my wrists and my fingers immediately fly back to his jeans.

“Oh, trust me,” I wet my lips, “You’re gonna like this very much.”

I drop to my knees, right when he mumbles “But we can’t…” As if he’s not sinking his fingers in my hair, holding on for dear life.

I smile up at him, sliding his jeans down his damn footballer thighs. “You just have to stay there and be quiet, because we don’t want anyone hearing those adorable moans of yours. Yeah?”

“Holy hell, yeah. Yes.” He breathes out, when I take him in my mouth.

I take him apart in a matter of minutes and by the time I’m done with him, he’s biting his hand hardly to be quiet and swallow down his own moans. That’s such a view.

There is something very ironic about the fact that we end up lying on the mattress on the floor that was meant to keep Niall from having to sleep in my bed.

His cheeks are completely red, but not anymore for the cold. He’s smiling dumbly at me, caressing my hip.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” He whispers to me, poking my cheek with his nose.

“Oh, I had to. Everyone has to have sneaky make out session at least once.” I just want to squeeze him as tightly as I can, but I just kiss his temple instead, because I don’t wanna hurt him and as mashed together as we are, I can’t hold him without touching his shoulder.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Absolutely.” I nod, solemnly. “I just decided that since I was too stupid to realize I could have had you - and this - back in high school and all throughout college, I’ll have to make up for lost time.”

He kisses me, then. Sweetly. “What matters is that we are together now, Dev.”

“Oh, I know that, love.” I assure him, “But I still want you to have the whole idiotic-high-schooler-Dev experience. Besides, since I’ve never been in love before, it’ll be a way for the both of us to live our little high school rom-com. Just like one of your stupid-ass novels, yeah? We’ll make out under the stands of the stadium, go on a cinema date, I’ll borrow your football hoodie – oh, wait. I already do that last one, nevermind – everything. I want everything.”

There is something I can’t quite make out on his face, a deepness that shake my soul. “Dev?”

“What?” Maybe that was the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. It probably is, damn it. We’re twenty-five, we can’t act like kids. Of course we can’t, I’m such an idiot. I want to take everything back!

He swallows loudly and stares at me like he’s never seen me before. “You said you’ve never been in love before.”

Oh.

“Are you now?” He whispers and he looks incredibly fragile, despite all his muscles and his tattoos.

Yes. I think, yes yes yes. Because if this isn’t love I have no idea what could be.

But that’s when my sister Isabelle shouts from downstairs, “Dev! Niall! You both get your asses down here, dinner is ready.” A second of silence, then my mom adds, “Don’t make me come upstairs!”

“Oh, fuck.” I groan, then I shout, “We’ll be there in a second, I’m drying my hair!”

Niall pushes himself up from the mattress and offers me his hand (which I scowl at, because he can’t think to lift me up with his damn injured shoulder. Idiot.)

His eyes never leave me, not even when I start furiously rubbing a towel over my hair to make it look like we’ve done something that remotely resembles ‘getting ready for dinner’ and not ‘giving my boyfriend a blowjob because of that damn black shirt’.

Luckily for me, his shirt is forgotten on the floor (and it was wet from the snow anyway), so he wears a grey sweater and waits for me to change as well. It's not like he looks any less beautiful, but I'll have to try and keep my hands to myself.

My skin prickles under his gaze.

When I reach him by the door, he’s still staring at me with those deep eyes of his, so I get on my tiptoes and kisses him sweetly; because I want to tell him, but not like this. Not when we are in a rush.

I’ll make it special.

Later, I’ll do it later.

He combs my hair back, giggling. “You look like a poodle. Your hair is a mess.”

I groan, “You know as well as me that my mom is probably three seconds away from coming here and kicking our asses for being late, so I’ll just let it be.”

“Good idea.” He nods, shivering at the thought. “Let’s go.”

The dinner goes pretty much as the lunch, except for all the drama, of course.

Chapter Text

DEV

The way my sisters look at us throughout the dinner makes me want to scream, because it’s almost as if they know what happened in my room (which is impossible), but what it’s worse is that they are making Niall cringing and it’s been a while since he’s raised his gaze from his plate. His cheeks as red as ever.

I guess it’s part of the sneaky make out session deal, though.

I press my foot against his, just to remind him that I’m right here (and to remind myself that he’s right there).

There is even more food than at lunch (how that is even possible, I have no idea); however, the big difference from now and earlier is that all the laughs and chats have been substituted by the clattering of plates and forks, by awkward silence.

And it’s my fault. (And my father’s.)

It doesn’t eve feel like it’s almost Christmas with this ice-cold silence.

“So…” Isabelle says, “This isn’t awkward at all.”

Holly scoffs a laugh, but she’s quick to cover it with a cough.

“Izzie, don’t be rude.” My mom admonishes her, with a meaningful look.

More noise of clattering.

My dad sighs, “No, she’s right, Marta. It’s Christmas, Dev and I can set a truce for now.”

I snort, and Niall presses his foot more firmly against mine. The blood starts thundering again in my ears, damn it. “We could if you’d just tell me what’s even happening!”

Why do you have to actively try and prove them right about you being an angry kid? Idiot.

My father sighs and he looks quite tired (probably because he’s still in hangover, my brain reminds me), “Drop it.”

I’m ready to jump up and fly out of the room, but Niall calls my name in that way of his and I squeeze my eyes shut. I count to ten, I exhale. Again and again. Till my lungs eventually remember how to work on their own.

My sisters are gently touching me, one hand on my knee, one on my arm. For once, I’m grateful to have someone anchoring me to reality.

Everyone is staring at me, but I can only feel my mom’s gaze burning holes in the side of my head. She gets up, slowly, and says, “Dev, help me in the kitchen, will you?”

And she’s out of the door before I can reply. I follow her, of course, because she’s my mom and she's absolutely scary when she wants to be.

When I get into the kitchen, she’s busy taking something out of the oven and setting it on the kitchen counter. She doesn’t look at me when she finally speaks, “Your father is a good person, Dev. But even good people make mistakes, because in the end – no matter how big your heart is – we are just humans and we have no instructions on how to navigate through life. He loves you and your sisters, he loves me. Family comes first for him, you know that.”

She might as well have slapped me.

“Well, he has a good way of showing that. We’re home for like two days in months and he doesn’t show up to our family dinner because he’s out getting drunk.” I snort, “Good job.”

She turns to look at me, her eyes absolutely tired, “There are things you don’t know, Dev. You’re not dealing with this in the right way.”

“Because you are?!” I snap back, my voice loud but I don’t care. “Maybe you should tell us what’s happening, instead of just cutting us out. We are all adults; it’s been a while since we’ve been kids.”

She steps closer and places a hand on my arm, squeezing gently. “I know you are an adult now, but to me you’re still my baby. To your father, too. You can’t blame us for trying to protect you and your sisters.” Her voice cracks a little, “My tiny Dev who drew all the time and loved to climb on trees.”

With a sigh, I wrap my arms around her and hug her tightly, because I really don’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, mom. I’m trying. I just want to help.”

“I know, honey.” She pulls away and pats my cheek, gently. “It’s been hard for you father lately, with the three of you far from home and work and stuff. Be kind to him, please.”

“I’ll try.” I concede, with a little nod, and I help her pick up the trail with the roast.

The hard lines of Niall’s face soften when we finally come back and he looks at me with an expression full of questions, so I give him the tiniest smile and sits back on my chair in front of him.

I hear my mom say something that I can’t quite make out over the noise in my head, but the tension releases a bit from my shoulders when I realize everybody is laughing at something.

Niall’s foot finds mine under the table and I let out a shaky breath.

Okay, okay, okay. I’m good, I’m fine. I’m gonna be okay. Just breath.

From there, thanks to my mom and Saoirse, the mood gets better and everyone starts to chat again, even my father talks with John by his side.

Okay, maybe I didn’t completely ruin Christmas Eve for everyone, just a little bit.

As for me, I’m too tired to pretend I’m not looking at Niall.

After dinner, my parents and Saoirse do whatever-adults-do and we go to the twins room to watch the telly. We curl up on the beds and on the beanbags, sipping hot chocolate. We settle for watching Avengers and as soon as my sister turns off the light and the movie begins, I move a little closer to Niall.

We’re on the two beanbags on the floor, John and Holly on one bed and Izzie on the other. Niall’s next to me, always.

He is moving closer to me as well and we end up pressed tightly together, from shoulders to toes. He places his chin on my shoulder and the tip of his nose brushes against my cheek, “You okay?” He whispers, for me only to hear.

I – sneakily – slide my hand in his and bring them on my lap, rubbing my thumb over his knuckles. “Yes.” I whisper back, I am now.

Apart from the continuous yelling at Holly and Niall to make them stop quoting the movie and shut up, it’s nice. It’s familiar.

When the movie ends, I reluctantly let go of Niall’s hand and move just an inch away. Unwillingly. I yawn theatrically, stretching my arms. “I think I’m gonna go to bed.” I tell them, getting up from the beanbag. I reach out my hand to Niall, who’s smirking a little, “You coming or you watching the sequel as well?”

He pretends to be thinking about it (the asshole!), then nods and lets me drag him to his feet. My sisters look at us knowingly, before wishing us good night.

“Oh and Dev?” Izzie calls for me when I’m at the door.

“Yeah?”

“No pillow fights for you and Niall. The walls are thin and I really need to sleep.” She grins evilly. I flip her the finger and flee the room snorting before they can tease me some more.

We step into our pyjamas and slide under the sheets of my bed, where I curl myself around Niall’s body, chasing his warmth. We don’t bother switching off the lamp. Every now and then he kisses the top of my head, his hands rubbing circles on my skin, like he always does when he wants me to relax – that’s basically always, now that I think about it.

“You heard what my mom told me earlier, didn’t you?” I ask, face pressed against his chest.

“Yeah,” He whispers, “Some things. I’m sorry, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to fix this soon.”

“I just want to know what is wrong.” I sigh, “I can’t help them if I know shit about what’s happening.”

He kisses my head, “I know, a chuisle mo chroì.”

I don’t know how much time passes before he speaks aloud again, but that time is filled with soft murmurs in my ear and even softer touches on my back. “I have a Christmas gift for you, but I don’t want you to open it tomorrow with everyone around. It’s nothing special, but… I just. It’s just you and me, you know? And I just… It’s not much. But-“

I raise my head and kiss his lips, to stop his mumbling. “I have something for you, too.”

He’s smiling, now. He gets up from the bed (ugh) and goes to his suitcase next to my desk, he pulls out a dark box and tilts his head a little, before coming back to me. I sit up and grab his gift from the drawer of my nightstand, placing it on top of the duvet. He sits in front of me and places the box on my lap.

I’d probably focus on the gift in front of me if it weren’t for his expression of absolute panic. I look at him, cocking an eyebrow. And wait.

It takes him all of two seconds before exploding, just like I knew he would. “It was a super terrible idea, I should’ve just bought you something else, oh goddamn it! Why can’t I just do one thing like a normal person? But I panicked! Oh my god, I panicked so badly! I mean, we’ve always given each other gifts for Christmas so it’s nothing new really, but this year felt gigantic! I couldn’t have given you something random, Dev! I really couldn’t! But now I see that it’s really a bad idea, so I’m taking it back, yeah. Gimme it back! I’ll give you something else!”

He speaks so quickly that if I hadn't known him all my life, I wouldn’t have understood a thing.

I hold the box tightly, half laughing half pouting, “Absolutely not, get your hands off my gift!”

He sigh, dropping his shoulders. “It’s… stupid.”

“I love stupid, or else I wouldn’t be in a relationship with you. Stop insulting whatever it is in the box, because now it’s mine and I’ll have to punch you if you say anything bad about it.” I tell him, smirking, and he rolls his eyes.

I hand him the gift I made for him, he takes it with glittering eyes and holds it like it’s something precious (it really isn’t, not because of its price anyway). He clears his throat and gestures at me, “You first, because when I open yours, I’ll probably want to throw what I bought for you out of the window. It’s really stupid, Dev.”

I punch his arm (not the injured one), because he deserves it.

“Merry Christmas, Dev.” He says, softly.

“Merry Christmas, love.”

I unwrap it slowly, just because it’s funny the way he’s bumping his knee up and down. And, oh.

Oh.

I gently punch him again, because it’s easier than crying. “You nightmare.” I murmur, tracing with my fingertips the leather cover of a journal. I take it out of the box with my slightly trembling hands.

There are flowers embroided on it, in gold, pink and blue. I recognize the forget-me-nots.

His voice is a little scratched and hoarse when he speaks, “You’ve always loved drawing and I know you don’t really do it anymore since you started working, but I just saw it and I knew I had to buy it, but I made them prints the flowers on it, because I wanted you to think of me whenever you use it. If you ever use it. I hope you do, because I’ve always loved watching you draw. You get a glint in your eyes and sometimes you even stuck out the tip of your tongue and you look completely you. I just… I don’t know. I told you it was stupid.”

Ah God, I love you.

When I look up at him, there is a tear rolling down my cheek. “Niall.” I say, with a beat of my heart.

I take in a deep breath and let everything out, because it’s now or never. “God, I wanted you to open my gift first and then tell you, because it’d made more sense. But I can’t wait anymore because…”

“Tell me what?” he asks, brow furrowed.

“Sometimes you do things and my brain just goes… “ I stop, I shake my head. I try again, “It’s not even because of what you do! It can literally just be you talking excitedly about the plot of the book you read last night or you eating pancakes for breakfast with those sleepy eyes. Goddamn it, sometimes it happens just because you look at me in that way.” I groan, because I don’t know how to say it. “It happens all. The. Time. When you look at me, when you say things like ‘you get a glint in your eyes’ or when you smile at me from the pitch after scoring a goal. Sometimes it happens even when you are sleeping! If I wake up and find you all curled around me, with one of those fucking footballer thighs of yours over my legs, your head on my shoulder… It just happens!”

I sound slightly hysterical. He looks slightly terrified.

What happens?” He asks, grabbing my hand and squeezing it, “I don’t understand. What did I do?”

“I don’t know! But it’s happening more and more and I have no idea how to control it! It literally just happened seconds ago! You just do things or look at me and my brain goes, oh my god, I love you, I fucking love you. You don’t even need to do anything in particular; the other day happened just because you were drooling on my shoulder while you were sleeping and it should’ve been disgusting, but it wasn’t! You broke my brain, damn you. You just stand there with your stupid face and my brain goes Holy shit, I love you. And I just – why are you laughing. Ass.”

He is, in fact, laughing. Big bright smile full on display and I feel like dying.

My cheeks are flushing dangerously red and I try to pull my hand away from his grip, but he doesn’t let me. I scowl at him. "Don't laugh."

He sets the gifts aside on the mattress and climbs on my lap, one goddamn-footballer-thigh on either side of me. He cups my cheeks, his smile-y face barely an inch away from mine.

“You love me?” He asks, with big hopeful green eyes.

Yes.” I croak out and I sound pained (I’m just embarrassed).

“Please, say it again.” He whispers. “Please, please, please.”

I place my hands on his hips, digging gently in his flesh. “Ti amo.” I whisper back, “Sono completamente innamorato di te.”

My heart is doing all sort of things; the only thing that matters right now is the way he’s looking at me.

His thumbs rub over my cheekbones, “What did you say?”

“I said…” I let out a shaky breath, “I’m in love with you.”

And oh, how he smiles.

He leans his head closer to mine and I think he’s going to kiss me, but just when our lips brush together, he stops and says a single word.

Finally.”

And then he’s kissing me, and it’s messy and beautiful, because it’s more smiles than lips.

I giggle uncontrollably when he starts peppering kisses all over my face; “It was the black shirt, wasn’t it?” He grins and gently bites my bottom lip.

“You’re such an asshole. God, I love you.” I tell him, because now that I’ve said it for the first time my mouth won’t stop repeating it; I hide my face in the crook of his neck, because my cheeks are still completely flushed.

He traces the knots of my spine with his fingers, like he’s trying to map my body. “Hang on, hang on. I still have to open my gift!” He says, cheerfully, and turns to grab the box. “May I?”

I nod and he unwraps it, quickly, like he can’t wait to see what’s inside.

He looks at it with a weird expression, so I clear my throat and say, “It’s a digital frame… Press the power button.”

He does and he stares in amazement while all our lifetime friendship (that maybe as always been more than that) slide in front of his eyes.

I loaded every pic I could find of us.

We are six and we’re on the swings, we’re seven and our happy faces are covered in ice cream, we’re eight and we are with Baz in his bedroom, dressed up of Halloween. We’re fourteen and we’re celebrating Niall’s first important football match. We’re seventeen and both wasted on my bed, sleeping curled up together. We’re twenty-one and on our first real road trip – Niall, Baz and I – traveling around Europe without a care in the world. We’re twenty-three and Niall’s is watching at me like he can’t see anything else, but I’m looking at the camera. We’re twenty-five and we take one last pic with Baz at the airport, right before he leaves for New York.

We’re twenty-five and we’re naked in bed, my face hidden in the crook of his neck and his nose sunk in my hair. That was two weeks ago.

And on and on.

“I’m realizing just right now that this is basically a love letter.” I say, only half joking. “I’m not good with presents, I’m sorry.”

He looks at me with his suspiciously bright eyes and smiles, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever had.”

My heart stumbles and falls, but it’s happy. Oh, so happy. Never been happier.

Hours – and tons of kisses later – we’re lying in bed, as wrapped up as physically possible and I have no idea where I end and where he begins; but I really, really don’t care. For what it’s worth, I believe we’re both endless in this exact moment.

His voice his low and his lips brush the shell of my ear, “I didn’t say it back.”

I shiver, just a little bit. “You don’t have to, if you don’t feel –“

He covers my mouth with his hand to shut me up. Very effective. I could shove it away, but I find myself kissing his palm instead. “Do you want to know what the flowers on the journal mean?”

I nod and he uncovers my mouth. “I recognized the forget-me-nots.” I tell him, simply.

“The others are yarrows.” He whispers, “It stands for Lasting Love.”

I turn my face to look at him and there’s still that glint in his eyes; he kisses my cheekbone.

“Dev Grimm, I’ve been in love with you for a very long time.” He says, quietly. “And knowing that you’re finally looking at me the same way I look at you is the second greatest thing ever happened to me.”

His heartbeat echoes in my chest.

“The first one – in case you were wondering – is pizza.”

I groan and he laughs in my ear, pulling me closer closer closer. “Asshole.”

“Fine.” He concedes, the dimples digging in his cheeks, “The first is that I get to do this; hold you. Just… hold you. I mean, sex and kisses are awesome, but if I had to decide only one thing to do for the rest of my days, I’d say I want this. You and me, so close that I don’t know if I’m hearing your heartbeat or me.”

“Ah God, I love you.” I say, for what is probably the tenth time but feels like the first. “I love you so goddamn much, don’t you ever leave me, you nightmare.”

He kisses the soft spot under my ear, “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

DEV

Niall is still sleeping curled up like a cat at my side when I wake up and he’s so beautiful that I can’t shake away the idea that comes to my mind the second I lay my eyes on him. I have to draw him.

I haven’t really done that in years, but I need to right now. And the journal he gave me is right there on the nightstand, so I pick it up and grab a pencil from the drawer.

I trace my fingertips over the embroided flowers reverentially before opening it. On the first page, there are a few written lines and my heart stumbles on itself.

 

You owned my heart long before I had the guts to let you know.

You’re all I see.

Thank you for looking at me.

Niall

 

“Oh, love.” I whisper, turning to look at him, my voice trembling. “You have no idea.” And I want to just wake him up with kisses, but I want to draw him more. So I push away all these gigantic feelings and starts tracing the lines on the paper. The gentle curve of his neck, his impossible cheekbones, those damn eyelashes.

Before I notice it, an hour has passed and I’ve drawn five sleepy Niall, each of them focusing on a particular detail. My favourite is the one where you can see that his forehead is pressed against my leg, like he’s trying to breathe me in. Ah, God.

When he begins to stretch lazily and rolls on his back, I carefully tuck everything away and I direct all my attention to all those miles of skin next to me. I sit with my thighs on each side of him and kiss down his collarbone, making my way to his pecs. With my fingertips I gently trace the lines of his abs, of his navel, of his stomach.

He smiles his dimple-y smile, without opening his eyes. His hands finds their way in my hair and gently massage my scalp. One kiss and another one and another one, all over his chest.

When I kiss his nipple, he giggles quietly. “Well, good morning to you, too.” He says with that damn sleepy voice of his, making me shiver imperceptibly.

I properly lay down on top of him like a blanket, cupping his cheeks with my hands.

“Niall.”

He hums, but doesn’t open his eyes.

“I’m looking at you.” I whisper, “I am always looking at you.”

A smile slowly blooms on his lips, until he’s smiling so brightly that’s it’s almost blinding.

Then, because I’m me, I add, “God, you really broke my brain. I’m a sappy asshole now.”

His eyes snap open and he turns us around, crushing me into the mattress and kisses me to oblivion. “I love you.” He breathes out against my lips, “Sappiness and broken brain included.”

He swallows down my laugh, but that’s okay.

It’s not much later that there is a knock at the door and John yelling, “It’s Christmas, motherfuckers! Get your asses downstairs, we can’t open the gifts until we’re all there!”

After a second, comes Saoirse voice, “Language, John!”

With an exasperated sigh, he kisses the tip of my nose and rolls off of me.

 

Hugs are exchanged and cheeks are kissed, gifts are opened and pancakes are eaten for breakfast; all is well. And quiet.

It’s not until after lunch that it happens.

 

NIALL

So… John plays rugby. He’s played rugby since high school, that means he’s quite good at it. And since we’re both well fit, we always end up wrestling (jokingly) around the house every time we see each other. That’s our thing.

The fact is, though, that I didn’t think he’d have done it at the Grimm’s house, because there are a fragile stuff everywhere. That’s why it didn’t occur me to tell him not to do that.

I’m almost at the couch when my brother decided out of the blue to throw himself at me like he’s playing a goddamn rugby match or something.

He hits my injured shoulder at full force with his whole body. Jolts of white-hot pain branch off my shoulder and shakes my body; for a moment I can’t even see anything, like the pain has taken over my senses. I fall on the couch with a loud scream and I curl on my side, pressing my arm to my chest, trying to just breath through the agony.

“Oh my God, Niall!” John mumbles, but I can barely hear him over the blood thundering in my ears, “You okay? I didn’t mean to… What are you-? I never… I’m sorry! Are you okay? I didn’t want to hurt you, please don’t die or something! I’m so sorry, what hurts?”

I try to reassure him, but I can’t find any words. There are voices, gasps, a lot of faces staring at me. Then I hear loud footsteps down the stairs and a second later Dev comes running in the living room and crushes at my side, pushing aside John and someone else out of his way to get to me. He looks completely freaked out.

He runs his hands all over my body, light as a feather, looking for injuries. “What happened?” He asks loudly, then he sees the way I’m holding my arm and understands. “He needs ice! And he has some painkillers in his bag, someone go get them. Front pocket, orange plastic box. Now.”

I am breathing heavily, but at least my lungs are working.

My mom says, “What’s wrong, Niall?” Her cheeks are wet. My heart breaks.

Dev is looking at me expectantly, asking for my permission to tell her about my shoulder. But I can’t, because my mom has already been through hell when my brother was diagnosed with cancer, I can’t make her worry about me, too. I shake my head.

Dev sighs, but accept it. Eventually the ice arrives and they all stare at us when Dev starts to massage my shoulder carefully, just like the doctor showed us and the pain slowly (impossibly slowly) leaves my flesh. His eyes are fixed and focused on me, like he can’t bother worrying about anything else.

When the pain has become bearable, I grab his wrist with my opposite hand and nod, to let him know I’m okay. He sighs quietly, but stays exactly where he is, holding the ice on my shoulder and his other hand on my lap. I know I should let his wrist go, because that’s a hell of a lot intimate and our families are literally staring at us, but I don’t have it in me.

But I have to, because Dev said he wanted to wait to tell them. So, even if that’s the last thing I want to do, I soften my grip and let him go. He does move his hand away from there, but just to slide it over my palm and intertwine our fingers together.

A blink, Is this okay, love?

I nod and hold on for dear life. More than okay.

He doesn’t miss a single beat, not even when he turns to look at his family with an eyebrow cocked, almost in challenge.

I feel a jolt of pride shake my body while I look at him. Ah, Dev. You incredible, brave man.

My mom, though, doesn’t seem to care in the slightest and sits next to me on the couch, searching something on my face. “You tell me what is happening, Niall Edward Murphy. And you tell me right now.”

It’s never a good sign when she goes with my full name. I open my mouth to tell her it’s nothing, but she speaks again, “And cut the fucking bullshits. I want the truth.”

I’m definitely in trouble. My mom never swears.

Dev rubs his thumb over the back of my hand, to remind me he’s right there (as if I could ever forget).

Fine, then. “I hurt my shoulder on the pitch, but I’m working on it. No need to worry.”

Dev rolls his eyes, but my mom is too focused on me to notice (luckily). She says, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It isn’t that bad, mom.”

“What did the doctor say?”

“Well…”

“Niall!”

“It’s not-“

“It’s definitely bad if you didn’t tell me, damn you! What did the doctor say!” It’s not even a question, it’s an order.

And I know I’ve lost, so I take in a deep breath and tell her (them) the truth. Not everything, but about the doctors’ visits and the pills and that I have to take a little of time off. I don’t tell them about risking my career, though; because she’d freak out if she thought the injury was that bad.

She probably would lock me somewhere and keep me from playing football ever again.

Yes, my mom is like that.

She’s crying by the time I’m done telling her everything. Dev is looking at me the same way he does every time I score a goal and my heart flutters quietly at the thought that he might be proud of me.

My mom slaps my leg and pulls me in a bone-wrecking side-hug, avoiding completely my shoulder. “You should have called your mom, I would’ve come to the visits with you and helped you.”

“I know, I’m sorry. Didn’t want to make you worry.” I tell her.

My brother is looking at me completely mortified and when our gazes meet, he mumbles, “I’m sorry I just… I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have thrown you on the couch if I’d known.”

“I know, bro. We’re good.” I wave his apologies away and I offer him my fist, he bumps it gently with his, with a little nod.

My other hand is still enlaced with Dev’s and when I look back at him, I see his eyebrow is still cocked, while he looks at his family. The twins are doing one of their telepathy things, because they look at each other and they move at the same time. Izzie grabs his mom wrist and Holly gently pushes his father’s shoulder, trying to get them out of the room, “We should probably let the Murphys talk a little, let’s go in the kitchen.” Holly suggests.

“Yeah, right.” Her father nods, then gestures at Dev, “Come, son. Let’s give them some privacy.”

Dev shakes his head and says firmly, “My place is by Niall’s side.”

Oh, yes, it is, I want to tell him. Always.

Arthur rolls his eyes in that way all the Grimms do, “Your friend is good now, you can stop worrying. C’mon. Give him space.”

Dev mutters something and even if his dad can’t make it out, I do. And my heart blooms.

“Come again?” Arthur asks, confused.

“I said,” Dev tells him, quietly, “that he is my boyfriend, not my friend. And he needs me. I’m not leaving.”

I squeeze his hand as hard as I can, because he looks completely wildered and I need to anchor him to reality. Dev Dev Dev, you are ridiculously brave and I love you so.

Arthur’s jaw drops and I see Marta’s hand fly to her mouth, like she’s trying to hide a gasp.

But my mom. My mom is staring right at me and how she smiles at that. I can barely see John’s face, but his shoulders are tense; he’s looking at Dev’s family with renewed mortification in his eyes, like he believes it's his fault that we had to tell them now. Or maybe he's just shocked because I'm gay and he didn't know.

“Yes, that’s my brother!” Izzie exclaims, her expression fiercely proud and that’s exactly how I’m feeling. Holly’s smile is quieter, but bright nonetheless. And I’m so relieved to know that at least – despite of how things will go with his parents – Dev will always have his sisters by his side. They love him exactly for who he is.

“But…” Marta mumbles, “For… for how long?”

“A little more than two months, mom.” Dev says. That’s right, even if it both feels like a lifetime and just a day. Holy hell, two months already. Wow.

 

 

DEV

I thought the world explode or stop spinning, or that I’d at least have a panic attack, but nothing of the sort happened when I told the truth to my parents.

Now, however, they are just staring at me wide eyed, like I’ve just told them I’m a mutant or something.

But I don’t care, because Niall is here and my sisters are here and Saoirse is smiling fondly at us, so I know things will be okay.

The twins – those two incredible human beings – moves themselves in front of our parents, arms crossed over their chests.

Holly says, “You should say something.”

Izzie says, “Yeah, just staring at them won’t make them disappear.”

Holly says, ”What Izzie means is that your son just told you something important and you should hug him or at least stop staring at him like that.”

Izzie snorts, “What Izzie means is that having a gay son is perfectly normal and you guys are making it really awkward. There are bigger problems than who someone loves, you know.”

So Holly says, “Be kind to him or you’ll have to deal with us.”

They both nod in unison and stare at mom and dad, expectantly. My mom is the first to react, walking past them and sitting on her heels beside me. “Oh, my baby.” She whispers, rubbing her hand over my cheek. “You should have told us sooner.”

“There was nothing to say, it’s not like you could’ve talked me out of this. I’m pretty damn sure of what I’m doing.” I snap back.

My mom snorts and mutters something in Italian that I can’t quite hear, “You should’ve told us sooner,” she repeats, “because we want to know what happens in your life, Dev. Not because I would’ve tried to change your mind, I’d never do that.”

She pulls me in a hug, whispering in my ear, “I love you no matter what, Dev. I just want you to be happy, everything else is a detail. I’m glad you told us now, though.”

That wasn’t… what I expected to hear, so I’m a little clumsy when I hug her back, leaving Niall’s hand to wrap my arms around my mother. “You too.” I say, “I mean, I love you too.”

As soon as she pulls back, she grabs Niall by his shirt and hugs him too, without touching his shoulder. I hear them whisper something, but it’s not for me to hear, so instead I look at Saoirse.

She winks at me and her expression is bright and happy, even if her cheeks are still wet and her eyes puffy and red. “It was about time,” she grins.

My mom looks at her at that, “Wait, you knew?! Saoirse! You’re my best friend, those are things you should tell me!”

She throws her hands up in surrender, smiling widely, “I didn’t know, Marta! I just knew what my son felt.”

My dad is still staring at me and I don’t know what to do about that. Izzie shakes his arms and he clears his throat, “You should’ve told us.” He tells me, quietly.

“It’s not like you tell me anything about what’s going on in your life, so we’re even.” I snort, because I’m still pissed off at him and the way he’s looking at me is just a little bit too much.

He rolls his eyes, “Jesus, drop it, kid.”

That’s when everyone starts screaming.

“Arthur maybe we should-“

“Dad! I said be kind!”

“Why do you guys always have to yell!”

“My son just said he’s been gay for two months and didn’t tell me!”

“I haven’t been gay for two months, I’ve been in a relationship for two months!”

“We should tell the kids what’s happening.”

“No one here is a kid anymore, mom!”

In the chaos, John gets on the coffee table and screams “Holly and I are dating!”

The room goes quiet and my sister’s cheeks turn bright red, but she’s looking fondly at John.

My dad shoots him a killing glance, “You two are what now?”

John mumbles to himself, “Uhm, that sounded like a good idea at the moment.” Then, louder, “Your daughter is in a secret relationship as well, so you can stop being angry with Dev and Niall for not telling you. Since two of your three kids didn’t tell you the truth, probably the problem isn’t that Dev is gay, but that they didn’t feel safe enough to tell you what happens in their lives. If you’re looking for someone to blame, you should probably look in a mirror. With respect, sir. But I won’t tolerate anyone who talks shit about my brother nor his boyfriend. Yeah. Also, please don’t hate me, because I care about your daughter very much and I don’t want to never see her again.”

Holly offers him her hand and he jumps off the table; from the way they’re looking at each other, I wonder how I didn’t see this coming. I guess the Grimms have a thing for the Murphys.

“This is even better than watching a drama, please, do go on.” Izzie whisper-shout, sarcastically. “What a beautiful Christmas.”

My mom stands and goes to my dad, tears on her face. “John is right, Arthur. It’s our fault and no one else’s. We have to tell them the truth; we can’t expect them to talk to us if we are the first ones to have secrets.”

My father’s shoulders deflate. “Alright.” He sighs, “We better sit down and let all the truth out.”

Saoirse nods and says “We’re leaving right away –“

“No need, Saoirse. You’re family as well.” My father tells her and we all sit in the living room, in a sort of circle. I sit next to Niall and he smiles gently at me, before intertwining our fingers together again.

My dad clears his throat, and says, “First, I want to apologize. I failed as a father if you thought that you couldn’t come and talk to me about what’s going on in your lives. I know I don’t always show it, but you’re everything to me. I love you very much.” He sighs, looking at me and my sisters, then at my mom.

Holly reaches out and squeezes his hand. Sometimes I wish I could be like her, always ready to forgive and forget, but that couldn’t be farther from the who I am.

And then he starts speaking. He tells us he has troubles at work and he risks losing his job because of a cut of funds at the company he works for. That’s why the other night he was with his colleagues and couldn’t cut the night short and come back home, he has to keep himself on their good side (I snort loudly at that). He says that he didn’t want to tell us because he didn’t want us to think we are in trouble (which I think we may be), didn’t want the twins to think they had to stop going to uni and me to offer to give them money (which I do and they refuse promptly).

Niall holds my hand throughout this or maybe I hold his, but I don’t really care, as long as our fingers are enlaced together.

“So… things will be okay, eventually.” My father finishes.

“And even if your dad loses his job, we’ll make it through.” My mom adds, squeezing his shoulder gently.

My dad turns to look at me with an odd face, “I’m sorry if you felt like you couldn’t tell us you’re gay.”

I nod, and I correct him, not unkindly, “I’m bisexual, actually.”

“Bisexual,” he repeats, like he’s trying to compose a puzzle in his head. Then, “Good, okay. Your mother and I love you all the same, I hope you know that, despite how often we argue.”

“Yeah, dad. I know.” I say, because it’s true.

Maybe things are not perfect between us, but we can start to work on it.

He claps his hands once, trying to break the tension, “Well, then. Two secret relationships. What about you, Izzie? Any boyfriend or girlfriend we should know about?”

Izzie snorts, like that’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard, “Pretty sure I’m asexual.”

Oh, then hers wasn’t simply a no-relationship rule like she calls it. Now I feel bad for teasing her about it, but by the look she shoots me, she’s more amused than anything.

Oh, cielo.” My mom mutters, then points her finger threateningly at Holly and John, who are pressed together on the other couch. “You two better give me grandkids!”

“Mom!” Holly exclaims, hiding her face in her hands and John’s flushes ever redder than Niall’s hair. He mumbles, quickly, “That’s not… We are… It’s just been a few months… And I…”

That’s when Niall says, “Besides, nothing exclude that Dev and I won’t have kids one day.”

My heart skips a beat, because it’s too busy stumbling on itself to do its job. I slowly turn my head to look at him, jaw dropped and eyes wide, “That we what?”

He starts mumbling, exactly as John, like he just realized what he said. Oh, my. Niall. That’s a thing I won’t ever be able to wipe away from my mind.

Kids.

Saoirse laughs and, thanks God, changes the topic – I’m almost able to breathe again. “This has been a very enlightening dramatic Christmas, for sure! Shall we make hot chocolate and play scrabbles?”

And we do just that. Even if I don’t miss the not-so-subtle glances Niall keeps shooting me. Ah, God. I’m screwed.

Chapter Text

DEV

“I’m just saying that you can’t just disappear with Simon for hours and then come back and completely avoid being naked around me. For a week!” I tell Niall, exasperated.

We’ve come back from New York two days ago and things are better than they’ve ever been, Baz (and Simon) calls us all the time and we’ve finally finally finally found our best friend again. Turns out, the problem wasn’t that we live in two different time zones, but that we’ve kept way too many secrets from each other.

And now there aren’t anymore and we’re okay. Things are okay, at last.

Except! Except that Niall keeps slapping my hands away whenever I try to take his shirt off. And this is making me go completely insane.

Not because he doesn’t want to be touched, that decision – of course – I’d respect. Always.

The fact is that he apparently doesn’t mind being touched at all, since he’s always pining me against the walls and pushing me on the kitchen counter and rubbing himself all over me. Since Christmas, we’ve being even more… passionate than usual (Read: we can’t keep our hands to ourselves). Literally, yesterday he went off rubbing himself fully clothed against my thigh, while taking me off with his hand. That was - ah, hot. But... I'd love more seeing him.

However, while we were in New York, he’s spent a whole afternoon alone with Simon (because apparently, they both share a love for food and Grimms and that makes them automatically best friends or something) and he hasn’t been naked around me since.

He laughs in my ear, the sound reverberating down my spine, “But I haven’t neglected my tasks as your boyfriend, have I?” He grins, pushing his hips against my ass, making me shiver with want, even though he just got me off. I’m laying on my belly, naked. He’s laying on my back, fully clothed. Unfair.

“But I just,” I groan, “I just want to know what’s going on.” He kisses the back of my neck, softly. So I add, whispering, because the thought of what I’m saying being true kills me, “Did I – did I hurt you last time we had sex? Or… just. Did I?”

“What? No! No, Dev. Of course you haven’t!” He says immediately, stopping his movements. “Plus, we don’t have sex, we make love.”

“Sappy.” I tell him, but I feel relief roll off of me. Thanks, God. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I’d hurt him in any way. I love how he always points out that it isn't just sex, it's love. Sappy, sappy, sappy. I love it. “Then what is it?”

He kisses the shell of my ear, “You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?” He giggles, sliding his hands between my thighs and the mattress, teasing.

“Asshole!” I cry out, “I’ll have my revenge.”

“I’m counting on it.” He bites my shoulder gently, in that way he always does when he’s caught up in his mind.

“Niall, I swear to God, you just tell me! Or I’m calling Simon.” I growl, reaching out to grab my phone from the nightstand; he pins my wrist on the mattress and I can’t do much but scowl at him, even if that is difficult as well, since my face is half sunk in the pillow.

He sighs. “Fine, fine.” He concedes, at last. “I’ll tell you…”

I smirk, victoriously.

“But you have to promise me not to freak out.” He adds, brow furrowed, voice low and cautious.

I push him off of me and roll on my side, to face him. We’re so close that our noses almost bumps together. “I never like when you say that,” I scowl, “Last time you said that you had smashed my telly while playing football in my living room.”

He scoffs a laugh, “I haven’t smashed anything this time, I promise.” Then, “Well, if you don’t count the coffee machine yesterday… But that’s a story for another day.” I snort and he adds, “It was an accident! The damn thing wouldn’t work! I just shook it a little… and that started making sparks. I don’t know!”

“Just tell me.” I sigh, over dramatically.

“It happened when I went out with Simon, when we came back at Baz’s after dinner.”

“I figured that much.”

“Alright, so… It kind of was an accident.”

“What was?” I ask, quietly. My body tensing impossibly, my belly already fluttering in that familiar way: panic.

“You know I love you, right?” His green eyes search something on my face, but I sincerely have no idea what. He looks frightened and that just makes me worry more.

“Are you trying to break up with me?” I blur our, moving a little back.

“What? No!” He says, mouth opened in horror, trying to pull me closer, “Are you out of your mind? Why would I do that?”

“You said you were with Simon and something happened accidentally, then says you love me! What else would I think?!”

“Right… If you say it like that it sounds bad.” He mumbles, “But it isn’t what you think.”

“Just tell me, please.” I whisper, sitting up.

He pulls himself up and sits cross-legged in front of me. He cups my cheek gently, making me look at him. He’s painfully beautiful. “I love love love you, you fool. I’m not breaking up with you, not today, not ever. I couldn’t be more yours than I already am.”

“Good,” I say, voice little and breakable. “Let’s always keep it like that.”

He places a soft kiss on my lips, just the lightest of touches, but it’s enough to dissolve the rising panic in my belly. When he pulls back, I pinch his arm, “Just tell me, already.”

“Okay, so.” He takes in a deep breath, “As you know, every time I go on an important trip, I add a tattoo to my collection.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s what I did when I went out with Simon, I had an appointment for a tattoo. I wanted something easy, little, maybe even black and white. Fact is, that when we got there and the tattoo artist asked me what I had in mind, I couldn’t think about anything but you. I tried to find something else, but I just… couldn’t.”

“Please, tell me you don’t have my face tattooed on your ass.”

He burst out laughing, “I don’t!”

“Oh, thank God.” I sigh, “The only kind of face I want near your naked ass is my real one.”

He grins, wickedly. “Anytime, a chroì.”

I roll my eyes, “Go on.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He waves his hand, looking a little tense. “Just, don’t freak out!” With that, he takes off his shirt. At first, I can’t see anything, except the realization of how much I’ve missed seeing his skin.

“What am I looking at – Oh, holy fucking shit. Is that? Are those…? What the. Niall. For real?” I mumble, shocked.

“Yeah, for real.” He nods, quietly, never tearing his eyes away from mine.

I push him back gently until he’s laying on his back, so that I can see him better.

The tattoos that I can map out with my eyes closed are still all there: the leather on fire on his armpit, the butterfly on his sternum, the crowned lion on his shoulder (not the injured one), the Celtic knots on the inside of his arm, and all the others, sprawled over him like a blanket.

But lower, on his hipbones, there are two new tattoos.

The skin is still a little red around them, but they’re mostly healed.

Two flowers.

I recognize them immediately.

One red sage.

One yarrow.

The first flower he’s ever given me: forever yours.

The flower he’s printed on my journal: lasting love.

I reverentially run my fingertips over the ink, tears burning my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. “You are crazy.” I whisper, voice scratched.

He’s still watching me, attentively. “I should’ve asked you, I know. I’m sorry, I just… You are already under my skin, I wanted you embroided on it too.”

He sits up and cups my face with his big soft hands, thumbs wiping away my tears. “Please, don’t cry.” He murmurs, “It doesn’t have to mean anything, you can just ignore it. Okay? I didn’t want to rush things. I’m so, so sorry. Please, don’t cry.”

When I look at him, I see his eyes are as bright as mine. His brow wrinkled in worry.

I’m not angry, not at all. I’m just overwhelmed by love and feelings and love love love.

“That is forever.” I say, pointing at his tattoos.

He nods, dejected.

I lean on his touch, closing my eyes. “Do you feel forever about me?”

It takes him a while to answer, then he eventually says, “I’ve felt forever about you for a very long time, Dev.”

Ah, God.

“Then I love them. I love the tattoos, I love you, I love the flowers. This is forever. You and me. I’ll be forever yours and you’ll be forever mine. You and me, Niall. Every day, forever.” My voice breaks at the end and I’m properly crying now. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me on his lap, where I find my spot in the crook of his neck.

“You have no idea how happy you make me.” He says in my hair, “I love you.” He’s shaking, and I am too, but it doesn’t matter, because we share the same heartbeat.

 

NIALL

It takes us a while to start breathing normally again, but eventually we stop trembling like leaves in the wind. His hands are on my hipbones and I feel his fingertips tracing the ink of my tattoos, like he’s afraid he just imagined them.

I’ve been absolutely terrified of showing him the flowers, because I was sure he’d freak out and scream and tell me I was an idiot because we’ve been together for just three months.

But he never stops surprising me.

I run my hands slowly over the knuckles of his spine, whispering softly in his hair. Promises and secrets and songs and dreams. Everything.

“That was fucking crazy.” He says, his voice low and hoarse. Then, he pulls back to look at me, eyes wide, “You got a tattoo for me!”

“Yeah, I know.” I snort, “I was waiting for it to click in your brain.” I laugh, “I just knew you’d kick my ass.”

He slaps my chest, nor hard, “My boyfriend is such an idiot, oh my god! You got a tattoo. For me. After three months.”

“To be fair, you’ve been my best friend for over twenty years, it’s just the sex bit that has going on for three months.” I point out, getting another slap.

He scowls, “You know what I mean.”

“Besides, it wasn’t really for you. It’s about you, sure. But it’s for me; it feels good to have you on my skin every day.” I tell him, smiling all dimple-y to soften him.

It works.

“You’re gonna get laid so badly later.” He says, still scowling. “I’m literally gonna destroy your bones.”

“Oh, no.” I say, sarcastically. Then, curling my lips, “Baby.”

Because that’s a new thing I’ve learned. My tough grumpy boyfriend melts whenever I call him baby. Isn't that just adorable?

“Oh, fuck you.” He growls, deep in his throat. His fingers dig in my hips, while he starts to bite and suck my neck, bruising a mark on my skin. My eyes rolls back and I tilt my head aside, to give him better access.

He’s never close enough, not even when we’re so pressed together that there isn’t even an inch between us. That’s still not enough; not enough to placate the deep desire that lives rent free in my body.

“If you please.” I tell him, smirking, but it comes out a little bit breathless. “I’m at your mercy.”

“Oh, you bet your ass you are.” He says, kissing down my chest. He pushes me back until I’m laying on the mattress, and gets on top of me, his hair falling in front of his eyes, while he kisses and kisses and kisses my skin. “I have seven whole days of not seeing you naked to make up for, you nightmare.”

“Do your worst.” I moan, loudly, and how he smiles at me. A wicked smile.

God, I’m so in love it hurts.

Chapter Text

DEV

The weeks go by and they slowly become months; somewhere between falling in love with my best friend and today, I forgot to panic about things and just let them happen.

Sure, when Niall said, “You aren’t painting our bedroom’s walls blue!” I might have shivered and my stomach did its thing, because of the way he easily said “our”, referring to the bedroom in his flat. Our flat? But I let that happen without starting to scream, because I was too busy pinning him against a wall, to bother worrying about pronouns.

Our or his bedroom; it’s the same, as long as I get to sleep curled up around him.

That time we were at the park with a friend of Niall’s family and he watched their kids like that was the one thing missing in his life… I could’ve freaked out, but I just held his hand and drank my coffee.

I haven’t had a panic attack in three months and it’s all because of Niall. Niall, who holds my shaky hands; Niall, who kisses it better every single time; Niall, who said that he doesn’t care if I’m an overthinker, as long as I don’t cut him out. And I’m trying; for him, for me. For us.

I didn’t know that I wasn’t happy, until I started to be.

And being happy with a shirtless Niall who bakes me pancakes for breakfast while telling me excitedly about the new schemes they are trying on the pitch is absolutely easy. It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The email I was waiting for arrives and I read it quickly. Every word a kick in the guts.

“So, what did they say?” Niall asks me, peeking at the laptop. He massages my shoulders gently, his warm hands immediately doing miracles to calm me.

I probably was a saint in my previous life to have deserved Niall in this one.

I groan, leaning back to rest my head against his chest. “I gotta go to Paris, for at least two weeks. God hates me.”

“Yes, what a bad thing. Two whole weeks in the city of love. For shame, Dev.” He teases me, playing with my hair. “I’m sure you’ll survive just fine.”

“You know, you’re right. You should probably be terrified, because I’ll be in the city of love. All alone. Without you. Who knows who I’ll have to seduce to survive? Or something.”

“I literally saw you writing Dev Murphy and Niall Grimm on your work agenda yesterday. With little hearts. I couldn’t be less worried of you cheating on me, honestly. Especially since I’d hunt you down. If anything, I’m terrified you’ll be moping around without me.” He laughs, kissing the top of my head.

I scowl, throwing my head back to look up at him, “I didn’t!” I did. But he wasn’t supposed to see it.

“Sure, heart.” He laughs louder. Softening the lines of my brow with his thumbs, “You’ll be fine, I’ll call you every day.”

“You better.” I groan, pulling him down to kiss his grin away.

“I don’t want to go.” I whisper and he sits on my lap, and I hide my face on the crook of his neck. “I’ll miss both your important matches.”

The fact is, that I don’t want to run the risk of him getting injured (again) and me not being there. I’ve been to every single match since we got together; I know it’s dumb, but I feel like if I’m there, he’s more careful and so less likely to get hurt.

“I’ll still score every goal for you.” He tells me, hugging me tighter. “If you watch the match, you keep in mind that if I score and then smile at the camera, I’m smiling right at you.”

“That was the sappiest thing ever. God, I love you so much.” I sigh dramatically in his neck.

“Maybe when the championship is over, we could go to Paris together.”

I groan, almost in pain. “That’s not fair,” I complain. Because I’ll literally have to spend two weeks for work in Paris – alone – thinking about what I could be doing with Niall instead.

“I love you.” He whispers in my hair, “You’ll be fine and I’ll be fine and when you come back, I’ll lock you in this flat for a whole week.”

“And then you’ll take me to Paris.”

“Yes.”

“And kiss me on top of the Eiffel Tower.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Fine,” I sigh. “You better not fall in love with anyone else while I’m gone.”

“As if I could,” he snorts. I really don’t melt at those words. Then, “You are leaving in nine days and you’ll be gone for two weeks, Dev. You’re such a drama queen.” He says it, like he’s not holding on for dear life with my shirt clenched into his fists, like he’s worried I might leave right now. We’re both too gone for each other to care about sappiness anyway.

I scowl at him, even if he can’t see me hidden under his jaw, “You say that now, but you’ll miss me like crazy I’m gone.” At least, I hope so.

“It depends… Will you bring me back a cute souvenir?” He asks, wrinkling his nose.

“Asshole.” I pinch his hip and he laughs and laughs, running his fingers through my hair. He moves my head back gently and locks our eyes for a second, before kissing me sweetly on the lips.

I move my hands to his hipbones, looking for those damn tattooed flowers. I brush my fingertips over them reverentially and Niall moans breathlessly in my mouth, sending goosebumps down my spine. “Drama queen.” He repeats, with an evil grin. He can’t say much else, because I get up from the chair with a groan and bring him to the couch, where we land in a tangled mess of limps and lips.

-

Nine days flew by.

“You have enough clothes?”

“Yes.”

“Pyjamas?”

“Yes.”

“Phone-charger? You have to call me often.”

Yes.”

“What about your pain-killers?”

Niall snorts, “You do realize that you are the one leaving and not me, right?”

I scowl at him, “I don’t care! I just need…” I groan, in frustration. I just realized how ridiculous I am. “Forget it.”

Niall wraps his arms around me, hugging me from behind, while I put the last things in my suitcase. “Tell me.”

“No.”

“Tell me.” He says, kissing my nose.

“I just need to be sure you’ll be okay while I’m gone. You always forget to take care of yourself.” I whisper, feeling a little embarrassed.

“I’ll eat my veggies, mom. I promise.” He grins at me through the reflection on the big mirror on the opposite wall.

I roll my eyes, but I do sound like my mom, for fuck’s sake. What the hell happened to me? “Not funny.”

He spins me around in his arms to look at me and cups my cheeks with those giant hands of his, “It’s just two weeks.” He reminds me, gently.

“Right. Yeah. Right, right, right. Just two weeks.” I nod, absently, drawing invisible circles on his hips.

“You know, if you keep this up, I’ll lock you in here and won’t let you leave.” He says, seriously. A kiss on the top of my nose. Then, softly, “I don’t want you to worry about me, Dev. Seriously, I’ll be right here when you come back. You’re worrying over nothing.”  And that’s when I realize that he’s been walking on shells around me for the past nine days, trying to keep my anxiety on check.

I’m a terrible boyfriend, God.

I nod and kiss him, to hide whatever feeling is showing on my face. His tongue brushes over my bottom lip in that way and I moan softly, pulling him closer closer closer.

It’s not until I’m at the door – around ten thousand kisses later – with my coat on and with my suitcase next to me, that Niall’s mask finally breaks a little. He’s looking at me with big bright eyes.

“You call me as soon as you land.” He says, brow furrowed. “And you don’t do anything stupid because I’m the one who always take you out of troubles and I won’t be there to do that! And don’t you even dare forget to call and send texts and miss me. Please, please, please be safe. And if something is wrong you call me, if you have a panic attack, you call me right away. You hear me? Right away! Because I’ll know if it happens, I always do. Just call me. I’ll come running if I have to.”

I roll my eyes at him, while my heart stumble on itself. We’re being absolutely melodramatic and we both know it, but it still feels like the end of the world being apart, so who cares. “I’ll be just fine. It’ll be like a holiday from my annoying boyfriend.”

“Traitor,” he snorts, but pulls me in a bones-wrecking hug by my coat. “I’ll fucking miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too, love.” I whisper back, dropping all my walls. “Win your football matches for me, but I’ll haunt you down and skin you myself if you injure yourself.”

He laughs against my ear, “If that makes you come back sooner, I might consider it.”

I snort, pulling away. “I told Coach to keep my updated, so if something happens, I’ll know. So you better tell me yourself, or I’ll be very pissed at you.”

“Fine.” He shrugs, “No need to worry, though. The therapy is going good and the shoulder barely hurts anymore, I’m good as rain.”

I roll my eyes at that, because we both know he woke up screaming in pain just a couple of nights back. I’m kind enough to not point it out. “I love you.”

He kisses me once more – approximately our thirty-sixth goodbye kiss – and says, “I love you.” It makes me feel completely alive.

Just two weeks. I can do that. We’ll be fine. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

NIALL

As soon as his car is out of the driveway, I let my body deflate. I tried to be the strong one, for once, but I feel every single inch of my skin tickles and burns while I watch him leave.

I know I shouldn’t worry, after all it is just two weeks, but I’m terrified that something bad will happen; I can’t wipe that thought away, no matter how hard I try.

Just to make sure he knows I meant when I said I’ll be right here when he comes back, I text him: be safe, I need you.

And wait for him to come back.

I have quite a lot of long days in front of me; luckily, now I’m back on the pitch and we’re super busy with the championship, so at least I’ll have something to do to distract me.

I gently massage my sore shoulder, take a deep breath, let it out.

Two weeks.

“Be happy, think of me often and come back soon.” I whisper in the empty room.

Chapter Text

DEV

“Seriously, man. How did you even become a lawyer if you are that emotional?” Mike snorts, punching my arm. “We’re going to drink something tonight, if that’s the last thing I do. We’ve been here for two days and you haven’t been out of your room except for when we’ve been at the tribunal.”

“I’m not emotional.” I roll my eyes, coldly, and I try to keep my shoulders from tensing visibly. Which, okay, I haven’t been my best self these past few days maybe, but it’s not like I have any control over it.

The whole case we’re following in the French tribunal is tiring as hell and my bed is too uncomfortable and cold and the food tastes bad and the sky is always damn sunny and I just want to go home. That, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that I miss Niall, thank you very much.

Speaking of, he should be calling me any minute now, so I just want this damn lift to just get to my damn floor, so I can hide under the scratchy blankets in the fucking-cold-and-empty bed and hear my boyfriend’s voice.

Which, anyway, is the highlight of my day. Fucking Niall with his fucking incredible voice who is not fucking here with me.

“Yeah, right.” Mike snorts again and turns to look at me in the tiny lift, “Then come drink something with me tonight.”

That sounds boring and – most importantly –like something I can’t do while talking on the phone with Niall.

“I can’t. I still have to revise some documents for tomorrow’s meeting.” Which is just half a lie.

He grabs my arm and squeezes it gently (he’s been very touchy lately, which is a little annoying, but since he’s my boss I can’t really tell him so.) “Just one drink and we’ll revise them together.” He says, with one of his businessman smiles. “I insist.”

I roll my eyes again, “Just one drink and then you’ll let me go.”

“Absolutely,” he nods, winking. Luckily, that’s when the doors of the lift open and I get off, already staring at my phone like I can make an incoming call arrive with my will-power alone.

So, a thing about Mike. He is my boss and he’s been so for less than a year, but in that time we’ve worked well together (thanks God, because my previous boss was worst than satan and made me want to find out how many times one can smack his head against the desk before passing out)(more than eight, in case you were wondering. Even if after six everything gets a little blurry.) and even if it’s his fault that I’m currently segregated in Paris without NiallNiallNiall, I can’t really say anything bad about him (besides the being touchy thing)(and his weird habit to stare at my mouth when I talk – maybe he’s a little deaf and needs to read the labial, I don’t know).

Anyway, Mike. He’s not really an old white man with wrinkles all over his face and a beer belly, not really. He’s just a couple of years older than me, probably thirty, and he has dark hair and blue eyes – I guess that, objectively, he can be considered a handsome man. Not handsome as in ‘have you seen Niall’s freckles and red hair and green eyes and his tattoos and his muscles and his fucking dimples!’ but handsome as in ‘I have eyes’.

We’re currently following a criminal trial here in Paris that has already gone on for months and it’s quite fascinating, but I hope it’ll come to an end anytime soon now.

I take off my suit, I put on some sweatpants and I curl up under the duvet, waiting waiting waiting.

Just because Niall should’ve called over half an hour ago doesn’t mean anything.

Why would that mean that something bad happened to him?

Just because he and that damn shoulder of his were on the pitch for practice doesn’t mean that the apocalypse is near. He’s just late. Everyone is late from times to times.

Not Niall usually, not really, my brain reminds me.

Oh, you shut up! He’s fine, he’s probably showering or something.

It takes twenty more minutes for the phone to finally ring. A big dimple-y smile and magical green eyes appear on the screen and I pick up the call with slightly shaking hands.

I want to say hi, but my voice isn’t working.

“I’m absolutely sorry, Dev! My phone died when I was at the stadium and no one had a charger and since it was off the alarm I set to call you on time didn’t ring and I just arrived home.” Niall blurs out in a rush, a little breathless.  

His voice does his trick on me and feel relief roll off of me; it’s easier to breath by the second. I croak out, “You okay, though?”

“Yes! Yeah, yes. I am, I was just late, I’m so sorry, heart. God, please tell me you’re fine.” He sounds panicked, and I feel bad for that, because it’s just because he knows me too well. I’m a mess.

“I’m good, I was just… sleeping or something.” I say, clearing my throat. We both know it’s a lie, but neither of us points it out. Then, just because all I need is to hear his voice, “How was your day?”

There is the sound of things falling and he laughs quietly, “You just wait a minute where you are, I’m putting you on speaker for a sec.” Some other noise, then, “I was like half sprawled on the kitchen counter because I reached for the charger from the other side of it, so I was like… I probably broke a pan or something.” He laughs again.

“God, I love you, you menace.” I scoff a laugh, because I’m imagining him half destroying the house in his quest to call me. How lucky I am.

He snorts, “Don’t you dare make fun of me, Dev Grimm.” And it isn’t even a little scary, because I can perfectly picture the dimples in his cheeks right now.

“You’re cute.” I say and I imagine him blushing.

When his voice is closer again, sign that I’m not on speaker anymore, he says, “I’m freezing my ass on the floor… I must really love you.”

“Mmmh.”

“It’s been three days since I last saw you. Do you think it’s still too early to call your mom and ask her to oblige you to come back home?”

“I wanted to do that on day one, so you’re still tougher than me.” I snort and he laughs again.

And then he starts telling me about his day and what they did at practice and that he misses me and we talk and talk and talk, and it’s beautiful. If I close my eyes and focus on his breath, I can almost imagine to have him here with me.

Ah, God. It would be me, Niall and Paris. A whole lot of French Wine and this not-cold-nor-empty-anymore bed.

Someone knocks at my door at around nine, and my boss shouts, “Oy, man! Our drinks are waiting!”

I groan, loudly. “I’m sick! See you tomorrow!”

Niall asks, worried, “Who’s that? Are you sick?”

“You’ll have to try harder than that, Grimm. I’ll make you do interns’ tasks for a month when we go back home if you don’t bring your ass out here in twenty seconds.”

Niall sighs, annoyed, “It’s Mike.”

“Yes.” I sigh back, even more annoyed, because I was having a very much needed chat with my boyfriend and Mike just had to arrive and interrupt us. Also, I was wondering whether Niall would like to try out phone sex. And that thought was… well. Ever more pleasant.

So I shout back, coughing, “I’m quite literally dying.”

Mike laughs and says, “I’ll wait for you at the bar downstairs. You have ten minutes.” And then he leaves.

“Fuck me.” I groan, massaging my temples.

 

 

NIALL

“What did he want?” I ask, carefully, trying to keep any emotion from my voice.

“He wants to drink something while we revise some documents for tomorrow.” He snorts, “I wonder if punching him in the face would have me fired.”

“Probably.”

My nails pierce the flesh of my palm.

A heartbeat of silence, then, “Call you tomorrow, then? Unless you want and do some sexting later.” His voice is teasing and light, but I can’t wrap my head around the storm of feelings in me.

“I’m a little tired, actually. You go and have fun.”

“I love you.” He whispers, quietly. And it’s like a punch in the face, because I know he loves me and I know he wouldn’t cheat on me, but I just feel… I know it’s irrational, damn it. Stupid fucking jealousy.

...but I've also seen the way Mike looks at him sometimes. Like he's a piece of meat.

“Goodnight, Dev.” I say and I close the call, before he can say anything else and I start screaming and tell him not to go, please Dev, just stay here with me and don’t don’t don’t go with Mike.

He writes to me almost immediately: We’ll definitely have to talk about that sexting thing again, love x

I smile a little, despite everything. You are a walking menace. I’m here anyway you need me, you know that. X

And I know that sounds terribly pathetic, but I just need to remind him that I’m his. His and no one else’s.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I trust Dev, truly.

But I’ve also had to see him with too many girls during all these years, with his tongue in their mouths and his hands under theirs shirts. Even worse: their hands under his shirt. Touching what’s now mine.

There is this… monster living in my body and I don’t know how to get rid of it.

I hate being jealous and possessive, but I don’t know how to turn it off. Fucking shit!

I just need you. x He texts back.

I take a deep breath and try to kill the monster of jealousy inside me. I don’t want to screw everything up with Dev for something as irrational as that.

He is too important.

-

A couple of days go by and Dev goes twice more to have drinks with Mike (what name is that anyway?) and I really don’t freak out.

I’m always more aware of the fact that there is nothing to be jealous about, especially since as soon as Dev is back in his room and writes the sappiest things ever to me, but I just can’t help it.

I wish I could see him and make sure he remembers exactly what we have.

Respect and friendship and understanding and love love love.

Fucking Hell.

Today I have a very important match (the first of the two Dev will miss) and I’m sitting here, staring at the photo Dev just sent me, because he’s just too beautiful.

It’s him, smiling shyly at the camera, like he’s unsure how to take a selfie. He’s shirtless (because he’s such a teasing wanker), and his hair is a mess, like he’s just come out of the shower and dried it up with a towel in 0.3 seconds. The first thing I notice, though, is that he has thick dark circles under his eyes.

I hope he’s managed to sleep at least a tiny bit. He said he can’t sleep without me anymore – and that’s both a blessing and a curse. Okay, I’m flattered and absolutely happy about the fact that he needs me this much, but I’m also worried that he won’t sleep at all if I’m not there and that’s a terrifying thought. Especially since he’s more likely to have a panic attack when he’s tired.

God.

I don’t remember dialling his number, but a second later, he says in my ear, “Shouldn’t you be working or something? I think there is a ball somewhere that wants to be kicked or something.”

I laugh, rolling my eyes, “It’s not my fault If you send me very distracting pics.”

There is a quiet breathy laugh on the other side of the phone and I imagine his eyes bright and happy, “Are you feeling okay? Your shoulder?”

“Everything is fine, heart. I just wanted to hear your voice for a little while, you know, you are kind of my lucky charm.” I tell him softly, running my hand over my shaved hair.

“Win for me.” He says, mellifluously. Then, "I somehow managed to find a tv channel where they broadcasts your match, so I have beers and a gigantic baguette with some weird cheese, I don’t even know.” A pause, then, “I’ve also already found a plane that leaves in five hours, so if you do stupid shits I’ll come running. Well, flying.”

My heart flutters, “I’ll be fine.” I tug distantly at my necklace, “So you aren’t going out tonight?”

He snorts, “Fuck, no. You know I’d never miss any of your matches, love.”

Ah, my love. 

“You just want to keep an eye on me,” I tease him, laughing.

“That too.” He agrees, “Be careful, okay? I love you and I need you to be safe.”

“I love you, too.” I sigh quietly, then I hear the whistle from outside, so I jump up from the bench. “I gotta go.”

“For fuck’s sake,” he mutters, pissed off, “It’s the second call I have to reject from Mike in like five minutes. Doesn’t he know I just work for him and I’m not a slave or something?”

I squeeze the phone a little tighter, “I can fly there and punch him, if you want.”

“No need,” he laughs, “You have a match to win for me. And remember to call me when you get home, I have great plans for tonight.” I swallow thickly at that, because he’s using that voice.

“Will do.” I whisper, feeling my body shiver.

He closes the call a second later, whishing me good luck once more. Ah, my beautiful, beautiful Dev.

“Are you coming or are you sleeping, princess?” Coach yells at me from the door of the locker-room and I turn with a gasp. “Bring your lazy ass on the pitch, we have a match to win.”

“Yes, coach.” I nod, shoving my phone in my bag.

When I walk past him, he grabs my wrist and says, “You don’t do anything stupid and if your shoulder is hurting, you tell me and you sit through the rest of the match. We clear?”

“Chrystal.”

“Good, because Dev has yelled at me for ten minutes straight this morning, saying that if you get hurt, he’ll make sure I have to poop in a bucket for the rest of my days. Whatever that means. Don’t even know how he got my number, but he was quite… convincing.” He rolls his eyes, “I absolutely adore that kiddo.”

I snort and laugh at the same time, “Just block his number, Coach. He’ll never stop otherwise.”

He frees my wrist and gestures at the hallway, “Go, we have a match to play.”

I don’t know what happens, but at some point near the end of the second time, I’m tired and pissed off and mental images of Dev with Mike (seriously, that’s a name for puppy-kickers and I’m pretty sure there is at least one dementor in Harry Potter called like that.) flickers in my mind and I just let the monster take over my feet.

 

 

DEV

Niall scores the winning goal two minutes from the final whistle and even if I just know something is wrong by his tensed jaw he has every time the camera focus on him, the stadium explodes in yells and cheers and his team run to him and submerges him in a group hug.

“His damn shoulder, you morons! You’re squeezing him!” I tell at the telly, but nobody cares.

Pride is bubbling in my chest because my best-friend-boyfriend-love-of-my-life is the dreamiest dream to have ever been dreamt.

And then, when Niall can finally breath again, he turns to look at the camera and he smiles his wide and bright smile just for me. And I know that this is him thinking of me.

He winks at the camera, before running way from the framing. I can imagine every single girl watching (and probably a whole lot of boys) swooning over my boyfriend, because he’s the hottest thing who ever set foot on Earth and the moron just winked at the camera – at me, sure, but still no one else knows, so everyone is probably just thinking improper things about him. (I am.)

And so two minutes later, Niall’s team win 2-1 and I just can’t wait for him to be home and call him. Also, I close the laptop, because luckily I don't need to buy a plane ticket.

Great, great plans.

Some time later, someone wants to face-time me, but it’s not Niall. When I open the call, Simon and Baz are staring expectantly at me, “How did the match go?” Simon asks, jumping up and down.

“They won,” I tell them proudly, “Thanks to Niall.”

Baz grins, and tug distantly at his tie – they must be at the office right now, “Lucky asshole.”

Simon is clapping his hands, happily, “I just knew it. He’s the best.”

Baz pinches his hip, “I’m standing right here, you moron. Don’t hit on my best friend.”

Simon blushes violently, “I’m not.” He runs his fingers through Baz’s hair, then he says, smirking wickedly, “It’s just a fact.”

Baz groans, “Oh, I’ll show you facts later.”

“Uhm, guys,” I cough, “Please don’t make out while we are on facetime. I’m quite literally begging you not to.”

We talk for a while, they update me on how things are going with Baz’s dad and the stakeholders of the company. Last we’ve seen each other was Baz’s birthday’s week, a couple of weeks back, and that’s been quite a troubled week. Really. But things are better now.

And these two are disgustingly in love. Baz and I are the living definition of lucky men.

 I hung up half an hour later, when I think Niall might be home.

Thanks to some very merciful God, when Niall calls me, it’s actually on facetime, so I furiously try to soften my hair for half a second (it’s not like I can waste time) and I answer the videocall.

The big, bright smile of Niall shows up on the screen, lightning up my world. It’s the first time we’ve videocalled and it’s absolutely better than just trying to imagine his dimples. “Hey, baby.” He says, biting his bottom lip. Ah, so he does have plans on his own.

My body does funny things when he calls me baby.

“Hi, love.” I say. He’s not even home, yet. He’s walking from his car to the front door of his building, so I tease him about that, “Couldn’t wait?”

“Not really, no.” He shrugs, casually. Then, after manoeuvring with his keys, he’s on the stairs, “Have you watched it?”

“Of course I did,” I cock an eyebrow at him, “Waiting for the last minute to win was very dramatic of you.”  

He laughs quietly, “I got my drama lessons from the queen herself, aka you.”

“Can you please pinch your hips vindictively for me? I’d do that myself, but I can’t from here.” I roll my eyes and he laughs again. Some other keys noise and then he’s finally home home home.

He places the phone on the cabinet in the living room and I watch him as he takes off his leather booths and his long black coat, hanging it on the wall. He stretches his arms lazily over his head and his t-shirt raise a little and his belly is just there, with those damn abs of his and the flowers. God, the flowers on his hipbones.

It hits me just how much I miss touching his warm, soft skin.

“Ah, God. You’re killing me.” I mumble, not really sure when I decided to say it out loud.

“See something you like?” He grins and picks up the phone; his eyes are glittering.

“Understatement.” I croak out, wetting my lips. He lands on his (our?) bed a couple of seconds later.

“What were your plans for tonight?” He asks, innocently. “Because if you were here, you’d probably be pressed against a wall moaning my name by now.”

"If you were here, you'd be sprawled on the bed and I'd be biting your inner thighs in that way that makes you shiver." I snap back.

He breathes out slowly. Then, with an impossibly hoarse voice, "If you were here, I'd take you in my mouth till you were a pleading mess in my mercy."

Ah, God.

I swallow, loudly, and try to ignore my boner, “You’re gonna take off your clothes. Like, right now. You nightmare.” I tell him, “And then I’m gonna tell you exactly what I’d do to you. And you’re gonna do it to yourself.”

He growls deep in his chest, his eyes darkening impossibly. 

Chapter Text

NIALL

The first thing I see when I open my eyes is those damn messy hair I love and I want nothing more than to run my fingers through it… but I can’t, because it’s just a screen.

We fell asleep on facetime, as we’ve done for the past couple of days.

Evidently, we both sleep better like this – Dev doesn’t even have those dark circles under his eyes anymore – and we always end up having phone sex before sleeping, so it’s a win-win situation.

I must admit that it’s a little weird (the phone sex, that is), because I’ve never really done that before – touching myself. Sure, it happened from times to times, but never as often as it happened this week. It’s good-weird, though, not bad.

However, I’d much rather having Dev touching me instead, because there is nothing I love more.

He wakes up when his alarm goes off a couple of minutes later and I watch him yawn and stretch his body, it takes him a moment to realize I’m still videocalling him, but when it clicks… oh, the smile he gives me.

“Good morning, a chroì.” I smile back, “Day nine without you, I only have five more days of holidays without you, ugh.” Which is a lie, but he doesn’t know. Because I have a surprise for him, but…

He groans, sleepily, “I hate you.”

“Do you?” I grin, moving closer to take a better look at him through the screen. I miss him so bad it hurts.

“Yes, 200%.” He nods. Then, “Fine, maybe I don’t. I might love you, to be fair. Don’t tell my boyfriend, though. He might get jealous.”

“You have no idea.” I mutter under my breath. It’s out before I can’t swallow down the words, damn it.

“What?” He asks, doing a funny thing with his face.

“Nothing.” I shake my head, rolling on my back to hide my expression. Stupid monster that lives in me, always ready to ruin everything.

“What the hell?” He asks, but he doesn’t sound pissed off, just amused. “And what would my boyfriend be jealous about, exactly?”

I groan and I press the pillow over my face. “Shut up.” I say, but it comes out muffled.

He laughs, that heart-fixing sound that I never want to stop hearing. “So you are jealous. You are actually jealous.”

“I’m not.” I peek at the screen and found him staring at me with the most wicked grin I’ve ever seen.

“That’s a shame,” he sighs, dramatically. “That you aren’t jealous, I mean.”

“Why?” I groan.

Now he’s smiling big and bright, like a kid who has just received a puppy. “Oh, well. Because whenever you get jealous I get laid pretty epically.”

“And that would be happening if you weren’t in another country with fucking Mike!” I blur out, frustrated. “I’d have you pinned somewhere right now. And you wouldn’t remember anything but my name by the time I’d be done with you.”

He cocks an eyebrow, a corner of his mouth still smiling. “Mike? You are jealous of Mike?” He says the name like it’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard.

I groan again, “Can we please go back to talk about the sex?”

“Oh, no, we can’t.” He grins, “I want to hear whatever is going on in that head of yours.” He suddenly stops smirking, “Is that why you were upset during your match? Because I told you he was calling me?”

“Yes.” I whisper. “I thought that maybe you would’ve gone out with him in the end and miss my match.” Then, again, “It’s dumb, nevermind.”

My voice is barely audible, but unfortunately Dev Grimm is a master in translating my mumblings. He sits up and takes the phone up with him, suddenly very awake. “You are the biggest idiot ever, Niall. You are the most important thing for me and I would never, ever miss one of your matches if it depended on my will. You know that I would be there in the first line of the stands if I could. God, you are such an idiot. You hear me? The. Most. Important. Thing.”

I nod, biting my lips. “I know.” I mutter.

“Then what’s the problem?”

I shake my head, looking away, “I don’t know It just… There is something broken in me, I think.” I clear and my throat, to stop my voice from sounding that scratchy and fragile, “I’m scared to lose you.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but I blur out, in a rush, “I trust you! You have to believe me, I’m not accusing you to have done anything with anyone, I know you would never cheat on me. I trust you with everything I am. Please, believe me. I just don’t know how to control this… thing in me. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

“I’m scared to lose you too, love. Every day.” He says, after a heartbeat. “But you had me for all your life and you’re not gonna lose me, that much I know. Because I love you and I need you to be happy and I can’t even sleep without you anymore. I physically need you that badly, it’s almost embarrassing.”

“It’s not embarrassing, it’s adorable.” I tell him, softly, and he smiles for a second, before speaking again.

“I know better than anyone else that there are feelings too big to be controlled, but we’ll work on it together, okay? You fixed me and I didn’t even have to ask you to. You just did. I want to do the same for you, even though I don’t believe even for a moment that you are broken.” He pauses for a while, then, “I just think that we are both a little clumsy because this is the first time we’ve been in love and we have to improvise.”

“I can’t wait for you to be home. I miss you.” I say and I squeeze my eyes shut to blink away my tears.

“I can’t wait to be home, either. I bought you the best souvenir ever. I’ve been thinking about your face when you see it for three days.” He smiles, wickedly, again.

“What is it? You know I don’t do good with surprises! Tell me-“ His second alarm goes off and I know he has to get ready for the day. “Oh, you gotta go.”

“Don’t pout, you big baby.” He rolls his eyes, amused. He looks around his room for a little, then his smirk widens. “Wanna take a shower with me?”

“Fuck, yes.”

So that’s how we end up with me staring (not just watching, but literally staring) at my majestic boyfriend showering (and telling me about how the trial he’s following in France is going)(but the important bit is the majestic-naked-wet-boyfriend part).

-

“So… Paris, huh?” Chad says, distantly, driving me to the airport. “Does the coach know you’re leaving?”

“Are you crazy? He’d skin me alive.” I laugh, shivering dramatically (Dev did really turn me into a drama queen, apparently), “Don’t you dare tell him! I’ll be back tomorrow evening anyways, so I’ll be on the pitch perfectly in time for the match.”

Chad is one of my teammates and the one I bonded with more since he moved from another team last year; the reporters often call us ‘the twins’, because he too has shaved hair (blonde, though), and many tattoos. However, I wear leather boots, he always has sneakers on; he’s for elegant shirts, I’m for dark tees, he smiles rarely, my dimples are always showing, and on and on.

I really like spending my time with him, though. These past days without Dev he’s been my lifesaver, and every time I wasn’t on the pitch nor on the phone with Dev, I was at his place, playing videogames with him and his girlfriend, Lori. She’s a sweetheart (also quite terrifying, especially after that time she destroyed me at Call of Duty without even try).

“You better be, because we’re counting on you to win.” He shrugs. Then, “Does Dev know you’re coming?”

“No,” I shake my head, grinning at the thought, “I asked his sisters to find out where he is tonight, so I can find him as soon as I get there.”

“Not bad, man.” He nods, impressed. “Quite the strategist.”

I snort, pinching his arm, “Shut up, bro. Also, thanks for driving me here!”

“No problem, will you need a lift when you come back tomorrow?”

“No, thanks. I’ve already asked my brother to pick me up, he’s in town for the match and he’s staying at my place, so…” I scroll through the notifications and find a text from Dev.

It says: I just saw a little guy who kinda reminded me of you. With a pic of a red(ish) Yorkshire terrier.

I scoff a laugh and reply: I wish I was that cool!

I can’t wait to get there and see him, God!

Chad hugs me at the gate and tells me to “Go and conquer!” so that’s what I do; the flight lasts an hour and a half, and when I finally get out of the Charles De Gaulle, the sky is already darkening and I stop at a little kiosk to eat a crepes because I’m starving.

Isabelle calls me while I’m waiting for a cab, “He said he had a bad day at work, so he’s staying at his hotel for the evening. I texted you the address and the number of the room – don’t ask how I got that, I have my methods!”

“You’re the best, Izzie.” I tell her, honestly. “Thank you.”

“No problem, Niall. Anything to make him stop moping around and be miserable. Every text I received from him this week was like ‘Paris sucks’ and ‘did you know that Paris and London are exactly 214 miles?’ and ‘do you think I can drop my job and become a housewife?’. So just, please. Make it stop, or I’ll have to burn my phone.”

I laugh, even though thinking that Dev is moping around makes me slightly sad, “I’ll try my best.”

Surprisingly enough, when I get to the hotel and tell the receptionist they’re waiting for me in the room 424, she believes me, so I get to the lift without any trouble.

I knock at the door, anxious for not apparent reason, but my belly is doing funny things and I’m trembling slightly nonetheless. I’m just probably too fucking happy to be in Paris with Dev. To be with Dev, period.

It’s been eleven days and probably the longest time we’ve ever been apart, even when we were just friends.

No sounds come from the room, though. My phone starts buzzing in my pocket and when I pick it up, I see it’s Dev calling me.

So I knock again, a little more loudly.

A muffled groan, then, “Jesus Christ, Mike. I said I have an important online meeting, just go away.”

I bite back a laugh, because evidently I’m the important online meeting. I don’t even care about the fact that apparently Mike (that stupid name again) knocks at Dev’s door all the time, I won’t let anything ruin the twenty hours with Dev ahead of us.

I take a step back (hopefully he won’t hear I’m here right away) and answer the call, trying to sound as casual as I can. “Hey, baby.”

He growls, deep in his throat. “Let’s make it a rule: you can’t call me… like that, unless you are within reach and willing to be pushed against a wall.”

“What if I’m both?” I ask, languidly, biting my lips, even if he can’t see me. Then, making the word roll off my tongue, “Baby.”

He moans, like he’s in pain. “Don’t play with my feelings, you asshole.”

“Don’t you have an important online meeting, anyway?” I ask, sarcastically, hoping he’ll take the hint.

He doesn’t. “What are you on about?” He retorts, confused, and it sounds a little bitter (so he did have a bad day at work, ugh). “If you are busy I can call back later.”

“Do you remember that secret knock we had when we were little? To enter in the tree house.”

I just know his eyebrow is cocked right now. “Yes?” He asks, then, “Yes.” He says, more convinced. “Why?”

I knock just in that way at his door. There is noise of something falling inside the room and a second later, the door is wide open.

He looks tired, but incredibly beautiful anyway. Hair messy and still wearing his work shirt, but with the tie loosened around his neck and a couple of buttons opened.

In a fraction of second he grabs me by my coat and pulls me to him, inside the room. His mouth finds me and it’s a sloppy kiss, that breaks and fixes my heart at the same time. In a hurricane of arms and legs and lips, we manage to close the door and he pushes me against it, hungrily.

Just like that, all these lonely days are erased; any jealousy is forgotten; any bad day at work is overcome.

He talks between our kisses, like he has too many feelings and thoughts going on in him. “What are you-“ He bites my bottom lip and I moan in his mouth, “How-“ He opens my coat, clumsily, “You nightmare-“ and then his fingers find my hipbones and he traces the inked flowers on my skin, “God!”

He kisses down my jaw and on my neck, he stops only when he reaches his favourite spot to mark and starts to gently suck on my skin, leaving a love bite. I take the chance to say the only important thing of why I’m in Paris – even if it comes out a little breathless and shaky – “I fucking love you.”

He presses his whole body against mine and when he looks at me, his lips are red and swollen. He cups my cheeks, tenderly and whisper, “I love you, too.”

And it’s all that matters.

We just stay there, pressed together and out of breath, taking each other in.

He says, “I don’t understand how are you here.”

He says, “How much time do we have?”

He says, “You have no idea how much I missed you, love.”

And I believe him, because his eyes are bright and happy and so, so fucking grey.

“I have to fly back tomorrow afternoon,” I tell him, kissing his forehead, and I pull him in a bones-wrecking hug. He slides his arms between me and the door and hold onto me just as tightly. It’s like being reborn.

He takes a deep breath, his nose hidden in the crook of my neck. His hair is tickling my jaw and I just want to laugh laugh laugh. Because we’re finally together again.

He sighs, sadly, “I have to work tomorrow morning.”

“I know, but we’ll be together as soon as you get out of the office.” I whisper in his hair, “And I don’t care, I just needed to kiss you for a little while and make sure that you were okay.”

“I would’ve been home in four more days.”

“Couldn’t wait.”

He kisses my collarbone, softly. “I’m gonna step back and let you go for like three seconds, just to let you take off your coat. Then, I’m gonna take off every other single piece of clothing you are wearing and I’m gonna make love to you till morning, till we’re both sore and happy. Okay?”

“Okay.” I swallow, tickly. It takes him three heartbeats and four kisses to actually let me go, but he still stays within inches of distance. Good.

As soon as my coat is on the chair, he slides his fingers in my belt loops and pulls me to the bed, where I land on top of him, laughing. Because I’m just too happy and I have no control over my body anymore.

We’re both already hard and out of breath, I can feel him pressed against my thigh. He takes off my shirt and I his, kissing down his chest, reverentially. Slowly.

I just want to taste him, make sure he’s still soft and alive. He moans and arches his back when I take one of his nipples in my mouth and I feel it harden between my lips. His nails draws hard lines on my shoulders and my back, but a second later he drops them, alarmed, and his eyes snap wide open.

I look at him, confused.

“Fuck, I’m sorry, love. I wasn’t thinking! Your shoulder, I – I’m sorry! I literally was just too caught up in the moment and I –“

I kiss him, swallowing any further apologize. He relaxes under my touch, and I say, “It’s okay, you didn’t hurt me.” Another sweet kiss, “I just want all of you, with all of me, so don’t you even think about not touching me properly because you’re afraid to hurt me.”

“But-“

“But nothing,” I bite his bottom lip, “I trust you and I’ll tell you if something is wrong with my shoulder. Now, love me.

He rolls us with a groan and traps me under his bloody perfect body, “You aren’t allowed to be out of my sight ever again once I get back to London.”

He rolls his hips against mine, stealing a moan from my lips. “Gladly.”

I sink my fingers in his hair, pulling him down for a kiss. When he speaks again, his mouth is merely half an inch from mine (too far anyway, if you ask me). “Now I’m gonna show you exactly how much I missed you.”

And he does. Oh, he does. And it’s epic.

Chapter Text

DEV

My alarm goes off a little less than two hours after we fell asleep, and I can barely feel my bones, so I just mumble against Niall’s neck to turn it off.

He doesn’t. Because he’s still sleeping, without a care in the world.

After three minutes straight of annoying beeps, I stretch my body over Niall and turn off the alarm a little more violently than necessary. When I move back, Niall’s arm wrap around me and holds me above his body like a blanket.

“Have you been awake the whole time?” I snort, snuggling up more comfortably and it is absolutely perfect. My second thought, however, is How the hell does Niall have a boner right now?! We’ve got off like four times tonight. What the fuck.

So I say exactly that.

He replies by laughing in my ear, low and breathy. “It’s your fault, not mine. You were rubbing yourself all over me while you were sleeping.”

I feel my cheeks turn red, “I wasn’t.” I snort, cringing.

“You sure, baby?” He smirks, handsomely.

“Pretty sure, yes.” I roll my eyes and, to stop this horrible conversation, I kiss him. He kisses me back immediately, even if his lips are still a little curled up in a smile.

Three seconds or three centuries later, my second alarm goes off and Niall smacks my ass, jokingly. “Time to wear you lawyer suit.”

“I like how you say that as if you aren’t going to suck me off in the shower before I get dressed.” I grin when he shivers and nods quickly, because I know just as much I turn him on when I am a little bossy.

He bites my shoulder, gently, and a second later he’s literally bringing me to the bathroom in his arms (I’m not sure how we got up from the bed, honestly, but here we are, with my legs wrapped around him and him trying to turn on the water while still holding me in place.)

He pins me between his body and the wall, while the warm water rolls off of us in droplets. “I hate that I have to work today while you are here. In Paris. And there are about two hundred things I want to do with you.” I say, leaning my forehead against his. Then, “And to you.”

He smiles that big bright smile that’s only for me, with soft dimples and shiny eyes, “I promised you we’d come to Paris together, so we’re gonna do just that one day. Consider today a trial for when we’ll come back.” He rubs his thumbs over my ribs, fondly. “You know what, we should just take a month off and explore Europe. Just the two of us and the road.”

He kisses the corner of my mouth and says, “I’ll make you take those ugly couple pictures in every city we go to, and we’ll buy horrendous souvenirs for our siblings and facetime Baz and Simon every time we eat something odd, just to see their reaction. We’ll try every single tourist trap thing we find in our way and you’ll just have to do them with me, because you’ll be happy and a little sunburnt and your cheeks will be rosy and cute. And we’ll change hotel every day and I’ll make love to you in every single one of them. And in the morning we’ll re-do everything from the beginning. Say yes.”

“Fuck, yes.” I say, with the heart so full of love that it feels like it’s overflowing. “Promise?”

“Promise.” He says and then he is kissing me with every atom of his body. And I dissolve into it.

 

 

NIALL

I wrap a towel around my hips (posh hotel’s towels are the absolute best) and grab my phone from the bathroom cabinet.

The text is from Chad, asking me how it went with Dev and telling me that he just got his ass brutally kicked by his girlfriend at whatever new videogame they're trying today.

I grin at it and type something back quickly; that's when I hear Dev's muffled voice coming from the other room.

"I know I'm late, I was like extremely busy… Just drop it, I'll be downstairs in five minutes!" 

A pause. 

Then, "I don't have a chick to kick out because I'm not seventeen." 

A groan. Another pause. 

"How are you even my boss? You have the maturity of a shrimp - yeah, I said a shrimp!" 

Mike. 

"There is no chick!"

I decide to get out of the bathroom, just because I feel bad eavesdropping and I don't have any alternative.

Dev is facing the big window, adjusting his tie while holding the phone between his head and shoulder, and he’s extremely beautiful, with the sunlight hitting his pearl skin just right.

When he hears me coming into the room, he turns to look at me and his eyes roll off every inch of my body with a widening grin, biting his bottom lip like he can’t help but feeling hungry.

It’s… ah, a very good feeling, having the person you are in love with look at you like that, like he can’t look anywhere else and all he wants is to shower you with kisses and caresses. A very good feeling, probably the best.

If only eighteen years old Niall could see us now.

Then he furrows his brow distantly, "Motherfucker! Why didn't you tell me right away what happened? On. My. Way."

With that, he shoves the phone in his pocket, wear his coat and grabs his wallet from the desk in a blink. 

He's almost at the door when he remembers that hi, I'm here. He is just too distracted by Mike (which by the way sounds pretty much like ‘’Douchebag’’) to notice me, apparently. Not that it hurts, it’s not like I flew all the way to here.

He spins around and he reaches me in two wide steps. "I'm sorry, he needs me. I gotta go." He tells me, his forehead wrinkled in worry.

I need you too, I think, but I don’t say it, because that’s not who I am.

I bite my lips and nod, "Sure, Dev. I'll see you later, I guess."

His eyes soften a little at that and he intertwines our fingers together, squeezing tightly. "Will you be fine? I'll probably be out of the office by noon." 

"Yes, okay." 

He gets on his tiptoes (goddamn it, he knows I love it when he does that.) and kisses me gently. "Go out and decide what we should see first in Paris when we come back for our trip. Tourist traps included." His fingers brush on the flowers tattooed in my hipbones, just above the towel.

I smile, despite whatever is going on with the monster inside me, "Okay."

"Text me if you need anything, love. See you later." 

He kisses me again, before disappearing. In the city of love. With Mike

I sigh and tremble, without any control over my body. 

"I love you." I whisper to the empty room. No one answers.

 

Paris is beautiful, I guess. If not for the fact that all these people make me feel incredibly lonely.

I’ve sat on a bench in Montmartre and thought about it, because I hate feeling like this – not the being lonely part, to that I’m used – but the feeling of jealousy that is clenching my heart and my stomach.

It's probably because Dev said that Mike needed him and left in a rush, it's probably because it's been two horrible weeks.

It’s not because of Dev, that much I know. I trust him with every molecule of my being, so it’s not that I don’t trust him. I guess the fact is that I just don’t trust people in general and I haven’t got faith in the concept of stable relationship.

Why is that?

It might have something to do with the fact that when I was eight I walked on my dad having sex.

Which, per se, was absolutely horrifying. And disgusting.

But the worst part was that it wasn’t with my mom.

And I was just a little guy and I didn’t know what to do, so I hid in my bedroom and waited for my mom to come home. I told her as soon as she found me crying in the closet.

She didn’t cry, but I saw something break in her eyes.

My mom, the strongest person I know, kicked him out that same evening. She said coldly that if he wanted, he still could see his sons if he acted like a decent person. He yelled, “Fuck you, this house is also mine, I don’t want the kids, we’re not getting a divorce and taking my money.” (with a whole lot more swearing, that is).

She nodded, like she had received the proof she was waiting for. She smiled an ice-cold smile and told him, “Then you are losing your sons as well. Farewell Richard.” And smashed the door on his face. He kept yelling and kicking the door for half an hour, unaware that every word was like a punch in our faces.

That night we all slept in my tiny bed: John, Mom and I.

She said, “It’s not the end of the world.”

She said, “We’re gonna be okay, I promise.”

She said, “I’m sorry.”

She held us until we fell asleep, quietly singing her lullabies in the dark. I never told her I heard her cry in the middle of the night, because I didn’t know anything about broken hearts.

Marta arrived the following day, with Dev, Baz and a bottle of red wine. I don’t know what the two of them did or talked about while we were playing in the backyard, but when they left, my mom was smiling again.

So… I guess my dad broke something in me. And I don’t know how to fix it. And I hate this feeling of powerlessness, because I’m terrified that if I don’t find a way to stop being jealous, I’ll lose Dev.

And I can’t let that happen.

 

I’m back in the hotel room by noon and I place the little watercolour box I found in an antiques store in Dev’s suitcase, so he’ll find it before coming home. I just had to buy it because it’s an old inlaid wooden box that reminded me of the box in Dev’s parents’ living room, that belonged to his grandma. Plus, it has watercolours in it and I do really hope that he starts drawing and painting again (I’m almost sure that sometimes he sketches in the journal I gave him as Christmas present, but every time I ask him, he just blushes and change the topic.

And I read distantly the book I brought with me, while casually listening to the hallway’s sounds. It’s not like I can recognize Dev by the sound of his footsteps alone; that’d be weird, right? (Okay, maybe I can… but I’ve literally spent almost every day of my life with him, so I can’t be blamed for knowing him that well.)

I read and I read and I read. By two pm, Dev hasn’t arrived yet and he hasn’t texted either.

I only have two more hours before I have to go to the airport and fly back home, so I wander around the room, collecting my stuff, getting the suitcase ready.

The trousers I was wearing yesterday on the floor, where Dev threw them in a rush; one of my shoes on the desk and the other under it (I’m not sure how they got there, to be honest, but I think it happened just a second before the trousers disappeared); my pants, my belt, my shirt, all sprawled around the floor.

Then, hoping Dev won’t mind, I grab his hoodie from the armchair and shove it on, because I want to wear something that smells like him on my way home. I leave one of mine in the same exact spot – more precisely, it’s one of my football hoodies, with Murphy written between the shoulders.

I don’t know why I’ve never thought about it, but now that I’ve pictured Dev wearing it, I can’t stop smiling. That would just fit him perfectly.

 

DEV

The trial went to shit because the stupid fucking idiot we should defend was caught using drugs last night and that complicated everything. How can one be so stupid, honestly? Shit.

That’s why I had to leave in a rush this morning, he needed me to save his ass.

And I did, mostly, but it took me longer than I expected. It’s almost half three when we finally arrive at the hotel’s hall.

Mike has been talking non-stop since when we left the tribunal and it’s really beginning to annoy me, but – obviously – I can’t tell him. Which pisses me off just more. It probably has to do with the fact I am late and I’ve wasted many hours of my fuck-Niall-stupid-so-he’ll-still-have-hickeys-when-I-get-back-home program too. And now he almost has to leave and I didn’t even get to take him to the little patisserie I found just two blocks away.

“Seriously, man! The way you stood up for that asshole? Awesome. You were literally on fire.”

I snort, getting in the elevator, “How can you be a lawyer and have a lawyer kink at the same time? It makes no sense.”

I nervously bite my bottom lip, waiting waiting waiting to see Niall again. Even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Mike says, in a lascivious voice that makes something clicks in my head (so he isn’t deaf, he just stares at my mouth), “Maybe it’s not a lawyer kink, maybe I just find you very hot.”

My jaw drops, but thanks to a lucky star, that’s when the elevator’s doors open at my floor, so I get out, hoping that if I ignore the problem, it will eventually go away.

It doesn’t.

In fact, it just becomes a biggest one.

Mike grabs my wrist while I’m getting off the lift.

 

 

NIALL

I’m halfway through the hallway when I turn the corner and find Dev walking out of the elevator, a hand wrapped around his wrist and a man towering behind him.

The man says, “Wait!” and at the same time spins Dev around and kisses him full on the lips.

Dev doesn't push him away.

Suddenly I’m eight again.

This time is different, though.

Because I don’t just see a heart breaking.

I feel it in my chest.

 

 

DEV

I’m shocked and confused and angry – so fucking angry – that for a second I can’t move, like my body isn’t my own anymore.

It lasts two seconds, two painful seconds in which I feel lowkey defeated.

There is thump in the hallway, like something just fell. Then footsteps and a door smashing.

It’s that loud sound that shakes me awake and I push Mike away as firmly as I can, he stumbles a couple of steps back and looks at me.

Now I just feel angry.

“Are you out of your goddamn mind? You can’t just go around kissing people without their consent!” I yell, clenching my hands in fists.

He looks confused, “But you were giving me signals.”

“I was being kind,” I say through gritted teeth, “because you are my fucking boss! It doesn’t give you any right to kiss me, for fuck’s sake.”

He clears his throat, looking ashamed (at least!), “Well, then, it seems I’ve got the wrong impression. Apologies.”

I growl and walk away, because I can’t stand to see his face right now.

And then I see it.

Niall’s suitcase.

Dropped in the middle of the hallway.

Chapter Text

DEV

I’m at the door in a second. I’m terrified. My heartbeat is going crazy. I’m going crazy.

Niall is furiously putting on his coat, facing the opposite wall; all I can see is his tense back. His trembling hands.

“Niall, I –“

“Don’t.” He says in a low voice I’ve never heard before. Broken, scratched.

“It’s not – “

He turns to look at me and the words die in my throat, because my lovely, soft Niall is gone. This Niall is made of hard lines, sharp cheekbones and clenched jaw. This Niall is rough, his smile-y eyes and dimple-y cheeks are gone, substituted by bright red eyes. There aren’t any tears on his cheeks, though.

And he’s looking at me like I’m a stranger.

I feel the limpid sound of my heart cracking in the middle.

He looks away, the muscle of his jaw darts. “Move, I have to go.”

“No,” I croak out, “Not like this. You can’t go. I don’t know what you’ve seen, but I can’t let you go. I need you. Not like this, please. Please. Not like this.”

“You want to know what I’ve seen? I’ve seen you joking in London, telling me not to fall in love with anyone else while you were gone and then I’ve seen you kiss another person not even two weeks later.” His laugh is bitter, hurt; I’ve heard it only once before, even if I can’t remember when or why. I just know it wasn’t directed towards me. And now it is.

“He kissed me! I didn’t want him to, he just… did.”

“You didn’t pull away, though.”

“I did! I did!” I cry out, taking a step forward. I feel miserable.

He steps back and it feels like a punch in the face. “I have to go.” He says again, coldly.

“You have to believe me, Niall. Please.”

“Oh, but that’s the irony. I believed you. I believed every singly time you said you loved me and needed me and missed me. But I’ve learned a long time ago that all those feelings are irrational.” He bites his bottom lip hard. Then, “You know what? You knew how I felt about what my dad did to my mother. You could have just broken up with me, instead of fucking other people behind my back. I would’ve been devasted, but at least we could still have been friends.”

“No, that’s-“ Now I’m fucking angry, the last two miserable weeks crushing me, “That’s bullshits! I haven’t fucked anyone and I don’t feel the need to! Just because Mike kissed me –“

“Oh so you are saying that if you walked on me and Chad kissing you would be okay with that.”

“Fuck, no! I’d smash his stupid face!” I swallow the damp in my throat. Then I say, “You are mine.” And I hate how it sounds like a question.

“That’s the problem. I’m yours and I’ve been too caught up in my own feelings to notice yours were different than mine.”

The walls begins to move and squeeze me and I don’t know I don’t have much time left before I start falling apart. When I speak again, my voice is quiet, “Niall. Niall, I love you, that’s the one thing I know. I know you are hurting and angry, but I didn’t kiss him. He kissed me. And I pulled back as soon as the shock washed off.”

“You didn’t tell him I was here, this morning. Hell, maybe he doesn’t even know I exist. And then you said he needed you and you run away. You come back – late – and I see you kiss him.”

My lungs hurt and prickle. “It wasn’t Mike who needed me, but the man I’m working for at the tribunal. A mess happened and I just needed to get there. Not for Mike! I don’t care about him.”

He doesn’t say anything, but a tear rolls down his cheek. Another crack coming from my chest.

I whisper, “Please, you have to believe me. I can’t let us end for this. Fuck that, I can’t let us end, period. I love you, I love –“ and then I don’t have enough breath to say anything else.

I just need him to tell me we’re going to be okay. Together.

He walks to me and wipe away tears I didn’t know were falling from my eyes. His hands are cold and shaky, and I don’t want nothing more than to keep them there forever. So I grab his wrists and keep him in place. The red of his eyes makes them look even more green than usual.

“I have to go.” He says, quietly this time.

“Please, don’t. Not like this.”

He says, “Breathe. Please, Dev, breathe.”

I try to, but my lungs are too far away. “Don’t go.” I cry out. I rub my thumbs against his wrists, gently. Desperately.

“I have to.” He whispers.

A second later, I’m pulled in a bone-wrecking hug and I hide my face in the crook of his neck, where I belong.

“I’ll go and you’ll stay… And you’ll be okay. And when you come back we’ll talk about this. It’s better for the both of us if we don’t do it now, because I’d say things I’d regret. And you would too. Because we are two impulsive assholes. Okay?” he murmurs. Then, “I’m still mad at you.”

I say the only thing I can, “I love you.” Even if it burns my tongue.

He sighs in my hair, holding me tighter. “I know, that’s why it hurts so much.”

He holds me until I’m able to breath again, until his uber arrives, until we’re out of time. Then, he lets me go.

I hold onto his coat until I can; he kisses the top of my head and then he’s gone.

I feel like I’m living on borrowed air.

There is nothing left of me.

Void.

I don’t know how much time I stay there, staring at the closed door. I try to breath and be okay, but everything is shaking and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I’m crying when I see Niall’s hoodie on the armchair and I’m sobbing when I put it on, letting his scent overwhelm me.

The earth is trembling and it’s painful and terrifying and my lungs hurts, filled like they are with nothing but Niall’s smell. There isn’t enough air for me.

So I curl up in the bathtub, because that’s what you do when there is an earthquake.

I have a single thought: not like this.

 

NIALL

Somehow, as soon as John spots me at the airport, he knows something is wrong. He hugs me, but doesn’t say anything, while he leads me to his car and home.

I’m not crying anymore; on the outside at least.

I feel like I’ve been falling for the last few hours and I’m waiting to crush on the ground in a destructive explosion of pieces and words. The longer I fall, the worst the impact will be.

It doesn’t happen when we get home, like I thought it would. It doesn’t happen when I put away the things in my suitcase and see Dev’s shirts in my closet, like it was predictable. It doesn’t happen when I curl up in our (because it’s not just mine anymore) bed, like it could’ve gone.

It happens when I roll onto Dev’s side and his scent isn’t there. Because he’s been gone too long.

And I have only one frightening thought: what if my sheets will never smell like him again?

And I become restless, because this bed is too fucking empty to bear being in it. So I get up and exercise exercise exercise; I kick and pull and push, until my body is sore and my shoulder sends painful bolts through my flesh. Good.

The pain keeps you real.

The pain keeps you alive.

I don’t sleep. At all. And when the sun peaks at the horizon, I go directly to shower. The only problem is that I feel the flowers marked with fire on my hipbones burning holes in my flesh and I have to resist the urge to smash my phone against the wall when I don’t find any call from Dev (not that I would’ve missed them, since I checked it every five minutes)(fuck).

Why the hell hasn’t he called me!

Is he out with fucking Mike? Does he care that little about me, about us?

I just want to scream.

John finds me in the kitchen around eight and he moves around the kitchen like I’m a scared animal. I am scared. But I’m also full of rage and pain, tearing my flesh like they’re trying to get out of my body.

He’s eating a bowl of cereals at the kitchen counter (and I can’t really look there without picturing what we did on it just before Dev left, for fuck’s sake.)

“So,” he says after a while. “What happened?”

I shoot him a glance, but don’t say anything. It’s not like my brother really needs help to carry on a conversation, he talks even more than me – it’s quite unnerving right now. So, he continues imperturbably, “I mean, the whole emo behaviour matches you look, so at least you’re coherent at least. Speaking of, what were you doing last night? It sounded like you were torturing kids or something.”

This time he waits for a reply, so I just say, “Couldn’t sleep, so I worked out.”

“Good choice, with a broken shoulder. You rock!” He snorts, sarcastically. Then, casually, “Holly called this morning.”

It’s like a punch. I try to play it cool, “Did she?”

“…Yes.”

How is Dev?! I want to yell at him, Why hasn’t he called?! Is he alright? Did he have a panic attack? Is he with Mike?

“How is she?” I ask, instead, biting the inside of my cheek.

“She’s… worried. Said Dev is in radio silence and wanted to know if you knew anything.”

“I don’t.” I say, missing a heartbeat. I feel like crying again, but I can’t. No. What I want is to delete the last twenty-four hours and redo them, so that Dev wouldn’t kiss Mike and we were okay and my heart wasn’t broken.

But maybe you’d just delete their last kiss like that, what if there were more? The fucking voice in my head says.

Shut up! Shut up… please.

I let out a shaky breath and hand John my phone, “Call him.”

“Me?” He asks, confused. “Why?”

Because I can’t hear his voice right now. “Just call him. Please. Check if he’s okay.”

He cocks his eyebrow at me, but grabs the phone without hesitation, because he trusts me. It always comes back to trust, doesn’t it? “I don’t see why he should answer to me, since he hasn’t answered to his sisters.”

“Because it’s my phone.” I say. I don’t add ‘and because I hope if he sees my number, it’ll be enough for him to pick up’, because it would be devasting if I was wrong.

 

DEV

I wake up with a crick in my neck and puffy dry eyes, that burns and makes me see a blurry world.

I can feel Niall’s scent all over me and I take a deep breath, to take it in. Where is he, though?

When everything finally shifts into focus, and the sleep wash off, it hits me. All the pain and anger and fear. And I remember that if I can smell him, it’s just because of his hoodie. I sink my nose into the fabric, until the tears back away.

The memories come back in a rush: conqueror unpleasant lips on mine, green eyes contoured in red, a hug. Words, so many words. A closed door. Pain. Earthquakes.

Void.

I get out of the bathtub with my sore body and curl into the bed, on Niall’s side. His scent is faint, too light and mixed with mine, but still there. I hide under the blankets, cutting out the soft Sunday light (thank fuck it’s Sunday – it means no work. No Mike. Just me and my miserable self.)

I just want to hear his voice, but I can’t call him, because he said we’d talk when I came back. And the last thing I want is to push him away even more.

I reject another call from Izzie; my sisters have been calling me since yesterday afternoon. I haven’t picked up, because I’d have to say something about what happened and admit that I fucked up. Once again.

I don’t know how much time passes in my lonely little corner of the world, but at some point I hear The Best by Tina Turner. Niall’s ringtone, because he thought it was funny and set it on my phone for him and on his for me. My eyes snap wide open and I can’t get to the phone fast enough – even if every movement hurt.

When you are sad, sometimes even moving an arm is too much.

But I don’t care about the pain. Because Niall is calling me and that’s all that matters. Hope bubbles in my chest.  

I don’t even hope that he’s forgotten and forgiven, because I know him better than that and I know how he is. How deep his heart loves. I just hope that he wants to talk to me, that he understands what happened and wants me back.

(Have we broken up? Have we broken up? Have we broken up?)

I take the phone to my ear and throw the blankets over my head, because in the dark it’s easier to pretend he is here; that things are different.

“Niall.” I say, low and scratchy, because it’s been too many hours since I last spoke. I want to call him Love, but I don’t know if I’m allowed anymore.

A heartbeat of silence. Then, “Dev, it’s John. Hi, man.”

And then my heart sinks to my feet, because it’s not Niall. Because he doesn’t want to talk with me.

“Hi.” I whisper, trying to hold the pieces together. “Where is Niall?”

“He is… showering.” He tells me, sounding not sure at all. A lie, then. “Your sisters are worried for you, Holly told me you weren’t answering their calls.”

“I know.”

He hums, like he doesn’t know what to say. Then, “Are you okay, mate?”

“Sure.” A lie as well.

“Call Holly, please.”

“Will do.” Another lie.

Silence.

“How is Niall?” I ask, tiny voice.

“He is…” a pause, “same as you, I guess. He has to leave for the stadium in a while.”

Oh, right. The match.

Damn it.

“Don’t let him play if he’s upset.” I whisper, but I can hear muffled sounds, so I guess no one is listening to me anymore on the other side of the call.

Then John says, “I gotta go, Dev. Be safe and call your sisters. I’ll take care of Niall, don’t worry.” And then he hangs up and I’m even more lonely than earlier.

 

NIALL

The stadium is overcrowded and all the noise coming from everywhere – both the locker rooms and the stands – makes my head hurts.

“You look like shit, man.” Chad tells me, staring at me while we walk down the hallway that leads to the pitch, “How did it go?”

“Good.”

I haven't slept tonight and I barely slept two hours the day before. I don't know how my body is still working.

I just want it to stop hurting for a minute.

I just want to hear Dev's voice for a second.

“Sure.” He snorts and pokes my arm, “Videogames at my place tonight. We’ll get wasted to celebrate our victory and you’ll tell me everything.”

I let out a deep breath and nod, “Okay to the getting wasted, no to the second part.”

“Oh, c’mon, man! It can’t be that bad, Dev literally looks at you the same way I look at Lori and I’ve got it pretty bad for her.” He smirks, goofily.

The noise of the fans grows louder and louder with every step.

My heart flutters. “Let’s just… get this over with and win. Then, tequila.”

“Deal.” He says and side hugs me.

The roar of the public is overwhelming and I just feel incredibly tired, like the life was sucked out of me.

And angry, so fucking angry.

Not the best combination, really.

 

DEV

I’m sitting at the end of the bed, to see the telly more closely. The match has begun.

Niall is there, always running, always pushing himself to the limit. He becomes more wild with every minute, like all he cares about it the ball and he doesn’t care if there is someone on his way.

He gets an admonishment at the beginning of the second time and the camera zooms on him. He looks completely devasted: dark circles under his eyes, pale skin, clenched jaw. Angry eyes. His face is one hard line that sticks my heart like an arrow.

“Stay safe, you nightmare. Stop being an idiot!” I tell at the tv, at the empty room, at this stupid big city. No one hears me.

 

NIALL

I should’ve seen him coming towards me, but I couldn’t focus on anything beside my rough heartbeat thundering in my ears.

When his body hits mine, it’s already too late.

There is only blackness.

And pain.

 

DEV

I run around the room and shove everything in my suitcase in five seconds. In a minute I’m down the hall and calling a taxi.

I didn’t even wait to see what happened.

From the angle Niall’s arm was on the grass, I know it’s bad. It looked like he fainted.

Motionless.

I can’t think I can’t think I can’t think –

Call the airport! Book a flight!

Yes, that. I do that as soon as I’m in the backseat of the taxi.

There is a plane leaving in two hours. Too much time! Too much. He needs me.

He needs me now.

Please please please

Let him be safe

Please

Just

I’ll only ask you this time

Let him be safe

Be whole

Be fine

I beg you

Someone is calling me, but I can’t –

There is no air.

I just need to get to London. Now.

Please

Niall Niall Niall

I beg you

The airport is crowded, my phone is ringing, the world keeps spinning.

How is the world spinning while everything else is falling apart?

Please

Do something

Fix this

God

Or whoever is listening to me

Save him

He has to be okay

I can't lose him

 

Please.

Chapter Text

DEV

I find Izzie at the airport, standing on a bench to tower over all those heads. I barely notice her; I barely notice anything. I just have one thought, one need.

She runs to me and wraps her arms around me in a tight hug. She smells like home. I can’t make my arms hug her back, because they aren’t working.

She speaks frenetically in my ear, standing on her tiptoes, “You’re here, it’s okay. It’s okay.” Again and again.

I say, “Izzie.” And “Please.” And “I need to get to him, please please please.”

She steps back and grabs my wrist firmly, dragging me through the airport and towards her tiny car. Only when we’re on the street, going painfully too slow, she speaks again.

“He’s at the hospital. Holly and Mom are there with John and dad has gone to pick up Saoirse, they’ll be here in a few hours.”

The city rolls away through the window, unaware.

“How is he?”

She squeezes my arm without looking away from the street, “I don’t know, I came directly to the airport because we didn’t know at what time you’d come. I have been there a few hours.”

Thank you, I think. But I’m not sure my lips are moving.

I don’t remember much of the car ride and I remember even less of the flight. I don’t remember getting off the car. I don’t remember stepping in the hospital.

What I remember of all of that is the way I feel my breath in my ears. I don’t hear it, I feel it.

I don’t remember starting to run either, but when I finally see Mom and Holly and John I’m out of breath; that could be because of the fear and pain, of course, but since Izzie is breathless as well, I’m almost sure we ran all the way from the carpark.

They’re sitting on the terrible chairs of the waiting room, John in the middle with Holly’s head on his shoulder, my mother’s hand on his arm. They all look dishevelled and devasted.

My mom is the first to spot us. She’s up and hugging me in a blink, just like Izzie did.

She’s speaking, but I can’t hear anything. I grab her wrists, not unkindly and step back. “Where is he? Where is he? I need to see him. I need…” The words die in my throat when my mom’s eyes meet mine. She’s crying. My mom never cries.

“You need to breath, love.” She says, and caresses my cheek with her hand, looking at me with those red shattered eyes.

“Where is he!” I yell, my voice cracking in the middle. I feel like dying.

A nurse arrives in that moment; my mom turns to talk to him, John is next to us in a blink.

The blood is pumping too loudly in my ears to understand what the nurse is saying. I only get bits and pieces, “Surgery” and “Hours” and “Collapsed lung”. My mom squeezes my arm, her hand sliding down and holding mine tightly. I hear the nurse say “Intensive Care” and “Casts” and “CT scan”.

Then she’s gone and I’m dragged to the chairs, where I let myself fall, too drained to stand anymore. “I don’t understand.” I whisper, staring at the floor. “It was just the shoulder. Just the shoulder.”

There is silence and even I can feel that; even with the noise in my head.

Then John says, “He passed out when he fell and a rib poked his lung. It collapsed in the ambulance ride, but they managed to save it. Him. He had to receive surgery and while he is under anaesthesia, they’re trying to fix his shoulder as well. He lost a lot of blood. They are afraid he smacked his head falling, since he didn’t wake up, but that could’ve just been induced by the trauma.”

He speaks in the quiet tone of someone who has spent the majority of his life in hospitals. His calm infuriates me.

“You said you’d take care of him.” I say, coldly.

I feel the breath being smacked out of his lungs and Holly says, “Dev! We know you are hurting but you are not the only one who cares about Niall. Don’t be a dick to John. He couldn’t have stopped Niall from going to the match and you know that.”

I know that.

But it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t make it any less painful.

“How long is the surgery supposed to last?” I ask emotionless. On the outside, at least.

Two hours. Minimum. He’s already been in there for three. They say.

I get up. I just need to get out of here.

They call my name. I don’t stop.

I buy some cigarettes, because Niall isn’t here to tell me it’s a bad idea. He isn’t here to tell me with a cocked eyebrow that I’m an idiot and those things are gonna kill me, Dev, don’t, please do it for me. Stop smoking.

And I did, back in college.

 Now I just need to feel something. So, I buy them on the tiny bar and go outside in the windy air.

It’s going to rain soon. Because I’m no longer in Paris. I’m home and it always rains here.

It rains and rains and rains.

It’s raining in my heart, too.

I slide down the wall at the back of the hospital, light up one cigarette and watch it slowly burn and turn to ashes between my fingers. I light up another one and, this time, I take a drag.

I don’t feel anything, like I thought I would. It doesn’t make bearing the pain and the guilt any easier. Because it’s guilt, isn’t it? That feeling at the pit of my stomach. I’m guilty of many, many things.

I’m guilty of wasting too much time these past years jumping from one girl to another, when I could’ve had him all along.

I’m guilty of being a bad boyfriend.

I’m guilty of not telling him just how much I love him every minute of every day.

I’m guilty of letting him down in Paris.

I’m guilty of not punching Mike right away.

I’m guilty of letting him go thinking that I didn’t love him enough.

I’m guilty of not being there when he got hurt.

I’m guilty guilty guilty. And I don’t deserve him. But please, oh please, let him be okay.

I don’t care what happens to me as long as I know he’s okay. He’s happy. He’s whole.

It’s all my fault, for fuck’s sake! He was angry and hurt because of me.

All the cigarettes are gone by the time the sky is dark; some I’ve smoked, some I’ve just watched burn. Some I cracked in the middle, in anger.

John finds me still sitting on the dirty ground, with my back against the wall of the hospital. His shoes appear in my vision and he offer me his hand to get up. I can’t move.

He says, “They are taking him to his room.”

He says, “The surgery went well, they think. But they have to run some tests.”

He says, “Only one person can go see him in intensive care. It has to be you.”

I look up at him, defeated. “I can’t.”

“You have to.”

“He was mad at me. It’s my fault. I can’t. He doesn’t want to see me.” I whisper and I feel my heart shatters even more.

“I know my brother, Dev. He needs you.”

I feel little when I ask, “What if I make it worst?”

He shakes his hand and offers me his hand again. “He needs you.” He repeats.

It takes me all of three seconds to make up my mind. I take his hand and get up, even if my legs feel weak. Every atom of my body feels weak and tired and broken.

He leads me back to the waiting room, where there are now Saoirse and my dad as well. Saoirse’s eyes aren’t red, because she’s too strong to cry at the hospital. She has already spent years with one son on the verge of life, she’ll cry once everything is over. Either for good or bad.

Saoirse doesn’t hug me and I’m grateful for that, because I can’t even look at her. “I’m sorry.” I whisper, pushing back the tears.

“Oh, son.” She breathes out and she jolts my chin up, to meet her gaze. I almost break. “You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

“It’s my fault.”

“No.” She says and her voice doesn’t admit replies. “Now you’ll go in there and do everything you can to make sure Niall knows he’s loved and that we are all here for him. That you are here for him. You make sure he knows life goes on. Please.”

I nod, because I can’t find my voice. And then I follow the nurse down the hallway and on a big empty elevator.

He smiles gently at me, but I don’t have it in me to smile back.

“He just woke up from the anaesthesia, he’ll be a little confused, but the thing that matters is that he woke up. I haven’t spoken to him yet, so I can’t tell you how he is, but the surgeons were positive and said that his head is good, no brain damages from the fall. We’ll tell everything to your family, now you just have to stay close to him. Keep him calm.” He says, “He’ll need to take morphine again in a while. For the pain.”

I nod, biting my lip.

I count heartbeats and steps, until we finally reach a tiny room with the walls mainly made of glass. A bed on the middle, with a lot of machinery and tubes and lights and buttons.

And then I see him.

He's paler than I’ve ever seen him before. So pale that even his freckles look faded, his eyes are half closed and distant, focused on a place no one can reach but him.

His arm is in a big cast and there are way too many needles and tubes on him - in him.

The nurse opens the door and I take a deep breath before stepping in. I’m trembling, I don’t think I can make it to the bed.

One heartbeat. Two. Three. And I’m next to him. He doesn’t seem to have noticed I’m here. And I have no idea what to say, what to do.

“They said I have to keep you calm, so I guess I can’t kick your ass.” I whisper, not to scare him. God, I really am that dumb. Why couldn’t I just say ‘hey’?

He turns to look at me – painfully slow, like his body is underwater – and he looks at me with surprise in those sleepy eyes. “You came.” His voice is sluggish and low, not hoarse like it usually is when he wakes up.

I let out a shaky breath, “Of course I came.” I whisper, voice cracking. I can’t make my feet move. “Do you want me to go? Your family is downstairs.”

“Please, don’t go anywhere.” He murmurs, squeezing his eyes in pain.

I take a step forward, biting my lip to push back the tears. “I won’t. I’ll never leave you, Niall.”

He stares at me for a second, before saying, “You are even more beautiful than I remembered.”

I smirk quietly, “It’s the morphine talking.”

“Nah, I always think you are beautiful.”

Oh, my heart.

“Come here, please.” He whispers and I close the small distance between us, sitting on the chair next to his bed, on the side of the good arm.

“How are you feeling?” I ask. Stupid question.

He doesn’t reply; instead, he says, looking right into my eyes and mumbling a little, “Are you still my boyfriend? Because I’d really like to kiss you right now. Or rather, I’d like you to kiss me, since I can’t move. Either way, I want for us to kiss. Somehow, I don’t know.”

And I break.

Tears roll down my cheeks and I let my head fall on the mattress, almost touching his hip with my forehead. “I am sorry, I’m so fucking sorry, Niall. I’m – I… I’m sorry. I love you, I’m sorry. Please be fine. I need you to be okay. I’m sorry. Hold on, I need you. I need you.”

He slowly slowly slowly takes his hand into my hair. “Don’t cry.”

“I’m sorry.” I whisper, feeling pathetic. I can’t find his scent under all the hospital’s clean smell. “You are right, I’m sorry.” I take a deep breath and wipe away the tears, forcing myself to stop. I pinch hard my leg.

They told me to keep him calm and here I am, being a mess. Being needy. When he’s in pain. I really don’t deserve him; I’m the worst.

He leaves his hand next to me, with the palm up, almost in offering.

“What happened?” He asks.

Oh.

“Someone knocked you out on the pitch and you had to go through surgery.” I tell him, as evenly as I can.

“I know that,” He replies, “I meant with Mike.”

Oh.

“Nothing happened a part from the kiss you’ve seen. Then I pushed him away and told him he couldn’t go around kissing people without their consent. Please, believe me. I don’t have any proof, but you have to believe. There is no one I want to kiss but you. No one.”

His eyes are far as he says, “I’m gonna fucking kill him with my hands.”

I place my hand next to his and I brush it against his, softly. “I’m sorry it happened. I should’ve seen it coming. It didn’t mean anything to me.”

“I believe you.” He says, simply. “Because you can’t lie to people who almost died and/or are about to die. I bet it’s written in the bible or something.”

“Don’t you dare die, Niall Edward Murphy,” I tell him, shooting him a glance, “Or I’ll kill you myself.”

He grins at that and a little of life seems to find its way back into his body. “You sounded like my mom… Even if you don’t cook as good as her.”

I’m glad the morphine is making his mood lighter.

I snort, faux-betrayed, “Fuck you, you nightmare. My cooking is heavenly.” I slide my hand over his and hold it as lightly as I can. I kiss his wrist.

“I’m here, if you still want me to be.” I tell him, looking at our hands, because his eyes are too much with words like these.

“Look at me.” He says and I do. His words are slow, like he’s falling asleep. “I’m sorry for what I said in Paris, I was hurt and I was angry and terrified. I didn’t mean any of that. I know you care about me, of course I know. I just… I was thinking about my parents.”

“Okay.” I murmur, drawing slow circles on his palm.

“Of course I still want you. I’ll always want you.”

“You are the love of my life.” I whisper, because I just need him to know. “I’m sorry if I ever made you doubt that. I have never loved anyone like I love you and I will never love anyone else like this, so you better be okay and not leave me alone.”

He grins widely, more for the morphine than anything else, “You are so very sappy, Dev. I love you for that.” Then, “And I love the way you smell and that you always know how I’m feeling and that cute way you wrinkle your nose when you laugh. I love the way you slide your freezing feet under my legs when you sleep and I love feeling you warm up under my touch. I also love very much sucking you off, because maybe you don’t cook heavenly but you taste heavenly. Oh, I can’t believe I just said that. And I love love love the sounds you make and I love when you hug me from behind and that you always come to see me play football.” He pauses for a second after that. “I just love you, I guess. I love that you love the flowers on my hipbones and always caress them.”

His words were sluggish and drawling, but I still imprint each one of them on my heart.

“You know,” I whisper, wiping tears away from my cheeks, “I hope you’ll remember all these things you said when the anaesthesia wears off, because I’ll never stop teasing you for this.”

And then we’re quiet, just looking at each other under the neon lights of the hospital room. He goes in and out of sleep every few minutes, like his body can’t decide what to do.

His face wrinkles in pain and he lets out a moan. Instead of asking for help or meds, he rolls his eyes, even if his brow is furrowed and sweaty, “I hope they didn’t ruin my tattoos.” He nods at his arm in the cast.

“You’ll be okay, love.” I whisper, squeezing his hand.

He looks away, clenching his jaw. "I don't think I can be fixed this time. I'm too broken."

My heart aches at that. It can't take it anymore today. "You are not broken, love. You just went through a lot of stuff. But you are here, you survived. Because you're an absolute badass, aren't you?" 

One corner of his mouth curls up sadly.

"You are the strongest person I know and if someone can make it, it's you. It's you, Niall. You don't need fixing, you just need time. And love. I'll give you both. It doesn't matter if sometimes it'll feel like it's too much to take, because I'll be with you and I'll breath for you when you can't. Even if my lungs are fucked up sometimes, they'll work for you. Always. You'll never be alone, you have me. And your mom and John and Baz. And Simon and my family. You won't ever be alone. I got you."

Tears roll down his cheeks and I gently wipe them away with my thumb. His skin a whole less warm than usual.

"I got you," I repeat, over and over. "I won't let you give up. I'm pretty stubborn, you know that. I won't let you even think about giving up." 

“Okay.”

“And you’re not allowed to scare me like that ever again.” I say, placing my head on the mattress next to him. I look up at him and he's painfully beautiful. The greatest creation in the cosmos. 

Okay.” He replies, softly, brushing his finger slowly against the tip of my nose.

Thank you.

Chapter Text

DEV

They don’t let me stay the night with Niall, no matter how many times I ask them to. So I kiss his forehead without waking him up and leave the room, glancing back at his sleepy figure just once or twice.

My heart is a whole lot lighter, because Niall is alive and he’s okay (mostly). And that’s all that matters to me. Even if my hands are still trembling and the pit of my stomach is clenched in worry, I can breathe again.

Our families are still in the waiting room, John sitting between Saoirse and Holly, my parents and Izzie on the chairs in front of them, forming a little circle of sadness and fear. At least, I can’t see any more tears. The room is quiet, the sky is pitch black outside.

As soon as they see me, they are around me, hugging and touching and whispering.

I feel guilty, because they shouldn’t have to reassure me.

Saoirse grabs my hands firmly in hers and says, “Tell me everything.”

So I do. I tell them that he is awake and that his head is mostly clear, apart from the meds they gave him. I tell them about the big white cast and the tubes and needles poking his body, about how he remembers what happened on the pitch but how he’s missing the hours after that. I tell them he wants them to go home and sleep – they all snort at that (which is what I did when he said it).

They all pretend not to notice when my voice comes out ragged or breaks in the middle of a statement; I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for them. They listen to every word without interrupting, eyes fixed on me for the whole time.

When I finish, John updates me on what the nurse and the surgeon told them; the only thing I get is that things will get worst before they can get better. And I feel like dying all over again.

We manage to convince Mom and Saoirse to go sleep a few hours at my flat, which is only half an hour away from the hospital, but the rest of us stay there, crunched on the awkward hospital chairs, not talking but just being there for each other. A touch on the arm, in the hair, on the knee.

I always hated being touched, but never by my family.

People keep coming and going all night, mainly is Izzie who deals with all the people who ask how Niall is. Some of them I don’t even recognize, almost all of his team arrives: some stay, some don’t.

Chad and Lori are there, the Coach too. I didn’t notice them at first, because they were in the opposite corner. The coach nods at me when our gazes meet, he looks sadder than I’ve ever seen him. Chad and Lori are pressed tightly together on a little bench, but I don’t know them enough to go and talk to them – I don’t really have it in me to talk at all, if we’re being honest.

All I want is to go upstairs and stay by Niall’s side until he’s okay.

I hate the thought that he’s all alone, while I’m here, surrounded by all the people we love. Well, almost all of them, anyway.

No one can go see him until 10 am… what a stupid-ass rule, honestly.

I go to the little bar and order coffee for everyone, just because I need to something. Anything. To stop thinking.

Luckily, they give me a trail, so I take all the paper cups to the waiting room at once. I give one to my dad, to my sisters, to John – who looks he’s been awake for six months. I give one to Lori and Chad, who don’t say anything but just smile sadly at me. One to the coach.

And then I go outside, because there is not enough air in this damn hospital.

It’s a cold April morning and the sky is still fading from dawn’s colours to a pale blue; I sit on a bench right in front of the entrance of the hospital, so they’ll find me immediately if something happens.

Please don’t let anything else happen to him.

And I light up a cigarette, only to watch it slowly burn between my fingers. The smoke drawing intricate drawings.

I’m thinking that I should call Mike and tell him that I’m not in Paris anymore, that I won’t be able to go to the tribunal today and probably not even the day after that… But I’m so fucking angry at him that the thought of hearing his voice makes me sick. Because if he didn’t do anything stupid, all of this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Fuck.

“Oh, Jesus fuck! You’re here, thank fucking fuck.” Someone says breathlessly and I look up just in time to see a floral suit towering over me and pulling me in a hug. I press my face against his stomach and let myself be hugged, be comforted by the familiar scent of my best friend.

Baz says, “Izzie called yesterday, we were just getting into the office and I just… I needed to come here. To see you.”

Baz sighs, “How is he? He scared me to death, Jesus Christ.”

Baz groans, “How are you? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me Niall had that thing to his shoulder going on, I’m gonna fucking kill you as soon as things are okay.”

I wrap my arms around him and I hug him as tightly as I can. All I have to say is, “You’re here.”

“Of course I am, you obtuse fuck. I’m so pissed off at the both of you. You better be okay soon because I’m plotting the most intricate murder to have ever been plotted.” He growls, as if he’s not holding onto me for dear life.

There is another voice, this one tiny and whispering, “I’m so sorry this happened, Dev. We’re here for you.”

Simon.

I reach out and pull him into our hug by his coat, because it doesn’t matter if I’ve only known him a few months. It only matters that he came as soon as he knew what happened. Because he’s a part of this just as much as we are.

He hugs us just as fiercely.

They sit on the bench on both sides of me and waits, patiently. I tell them what happened, in bits and pieces. More than the medical stuff, I tell them how I saw him, that he even smiled a bit. That he moves in slow motion, even if that was probably for the anaesthesia. I tell them what happened in Paris too, because they are here and I need to tell someone about Mike and his stupidity. Not someone, my best friend. My best friends, I guess, because Simon is here and he cares and I wouldn’t want anyone here but him, because I also know just how much Niall adores him.

“He did what.” Baz blurs out, looking at me wide-eyed.

“Yeah, that’s how I feel about it.” I groan. “Also, he doesn’t know I’m here and not in Paris and today I’m supposed to be working.”

Baz clenches his jaw and takes up his hand, “Gimme the phone, I’ll handle this.”

“There is no need to-“

“Oh, there is.” He snorts and takes my phone, rolling his eyes. He scrolls through the numbers and then takes it to his ear, pacing in front of us back and forth.

Simon offers me a tiny smile and says, “Don’t worry, he’s good at doing the terrifying CEO voice.”

We only hear bits and pieces of what Baz is saying, because he’s talking in a low cold voice. He says, “Hospital emergency” and “I don’t care, asshole, unless you want to explain to your boss why you kiss your employees in front of a court” and “I am Baz Pitch.”

Then he hangs up and gives me back my phone, with a tiny triumphant smirk. “You have a few weeks off to take care of Niall.”

“Ah, thanks Bazzie. You’re the best.”

“I know that,” he shrugs. Then, “Shall we? I need to see the only cousin I have who had the rightness of mind to tell me Niall and you needed me.”

With that, we get up from the bench too and follow him inside the hospital, where Baz becomes immediately the target of my family’s attention. Simon whispers to me, “He’s not really angry that you didn’t call him, he was just scared. The flight was… long. We didn’t know what was happening and that freaked him out. Us, to be honest.”

“Thanks for coming, man. Really.” I tell him, squeezing his arm gently.

“Where else would we be?” Simon shrugs, smiling tiredly.

 

NIALL

The morphine has washed off hours ago, but if I stay completely still, the pain is almost bearable.

The fact is, that I couldn’t move much even if I wanted to... and for someone who can’t normally not do anything for more than a couple minutes without going insane, it’s torture.

At least it doesn’t feel anymore like I’m underwater.

“I can go home now, Ryan.” I groan, “Never been better, really.”

The nurse, who’s been with me all morning snorts, unimpressed. “Sure, man.”

“Maybe I’ll just run away when you are distracted, then.” I sigh, dramatically.

“Your boyfriend looks like the kind of guy who’d kick your ass all the way to your bed if you run away, so do please go on with your plan.” He says, pressing the buttons of one of the too-many machineries around my bed. “That would be fun and there aren’t many funny things in intensive care. I’m sure my colleagues would appreciate it too.”

My boyfriend.

“Not fair.” I snort and I turn to look at him, but it’s a bad choice, since the movement sends bolts of pain down my arm and chest. Stupid fucking shoulder.

“You can press the morphine button if you need to; I’ve already told you so.”

“No,” I whisper, through gritted teeth for the pain, “I want my mind to be clear for when my family arrives.”

“They are already here,” Ryan says quietly, “There are at least thirty people downstairs waiting to see you, they’ve been here all night.”

I close my eyes and imagine my family, my friends, being here for me. All night. All because I’ve been a careless idiot. I’m so fucking angry at –

“Also, how is everybody in your football team so hot? You owe me at least one phone number, preferably the one of the blondie tall guy. You know, for saving your life. Screw that, I’ve saved it twice, because I also managed not to kill you after the twelfth time you tried to stand after I told you not to.”

I roll my eyes. Loudly. But I can’t hide a smile, “Is this even professional? Aren't you breaking hospital rules or something?”

“Oh, it is professional. God knows if I don’t have enough time to go out and find me a boyfriend myself. The least you can do is help me out.” He grins, widely.

“The blondie one is married, but I think I have someone in mind. Don’t you worry about a thing.” I tell him and he smiles quietly again, this time for real.

“Not the posh dressed one, though, please. He’s incredibly beautiful, but also looks lightly murderous.”

I scoff a laugh and my ribs hurts. I have no idea who he’s talking about, since no one in my football team dresses poshly, but I let it go.

Instead, I say, “Thank you, Ryan.” Because I know he didn’t have to support my mumblings and yells all night, but he didn’t anyway.

“Hey,” he says, “Just heal, no need to thank me. Also, your boyfriend is terrifying. So, do please heal. I don’t want him to kick my ass too after kicking yours.”

“Copy that.”

 

When 10 am finally – fucking finally – arrives, I have seen more doctors and surgeons and nurses (besides Ryan) than I’ve ever seen in my life (well, that’s not true since I spent the majority of my childhood in the oncology department with John, but anyways), I’m so fucking relieved to see someone I know and love.

It's not Dev, though. It’s Mom.

She kisses the top of my head; her eyes are red and tired, but she doesn’t cry. I know her too well, we all do. She’s too strong.

“Hey, honey.” She says, running her hand over my shaved hair.

“Hey, mom.” I whisper, feeling my throat tightening. I feel incredibly guilty for making her go through all this shit, knowing far too well just as much she’s gone through with Dad and then John’s illness.

“How are you feeling?” She asks, her eyes rolling off every inch of my body and setting on the big cast on my arm.

I clear my throat, trying to sound convincing, “Good. Have you been her all night?”

She shakes his head, “Dev made me go home with Marta.”

“Good.” I say, with a tiny smile. There is something funny about trying to picture Dev ordering to do something to my mom, because she’s quite stubborn.

“He’s been here the whole time. He also tried to sneak to your room but your nurse caught him and send him back downstairs. He loves you very much, honey.”

I don’t really know what to say, because I’m not sure if what happened last night really happened or I dreamt it. I don’t know if we’re okay and this is killing me, more than the pain itself. “How is he?”

“Worried, but they are taking good care of him. Don’t worry.” She pats my hand gently and sit on the chair next to the bed.

My heart skips a beat. Because Dev is feeling low and I’m not there for him; even worst, because I’m the reason he’s feeling like that in the first place. “Who’s they?”

“Everyone.” She smiles, “Everyone is here for you. I talked to your surgeon and she said you’ll be moved to another room this afternoon, so you’ll get to receive more visits.”

“Fuck, yes.” I sigh, contently and she slaps my hand: “Language!”

“Sorry, mom.”

“The question is, honey… Will you be okay? Because we both know it only up to you to decide if you’ll recover or not.”

I think about it.

I think about how even if I heal, I might have to give up my dream and stop playing football. I think about how painful it’ll be, how long and how full of bumps the road ahead of me is. I think about how I could fight and it could still go to shit. 

And I almost shake my head.

But then I think about Dev and the flowers on my hipbones; the road trip we talked about and all the things we still have to do together. I think about all the times he said he love him, I think about blue sage and grey eyes.

And then I think about Baz and that time he asked me to prom just because I was moping around and didn’t have no one to go with – well, no one I wanted to go with, anyway, since Dev was going with some cheerleader. So I said yes and we had so much fun, especially when the cheerleader throw her drink at Dev and spent the rest of the night with us, growling and sticky.

I think about Simon and all the late videocalls to share receipts and gossip about our boyfriends.

I think about Mom and John, who have always been there for me, despite all the troubles we’ve gone through for all our lives.

I think about Dev’s family and how since we’ve told them about us, they’ve invited us and John to dinner almost every weekend.

I think about Chad and Lori and Coach.

So I say, “Yes. I want to be okay.”

And then I cry, because I’m broken but I’m still alive.