Louis watched, a small smile on his face, as the boys tickled Harry senseless. He wanted to help him- Harry was out of breath and struggling- but the other three would go right after him. “Guys, stop, he looks like he’s dying.” Surprisingly, they listened to him and backed off. Louis knelt down beside Harry, helping him sit up. He rubbed his back as Harry calmed down. “You okay?” Harry nodded, then looked up at Louis.
“You should have helped me,” Harry whined, poking at Louis’ side. “I saw you watching.” Louis jumped back, covering his sides.
“Haz, no, please.”
“Too ticklish for your own good, huh,” Zayn asked, brushing against his neck. Louis snapped his head down, a whimper escaping his lips.
“Please, don’t.” His voice sounded different than the usual light, happy tone; he sounded like a child, cowering in bed, afraid of the monster in the closet.
“I think he is,” Niall said. “Get him.” In an instant, Louis’ arms and legs were pinned, and the boys were tickling all over him, random and frantic. That same panic welled up in his chest that came with the shortness of breath, the same primal fear encasing his eyes.
“STOP! PLEASE! I’LL DO ANYTHING, JUST STOP!” The boys stared at him, shocked. He wasn’t laughing or giggling; he was screaming and truly terrified. The instant they let go, Louis curled up into a ball, rocking slowly back and forth.
“Lou,” Liam started, but he trailed off. A tear slipped out of the corner or Louis’ eye, trickling down his cheek. “Are you okay?”
“No,” he murmured, chin resting on his knees. “I’m not.”
“Are you afraid of it or something,” Zayn asked, looking at him, confused.
“Why?” Harry seemed the most genuinely concerned for him; the rest were just puzzled.
“When I was a kid, my mum would never yell at me of ground me like she would with my sisters; she’d just hold me down and have them tickle me. But I set the TV on fire once-“
“HOW?!” He blushed.
“I didn’t mean to! I just… it just happened! I don’t know why, but she got furious with me. She let the girls go nuts until I wet myself,” Zayn snickered, but the other boys shot him evil looks, “and they felt bad for me, so they stopped. But she stood up and said, ‘Wait here,’ in that eerie-calm, mother voice. She came back with one of the girl’s feather boas and weaved it in between my toes, so whenever I moved them, it tickled so badly.” He shuddered. “And she wouldn’t stop until I fainted.” He looked up at the boy’s faces, all four of whom were utterly shocked. “I’ve been scared ever since.”
“Oh my god,” Harry murmured, looking at him in shock, “I’m so sorry Lou.” Louis looked down, blushing.
“It’s stupid; I know I shouldn’t be afraid of it.”
“Are you kidding me,” Niall exclaimed, “I would be terrified if someone did that to me!”
“Especially if you trusted them,” Zayn added. Liam, who had been silent, looked up at him.
“Do you think you could ever get over being afraid of it?” Louis paled.
“M-maybe?” The uncertainty in his voice was obvious.
“You don’t have to try if you don’t want to,” Harry assured him. Louis sighed.
“I want to,” he murmured, sounding incredibly childish, “I’m just…-“
“Scared,” Niall asked.
“Yeah.” Zayn wrapped his arm around Louis’ waist.
“We won’t do it if you don’t want us to,” he promised.
“I want to get over it,” Louis replied. “It’s just… when you’re afraid of something, it’s hard, you know?” Zayn rubbed his thumb against Louis’ hip in circles. “D-don’t hold m-me down.”
“We won’t, it’s okay,” Harry promised. Zayn moved behind Louis, giving Harry a space on his left. “Do you want a safe word?”
“N-never had one b-before,” Louis murmured. “Y-yes.”
“Safe word is Kevin,” Liam declared, watching Louis squirm as Zayn and Harry tickled his sides. Niall smirked and propped Louis’ leg up on his lap, reaching underneath to the back of his knee. Louis jumped and clamped his knee shut, giggling slightly.
“Got a spot back here, huh,” he asked. Louis nodded, lips pressed shut, eyes darting from boy to boy. “C’mon, open up.” Louis sighed shakily, and unclamped his knee. “You’ll regret this,” Niall teased, scribbling wildly across his knees. Giggles began sporadically flowing from his lips.
“N-nahaha st-stahahap!” Harry worked a hand up Louis’ ribs and into his underarm, making him giggle uncontrollably. “I-it tihihickles!” Liam chuckled, watching.
“Yeah, it does that. You okay?” Louis nodded, shifting back and forth between them, fighting the urge to push them off. He kept waiting for one of them to drive him up the wall, to decide never to stop, to make him faint. But none of them wanted to, and he had to trust them. He flinched back when he felt Harry’s fingers slip under his shirt to his stomach, ghosting over his skin.
“N-nahahahahahahat thehehehehehere!” Harry smirked and rubbed his hips, making Louis squirm side to side. Zayn followed in Harry’s footsteps, scribbling over Louis’ side. He let out a squeak, and the boys chuckled, stopping temporarily to laugh at him. Louis’ cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Sorry,” he murmured. Harry rolled his eyes and ruffled Louis’ hair, then resumed tickling him, as did the other boys. “N-nohohohohehehehe!”
“Yes,” Niall said, chuckling. He scribbled over Louis’ inner thighs, and Louis squeaked again, shaking with giggles.
“I know your tummy’s ticklish,” Harry said, grinning, “but what about you little bellybutton?” Louis let out a squeal once Harry’s finger swirled into his navel, giggles flowing freely from his lips. “Looks like it is.”
“NAhahahahahahahahahahat thehehehehehehehere p-plehehehehehehehease!” Harry grinned and moved his fingers up to Louis’ chest, making the eldest of the boys jumps and giggle uncontrollably. “Nahahahahahahahahahahahat thehehehehehehere ehehehehahaah!”
“Didn’t know you were ticklish there, huh?” Louis shook his head, squirming under the boy’s touches. He could feel Niall scratching at the underside of his thighs, and fought against the urge to move away. “You’re doing great Lou,” Harry promised him. Louis bit his lip, feeling Zayn scratching at his navel, knowing that he would flip if he swirled inside.
“Just say Kevin if you want it to stop Lou,” Liam taunted him, moving down to his feet. Louis’ eyes dilated and he pulled his feet underneath him. “C’mon Lou, you know you have to get over this.” Despite his hysterical giggling, they boys could hear him whimper when Liam pulled his foot out from under him.
“Li, he’s not ready for that,” Zayn told him, scribbling over his hips.
“He has to get over it sometime,” Liam said, running his fingers over Louis’ sole. Louis felt tears stinging his eyes, fear surging through him.
“LIHIHIHI PLEHEHEHEHEHEHEASE NAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Liam brushed underneath his toes, and Louis’ eyes bulged. “KEVIN! KEHEHEHEHEVIHIHIN! KEVIN!!” The boys pulled back, and Louis curled up into a ball, rocking slowly back and forth. His toes were clenched so tightly that they turned white. “Should have listened to Zayn,” he whimpered, looking up at Liam.
“I’m sorry Lou,” Liam apologized, wrapping his arm around Louis, who whimpered nervously, but slowly relaxed into him.
“It’s okay.” He looked up at them. “Thanks. For helping me with this.”
“Any excuse to tickle you is a good excuse,” Harry said, poking Louis’ side.
“Meanie,” Louis murmured, flinching away.
“Do you think you’re better,” Niall asked. Louis shook his head.
“No, not yet.” He paused at the devilish look in the boy’s eyes. “But no more tonight. Please.” Zayn groaned, but Liam shot him a warning look.
“Fine. Not for tonight at least.”