Plausible Deniability



Angel phones again, asking if he’s heard from Aila. Niall swallows the acid on his tongue as he tells her he hasn’t. Zayn blinks rapidly, but Niall sees the sheen in his dark eyes anyway. Angel hums on the other end of the line before saying she will call around. Maybe one of her coworkers has more information.

He doesn’t bother telling her no one knows. No one but those who took her.

Liam glances up when the warehouse door screeches in its track. “Nothing yet.”

Niall clings to the ‘yet’. He has to believe Louis and Luke will find her. Liam’s hand settles on his shoulder, and Niall closes his eyes with the contact. It isn’t much. It isn’t the hand he yearns to feel. But it’s enough for now. Liam nods silently then heads to the car. He needs sleep, Niall knows it. They’ve all been awake for far too long.

Exhaustion means a misstep. A misstep will cost Aila her life. A mistake will cost Niall everything.

“Get some sleep, Niall,” Louis mutters, fingers flying over the keyboard. “You look like shit froze over.”

“Not sleeping until this is over.”

“Yeah, because that’ll do a load of good.”

“Piss off, Hemmings.”

Luke laughs and shakes his head. Niall paces. Louis is right. He needs rest. His bones ache with fatigue, and his thoughts have slowed. If something happens, he won’t react quickly enough. A misstep. So he drops to sit in a chair and orders someone to wake him when they know anything.

The sun is high in the sky by the time Niall jerks awake. Calum has been replaced by Clifford—Michael, Niall thinks his name is. He forces himself not to yawn even as he scrubs a hand over his face. The nap hasn’t done anything to help. His mind races, fear and anger rattling over each other. The possibilities are endless, and each one is worse than the last. Not knowing is torture.

Please, God, he begs of a deity he stopped believing in when he was fourteen and staring down at his first casualty, blood coating his hands and clothes. Please let us find her.

“Got something.”

Niall whirls to face the table. It’s been three long, excruciating days and finally, there’s something. He forces himself not to sprint across the warehouse, but the gleam in Luke’s eyes tells Niall he hasn’t done a very good job of hiding his emotions. Luke doesn’t mention it, only turns his screen so Niall can see it.

“We had to follow the last known point from her mobile, scanning cameras from every hotel, motel, restaurants, traffic lights, cash machines. Everything.”

Niall bites back a sigh as he presses his fingertips to his forehead. His migraine has grown stronger. “You’ve told me this before.”

Luke ignores the venom and exasperation in Niall’s voice, and security feeds fill the screen. Rotating through every camera in the city, nothing shows up. There is nothing. No sign.

“Whoever did this is good, I’ll give them that. They made sure to stay out of sight when they took her, so we could have been searching for a pirate ship for all we knew.”

“Luke wrote a program to scan each video frame for plates,” Louis yawns. “It caught one that didn’t originate here. They came from the North. It’s fuckin’ clever work, his program.”

Luke blinks at Louis, obviously taken aback by the compliment. “Er, thanks. Anyway, the program helped, but we still had to skim videos of people walking. It took some time, but not as long as we’d had to spend if we matched plates by hand.”

“Enough with the self-masturbatory bragging, please. Get to the point.”

Rolling his eyes at Niall’s impatience, Luke taps a key. A still replaces the feeds. It’s grainy, hard to make out more than silhouettes. But Niall could never not recognise Aila. She’s slumped between two hulking men, nearly being dragged toward a service door. The hotel sign is just out of frame. It’s enough.

Niall knows that hotel.

Luke yawns as he packs up his belongings. “I’ll send Davenport when we want to collect on that favour, Horan. Information is sent.”

The quartet—Luke, Michael, and their guards—disappear without another word. Niall hesitates, sways on his feet at the heat bleeding through him. They found her. He can scarcely breathe. He can get her back.

“Send the information to everyone else.”

Louis nods, typing a message rapidly, and he follows Niall to the car. Reckless endangerment. Speeding. Nearly running over a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Niall knows his actions are dangerous, but he refuses to let up on the accelerator. Not when she’s so close to being in his arms again.

Louis pushes his hand against the dashboard as Niall takes a corner too quickly, too sharply. Another driver lays on their horn. Niall is halfway down the next street already.

The others stand in the alley next to the hotel by the time the tires squeal against asphalt. Niall barely remembers to shut off the engine before he gets out of the driver’s seat. He barks out orders, and they follow them. Tania hurries through the revolving door to take the manager’s place at the front desk. Louis sets up his laptop on a stack of boxes.

Niall doesn’t want to wait. He hates having to wait. But wait he does. Louis glances up a few minutes later and nods succinctly. The cue sends Niall into motion. He pivots on his heel and storms into the hotel. He will get her back.

His mother always said he has an angel’s face, but right now, he’s anything but an angel. He is hellbent on revenge.

As soon as Tania says which room, Niall sets off for the lifts. Zayn and Liam fall into step behind him, Tania and Harry trailing after them. Louis scurries to catch up, and a maid squeaks when he grabs her arm. Her hazel eyes widen as she’s dragged along with the group. Louis grins, though it’s far from comforting.

“Won’t hurt you, I promise. We just need you a mo’, love, then you can go on your way.”

The maid gives a shaky nod and leads them to room 613. Niall trembles as she knocks, as she calls out ‘Housekeeping!’, as he’s forced to wait even longer. The door swings open, and the woman darts away. He leads the way into the room.

The man who answered the door lunges toward the space between the beds. Liam stops him with a powerful left-hook. The other man is just exiting the bathroom, hand grasping the zip of his jeans, and he gapes at the group. Niall glances down at the man’s hand—he better have been using the toilet.

That damn well better be the reason his jeans are undone. If he laid one hand on Aila…

Niall doesn’t spare a look at Aila. He’ll falter if he does. He would be too preoccupied with making sure she is unharmed to focus on what needs to be done. God, he wants to look at her. He wants to see her, wants to touch her. Blood boiling, heart pounding in his chest, he steps further into the room.

“Take her home,” he murmurs on a low voice. Cold. Brooking no arguments.

Harry peels away from the cluster, pulling Aila to her feet. Niall breathes in as she passes. The door clicks closed, and everything he has felt since she was taken from him surges forward. His lips curve into a smile, though there is no humour. No warmth to it. He reaches out a hand. Cold leather presses to his palm, and Niall squeezes his fist around the hilt.

“So who wants to answer some questions? Because I have plenty.”

“Ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” the first man spits out, but his partner backs away until he hits the wall.

“That’ll change,” Niall promises.