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the dream lives of ordinary people

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Oldham, 2000

Nick ought to be reading Hamlet for tomorrow but he figures he can just skim it and that’ll be sufficient to fake understanding. It’s rubbish anyway, all poncey arseholes wanking on about ghosts or summat. Boring. He’ll sit in the back and take extra long wee breaks, maybe nip round to the nice toilet by the back of the school where the handicapped stalls allow for social smoking and drag Jenny along with him. She was supposed to have rung him by now but she hasn’t, unless his mum didn’t take down the message, which is possible.

“Mum!” he yells, thundering down the stairs. “Did Jenny call?” 

“Don’t shout.” His mum doesn’t look up from the sink. “Liv’s having a nap.” 

Did Jenny call,” Nick repeats, in an exaggerated whisper. Liv is five. She is old enough to be woken up by shouting people. She woke him up that morning hollering in his ear about Power Rangers, anyhow.

“I don’t know.” His mum shakes the water off of her hands and goes to poke her head into the sitting room, where Nick’s dad sits shouting at the football. “Did Jenny phone us, Pete? Did you take down any messages?” 

“I don’t bloody know,” snaps Nick’s dad without taking his eyes off the telly. “Are you fucking kidding me with this defence? Eileen’s done better than that.” 

“She was going to phone at about six,” says Nick, jaw clenching despite himself, “You should remember who rung. It could be important.” 

“How bloody important could it be? Just talk to her at school, christ.” His dad shakes his head at the telly, brow furrowed. “Jesus fuck, Mitchell is off today. Can’t play for toffee.” 

“I can’t just talk to her at school tomorrow, we are in all different lessons and you should bloody well take down notes!” 

“Don’t you swear at me, Nicholas. Fucking hell no one’s taught you right, have they?” 

Nick wants to explode, smoking like a volcano bubbling under the surface whilst David Attenborough wangs on about ferrets. He doesn’t know how to explain to his dad how fucking important this is, how talking to Jenny is sometimes the only good thing about his afternoons especially when he just got back from four slow, boring hours at the bookshop where nobody bloody came in so he just reread Where the Wild Things Are for the fourteen hundredth time, and Andrew O’Dell didn’t wave back at him in the corridor earlier so Nick looked like a fucking idiot in front of everyone and he has a massive disgusting spot growing on his chin that hurts like a mother. “You’re one to talk,” he snaps, and storms back into the kitchen. 

“Is he snacking again?” Nick can hear his dad ask his mum, just as he opens the cupboard. “Fat Boy Roy, gonna eat us out of house and home.” His dad chuckles, like he’s hilarious. Nick wants to chuck biscuits at his face. He shuts the cupboard. 

Back up in his room, Nick spends a few minutes staring at the crumpled up white envelope on his desk, feeling the walls close in around him and hating himself. We’re sorry to inform you, the letter says, that we are unable to offer you a placement for BBC Radio 1 Work Experience at this time. Nick can recite the whole thing. He’s read it enough. 

Nick puts Alanis on his CD player and cranks it up, flops over face down on his bed so that he can’t see anything but the blackness of his sheets. That work experience thing was supposed to be his out, but the door got slammed shut in his face. No wonder Andrew O’Dell won’t even look at him. Even the BBC thinks he’s not worth it. 

A soft knock on his door grows louder until it’s obvious over the music. “Nick?” Jane sounds a little worried. “Can I come in?” 

“No!” shouts Nick, muffled into his pillow. Normally, Jane gives him good big sister talks but he’s not in the mood for her calm insistence that he can do it, that his dreams aren’t stupid. It’s just unhelpful of her, really, because obviously they are. He should give up and be a dentist, or something. “Go away!” 

Jane’s footsteps disappear down the corridor. 

Nick wants to drown in his bedcovers. He wants to sink into them until he disappears into duvet. Becomes one with his mattress. Alanis sings about how she’s here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away, and if Nick’s eyes leak a bit into his pillowcase, his Heather Small poster isn’t going to tell. 

London, 2015

Cold early morning light flickers over Nick’s eyelids, after what only feels like a few seconds of sleep. Fuck, he thinks immediately. He hadn’t meant to nap that long, and now his whole afternoon is gone and he hasn’t even managed to skim Hamlet. Maybe Jenny can give him the basic summary before school. He feels weird, though, all achy like he slept wrong and maybe that’ll be enough to pretend to be ill for. 

“Grimmy!” A hoarse male voice is shouting somewhere off in the distance. Did Jane nab herself a boyfriend when Nick hadn’t noticed? Was his brother home with some sort of gravelly cold? “You didn’t tell me someone was —” 

Nick opens his eyes. A foot above him looms a pale face under a greasy mop of brown curls, all massive green eyes and strong jaw. If this is Jane’s new boyfriend, they’re going to have to have a talk. The man looks moderately shocked, which doesn’t seem fair. Has Nick’s chin spot grown in the night? 

“Nick?” asks the man, hesitantly. 

Nick is just about to answer when — 

“Holy fucking shitballs.” A second man appears behind the first, tall and skinny, mouth slack in his long face. 

It occurs to Nick, suddenly, that he is not in his bedroom. He’s on a sofa in a living room he doesn’t recognise, all hip and decorated with prints like somebody cultured lives there, big art books and colourful throw rugs, which, what the fuck.

“Where the fuck am I,” he demands, sitting up too fast so that his head aches. “Is this some kind of joke? Did Jane put you up to this shit? Or Jenny? What the fuck.” 

The older man looks like he’s having mild conniptions, stood frozen in the centre of the floor with his jaw tight. The other one reaches out a hesitant hand towards Nick, patting his arm like he wants to pull him in for a cuddle but he might bite. 

“If you kidnapped me you’re shit out of luck,” Nick says, although if the house looks like this they probably don’t need the cash. “My dad won’t pay balls all. Waste of money, he’ll say.” 

The older man chokes out a laugh, more sputter than chuckle. “He’s not wrong,” he says. 

“Shush. Nick — you are Nick, right?” asks the younger man. He’s got a low, slow voice, every word dripping out of his pink mouth like honey. Nick’s freaked out, but he can still appreciate how stupidly hot his potential kidnapper is. Are kidnappers usually good looking? They are in films, anyhow. “Are people calling you Grimmy yet?” 

Nick frowns. “That’s more my brother, but I thought it sounded kind of cool, so…” 

“Okay. Hi, Nick. My name’s Harry.” The man — Harry — furrows his eyebrows, green eyes trained to Nick's face. It’s sort of intense, like getting stared at by a really hot statue. “This is going to sound really, really weird, but I think… I think you’ve time travelled.” 

“Yeah, right," scoffs Nick, rolling his eyes. "You’re shitting me.” 

Harry smiles at him like Nick’s a small animal, or a toddler. All sweet and kindly and Nick likes him immediately, which is a weird and probably ill-advised thing to think about someone who has probably kidnapped you. “‘Fraid not. Um. What year is it for you?” 

The taller man peers over Harry’s shoulder. “With that hair, gotta be 2001ish. Oof. Strong look.” 

Nick scowls at him, because sure, that guy may have a massive tall quiff thing but Nick’s growing out a buzzcut, alright, he’s got limited options. “It’s 2000. Duh.” 

“Right,” Harry says. “Well, I know this sounds kind of… Like, mad. But right now, you’re in 2015. And this is Grimmy. Who’s also Nick. You, I guess. In about fifteen years.” 

“Bullshit,” Nick says, voice sounding far away to his ears. He’s glad he’s sitting down. He would probably need to sit down, if he weren’t already sitting down. 

“Grim, tell him something only you’d know,” Harry says, craning his head back to look at the older man. 

The older man shoves his hands into his pockets, peering at him with a face halfway between hysterical laughter and abject fear. “I should Instagram this moment,” he says. “Send it to Finchy to have him tweet it for Teen Awards week. Jesus.” 

Nick doesn’t have any bloody clue what he’s on about, which further reinforces his impression that he’s in the presence of complete nutters. 

“Nick,” Harry says, soft and imploring, reaching back to poke the older man’s knee. 

“You got off with Andrew O’Dell in the changing rooms after school one time,” says the man, looking everywhere except at Nick. “That was killer. No? Well, there you go, you have that to look forward to. You like to sing TLC to the cat. Jane might know that one, actually. You still have your Tamogotchi in that old shoebox in your wardrobe.” He shrugs. “Mate, dunno what to tell you. You keep crying at Alanis Morissette? That spot on your chin has been reoccurring all bloody year?” 

Nick blinks at him, stomach churning. This is one weird as fuck dream, if it’s a dream. And it’s one specific as fuck trick, if it’s that. 

“Oh, hey,” Harry says, face lighting up. “Your birthmark! You’ve got a birthmark. That’s good as identifying.” 

“No,” says the bloke who’s meant to be older Nick. “Absolutely not. That’s one step too far, I’m not stripping in front of teen me, okay? And teen me is not stripping in front of you. You got that, teen me? Oh, christ. This is so fucking weird. Am I still drunk? I’m probably still drunk, aren’t I. This is definitely a tequila dream. Gin nightmare. This is — yeah, I definitely looked like that. Jesus. I need a piss.” He covers his face with his hands — long fingers, like Nick’s own — and then strides off, muttering about tequila slammers. 

“I. Just. Give us a sec, okay? Make yourself at home,” says Harry, with a strained smile, patting Nick on the knee before taking off after — older Nick? The other kidnapper?

Kidnappers probably wouldn’t leave him alone in the sitting room. He takes the opportunity to snoop around. There’s a big old map of Africa on the wall, all framed, and some mirrors (his chin spot remains, untouched, and he looks fat in his Ramones t-shirt). Framed butterflies, stacks of art books, a calendar that proclaims the year as 2015 (ridiculous), a picture of Nick and his parents when he was about eight. Nick picks that up, peering into the frame. His mum and dad smile up at him, untouched. 

This is really weird. 

He continues his snoop, turning over knickknacks and peering into photographs. There’s one he finds behind a row of people he doesn’t recognise, with the older man — older Nick — and Harry where they’re beaming at each other, grins bigger than their faces. They aren’t touching at all, but you don’t look at someone you don’t care about like that, like they’re the only other person in the whole world. You definitely don’t frame it and put it in your house. 

Nick feels really weird, and a bit sick. He goes to sit down on one of the sofas, pulling a throw pillow tight over his stomach. He wonders if future him gets MTV. His dad says it’s a waste of money, which is fucking ridiculous. 

The remote is nowhere obvious, so Nick roots through the cluttered coffee table, hunting under National Geographics and Heat Magazines for sign of it. If this is the future, maybe remotes don’t exist anymore. Maybe you just blink at the telly and it turns on, if you think really hard about Britney Spears MTV just pops up. That’s what the future ought to be like, anyhow. 

He thinks devotedly about Britney and blinks, but the telly remains all black and lifeless. The future is disappointing. 

“Hiya, sorry,” Harry says, all nervous grin, bounding down the little corridor into the wider room and nearly falling towards the end, catching himself on the wall. “How are you doing? D’you need anything? Here, let me do you a cuppa. D’you like it the same as… you? I guess?” 

“More sugar,” older Nick says, following behind Harry at a more sedate pace. “Three.” 

“Yeah,” Nick says. Harry beams between the two of them like he sent out the invitations months ago, and has been expecting the younger version of… his friend? His flatmate? His something? Harry bustles into the kitchen. He’s got very tight trousers on, really. 

“My life is weird,” says older Nick, watching him go. 

Nick snorts. Older Nick didn’t just wake up in some bizzare-o future kidnapper dream, so that’s a bit rich. Older Nick collapses onto the sofa opposite him, and they stare at each other for a long, awkward moment. It’s good to see his skin evens out. He doesn’t look like David Beckham or anything, but not bad, really. His face makes more sense like that, laid out like a blueprint of where he’s headed, less like a hodgepodge of too big features in a swirly spotty sea. 

“So you — I — you go by Grimmy, now? Doesn’t Andy hate that?” 

Older Nick — Grimmy, maybe, it still sounds cool — shrugs, grinning with one side of his mouth. “I won that title fair and square, didn’t I.” He blinks at Nick for a minute. “You know, I don’t remember this. That’s a thing, isn’t it? You’d think if I met myself from the future I’d probably make a mental note of that, like a little aside.”  

Nick looks down at himself, his soft stomach under the pillow and his overlarge t-shirt, overlong spider limbs, his body that’s been growing in weird directions in the last year too fast for him to know what to do with. “This works out, then?” he asks, a little quiet so Harry won’t overhear. 

Grimmy cackles in that nervous way Nick recognises from himself, the same wheezy huffs. Sometimes Nick locks himself in his bedroom and records himself talking into Liv’s baby tape player, just as practice — This is Nick Grimshaw and that was Liz Phair with Exit to Guyville. Brilliant, that record, isn’t it? — and listens back as if he’s hearing himself on the radio. He never likes how he sounds, always erases and starts over, trying to get his tone to go less squeaky. Grimmy’s voice has settled down some, it’s lower and doesn’t break over every other word. His laugh is still creaky, like the rubbed raw sound of a door swinging open. 

“You two okay in there?” calls Harry, over the sound of the kettle bubbling. “Need anything? Toast? Biscuit?”

“Stop fussing, Harold,” says Grimmy, a wrenchingly fond expression spreading over his face. 

Nick looks between Grimmy’s face and the kitchen door. “Are you… Are you both?” He can’t help it, he’s flushing, his face heating up. He’s going to look like a fat tomato any second now. 

“Am I allowed to tell you things?” Grimmy darts a glance at the kitchen. “Hey, Harry, would it break the rules of space and time to tell him things?” He looks at Nick, eyes wide and manic. “My life did not prepare me for this moment. Hey — maybe you’re here to receive important life advice! Drink more water. Ooh, and moisturise! Start early. Start now! Maybe get a six pack, those are foundational, right? Like if you’ve had one, you can go back to having them again? I’m definitely not going to do it but you can and then I could profit off of it. Oh, and sun cream, wear some of that please, SPF as high as you can you’ve seen the face on this one, you know what I have to deal with.” 

“Shut up, Grim, you look good, stop scaring him. And I’m not, uh, sure,” Harry says, answering Grimmy’s previous question as he emerges with three steaming mugs and a little plate of biscuits, somehow managing to hold everything at once. He bumps them down onto the coffee table, nudging aside a few magazines. “I mean, I’ve never heard of this happening before. So. We don’t know how long he’ll be staying, either.” He beams at Nick. “We’re so happy you’re here, though. I’ve always… Well, I’ve always wanted to meet Nick when he was younger. Or I wish I’d been able to.” 

“No you don’t,” says Grimmy flatly. 

Nick scowls at himself. He’s kind of a dick. 

Harry sits next to Grimmy and Nick abruptly feels like he’s getting a talking to from his parents, which is a weird feeling to get from his future self and his… whoever Harry is. “Are you two…” he repeats, not really able to bring himself to say the word. He doesn’t know what word he’d use, anyway. Together? Boyfriends? They both make his gut swoop alarmingly inside his body. 

Harry nods. “For a few years now, yeah.” He looks over at Grimmy, eyes liquid soft. No one’s ever looked at Nick like that. No one ever, not even his mum. 

“What do you do? Like, for a job?” Nick asks suddenly. He needs them to stop looking at each other like that. It makes him feel lonely, and hopeful. It’s too much right now. He just bloody woke up, and he’s in the future, or whatever, the tea is helping but not that much. 

“Oh!” Harry’s face lights up at him, genuinely startling, like he’s got a light-switch inside and he’s powered on behind bright eyes. Nick can feel himself flush again, just at having all that focus directed his way. “Oh, you’ll love this, you got —”

“Just a job,” Grimmy says vaguely. His face is doing something complicated, a secretive furrow. “Wake up in the morning, go to work, come home, the usual.” 

“You don’t want to…” Harry frowns at Grimmy, hand on his knee. 

Grimmy shakes his head. “Not now.” 

Nick’s future self is very annoying. Good hair, but very annoying. He tells him as much. 

The laugh startles out of Grimmy, sputters him over so he’s half leaning onto Harry. “Oh, teen me. You are not one who can talk. I know all your secret shames.” 

It’s official, Nick should just turn in his human card and declare his place in the world as a sentient tomato. 

“What would you like to do, Nick?” Harry asks kindly, because of course he’s lovely as well as stupid good looking. Nick has no idea how future him does it. Hypnosis? “Maybe watch a little telly?” 

The prospect of telly is, admittedly, a balm to Nick’s troubled time travel soul. He wonders if you get jet lag from time travel. “D’you have MTV?” 

It turns out that Grimmy does have MTV, but his MTV is nothing like it is for Nick. Now it’s all pregnant teenagers and hormonal werewolves, apparently. They watch it anyway, Harry’s feet tucked underneath Grimmy’s thigh as they crane their heads back to watch the telly stationed behind their sofa. Nick tries not to stare too obviously. 

“How old are these teenagers?” Nick asks, dubiously eyeing a supposed teen’s massively sculpted chest instead of the way Grimmy’s hand strokes over Harry’s ankle. 

“I think he’s meant to be about seventeen.” Harry sets his empty mug back on the table, shrugging. “But the actors are mostly about twenty-seven, I’d guess.” 

“It’s not called Age of Consent Wolf!” Grimmy pokes Harry in the thigh with a toe and they share a look that speaks of years of inside jokes. Nick tries not to feel like a third wheel. To himself

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Nick admits. Something about wolves, and magic dust, maybe. They seem very intense about it. 

“Teen Wolf got caught by the girl with the good hair’s dad and now they’re getting drunk,” Grimmy says wisely. “They’re probably gonna do it.” 

Nick examines the scene. The older man is looking at the younger one very intently. “Oh my god,” Nick says, “This is so much better if you just watch it as the start of porn.” 

Harry lets out a loud bark of laughter, and Grimmy grins wolfishly, like he’s takings cues from the telly. “You would know,” Grimmy says. “Have you broken the family computer watching porn, yet?” 

If life was just, the floor would suck Nick back into 2000 right about now. “Last week,” Nick mumbles. 

“Ah, tight twinks tight ends,” reminisces Grimmy fondly. “With a side of horrible viruses. Shared computer in the den, stealthy wank after school whilst Mum was at Asda! Those were the days.”

“Fuck off,” Nick says. “I mean, clearly you’ve been reliving it at home, haven’t you?” 

Grimmy just laughs, which wasn’t exactly the reaction Nick was going for. “Yeah,” he says. “Got my very own tight twink right here, didn’t I, Haz? Tight ends and all. Ah, living the dream.” 

Harry looks like he’s trying very, very hard not to laugh. “Shhh,” Harry says. “Look, something’s happening.” He motions up at the telly, where yet another ridiculously sculpted torso is doing something intense. 

“Which one is that one?” Nick asks, for purely intellectual purposes. He tightens his grip on the pillow. 

“Jackson, I think,” Harry says. He pauses for a minute, lips twitching into a grin. “I bet he calls his abs… The Jackson Five.” 

Nick and Grimmy both snort, in nearly the exact same formation, and then eye each other. It’s disconcerting. 

“I want to tweet about this,” Harry says. “But is it too much? I’ve got a good hashtag. Lycanthropeen!” 

“Stealing it,” Grimmy says, and fishes his phone out of his pocket. It’s very sleek, no visible buttons. Like Nick’d imagined the future would be like, off of science fiction or summat. 

“I have no idea what you people are talking about.” Nick frowns at them, and then rage eats a few biscuits and looks intently at the naked chest of the age of consent werewolf on MTV. “On telly or in real life.” 

Teen Wolf is on marathon, and by the fourth episode Nick has a vague idea who everyone is. He’s already decided he likes Lydia best. Grimmy and Harry continue to be really gross, with their fond smiles and the way they gently rib each other and touch constantly. It makes Nick feel weird, like maybe he’s just swallowed a bird and it’s flapping away in his stomach trying to fly from the inside. It also makes him feel really jealous, but that’s easier to identify. Both of their phones go off every few seconds, vibrating incessantly on the coffee table until Harry just thumbs both of them onto silent with a soft aside to Grimmy, something about ‘taking the day’. 

Nick must drift off sometime after the big lizard is found out, because the next thing he registers is Grimmy and Harry speaking softly across the room, and Teen Wolf is shut off.

“I’ve got to go in tomorrow,” Grimmy is saying. “Are we meant to just… Wait it out, d’you reckon? I can’t leave him here by himself. I can’t leave… me. Fuck’s sake, this is so weird.” 

There’s a silence, and then the low murmur of Harry’s voice starts up. “I’ve just got a few meetings Monday. I can call Lou, she’ll make my excuses. Say I’m ill. It’ll be okay, love. It’ll work out.” 

“I’m sorry about… You know. By the way. I know it’s bad timing, what with mini me, over there.” Grimmy sounds sort of nervous, conciliatory. Nick wonders what he’s done. 

“It’s fine. We’ll talk about it later.” There’s some rustling of clothing moving, and Nick eases his eyes open to see that they’re kissing, Harry pressing Grimmy up against the lip of the divider between the lounge and the conservatory. Nick can’t tear his eyes away from the hungry way Harry’s hands burrow under Grimmy’s jumper, Grimmy holding tight onto Harry’s floppy hair. Nick can see glimpses of tongue where their mouths move against each other. Harry’s making little breathy noises in the back of his throat, and Nick’s starting to stiffen up in his jeans, which is embarrassing. 

“Oh, you’re awake!” Harry says brightly, breaking away from Grimmy with a wet sound. “Are you hungry?” 

Nick is more horny than hungry, if he’s honest, but he nods anyway. Harry orders in Thai and they eat in the conservatory, under the dimming sun. Nick feels unusually quiet, just watching them ramble on about people he hasn’t met yet, Harry stealing bites off Grimmy’s plate and then giggling when Grimmy chucks chopsticks at him. Nick supposes he should want to go home soon or be worried about it or something but it’s so nice here. The cozy flat feels like home, which makes sense, considering. 

After dinner they watch some telly show about houses and then set him up on the sofa for the night, which starts outrageously early — “Have early work mornings, me,” Grimmy says — before retreating to the bedroom, shutting the door behind them. 

Nick watches half an episode of Teen Wolf — he decides to take this time travel thing in stride, like Lydia (probably) would if anyone actually bothered to tell her she was in a supernatural television programme — before he gives up pretending to be doing anything other than trying to listen through the walls. He creeps down the hallway and crouches by the bedroom door, chin on his knees. It’s not weird if it’s him, right? There’s a low murmur of voices, rustling, some breathy sighs. Nick wraps his arms tightly around his folded legs and tries not to breathe too loud. 

*

“Morning! We didn’t think you’d still be here.”

Nick blearily opens his eyes and — yes. He’s still in bizzare-o future. Harry is still hot, and Nick is still hungry. Grimmy is nowhere to be seen. 

“Nick — other Nick — is at work,” Harry says. “So it’s just you and me today.” Harry sets a cup of tea in front of Nick alongside of plate of toast.  

Involuntarily, Nick’s face heats up like a small, embarrassing volcano. 

“What would you like to do?” Harry beams at him, staggeringly pretty, the sort of person who should exist in glossy magazines and on telly and not ever venture into real life to dumbfound the people around him with his intent stare.

Nick fumbles desperately for an answer, his mouth only managing to produce a weak ‘eughhmm’ moan like a constipated stoat. Is Harry the sort of person who wants to go look at art or summat cultural like that? Nick mostly likes crisps and telly. He shrugs. 

“I have an idea, actually,” Harry muses, filching one of Nick’s pieces of toast and chewing on it contemplatively. “Here, let’s get you some of Grim’s — your — clothes and you can have a shower, and we’ll make a day of it. It’ll be really good, I promise.” 

Grimmy’s clothes fit awkwardly on Nick, too tight in places or too baggy in others, too long or too short. Nick spends a desperate few minutes after his shower trying to get his hair to behave. It’s too short for that quiff Grimmy has. He frowns at his face in the mirror. Eventually, that chin is going to sort itself out. He’s seen the proof but it is not in the pudding. Actually, his chin is more the pudding. 

Outside the door, Harry is all endless legs and low-cut top under an expensive looking black coat and if Nick weren’t so distracted by the spectacle he’d be annoyed about it.

Okay, he’s a little annoyed about it. 

“Where are we going?” 

Harry beams and does a completely unconvincing shrug. “We’ll take a little drive. It’ll be fun!” 

The car is a ridiculous shiny Range Rover and Harry drives with practised ease, though he does nearly crash into a tree trying to switch the radio over to CD. 

“Just… wanted to listen to some Miley,” Harry says, slowly. “Love her.” 

Nick rolls his eyes and looks out the window, at the neat rows of white and brick terraces, tidy hedges and independent shops with signs in ornate script. 

There is no, no way they’re in Royton. 

“Have you been to London before?” Harry asks. 

“Sure,” Nick says immediately. “Loads of times.” 

He’s gone twice. 

“Do you like it?” 

Nick nods, watching the street roll past. A wide green park, a still canal overhung with weeping trees, the city stretching around them for eons of packed brick. London. “It’s… big,” he manages, and then wishes he could blunt himself around the head with Big Ben because who the fuck says that? It’s big. London’s big. Groundbreaking.

Harry’s laughing, which is normal, but it’s not cruel-sounding. It’s all smokey and warm, like a bonfire. “I know exactly what you mean,” he says. “It’s massive, isn’t it?”

Nick can only nod, watching out the window at the bright street, trying not to blink so that he doesn’t miss anything. A woman bikes past in a fluoro jacket. Two children in puffy coats cling to a woman’s hand, pulling her down the street towards the entrance to what the street sign says is the London zoo, wrought iron gate open. He tries to peer around Harry’s head at it without looking too obvious that he’s hoping to see the head of giraffe or something. No luck, though. Just fancy car park. Like a zoo but for BMWs. On the left, the wild Audi exhibit. See how they frolic through fields of luxury car dealerships! 

Nick might be losing it a bit. 

“Harry?” Nick asks, eyes trained on the window. “Can I ask you something? For real, though.” 

“Yeah, of course,” Harry says, suddenly grave, blinking over the dashboard at him. It’s lucky they’re at a light. 

“How long have you and Grimmy been… you know.” 

Harry snorts a laugh and then goes a little quiet. The red light turns green. Nick peaks a look at him. There’s an expression he hasn’t seen before on Harry’s face, a little sad. “Um,” Harry says, navigating a turn carefully. “It’s sort of… Complicated, I guess. And not complicated at all, too. We’ve been friends since I was — about five years, I guess. We’ve been this… about the same.” He falls quiet, looking out into the road ahead of them. “I’m away a lot.” 

“Oh,” Nick says, like he gets it, only he doesn’t get it at all. 

“My job. I have to travel a lot. If I could — but I mean, I love my job, it’s just, it doesn’t give me a lot of free time. Sometimes.” Harry bites his lower lip, pulls it through his teeth. “It makes stuff like this… Tough, sort of. Grim doesn’t love it.” 

Nick wants to study Harry’s face but he’s too embarrassed, so he stares resolutely at the passing city. This is the first crack in the ridiculous fantasy world Nick woke up in, and it sounds like it’s Nick’s — future Nick’s — fault, which is rubbish. “That’s rubbish,” he says. “He’s an idiot.”

“It’s not his fault. I’m really — I missed his birthday this year. And last year. I tried to facetime him from Philadelphia and the connection shorted out.” Harry shrugs, flicks the volume on the radio so the bass turns up. “I’m back for a while now, though. That’s going okay.” 

Nick nods, watching the fancy car park whiz past until another question occurs to him. “Am I — Is Grimmy really rich?” 

“He’s done alright,” Harry says, smiling in a way that says he’s not going to tell Nick more than he needs to. “So I was going to run a couple of errands, and then we can pop by and get Grim from work. Sound alright?” 

Nick nods, craning his head to keep watching a couple at the bus stop, hanging off of each other laughing uproariously about something. 

“When you went before, was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn’t? Anywhere you wanted to visit?” 

Nick had never wanted to visit London. He wanted to live there. Jane and Nick’s mum had wanted to see things but mostly Nick had wanted to walk around and try to sneak into pubs and pretend like this was his chip shop, this was his newspaper agent, this was his street he was walking down to his flat. He spent every tourist trap desperately pretending that he was the native showing around his out of town family, which was a bit of a bother really but he did want to show them a good time. He doesn’t know how to explain this to Harry without sounding like a complete nutter. “Anywhere’s okay,” he says. “Maybe a music place? Go out for a curry maybe? I’m starving, me.” 

With a great helium burst Harry cracks a laugh, one hand going to his mouth. “Sorry. Sorry, you just. That’s just like… you, I guess. You sound the same.” 

Harry is looking over the console with eyes so warm Nick actually has to look away. Harry’s got laser beam irises of joy and they’re fatal, he’s pretty sure. Like Medusa, but nicer. 

The drive can’t be more than ten minutes and Harry keeps Nick talking the whole time, with slow, earnest questions about Nick’s friends and the time he’d been to London and how his family is doing. He’s particularly interested in the exploits of Liv, the deranged toddler, and Nick’s in the middle of a story about the time Liv broke into the cupboard and ate all of the chocolate icing that was meant to be for Andrew’s birthday cake when Harry starts pulling into street parking. 

“I thought we’d hit this little Indian place first,” Harry says, reaching behind Nick’s seat to see behind him. The fabric of Harry’s coat brushes Nick’s shoulder, a faint rustle of touch that forces heat into Nick’s ears and spills red onto his skin. He can’t help it. Harry smells good. “Nick — older Nick — he and I used to go here before his work sometimes, when he was on nights.” 

Before Nick can question him properly Harry’s out on the street, sorting the parking and waiting for Nick to join him. He scrambles out of the car as gracefully as he can manage (not much) and squints down the street. By a shop window a woman is pointing at them, saying something to her friend. Harry doesn’t seem to notice, explaining something about how the owner of the restaurant knows someone Grimmy knows, or something. 

“Um, excuse me? Could I have a picture, please?” 

A group of teenage girls are beaming at Harry like he’s the second coming, clutching their phones in their hands. 

“Of course,” says Harry smoothly, getting his arm around each in turn and taking quick snaps on their phones, facing inward. 

Nick backs away. One of the girls is breathing so shallowly Nick almost wants to offer his inhaler. They’re all speaking at Harry at once and Harry seems completely relaxed, a practised white smile fixed on his features as he signs bits of notebook paper and one girl’s arm. Nick backs away more, only noticing when he hits the brick wall of the building behind them. 

“Where are you going?” Harry asks, finally popping up from behind the cluster of girls. “We haven’t gotten our curry yet!” 

There’s no easy way to ask someone if they are famous, Nick realises, as he trails a half step behind Harry down the street. It’s also not easy to ask someone if they are famous and if so why

Their chosen destination is around a side corner and the owner greets them heartily, seats them in the back behind a partition. The room is sleek and modern, glass and red accents. The menu is on some sort of clear paper and Nick blinks down at it. He ends up ordering chicken tandoori because he doesn’t really recognise much else. Harry closes his eyes and points at the menu, and then orders that. 

“How’s school?” Harry asks. “You’re doing… English, Business, Media Studies… and something else, right?” 

Nick winces. “General studies.” He is vaguely on the verge of failing about half of those courses right now. “Rubbish.” 

“I never finished school,” Harry says. “Got as far as GCSEs and then… Something sort of, like. Came up. So.” 

“Something being why those girls wanted your picture?” 

Harry’s lips quirk up at the corners. “Something like that.” 

The food is good but Harry’s random selection is wildly spicy, so he spends half of their lunch fanning himself and sweating and then giggling at his inability to handle it. Nick would pretend that Harry’s gasps weren’t horribly endearing, but that would be pretty useless. They are. 

“Ooh, you know what?” Harry pauses in wiping spice-related tears from his wide, watery eyes. “We should Instagram this.” 

“What?” 

“Here, look at me through this.” Harry hands him the clear menu from before. Hesitantly, Nick raises it to cover his face. Harry looms blurry through it, nose warped underneath black text. There’s a snap, and Harry giggles. “Here, see?” 

A photo of Nick illuminates Harry’s phone, a square shot of him holding up the menu and a blur of features through the page. Underneath, there’s a line of text that says ‘palz’, and then a little picture of a fish. It has 33 likes already, though Nick isn’t sure what that means. 

“Cool,” Nick says, dubiously. 

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, beaming down at his phone. Nick doesn’t know how to deal with Harry’s expression, so he eats some more tandoori chicken even though he’s not hungry anymore.

*

Over the four errands they run after lunch Harry gets stopped seven times for autographs and pictures and Nick has yet to figure out a way to ask him why he’s famous. He starts coming up with imaginary scenarios around the third time: Harry is a television star-slash-jeans aficionado. Harry is a celebrity chef for preteens. Harry is the princess of Genovia. 

After the seventh round of signatures, Harry ushers Nick into the car and off-handedly mentions that they’re going to pick Grimmy up from work, which sets Nick’s stomach churning. What if the funds behind his posh flat come from executive dentistry?  What if he’s doing something embarrassing, or lame, like accounting? Nick barely passed his maths GCSE, surely he couldn’t be an accountant. 

The underground car park doesn’t give Nick any clues but there — on the glass doors leading to the lift, in wide-spaced block letters — BBC. 

Does the BBC have in-house accounting? Their own dentist?

“Nick’ll be done in about an hour — normally he’s here later, but he’s rescheduled a few things — but first I’ve got someone for you to meet,” Harry says, his face split into the sort of grin parents wear on Christmas morning. They board the lift — more BBC labelling, as if Nick would forget — and travel up, Harry talking loudly about the apparently new and high tech building nonstop the whole way. Nick can’t get a question in about accounting or dentistry, so he just nods along and watches Harry’s bright eyes flash in the light. 

The building certainly is new and high tech, swooping past the glass lift like a science fiction set. When the doors ding open Harry leads him around the corner of a big glass and chrome office, people bustling around handing each other things and there, leaning against a fridge next to a counter covered with snack food is Sara fucking Cox

She’s older, blonder with an even fringe over her face where Nick’s seen her with a sort of side-swept thing but it’s unmistakably Sara, that wide friendly grin and warm Northern accent Nick listens to every morning on the radio, hoping for red lights on the way to school so that he can listen longer. His stomach drops, throat clogging up. He wonders if she’s still doing the Breakfast Show. Probably not, after fourteen years, but she’s bloody brilliant and he wouldn’t mind. 

“Hiya, Sara,” Harry says, and kisses her on the cheek whilst Nick quietly loses his mind behind him. “How are you?” 

“Good, Haz, good, thinking about taking the kids to another of your concerts soon. You lot are doing the O2 again in March, aren’t you?” Harry nods, and Sara looks past him to Nick, who gapes like a lobster in one of those tanks in posh seafood restaurants, helpless and bound and ready for boiling. “Who’s this you’ve got with you, then?” 

“Oh, right,” Harry tugs Nick forward, grinning encouragingly. “This is Grimmy’s nephew. Um. Ni…ash. Nash. He’s in town for the day.” 

“Bloody hell, you look just like those pictures of Grimmy when he was a kid,” marvels Sara eyes wide, and then she hugs him, skinny arms tight around his torso. “Hiya, Nash. Y’alright?” 

Nick can’t manage much more than a vague nod and a shimmy like he’s attempting to salsa the words out of his oesophagus. 

“He’s into radio too, Sara. He’s really funny. Wants to present someday, maybe.” 

“Well if you’re anything like Grimmy you’ll be a natural,” says Sara, reaching past Nick to put the kettle on.

“You, um.” Nick coughs, trying to keep his voice from squeaking. “You think I — he’s good?” 

“Of course!” Sara pops a biscuit into her mouth and talks through it. “He’s one of the best. Really warm, you know? Impossible to dislike. I think it’s really great he got Breakfast. He’s doing amazing things.” 

Nick’s stomach plummets further down, possibly into the lifts and down into the basement. “I — what?” 

“Er,” says Harry. 

“The Breakfast Show really needs that kind of voice, I think,” says Sara, pouring water into her mug and reaching for the sugar. “Sort of irreverent, cheeky, friendly. He’s a lovely guy, isn’t he?”

“Uh,” says Harry.

“I need to, um. Toilet,” Nick says, and nearly gets completely lost in the maze of the building, blindly walking until he finds himself thumbing the door button at the lift over and over again as his stomach attempts to free itself from his body. 

In the lift the piped in music cuts out suddenly around the third floor, and then it’s Grimmy’s voice coming over the speakers. And that was Haim’s new single, wonderful as ever. Love that record. When do they come in next, Finchy? I miss those shrill Americans. The tone straight out of Nick’s bedroom, playing the shoddy recordings he made of himself at four in the morning, with all the creaks ironed out of his voice and the audio quality better than Liv’s baby tape player. Nick nearly boots his toast all over the shiny chrome floor. 

When the doors ding open Nick is out like a shot, running so fast he nearly trips over his too-long limbs, rapidly growing femurs buckling over each other in a race to the door. He nearly knocks over an assistant with a pile of papers, and a security guy with a walkie talkie until he’s tripping out of the revolving glass doors into the frigid courtyard outside. 

London looms above him, tumultuous, spinning. Nick wants, abruptly, to go home. He wants to sit in his natty living room and have his mum nag at him about doing the washing up, to do his bloody Hamlet reading and have Liv smear banana in his hair. 

Nick keeps running, towards an old stone church that huddles unassumingly by the road, grey pillars and spire dwarfed by the great light and glass technology show beside it. It’s got steps, so Nick sits down, puts his head on his knees and hopes no Italian tourists want to know how to get to Buckingham Palace. Nick’s got no bloody idea. 

It could have been five minutes or fifteen before Nick sees familiar boots trudge up the worn steps, stop right in front of him. “Hi,” says Harry. The tips of his toes tilt in towards each other. It’s weirdly endearing. 

Nick keeps his head down, trained on Harry’s pigeon-toed feet. Harry can talk to Nick’s stupid, unquiffy hair. “Hi,” Nick manages, grudgingly. 

“Nick didn’t mean for you to find out like that,” Harry says. Nick can feel him sit down, the weight of Harry’s shoulder heavy against his, warm though the layers of coats. “My Nick, I mean. Grimmy. He didn’t want to tell you. Said he thought… Well, this, sort of.” 

Nick still can’t manage words. It seems unbelievably cruel of the universe to give him this dream, to taunt him with the fantasy, this Mount Everest of everything he’s ever hoped for. It’s not fair. Nick can’t have everything he wants here. He can’t. That’s not how life works. 

They sit quietly for a while. When Harry finally speaks it’s slow, speculative. “You know, when Grim got Breakfast, he thought he was getting fired.” 

“Really?” asks Nick, into his knees. 

“Yeah. He was meant to meet Big Boss Ben Cooper at nine in the morning but they didn’t say why. He texted me with like fourteen sad faces the night before and asked me to look up benefits. Didn’t sleep at all and then was a half hour late.” 

“Why’d I — he get it? Anyway? If he’s that rubbish at everything, I mean.” 

Harry snorts. “He’s not rubbish. He says he is, and he’s never going to be a proper adult but — what’s a proper adult, anyway? I don’t think anyone thinks they’re a proper adult. He got Breakfast because he worked for it. He works really hard, and he’s good at radio, and he’s clever and funny and friendly and people like listening to him at the start of their days. Makes them feel happy.” Harry knocks his boot against one of Nick’s trainers lightly. “Makes me feel happy, when I’m stressed out, just to put him on for a minute. That’s why.” 

Nick’s stomach is swirling less intensely, the knots in his spine smoothing out a bit. He clenches tight to his knees. “You like him a lot, don’t you.” Nick does his best not to think about Andrew O’Dell, ignoring him in the corridor. 

“Yeah. A lot.” Harry puts an arm around Nick’s shoulders and Nick nearly melts out of his skin. “I like you a lot, too.” 

If there was an apocalypse at the centre of London, if a stampede of mangy bison came hurtling down Portland Place, if a thousand cranes swooped down from the heavens and shat all over the old church and surrounding areas, Nick would probably not be able to move away from the warmth of Harry’s arm. He just wouldn’t be able to. He’d just have to die here. It’d be okay. Nick’s fine with it. 

“You want to go home?” 

Nick would, actually, but Grimmy’s place will do.

*

Nick goes for a nap when they get back, dozes off in Grimmy’s big white bed for he doesn’t know how long. He wakes to the sound of raised voices, and for a minute he thinks he’s home again and overhearing his parents shouting. 

“I can’t — I can’t decide that for you, Harry,” Grimmy is saying. “It’s really up to you. I really don’t mind.” 

There’s a low rumble of Harry’s voice, too quiet to make out, and Nick slides out of bed and creeps down the hall to try to hear better, his stomach twisting. 

“I know, I get that but I — it’s not for me to decide you know?” Harry can see Grimmy reflected in the mirror by the hall, both hands twisting in his hair. “I really… I don’t mind.” 

“Grim, we’re in a relationship. We both have to decide on this. That’s how it works. You get to contribute to this, okay?” Harry has his back to the mirror but by the way Grimmy’s face crumples he must not look happy. “It, like — why is this so impossible for you? Don’t you have an opinion about it?” 

Grimmy raises his hands up, questioning. “No, no, Haz, that’s not — I just, we don’t know how long this is going to go on for. Your band, like, I don’t know, I honestly don’t know — you’re… Everyone wants you, Harry. Everyone.” 

“I don’t care,” Harry says, arms spread wide. “I care that you do. And I really don’t mind who knows” 

Grimmy covers his face with both hands, sinks down on the sofa. “That’s the other… God, I don’t know, Haz. I just don’t know. I just… this causes you so much bother, and you’re at like, the prime of your life, and I’m…” 

“Nick,” says Harry, and in the hallway Nick flinches, ducks further behind the bookshelf. “Are you not even listening to me? I love you. I want to be with you. That’s it, it doesn’t have to be a big… We’re happy. We’re happy together. We tell people, we don’t tell people, either way. But I can’t make that choice for you. Okay? You have to say one way or another.” 

Grimmy thunks his forehead down onto his knees with a light thunk. “I hate decisions.” 

Harry softens, sitting down beside him and knocking against his shoulder. “Yeah. I know. But this… This is big, you know? We don’t have to decide now, or anything just… Talk about it. Okay?” 

“I just need to think about it,” Grimmy says, muffled into his palms. 

Harry makes a face that Grimmy can’t see but Nick can, from the angle of the mirror. “Fine, okay. I need to babysit Lux tonight anyway. You have a think about it.”

It doesn’t occur to Nick that the way to the door is through the hallway until Harry’s three steps away from where Nick’s crouched awkwardly behind the bookcase.

“Hi,” Nick says, going beetroot red. 

Harry’s face is complicated and sad enough to melt a series of Russian ice sculptures in empathy. “Hi,” he says, “I’m sorry you had to — I’ll be back in a few hours.” 

“It’s okay.” Nick feels weird and helpless, like when he sees his mum crying at a sentimental advert.

Harry smiles in a way that doesn’t touch his eyes and, a few seconds later, a door opens and closes. In the lounge, Grimmy is still on the sofa with his head in his hands. Nick marches over him, arms akimbo. 

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Nick snaps, unable to help himself. 

Grimmy huffs a laugh, head down. “Ah, lovely. Bollocked by my bo — by my friend and by my teenaged self in one night, what a lovely evening.” 

Nick suppresses the desire to kick his older self in the balls. “I’m really fucking looking forward to going out with him, okay, so don’t screw this up for me.” 

“He’s really great,” says Grimmy vaguely, “You’ll have a nice time.” 

Nick sits down on the sofa opposite Grimmy, staring at the top of his quiffy hair. “What exactly are you on about? What’s the issue? He’s hot, he’s funny, he’s smart, you like him. I don’t know why, but he wants to date you. Like, properly, as opposed to whatever shit you were doing before — faux dating? Platonic fucking? Imitation romance? — And you’re… what, flipping out?” 

Grimmy rubs at his face and looks up. His eyes are red-rimmed. He looks very tired. “It’s complicated. I’m not… It’s not him I’m not sure about.” 

Nick just blinks at him, waiting. 

“He — he wants to talk about us going public, possibly. I’m not sure about it.” Grimmy makes a pained face. “Ugh, real talk. I hate real talk, it’s so fucking awkward. Can we stop this now and watch telly or something?” 

Nick kicks his older self in the ankle. “No. You’re a dick. So you don’t want to, or something? Like… would people freak out?” His stomach contracts, suddenly. It’s one thing to sort of let your family make their own assumptions, like he has, and another to bring home a guy and say ‘this is my boyfriend.’ He can’t imagine doing that to the world. What if they were shitty? What if the nice girls who asked for Harry’s picture said something awful?

“Oh — god, it’s not —” Grimmy furrows his mouth, something working in his forehead. “I mean, yeah, people would probably be dicks about it but that’s… It’s not as bad as it could be. And the people who matter don’t, at all. Mum and Dad don’t bother themselves about it, you know. When you — it’ll be Andrew O’Dell, so that’ll be good, I mean he’s kind of a dick but he’s fit and you’ll have a really awkward jacket potato with them and then it’ll be over. Sorted. I mean, then there’s another thing in uni but — yeah, basically, fine.” 

There is absolutely no world in which Nick can imagine himself having a jacket potato with his parents and an Andrew O’Dell who is willing to put his tongue near Nick’s tongue. Absolutely none. And yet, he would have said the same thing about someone like Harry, and here they are. “So what’s… You have to tell him something, right? Is that the thing?” 

Grimmy picks at the corner of the sofa, like Nick does when he’s uncomfortable. “Guess so.” He shrugs. “Don’t want to tell him no, he’d ask why and I’d have to tell him. Don’t want to tell him yes because…” Grimmy looks pained. “Anyway, I fucking hate real talk. This is so fucking… This is embarrassing. Why can’t we just watch telly, again?” 

“Don’t fuck it up,” Nick says immediately, thinking about the way Harry sat next to him on those church steps. “Mate, he’s like. Perfect. Like. Perfect. It’s weird, it’s like he was made in a lab.” 

“He’s not perfect.” Grimmy’s face goes soft, private. “He, like. He’s really messy. He steals my clothes all the time and never bloody gives them back. He always wants everyone’s attention constantly. He’s weird and talks to pictures of animals, which is embarrassing. He falls asleep everywhere, and he drools. And my — our — mum likes him more than me.” 

Well, this is just getting disgustingly out of hand. Nick actually does throw a pillow at his head. Grimmy tries to bat it away but reaches a bit too late, flailing at the fabric. “You love him,” Nick says, voice high-pitched and squawking. “You love him and you want to marry him and have like fourteen babies and a dog.” 

Grimmy goes beet coloured. “I do not,” he squawks. “I already have a dog, even if Collette kidnapped her, and I would never want fourteen babies.” He falls quiet, the blushy red deepening to a sort of crimson sunset. “Maybe one. Or two, I guess, so the first one wouldn’t get lonely.” 

Nick snorts a laugh and then kicks Grimmy a bit on the ankle. “You can have that, you stupid fucker. And don’t you think people are going to notice when you two start pushing a pram around and buy a country house or something twee as fuck like that?” 

Grimmy keeps looking at his feet, steadily growing redder. “Maybe someday, but not — Harry’s twenty-one. He’s not — we’re at different stages.” Grimmy shifts, pulls the sleeves of his jumper over to cover his massive hands. “He’s going to figure that out. He’s going to get stir crazy and leave and I — I don’t want to have to live through that. I guess.” 

“Fucking hell.” Nick throws another pillow at Grimmy, just to make a point. “You don’t want to tell people you have him because you’re afraid you might lose him? That’s some bullshit, mate. Do you know how fucking lonely I am? All the bloody time? I have loads of friends but I have literally never had anybody like that and you and Harry are fucking disgustingly happy together and you are going to throw that away because you’re afraid someday Harry might fuck off? Maybe? If he ever stops thinking the sun signs out of your ass, which he does, by the way?” 

Grimmy’s face goes through a rapid series of expressions, crumpling around the forehead and liquifying in the eyes. “Hey — you’re going to be okay, kid." He knocks his boot against Nick's trainer, lightly. "You know that, right? You’re going to be okay.” 

Nick’s chest clenches, water pooling abruptly in his eyes. He coughs to hide it, rubbing his cheek on the shoulder of his borrowed shirt. 

“Want to watch some MTV?” Grimmy asks, kindly. “I’ve got crisps.” 

Nick nods, and Grimmy pumps the air in victory. In ten minutes they’re watching a confusing episode of Teen Wolf with a big bowl of salt and vinegar crisps, knees bumping up against each other companionably. Nick is about to question the Star Trek porn style music when Grimmy clears his throat. 

“It’s not —” Grimmy stares at his hands instead of the teenaged werewolves, twisting his bracelets around his wrist. “I haven’t done — y’know, I’ve got no idea what I’m allowed to tell you. Don’t want to rip a hole in space and time or anything.” 

“Bit late, probably,” Nick says. “For all I know, this is a delusion anyway. I know you’re doing — you know.” He can’t quite make himself say ‘Breakfast Show’ aloud, like if he incants the spell it’ll get jinxed, or something. The idea is too overwhelming, bustling like the big city around that little church. 

“Right,” Grimmy says, grinning suddenly. “Soz for letting you find out like that. Didn’t know Haz was actually going to take you into the Beeb. But… Brilliant, right?” 

Nick nods, heart jolting electric at the very idea of it. The Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw. Once when they were thirteen he and Jenny had written a news article in his English notebook about him getting the Breakfast Show, shaky pencil and overwrought descriptions. It was a daydream, and yet — here he is. “How does that even happen? I mean. I’m in Oldham, right, and I’m rubbish at school and I got rejected from work experience and the only person I’ve ever kissed is Jenny and it was a joke… at what point does it start to not, like. Suck?” 

“Once you relax a bit, I think.” Grimmy pauses for a long moment, as the teen wolves cavort across the telly. “You don’t have to have it sorted right away. It’s good to be a bit of an idiot and fuck around, that makes for good radio later, I think. Helps not being sixteen, too. That’s just going to suck, in general. Soz.” 

Nick snorts. At least he’s honest. “So what about Harry’s job? What’s he do that means people ask him for photos and all that? Duchess of Marlborough? Brad Pitt?” 

Grimmy smirks. “Bit of a popstar, actually.” 

Nick lets his eyes roll to his heart’s content, because Jesus Christ. “Of course he is. Fucking hell, is your dog like a champion dog racer too? Have they engineered crisps to be health conscious? Has Lauryn Hill become your close personal friend?” 

Grimmy rolls his eyes. “I know; it’s mad. Here we are, though.”

“So… with Harry,” Nick says, after a few more minutes of teen wolves. “What’s like, what’s your — our deal? Did Mum and Dad fuck me up, or summat? Do I have a wound that will never heal?” 

Grimmy thwacks him about the head with a pillow, which seems unnecessary. “I’m being a bit stupid, probably,” Grimmy admits when he’s done ruining the already fucked state of Nick’s hair. “I do that. Get a bit… nervous.” 

“Bummer.” Nick pauses, then snorts. “Literally.” 

“Oh, fuck off,” wheezes Grimmy through a great bark of laughter, “That’s yourself you’re talking to.” 

“I should probably be making some more your mum jokes. Seems fertile territory.” 

Grimmy raises an eyebrow. “Well, not these days.” 

It’s Nick’s turn to thwack Grimmy now, because gross. They sit companionably for a bit, watching the teen wolf with the cheekbones cavort around all shirtless and fanciable. Nick wonders if it’d be a bit weird to jack off in front of your future self, or if that’d be normal. 

“So is this, like. Me talking to myself?” Nick asks instead. 

Grimmy snorts. “I always thought I sounded mental when I was alone in the house.” 

“Me too,” says Nick, and they grin at the telly screen. 

Harry comes home at around half ten, when Lydia has finished running naked around the woods for god knows why and Nick and Grimmy have polished off an entire pizza. 

“Hi,” Grimmy says, jolting up straight. “Hi, you’re right. We can talk about it, I’ll, um. I…” He glances a look at Nick and then sets his jaw. “Like. I love you. Or whatever.” 

“Do you?” asks Harry, mouth twitching into a blinding smile. 

They beam at each other, faces split and shining, like they’re the only two people in the entire world. 

“I’m just gonna… out,” says Nick uselessly. He grabs his future self’s old coat and lets himself out into the garden, breathing condensation smoke out into the cold air. 

Through the glass Nick can see Grimmy pull Harry to the sofa in a graceless tangle, their mouths arcing into wide hysterical laughs. Grimmy twines his limbs around Harry’s, noses into his neck. They’re quiet now, eyes half closed, Grimmy saying something into Harry’s skin whilst Harry’s fingers move slow over his hair. From where Nick is sitting, he can see their dark heads entangled, their entwined bodies stretching over the rest of the sofa. Nick pulls his coat around his torso tightly, curling into himself. 

There it is. What Nick wants, in warm yellow light before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas panto. Only plate glass and time in between them. 

*

It’s nearing midnight and Teen Wolf has given over to reruns of some show about teenagers with babies. Grimmy has put an array of vodka into the juice, so this is tolerable.

“I think,” Harry says speculatively, fiddling with fabric over Grimmy’s knee, “That maybe it’s like… a mutual fairy god-person situation. Like, the time travel... thing. You know?” 

Nick pauses halfway through shovelling crisps into his mouth to blink unattractively at Harry, picturing that bit in Cinderella with the singing mice. 

Grimmy shrugs, twisting himself so that his legs are flung more securely over Harry’s. “Always fancied you in a ballgown and glass shoe, Harold.” 

“No, it’s like—” Harry pauses, frowning at the coffee table. “Like maybe we all needed this to happen. Or like, Nick — little Nick — couldn’t go home until we fixed things. Maybe.” 

Nick shoves the crisps into his mouth so he doesn’t have to say anything. It’s been a long day. 

“So you think he’ll not be here in the morning?” Grimmy asks. “I’m going to need to sleep soon. I’ve got to wake up in scarcely an hour, fairy godperson or not.” 

“You haven’t,” Harry says. “And I dunno. Maybe.” 

Nick wonders what it’ll be like, to be back in his old bedroom after this, under his Heather Small poster and the blue duvet with the stain. It feels like a lifetime ago. He guesses, a little bit, that it has been. 

“It’s been real, little me,” says Grimmy, all jovial as he gets off the sofa, but his eyes are complicated. “If you’re still here tomorrow you’re going to have to pay rent.” 

“Very Dad of you,” Nick says. They stare at each other for a moment, until Grimmy bends down to hug him, quickly. 

“That was embarrassing,” Grimmy says when they part. “Let’s not do that again.” 

“This is going to be anticlimactic tomorrow morning,” Nick says. 

“Let’s pretend nothing happened.” Grimmy kicks Harry in the knee. “You’re sworn to secrecy.” 

“I’ll take it to the grave,” agrees Harry solemnly. 

“See that you do. Alright, I’m off, have fun with the pregnant teens.” Grimmy kisses Harry on the mouth, soft and thorough and so tender that Nick has to look away, before he retreats down the hallway. Nick can make out the sound of running water and toiletries moving around faintly behind the orchestral music of sad hormonal adolescents. 

“So,” says Nick looking down at his lap, tucking his feet further under his thighs. 

“So,” says Harry, bumping his muscly shoulder into Nick’s soft one. 

“Are you going to like… tell the world, now?” 

Harry shrugs. “Not sure. Maybe, in a little bit.” 

Nick nods. “So you, like. You think I’m going home, after tonight?” He looks at Harry through the corner of his eyes. Harry’s sort of like a lunar eclipse. He can’t look at him directly or his brain’s going to get totally fucked. 

“Maybe,” Harry says. He reaches over and links his fingers with Nick’s, long and strong over Nick’s chubby knuckles. “I’ve liked meeting you, though.” 

“I — um.” Nick’s whole body is crimson, he’s fairly certain. Or green. Christmas colours. Happy Mega Fit Bloke Holding Your Hand Day Eve, or something. “You — you too.” 

The gurgle of Harry’s laugh jostles Nick’s shoulder, and Harry leans further into his space, green eyes so big and lunar eclipse deadly. “Hey — let me know if… this is like, too much, I just — Grim had said you’d never — with a boy, I mean, and I thought —” 

Harry is for sure a danger to Nick’s health and well being. Nick doesn’t move, darting glances over at him as Harry leans closer. Nick’s heart is pounding through his ribcage, possibly audible all the way in Manchester. Harry touches Nick’s cheek with his free hand gently, cupping the line of his jaw. 

“Is this okay?” asks Harry, lips a breath away from Nick’s own. 

Nick is possibly going to swallow his own tongue, because — holy shit. “Yergh,” Nick says, horrifically. “Um. I mean. Yes, yeah. Uh. God. Sorry, I —” 

Harry kisses him. His mouth is warm and soft and he licks over the seam of Nick’s lips and Nick’s entire body is on fire, shaking with it because this — this is what he’d been missing, before, when he’d kissed Jenny. That had been nice, but this… Nick can feel the kiss everywhere; he’s afraid if he gives in he’ll just lose it entirely. Harry’s still kissing him, wet and deft and tasting of vodka and something else — boy, maybe — fingers twisting in the short strands of Nick’s terrible haircut. Nick gasps embarrassingly, but it only makes Harry kiss him harder, teeth scraping over the sensitive skin of Nick’s lips. And then, too soon, Harry pulls back, grinning. 

“How was that?” asks Harry, looking smug. “Okay?” 

“Eughm,” stutters Nick. 

Harry beams. “Good.” 

*

Oldham, 2000

“Nick!” Jane is pounding on his bedroom door. “Nick, c’mon you dickhead, you’re going to be late for college!”

Nick groans long and low into his pillow. He could have sworn he’d only just fallen asleep. He’d been — actually, Nick’s got no idea what he’d just been. Something about kissing, and the BBC and — werewolves? Bloody weird dream, anyway. He drags himself out of bed and sorts through his clothes, searching for his best leather jacket and Ramones t-shirt, mind niggling like he's forgotten something important he needed to do. Buy moisturiser, maybe. Or was it sun cream? 

“Now, Nicholas! Or I’m sending Liv in!” 

“I’m up! God,” says Nick, throwing his copy of Hamlet at the door. It misses, falls off his desk with a vague thunk. The envelope from Radio 1 lies there half open and hateful atop of a stack of Heat magazines. Nick stares down at the official font. 

“No,” Nick tells the envelope, finally. “Nope, fuck that.” He chucks the letter in the bin. He's not going to be a bloody dentist or something just because the BBC doesn't know what the fuck they're going on about. Nick knows what he wants. Like Jane always says, somebody's got to be on radio, right? May as well be him.