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the x factor (2010) | louis/niall | pg | ~1,695
college!au. in which everyone knows louis except niall.

a/n: for the cottoncandy_bingo prompt “first meeting”.




The library’s mostly empty, only the hardcore still at it even though it won’t be long before the sun rises, and Niall really doesn’t know why he’s doing this except his supervisor’s breathing down his neck and if he doesn’t make a significant start on his dissertation soon then he’s going to start fearing for his life.

The thermos Liam left him with is almost empty and he’s trying to work out whether there’s anywhere to get a cup of coffee from at four o’clock in the morning when he hears the singing.

“Um,” he says, “hello?”

“Oh,” someone says, the singing coming to a halt. “Sorry. Hi.”

Niall tips back in his chair and looks around the edge of the stacks, hooking his feet around the table legs in an attempt to keep upright. There’s a guy sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by textbooks, hat pulled down low over his forehead and shoes abandoned further down the aisle.

“I didn’t realise anyone else was down here,” he says, and Niall shrugs and then thinks better of it when he almost goes flying.

“Don’t worry about it,” Niall says, “it just surprised me.”

“Third year?” the guy asks, and Niall nods.

“That obvious, huh?”

“Well, it was either over-enthusiastic first year or dissertation-bound third, and most of the firsties gave up or fell asleep a good hour and a half ago.”

“I was kind of thinking about giving up myself,” Niall says sheepishly. “If I don’t get caffeine in my system soon I may never move again. They’ll keep my body here as a warning for leaving work too late.”

The guy laughs. “That would be tragic,” he says, stretching his arms over his head with a groan. “But I’m totally with you. I am beaten.”

Niall watches him stack his books together, slotting some onto shelves and others into his bag, and says “I’m Niall” just because it seems like the thing to do.

“Louis,” the guy says. “I’m fairly sure there’s a McDonald’s that’s open all night; the coffee’s probably shit but it’s better than nothing, right?”

“Yeah,” Niall agrees, putting his laptop away and balancing his own books precariously in his arms as he stands up and follows Louis towards the exit.

He’s pretty sure his daytime self would be freaking out about going for coffee with a random, attractive stranger, but it’s quarter past four in the morning and he passed tired a good three hours back, and right now he can’t think of anything he’d rather be doing.



+



Niall should probably find it stranger than he does that when he says “So, hey, do you guys know a third year History major called Louis?” his friends know exactly who he means.

“Oh, Louis,” Harry says. “Of course I know Louis. Doesn’t everyone?”

Liam nods. “It’s true,” he says, “I think even Matt knows Louis.”

“Then how do I not know Louis?” Niall asks, and he hopes the others don’t hear the petulant undertone.

“I don’t know,” Harry says. “It’s kind of unthinkable.”

“Isn’t he part of the Student Union team?” Liam says. “Like, Entertainment Officer or something?”

“I think so,” Harry says. “He spends enough time in the SU Bar anyway. That’s how we met, actually. I drank tequila shots off his stomach.”

Niall blinks. “I should be surprised by that, shouldn’t I?”

“No,” Liam says, “it’s okay. We all stopped being surprised by Harry about a week after we met him.”

“That’s because you saw me naked in that amateur production of Equus. No surprises left.”

Liam rolls his eyes and shares a conspiratorial look with Niall; they all remember that show, and they’ll never tell Harry but one of the reasons they stuck around to talk to him afterwards was because of how dire it had been and how sorry they’d felt for him. As it happened, Harry was actually a pretty awesome person, but they’ve still never let him sign up for one of the drama club productions again.

“Anyway,” Liam says, “you’re asking about Louis so that means you do know him.”

“Barely,” Niall says. “We were both in the library until the early hours of the morning and we exchanged sleepy grunts over crap coffee, but that’s it.”

“So what’s got you asking about him?” Harry says, waving at a group of giggling second year girls who Niall’s seen around way too much to be coincidence.

“Nothing,” he says, “it was just one of those weird life moments, you know?”

“I’m pretty sure Louis only has weird life moments,” Liam says, “so if you know him now you might want to get used to that.”

Niall frowns but Liam seems to be serious, and Harry’s nodding like it makes perfect sense.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he says.

“Oh, hey,” Harry says, “so apparently the drama club’s putting on The History Boys-

He looks kind of putout when Liam and Niall’s vehement “no”s are in sync.



+



“I hear you’ve finally met Louis,” Aiden says, dropping down next to him and ignoring the dirty looks he gets from the girls two rows in front of them.

“How can it be finally if I didn’t even know I didn’t know him?” Niall says, and Aiden blinks.

“Okay,” he says, “it’s too early for that.”

“It’s midday,” Niall points out, keeping his voice to a hush in an attempt not to distract too many people. He’s pretty sure it’s not working but at least the lecturer’s ignoring them.

Aiden shrugs. “Yeah, but I didn’t get to bed until six. Matt and I went on a roadtrip.”

Niall raises an eyebrow and resists the urge to roll his eyes; Aiden and Matt are literally the most ridiculous people he knows, and that’s on a list that includes Harry. They’ve been in like since the moment they met but they both refuse to do anything about it; Niall isn’t sure if it’s because they’re scared or because they genuinely haven’t noticed that they’re crazy about each other, but it’s both hilarious and really, really frustrating to be around.

“Where to?” Niall asks, even though he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.

“Cardiff,” Aiden says, “but we got lost and ended up somewhere in Chester. I don’t know. It was fun.”

“Right,” Niall says because it’s actually one of the more sane things Aiden and Matt have done recently.

“Anyway,” Aiden says. “Louis.”

“Yeah,” Niall says. “He seems cool.”

“He is,” Aiden nods. “He’s also pretty.”

Niall rolls his eyes and hopes he’s not blushing. “I hadn’t noticed,” he says, and doesn’t even feel bad when the girls in front complain that Aiden’s laughter is distracting them.



+



“Hi,” Louis says, dropping into the seat across from him and taking a gulp of Niall’s coffee.

“Uh,” he says, blinking, “hey.”

“Come on,” Louis says, “drink up. We’ve got places to be.”

Niall frowns. “We do?”

“Sure,” Louis grins, “and we’re already late.”



+



“Places to be” apparently means the central courtyard. The student government are holding some sort of live radio show and Louis’ hosting; Niall’s totally okay with watching him prance about like a prat for a few hours but Louis has other ideas, dragging him onto the make-shift stage and shoving a mic into his hands.

“Ladies and gents, may I introduce a friend of mine, Mister Niall Horan, who’s going to help me run this shindig today. Laugh at his jokes and tell him how great I am, not necessarily in that order.”

Niall doesn’t have time to wonder how Louis knows him surname before the whole thing goes live and he’s dragged along for the ride.



+



Liam meets them in Starbucks afterwards, laughing at Niall’s jittery energy and cancelling his coffee order, replacing it with a mug of English Breakfast.

“I heard you guys,” he says, and Niall grins.

“Just promise I didn’t make a total fool of myself.”

“No,” Liam says, “it was good. You guys have a great dynamic.”

Niall takes a sip of his tea, trying not to smile too much at the idea, and then chokes when Liam says: “So, Harry kissed me.”

“Harry did what?” Niall asks, and he’s pretty sure Liam’s blushing.

“I know,” Liam says, “I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe Zayn let him have jellybeans again. Or maybe he was joking.”

“Or maybe he likes you,” Louis says cheerfully like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Just a thought.”

“You think?” Liam says hopefully, and Niall wonders how he’s managed to completely miss all this.

“Sure,” Louis says. “If I wasn’t tragically waiting for Niall to get a clue I’d totally ask you out.”

“Thanks,” Liam says, smiling, and Niall blinks.

“No, wait, what?” he says too loudly, and Louis pats him on the knee as Liam coughs politely.

“Don’t freak out,” Louis says, and Niall snaps him mouth shut, trying to remember how to breathe.

He really needs to start paying more attention.



+



Louis insists on walking him back to his flat even though it’s all of ten minutes away and in completely the wrong direction, and Niall listens to him talk about class and student government and his dissertation until they’re at the end of his street and his own head is even more tangled than before.

“You want to go out with me?” he says, cutting across Louis’ diatribe about the price of on-campus coffee, and Louis’ cheeks flush a little even though he doesn’t look surprised.

“Is that you confirming the intention or asking? Because it’s a yes to both.”

“Oh,” Niall says. “Right. Okay.”

“Okay?” Louis says, and Niall realises that he’s nervous. He hadn’t known Louis could be nervous.

“Yeah,” he says, and doesn’t try to fight his grin. “Besides, Aiden says your pretty, so--”

“Oh, I see,” Louis says, laughing with relief, “you just want me for my looks. That’s okay, I can handle that.”

“Shut up,” Niall says, reaching over to punch his arm and letting his hand linger until Louis tangles their fingers together.

“Okay,” Louis says, and when he kisses him it’s not a surprise at all.

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