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Kissing in the Rain

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One minute you hate him so much you think you’re going to burn from the inside out because of it and the next minute you’re kissing him in a thunderstorm and realising that maybe – just maybe – you don’t hate him at all.

It shouldn’t be so hard to kiss someone. It shouldn’t be so difficult to stand underneath the storm clouds and say something that sounds like a broken I need you. The words shouldn’t catch in your throat and your heart shouldn’t stutter and skip when he looks at you, eyebrow arched and lips red from kissing. There’s a thunder clap, lightning and the sky splits open. There’s something brutal and fitting about the way he holds you when the world feels like it’s breaking in two. You say his name in a whisper, sigh it off the back of another lazy roll of thunder and let him press a warm hand against the part of your chest where your heart beats the loudest.

He says your name between rain-damp kisses and he makes it sound like a prayer. You’re shivering in his arms and he thinks it’s the rain, but it’s not. He asks if you’re cold and you tell him yes, even when you’re warmer than you’ve been for such a long time. You’re shivering because he’s Nick and you’re Louis, because it’s the first time you’ve kissed anyone in a thunderstorm and he’s the only man you’ve kissed outside of a dream. You wonder if he knows. Perhaps one day you’ll tell him, when you’re not too busy kissing him until you’re both breathless with wanting.

He tastes like rain, cigarettes and the two-for-one cocktails you necked when you were still trying to outdo one another with insults. His kisses are rough with stubble and it excites you more than you want to admit, pushing and pulling and turning every long, slow kiss into a fight because you don’t want to give yourself away.

“Louis.” Nick pulls back. His voice is rough and low. He brushes a thumb against your cheek and he watches you like he already knows. Maybe he does. Perhaps that lightning tore more than the skies apart and now he can see inside your heart.

“Don’t. Shut up, will you?” Your voice is reed-thin and unsteady. “Those fucking cocktails.”

Nick laughs and looks away. His lips twist, his smile wry. “Yeah. That’ll be it, love.”

You take a breath. Nick puts his hands in his pockets and leans against the wall. He’s all long limbed elegance and you want to touch him again. He ducks his head and lights a cigarette, the tip glowing in the darkness.

“Give us one, then.”

“Get your own. You’re a popstar with millions in the bank, aren’t you?”

He offers you one anyway, the packet battered from being crushed in the pocket of his impossibly skinny jeans. You push it between your lips and he gives you a light. You hope he doesn’t notice how much your hands tremble.

“Thanks, mate.”

Nick snorts softly. He tips his head back and looks up at the sky. “You’re welcome mate.”

“They’ll wonder where I went.” Your friends are in that bar. They’re probably getting hammered, drinking tequila shots and trying to pull fit girls.

“Better go back then, hadn’t you?” Nick shrugs. He’s still watching the stars. You press against him, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh.

“I don’t want to.” Your voice is small in the darkness. It feels like your vocal chords have been stripped bare and all that’s left is midnight and silence. The night air tastes like tobacco and the scent of Nick’s expensive cologne is all over your skin. He stubs out his cigarette and you watch his boot heel press it into the ground, extinguishing the light completely.

“Don’t, then.” Nick pushes himself off the wall. He looks you up and down. His cheeks are pink, his hair’s all over the place and you want him so, so much. He turns his eyes to the heavens as if he’s already regretting the question you both know he’s going to ask. “Want to come back to mine?”

“Yeah,” you say. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to swallow back a laugh which bubbles up with the nervous excitement which twists in your stomach. “Might as well.”

“Come on then.” Nick starts to walk and you fall into step beside him. It starts to rain again and he starts to run. He laughs like he’s punch-drunk stupid from the kisses and the cocktails. You run with him and begin to laugh too, wondering what people would say if they could see you both ducking around the street lamps and weaving through the empty streets. “We need an Uber. I don’t know where the fuck we are.”

“Call a bloody taxi then. Christ, Nicholas.” You stop running when he does, hands on your knees and your lungs burning. When you look up, he’s watching you. His face is flushed from running and his cheeks are damp with rain. His hair’s wilted and it looks way better than it should. He swipes his tongue over his lips and you want to taste him again.

He holds out a hand and you straighten up, fitting easily against his chest. He slides his arms around you and kisses you again until you’re unsteady with it, head spinning and a little bit weak at the knees.

That’s how it begins. With smoky kisses in the middle of fuck-knows-where, underneath a sky that could belong to any other stormy midnight.

Chapter Text

The party’s terrible. It’s at a club in Mayfair which is always full of posh twats and half the people look as though they’ve stepped out of Made in Chelsea. Louis thought he saw Prince fucking Harry for a minute, but it was just a bloke with ginger hair wearing red jeans and talking about shooting pheasants or some such bollocks. Louis hates places like this. They make his skin crawl. He feels out of place and ill at ease, even though he’s probably got more in the bank than most of the people dancing around him. Not to mention he’s fairly sure he saw Nick Grimshaw floating around somewhere like a bad smell, dressed in an obnoxious floral shirt with a quiff the size of Scotland.

Louis nudges his way through the crowds to get to the bar. It looks as though the barman recognises him and Louis can practically feel his wallet being eyed up. He peruses the special offers and finds the cheapest drinks he can, giving the man his sunniest smile. He knows it’s got a bit of a dangerous edge to it. He’s been practicing in the mirror.

“These on two for one, mate?”

The barman looks at the menu and nods, gesturing to the array of spirits behind him. “Yes. We do however have an excellent fine wine list-”

“I’ll take three, thanks.” Louis smiles again and the barman hurries off. Bloody fine wine. He’s still at the red, white or rose stage of wine appreciation and he’d rather have a pint any day. His cocktails arrive, sickly sweet and pink, all six of them lined up on the bar. Louis forks out what still seems like an exorbitant amount of money for shit cocktails and the barman leaves him to it with a look of disgust.

“Look who it is. The man of yesterday’s moment, drinking away his sorrows.”

Louis tips a drink in Nick’s direction. His shirt’s indecently unbuttoned, exposing chest hair which is thick and wiry. The shirt looks silk and expensive. Louis’ tempted to spill his drink on it. He restrains himself, though. He’s far too mature for that kind of behaviour these days. “Evening, mate. Is it true you’re getting fired from Breakfast or was that just a happy rumour?”

Nick’s eyebrows knit and he worries at his hair. Louis would almost feel bad if Nick wasn’t such a dick. “I’m not getting fired.”

“Why not?” Louis takes a sip of his cocktail. Christ, it’s awful. “I’d fire you.”

“Good job you’re not in charge then, isn’t it?” Nick grabs one of the cocktails and clinks it against Louis’ glass. “Don’t mind if I do. Cheers, darling.”

“Help yourself,” Louis mutters. The thing is, he doesn’t hate Nick as much as he likes to pretend he does. He finds Nick irritating in a way that gets beneath Louis’ skin, but at least Nick makes him feel something. It’s as if he’s been walking around under a cloud for as long as he can remember. More often than not it’s just going through the motions – smiling for the camera and trying to lose himself inside a baggy jumper or hooded jacket. Like tonight. This is the last sort of place Louis wants to be, but his friends want to get off with good-looking girls and Louis doesn’t like saying no to them. Particularly not when they already think he spends too much time barreling around vast houses in London and LA, hiding himself away from the world. On some nights it’s fine. Louis would be with them, buying trays of shots and dancing as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. He just isn’t in the mood for any of it tonight. If it’s a toss-up between Nick and Prince Harry’s lookalike, Louis knows which he prefers.

“These are awful.” Nick pulls a face and sniffs at the cocktail after taking an experimental sip.

“Not as bad as the DJ.” Louis winces as the records scratch and not in a good way. “Even you’d be better than that.”

“Thanks ever so.” Nick rolls his eyes and leans back against the bar. Louis tries not to look too hard at the way his slim trousers cling to his legs. Nick’s all legs, hands and oversized head. He’s loud and annoying and Louis really doesn’t like him one bit. “I wouldn’t have picked you for this kind of place.”

Louis bristles a bit. He knows it’s not his thing but hearing Nick say it makes him feel even more restless. “My friends wanted to come.” Louis shrugs. “Why are you here, anyway? I thought your hipster lot preferred Stoke Newington or Dalston.”

“Bad date.” Nick wrinkles his nose. “We ate around here. I thought I’d come for a drink afterwards.”

“You thought you’d try to pull, you mean.” Louis huffs out a humourless laugh. “Classy. Should we check Grindr to see if there’s anyone in the area looking to get off with an ageing DJ?”

Nick contemplates Louis, his lips curving into an unsettling smirk. “Lets.” He holds out his hand. “Give us your phone, then.”

Louis frowns at Nick. “I don’t have Grindr on my phone, you twat.”

“Oh.” Nick feigns surprise, grabbing another cocktail. He’s making short work of them despite his complaints. “How do you find boys to go home with, then?”

Louis stares at Nick. He can feel the heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks and he hates his body for betraying him. He hasn’t told anyone. Not even his closest friends or family know. Now the rumours about Harry have mostly gone away, nobody in the press really speculates about Louis at all. The fact that Nick can just look at Louis and somehow read him as if he’s an open book makes Louis’ stomach turn. He can’t do this. He can’t talk to Nick about pulling boys or tease him about his stupid radio show when Nick’s giving him this look which is far too knowing, far too intimate.

Louis downs the last of his cocktails and swipes the back of his hand over his lips. He’s drunk too much in a short space of time and he feels a little dizzy. The music thumps too loudly around him and the scratch, scratch of the records goes through him like nails on a blackboard. He pushes off the bar, suddenly desperate for some air. He ignores the sound of Nick shouting his name and he takes the steps two at a time. He moves quickly past the few paps outside, already knowing he’s going to get Louis Tomlinson’s Wild Night headlines, which make him look bleary eyed and half cut. The photographers don’t follow him, mercifully. There are more than enough celebs to keep them entertained and Louis isn’t the big deal he used to be.

He disappears down one of the side roads, finding a residential street lined with posh, white terraced houses. It’s almost deserted, devoid of any pubs, clubs, shops or bars which might attract interest from late night revellers. Even though it’s not the sort of place Louis would want to live, he appreciates anywhere that’s quiet in central London. He leans against a wall and lights his last fag. The rainwater is slick on the pavements, dark like oil under the night sky. For a moment, Louis wonders if he could just disappear into the shadows. He presses back against the wall and closes his eyes, trying to quell the pounding of his heart. There’s a rustling beside him and Louis turns, to see Nick standing opposite him.

“You followed me?” Louis sighs, because of course Nick did. Of course he couldn’t just find himself a fit lad and bugger off, leaving Louis to his own devices.

“I was joking.” Nick looks uncomfortable, his mouth set in a grim line. He’s got a look of concern that Louis hates. He can’t stand being pitied. “It’s none of my business, anyway.”

“You don’t know anything,” Louis mutters. There’s a distant rumble of thunder and the first few fat drops of rain make ripples in the puddles. Talk about pathetic fallacy.

“I might know a bit.” Nick looks away, brow furrowed.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Louis amends. He doesn’t. Of all the people who know Louis, Nick Grimshaw is absolutely not one of them.

“So…” Nick seems at a bit of a loss for something to say. “Was I right, then?”

Louis stubs out his cigarette, a wave of anger crashing over him. Who the hell does Nick think he is, anyway? He probably thinks he’s some gay sage come to help Louis gently out of the closet. Well fuck Nick. Fuck him.

“Shut up, I’m not talking about it.” Louis pushes past Nick to find somewhere he can buy fags and a large bottle of something strong enough to take the memories of the night away. “Just leave me alone.”

But Nick doesn’t leave Louis alone. He grabs Louis’ wrist and murmurs it’s okay in a low, soft voice that’s laced with the kind of concern that Louis doesn’t want from anyone. The thunder claps closer this time and the fat droplets of rain get heavier. Louis can’t bear the sound of Nick’s platitudes when his head is so noisy and his skin itches with the restless need to be someone else – anyone else.

It starts because he wants Nick to shut up. He wants him to forget about Grindr and Louis being whatever Louis is. He doesn’t want Nick to speak to him, soft and slow. He wants Nick to fight with him and make sparks zing through his body. He wants Nick to hate him and not know anything about the stuff Louis doesn’t even understand. The problem is, Nick’s not exactly an easy person to shut up. Even when he’s speaking quietly he’s still fucking speaking and it drives Louis up the wall. That’s why it’s easier just to kiss Nick. It’s easier to yank him into the shadows and press their lips together in one fierce, desperate moment of need. It’s easier to be kissing Nick than talking because Louis is so afraid of the things that might spill out off the back of one cocktail too many.

Nick presses against Louis with an oof of surprise, but he doesn’t resist. He doesn’t push Louis away with a look of righteous indignation. Nick must have really wanted to pull after all, Louis thinks and tries to swallow back the way something twists jealously in his stomach at the thought of Nick going home with someone else. He parts his lips and it’s so obvious Nick knows exactly what he’s doing that it makes Louis’ head spin. He hardly notices the rain – the way the droplets of water make their faces damp and the way their kisses taste like the sky. All he can feel are the slender lines of Nick’s body and the way Nick’s so much bigger than him – bracketing him tightly against the wall as the shadows pool around them.

Nick presses a hand on Louis’ chest, gripping the cotton of his t-shirt to pull him closer. Eventually he relaxes his grip and just presses his fingers against Louis’ hot, damp t-shirt as if he wants to feel Louis’ heartbeat through the thin material. The kisses are urgent and desperate, rougher than Louis expects but still surprisingly deep and tender.

“Are you cold?” Nick moves Louis’ fringe from his forehead, watching him shiver in the darkness.

“A bit,” Louis says. Nick doesn’t need to know that he’s shivering because the kisses make him feel warm all over or like he’s going to burst out of his skin with wanting. He doesn’t need to know Louis can’t stop shivering because Nick’s a man and Louis definitely likes this so that means he can’t keep lying to himself anymore. He can’t keep pretending that his internet search history doesn’t exist; can’t keep denying it’s men that fuel his lonely wanks. It’s easier, when it’s fantasy. Easier when it’s an anonymous torso, slick with perspiration and tanned from a summer at the beach. It’s so much easier when it’s all on screen or in magazines or somewhere in the barely suppressed shadows in the corners of Louis’ mind. The fact that Nick’s right there and it’s actually happening sends shivers through Louis’ body which have nothing to do with the thunderstorm which rages around them.

“Louis.” Nick’s concern is back and he brushes a thumb to Louis’ cheek. It seems all that kissing wasn’t enough to shut him up after all. Louis sucks in a breath and tries to get his voice back.

“Don’t. Shut up, will you?” He pushes Nick away and tries to laugh. It comes out hollow and a bit manic. “Those fucking cocktails.”

Nick looks away. “Yeah. That’ll be it, love.” He lights a cigarette, leaning against the wall.

“Give us one, then.”

“Get your own. You’re a popstar with millions in the bank, aren’t you?”

Louis pulls a face and takes the cigarette Nick offers despite his words. He digs his own lighter out of his pocket and takes a moment to adjust himself – a moment to try to still the shake in his hands.

“Thanks, mate.”

“You’re welcome mate.”

“They’ll wonder where I went. My friends.”

“Better go back then, hadn’t you?” Nick edges closer and his fingers brush Louis’ hand. Even that light touch makes heat pool in Louis’ belly.

“I don’t want to.”

“Don’t, then.” Nick pauses, looking Louis up and down. “Want to come back to mine?”

Louis nods, the yeah leaving him in a whoosh. He didn’t even realise he’d been holding his breath, waiting for Nick to ask.

When Nick starts to run, Louis joins him. He turns his head up to the sky and catches the rain on his tongue. He laughs until his chest aches with it, even though he’s not sure what’s funny about his peculiar night or why he feels so strangely free. He waits for Nick to call an Uber, sliding in next to him when the cab arrives.

They keep a respectable distance, Nick dicks around on his phone and Louis watches him out of the corner of his eye. He half wonders what would happen if he got Nick to take a selfie of them and put it up on Twitter. The part of him that’s probably mad half wants to – there’s something about going nuclear that’s always appealed to Louis. An impulsive reaction to difficult things which he’s still not got under control.

He knows he won’t, though. Instead he looks out of the window and watches London rolling by through the droplets of rain that slide down the glass.

*

“Hiya gorgeous.” There’s something quite endearing about Nick petting his dogs. He puts on a weird voice like he’s talking to a young child, all high-pitched and squeaky. The dogs don’t seem to mind. They bark and paw at him as if they’ve never been happier to see anyone, their tails wagging hard enough that Louis wonders if it’s possible for a dog to wag its tail right off.

“Hiya.” Louis refuses to do the stupid voice. Refuses. Just because Nick’s an idiot though, it doesn’t mean he can’t have adorable pets. The little black pug chases its own tail and nuzzles into Louis’ hand while the other one – Pig, Louis knows that at least – puts her paws on Louis’ thigh and almost smiles up at him. He strokes behind her ears and he’s pretty sure she loves him already. His chest swells with pride. Perhaps he can steal her off Nick. He loves dogs. Loves the way they give you unconditional affection and don’t care if you’re a fuck up, sometimes.

“They like you.” Nick sounds amused.

“Of course they do.” Louis snorts softly. He stands after a moment longer with the dogs. Nick might think it’s a bit weird if Louis starts burying his face in Pig’s neck, clinging onto her. “All dogs love me.”

“Well my dogs aren’t just any dogs.” Nick picks up the smallest dog and makes those peculiar smooshy, smooshy noises again. “Stinky doesn’t trust Harry. I think she’s allergic to Gucci and glitter.”

Louis laughs at that, because he can almost imagine Harry pouting and trying to get Nick’s ridiculous dog to love him as much as everyone else does. Harry. They’re not so close now – haven’t been for a while – and Louis sometimes forgets that Nick knows him better than Louis does these days.

“You won’t tell him, will you?” Louis can’t quite meet Nick’s eyes.

“Tell him what?” Nick responds, easily. Louis really isn’t ready to answer that. “I can keep a secret.”

“Okay.” Louis breathes out, trying not to let nerves overtake him. Okay, okay. He gives Nick’s ridiculous dog a stroke, grinning at her face which looks a bit mushed in with a row of bottom teeth protruding in the cutest way. “She’s got an underbite.” Louis laughs and meets Nick’s eyes at last. “Also, you called her Stinky?”

“Obviously,” Nick says, as if everyone calls their dogs ridiculous names. He puts her down and she races off somewhere, feet slipping and sliding on the wooden floor. Pig follows behind at a more sedate pace.

“Don’t you live with someone?” Louis looks around for signs of a flatmate, but he can’t hear anyone moving around. He’s glad. He doesn’t want to have to deal with new people and he’s not sure who he can trust out of Nick’s loud, glamorous friends that he vaguely knows from press pictures and the fashion magazines his sisters read.

“She’s away for a bit, working. We’re all alone.” Nick does something suggestive with his eyebrows and Louis definitely doesn’t blush.

“Oh. Good.” Louis clears his throat. He’s not sure what’s expected of him. Nick’s obviously done this before. It’s probably not all that unusual for him to bring boys back to fuck. He probably makes them avocado on toast in the morning like the unbearable hipster he is and then sends them on their way. Louis’ stomach twists. Part of him wants to get it over with and another part of him wants to run for the hills.

“Do you fancy a beer?” Nick doesn’t seem in any rush to get Louis into his lair, making his way into the kitchen and opening the fridge.

“Alright.” Louis could use a beer and a few tequila slammers. He’s more nervous than he probably should be. It’s just Nick, after all. But it’s a lot. The kissing, the fact Nick knows something about Louis that nobody else does. It’s a lot to process and he thinks getting drunk is probably the mature solution to everything.

“Here.” Nick hands Louis a cold beer and leans back against the counter, appraising him as he drinks from the bottle. Something about it makes Louis squirm pleasantly. It’s just for tonight, he tells himself. Just a moment of madness and then he can go back to his too-big house and his men on the internet and pretend none of this ever happened. “Want to watch some telly?”

Louis stares at Nick, because what happened to the coming back for a shag? He shrugs. Part of him wouldn’t mind a few beers and a bit of something to distract from the talking Nick seems to want to do all the bloody time.

“Anything good on?”

“Dunno.” Nick grabs a few more beers from the fridge and leads the way to the sitting room. It’s covered with art, photographs and posh scented candles like the ones Harry has everywhere. There’s a few attractive vases full of fresh flowers and Louis can’t stop looking around. It’s a proper home. Cosy, warm and full of things which say everything about Nick’s personality. It’s the kind of home a functioning adult has, not the sort of empty space Louis has with furniture he didn’t even choose and the less than decorative addition of a few pairs of dirty socks and boxers thrown around the place. If he was nervous before, he’s even more so now. He perches on the edge of the sofa next to Pig, taking care not to disturb her. It’s her home, after all. It’s not up to Louis to make her move just so he can sit down. Besides, it’s an excuse to keep his distance from Nick.

“Sorry, she’s not supposed to be on here. Even though she always is.” Nick laughs, nudging Pig off the sofa and receiving a whine of protest as she pads off to a shaggy rug by the fire place. “I got them a proper posh bed and everything, but they don’t like it much. They like to be part of the family, all cosy on the sofa with people that come round.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Louis smiles around his beer. He can relate. He takes a deep swig, necking half the bottle in one go. He shifts back on the sofa, feeling distinctly uncomfortable as Nick flicks through the channels until an old episode of First Dates comes on. He flicks the volume down until it’s really just background noise. Louis breathes out, focusing on the television as if it’s very, very important that he concentrate on the awkward conversation Tabitha and Jules are having over their steak and chips.

“You can, like, make yourself at home a bit.” Nick bends and pulls off his boots, sitting back on the sofa with a contented sigh. “You don’t have to sit there like I’m going to attack you.”

“Piss off.” Louis gives Nick a look, heat rising in his cheeks. He kicks off his trainers and tucks himself up on the far end of the sofa. He can do this. He can definitely do this.

“Have you….have you drawn on your trainers?” Nick lets out a burst of laughter and he picks up one of Louis’ pristine white trainers, turning it over in his hands. He sounds a bit incredulous.

“I had some time on my hands.” Louis gives Nick a quick glance out of the corner of his eyes. “Anyway, they’re a bit boring, aren’t they? Shut up, it looks sick.”

“Siiick.” Nick draws the word out and he sounds amused. He drops the trainer and kicks them under the coffee table. Louis can almost feel Nick watching him. “You’re a strange one, Louis Tomlinson.”

“No stranger than you.” Louis finishes his beer and reaches for another, popping the top off and catching the froth before it spills over Nick’s fancy sofa. “Can I grab another fag?”

“Help yourself.” Nick pushes an ashtray towards Louis and a packet of Marlboro Lights. They’ve got one of the images on the front which makes Louis want to give up smoking. He doesn’t, but they make him flinch every time. He lights a cigarette and watches the way the smoke curls from the tip. He takes a deep drag, the end glowing in the dark room. Nick clears his throat and Louis rolls his eyes because he can practically feel the conversation coming on. He’s almost tempted to kiss Nick again, just to stop him. The only problem is he doesn’t know where kisses might lead now they’re tucked up on a sofa in an empty house and Louis isn’t sure he’s ready for any of it.

“Go on, then.” Louis flicks a long line of ash into the ashtray before it drops onto the carpet. He leans his elbows on his knees and stretches forward so he doesn’t have to look Nick in the eyes. “You’re obviously dying to say something.”

“That obvious, is it?” Nick laughs, low in his throat. It makes Louis feel warm all over. “I’m not good at this, you should know that. Talking about emotions and stuff.”
“Seems like you’re overthinking a bit of a snog, mate.” Louis stubs out his cigarette but he doesn’t move back on the sofa. Instead he finds a book full of the kind of ridiculous clothes Harry likes to wear and he flicks through it one-handed.

“Just…” Nick breathes out and Louis wonders if maybe Nick’s nervous too. He certainly doesn’t sound as ballsy and loud as usual. “We don’t have to do anything, alright? We can just watch a bit of telly. Have a beer. You can tell me my dogs are the best dogs you’ve ever met and take the piss out of my art. This doesn’t have to be a thing. I’m not going to expect you to want to fuck just because we’ve had a bit of a kiss and a few shit cocktails.”

“They really were shit, weren’t they?” Louis laughs, finally daring to look at Nick. He’s got a strange expression on his face. It’s open and kind and just a little bit fond. Louis likes it more than he cares to admit.

“Terrible. God.” Nick laughs, pulling a face. “I reckon they got all the spirits nobody else wanted and mixed them together with a bit of cranberry juice.”

“I think the barman thought I was going to buy some magnums of champagne or something like the Made in Chelsea lot.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Probably. That’s why he gave you those rubbish cocktails. It was revenge for not being an insufferable posh twat, throwing your money around.” He looks pointedly at Louis’ trainers. “Although I’m not sure about the designer clothing upgrades. I’d better keep you away from my suits.”

“As if I’d want to go anywhere near them.” Louis feels almost relaxed, sitting back on the sofa properly and facing Nick. “Do you always have to look like such a pretentious wanker?”

“Better than looking like I’m on the reserves for some shit Northern football team.”

Louis glares at Nick because nobody insults the Donny Rovers without Louis giving them a piece of his mind. “As if they’d want you on the reserves. I bet you’re rubbish at football.”

“Properly rubbish.” Nick doesn’t sound too bothered. “Broke my dad’s heart, that did.”

“Yeah, well.” Louis picks at the label on his beer bottle. He hasn’t really given much thought to Nick’s family and the fact Nick’s probably been out forever. He can’t help but wonder what that was like, but he feels it’s a bit much to ask when they’re just getting comfortable. Besides, he’s not ready to talk about how he feels about that kind of thing himself, yet. The last thing he wants to do is pull at that particular thread.

“I’m just saying.” Nick tips his beer towards Louis. “No pressure.”

“Got it. Thanks.” Louis looks away, tugging his bottom lip between his teeth. “It’s not that I don’t want to.”

“No?” Nick sounds encouraging.

“No.” Louis has some more beer and it makes his head feel pleasantly fuzzy. “It’s just I haven’t, really. I haven’t before.”

“Okay.” Louis can almost hear Nick’s surprise, can almost feel him thinking. “You’ve had sex, though?”

“With girls.” Louis tries not to wince because some of those experiences aren’t ones he wants to remember. “Not sure it’s my thing.”

“Oh.” Nick hums softly, a bit uncertain. “Well, not really my thing either, so…”

“So,” Louis replies. He looks up at Nick whose face keeps doing that soft, concerned thing that makes Louis’ insides twist. “Stop it. Don’t look at me like that. It’s fine, it doesn’t need to be a thing. I’m just saying, in case you expected me to be something I’m not.”

Nick’s brow furrows. “I’m not expecting anything. I told you that. It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Okay.” Louis lets himself breathe and takes in the next couple on First Dates.

“I don’t get this show.” Nick becomes animated, pointing at the screen with one of his freakishly long fingers. It definitely doesn’t make Louis feel things he can’t help but think he shouldn’t. “First dates are awkward and rubbish. Why would you want to do it with a camera shoved in your face?”

“Dunno.” Louis winces over a particularly bad piece of feedback. Shame. He was rooting for Tabitha and Jules. “It’s hard to meet people. It’s a way to get a bit of food and maybe meet that person.” Nick laughs and Louis glares at him. “What? It could happen.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Nick rolls his eyes and pops open another beer. “Not for me, though. Not fond of cameras flashing when I’m trying to do my sultry face.”

“You’ve got a face?” Louis stares at Nick, because of course he has. “Go on, then.”

Nick gives Louis a look which makes him look a bit fit and a bit constipated. Louis laughs and Nick rumples his now wilted quiff, giving Louis a sheepish look.

“See! I look mental. Give me somewhere private without a camera in sight. Much better.”

Louis picks at his trousers and then gives Nick another look, his heart hammering. “A bit like this, then?”

Nick smiles and it makes the whole room warm. “Yeah.” He says. “A bit like this.”

Pig pads into the room, wagging her tail and smiling up at them. Louis beckons her closer and she wags her tail harder, nosing at his hand.

“This is better,” Louis says.

Nick makes a soft noise in the back of his throat and it sounds as though he agrees. “Do you want more booze?”

Louis looks at Nick and shrugs. “I’ll get off my tits and pass out on your sofa if I have any more.”

Nick raises an eyebrow at Louis. “You can stay. People stay all the time. There’s a spare bed, the sofa’s comfy. It’s fine. I don’t have anything to do tomorrow. I should go to the gym, but any excuse.” Nick grins.

Louis thinks about the possibility of staying with Nick and watching him waking up sleep-warm and cuddled up with his dogs. He wonders if he could sneak into a room that isn’t the spare room, just because he sometimes likes a cuddle at night and he thinks Nick’s ridiculous arms and gangly limbs would be quite nice for cuddling. He doesn’t want to get arse-holed drunk and make a twat out of himself but he also doesn’t want to leave.

“I bet you’ve got some shit hipster drinks.” Louis smiles at Nick. “Bring it on, Nicholas.”

“Alright.” Nick pushes himself off the sofa and Louis tries not to watch him as he walks. Because he’s already had a few drinks and he’s feeling a bit bold he can’t help but call out after Nick’s left the room.

“I don’t put out on the first date, though.”

The sound of Nick’s laugh carries through the flat and it wraps around Louis like a blanket.

“S’alright with me, love. I’m a bit too pissed to put on my best performance anyway. Wouldn’t want to let you down.”

Louis smiles into his beer, finishing the bottle and muting the TV. “Got any good music or is it all obscure indie bollocks with harps and shit?”

Nick laughs again and god it sounds good. “Have a look. Put on whatever. As long as it’s not One D.”

“As if you’d have our stuff anyway,” Louis calls back.

He roots through Nick’s vast music collection and it turns out Nick does have every single One Direction album. He’s also got Harry’s new stuff, sandwiched between The Klaxons and The Libertines. Louis strokes his finger over the spine of Just Hold On and he takes a shuddering breath. God. That was so long ago. He moves on, finger flying over all of the options until he finally settles on something he thinks Nick will definitely appreciate.

Louis starts the music and waits for Nick to come back. If he’s going to kiss Nick again, he’d like to do it to Bowie. He’d like that quite a lot.

Chapter Text

“Bowie. Good choice.” Nick finally comes back with a mixture of weird looking spirits and a cocktail shaker. He dumps them on the coffee table and opens a bag of crisps, putting some in a bowl. He grabs some juice and then sits back, looking pleased with himself. “What now?”

Louis looks up from his spot on the floor. The wood is cold and hard against his body. It’s soothing in a way Louis doesn’t want to explore too closely. He makes a pretence of staying there because it’s easier to make toxic cocktails if he gets on his knees and fiddles around with the bottles on the coffee table. He’s not sure he can sit on the sofa again without launching himself at Nick, the thought of being pressed close to Nick’s warm body making his skin tingle. He fights back the heat in his cheeks and turns one of the bottles in his hand.

“Mint flavoured booze?” He finally meets Nick’s gaze. Nick smiles at Louis and his eyes crinkle a bit at the corners. “Are you fucking mental?”

Nick huffs with laughter. “Alright, princess. You’re in my house and I’ve dug out my best Christmas booze just to entertain you. There’s no need to be such a picky little twat.”

Louis puts the offensive bottle down and pushes it as far away as possible, pulling a face. “I reckon I’d prefer a kale smoothie.”

“I could probably rustle one of those up, too.” Nick leans back on the sofa, contemplating Louis. His long legs clad in tight, skinny jeans make Louis’ mouth a bit dry. Louis allows himself a moment to give Nick a quick once over before moving back to the bottles, pretending to be fascinated by the different labels as he lets his racing heart steady to a more sedate beat, beat in his chest. Bowie sings something about going through changes and Louis resists the urge to steal another glance at Nick.

“Why are all your drinks so terrible?” Louis consigns another couple of bottles to the same rather drink my own piss spot as the weird mint stuff. There’s all sorts of shit. Everything from a toxic banana flavoured thing that looks as though Nick inherited it from his nana to a luminous bright blue concoction that smells like arse. Louis wants to get pissed but he also doesn’t want to throw up, so he selects the most inoffensive looking bottles and gives each one a tentative sniff. Oranges and some sort of vodka. That works. He mixes them together and adds some juice, shaking and pouring two glasses when he’s done.

“Not bad.” Nick smacks his lips after taking a tentative sip. “You could work in a bar if being a popstar doesn’t work out.”

“No thanks.” Louis pulls a face and tries not to look too pleased about the fact the cocktail’s actually pretty good. “I’d have to know about wine.”

“Depends what bar you end up in.” Nick moves his eyebrows up and down again. He’s got such a strange face. Louis almost wants to prod at him just to see if he’s real. “I know one or two places where people don’t give a flying fuck about the wine list as long as the barman’s pretty.”

“I bet you do.” Louis tries very hard not to blush at pretty. It makes his stomach do strange things and he wishes he’d added more vodka to the drinks. He turns away from the coffee table and pokes through Nick’s vast music collection, avoiding looking at him as the silence stretches between them. “You’ve got my song.”

“Well, yeah.” Nick doesn’t say anything else. Not I love it or, worse, I hate it. He doesn’t comment at all. Louis wonders what it means. He’s not sure he wants to ask. If Nick’s not as gobby as usual, it’s probably because he doesn’t have anything good to say. Nick clears his throat. “I was sorry to hear about what happened.” He sounds awkward and vague, like he can’t quite spit out the words. Louis knows the feeling. He still chokes up when he tries and it’s been a while. Longer than Louis can believe, when thinking of his mum sometimes feels as raw as a fresh wound.

“Thanks. You too.” Louis stares at the albums which blur into a mess of colours. He blinks furiously, because no. He’s not going to make a tit of himself in front of Nick. The last thing he needs is to get pissed and maudlin.

“Yeah, cheers.” Nick’s voice cracks around the edges. He can hear Nick opening a bottle and adding another shot of something to his glass. Drinking through the moment. Louis can relate.

“You’ve got Harry’s album too.” Louis listened to it once. It made him sad and he didn’t listen to it again after that. It’s good and he can’t decide if that just makes it all worse. When he’s out in the shops and one of the singles comes on, it’s the strangest feeling. Like he’s listening to the new Bieber tune or Miley’s latest. The days of curling up next to Harry in bed, talking about girls and trying to break Twitter seem like a dream. He wonders where that boy went. The Louis Tomlinson with the braces and the big smile. The one with boundless energy, who was always wound up like a spring.

“Obviously,” Nick says, his voice quiet. He clears his throat. “I really won’t say anything, you know. Not to him or to anyone else. Not unless you want.”

“Christ, no.” Louis shakes his head, picking at the corner of the rug just by his feet. “Did you ever…with Harry?”

Louis watches Nick’s expression shift. He looks confused, then guilty. He doesn’t meet Louis’ eyes. “You want me to keep your secrets but tell you his, is that it?”

“No.” Louis clenches his hand into a tight fist. No. That’s not it at all. “That’s a yes, then.” He feels stupidly angry about it, a white hot dagger of jealousy slicing through him. “Harry’s straight, you know.”

Nick raises an eyebrow and his lips press together. “I know. Christ.” He glares at Louis. “One time, if you must know. One time, ages ago. We were pissed and he wanted to try it. I haven’t been pining for him ever since if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s not like that with him. Ask him yourself, if you don’t believe me.”

Louis shakes his head, his anger dissipating. “I don’t care anyway. Just don’t tell him about this.”

“Fine.” Nick starts shuffling through the bottles. “Not that there’s much to tell anyway.”

Louis swallows, because no. Not for Nick there isn’t. Getting off with a boy outside a posh club is probably just a regular Friday night for Nick. Of course there’s not much to tell. Louis wonders if Nick even realises how hard Louis’ worked to cultivate an image of the straight lad. He wonders if Nick has half an idea of the fact Louis struggles to breathe for a minute when he remembers the kisses. Part of him still can’t believe it happened.

“Suppose.” Louis picks at his fingernail. He wants to change the subject before he starts spilling his secrets. He’s not sure what it is about the way Nick looks so relaxed or the smile on his open, expressive face. Louis really wants to hate him. He wants to, but he doesn’t.

“You still doing music then?” Nick looks curious and a tight ball of something defensive and familiar gathers in Louis’ chest.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t I?”

Nick holds up his hands and his brow furrows. “Calm down. Just a question.”

Louis pulls a face and the tight knot of anger loosens. “I want to.” He looks away. It’s been ages since his last song. He wants to do more but the part of him that used to love mulling over lyrics, beats and bridges just feels flat and empty. He hasn’t written in donkeys. He runs a hand through his hair. “It’s harder, on my own.”

“I bet.” Nick looks as if he understands, a bit. “I hate being on my own. I like having mates round.”

Louis studies Nick. He says things so easily but there’s still something wary about him. He seems relaxed and languid, but Louis can’t help but feel he’s not getting the full picture. Perhaps that’s what Nick’s used to after years on the radio with a load of celebrity mates. He knows how to say just enough to make people feel as if they’re getting all the information, when it barely scratches the surface.

“Me too.” Louis shrugs. “I’ve always just had someone. El. Danielle. The boys. I’m not sure I want people to listen to the stuff I write down these days.”

Nick’s brow furrows and he watches Louis intently. “Music’s always better if it comes from the heart, innit?”

Louis shrugs again. His heart. Beat, beating in his chest as his hands sweat and he can’t look at Nick too long without feeling hot all over. He’s spent so long denying his heart he’s not sure he’s ready to let it bleed out in his music.

“I’ll work something out.”

Nick doesn’t look convinced but he doesn’t make a comment. Instead he tops up his cocktail and takes a long drink. Louis watches the way his throat works and the movement of his Adam’s apple, up and down.

“Is this a bit weird?” Nick puts his drink down and his lips curve at the side into a smile. He waves his hand between them.

“More than a bit,” Louis mutters. He finishes his drink and sticks to vodka with a splash of juice. It burns his throat and his head feels pleasantly fuzzy, his limbs loose. The tension ebbs out of his shoulders but he’s still not relaxed enough to move onto the sofa and close to Nick as much as he might want to. “I bet you’re wishing you just used Grindr after all.”

Nick snorts with laughter. “No, actually.” His phone pings and he reads a text which makes him grin. He taps out a quick reply after taking a careful picture of the bottles, making sure he doesn’t get Louis in the frame. The phone pings again and again until Nick finally puts it down. “Sorry. A friend’s pissed.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Louis’ phone isn’t even on. He told his friends he’d thrown up outside the club and asked them to leave him to sleep it off for a bit. They’re probably shagging or dancing somewhere by now, heady with booze and the sounds of London’s clubs.

“If you want to talk about it…” Nick pauses and Louis swallows around the lump in his throat. He shakes his head.

No, Louis doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t even know what he’d say. He can hardly tell Nick about the men on the internet or his lonely fantasies which take up far more time than they should these days. He doesn’t know how to define things or where to start. He has a feeling if that floodgate comes up there’s going to be all sorts of shit buried in the tidal wave that follows and a pissed-up Nick Grimshaw doesn’t want to deal with that. He wants someone to play with his dogs and watch shit telly with him. Someone who can hold his hand at stupid events, someone who isn’t scared to kiss him in the pub. He doesn’t want Louis and the mess that Louis’ brain seems to make of everything. The things Louis wants sometimes. The lengths he wonders if he might go to just to feel something other than lost and ordinary, floundering in an extraordinary world which is full of sharp edges and lights that shine too brightly. He played up to the cameras once. Now he winces away from them and hides himself in his baggiest clothes just so he can step outside long enough to taste the air on his lips.

He knows. He’s lucky, he’s lucky, he’s so fucking lucky. He repeats it – a mantra that kaleidoscopes through his mind in technicolour. You’re lucky. You’re rich. You’re famous. Living the dream, lad. Got out of Donny and made it, big time. It feels desperately ungrateful to think the way he does sometimes. Friends look at him like he’s a stark raving mad when he tries to tell them that sometimes it just hurts. Breathing. Lying. Trying to be someone else. Trying so, so hard to be somebody different.

Louis takes a breath. He doesn’t realise his hands are shaking until Nick crouches beside him and steadies them with his ridiculous fingers. He’s got about a hundred different bracelets on and a couple of rings. Louis stares at Nick’s wrist so he doesn’t have to look in Nick’s eyes.

“Hey.” Nick puts his hand on Louis’ shoulder and he sounds concerned. “It’s alright.”

Louis turns to Nick and reaches for him. He doesn’t want to talk. Definitely doesn’t want to be pitied. He just wants to kiss Nick until his lips are numb. He pulls Nick down. The floor is hard wood and it’s cold and uncomfortable against Louis’ spine. He doesn’t care though because Nick’s whole body covers his and the kisses are desperate, heated urgent things. He can’t describe how good it feels just to be covered. He never wants it to end, his body rocking against Nick without his permission.

“Steady, love.” Nick tugs Louis’ earlobe between his lips. His voice is low and rough. “I’ve got a bed, you know. Bit comfier than the floor. I’m not sure my knees are up for it these days.”

“Overuse, I bet.” Louis says it without any bite. He doesn’t want it to be mean. He wants Nick to laugh, which he does. Louis feels inordinately proud and the clouds in his mind part and clear.

“Something like that.” Nick stands and he tugs Louis to his feet. He lets out a breath then he says slowly. “I meant it, though. All I said before. I’m a bit too pissed for much more than a bit of a snog and a tumble around. Reckon you are, too.”

“Maybe.” Louis is already wound up and he doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to stop once he gets close to Nick again. He looks at the sofa. “Would it be easier if I stayed in here?”

Nick’s brow furrows and he glances at the sofa before looking back at Louis. “Do you want to?”

Louis shakes his head. He hates sleeping alone in strange places. He needs the familiarity of a place with his things around him or the sound of people nearby. He’s always needed someone, even if he’s inevitably chosen the wrong someone. Gender matters less when you close your eyes and know there’s a warm body next to you that’s still going to be there in the morning.

“Don’t stay on the sofa, you tit.” Nick rolls his eyes and flicks off the music. He tidies away the bottles and points Louis in the direction of the stairs. “Second door on the left if you want to use the loo or anything. I’ve got a spare toothbrush if you need. In the drawer next to the laundry basket. Third one down.”

“Thanks.” Louis gives Nick one last look before making his way upstairs.

*

Nick’s bedroom is nice. It’s like something out of an interior design magazine and absolutely nothing like the bedroom Louis sleeps in when he’s back in London. It’s crisp and clean and white, with piles of large pillows and cushions on the bed and fresh flowers on the bedside table. The light is soft yellow instead of bright and abrasive and posters and art covers the walls. Louis swallows as he takes in the bed, a wave of arousal making him shiver. He imagines Nick naked, over Louis as he was downstairs. He shakes the image from his head before he can get carried away and kicks off his shoes before padding into the bathroom.

He goes for a wee and rummages around in the drawer for a toothbrush. There’s a box of condoms carelessly thrown in the same drawer and a few sachets of something next to them. Louis picks one of them up and reads the silvery font.

“You don’t put that on your teeth, love.”

Louis nearly jumps out of his skin when Nick’s voice interrupts his racing thoughts. He slams the drawer shut and turns to find Nick leaning against the door frame, looking amused.

“Don’t you knock?”

“Not when you leave the door open.” Nick’s lips twitch into a smile and he moves towards Louis. He stretches around him and he’s so warm and close, a tug of arousal makes Louis bite down on his bottom lip. After a moment, Nick pulls back and presses a tube into Louis’ hand. “Toothpaste. I assume that’s what you were looking for?”

“It’s not my fault you keep your sex stuff next to your spare toothbrushes for fucks sake.”

Nick gives Louis a look before tugging him close and running his fingers along the length of Louis’ spine. He murmurs in Louis’ ear, his voice low and enticing. “That’s not where I keep my sex stuff, darling. I’ve got a lot more than that.”

Louis bites back a groan, shoving Nick back with a huff. “Bloody lanky pervert.”

Nick laughs, loud and long and he shrugs. “I’ve been called worse.”

Louis can’t help but meet Nick’s laugh with a smile of his own. When he begins to clean his teeth he looks up and meets Nick’s eyes in the mirror. The way Nick smiles at Louis makes him feel warm to the tips of his toes. He spits and rinses his mouth, wiping it on the nearby towel.

“It’s all yours.”

“Thanks.” Nick closes the door behind Louis, and Louis tries not to be endeared by the off-key Miley Cyrus which filters through the cracks.

*

Louis isn’t sure whether to get undressed or not but he’s pretty sure he can’t sleep in his jeans. He rolls his eyes and tugs off his jeans, pulling his t-shirt over his head. He drops both into a messy pile on a nearby chair together with his socks and he slides under the duvet. On one side of the bed is a small blue inhaler, so Louis assumes that’s Nick’s side. He presses close to the edge of the other side of the bed and breathes out, flicking off the bedside lamp and curling up. Eventually the bed presses down next to him and the rest of the lights flick off. After taking another deep breath, Louis turns to blink at Nick in the darkness. He’s soon able to make out the way Nick’s eyelashes curl against his cheeks and the freckles on his nose.

“Hi,” Louis offers, a bit uselessly.

“Hi.” Nick reaches out and brushes Louis’ hair from his forehead. “Hi.”

“What the fuck am I doing?” Louis’ voice cracks and Nick’s shoulder lifts and falls.

“No idea. Having a bit of a crisis?”

Louis laughs and it’s sharp and unexpected. “Must be, lying here with you in my boxers.”

“Are you just in your boxers?” Nick moves closer, his fingers pressing against the knobs of Louis’ spine. “Hadn’t noticed.”

“Liar.” The word escapes on a huff of breath and Louis presses against Nick. The kiss is blissful. Nick’s lips are firm, assured and searching. Louis tugs at Nick until he’s over Louis just as he was downstairs. The heavy weight of his body and the way his hands bracket Louis’ head sends heady waves of arousal crashing over him. Louis’ head spins with thoughts of Nick slicking his fingers or his cock with one of those sachets of his. He thinks of the other sex stuff and the way Nick’s voice had gone low and full of promise when his breath tickled the shell of Louis’ ear. Louis knows they said no sex. Knows they’re both half pissed and it’s probably a terrible idea, but he wants something. Anything. He feels like he might crawl out of his skin with wanting it so much. “Nick…Nick, please.”

Nick groans against Louis’ lips. “Yeah. Okay. I’ve got you.”

Louis bites back a low moan when Nick runs his fingers along Louis’ stomach and finds a particularly sensitive part of Louis’ neck. Nick cups him through his boxers, rubbing him through the material with a low hum of approval. Louis is so close. Something in him is so desperate for Nick, want coils in his belly and he can’t stop moving against Nick’s hand. After a moment, Nick tugs Louis’ boxers down and moves lower on the bed. He looks up at Louis briefly, his eyes dark and his hair all fucked up. Louis runs his fingers through it, not quite able to say anything. He just nods, it’s okay, it’s okay. He’s worried if he says anything he might not stop – he’s not ready to spill his heart out to Nick – not on a night with too much booze when the scent of Nick’s cologne is all around him.

Nick nods back, ducking his head. He licks a slow stripe along Louis’ cock and tongues at the tip before taking Louis deep into his mouth. Louis expected Nick to be good but he didn’t expect this. He can’t stop himself from crying out, bucking up and tangling his fingers in Nick’s sheets. Instead of pulling back, Nick spreads his hands over Louis’ hips and holds him firmly in place. The way Nick manhandles him back down onto the bed and keeps him steady makes Louis’ head spin. He likes it. Being pinned down by Nick. Being held down. He has an image of Nick sliding one of those skinny scarves of his around Louis’ wrist and that’s all it takes. Barely able to let out a strangled warning, Louis spills himself down Nick’s throat and he throws his arm over his eyes while he tries to catch his breath.

Nick shifts up and nudges Louis’ arm out of the way. He looks as though he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. Instead he presses their lips together with a surprisingly chaste touch. Louis sighs into the kiss and deepens it, pushing his hand down between them to wrap around Nick’s cock. He’s hung and it’s the first time Louis has touched a cock other than his own. He wants to be good at it. He wants to make Nick feel good. He swallows and stares at Nick, taking in the soft look in his eyes and the way his pupils are dark and wide with arousal. It’s almost too much, looking at Nick like this. More intimate than it has any right to be. Louis closes his eyes and listens to the rise and fall of Nick’s breathing. Nick’s hand covers his and then they’re kissing again – kissing into a kind of oblivion Louis wants to lose himself in forever.

When Nick comes it’s warm and sticky on Louis’ hand. He blinks his eyes open and clears his throat.

“I’m gonna…bathroom.”

“Right. Yeah.” Nick looks as if he’s about to say something, but in the end, he lets Louis go. Louis washes his hands and takes a moment to collect himself. When he comes back, Nick’s on his phone scrolling through Twitter. The light illuminates his face and casts long shadows over the wall.

“Alright?” Nick looks up, eyebrow raised.

“Fine. Just tired.” Louis tugs the duvet under his chin and closes his eyes. He wants to bury himself in Nick’s arms but Nick doesn’t reach for him and he’s not sure if it’s the done thing. Christ, Nick doesn’t even like Louis. The last thing he’s going to want is to get all hot and tangled up unless there’s sex involved.

“Night, then.”

“Night.”

Louis turns on his side and focuses on breathing until the noise in his head dissipates to a dull roar.

Chapter Text

When Louis wakes up he can hear Nick clattering around in the kitchen and the sound of Pig barking, her feet scrabbling against the wooden floors. The room is warm and bathed in the light sunshine of a London morning that expects rain. He rolls over and buries his head in Nick’s pillow, breathing in the scent. He can’t believe he’s here. In Nick Grimshaw’s bed, being creepy and sniffing his pillow. Louis muffles a groan before rolling onto his back and staring at the ceiling.

He was drunk last night, but not drunk enough. He remembers it all. Remembers nearly running out of the room to wash his hands, remembers sleeping so close to the edge of the bed he nearly fell off. He can still taste Nick’s kisses and if he presses his hand against his chest his heart jumps and skips against his palm. Louis throws off the duvet and sits on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. He doesn’t know what to do. Perhaps he should just shove on last night’s clothes and make a quick exit. It’s not as though him and Nick are friends. They won’t round off the night with a trip to the pub or grab a coffee from a café close to wherever the fuck Louis is. Hackney, he thinks. He remembers seeing something on social media – remembers reading an interview.

In the end, Louis decides against putting on his own stuff. It stinks of smoke and his jeans have that stale rain-damp smell from running through London streets and getting soaked through to the skin. Louis tries not to shiver at the memory of the way Nick’s kisses tasted like rain or how good it felt to be pushed hard against rough brick and held in place as Nick took him apart. He swallows and opens Nick’s wardrobe, poking through. He recognises one of Harry’s shirts and most of the contents look silk, see-through or posh with obnoxious print. He pulls a face, thankfully finding some comfy looking joggers and an olive-green hoody. It looks plain enough but when he takes it out of the wardrobe, Louis notices it says crying on the inside on the front. It feels apt, so Louis doesn’t bother changing it. He decides to forgo boxers. Nick’s pants are probably Gucci or something and he feels a bit creepy rooting through the underwear drawer.

He puts his phone on charge as it must have died during the night. His Twitter notifications are going mad, but there’s nothing new about that. He’s got a text from Stan saying hiiiii with a picture of a fit bird that’s just your type, mate. It makes Louis’ stomach roll. They’re in a casino. He can see the tables blurred in the background of the shot. It makes sense. It’s one of the few places to take London nights into truly twenty-four hour drinking territory. He’s been there himself a few times. It makes him think of touring in America. Harry was always about seventeen, black. Bond’s bet. Liam liked to have a flutter on red and Niall would just pepper the table and charm everyone for more drinks. Louis always put his chips on thirteen. Unlucky for some. Thirteen and zero. There’s always something vaguely defiant about zero, even though it stands as good a chance as any. Thirteen, too. Like the bet might be cursed before it even goes on the table.

Louis splashes water on his face, staring at himself in the mirror. He looks tired and his hair’s a right mess, all soft and floppy without any product. He pokes at the circles under his eyes and supposes it could be worse. He’s looked rougher after a big night out. He just looks a bit sleep-worn and rumpled. He cleans his teeth with the brush he used last night and his stomach twists a bit as he thinks about the lube, condoms and Nick’s hard, searching kisses. Christ. He’s going to have to get better at not getting hard when he thinks about Nick. It could get embarrassing very quickly. He has a quick shower and towels himself dry, nicking a bit of deodorant and some of Nick’s posh cologne. He tells himself he just wants to smell decent, but part of him wants to keep a bit of Nick’s scent on his skin for a while longer. Nick really does smell good. Too good. It does peculiar things to Louis’ insides.

When his phone’s got enough charge to turn the little battery from red to green, Louis pockets it and pads downstairs to the kitchen. Nick’s cooking something and he looks so good it makes Louis’ head spin. He’s wearing a low cut, threadbare white t-shirt with Britney’s face on and dark shorts. His feet are bare and he’s got his glasses on. He’s still got the bracelets on his wrist but the rings and the necklaces are gone. There’s an orange hooded jumper on the kitchen table which Louis assumes Nick pulled off earlier in the morning and slung close to one of the chairs. Without any products, his hair looks soft and haywire. Nick looks as good as Louis has ever seen him and the memory of the hard heat of Nick in his hand has him fighting back a blush. He takes a moment just to watch Nick, before pulling out a chair which makes Nick turn and flash him a smile.

“Mornin’”

“Hi.” Louis sits and looks down at his clothes. “I had a shower and borrowed some stuff. My clothes smell like fags and last night’s cocktails.”

Nick winces. “Christ, don’t mention those.” He adds something to the mixture in the pan and nudges it. “It’s fine. Borrow what you like.” There's a song in the background. It's an old one. The Verve, Louis remembers. My tongue is twisted...more dead than alive...my feelings, they've been betrayed, and I was born a little damaged, man. Velvet Morning. It makes Louis feel sad.

"Well, cheers."

"No worries." Nick casts a quick look in Louis’ direction. “Looks good on you, anyway.”

“Yeah?” Louis looks down. Nick’s clothes are big on him. Not huge, he’s used to wearing comfortable trackies and loose jumpers, but Nick’s jumper stretches just a little too long for Louis’ arms and the tracksuit legs are baggy with only the tight base around the ankle keeping them from skimming the ground.

“Yeah.” Nick winks at Louis and Louis tries as hard as he can not to react. He takes his phone out of his pocket and leaves it on the table, ignoring the silent notifications from people liking old pictures of Louis on Instagram.

“Do you ever go to casinos?” Louis asks.

“Once or twice.” Nick shrugs. “Not really my thing. There’s not much music in casinos and no one talks because they’re too busy concentrating on cards. It’s boring. I can’t be bothered with it.”

“Me neither.” That’s another notch. Another moment of commonality between them. Casinos. Not fun. “They’re still there. My mates, I mean.”

Nick pulls a face. “Big night out.”

“Yep.” Louis stands and opens Nick’s fridge, poking his head inside. The sense of camaraderie dissipates and he closes it quickly. “Coconut water and brie?”

Nick laughs, low in his throat. “Lots of vegetables too. A bit of swordfish for my tea.”

Louis gives Nick a look. “What’s wrong with pie and chips?”

Nick pats his flat stomach and raises an eyebrow at Louis. “Nothing, but we don’t all have your popstar metabolism.”

Louis wants to press his hand to Nick’s stomach. Wants to tell him he’s so fucking fit it makes Louis dizzy, but he doesn’t. The moment passes and Nick’s back to making whatever weird, organic hipster breakfast he probably plans to serve them both. Louis would kill for a Sausage and Egg McMuffin.

“I can sort my own breakfast.” Louis’ stomach growls. “If you like.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Just bloody wait, will you? I don’t do this for just anyone.”

Louis wonders how many people have been in and out of Nick’s home. He thinks about the spare toothbrushes and open pack of condoms. He opens the freezer, just for something to do that doesn’t involve looking too closely at Nick’s skinny legs. There’s something about Nick in the morning with his glasses and freshly washed hair that make him look stupidly fit. Louis would quite like Nick to pin him against the kitchen counter, kissing him over and over, but he doesn’t even know how to instigate it when then silence in the air is thick with tension. Nick’s defences seem down. He looks less smug, his smile less sharp at the edges. It’s a bit too much.

“Not even a potato waffle.” Louis can’t hide his disappointment as he pokes through the contents of the freezer. Who keeps bags of ice and frozen fucking blueberries? There’s not even a pack of fish fingers which is a sure sign Nick’s probably a total twat.

“’Fraid not.” Nick sounds amused. “I like cooking for people.”

“I bet you’ve had lots of practice.” It comes out meaner than Louis intends, but he’s nervous. He doesn’t know how to relax around Nick when he feels itchy and wound up, with all kinds of filthy thoughts racing through his mind.

Nick makes a sound in the back of his throat which sounds a bit frustrated. “Excuse me! I’m trying to do something nice for you. Are you always this fucking difficult?”

Probably worse, Louis thinks. Although he’s never really been in this exact situation before. The men on the internet are easier. All they want is to wank off to the things Louis tells them he’s doing when he’s hard in his boxers and stroking himself slowly, fulfilling every sordid fantasy he’s ever had. After that, they’re just a blinking cursor and a struck-through name. They leave Louis to go back to their wives, back to their work or to switch off the hotel room light. Louis always feels a bit grubby after those encounters and doesn’t go online again for a while. He changes his name, creating profiles on multiple sites. He found a stock picture of someone else’s torso which he uses on each one and he calls himself the kind of names everyone has like John and David and Sam. Sam’s his favourite. Sam is kinky as fuck and he doesn’t care about saying the things Louis tries to keep bottled up inside.

“I’m just saying you don’t have to do this. I don’t care. You can tell me to shove off and I’ll go.”

Nick stops what he’s doing and he turns the heat down on the stove. Whatever he’s making smells pretty good and Louis is ravenous. Not that he’s planning to tell Nick that anytime soon. Nick points his spatula at Louis in a weirdly domesticated display of his discontent. His hair’s all over the place and he looks tired and a bit cross.

“If you want to go, leave. I don’t give a fuck. But I’ve got nothing to do today. I like company and I’m starving. I’m making breakfast and there’s more than enough for two. If you’re up for it, I wouldn’t mind eating and going back to bed again for a bit to watch telly.” Nick pushes the spatula into the pan and turns away from Louis, his lips pressed into a line.

Louis swallows. “Is that what you do with all the other people, then?”

Nick snorts softly. “The other people get a cup of tea and they sometimes put my dogs on Snapchat so the press get wind they were here. Then they leave and don’t come back. My friends don’t do that.”

“But we’re not friends.”

Nick shrugs and he shuffles the pan around loudly enough to make Pig cock her ears and let out a yelp. “If that’s what you think, I’ll show you where the tea is darling.”
Anger rises inside of Louis and he tries not to shout because Pig looks at him and barks as if she knows. Steady, Tommo, she seems to say, her tongue lolling and her eyes dark and wide as she pushes her snout into Louis’ hand. You’re going to fuck this up.

“We’re not friends. We couldn’t stand each other before last night and then we…you…” Louis nearly chokes on the words and Nick finally stops stabbing at whatever healthy mess he’s concocting and puts the spatula back in the pan, leaning against the counter and closing his eyes. He lets out a breath and it’s ragged and broken.

“I’m trying, for fucks sake. I don’t know what the fuck we are. We might’ve slagged one another off at parties for a few years but you’re also not just a pretty model I took home to fuck and forget. You used to spend every waking moment with one of my best mates. We got on alright sometimes, didn’t we? At the Brits. At the X-Factor when you and the lads did your hiatus bit? Call it friends with benefits if you want, I don’t fucking know.”

“Nick,” Louis says. Pig whines and Stinky chases her tail. Nick really needs to stop sounding so upset. He seems to realise that and he grabs a couple of plates keeping his back to Louis. His shoulders are tense and the sound of china against china makes Louis wince.

“I don’t care, alright? I’ve got a hangover and my mouth tastes like something small and furry died in it last night and I just want to eat and go back to bed. I’m trying to tell you that you don’t have to run off or go to some stupid casino when all your friends are drunk and looking for another few pounds to spend. That’s it. Do what you like.”

Louis edges closer. “Fine. I’ll stay.”

Nick mutters something rude under his breath. “Delightful.”

Louis gets close enough to peer into the frying pan and it looks as though whatever Nick’s been making is close to burning so he turns the heat off. “What is this shit?”

“Potato rosti. With bacon. Thought it might be nice.” Nick puts the plates on the table and then he looks back at Louis. “I know this is weird.”

“A bit.” Louis’ mouth waters because potato and bacon sounds excellent. Much better than the egg white omelettes with spinach or smashed avocado he assumed Nick would go for in the morning. He could also do with another few hours in bed, curled up under the duvet and sleeping off the headache that’s beginning to prod at his temples.

“I don’t think I know you at all.” Nick’s brow furrows as he takes a seat and watches Louis.

Louis shrugs and something tightens in his chest. He’s not even sure he knows himself. “I’m good at putting on a front, mate.”

“Tell me about it,” Nick mutters. He takes a mouthful of food. “Fancy a brew?”

“Kill for one.” Louis pushes his chair back. “I’ll make it. Sounds like everyone needs to know where the tea is.”

Nick’s lips twist downwards but he gestures towards one of the cupboards. “In there. The mugs are in the next one along.”

Louis busies himself making two cups with teabags. He can’t be arsed to dig out a teapot like he’s the queen or something. He dumps the bags in the bin and adds milk, putting Nick’s on the table. It’s got an old picture of Beckham from his Man U days on the side, all red and yellow branding. Louis stares as Nick takes a drink from it.

“Didn’t pick you for a football mug kind of bloke.”

“It’s a joke.” Nick smiles around the mug. It’s a sad sort of smile that tugs at Louis’ heart. “One of those pound shop things. We do it every year for Christmas. Get some tat for each other as well as proper presents. Dad always tried to get me into football and my sister reckoned the key was to get me into footballers. So she got me Becks on a mug.”

“Oh.” Louis looks critically at the mug, then at Nick. “Did it work?”

“Not really.” Nick laughs. “I just got really flustered when I had to interview him.”

Louis takes a drink of his tea. It tastes amazing after a late night and compliments Nick’s surprisingly good breakfast. “I like that idea. It sounds fun.”

“It is.” Nick shrugs. “Was. Whatever. The last few years have been a bit different.”

Louis breathes out slowly, looking down. “Yeah. I get it.”

“Yeah.” Nick clears his throat. “Anyway.”

“Anyway.” Louis pokes at his food. “Are those models that drink all of your tea recent, then?” He tries not to sound like he cares.

Nick takes a mouthful of food and Louis notices he uses the moment to pick over his words. “Define recent.”

“Last few months?”

Nick swallows. “Maybe. It’s been a while.” He gives Louis a tired smile. “Like I said, they don’t usually stick around. It’s not as regular as it used to be. I’ve got to be up at five in the morning for work. I’m getting too old. Nobody likes a thirty-something bloke with eyebags.”

I do, Louis thinks. I do, I do, I do.

Louis takes in every line on Nick’s face and again he’s got the strangest desire to tell him how fucking lovely he looks, but he doesn’t. He can’t believe Nick doesn’t seem to know. He’s so used to seeing Nick walking around posh industry events in designer clothes like a smug tit, it’s unexpected to see him when he’s quiet, tired and self-deprecating. Louis also doesn’t want to say I’ll stick around because he’s not sure Nick wants to hear it and he doesn’t want to start making promises he doesn’t know how to keep. Instead he takes another mouthful of the food which is actually pretty fucking amazing.

“It’s good. Better than Maccy Ds.”

Nick laughs. “Take that back. That’s the finest hangover cure in Britain.”

“Yeah.” Louis eats quickly. He steals a glance at Nick and doesn’t say what he’s thinking out loud. I could get used to this. His body warms and he ducks his head, eating until his plate’s clean. Whilst Nick washes up, Louis fusses over Pig and Stinky and watches them play together. “Can I pinch another cigarette?”

“Go for it.” Nick gestures to the garden door. “If you don’t mind going outside. Door’s open and the fags are in the living room. I’d join you, but I can’t smoke on a hangover.”

“It’s fine,” Louis says. He gets himself a cigarette and stands outside in the drizzle, looking up at the sky. The early morning sun has all but disappeared. It’s grey, cold and the clouds are so dense it could almost be late afternoon instead of the start of the day. He shivers and wraps his arms around himself, taking another deep drag of his cigarette. He doesn’t know if he’s ready for bed and television. He’s not sure about friends with benefits. He doesn’t know about any of it. All he knows is that he’s not ready to go home to his empty house and he doesn’t have any interest in going out to meet friends who have been wide awake for over twenty-four hours.

He wants to stay with Nick. He wants to get back into bed with Nick. Louis watches a bird swoop onto a tree in Nick’s garden and stubs out his cigarette, leaving it in a plant pot that looks as though it’s an ashtray. With a deep breath, he shoves his hands into the tracksuit bottoms he stole from Nick and makes his way back inside.

*

Nick’s not in the living room or the kitchen. Louis is tempted to let himself out, his heart hammering in his chest. He doesn’t want to, though. The cigarette’s made his headache worse and he still has that wound up feeling which he can’t seem to shake. He’s been on edge since he woke up and he needs…something. He doesn’t know what, but he’s pretty sure the internet or a casino won’t do the trick. He taps out a message to his friends and it looks like they’re close to calling it a night. Or a day. He makes tentative plans to see them on Sunday, mentions video games or a kickaround in the park. They seem happy enough so he leaves his phone downstairs and makes his way back up to Nick’s room, pushing the door open.

“Hiya.” Nick’s on the bed, a pile of pillows propping him up. The duvet’s bunched up around his feet and he’s got one leg up as he fiddles around with his laptop. He gives Louis a smile. “Wasn’t sure if you’d come back up.”

“Might as well.” Louis sits on the bed and watches as Nick brings up Netflix. “What’re we watching?”

“Simpsons? Bridesmaids?” Nick shrugs. “Whatever. Something I can snooze to.”

“Game of Thrones,” Louis suggest. He slept through the first few episodes. He finds it boring as fuck.

Nick laughs softly. “Good for snoozing.”

“Very good.” Louis wets his lips and watches Nick. He doesn’t know what’s expected of him. He kind of wants to start something but he doesn’t know if Nick’s going to want to fuck him. Even worse, he doesn’t know how he feels about it. Part of him wants to. Part of him wants it so much. The other part doesn’t feel ready and the thought sends his heart into overdrive.

Nick turns and he catches Louis watching him. Something shifts in his expression, something that makes Louis hot all over. Nick shoves the laptop away and brushes his hand against Louis’ thigh, just firm enough that Louis can feel the touch through the trackies and against his skin.

“You look good in my stuff. I like it.”

“Of course I do.” Louis tries to sound confident but it comes out breathless. This. This is what he wants. To be touched. To be fucked. To make the noise go away and the itchiness beneath his skin stop. He bites back a groan when Nick shifts his hand higher. He’s sure Nick must be able to see how hard it makes Louis being this close to Nick. He wonders if the need and desire radiates off his body in waves.

“Fuck. Just…” Nick closes the laptop and dumps it on the floor. He puts his glasses on the side before stretching out beside Louis and putting his hand back where it was. His breathing is a little heavier and he squeezes down on Louis’ thigh. “Christ, you’re fit.”

“As if you can see without your glasses,” Louis says. Then he runs a hand through Nick’s hair and the words leave him, unbidden. “You too. You’re fit too.” Finally. Finally, finally. He’s not sure Nick believes him because he pulls a face, but at least he fucking said it. At least he let the words spill out and didn’t even follow them up with something mean just to soften the truth behind them.

“Yeah, well fit.” Nick laughs but it doesn’t sound as if he’s having that much fun. When he looks at Louis though, his eyes are soft and warm. His cheeks are a bit flushed and he inches his hand higher. “You okay with this?”

“Yeah.” Louis shrugs and his eyes flutter closed as a groan leaves his lips. “Whatever.”

“Okay.” Nick doesn’t sound so sure but when he dips his hand beneath the waistband of Louis’ trackies, there’s no masking the way Louis bucks up towards his hand or the shaking breath with leaves Louis’ parted lips. “No boxers?” Nick sounds delighted and his hand wraps around Louis, firm and sure. He strokes him slowly, it’s dry and hard and it feels so fucking good. Louis wants it to last but he’s not sure he can. He’s spent the morning watching Nick and feeling wound up so tight he knows it isn’t going to take long. He doesn’t want the tricks that draw it out, he wants Nick to wank him like he’s fucking him – just rough enough that it hurts a bit.

“Hard…do it…hard…close…” Louis pretends he’s Sam. Sam with the faceless torso Louis hides behind on the internet, who doesn’t care about asking for things. Sam tells people exactly what he wants and the things he wants claw through Louis and leave him shaking. He doesn’t even know where it comes from. Doesn’t even understand how that desperate need worms its way inside his brain. He buries his face in Nick’s neck where it’s warm and a bit sweaty. He bites down on the sensitive skin until a hiss leaves Nick’s lips.

“You’re a savage beast, darling.” Nick sounds amused, now. Breathless and amused. He slides his hand out of Louis’ trackies and it makes Louis groan with disappointment.

“No, fuck.”

“S’okay. I just want to see you.” Nick sits back against the headboard and tugs Louis over until Louis’ straddling Nick’s lap. He can’t hide his face like this and he’s not sure how he feels about it. He can’t hide his face but he can also see Nick’s eyes, lidded with arousal, so perhaps it has some benefits. He squeezes his thighs around Nick’s legs and it makes Nick groan. “You want it hard, yeah? No lube? Bit rough?”

“Yeah.” Louis’ cheeks heat at Nick saying it out loud. Nick’s got a firm grip on Louis’ chin so he can’t duck out of the way.

“God.” Nick breathes out. “Look at me, yeah?”

Louis nods, feeling the heat crawl up his neck and into his face. He feels too hot in the jumper, too warm and too needy. He doesn’t want Nick to look into his eyes and see the heart of him.

“Can we take this off?” Nick pushes his hand under Louis’ jumper – Nick’s jumper – and Louis nods. He tugs it over his head and drops it on the floor.

“Better?”

“Much.” Nick strokes his fingers over Louis’ stomach and Louis trembles and flexes beneath the touch.

“Get the fuck on with it, Nicholas.” The air in the room is cool against Louis’ skin and he’s conscious of the way Nick’s eyes rake over the inches of his too-slim, too-pale body. He’s lost that LA tan after a month or so in Donny. He should probably try to get that back. He looks good with a tan.

“Impatient.” Nick grins and then he pushes down Louis’ trackies just enough to expose Louis’ cock. Nick pushes them down until he can get a good grip, sliding his hand over Louis. He moves his other hand slowly down Louis’ back, his fingers sliding along Louis’ spine and settling close to his backside.

The moan Louis lets out is positively shameless. He closes his eyes because he has to. He just can’t. Nick brushes his fingers a little lower and he wanks Louis slowly.

“Open them,” Nick says. “Come on, love.”

Louis opens his eyes and he presses closer to Nick. Part of him wants to stop but another part of him never wants it to end. Nick’s talented hand is firm and hard around Louis, just as Louis likes. It’s not sore but it’s not gentle either and that’s what Louis needs. Even though he’s on top of Nick, there’s no doubt who’s in charge. He can feel the hardness of Nick beneath him, through the thin gym shorts Nick’s wearing. It makes Louis think of all kinds of things which bring him so close to the edge it’s almost painful.

“Close…”

“Yeah.” Nick nods, then gives Louis a small smile. He speeds up his movements and then slides his dry fingers through the crack of Louis’ backside. The touch is feather-light and barely there but there’s a tentative kind of promise – a sensation it generates – which makes Louis buck up into Nick’s hand and come with a soft shout. He lets Nick stroke him through his orgasm until it’s all a bit too sensitive and he pushes Nick away.

“Hurts.”

“Sorry.” Nick wipes his hand on the sheets and he leans back, pillowing his head in his hands. He shifts a bit under Louis, giving him a grin. “Fancy returning the favour?”

“I suppose you did make me breakfast.” Louis rolls his eyes at Nick. The strange shame of the aftermath of his orgasm still burns through him, but it’s easier with Nick looking so relaxed and comfortable. He gives Nick a quick kiss but Nick changes it by holding Louis in place, a large hand on the back of Louis’ neck. The kiss becomes hot breath, teeth and tongue and Louis can’t help but moan into Nick’s mouth as the kiss deepens. When he finally pulls back to catch his breath with a gulp, Nick looks flushed and smug. It’s annoying and endearing all at the same time.

“That’s a good start.” Nick’s voice sounds a little rough and he gives Louis a wink.

Louis feels a bit bold and he tips his chin in Nick’s direction. Nick looks far too pleased with himself for Louis’ liking. Even with his heart hammering in his chest, Louis knows what he wants to do.

“That’s nothing,” Louis says. He hopes he sounds confident, because he really doesn’t feel it. He moves off Nick’s lap and settles between his legs after yanking down his shorts. It’s a bit weird seeing Nick’s cock this close up. The night before was all soft lighting and silvery moonlight. Now Louis is completely sober and he’s somehow face to face with Nick Grimshaw’s dick. It’s thick and hard, leaking just a little at the tip. Louis takes a breath and then he runs his tongue over the end. The taste is sharp and salty and Nick twitches in Louis’ hand as he holds him steady at the base.

“Christ,” Nick says, helpfully. He pushes a hand into Louis’ hair and teases it, tugging it lightly. It feels so good, it sends sparks of pleasure through Louis’ scalp and down his spine. “You don’t have to, you know.”

“Do you want me to or not?” Louis glares up at Nick.

Nick’s expression softens and his voice is a bit rough when he speaks. “Yeah. I mean, yeah, obviously. I want you to.”

“Then fucking let me get on with it and stop worrying.” Louis gives Nick one of his best mutinous looks. He’s fairly sure Nick sees right through it, but he doesn’t argue.

“Whatever you want.” Nick brushes a thumb against the corner of Louis’ lip, pushing down on his lip and parting them. Nick’s voice is definitely rough now, his eyes dark with arousal. “You look good like that, too.”

“I bet.” Louis snorts and then he gets back to it. He tries to remember what Nick did and thinks about the videos he’s seen as well as the blowjobs he’s received. He’s pretty sure something like deep-throating takes a bit of practice so despite the gnawing desire to be the best Nick’s had, he thinks he’s going to have to take it slow. He doesn’t want to start choking or throwing up last night’s cocktails on Nick’s pristine bed. He has a feeling that might ruin the mood.

Louis thinks about his teeth. He remembers one particularly bad blow job with long, acrylic nails against his prick and he shudders. He wets his lips and slides down over Nick which draws a pleasing gasp from Nick. He moves as best he can and fuck Nick’s so big it makes his jaw ache a bit as his lips stretch wide around him. The hand in his hair tightens and Louis lets out a desperate moan around Nick’s cock. It makes Nick push up a bit and arousal pulls deep within Louis, making him groan again. He slides up and then down as Nick slowly moves his hips. He likes this. He likes the way Nick controls Louis’ movements, slowly pushing up without pushing in too deep. He likes the way Nick uses his hands in Louis’ hair to move him up and down to establish a rhythm which feels good for Nick. He can tell it feels good for Nick because of the way he keeps murmuring words of encouragement which make Louis’ heart swell.

“Good…fuck, Lou. So good.” Nick’s voice is ragged and his breath falters and hitches. Louis has never felt hornier or so determined to do a good job. He sucks Nick and runs his tongue over him, trying to keep the rhythm Nick sets. His mouth is slick with saliva and he’s sure he’s drooling over Nick, but Nick doesn’t seem to care. If anything, the slicker and wetter Louis’ mouth and Nick’s cock get, the louder Nick moans and the more urgently he tugs at Louis’ hair. For one blissful moment, Nick just holds Louis down. Louis struggles to breathe through his nose but he finally gets it and the feeling of being held in place by Nick makes his body warm.

“Gonna come, love.” Nick gives Louis’ hair a bit of a tug but Louis stays in place, steeling himself. He moves faster and then Nick pulses in his mouth and it’s a strange, unfamiliar rush which makes Louis struggle up. He doesn’t catch it all, swallowing what he can as the rest covers the hand he uses to keep stroking Nick. He can feel a damp stickiness at the corner of his mouth.

When Nick finishes, Louis sits back on his heels and watches Nick. He moves to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand but Nick catches his wrist before he can do so. Nick pushes Louis back on the bed and captures his lips in a heated kiss, licking into Louis’ mouth and groaning into the kiss. They’re the wrong way up on the bed and Louis still doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, but he does know Nick’s kissing him like there’s no tomorrow. He pushes his hands into Nick’s hair and keeps him close, returning the kiss as Nick slides his hand down Louis’ chest and thumbs at his nipple. When the kiss finally ends, Nick props himself up over Louis and looks down at him.

“Are you planning to run off to the bathroom, this time?”

Louis pulls a face at Nick. “Might clean my teeth.”

“Right.” Nick laughs, low in his throat. “Should I be offended?”

“No.” Louis manages a smile even though his heart beats restlessly. “I’ve had worse. Those cocktails for a start.”

“How dare you!” Nick grins and he moves off Louis, sitting to the side and watching him. He strokes his fingers down Louis’ belly and over the curve of Louis’ prick, already hardening in Louis’ trackies. “You’re nearly ready to go again.”

“Shut up.” Louis pushes Nick’s hand away, the heat flaring in his cheeks. “Don’t make a thing out of it.”

Nick raises his eyebrows and he gives Louis a look. “I’m not taking the piss. I like it.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Louis rolls his eyes. “I’m not exactly one of those models of yours.”

“No,” Nick agrees. He looks as if he’s debating something internally, his brow furrowing. Eventually he dips his head and kisses Louis’ neck with a light press of his teeth against Louis’ skin. “You’re much hotter, for a start.”

“Piss off.” Louis snorts and pushes Nick back, trying to fight the heat flaming in his cheeks and the way something squirms pleasantly in his stomach. “Let me clean my teeth.”

“Okay. Nick moves away from Louis and back up the bed. He pulls on his shorts again and picks the laptop off the floor, opening it up. He doesn’t quite meet Louis’ eyes as he focuses on something on the screen. “Then you’ll come back here for a cuddle, yeah?”

Louis swallows, because yes. He doesn’t want to put on his stuff and go home. He wants to curl up against Nick’s side the way he didn’t get to do last night. “I suppose. Can I choose the film?”

“If you must.” Nick sounds vaguely amused as he taps through to another screen on the laptop. “Nothing with guns and car chases, though. Or footie. I’m not watching Bend it Like Beckham or some shit.”

Louis laughs and he goes to the bathroom, cleaning his teeth. When he gets back, Nick’s made the bed. He looks cosy with his glasses back on and a couple of thick blankets over him. Taking a breath, Louis gets under the blankets and he grabs the laptop. He chooses something he thinks Nick might not completely hate and lets the credits roll. He sits up, a bit stiff and uncomfortable until Nick sighs beside him.

“Come here, you tit.” Nick wraps an arm around Louis and Louis nestles down under the blankets, resting against Nick’s chest. It feels so warm and so right. Don’t get too used to this, he tells himself. It’s just a weird day.

“This is weird,” Louis says. His eyes are heavy and the pounding of his head has eased just a bit after coming.

“Really fucking weird,” Nick agrees. He sounds a bit scared, uncertain and less confident than usual. His voice has a low, slow cadence and Louis wonders if Nick’s tired too.

“I’ll be off soon.” Louis closes his eyes and lets the sounds of the film and Nick’s heart fill his senses. “Then it won’t be weird anymore.”

“Okay.” Nick doesn’t sound so sure, but he holds Louis tighter until finally sleep claims him.

*

When Louis wakes, he can hear Nick snoring lightly beside him. He’s warm and the room is dark like it’s gone from day to late afternoon in the space of a few hours sleeping.

Louis gets out of bed and pulls on his own clothes without waking Nick. He pokes around through the drawers. He wants a pen. A pen and paper. Eventually, he finds what he’s looking for. He puts down the cover on Nick’s laptop and rests the paper on it. He chews the end of the pen, trying to think what to write.

Had to get off. Don’t worry, I didn’t put your dogs on Snapchat.

He scribbles his number at the end and decides against signing it off with a kiss. He doesn’t know how to write it – the unspoken I want to see you again. He hopes Nick gets it, the subtext between the number and the no dogs on Snapchat.

He pinches another cigarette and lets himself out, giving Pig and Stinky a last pat goodbye, before stepping into the cool London air. He orders an Uber and gives the drive directions to a place about fifteen minutes from his house. There might be paps and he wants to avoid them, if he can. He doesn’t want to be photographed in last night’s clothes.
It starts to rain again, just drizzle this time and Louis tilts his head up to the sky as he stops walking for a moment. It feels good, being outside underneath the grey sky with the water cool against his hot cheeks. He wonders if he’s ever going to taste London rain again without thinking of Nick and his stupid quiff. Nick and his dizzying kisses and ridiculous dogs.

His phone buzzes in his pockets and he answers. “Good night?”

“The best.” Stan tells Louis all about the evening. He sounds like he’s still pissed. “Sorry you were sick, mate.”

“I wasn’t.” Something squirms in Louis’ stomach and he wonders if this is the moment. “I pulled.”

“You did?!” Stan sounds delighted. “Was she fit?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. The flush of confidence leaves him and he’s back to half-truths all over again. “She was.”

The lie tastes like metal and rain and it rests heavily on his tongue. He ends the call as soon as he can and checks his messages. Nothing. He wraps his arms around himself and keeps walking, letting the rain soak through to his skin. By the time he gets inside his house, he’s shivering and his skin is damp with the rain and chilly crisp afternoon air. He fishes out the cigarette he pinched from Nick and lets the smoke curl around him, breathing in its acrid scent.

He watches the dark screen and on his phone and wonders if Nick might text.

It’s hours later when Louis is curled up in bed and his phone remains silent that he realises just how much he wanted Nick to get in touch. He opens up his laptop and scrolls through site after site, the men on cameras angled at their waists making his stomach roll.

hi gorgeous one message says. whats ur name?

The light from the screen casts shadows all around the room and Louis can’t help but feel as if they’re closing in on him, long fingers of darkness stretching out and caressing him. He lets them. Loses himself in the shadows and types himself into another time zone, into another person’s head.

sam

gd 2 meet u sam

Louis reaches across to switch his phone off and goes back to the computer screen.

yeah. want 2 play?

The shadows move closer and for a few hours, Louis pretends he’s somebody else.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes late on Monday, after a night drinking beer and playing video games with his mates. The house is empty. His friends left in the early hours, a bit pissed and comfortably full on Dominos pizza. They were full of their plans for the week and everyone kept saying how nice it would be for Louis to have a bit of time to himself – time to work on his song writing. Louis went along with it because that’s what he does, talking about notebooks bursting with lyrics and trying to push the blank pages to the back of his mind. He picks up one of his favourite writing books and studies the scribbles of disparate verses. Song lyrics have always been his strong point but there’s something too pretty girl, tight t-shirt about it. It’s feels forced, like he’s written a really bad budget version of a Taylor Swift song. The lyrics are too coy, too obvious and really not Louis at all. The songs he wants to write feel like they’re going to take a bit more introspection to get there and Louis isn’t sure he’s ready to start that process. There’s just one verse that he wrote after coming back from Nick’s that feels fresh and innovative.

Louis pulls a face. If he’s using Nick Grimshaw as a muse, he’s totally fucked. Next thing, he’s going to be writing about quiffs, why Vans were never designed to be worn with posh designer suits and how hearing Nick’s Northern twang on the radio makes him feel at home. He’s sure that would go down a storm. He rolls his eyes and closes his notebook, before reaching for his phone. There’s a text from Pizza Hut reminding him about two-for-one Tuesdays and one from Lottie with lots of exclamation marks and pink emojis. Finally, there’s a message from a number Louis doesn’t recognise. He taps on it and hopes with all his heart it’s not someone trying to help him with his non-existent PPI claims.

Just found your note. Must have fallen down the side of the bed after you left

Nick. Louis’ heart pounds in his chest and he types back with shaking hands.

Didn’t want to wake you

The bubbles appear as Nick taps out his reply.

Wake me next time. Don’t like waking up alone

Louis’ chest tightens and his breath catches. He thinks of Nick waking up, warm and disoriented. He wonders what he thought about Louis leaving without so much as a thanks for breakfast note. At least the text explains why he hasn’t heard anything until now.

Sorry

Louis pauses, biting his bottom lip. The next time rolls around in his head and he shifts up in bed.

Doesn’t matter. You didn’t know

The phone stays silent. Louis isn’t sure what to say. Should he ask to see Nick again? Nick was the one who mentioned next time. Louis gets out of bed and flicks through his diary. It’s empty until next Monday, when he’s supposed to be going to one of the industry parties he hates.

Are you busy tonight?

Louis hits send and holds his breath.

Sorry, have plans

Louis’ heart sinks but the typing continues so he waits for Nick to finish and relief floods through him when the next text follows.

Free tomorrow. Want to come over?

What time?

Three. I’ve got stuff to do at the radio before. Have to be in bed by eight these days

Louis bites his thumb nail and grins at the phone.

Old age, mate

Nick replies with the poo emoji and the old man. Louis sends back the skull and a kissy face. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing and his hands are clammy. He feels hot all over. He’s shit at this, but he likes texting Nick. He likes flirting with Nick.

See you then

Nick replies with the see no evil monkey, the prawn and the poodle. Louis hates him. He sends back the turtle, croissant and football. The phone stays silent and Louis puts it on his bedside cabinet to charge.

Later that night he sees pictures of Nick DJ-ing some event. Matty Healey from the 1975’s there along with some bloke Louis doesn’t recognise who stands far too close to Nick for Louis’ liking. Nick looks good, in a blazer jacket and a striped t-shirt and in most of the photos he’s laughing, dicking around with his hair or clutching a glass of wine. His smile is so wide and his eyes crinkle at the corner when he laughs. It makes Louis’ heart swoop and he has to close the pictures before he starts feeling like a weird stalker.
He tries not to care that he wasn’t there. Tries not to care that he can’t press close to Nick in front of the cameras or kiss him in the middle of something completely inappropriate for kissing, like Stormzy. He allows himself a moments fantasy of shoving Matty and Mystery Bloke in Beige out of the way, just to wrap his arms around Nick’s neck and snog him senseless. Yeah. Like that’s going to happen any time soon.

Louis pulls the duvet over his head and shoves thoughts of Nick to the back of his mind.

It’s a long time before he finally drifts off into a fitful sleep.

*

Louis stands outside Nick’s house for at least ten minutes before he plucks up the courage to knock on the door. It takes a while for Nick to answer and he can hear Nick yelling at the dogs to be quiet as they start going mental. He contemplates running away but stands firm until the door opens and Nick greets him with a wide smile.

“Hiya.”

“Hi.” Louis goes inside and fusses over Stinky for a bit, cuddling Pig close under his other arm. It’s a lot easier to cuddle the dogs than to have to think about awkwardly greeting Nick with a hey, man slap on the back, a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. Nice to see you again. Thanks for the sex and the snogging. Think we might do that again? Louis hides his smile at the image in Pig’s fur and plays with her for a bit. Dogs are the best. When he suspects his love-in with Nick’s dogs has probably gone on long enough, Louis stands and forces himself to look at Nick. “Sorry, I didn’t bring anything.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick shrugs and he wets his lips with his tongue. “I wasn’t expecting flowers and a bottle of Chardonnay.”

Louis looks towards the garden. The doors are open and there are chairs and a table set up outside with a half-drunk bottle of beer on the table. “We’re outside, are we?”

“For a bit, if you like. You want a beer?” Nick seems nervous. He alternates between gesturing with his hands and shoving them in his pockets, like he doesn’t know what the protocol is for greeting Louis is either. He looks comfortable and strangely familiar, in his jogging bottoms and a t-shirt. It takes Louis a moment to realise he’s wearing the tracksuit bottoms Louis put on the other morning. It sends heat into Louis’ cheeks at the memory of Nick's hand wrapping around him, firm and warm. He tries not to focus too much on the thin cotton of Nick’s t-shirt, the way his hair is a bit all over the place or how his eyelashes look longer than ever.

“Beer sounds good.” Louis heads into the garden and sits down, taking in every detail. It’s a nice garden. Not really overlooked, with enough tall plants and trees around to keep things pretty private. It’s still London, so it’s not like it’s some countryside pad in the middle of nowhere, but it feels safe. Louis relaxes into his seat and takes a quick swig of Nick’s beer to calm his nerves.

“Plenty more where that came from. We don’t have to share, love.” Nick returns with a beer for Louis and sits down next to him, giving Louis a side-long look. “It’s easier when we’re pissed.”

“Isn’t it?” Louis laughs and he has a gulp of his beer. “Nice garden.”

“Thanks. I grew it myself.” Nick rubs his forehead and curses under his breath with a snort of laughter. “That’s a lie. I know fuck all about shrubs. Someone helps out. I water the plants when I can be arsed and try to stop the dogs from eating flowers that are probably going to make them puke on my rug.”

“I don’t have a garden.” Louis shrugs. “I’ve got a pool in LA with a few trees, but nothing that needs pruning.”

“A pool in LA.” Nick whistles, low and teasing. “Proper posh.”

“Yeah.” Louis’ chest tightens and he picks at the label on the beer. “You ever go out there?”

“Sometimes.” Nick doesn’t sound terribly enthusiastic. “I’m going again in a few weeks, actually.”

“You are?” Louis looks over at Nick and he nods.

“I need a bit of a holiday and I’ve got a friend doing a show. I’m going to watch that and try to spend some time in the sun. Might have to try that pool of yours if you’re there. Come round and pretend to be a popstar for a day.”

Louis has no plans to go back to LA. He’s been avoiding the people and the things that make him feel like he’s failing and England’s better for hiding from his responsibilities. He swallows, taking another long drink from the cool bottle of beer. “You could, if you want. Stay there. I could come out for a bit. Show you round.”

Nick’s eyes widen and Louis’ palms go clammy. It’s too much. It sounds too desperate. What’s he thinking? Nick’s on holiday and he has loads of mates and plans. Louis doesn’t need to buy a ticket just to chase Nick across the globe and show off his stupid, soulless house.

“Forget it.” Louis lets out a brittle laugh. “Just kidding. I’m not going to crash your holiday and you can’t stay if I’m not there. I bet you’d poke through my sock drawers.”

“Afraid of what I might find?” Nick sounds as if he’s trying to keep his voice light and Louis can’t look at him. He always does this. He plunges into things so hard and so fast. His stupid heart. Even when it’s not perfect, Louis can’t help it. It’s even worse now Louis is finally getting the gender right. He needs that person in his life – the one that makes him feel less alone. He likes to press his toes next to someone in the middle of the night and have texts on his phone from someone that thinks he means something. He’s broken too many hearts by doing that kind of shit with the wrong people – girls that were never going to fit quite right. Now he’s here planning a fucking trip to LA to cock up Nick’s holiday plans and fuck it’s such a bloody mess. Why is he like this? Why can’t he just be alone for a bit? Louis reaches for his fags and tries to stop his hands from shaking. He lights one and takes a deep drag. It’s better but it’s not enough. There’s a silence, broken only by the sound of Nick clearing his throat. It’s awkward as fuck.

Louis tries to break the stillness between them. “There’s nothing to find. Sorry to disappoint.”

Nick reaches for Louis’ cigarettes and takes one. “I don’t smoke that much. Only when I’m out or around you, apparently.”

“I’m bad for your health.” Louis snorts and has another pull on his cigarette. Pig comes outside wagging her tail and Louis fusses her so he doesn’t have to look at Nick.

“Pretty much.” Nick sighs and then he shifts his chair so he’s closer to Louis. He nudges him with one of his pointy elbows and he sounds uncertain. “Hey. I’d like to see it. Your place.”

“You would?” Louis glances at Nick. He nods.

“Yeah.” Nick pushes a hand through his hair. “You should know, that friend who’s doing a show…”

“Harry.” Louis swallows around the lump in his throat. “It’s Harry, isn’t it?”

Nick nods. “We cross over by a couple of days. I’m going to see him, then I’ve got plans with another friend. I’ve got a couple of days to myself, though. A few days before I go back. My friend’s doing a road trip and she’s leaving LA before I do, so I was just going to hang around the hotel and perv on the blokes by the pool.” Nick takes a breath and then he puts his hand on Louis’ leg. His eyes are warm and dark. “I could still do that, but at yours. Perv at the blokes by the pool at yours.”

Louis’ body is so, so hot. His voice shakes a bit when he speaks. “No blokes. Just me.”

“Well.” Nick’s lips curve into a smile. “I’ll just perv at you, then. Much better.”

“Idiot.” Louis looks away. “Sorry. I do this. Move too fast.”

Nick makes a sound in the back of his throat. “Me too. I’ve always been shit at keeping my distance. If I like someone I want to do everything with them. I took a bloke I just met to Glastonbury with all my friends, once. It was too soon. It fucked everything right up. I don’t have a very good idea of when they’re there for me and when it’s for the other stuff.”

“Tell me about it.” Louis winces. “Well at least you know I’m not sticking around so you can introduce me to your celebrity pal Harry Styles. Don’t worry about that.”

“I wasn’t.” Nick clears his throat. “I’m also shit at this in general, by the way. I can be shit. Fair warning.”

“Me too.” Louis finishes his beer. “Haven’t got a clue what I’m doing.”

“You and me both.” Nick shifts away from Louis again. “Another beer?”

Louis nods. “Why not?”

He plays with Pig while Nick goes back into the house and tries to steady his racing heart.

*

The sun sets low on the day and the red and orange sky makes it look as though the clouds are burning at the edges. Louis tips his head back and watches the sunset, taking in the cotton-wool wisps and the sounds of the world around them. It’s London, but it’s peaceful London. The cars on the road become a distant hum, mingling with the sound of Nick’s music from somewhere deep inside the house. Otherwise, it’s just wind and the rustle of birds landing in the trees, the light thud of a lone cat jumping from fence to fence and giving Louis an imperious look.

Louis lets himself relax. He doesn’t let himself dwell on the fact he basically asked Nick on holiday after one night and half a morning together. It’ll be good for him to catch up with people in LA. He’s been putting it off for ages and this can just be killing two birds with one stone. Besides, Nick didn’t have to say yes. He seemed into the idea and as weird as it is, Louis really does want Nick to see his place in the Hills. His whole life after X-Factor is a series of moments which make Louis more incredulous than the last, but nothing does that quite like being in his LA house. When he sees the city sprawled beneath him it’s like he’s on top of the world. It makes his heart catch in his throat and it makes him feel humbled in the way standing in front of a sea of faces singing your lyrics back to you can do. It’s an instantaneous impact. Here I am, folks. That boy from Donny who talked too much and thought he’d never amount to anything. Here I am.

Louis tries not to think about later. The way Nick tastes and the way one look from him can leave Louis hard and aching. He feels a bit weird and guilty about his Saturday night online and wishes it was as easy to say things out loud that spill out just fine when he’s horny, lonely and completely anonymous. His mum told Louis once that he needed to be careful with his heart. My brave, darling boy. She always worried about him, his mum did. His chest aches and Louis has some more beer, swallowing back the hurt and pushing back the memories for another time. Sorry, mum, he whispers to the empty garden. Sorry. I’m not forgetting. Never forgetting. This is Nick. Do you like him? Are you still proud of me? His throat gets tight and he rubs his eyes, feigning tiredness.

“Everything okay?” Nick reappears after feeding the dogs and he gives Louis another beer. “Do you want food?”

“Not at the minute.” Louis looks across at Nick. “You have food, if you like. I got up late and had a burger and chips for lunch.”

“Alright for some.” Nick gives Louis a slow smile. “I can chuck on a pizza later or order some curry. I don’t have much in.”

“Whatever you want.” Louis shrugs. He picks at the label on his bottle. “Don’t you have to go to bed soon?”

Nick laughs and he checks his watch. “I think I can manage a few more hours.” He leans forward and raises his eyebrows at Louis. “Unless you’ve got something in mind other than my beauty sleep?”

Everything gets a bit warmer and Louis shifts in his seat. “Might do.”

“Oh.” Nick’s cheeks flush and he leans back, taking a sip of his beer. “Might want to go to bed shortly, then.”

“If you like.” Louis looks away. It’s still so strange doing this. So odd being with Nick and wanting these things with Nick. He doesn’t know where to start or how to play it anything other than completely uncool. He suspects Nick knows he’s a bit of a mess about all of this but he’s kind enough not to push. It’s odd, thinking of Nick Grimshaw and kind in the same sentence. Louis isn’t sure when that happened. Somewhere between kissing in the rain and kissing on the floor, he expects.

“How are you doing with everything?” Nick keeps his voice quiet and slow like the setting sun, not pushing but not letting Louis bottle shit up either.

“Fine.” Louis gives Nick a look. “You’re doing it again.”

“What?”

“Making it a thing.”

Nick shrugs. “Isn’t it? Apparently we’re meeting up in LA. You’re with a man. That’s new.”

“I know that, you knob.” Louis sounds sharper than he means to, snapping out his words. He doesn’t want to go there. He doesn’t want to define it or talk about what this means. He knows what it means. He just doesn’t think he’s ready to say any of it out loud. “Do you ever wonder if they can see you?”

“Who?”

“People that aren’t here anymore.” People that died. People we loved. Louis watches the clouds break apart and he shivers as a gust of air catches in the trees, making them rustle and whisper. “If they’re watching?”

“Christ, I hope not.” Nick laughs, but it sounds a bit hollow. “I’m up to all sorts, me. I don’t want my nana knowing I’m smoking again, for a start.”

A smile tugs at Louis’ lips and his strange mood eases a little. “Your nana probably knew all about your smoking and shagging.”

“She did not. I was a charming grandson. A delight.” Nick pops the lid on his beer with a fizz. He catches it in his mouth before the foam spills over the side. “She probably just watches me win awards and stuff. I reckon she’s polite enough to look elsewhere when she can see I’m about to do something she wouldn’t approve of.”

“You win awards?” Louis raises his eyebrows at Nick. “What the fuck do you win awards for? Most obnoxious quiff in England?”

Nick laughs and he pokes Louis in the side with his long fingers. The rings are back, glinting in the soft light from the setting sun. “Oi. I’ve won awards.”

“The ones you make yourself don’t count.” Louis grins around his beer. He feels at ease. Relaxed. He likes Nick’s house with his dogs and his little garden. It’s homely.

“As if I’d do that.” Nick pauses. “Actually, I might have done that once. When I was a kid.”

“Practiced your speech with a hairbrush and everything, I bet.”

“Nah, that was for singing Madonna and dancing in my mum’s heels. Dad loved that. My brother thought I was a right weirdo. It was all Oasis and The Stone Roses in my house back in those days.”

“Your dad never minded?”

Nick looks at Louis, eyebrow arched. “You’ve heard me sing, pet. No one likes that. Not even Vogueing can save a voice like mine.”

Louis snorts at the image of a young, very Northern Nick trying to dance around in heels. It makes his chest a bit tight. He shakes his head and looks at the table. “Not that.”

“I’ve always been out,” Nick says. “My dad was more concerned about the fact I wanted to jack in my degree to go and ponce around London trying to do the radio than he was about the gender of the people I wanted to take home at the end of the night.”

“But you made it,” Louis replies. He tips his drink in Nick’s direction. “Cheers to trying to become a star.”

“You too, darling.” Nick clinks their bottles together and he takes a breath, meeting Louis’ gaze head on. “It’s none of my business and I didn’t really know your mum so tell me to naff off if you like, but I’ve heard a lot about her. I don’t reckon she would care. She seemed like the kind of mum that just wanted her kids to be happy. Whoever they are. I bet she’s dead proud.”

“Yeah.” Louis really does feel choked up now and he needs to change the subject. He can’t sit around talking about this without opening a whole can of worms about the way he’s been coasting around aimlessly for the last few years. He doesn’t want to think about those empty spaces or the feelings that are like bruises that just won’t fade. Every time he prods at them they hurt. He doesn’t want to do that now. “Thanks.”

“No worries.” Nick shrugs awkwardly. “Just call it like I see it.”

Louis drains the last of his beer and he gathers up the empties. “Just putting these in the kitchen.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s fine.”

Nick seems to understand Louis needs a moment and he waves his hand. “Go for it. There’s more in the fridge. Bring me one, while you’re at it.”

“Okay,” Louis says. Okay.

When he goes inside, Dustland Fairytale spins in the background and Louis listens to the lyrics as Stinky barks for some attention. Cinderella don’t you go to sleep…it’s such a bitter form of refuge…. Louis picks Stinky up and cuddles her after finding the recycling bin for the bottles. She’s soft and warm and she wriggles around in his arms. He lets her settle and sits with her for a little while as he swallows back the powerful wave of sadness that hits him side on. He can feel her little heart beating and he strokes her behind the ears until she starts licking his hand. Finally, he feels ready to go back outside. Ready to go back to Nick.

*

“It’s getting a bit cold.” Nick’s doing something on his phone when Louis comes back. Louis catches sight of a WhatsApp chat with someone called Aimee and a steady stream of silent notifications from Twitter. “Want to go inside?”

“In a minute.” Louis sits and looks around. It’s getting properly dark now. There’s a moth that flutters close to the candle Nick’s lit on the table and then flies away before its wings get singed.

“Doesn’t matter to me.” Nick winks at Louis. “Bit of cold air never hurt anyone.”

“It’s not even that cold. You’ve got too used to the Southern air, lad.” Louis does his best impression of his grandpa and it makes Nick smile.

“What can I say? London’s changed me.”

“Try living in LA for a few years.” Louis pulls a face. He opens another bottle of beer and does Nick’s too, passing it along. “I’m thinking of selling up.”

“Not before I get to visit, I hope.” Nick contemplates Louis, watching him closely with a small smile playing around his lips.

“Not before then.” Louis shakes his head. “Not for a while. It’s just an idea. I’m not sure what’s there for me these days. I like being closer to family.”

“It’s important.” Nick looks ahead, his eyes tracking the neighbour’s cat which has returned to stalk across the fence. “I don’t think I’d like to live in LA. Too much traffic, too many cars.”

“And London’s so much better?” Louis raises his eyebrows at Nick.

“It is, though. There’s the tube and London’s smaller. Everyone drives in LA and I feel like I spend half my time in the car. I can run to work from here. I’m rubbish on the radio for at least the first hour, but I can do it. Couldn’t run across LA. Too hot for a start. Last time I was there I went for a walk in the hills and nearly died.”

“I bet.” Louis thinks of the last time it rained and his cheeks heat. “I like the rain in London.”

“Weirdo.” Nick’s voice is soft and low. After a beat, he rests his hand on Louis’ leg and Louis realises they’re much closer, the heat from Nick’s body keeping him warm. “Although it has its moments, I suppose.”

“One or two.” Louis sips his beer and looks at Nick. He’s so close and Louis’ body responds to the proximity. It’s like he’s fine-tuned to embarrass himself around Nick. He tries to shift away, heat rising in his cheeks. He doesn’t want Nick to know. Know how much he needs, how much he wants.

“You don’t get it, do you?” Nick keeps Louis in place, his hand firm and warm on Louis’ thigh. “I like it when good-looking boys like me back. You don’t have to keep running off or trying to hide it.”

“As if I’d like you.” Louis stops squirming nevertheless and he lets Nick take in the flush in his cheeks. He watches the way Nick rakes his eyes shamelessly over Louis, landing on where he’s getting hard in his loose jogging bottoms.

“As if.” Nick grins and then he arranges them so their legs slot in between one another like two jigsaw pieces. He brushes his fingers against the nape of Louis’ neck and then pulls him in. Their lips are cold and the kiss tastes like beer and the night air, but it’s perfect. It makes Louis’ breath catch and he opens his mouth to Nick, letting the kiss deepen. It’s so good. Nick’s tongue is hot and his lips are firm and searching. It’s not as urgent as their other kisses – it’s slow and languid like the gentle evening breeze. Slow, as if they have all the time in the world. Nick stretches without breaking the kiss and Louis can hear the clink of the glass on the table. He shifts closer and Nick brings his free hand to Louis’ side, stroking his fingers against Louis’ arm and pulling him nearer. It’s not the sort of position that works for much more than kissing, but anticipation spikes through Louis as his heart thrums in his chest. Nick slides a cool hand under Louis’ jumper, running his fingers against Louis’ belly and then up as if he wants to feel the restless beat of Louis’ heart against the tips of his fingers. He tugs Louis’ head back lightly and Louis goes easily, letting Nick’s mouth work its magic on his neck and up by his ear. It’s dizzying. The stubble of Nick’s chin is rough against Louis’ skin and his hands are so large and firm.

“Should we go inside?” Louis says, when the kiss ends too soon.

“Yeah.” Nick stands and Louis is pleased to see he has to adjust himself. He holds out a hand to Louis and gives him a grin. “I reckon we should.”

Louis takes Nick’s hand and lets himself be led inside. They separate as Nick locks the garden door and Louis fully expects to make their way into the bedroom. Instead, Nick pushes Louis back against the door and begins to kiss him, hard and searching. It makes Louis groan, his need flaring and coursing through his veins. It reminds him of being held tightly against the white-washed walls of some Kensington house, scandalising the sleeping residents with their snogging in the shadows. He likes the urgency and the way Nick’s breath comes in ragged puffs against Louis’ lips. He wants to let go. He wants Nick to make him let go, to hold him in place and take everything he wants. He wants to be used by Nick. Not discarded like something nobody wants, but used and then held when his limbs ache with it and his body hurts all over. He can’t say that, though. Nobody says that kind of thing out loud. It’s too much. Too hot with Nick’s long fingers circling Louis’ slim wrist and the weight of his body keeping Louis in place.

There’s a shift in Nick’s kisses. The slow, tentative explorations take on a new kind of urgency. Where the earlier kisses had Louis feeeling like he was going to burst out of his skin with wanting, it’s now as if something’s snapped inside Nick. Louis knows Nick wants it just as much as he does. He can tell by the way Nick pushes and grinds against him, the way his kisses are hard and breathless. It’s the kind of kiss that would lead to clothes being ripped off and fucking on the kitchen counters in the movies. Louis pulls Nick hard against his body and he grinds back, the kiss like a fight for control. Nick pulls back long enough to help Louis tug his jumper over his head. He gives Louis a quick once over and his groan comes out as a low growl of desire. He leaves biting kisses along Louis’ neck, tasting his collarbone and tonguing along the lines of Louis’ tattoo as if he wants to taste every inch of Louis’ skin. Louis slides his hand into Nick’s hair when Nick drops to his knees, pulling down Louis’ trackies and pants.

Fuck.” Louis lets out a hiss of pleasure when Nick sucks him down in one swift movement. He’s not sure he’s ever going to get used to Nick’s talented mouth or the need that slides through his veins like treacle when he’s with Nick. Nick’s hands assault Louis’ backside as he sucks him, pulling his cheeks apart and squeezing until Louis’ whole body aches with desire. When Nick slides his fingers over Louis’ hole, he lets out a soft nngh. “Please. Fuck, Nick. Please, do it.”

Nick pulls back off Louis and he shakes his head. “No lube. Christ. Louis.”

“Get some then, fuck.” Louis stares at Nick, kneeling on the floor. He bets he looks like a right tit with his trousers around his ankles and his knob hanging out, but Nick doesn’t seem to care. Instead he stands and grabs his wallet from the kitchen, coming back and grabbing a sachet from it – just like the ones in the bathroom. Louis tries not to think too closely about the fact Nick has a casual sachet of lube in his wallet. Tries not to let jealousy course through him. It takes the edge off the moment though as his brain goes into overdrive. “Handy,” he says.

Nick looks up from where he’s tearing open the sachet with his teeth. He looks confused and then his eyes soften and he meets Louis’ gaze. “Don’t do that. I’ve got condoms in here too. It doesn’t mean I’m off out using them. Not for ages.”

Louis’ lips tighten. “None of my business. It’s not like I can…ask.”

“You can, though.” Nick presses a kiss to Louis’ thigh and it’s soft and intimate. “’Course you can.”

“Okay.” Louis breathes out and he leans back against the cool glass. “Sorry.”

Nick shakes his head. “Don’t be. It’s not like I want to think of you fucking other people either, popstar.”

The thought that Nick might be jealous of Louis and his ridiculous half-arsed relationships makes his head spin. He slides his hand through Nick’s quiff, making a mess of it. “No one else. Not at the moment.” He’s not sure if the men on the internet count. They mean nothing and Louis’ pretty sure they don’t but it doesn’t feel like the time to bring it up.

“Good.” Nick breathes out. “Good.” He slides a couple of his rings off, pushing them into his pocket. He slicks his fingers and the process of watching Nick get himself ready for Louis soon gets the mood back on track. By the time Nick takes Louis into his mouth again, Louis is hard and aching. He parts his legs a bit to help Nick. He can’t manage words so he thinks hopefully his actions say yes, yes, do it.

The first touch of Nick’s finger is cold and slippery. He slides inside Louis with relative ease, humming around Louis’ cock and sending vibrations of pleasure through Louis’ body. He nudges into Louis slowly, holding him firm against the glass and pressing inside him until the slow slide of his finger sends unexpected sparks of pleasure through Louis. It doesn’t take long at all. Louis wants to ask for more. Wants to ask Nick to give him more fingers, to fuck him right there against the glass door. He wants to, but the combination of Nick’s mouth and tongue with the slow, intimate slide of his finger inside Louis brings him too quickly to the brink. He pushes deep into Nick’s mouth, muttering out an apology as he comes hard and fast down Nick’s throat. Nick slides his finger from Louis’ clenching body as his orgasm dissipates and sits back, looking up at Louis.

“Okay?” Nick slides his hands over Louis’ thighs. One of his hands leaves cool trails of lube against Louis’ skin. “God, you’re gorgeous.”

Louis’ legs feel a bit shaky and he tugs Nick to his feet so he doesn’t have to talk. He kisses Nick fiercely and he lets Nick hold him steady for a moment.

“What do you want? Tell me. I’ll do it.” Louis breaks the kiss and watches Nick. Nick’s cheeks flush pink and he presses a kiss to Louis’ hot cheek.

“It’s okay. I want to wait.”

“Why?” Louis stares at Nick and he shrugs, rubbing against Louis and drawing in a jagged breath.

“Because I want to do something in bed later. I’m an old man, Tomlinson. I’m not going to be able to get hard at the drop of a hat like you.”

“Piss off. Old man my arse.” Louis pushes Nick and then pulls up his trousers and pants after another quick kiss. “What now, then?”

Nick shrugs. “Another beer?”

“Might as well.” Louis gives Nick a grin. “I hope your nana didn’t see that.”

The look on Nick’s face is absolutely worth it and Louis dodges out of the way of his long fingers as he tries to tickle Louis in punishment until they’re both laughing and the dogs are jumping up to see what all the fuss is about.

It makes Louis’ chest feel full.

*

Nick’s plan for later turns out to be a very good one. He has Louis sit up and lean against the headboard. He balances himself on his knees and presses his hand above Louis. In this position Nick can control the rhythm and it sends sparks of pleasure through Louis. Nick pushes into Louis’ mouth with slow thrusts and he lets Louis get used to the sensation, get used to taking more of Nick’s cock in his mouth.

Louis likes it because Nick brackets him in and he feels like Nick’s over him, even when he isn’t, technically. He also likes it because he can slide his hands over Nick’s thighs and run his fingers over Nick’s backside. He can touch Nick places he’s never touched him before and he can explore every part of Nick’s body, from the freckles inside his right thigh to the tattoos above his knees.

Louis relishes the heavy weight of Nick against his tongue and touches every part of his skin. It’s nice, being properly naked with Nick. It feels more intimate and less like they’re just fucking for one night only. It’s slow and Nick’s put on some background music that Louis takes the piss out of. He wonders if it’s Nick’s seduction music and Nick tells him to stop being a brat. After Nick finishes he wanks Louis slowly, with lots of lube and they kiss through Louis’ second orgasm of the night.

When Nick turns off the light, Louis doesn’t bother taking up his place at the edge of the bed like last time. He curls close to Nick and watches him blink in the darkness.

“Hey, Nick.”

“Louis.” Nick sounds fond and amused. Even in the darkness, Louis can see Nick’s lips curve into a smile. He likes the way Nick says his name. Lou-eh. It sounds like home.

“I’m gay.” Louis says it in a rush, blurts it out in a half-whisper. Even though there’s no one around to hear it but Nick, it makes Louis hot all over. His heart pounds in his chest and he rolls the words on his tongue as he says it again. “I’m gay.”

“I know, love.” Nick presses close to Louis and gives him a slow kiss on the lips. “I know.”

“You won’t-”

“Tell anyone?” Nick finishes Louis’ sentence and he shakes his head. “Nope. Surprisingly good at secrets, me. For someone with such a big mouth.”

“Enormous.” Louis prods Nick in the cheek, where the corner of his smile dimples. “Big head, too.”

“Better than being the size of a pixie.” Nick turns on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Louis pokes Nick in the side, sharp enough to draw an ouch from him. It’s satisfying.

“Night, Nick.”

“Night, Louis.”

Louis lies awake for a while later, looking at the ceiling. He’s said it. He’s fairly certain Nick probably already knew, but he might have thought Louis was bisexual given all the ex-girlfriends in Louis’ past. He might have thought Louis would never say it out loud. Louis thought he might never say it out loud. It’s just to one person in a dark room, somewhere in Hackney, but it counts. It counts.

Louis tells his mum, before he falls asleep. He hopes she hears and that night he dreams that she tells him it’s okay, darling. It’s okay.

*

Nick’s alarm goes off at stupid o’clock in the morning and Louis pulls a pillow over his head to muffle a groan.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

“Welcome to my life.” Nick puts on something that sounds like he’s going clubbing instead of going into the office. “Sorry about that.”

“I hate you.” Louis’ voice is still muffled by the pillow but he’s pretty sure Nick hears when he gets poked in the side by long fingers which tickle. He squirms away and moves the pillow, glaring at Nick who seems to be enjoying this far too much. “You’re a prick.”

“That’s me.” Nick leans over Louis and gives him a kiss. Louis wants nothing more than to pull Nick back into bed to give him a lazy hand job before sleeping for another couple of hours. “Don’t worry, you can stay if you like. Just lock the door behind you. Emily’s still away so you won’t be disturbed. I know you need your beauty sleep.”

“Piss off.” Louis glares at Nick and burrows back under the duvet. The dogs are scrambling around Nick and they love him so much it would be nice to watch if it wasn’t arse o’clock in the morning.

“I’ve got a busy week, so…”

“Yeah. Me too.” The lie falls easily from Louis’ lips and he hopes Nick is too busy getting ready to see the flush in his cheeks. “Text, or don’t. Whatever.”

Nick tugs the duvet away from Louis and gives him another kiss – this time it’s soft and sweet and it tastes like toothpaste. “I’ll text. I’ll be proper annoying.”

“I can believe it.” Louis hides his smile under the blankets and listens to the sound of Nick getting ready. Before the door goes he hears Nick yell upstairs.

“Don’t let the dogs on the bed!”

“’Course not,” Louis mumbles. He’s pretty sure Nick doesn’t hear because the door closes with a slam as Louis responds.

When Pig jumps up onto the bed, Louis doesn’t deter her. Instead he helps Stinky up too so they can curl up together, warm and soft on sheets that smell like Nick.

Chapter Text

Louis scrolls through his texts from Nick. There aren’t many, despite Nick’s promise to annoy Louis. There are some, though. A decent chat history for every one of the last three days. The last text is a picture of Nick in one of his ridiculous shirts, with his chest half out. He’s grinning at the camera and he’s captioned the photo ready for a laddy Friday night with the boys. Louis knows full well Nick’s off out for dinner with Alan Carr, followed by drinks at some wanky sounding hipster club in Stoke Newington with his group of female friends.

It’s been one of those days. Louis’ skin crawls and his house feels too big and too empty. It’s Friday night and if there’s one thing Louis hates, it’s not having plans on Friday night. Louis messes around on the computer for a bit and checks Nick’s Instagram on his phone, making sure he doesn’t accidentally like the pictures of Nick doing an interview with one of the Jonas brothers. He browses pictures from an art gallery opening on Wednesday and spends longer than he cares to admit looking at the photos of Nick smiling at the camera and clutching his phone in one hand, the other pushed casually into the pocket of his trousers.

That shirt’s terrible, Louis texts Nick, because he’s a prick sometimes and it’s better than telling Nick he misses him when it’s only been a couple of days.

Your face is terrible, Nick replies. He follows it with three sick looking green emojis. Louis texts him five prawns and switches his phone off. It’s getting to be a problem. Stalking Nick on the internet and waiting for the next text to come through is not a good use of Louis’ time. He flicks on the telly but poking through the Friday night line-up doesn’t help Louis feel any less antsy.

He sees Stan online and Skypes him, before he can disappear again.

“Alright, Tommo.”

“Want to go out and get smashed?” Louis is nothing if not predictable.

Stan’s grin in response says it all.

*

The thing about London is there’s something for everyone. Goth bars, gay bars, shit bars, great bars, pubs, clubs, Michelin starred restaurants, street food, farmers’ markets and every kind of entertainment you could ever need. Which is why Louis can’t understand how they always end up in the same shit places, dancing like twats to music Louis doesn’t even enjoy.

“I hate this place.” Louis presses his lips close to Stan’s ear and yells above the music.

“Me too, mate. Total rubbish.” Stan laughs and points at the bar. “Jägerbomb?”

“Get four.” Louis digs some notes out of his pocket and shoves them into Stan’s hand. “And a beer.”

“Whatever you say.” Stan gives Louis a salute and he makes his way through the crowds. Louis collapses into the nearest seat and closes his eyes for a moment. He knows why they’re here, even if he always complains about it. They’re here because there’s a VIP area and although Louis doesn’t exactly want to be the wanker behind the rope which separates him from the rest of the club, he’s also not able to be as anonymous as he can be at a concert and sometimes he just wants a night off from being Louis Tomlinson off of One Direction. No one in this bit of the club cares about Louis and most of them probably don’t even know who he is. If he’s getting looks, it’s because he’s still wearing his tracksuit, not because people want to take a picture of him and put it on Twitter.

It’s a weird place which caters for celebrities but doesn’t encourage the paps. It’s not like Chiltern Firehouse or The Ivy, back in the day. Paps don’t sit around outside waiting to get a few snaps. Louis suspects there’s some kind of deal with management – something which restricts the press from hanging around and taking photos of people like Louis stumbling out, three sheets to the wind. He takes out his phone while he waits for Stan and scrolls through his messages. A warmth settles in his stomach when he sees a recent text from Nick.

Your face isn’t that terrible, I suppose

Bit pissed

x

Louis stares at the messages for the longest time before tapping out a response.

My face is incredible

Me too

He bites his bottom lip when the bubbles pop up and waits for Nick’s response.

You home?

Louis wonders why Nick wants to know. He can’t help but wonder if Nick might have called if Louis was back in his flat. He imagines speaking to Nick on the phone as he falls asleep, doing that ridiculous thing couples do when they refuse to hang up on one another. He pulls a face, because, nope. That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing him and Nick might do at all. The images in his mind shift and he imagines talking lazily to a half-pissed Nick and sliding a hand into his boxers as Nick tells Louis all the things he wants to do to him, in a throaty, sleep-warm voice. Louis’ cheeks heat and he resolves to work up the nerve to instigate that one day, if Nick’s up for it. He types out a response to Nick before he starts sexting in the middle of the club. That’s definitely a bad idea. Not least because Stan’s the kind of nosy bastard that would steal Louis’ phone and read every last text back to him, given half a chance.

Not home. Out on the lash

Nick sends back the dancing girl, martini glass and the pints clinking together. He follows up with the winking smiley and a don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, darling.
Louis is about to reply when Stan sits next to him, six shots clanking on the table and a bucket of beer in his other hand.

“Who’s on the phone?”

“No one.” Louis pockets it and he reaches for a shot, downing it in one go. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Just one of the lads.”

“Oh?” Stan looks surprised because the lads usually means one of the band and Stan knows full well contact is sparse these days.

“Niall wants to do something when he’s back.”

“Good lad.” Stan looks like he approves. He’s always liked Niall. Most people do. He takes a shot for himself and hands Louis a second. “Come on, then. It’s time to party.” He draws out the word party and flashes Louis a wide smile.

“Let’s do it.” Louis takes the second shot and reaches for a beer to chase away the sweet taste of the Red Bull. His head’s already buzzing and his phone feels like it’s burning a hole in his pocket. The weight of his secrets rest heavily and he wonders what Stan might say if Louis just told him. He shakes his head and he chases that thought away with another gulp of icy beer and his last shot. If he’s going to have that conversation, he’s not going to have it now with people milling around and Stan already half cut.

When Stan pulls him onto the dance floor again, Louis lets himself go and tries very hard not to think about Nick.

*

Louis wakes up wondering if something died in his mouth.

His head thumps and he drops it back onto his pillow with a groan. The night is a blur of shots, more shots and bucket loads of beer. He’s pretty sure he didn’t disgrace himself and he remembers (thankfully) turning down a few girls who approached him during the night, but there are several large holes in the evening where his memories should be. With a muttered curse, Louis puts his phone on charge and taps it. There’s a scratch on the glass which is annoying, but not fatal. It otherwise looks okay, beeping at him when it begins to charge and the Apple sign lights up white on the black background. Louis gets out of bed and drags himself into the shower and lets the warm water slide over his skin, trying to wash away the stink of booze, sweat and last night’s fragmented memories.

After soaking himself in hot water for long enough to feel vaguely human, Louis dries himself off and puts on comfortable clothes before checking his phone. It’s nearly four in the afternoon, which means Louis’ managed to sleep through almost all of Saturday. He curses under his breath as he notices a raft of unread messages and the sound of doorbell breaks through the silence of his flat.

The doorbell.

Nearly four in the afternoon.

Nick.

Fuck.” Louis checks his messages and barely winces at the half-pissed jokes he sent to Payno at around two in the morning. He can send a hamper for Cheryl and Bear if he has to. Liam won’t mind. He’s already texted back ha ha with a winky face and a crying laughing smiley.

The door goes again and Louis clicks on the new texts from Nick. He cringes as he scrolls back to his own messages from one in the morning.

We can fck

Want to do that

By sheer force of will he appears to have managed to type his actual address out in full, along with a question mark and a come round tnite which doesn’t sound quite as desperate as Louis was probably feeling at the time. He gulps and reads the responses from Nick through the cracks in his fingers.

Drink some water

Get some sleep

Be round tomorrow at 4, give you time to sleep it off x

Louis curses under his breath and races downstairs, trying to ignore the way his stomach protests at the sudden movement. He catches his breath and yanks open the door, stepping to one side to let Nick in. He looks harried and a bit flushed.

“Bit hungover, love?”

“Little bit.” Louis sounds like he’s got a fifty a day fag habit. To be fair, he probably smoked about that last night. His mouth tastes like shit and the thought of cigarettes make his stomach turn.

“Can I borrow your computer? I’ve had an email from the boss. I can’t deal with it from my phone, it’s shit for long emails.”

“It’s in there.” Louis waves Nick towards the living room where he’s pretty sure his laptop still is from the previous afternoon. “I’ll make tea. Unless you want booze? Just for the record, I’m never drinking again.”

“Poor Tommo.” Nick pats Louis’ head and snorts with laughter. “Tea’s fine.” He follows the direction of Louis’ hand into the living room and Louis potters around the kitchen, trying to remember where the fuck he put the teabags.

It’s not until the kettle starts bubbling that the last few hours of the evening assault Louis’ senses. His prick in his hand. Missing Nick. The lonely, stupid messages and the glow of the laptop in his dark living room. Refusing to cam, because he never does that. He watches, but he never turns his own camera on. He’s fairly sure the blokes he chats to aren’t big 1D fans, but he’s not going to risk getting his cock out on screen no matter how drunk he is. His tattoos are too distinctive and besides, he makes up so much of the stuff he’s doing to himself he thinks the reality would be a bit of a let-down.

Louis’ stomach drops and he leaves the half-made tea, almost running into the living room. He stops short when Nick looks up at him. His face is pale and he looks angry. He looks fucking furious, his lips pressed in a tight line.

“Nick…”

“Alright, Sam?” Nick looks back at the screen and taps the downwards arrow, his voice clipped and tight. “This the sort of stuff you like, then? Blokes wanking for you on camera and telling you what they’re going to do to your tight little ass? Seems like you’ve got a few ideas of your own. Here I was thinking you didn’t know much about any of it but this is hardly vanilla, darling. Looks like you’ve been fucking everyone that isn’t me. Do you show them what you’re doing to yourself?”

“Don’t.” Louis’ stomach lurches and he clenches his hands into tight fists. “I…don’t. Stop reading, please. Please.”

“Gladly.” Nick slams down the laptop cover and he drops his head into his hands, muttering a curse. “Christ.”

Louis’ stomach really does lurch then. He can feel the saliva pooling in his mouth and he races to the bathroom, only just making it to the loo on time. He throws up, liquid puke the colour of red wine. He wants to curl up on the bathroom floor and cry. His whole body shivers with it, his stomach clenching as he empties out his insides. He clutches onto the toilet seat and his eyes stream. He’s not sure if it’s because of the violent throwing up or if he’s actually crying, heaving sobs which make his head spin and his body ache all over. He closes his eyes and flushes the toilet when there’s nothing more to throw up and he sits on the cold, tiled floor trying to wish away the last few hours. Nick. Nick. The idea of losing Nick to the men Louis can’t stand online makes his heart skip in his chest and his stomach twists making him retch again even when there’s nothing left to throw up anymore.

He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and swallows around the lump in his throat. He hears the tap running and then Nick’s beside him. He smells so good and he’s warm where every part of Louis feels cold.

“Come on, darling.” Nick’s voice is low and soft and he doesn’t sound as angry anymore. “You stupid little twat.” Perhaps he does sound a bit angry after all. A cold flannel presses against Louis’ face and Louis lets Nick mop the sweat from his forehead and clean around his lips. His hands tremble and his legs feel shaky and he’s pretty sure he can’t stand.

“I’m sorry, it doesn’t…I don’t want any of them. I hate it. I don’t know how to say those things out loud. I don’t know what to do with any of it. I don’t do half the stuff I say I'm doing. I just wank and it’s pathetic and…” Louis bites back his words, tries to swallow them to keep them from spilling out. They’re too big and it’s too much.

“I know. It’s alright.” Nick sounds uncertain, but his hands are still big and soft against Louis’ skin. He runs a hand through Louis’ hair, his fingers working against Louis’ temple. He sighs and then fishes around his pocket. “Have some chewing gum, for fuck’s sake. You stink of vomit. I hate watching people get sick. It makes me want to throw up.”

“Thanks.” Louis takes a chewing gum and opens his eyes. Nick moves away, sliding down the bathroom wall and leaning against it. He rests his arms on his knees and watches Louis. It’s a bit weird clutching onto the loo and Louis’ fairly sure he’s not going to be sick again, so he shuffles to the bath and leans against it, facing Nick. The distance between them seems insurmountable.

“We’re talking about this.” Nick’s eyes bore into Louis. “I don’t care if it’s difficult. I don’t give a shit if you feel like you’re going to die from your hangover. We’re talking about it, or I’m leaving.”

“Okay.” Louis lets out a breath and he meets Nick’s gaze, the heat of his shame burning through him.

Nick laces his fingers together and he watches Louis for a moment. The seconds stretch like hours as Louis waits for the questions he’s not sure he can answer.
“Do you want that stuff?”

Louis shakes his head and the lie rolls easily off his tongue. “’Course not.”

Nick sighs and he looks away, his brow furrowed. “This isn’t going to work if you lie, by the way. Trust me, I’ve had some experience with blokes that lie. Blokes that cheat. Blokes that fuck you and tell you they want you, until it becomes clear it’s not you they want at all. If you want to do something I don’t want to do, it’s not going to put me off. I’ll just tell you I don’t want to do it. If you can’t tell me the truth though, I won’t be back to hold your hair when you’re vomiting up another shit night out.”

Shame claws at Louis but he forces himself to meet Nick’s piercing gaze. “Sorry.”

Nick shrugs. “Don’t be sorry. Just tell the fucking truth. Do you want any of that stuff you write about?” His lips twist. “The things Sam wants to do?”

Louis winces at Nick using that name. It’s like his chest’s been torn open and Nick can see every piece of him. He rubs his head and tries to think around his pounding headache. He’s got a feeling he’s only got one chance at this and he’s not going to let himself cock it up. Again.

“Maybe. Some of it. I don’t know, because I’ve never really had anyone to try it with.” Heat burns in Louis’ cheeks because it sounds so stupid when he says it out loud. “I don’t know what’s just for getting off and what’s for real. I think about it, though. I think about doing some of it for real.”

“Right.” Nick lets out a breath and it sounds a bit shaky. “Good. That’s good.” He rubs his chin and his eyebrows knit together. “You don’t cam? Because it’s a pretty fucking stupid idea, by the way. You don’t want to see your prick pixelated all over the tabloids.”

“Never.” Louis rubs the tattoos on his arm. “I don’t do the things I say I’m doing either.” He swallows and he mumbles out the words. “Fingers and stuff. Toys. I don’t even have any toys. I just wank. Sometimes, not even that.”

“Okay.” Nick sounds relieved. He tips his head to one side and his expression changes from pissed off to curious. “You watch, though?”

“Sometimes.” Louis shrugs.

“You like that?” Nick still looks curious. “Watching someone get off telling you what to do to yourself?”

“Maybe.” Louis forces himself to keep looking at Nick because it feels important, somehow.

“Okay.” Nick seems to be thinking and the silence makes Louis nervous. “I had a look at your search history.” Nick lets out a hollow laugh. “I’d apologise, but…”

“Yeah.” Louis really can’t look at Nick anymore so he focuses on a spot on the tiles where something scuffed against the ceramic. A spot that’s never rubbed clean. “It’s fine.”

“Sorry.” Nick lets out another slow breath and it sounds steadier than the last. Louis sneaks a glance at Nick, who picks at his jeans where the hole in one of the knees frays at the edges. “I watch porn too, you know. I’ve been in those chat rooms. Not for a while, but I’ve been in them. It’s not, like, anything to be ashamed about.”

“I know.” Louis isn’t sure he does know though. He has a feeling Nick might not watch the same kind of things Louis likes to lose himself in. “Is the stuff I look at different?”

Nick shrugs. “A bit. I reckon we come at things from a different…angle.” He waves his hand around, his bracelets clanking together as he tries to find the words. His cheeks look a bit pink. “I prefer to top. In general. Not just with sex.”

“I don’t know what I prefer.” Louis clears his throat because his words sound a bit squeaky to his ears. He tries to steady his voice. “I know what I prefer thinking about.”

“Yeah, I got that.” Nick gives Louis a look. “We’ve all got fantasies we don’t let go much beyond a lonely wank.”

“Like what?” Louis gives Nick a curious glance and Nick’s lips quirk into a small smile.

“Nice try. You first, I reckon. Under the circumstances.”

Louis lets out a frustrated huff. He knows he doesn’t really have a leg to stand on, though. “It’s weird.”

“Is it?” Nick rakes a hand through his hair, fucking it up. “Not that weird. I’ve seen worse.”

“Yeah?” The dead weight on Louis’ chest lightens a little.

“I’ve done some stuff like that before.” Nick stretches his legs out and crosses them at the ankle, keeping his gaze firmly on Louis. “Not a lot, but a bit. You could always try asking me instead of BigDick69 or whoever the fuck it is you’re talking to. I might actually be into it.”

Despite the fact he’s just thrown up the entire contents of his stomach and possibly a few internal organs, a dull heat slides through Louis and a flash of arousal blindsides him.

“Why didn’t you say?”

Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis. “Seriously? Are you actually asking me that?”

Louis winces. “Sorry. I just…you know more about this than I do.” He waves a hand. “The whole fucking men thing.”

“Now you’re making me feel like a slag.” Nick rolls his eyes but he doesn’t sound cross. He sounds a bit amused. For the first time, Louis wonders if it might be okay. If they might get over this. A traitorous hope builds within him and he holds his breath while Nick continues. “I didn’t think we were really there yet. I took my time trying to work up to a cheeky finger. I didn’t know you were waiting for me to bring out the assless chaps and cat o’nine tails.”

Louis bursts out laughing, his whole body feeling lighter. “You don’t have chaps.”

“’Course I don’t, you tit.” Nick grins at Louis and then he runs his tongue over his lips and his expression turns serious. “I do have some stuff, though. I’m not about to introduce you to my secret dungeon so don’t get your hopes up, but I’ve got a couple of bits we could try. Ease in gently, or whatever. I’m also open to a bit of internet shopping if you like, if you pay for anything fancy. You’re the multi-millionaire popstar. Seems a bit unfair to put the ageing DJ and his poor dogs out of food and water just because you’re demanding a rose gold handled flogger.”

Louis stares at Nick. The arousal is still there, deep in his belly, but it’s slowly replaced with something even warmer. He wants to pinch himself to check he’s not dreaming. Nick looks so fit and he’s right there. He’s sitting on Louis’ bathroom floor with his everlasting legs stretched out in front of him. He’s waving his hands around the way he does when he’s nervous about something and he’s just talking like he always does so no one else can get a word in edgeways. Just like that, he’s being so ineffably Nick and making the things that Louis’ been trying to hide from everyone – including himself – seem as normal as talking about the weather. It’s like he’s talking about his favourite song, or asking Louis what he wants to have for his tea. It’s not a big deal. The slow, patient build up and the way Nick’s been keeping to Louis’ pace makes his heart hurt. It makes him want to hold onto Nick and never let go.

Louis swallows and when he finally manages to speak, his voice is barely more than a whisper. He’s too choked up to manage much more than, “What do we do now?”

“Get off the bathroom floor for a start.” Nick winces as he pushes himself up onto his haunches. “It’s fucking uncomfortable and I think I can still smell puke.”

“Sorry.” Louis stands, his legs still a bit unsteady. “Perhaps I should shower? Again.”

“And clean your teeth.” Nick drops the flannel next to the sink and turns, pausing in the doorway with his back to Louis. “We’re not finished, by the way. Talking.”

“You’re never finished talking.” Louis clears his throat and turns on the shower. “Nick?”

“Louis?”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah.” Nick turns his head and gives Louis a small smile. “Whatever. It’s fine.”

Nick closes the door behind him and Louis strips off quickly. He steps into the shower for the second time that day and turns his face up to the spray, his headache finally easing.

*

When Louis finally gets downstairs in fresh clothes and scrubbed as clean as possible, Nick’s looking at Louis’ laptop and two cups of freshly made tea sit on the coffee table.

“I made tea.”

“Thanks.” Louis winces as he looks at Nick, frowning at the screen. “Can’t we put that away?”

“Yeah.” Nick closes the laptop and pushes it to one side. “I sent my email. Then had a bit of a think.”

“Sounds dangerous.” Louis tries to smile but can’t quite manage it.

“Don’t look like that.” Nick rolls his eyes and he pats the sofa. “Grab your cuppa and come and sit here, will you? You’re making me nervous hovering around.”

Louis takes his tea and sits on the sofa, putting his tea on the table next to the arm rest and tucking his feet up underneath him. “Better?”

Nick huffs with laughter and kicks off his shoes, before tucking himself up on the other side of the sofa. He’s staying for a bit, then. Good. “Yeah, a bit.”

“Still want to talk?”

“Yep.” Nick takes a sip of his tea. He studies Louis carefully. “I know I said friends with benefits, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, mostly, but it’s not what I want.”

“No?” Louis holds his breath.

“I don’t want you to fuck other people. That includes blokes on the internet, for the record. Not as long as we’re doing whatever the hell it is we’re doing. I think we both need a bit of space to work out what’s happening. I’m crap at relationships and this is complicated enough, without bringing other people into it.”

“Okay.” Louis’ breath leaves him in a rush. Of all the ultimatums he expected Nick to throw at him, monogamy wasn’t exactly top of the list. “I wouldn’t have fucked other people, you know. No one real, at least.” Louis glances at the laptop, another wave of embarrassment crashing over him as he thinks about the things Nick must have seen. “I don’t want to.”

“Okay.” Nick looks a bit surprised and not for the first time, Louis wonders who made Nick feel like he wasn’t worth that. He wants to reach for Nick, but something tells him it’s not the time. Nick’s brow furrows and he looks upset. He stares into his tea and he clears his throat. “Was it not good? Too slow for you?”

“What?” Louis stares at Nick. “Was what too slow?”

Nick lets out a strangled sound and he waves his hand. “The last episode of Stranger Things. The sex, you knob. The sex with me.”

Louis shakes his head, because no, no, no. He feels wretched, because the fact that Nick even thinks that is just…well, it’s bloody stupid is what it is. “You’re the knob.” He glares at Nick and pushes his foot out to give him a light kick. “I’d have run a mile if it had been different. I know I seem like a total fuck up sometimes, but I’m pretty sure I could have managed to find someone to shag me discretely enough if I was after that.”

“Right.” Nick looks relieved and he gives Louis a tired smile. “Had to ask, though.”

“Not too slow.” Louis nudges Nick again with his foot and Nick nudges him back. “Dickhead.”

Nick glances at the laptop and then looks back at Louis. “You gonna tell me, then? About those things you might want for real?”

Louis nods even though he’s pretty sure his cheeks are bright red. He takes a moment to think about the things he really gets off on and separates out the dirty talk from the kind of images that make his mouth dry and his cock hard. He glares at Nick. “Don’t laugh.”

“Not even close, love.” Nick holds up his free hand and takes another slow drink of his tea. He nudges Louis’ foot, covering it with his own. His feet are almost as big as his hands and Louis wants to kiss him so badly, not to distract them from the conversation but just because. Because Nick apparently makes Louis feel like they can’t be kissing enough. He doesn’t, though. He has a feeling Nick might tell him to get back to his own side of the sofa.

“Being tied up, maybe.” He can do this, Louis thinks. He really can. Be brave, be brave, be brave. He feels like he owes it to Nick, particularly as Nick doesn’t seem to think he deserves not being dicked around.

“Sounds good.” Nick’s voice does that low, husky thing that happens when he’s kissing Louis and murmuring all sorts in Louis’ ear. It makes Louis shiver and he presses his toes into Nick’s foot. “Any preference in terms of how you get tied up?”

Louis thinks of the shackles and the handcuffs he’s seen in porn and magazines. He likes all of it, really. He’s not sure about the complicated rope stuff. It looks good but he doubts either he or Nick would have the patience for that sort of thing. He doesn’t want to be photographed like he’s a fucking oil painting or something. He just wants to be held down. He wants Nick to hold him down. A thought occurs to him and he looks at Nick.

“I don’t really care, but maybe with something of yours.” Louis shrugs like it doesn’t matter, even though it does. “A scarf or belt or something. If you like.”

“Why?” Nick’s voice sounds a bit hoarse and his eyes search Louis’ face.

Louis’ heart hammers because somehow explaining why that matters is more personal than wanting to be tied up. “Because then when you wear it after, I’d think about it. You’d think about it. The press think they know everything about us, but they wouldn’t know about that. They’d just comment on where you got your scarf from and the high street would do a load of knock offs but we’d know. We’d know the things you’ve done with it – the things we’ve done – even if no one else does.”

“God, Louis.” Nick bites back a groan but he doesn’t do a very good job. He beckons Louis closer and spreads his legs so Louis can settle between them with his back against Nick’s chest. That’s better. Nick’s arms are warm and tight around Louis and he can feel Nick’s breath tickling his throat. Plus, he doesn’t have to look into Nick’s eyes and feel like he’s on display quite so much. Nick brushes his lips to Louis’ ear, his voice rough. “There’s other things we could do with a belt too. Things other than tying you up.”

Louis wriggles in Nick’s arms, arousal pulsing through him. He closes his eyes and nods, his breath jagged. “Please.”

“Yeah, okay.” Nick nuzzles Louis’ neck and Louis can tell he’s getting hard, pressing against Louis and keeping him close. “What else?”

Louis thinks. “I think about toys sometimes. About how that might be. But I don’t really know, do I? I might not like it. It’s not like I’ve got much experience with that sort of stuff.”

“Okay.” Nick’s voice is definitely rough around the edges now, his breath hot on Louis’ skin. “We can…experiment.”

“Okay.” Louis opens his eyes and he turns to look at Nick, whose eyes are dark with arousal. “You really don’t mind any of this?”

Nick snorts and he presses against Louis, demonstrating exactly how much he doesn’t mind. “Yeah, shocking that the fact the person I’m fucking actually wants to have sex with me – kinky sex with me – gets me going. You twat.”

“You’re the twat,” Louis mutters. There’s no heat in it. His heart is so full of Nick it almost hurts. He picks around his words carefully. “What about you?”

“Dunno.” Nick lets out a breath and his voice sounds a bit steadier. He pushes a hand under Louis’ jumper and just strokes his stomach. It’s distracting and soothing all at the same time. “I’m not sure I’m very good at, err, being mean. Like making you lick my boots and stuff. That’s not really my thing.”

Louis turns and stares at Nick, a huff of laughter leaving him. “Good. Christ, Nick. I’m not going to start polishing your YSL’s with my tongue. Fucks sake. Go to the cobblers.”

Nick grins at Louis and gives his stomach a little pinch. “Cheeky.” It sends a surge of arousal through Louis and his breath catches. Nick clears his throat and then he pulls Louis closer, his lips hot against Louis’ ear. “I should spank you for that.”

Nick.” Louis turns around, sitting up on his knees and staring at Nick. It’s too much. Nick’s too much. Louis’ still feeling like shit and his head might as well have a marching band drumming on his brain but he’s hot all over and aching with want. It’s so much better talking to Nick than to the anonymous men around the world. It’s awkward in a way that makes Louis burn with arousal.

“You like that idea?” Nick’s eyebrow arches and he grins like the smug tit he is. He reaches out and brushes Louis’ hair back from his forehead. “I reckon you like talking, too. A bit of dirty talk gets you hot, doesn’t it, love?”

“Well if anyone’s good at talking it’s you.” Louis rolls his eyes but he’s pretty sure the heat in his cheeks gives him away. It does get him going.

Nick’s expression turns serious again and he watches Louis closely. “You don’t have to tell me everything now, but if there’s anything – no matter how weird you reckon it is – just tell me, alright? Even if you have to send it to me in a fucking text or email or something.” He looks as if he’s contemplating saying something but then he shrugs it off. “No more BigDick69.”

“Promise.” Louis shudders and he reaches for his laptop. He opens up his profiles and one by one, he begins to delete them. He can feel Nick watching over his shoulder and he tries not to squirm thinking about the things that must be racing through Nick’s mind as he takes in the different sites Louis visits. He goes to delete his internet browsing history but Nick catches his wrist before he can do so.

“Don’t worry about that. I don’t want you chatting to other blokes but I don’t give a fuck what you watch.” His cheeks pink a little and he tugs Louis closer, brushing their lips together. “Maybe one day you show me one of your favourites and I’ll show you one of mine.”

Fuck.” The idea of inviting Nick into that private space inside Louis’ brain that’s been so dark and felt so wrong for such a long time, is terrifying. If he’s going to take a leap of faith with anyone, though, Louis has a feeling it should be with Nick. “Okay.”

“Okay.” Nick lets Louis put his laptop away and then he stands, grabbing a blanket from the other sofa. He chucks it at Louis. “Why don’t you have a kip? You look like you’re about to throw up again, no offence.”

“You don’t look so good yourself, Nicholas.” Louis rolls his eyes but he means it. Nick looks tired and his eyes aren’t as bright as usual. He remembers the way Nick looked so out of sorts when he arrived at Louis’ place and he studies Nick closely. “That email….everything okay?”

Nick shrugs. “Yeah. Nothing to worry about.” He leans in and gives Louis a kiss on the forehead. “I’m going to get off. Come round for your tea tomorrow, if you like. I’ve got a baby shower to go to in the afternoon but I’ll be around later. Emily’s still away so we’ll have the place to ourselves. Send me a text. If you want.”

“Okay.” Louis’ pretty sure there’s something Nick isn’t telling him but he has a feeling now isn’t the time to push.

Nick lets himself out and Louis sits on the sofa, curled up in his blanket. A kernel of worry niggles at him and he wonders what’s going on with Nick and how Louis managed so spectacularly to make it all about him. Whatever it is, he determines to get to the bottom of it tomorrow. He scrolls through his phone and pauses on a selfie of Nick on the sofa, with Pig and Stinky burrowed up in his arms. He looks soft around the edges, his eyes a bit tired and his smile not quite meeting his eyes. He looks cosy, on his big sofa with his cushions and his dogs around him. Louis scrolls up to see the picture Nick posted before, around the time he left Louis’ house. It’s a screenshot of Banks’s song You Should Know Where I’m Coming From.

Louis swallows when he reads the caption.

you should know

He scrolls down again to the picture of Nick with his dogs and the caption just reads Saturday afternoon with my favourite people. There’s an emoji of a dog, a pig and a prawn. It makes Louis’ heart swell and his throat constricts. He texts Nick seven prawns and he gets back the vomiting face and a couple of McDonalds chips in response. He grabs his headphones and opens up Spotify. He puts on the song Nick captioned and he falls into a restless sleep with the lyrics swimming around his head.

What if I said I would break your heart?
What if I said I have problems that made me, mean?
What if I knew I would just rip your mind apart
Would you let me out?
Maybe you can stop before you start
Maybe you can see that I just may be too crazy to love…

What if I said I was built on bricks of carelessness and crumbs

You ought to know where I’m coming from

Chapter Text

Louis means to sit Nick down and have a proper chat, really he does. He practiced in the mirror – tried his serious face on for size to see if he could strike that balance Nick seems to manage effortlessly between light hearted joking around and Having a Talk. About that email, he plans to say. About that song. He listens to the song from Nick’s Instagram on the way to his house, ignoring the taxi driver’s complaints about London traffic. The maybe you can see that I just may be too crazy to love rolls around his head. Relatable, Louis thinks.

The more Louis mooches through Nick’s Instagram and studies the photo of him with Pig and Stinky, the more convinced he is that something’s wrong. Something that isn’t about Louis at all. He goes through older photos and finds a piece of art that says Take, Take, Take and studies cryptic posts about lost love and wanting things you can’t have. Louis knows from the prawn emoji and the Banks song that Nick must be fond of sending a message over social media that only one or two people can decipher. He can’t help but study every single picture and every single caption, trying to peel back the layers of Nick’s brain. Nick might be very good at getting Louis to talk about difficult things, but Louis isn’t convinced Nick’s very good at talking about himself. At least not about things that matter.

By the time Louis gets to Nick’s he has a whole speech planned. He’s going to ease in gently and then try to find out why Nick looked so out of sorts on Saturday. It’s about time he showed Nick he can be an adult too. It’s not just about Nick clearing up the wreckage Louis leaves in his wake, because it should work both ways. Louis wants to help. He wants to know what Nick worries about. His mum always used to say a problem shared is a problem halved and because Louis is well used to letting his problems build up until it feels like he’s going to burst out of his skin, he reckons it’s good advice.

When Nick answers the door however, all coherent thoughts slide from Louis’ brain. Nick’s flushed and smiling and he’s wearing tight black trousers with a belt. He’s wearing one of his Topman shirts with several thin little scarves around his neck and everything they discussed comes flooding back. Louis knows his reaction doesn’t go unnoticed because Nick looks far too pleased with himself.

“Chardonnay and flowers.” Louis thrusts a bunch of daffodils at Nick and a bottle of wine. He’s quite proud of himself for choosing one of the cheapest bottles he could find. He’s fairly certain Nick flinches when he gives the label a quick glance. Excellent.

“Charmed.” Nick grins and he steps aside to let Louis in. The dogs aren’t scrabbling around as usual and the house is quiet and still. “Dogs are with a friend,” Nick says, as if he can read Louis’ mind.

“Why?” Louis glances at Nick, taking in the outfit again. It makes him want to get his hands on Nick – or to let Nick get his hands on Louis. He can’t help but wonder what Nick’s got planned.

“Because. Thought it might give us a bit of space for a while.” Nick shrugs and he eyes the daffodils after giving them a sniff. “It looks like you nicked these from someone’s garden.”

“What makes you think I didn’t?” Louis gives Nick an innocent look. “Some old biddy who lives by me. She’ll never notice they’re gone. Just a few flowers, innit?”

“Louis.” Nick narrows his eyes.

Louis nudges him on the shoulder. “Give over. ‘Course I didn’t nick them. I’m a friend to children, animals and the elderly, me. Those are Asda’s finest.”

“Well. Thanks.” Nick’s cheeks turn a bit pink and he dumps the daffodils in a glass after filling it half way with water. He gives the bottle of wine another critical look and then puts it in the fridge, clearly deciding not to pass any comment on Louis’ choice. Next time Louis’ going to bring a box. Or Blue Nun. Something Nick can really turn red over as he tries to thank Louis for his thoughtful gift.

“You’re welcome.” They stand in the kitchen and it’s a bit awkward, with Nick leaning against the counter and looking at Louis up and down. Louis doesn’t know what to do with his hands and he leans against the counter opposite Nick, aiming for a I’m not at all interested in the way you’re dressed casual kind of pose. “Bit dressy for a Sunday afternoon.”

“You think?” Nick fiddles with his belt buckle, giving Louis a look which makes Louis hot all over. His lips curve into a teasing smile. “I thought I should make the effort.” He fingers one of the scarves, taking a sip from his mug of tea. He’s all lanky legs and he’s so fucking sexy it makes it difficult for Louis to get his brain working properly. Nick clearly knowing exactly what impact he’s having on Louis. He looks far too smug for a start. Finally – thank fuck – he stops giving Louis that dark, confident stare and fills the kettle. “You going to that thing tomorrow?”

“What thing?” Louis can hardly be expected to remember the finer points of his diary with Nick dressed like that.

“The awards thing. Lots of popstars, lots of radio DJs.”

“Oh.” Louis pulls a face. “Yeah. Why?”

“Me too. I’m playing the after party.” Nick hands Louis a cup of tea after making a fresh one for himself. “How do you reckon we should handle it?”

“Snog in front of the paps. Christ, Nicholas. I don’t know. Let’s just see how it goes.”

“Alright.” Nick shrugs. “You’re a bit distracting, darling. I wouldn’t want anyone to start casting aspersions if I smuggle you away in the DJ booth all evening.”

“Fuck them.” Louis isn’t sure he really means that. The idea of coming out isn’t something he’s even thinking about at the moment. He’s only just managed to say it to himself – himself and Nick. Still, it doesn’t mean he wants to spend the evening hiding away from Nick and something about being smuggled into the DJ booth makes Louis’ insides squirm pleasantly. Fuck Matty Healey and the mysterious man in beige. If anyone gets to hang off Nick, it’s going to be Louis. It’s a nice fantasy, at least. “We’re mates.” Louis winces. “Sort of. No one will bother if we have a bit of a chat.”

“Or a cheeky snog in the loos.” Nick winks at Louis and it sends sparks of pleasure down Louis’ spine.

“Yeah, well. Or that.” Louis’ cheeks heat because Nick’s giving him that look again, raking his eyes over every inch of Louis’ body. “Nicholas.”

“Louis.” Nick smiles and he reaches out a hand to tug Louis closer until their bodies are pressed close together. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Louis tries not to whimper, really he does. A slightly odd sound catches in the back of his throat and he tries to mask it with a cough. It doesn’t work because Nick does that thing again where he smiles and looks pleased as punch. Nick slides his fingers in between Louis’ and then he takes Louis’ hand and puts it on his belt, his movements achingly slow. He brushes his lips against Louis’ ear when his hand is in place, Nick’s enormous paw settled over Louis’ hand.

“Want to have some fun?”

“Yes. Obviously, yes.” Louis’ voice sounds a bit squeakier than usual and he swallows when Nick kisses that spot just below his ear that makes him shiver. “Knew you had something planned.”

“What gave me away?” Nick laughs and his breath is hot on Louis’ ear. “The scarves or the belt?”

“Both.” Louis presses into Nick, feeling the leather under his hand and already half hard with anticipation. “Are you going to get all Fifty Shades on me, then?”

“I’m not even close to being that rich, love.” Nick snorts with laughter and then he leads Louis into the bedroom. It looks normal. There's no secret bookcase hanging open to reveal a sex dungeon. No cross on the wall. Louis wasn’t really expecting anything like that, but he’s relieved all the same. It’s familiar. Soft lighting, a bit of music on in the background. Louis shakes his head at Nick.

“Pillock.”

“What? I thought it would be perfect.” Nick grins and turns up Sex is on Fire.

“Put on that classical shit you played last time, you knob.” Louis rolls his eyes. He pauses and twists his hands. His body zings with nerves and anticipation. Making fun of Nick’s music choices calms him a bit.

“Better?” Nick stands behind Louis after changing the music and runs his hands down Louis’ arms. He wraps his fingers around Louis’ wrists and then pulls them behind his back, just holding them in place while he kisses Louis’ neck. “You going to get undressed for me, love?”

Louis nods. Nick’s voice is so soft but there’s a hint of firmness in it. Nick’s large hand wrapped around his wrists sends a shudder of pleasure through his body and he wriggles, trying to press back against Nick. “Okay.”

“Good.” Nick releases Louis and lets him undress. Louis does so slowly, fully aware of Nick’s eyes on him. It’s new, being naked while Nick is fully clothed. He doesn’t seem to have any intention of taking off his clothes, watching Louis from the bed with dark eyes. Louis knows he’s hard in his boxers, knows his need for Nick is on display and it makes him hot all over. He pulls down his boxers with trembling fingers and drops them next to the rest of his clothes. His arms feel too long and heavy, dangling uselessly by his sides as he resists the urge to use his hands to cover himself up.

Nick stands and looks at Louis, trailing his finger down Louis’ torso and watching as Louis’ muscles twitch and jump beneath his touch. “You’re so fucking lovely.”

Louis pulls a face and he can’t quite meet Nick’s gaze head on, his whole face burning. “Shut up.”

“No.” Nick laughs, low in his throat. He puts Louis’ hand on his belt and Louis notices his hand trembles just a little. Perhaps Nick isn’t quite as confident as he looks. The thought makes Louis relax, just a little. “Do you want it?”

Louis licks his lips. His mouth is so dry, his heart beating so hard he thinks it might jump out of his chest. He nods, not able to find the words. He wants it so much. His skin itches with it and he’s tense with need. He unbuckles Nick’s belt, the sound of their ragged breathing and the clink and slide of metal and leather sounding loud over the music. He manages to work open Nick’s belt despite the way his hands won’t stop shaking. He sucks in a breath and slides the belt out of the loops, pressing it into Nick’s hand when it’s finally free. With a low murmur of something that sounds like Louis’ name, Nick tugs him close into a head-spinning kiss. Their kiss is all teeth and tongue and Louis can feel the hard heat of Nick encased in his tight trousers – takes comfort in the fact Nick’s clearly as into this as Louis.

“Where do you want me?” Louis hopes Nick isn’t going to put him over his lap or make him stand against a wall. He’s not sure his legs would hold him steady – not sure he could stand the humiliation of draping himself over Nick’s lap like a recalcitrant child being punished.

“On the bed, I reckon. Face down.” Nick lets out a breath which trembles at the edges. “I won’t…not too many to begin with, yeah? Ease in?”

“Yeah.” Louis has a feeling he would let Nick do all sorts to him – take him until his body stings and aches. He knows Nick’s right, though. They need to take it slowly. It’s too new and fragile to fuck things up because Louis wants, wants, wants. He breathes out, slow and ragged and then positions himself on the bed. The sheets smell like Nick and burying his face in the pillow gives him a moments comfort. He wonders when he started to feel so safe around Nick – when the slightest scent of his expensive cologne could make Louis relax even just for a second.

Louis turns his head to the side because it’s a bit difficult to breathe with your face buried in soft pillows. He can feel Nick shifting behind him and tenses slightly when Nick settles on Louis’ thighs, a heavy weight straddling Louis with his endless legs. Louis sucks in a breath and Nick strokes a line down his back, murmuring Louis’ name in a soft tone.

“Okay?” Nick slides the leather belt back and forth over Louis’ backside. He’s folded it in half and the sensation makes Louis shiver.

“Yeah. Yes.” Louis nods, even though he’s not sure Nick can see it. Nick runs his fingers through Louis’ hair in response, giving the long bits which curl at the nape of his neg a light tug. “Get on with it,” Louis says. He means it to sound sharp and frustrated but it comes out a bit desperate and broken.

“Right.” Nick’s fingers tremble against Louis’ neck and then his hand moves away. The leather falls with a light smack against Louis’ skin. It’s not overly hard, but the very fact Nick’s here and doing this for Louis makes his breath catch.

“Again,” he mumbles, turning his face into the pillow once more.

“Yeah, okay.” Nick lets the belt fall again, another slide and smack with a little more force behind it this time. He gets into a bit of a rhythm with it, the sound of leather against skin making Louis moan into the pillows. Louis twists under the movements of the belt – not because he doesn’t want it but because he wants it too much. It’s like everything he’s craved in the darkest moments of his internet chats coming to life and it’s so much better than expected. Every slap, slap of the belt makes him quiver and jerk, makes his toes curl and his hands ball into knuckle-white fists as he tries to shut down the moans which spill from his lips. Nick seems to know where to get the belt to land. He drags it not only over the curve of Louis’ backside but also lands a couple of smacks on the part of Louis’ body where his backside meets his thighs. That bit really stings. Louis would ask for more. Wants to say break me, break me and put me together again but he knows it’s about slow, easy, gentle for this first time. He can speak to Nick about it after. He can tell Nick what he likes – what he doesn’t. He can finally give a voice the things he’s been keeping bottled up for so long.

After a short while, Nick drops the belt. Louis can hear the thud of the leather on the floor, the clank of the buckle. Nick runs his hands over Louis’ backside and murmurs a curse under his breath. His voice sounds rough and fractured – as if he doesn’t know what to do with himself now. Louis’ backside stings and Nick’s hands are rough against his burning skin. It makes him want to beg for Nick to take him – to do all kinds of things to him – but he swallows back the pleas that would spill out from his keyboard with practiced ease. Perhaps he’s still not able to talk about everything just yet. Still not able to let go completely and ask. It scares Louis, wanting this so much. It terrifies him to put his trust in someone else like this. Louis knows he’s shaking. He’s so hard he can’t stop moving against Nick’s sheets and he’s suddenly so desperate to see Nick he makes a sound in the back of his throat because the words just won’t come out right. Nick seems to know. He nudges Louis over, brushing his hair from his forehead.

“Hi,” Nick says. His voice is rough and his cheeks are pink. He moves over Louis, kissing him soft and slow. “Louis.”

Louis tugs Nick in, kissing him as deep as he can. He rocks into Nick seeking some friction against his cock. He needs to come. He wants it so much, need claws through his skin and leaves him murmuring Nick’s name into the kiss. The way he says it, Nick’s name sounds like please.

Nick sits up, his backside on Louis’ thighs. He unbuttons his shirt with one hand, keeping Louis calm with the other by stroking over his thigh and his belly but never touching where Louis is aching to be touched.

“Can you put your arms over your head for me, love?”

“Yeah.” Louis’ voice is croaky and a bit broken. He stretches his arms up, lacing his fingers together. Nick pulls off one of his scarves and dumps his shirt on the floor with the belt. He inches up Louis’ body and then secures his wrists against the bed frame. He runs his fingers over the spot where the material meets skin and Louis tugs to try to free himself. Arousal crashes over him in waves when he realises he can’t. Nick looks so good. His chest is completely bare and Louis can see every ridiculous tattoo on Nick’s arms. His chest is covered with wiry hair and a couple of long necklaces hang low on his torso. Louis wants to reach out and run his fingers along Nick's skin – wants to feel the metal of the necklaces against his fingertips. He tugs his hands again and the scarf feels as though it tightens, just a little. It’s blissfully good.

“Perfect.” Nick lets out a breath in a low whistle. He reaches across the bed to the table and grabs some lube, slicking his fingers. He keeps looking at Louis and it’s as though he’s staring right into his heart. “You want to come? Going to come for me, darling?”

Louis lets out a strangled sound, nodding and keeping his gaze focused on Nick.

“Good.” Nick gives Louis a quick kiss and then he moves down Louis’ body. Louis’ backside still aches a little as he rocks up towards Nick and back onto the cotton sheets. Everything is sensitised and sparks of pleasure pulse through his veins. When Nick’s finger slides through the crack of Louis’ backside, it’s all Louis can do to claw back a shout. Nick pushes a slow finger inside Louis, and speaks roughly. “Don’t think I don’t like hearing you, by the way.” He curls his finger and then adds a second, taking his time to move them slowly inside Louis. “Don’t think that at all.”

Louis nods and closes his eyes. It’s too much. When Nick takes Louis’ aching prick into his mouth and fingers him hard and firm, Louis no longer has the ability to keep himself quiet. The sounds of his pleasure leave his lips unbidden as Nick focuses on giving Louis everything he can. The sensation of the heat in his backside combines with Nick’s firm, talented fingers and the slide of his mouth over Louis’ cock. It’s so good. It’s too good. It makes Louis ache inside and out with wanting. He finally manages to unfurl his hands and when Nick does something which feels particularly good, Louis’ arms jerk and he lets out a loud groan of pleasure. Nick seems to like that as he moans around Louis’ cock, the vibrations travelling the length of Louis’ spine. Arousal washes over him and every part of his tense body loosens as pleasure works through him making his skin tingle and his legs shake as Nick pulls the filthiest sounds from Louis’ lips. It’s like falling. Being on the edge of a cliff and spreading his arms wide and then just dropping over the edge, letting the wind catch him and pull him along. It’s a sharp spike of pleasure and then a blissful release which pulses through him. His lungs fill with the breath he sucks in and his body clenches around Nick as he arches up into Nick’s mouth.

He needs to touch Nick. He tugs at his bonds and instead of feeling horny, the aftermath of his dissipating arousal makes Louis’ whole body hot with embarrassment at his own shamelessness. Nick seems to understand without Louis saying a word and he swiftly unties Louis, lying beside him and pulling him into a kiss. He catches Louis’ wrists and massages them, before wrapping his arms around Louis and sinking into another deep, searching kiss which leaves Louis breathless. With his heart still thudding in his chest, Louis moves his hand down Nick’s body. He finds him hard and restless, hissing when Louis wraps his fingers around Nick, as if it almost hurts. It takes no time at all to stroke Nick through an orgasm which drags Louis’ name from his lips. Their hands twine, sticky with lube and come, but it doesn’t matter. The kisses stretch from one into two and then three and it’s as though they both need a moment where the kisses stop their lips from having to ask the awkward questions neither of them is ready to put into words.

Eventually, Nick pulls away. They stare at each other and Louis messes around with Nick’s hair in the absence of any actual words. He makes it stand up so it’s quiffier than ever and he pulls his fingers through the long strands, swallowing his thank you, thank you back in his throat.

“It wasn’t too much?” Nick says.

“No. Not too much.” Louis pulls a face and he drags his fingers out of Nick’s hair, focusing on one of the metallic necklaces so he doesn’t have to meet Nick’s eyes. “Thanks.”

“You don’t have to like, thank me.” Nick captures Louis’ wandering hands and kisses his fingers in a way which feels far too intimate, even after all they’ve just done. “It was definitely my pleasure.”

“Okay.” Louis still aches. Aches to feel Nick properly inside him – not just fingers this time. Aches because his backside is stinging and his wrists still carry the light mark of being bound. “Are you going to make me talk about it?”

Nick huffs a laugh and he bites down on Louis’ shoulder, strong enough that Louis will feel it but not hard enough to leave a mark. “Do you want to?”

Louis shakes his head. He doesn’t. Not tonight. He wants to process and think about every last minute, but he’s not sure he can put together coherent sentences.

“Don’t think so. Not yet.”

“Okay.” Nick rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. Louis misses his warmth and curls up beside him, just because he feels like he can. “We’re going to have to figure out tomorrow.”

“Fuck tomorrow,” Louis says. “I’ll come and watch you DJ. We’ll be fine.”

“Will we?” Nick’s voice sounds light and almost fond and he kisses Louis’ neck, his breath hot and warm on Louis’ skin. “We’re leaving a lot of this to chance, love.”

“I don’t care.” Louis does, he cares so much but he doesn’t know where to go with any of it. He’d rather leave tomorrow to chance than talk about that time you spanked me with your belt. His cheeks are already flushed hot with the memory, his body already tense with the wanting of something he doesn’t as okay about voicing now his arousal has eased to a dull ache. “Can I stay?”

“’Course.” Nick runs a hand through Louis’ hair. “I’ve got to be up early for the radio, though. The dogs are coming back in the afternoon.”

“I won’t be here that long.” Louis looks at Nick properly, at last. “You left them with someone else because of me?”

Nick flushes. “I didn’t want them to hear stuff and scratch at the door. They might’ve thought it was a game. I didn’t want it to be like that, not the first time.”

“Oh,” Louis says. Because not the first time sounds like there might be other times. Not the first time sounds like it’s going to happen again, and again.

“My dogs love attention.” Nick sounds so, so fond. It’s too much for Louis’ heart.

“Obviously.” Louis breathes out, his heart finally settling to a steady beat. “I’m going to pester you tomorrow.”

Nick laughs and it’s sure and brilliant, filling the room with warmth. “I’ll hold you to that, love.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. Yes, yes, yes. He doesn’t know if he will. Doesn’t know if he’s going to have the balls to be that person the press spend their time speculating about. All he knows is he wants to watch Nick DJ and he doesn’t want to let another bloke hang off Nick like they have every right to do so.

Nick clears his throat. “It was…alright?”

Louis presses close to Nick. Close enough to feel his heart beat and to get all grabby with Nick’s soft spots. “Brilliant.”

“Good.” Nick smiles against Louis’ skin, his lips pressed against the tattoo on Louis’ chest. “I’m glad.”

“Me too,” Louis says. And he knows. He knows he needs to ask about that song, ask about that email. But Nick’s voice is sleepy and content and Louis’ heart feels too big for his chest. He’s going to do it, he promises himself. He’s going to ask. But not tonight.

He’ll ask tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Louis is going to fucking kill Nick.

“Evening, Tommo.” Nick breezes past, giving him a wink and looking casual as you like in that fucking shirt with the scarves. He slides his thumb in a hook on his jeans as he poses for a quick photo, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt when Louis knows Nick’s only standing like that to make sure Louis can see the belt he’s wearing.

“Fuck you,” Louis hisses. He keeps a smile on his face but it’s a dangerous one and Nick seems to realise that. He looks like he’s going to burst out laughing and his eyes crinkle a little at the edges. Louis’ starting to get the difference between Nick laughing at him and with him. He’s fairly sure this is the latter. Perhaps he won’t kill Nick after all.

“I’ve got to go. Looks like James Corden’s drinking all the beer on my table and there are at least two Stellas with my name on.”

“Stella.” Louis walks into the vast hall with Nick. “Laddy.”

“Probably going to be chatting footie all night,” Nick agrees. He gives Louis a quick look. “Still coming to the after party?”

Louis shrugs, pretending he’s not about to jump out of his skin with nerves. “Expect so.”

“See you there, then. You can come up and leave a few requests.” Nick looks around and swipes his tongue over his lips. Everyone’s otherwise occupied, the press are all outside and no one’s paying them any attention at all. He leans in quickly, a friendly hand on Louis’ shoulder. He squeezes lightly, his breath hot against Louis’ ear. “Thanks for last night, pet. I slept like a baby.”

Before Louis can respond, Nick gives him a grin and moves away. The air still smells faintly of Nick’s cologne and all Louis can hear is Nick’s low voice asking are you going to come for me, darling? He’s sure his cheeks are bright red and he rubs his jaw, staring after Nick.

He’s probably going to have to kill him after all.

*

The meal is boring, the awards are boring and Louis decides the only way to have any fun is to get drunk. He orders a shot at the after party and then gets a couple of bottles of beer, mooching through the crowd.

“Tommo! Louis.” A bloke in a blue shirt Louis vaguely recognises claps Louis on the shoulder. He’s something to do with Syco, Louis thinks. He can’t remember. So many people blur into one and it’s been ages since Louis’ really been around anyone in the industry. He usually avoids things like this. He’s only here because it’s one gig his agent didn’t manage to cancel in time.

“Hiya,” Louis says. Stuart, maybe. Sam. Fuck, he’s got no idea.

“Didn’t know you’d be here.” Blue Shirt stands next to Louis, watching Nick on the decks.

“You either.” Louis watches Nick laugh with a tall blonde girl he vaguely recognises from Instagram. She looks effortlessly cool and her and Nick have a kind of casual camaraderie that comes with years of friendship.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t fucking stand Nick Grimshaw.” Blue Shirt pulls a face. “Team Tommo, that’s me.”

“There are teams?” Louis keeps his voice low, recalling his brief Twitter spat with Nick. Not for the first time he wishes he’d just kept his mouth shut for once.

“Serves him right, I reckon.” Blue Shirt takes a swig of his drink and the knot in Louis’ chest tightens.

“What does?”

Blue Shirt grins at Louis. Even his smile sets Louis’ teeth on edge. “He’s losing Breakfast.”

“What?” Louis has to shout to make himself heard and he leans closer, which he definitely doesn’t want to do. He’s already decided Blue Shirt is a twat.

“Grimmy. Breakfast.” A little bit of Blue Shirt’s excited spittle lands on Louis’ cheek and it makes him want to heave. “Game over. He doesn’t want to do Radio Two so it’s a right mess. They’re trying to find a place for him.” Blue Shirt laughs like it’s fucking funny and Louis wants to kill him. Actually wants to poke his eyes right out and tackle him onto the floor. “Apparently he’s a nightmare. I had a friend that shagged him for a few months last summer. Said he’s completely neurotic. Clingy and obsessed with his dogs. He shags people all the time but no one ever wants to stick around. At least now he knows.”

Louis is close to boiling point and he shoves Blue Shirt away, yelling his question over the music. “Knows what?”

Blue Shirt winks and it makes Louis’ insides turn over. “Knows he’s done for. He’s just got old age and telling people he did X Factor once to look forward to. Good riddance, I say.”

Louis smiles at Blue Shirt. He gives him the smile he gave the paps who called him a faggot that one time. He gives him the smile he gave Dan Wooton when he started asking invasive questions about Louis’ mum. He gives him the smile he gave that interviewer who couldn’t stop bleeding on about Harry and Taylor naffing Swift. He has that smile right down. It’s cold and it says in no uncertain terms you’re a fucking cretin and please don’t talk to me ever again. “Good to know,” Louis says. He shoves past Blue Shirt and leaves him in the wake of the coldest look Louis can muster. He’s been meaning to get in touch with Simon anyway and he’s definitely going to mention Blue Shirt. He’ll deal with it.

Is it too late now to say sorry? the music asks, and Louis is so bloody over watching Nick from across the room. He can see the wide smile and the freckles. He can still practically taste Nick against his lips. His heart flips and he couldn’t give a flying fuck anymore. He pushes his way through the crowds and ends up standing next to Nick who has his headset on one ear, whilst he fiddles around with the disks.

“One sec, yeah?” Nick shouts over the music and he flips from Bieber to One Direction. Best Song Ever. That idiot. It reminds Louis of things he doesn’t want to be reminded of. Nick mutters under his breath so only Louis can hear. “Have to make sense of you being here, love.”

Louis waits until the song plays out, standing awkwardly whilst Nick’s friends dance around him. Eventually Nick puts on something else that has the crowds heaving and he pushes his headphones off so they’re around his neck. He beckons Louis close and mouths in his ear, his breath hot and smelling faintly of wine. “Press are going to be all over this. Be careful, yeah?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Breakfast?” Louis makes sure there’s no one in the same vicinity and he tries to make it look like he and Nick are just playing nice and having a casual catch up. “Is that what the email was about?”

Nick’s lips tighten and his cheeks turn a dusky pink. “Not here.”

“Later?” Louis makes sure he’s still in Nick’s space.

Nick shakes his head. “Can’t. Got to be up early. After this it’s home to bed for me.”

“I could come.” Louis doesn’t even worry if anyone can hear him anymore. Nick makes a frustrated sound, deep in his throat.

“Don’t be a tit. The press are going to follow you if you leave with me. Besides, I’m not talking about this tonight, I just want my dogs and my bed.”

Louis tries not to feel stung. Tries, but he’s not sure he’s successful. He pushes his elbow into Nick’s side. It’s not affectionate. Not something the people with their phones pointed at the DJ booth can get their hands on. It looks almost like an accident.

“This weekend, then.”

“Can’t.” Nick puts on another song, pushes a headphone over his ear and studiously doesn’t look at Louis. “I’ve got this thing at Soho Farmhouse. I’m away all weekend.”

“I can come.” Desperation crawls through Louis and Nick gives him a look.

“Oh yeah? How the fuck am I gonna explain that?”

Louis gets hot all over, but he holds his ground. “You’re going with friends? People who won’t, like, put me on Snapchat?”

Nick’s brow furrows and he nods, once. “They won’t put you on anything, you arse. They’re going to be too busy wondering if we’ve lost our fucking minds. You’re going to hang out with my friends and pretend we suddenly bonded over Rihanna then decided we should have a nice, friendly, weekend together, is that it?”

Louis swallows. He stares at Nick, who looks a bit wild and slightly scared. “I wasn’t suggesting I’d come as your friend.” Louis pushes back the voice in his head screaming no, no, no. He knows it’s not the booze. He’s only had one shot. Blue Shirt’s words keep spinning in Louis’ head and even though he definitely doesn’t want to do this, he does because it’s Nick and Nick fucking deserves someone who isn’t going to make him hide away in a closet again. “You could tell them.”

Nick frowns. It doesn’t look like a no but he also doesn’t jump up and down. It’s not a yes, either. It makes Louis’ chest feel tight and he holds his breath as Nick spins another record.

Without looking at him, Nick shuffles with the soundboard. “They’re going to ask you loads of questions. My friends are nosy as fuck.”

“Okay,” Louis says. He can deal with the fact he feels like he’s going to throw up the contents of his stomach just from the thought of more people knowing about him than Nick, Pig and Stinky later. “That’s okay.”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” Nick’s smiling, though and he can’t quite hide it even as he ducks his head and shuffles his records around. “You don’t want that.”

I do, though. Louis thinks. I do, I do, I do.

“Will you tell me what’s going on if I come?” Louis elbows Nick again, when he’s sure no one’s looking. Nick’s blonde friend is talking to a bloke with glasses in a patterned shirt and giving them both a strange side-eye, but as they’re presumably Nick’s pals Louis assumes it’s okay.

“Maybe.” Nick pulls a face and he elbows Louis back. “Get your pointy elbows off me. I just want to get smashed and roll around in the grass. Maybe have a few marshmallows over the campfire.”

Louis’ heart hammers in his chest and he presses his lips to Nick’s ear. The cameras flash but Louis doesn’t care. He hopes Blue Shirt is looking. He hopes Blue Shirt realises he made a big fucking mistake. Louis can explain this away if the press make a thing of it. They’re just talking. Nick’s always got people around him from Matty Healey to Rita Ora and they’re just talking. It’s not like Louis’ kissing Nick, as much as he might want to. He doesn’t even care anymore. He’s on self-destruct but it feels better than any other self-destruct has in his life. It's like he's got wings he can finally stretch out and tentatively take the first steps towards flying.

“I want to come. I want to do the marshmallow thing.”

Nick huffs with laughter and Louis is pretty sure he hears him curse under his breath.

“You’re going to be the death of me.”

Louis moves back a bit, beaming. “Maybe.”

“Idiot,” Nick says.

“Knob.” Louis smiles at Nick again and he’s met with the kind of look that makes his insides melt. He’s still not fully over the fact Nick wore that belt and those scarves to the bash. “I wanted to kill you when I saw your outfit.”

Nick looks smug and gives Louis the kind of up and down stare that leaves Louis breathless. “Thought you might. That was the point though, wasn’t it? Wearing something in public that could be our little secret.”

“Maybe.” Louis shrugs, as if it doesn’t bother him, as if he doesn’t care. He does, though. He cares so much he thinks he might burst. “Better take it with you for the weekend.”

Nick arches an eyebrow at Louis. “I’m a social butterfly. I’m not planning to spend my whole weekend shagging.”

“We’ll see.” Louis winks at Nick and he takes himself fully out of Nick’s space. “Better mingle.”

“Don’t mingle too much.” Nick sounds like he’s teasing but Louis can hear the edge of doubt behind his words.

“No fear.” Louis looks back up at Nick and then pushes his way into the crowd. He doesn’t think it’s a coincidence when Nick puts on Dua Lipa we fight and we argue, you'll still love me blind, if we don’t fuck this whole thing up guaranteed I can blow your mind.

The urge to get royally pissed dissipates and Louis watches Nick for a bit longer, before slipping out of an exit where he’s less likely to encounter the hoard of paps waiting for people to leave. He calls an Uber and watches London party into Tuesday morning as the car winds through streets full of lights.

*

The press don’t make much of Louis standing next to Nick in the DJ booth after all. The Mirror and The Sun bring up old Tweets, including the Ooh Stacey one, which made Louis squirm when it posted. It felt as if Nick knew something, even then. Louis takes a picture of the article and sends it to Nick. He gets back the nail painting emoji, the kissy smiley and a prawn. He sends Nick the devil emoji and the smug moon before checking the internet for more articles.

There’s nothing more. There are pictures of Louis and pictures of Nick but no one else comments on the moments Louis spent with Nick at the after party.

Louis’ surprised to find he’s almost disappointed.

*

As Friday draws nearer, Louis begins to have a panic attack. Nick’s hardly been in touch at all, obviously trying to avoid any difficult questions about his job. He sent Louis a text with the details of the weekend on Wednesday and offered to pick Louis up. After that, he’s been quiet, sending the odd text about radio meetings and posting pictures of him in restaurants and pubs with his vast array of friends from Sadie Frost to Pixie Geldof. Louis knows Nick’s friends are ridiculous hipsters, largely because he’s spent far too much time stalking Nick online and trying to work out who the fuck might be going to the farmhouse place. He looks at pictures of a girl with bright orange hair hugging Harry and he vaguely recognises the cool looking blonde girl from the other night and the bloke with the glasses and the patterned shirt who does something in fashion.

I don’t have to come Louis texts Nick on Thursday night, despite the fact his bag’s already packed. He doesn’t even know what to take with him when all of Nick’s friends seem famous, self-assured and glamorous. He doesn’t think his trackies and trainers will fit in, but he doesn’t have a load of posh garb in his wardrobe. He just has Adidas and suits which never seem to fit right. He swallows back his nerves at the idea of people telling him not to tuck his tracksuits into his socks – of people judging the way he looks, speaks and sings.

Don’t you want to anymore?

Nick follows up his text with a sad face, a frowny face and a prawn. Louis texts back the face which looks a bit nervous, all gritted teeth.

Don’t even know who’s going

The bubbles appear as Nick sends through a list of his friends. Harry’s friends. They’re familiar to Louis, largely because he’s heard Harry speak about them on occasion. Pixie, George, Aimee, Ian, Gillian. So many names. Louis taps out his response with trembling hands.

Is it weird if I go?

No text follows. Instead, Louis’ phone lights up with a picture he surreptitiously took of Pig before he left Nick’s house on Monday.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Nick sounds warm and soft, his voice tired but fond. “Having second thoughts?”

“Not really.” Louis settles back on his bed and he shrugs, even though he knows Nick can’t see him. “Maybe. Bit nervous. They all know Harry.”

“Yep.” Nick rustles in the background it sounds like he’s telling Pig to clear off, the sound of the door shutting loud in Louis’ ear. “Sorry, I’m back.”

“S’okay.” Louis wants to cuddle Pig. He knows where he is with her. “Why did you kick her out?”

“Because.” It sounds as though Nick’s in his bedroom too, the rustle of his sheets familiar even through the phone. “Didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Okay.” A familiar flush of arousal makes Louis palm himself in his boxers. He’s getting hard just from hearing Nick’s voice on the phone. The weekend’s going to be a fucking disaster if Louis can’t control himself around Nick. Louis moves his hand onto his chest and breathes, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath his palm. “Will they tell him?”

“Harry?” Nick sounds like he’s shrugging. “Nope. They can keep a secret. I’ve told them I might bring someone, but it’s not for anyone else to know. They think I’ve finally pulled Jake Gyllenhaal.”

“Unlucky for you,” Louis says. He knows Nick’s teasing, knows he doesn’t mean it. He still thinks he could take Jake in a fight, though, if it came to it. He might have stacked muscles and the ability to grow a proper beard, but Louis is scrappy in a fight. He fights for things he wants and Nick is increasingly becoming one of those things Louis would get into the ring for.

“Yeah.” Nick huffs a laugh down the phone. “Poor me. I’m saddled with a fit little popstar. Tough times.”

“Yeah.” Louis smiles around the word. “Is it weird? Me coming?”

“Really fucking weird.” Nick laughs properly now. “But my friends expect nothing less. I'm weird and they’re used to me doing unexpected things when it comes to my love life. Even snogged Rita Ora, once. They weren’t expecting that.”

“I bet.” A ball of something fierce and protective settles in Louis’ chest. He thinks of Blue Shirt (or That Dick as Louis calls him now) and his claims about Nick’s neuroses. No one ever wants to stick around. It makes him want to take up arms and charge off defending Nick’s honour. The part of him that doesn’t know how to think things through itches to post something on Twitter. Something about Nick being brilliant. He knows he won’t, but still. It’s a nice daydream.

“Want me to tell them it’s you before?”

“No. It’s fine.” Louis wants to ask about Breakfast but he also doesn’t want to have that conversation over the phone. He wants to see Nick’s reactions and not let him get away with being evasive or waving everything off like it’s okay, even if it isn’t. “Don’t you have to sleep, soon?”

“Getting there.” Nick’s voice gets a bit low and throaty. “Wouldn’t mind a helping hand.”

Louis’ definitely hard now and he palms himself again. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Nick breathes out, a little bit shaky. “If you’re into that.”

“Dunno. Could be.” Louis clears his throat, trying to think of something sexy to say. In the end, all he can manage is the truth. “I’m hard.”

Nick groans softly. “You are?”

“A bit.” A lot. Louis pushes his hand beneath his boxers. “Touching myself.”

There’s silence on Nick’s end and it makes Louis pause. Eventually, Nick speaks. “Did I say you could?”

Louis’ hand stills because fuck. He swallows. “No.”

“Right.” Nick sounds a bit like he’s trying to collect himself. “Well, don’t. Don’t do anything unless I tell you.”

Louis slides his hand out of his boxers, even more desperate to touch himself now. “Okay.”

Nick rustles around on the other side of the phone. “What are you wearing?”

“Knickers and suspenders.” Louis snorts out a laugh. “Christ, Nicholas. I’m in bed in my boxers. I’ve got a half-eaten bag of Mini Cheddars next to me. They’re Batman boxers. Very cool.”

Nick laughs down the phone. It’s warm and familiar. “You know how to get a boy all worked up. Mini Cheddars and everything.” He pauses. “Take them off, yeah? Imagine I’m there. Just…take them off.”

“Okay.” Louis stands, his cheeks hot even though he knows Nick can’t see him. He slides off his boxers and settles back on the bed. “Off.”

“You in bed?” Nick asks.

“Yep.” Louis lets the sheets rustle so Nick can hear them. “Just staring at my cock and wondering if you’re going anywhere with this.”

Nick laughs again. “I was planning to.”

“Good.” Louis presses the phone closer to his ear. It’s warm against his skin. “Go on, then.”

“Impatient.” Nick tuts under his breath. He speaks after a moment. “Do you have lube?”

“Might do.” Louis isn’t about to tell Nick he got some after all this started. He got sachets like Nick and a bottle as well as a box of condoms, just in case.

“Kinky.”

“Yep.”

“Get it,” Nick says.

“It’s here.” Louis grabs the bottle from his drawer. “In my hand.”

“Put it on your wanking hand.” Nick sounds as though he’s smiling. “Make it nice and slick.”

“Okay.” Louis presses his shoulder up to hold his phone in place. He slicks up his hand with a decent amount of lube. When he’s done he tries to keep the phone steady but it doesn’t work that well. “Fucking phone.”

“Put me on speaker.” Nick sounds a bit breathless. “Put the phone down. I want your hands free.”

A shiver travels down Louis’ spine but he does as Nick says. He turns the volume right up and puts the phone on speaker, putting it on his bedside table.

“Can you hear me okay?”

“Perfectly.” Nick sounds as though he’s already stroking himself, his voice a bit rough. “Want to put your hand on your cock for me?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. Yes, yes. He slides his hand over his prick and it feels so good, slick with lube and with Nick’s voice in his ear. “Feels good.”

“Good.” Nick sounds a bit rough-edged and Louis can tell Nick’s touching himself too. “Close your eyes.”

“Okay.” Louis closes his eyes, his breath leaving him in a broken gasp.

“Tell me how it was. With the belt.” Nick sounds as if he’s a bit closer to the phone now. “Run your other hand over your chest. Fuck I wish I was there.”

“Me too.” Louis does as Nick says, trailing his fingers over his torso. It’s not particularly sensitive but the light movement sends light sparks of pleasure across his skin. It makes him shiver. He keeps his movements slow as he strokes himself, trying to tell Nick what he wants to hear. “I liked it. Want to do it again. Think I want you to use your hand too. Wanted you to fuck me.”

“Yeah?” Nick mutters a curse and he sounds breathless. “Wanted to. Wanted to take you so much. Bet you feel so good, Lou.”

“Shut up.” Louis’ skin is hot and he smiles even as he tells Nick to shut up. He strokes his fingers over his skin and imagines it’s Nick touching him – Nick sliding one of his large hands over Louis’ cock. “Bet I do, though.”

“So tight…” Nick sucks in a breath and Louis knows he’s close. “So much I want to do to you.”

“Like what?”

“Rim you.” Nick almost growls out the words. “Want to tie you up and make you beg me.”

“Do it.” Louis bucks up into his fist, his breath catching in his throat. “Please, Nick. Do it.”

“Want to.” Nick keeps his voice low and gruff. “Close. So fucking close.”

“Me too.” A hot shame slices through Louis, but he has to ask. His voice is small and quiet. “Can I…can I come?” Having to ask sends waves of embarrassment crashing over Louis but he has a feeling he should – thinks Nick might like it.

Nick groans and Louis knows that his request pushed Nick over the edge. He feels so full of need for Nick. He’s desperate to touch him – so close to climax it almost hurts to try to hold back.

“Yes, darling.” Nick’s voice is a little steadier, but it sounds so full of emotion it makes Louis’ head spin. “You can come.”

It’s all it takes. Louis moves his hand more quickly and bucks up, coming shortly after Nick gives him permission. It’s not exactly on time but it’s close enough. Close enough.

Louis wipes his hand on the sheets. Fuck it. He can wash them in the morning. He picks up the phone and presses it to his ear.

“Thanks.”

“Next time we’re doing that on Skype.” Nick sounds like he’s padding into the bathroom to rinse his hands because he’s not a child like Louis and he likes a tidy room.

“Thought you told me not to get my knob out on the internet,” Louis says.

“Don’t mind as long as it’s my internet.” The tap runs and the bedroom door opens, the sound of feet scrabbling on the floor mingling with Nick’s soft breathing and pottering around.

“Also thought the dogs weren’t allowed on the bed.”

“They’re not.” Nick sounds offended, as if he’s been caught in a lie. Louis knows Nick’s already cuddled up with both of them and they absolutely are on the bed. “I need to have someone to cuddle me at night.”

You’ve got someone, Louis thinks. Me. Pick me.

“Go to sleep, Nicholas.” The fierce ball in Louis’ chest softens to something warm and full. “Early start tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” Nick sounds a bit choked and Louis needs to know. He needs to sit Nick down and make him talk. He doesn’t want Nick to lose his dream job. He wants Nick to do Breakfast for as long as he likes – wants to wake up with Nick’s voice in his ear in the mornings. “Better get my beauty sleep.”

“Better had.” Louis nestles under the duvet. He wishes he could fight Pig and Stinky for space in Nick’s bed and look at his long eyelashes and tired just about to sleep smile. He wants to kiss it. Wants to kiss Nick’s smile and keep him warm and safe. Louis closes his eyes. He’s fucked. He’s so fucking fucked.

“Night, popstar.” Nick’s voice is sleep-slow and warm all over. “See you Friday.”

“See you,” Louis says. He hangs up after a moment and stares at the picture of Pig on his phone.

“We’ll look after him, girl,” he says. He flicks through his music and puts on some old song about London rain that makes him think about kissing Nick.

He falls asleep to the song, his phone clutched in his hand.

Chapter Text

Louis can tell Nick’s as nervous as he is when he picks Louis up on Friday afternoon, in his large four by four. He keeps dicking around with the music and talks at a hundred miles an hour, not letting Louis get a word in.

“Shall I put on Childish Gambino? Maybe some Skepta. Feels like a Skepta kind of day, doesn’t it? Friday feeling and everything.”

“I don’t give a fuck.” Louis watches Nick search through his endless supply of music. “Just put it on shuffle or something, I don’t know. You’re a DJ, I’m pretty sure you’ve got enough tunes on there to get us to Oxfordshire.”

“If it lands on something crap I’ll never live it down.” Nick puts the music on shuffle anyway. He turns the volume up and begins to sing along. Louis can’t help but be endeared as Nick belts out the words at the top of his voice, completely tone deaf. Louis knows what Nick’s doing. He knows because he sees bits of himself in Nick’s nervous everything’s okay I promise energy. He does that all the time. Puts on a wide smile, drinks all the shots and sings and laughs louder than anybody else in the room.

They manage to get clear of London’s traffic and sing along to an odd mix of tunes before Louis decides enough is enough. He turns the volume down on something Nick’s trying to rap along to. Nick gives him an affronted look. “Do you mind? I was enjoying that. I was singing.”

“Is that what you call it?” Louis arches an eyebrow and Nick huffs, focusing on the road.

“All the same, you popstars. Proper judgmental. Can’t even enjoy a bit of impromptu karaoke in my own car. If you don’t stop being a knobhead I won’t go to services and you’ll have to do without your McDonalds.”

Louis’ been demanding a McDonalds since he got in the car, because he’s a child and he doesn’t know if Nick’s friends eat anything other than kale. “If you don’t stop at McDonalds I won’t blow you tonight.” Louis’ cheeks heat, still not used to joking about the sex he plans to have later with a man. With Nick. It makes Nick laugh though, so Louis assumes it’s okay. It also hopefully means they will stop for food. Louis could murder a Big Mac. He flicks his lighter, watching the flame rise and flicker into nothing. “What’s going on?”

“This weekend?” Nick sounds bright and breezy, deliberately obtuse. “We’re going to a farmhouse which doesn’t really feel like a farmhouse at all. You’re going to meet my friends and they’re going to think we’re both mental. We’ll probably have a massive argument because after a whole weekend you’ll realise I’m really annoying and I’ll come back alone, destined for a life of Grindr messages and blokes who did a Diesel runway once.”

Louis looks at Nick, that fierce feeling from the other night roaring in his chest again. “Sounds delightful.” He looks back at the road, watching as it rises to meet them. “I already know you’re really annoying, by the way. It’s going to take more than that to put me off.”

“Let’s not make any promises,” Nick mutters. He flicks the indicator and changes lanes, a little sharper than needs be. He huffs out a breath and slows down, tapping his fingers restlessly on the steering wheel. “You haven’t even spent twenty-four hours with me yet.”

Louis’ heart clenches in his chest and he glances at Nick. He’s smiling as if it’s a joke, but Louis suspects it isn’t from the flush in Nick’s cheeks and the way his smile tilts downwards as if he can only keep up the pretence for so long. “Buy me a McDonalds and I’ll put up with anything.”

“I do like a boy who’s easy for a few chicken nuggets.”

Louis puts down the window and lets the cool air drift into the car. It catches in his hair and drowns out the music almost completely. “I expect at least a Big Mac and a chocolate milkshake, Nicholas.” He taps his finger against his lips. “Suppose a few nuggets wouldn’t harm either. I’ll let you buy me both.”

“The lengths I go to just to get a cheeky shag.” Nick’s smiling again, properly this time.

“You need to make some fast food related effort, being such a quiffy twat.” Louis offers, helpfully. “Also, stop avoiding the question. What’s going on with your job?”

“Do we have to talk about that?” Nick’s smile falters and he keeps his eyes fixed firmly on the road. “I’ve had a rubbish day and-”

“And you’re going to put it off all weekend. If we don’t talk about it, you’ll avoid me because I’m going to keep asking and then I’ll be lonely and miserable. I don’t even have your dogs to play with to pretend I’ve not been abandoned by my-” Louis catches himself, “By you so you and your pretentious hipster friends can get drunk without me.” Louis takes a breath. It’s a bit much, saying things like that to Nick. A bit too much like ripping himself open and saying, here. Here’s my heart. Please look after it.

“Fine.” Nick glances at the music as Calvin Harris and Rhianna wonder if this is what you came for. “I should have put on Radiohead. Something properly morbid.”

“What’s going on?” Louis asks again, because Nick’s wily and he’s still trying to change the subject with his Radiohead references.

“They’re not renewing my contract.” Nick trips over his words, quieter than Louis has heard him speak before. It confirms what Louis suspected after hearing the rumours the other night, but it’s still a shock to hear Nick say the words out loud in a soft, hesitant voice that feels too small for the car – the air between them too still where Nick would usually fill it with boundless energetic conversation and off-key singing.

“How long does it have left to run?”

“I’ve got until the end of this year. They want to do some kind of post-Christmas thing. New year, new start.” Nick runs a hand through his hair and turns the music off completely. “Christ, this is embarrassing.”

“You’re embarrassed?” Louis stares at Nick. “Why?”

“Because.” Nick shrugs. “You were right all along.”

Louis makes a sound in the back of his throat. “Don’t be a pillock. I told Zayn I’d rather put my bollocks in a blender than spend time with you. I told Niall if he didn’t make me cheese on toast when I was hungover, I was going to get him drunk and use Harry’s inking kit to tattoo my face on his arse.” Louis pokes Nick in the thigh. “I actually like spending time with you, much as it kills me to admit it and I’m far too attractive to end up on Niall’s arse. I say a lot of shit I don’t mean so don’t bother telling me I’m right.” Louis takes a breath. “Because you’re good. On the radio. You’re really good.”

“As if you’d know.” Nick glances at Louis, before focusing on the road so he can come off the motorway and turn into services.

“Yeah, actually. I would.”

Nick frowns, craning his neck as he works the car into a parking position. “You listen?”

“I’ve listened for a while. Even before we…you know.” Louis’ cheeks heat and he sneaks a glance at Nick. “Don’t make a thing of it. I just like hearing lad with a Northern accent, instead of all those home counties twats.”

“I didn’t know. I’d have given you a shout out. Not directly. Like, a secret one.” Nick gives Louis a tired smile and switches off the car engine.

“You still can.”

“I might.” Nick rubs his forehead. “I reckon you deserve your McDonalds after all, just for boosting the numbers.”

“Of course I do.” They’re quiet for a moment before Nick puts his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Louis watches him, at a loss. He doesn’t know whether this is normal Nick behaviour or some kind of odd protective pose, designed to stop Louis from asking more questions. Nick’s really quiet and he doesn’t seem to want to lift his head. It goes on for long enough that Louis starts to worry and he puts his hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Nick?”

Nick mumbles something that sounds like I’m fine into his hands. Finally, he sits up. He turns away from Louis to stare out of the window but not before Louis catches the damp on his cheeks or the way Nick drags his knuckles angrily across his eyes. Fuck, Nick’s…fuck. Louis swallows thickly around the lump in his throat.

“I’ve thought about it and I reckon it’s only fair if I treat you to the McDonalds. You paid for this farmhouse thing and petrol and stuff.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick’s voice is so quiet and it makes Louis nervous because Nick’s always so loud. “I’m on a diet, anyway and McDonalds salads are rubbish. I’m trying to get a six-pack for LA.”

“Fuck the diet.” Louis reaches out, even though Nick still isn’t looking at him. He feels so gutted for Nick, but he’s not sure he’s allowed to say that at the minute. He doesn’t know if it would help. It feels like one of those platitudes that people say but which never actually help. Plenty more fish in the sea. Sorry for your loss. Dry your eyes, mate. Louis stays quiet and strokes his fingers through Nick’s hair, tugging it lightly. He likes it when Nick does that to him. It’s soothing. “You can’t be on a diet. I’ve been looking forward to those marshmallows. You can’t roast a lettuce over a campfire.”

Nick snorts with laughter and it sounds a bit wet and choked. “You won’t be saying that when I’m jobless and miserable. The six-pack’s going to be the only thing keeping you interested.”

“Nah.” Louis keeps his fingers in Nick’s hair. “Don’t think I’ll care. You’d probably give me a complex if you started lifting weights and shit.”

“You’re not the one falling apart in his thirties.” Nick begins to rummage through the glove box. “And you’re already stupidly fit. You won’t get a complex.”

“Might.” Louis unbuckles his seat belt and helps Nick get the tissues when it becomes clear he’s all fingers and thumbs. He gives Nick one from the packet and watches as he blows his nose. His eyes look a bit red and his hair’s all over the place. It makes Louis’ chest tight. “We’ll sort it out. What to do next.”

Nick finally looks at Louis and gives him a watery smile. “We will, will we?”

Louis tries very hard to fight back the heat he can feel rising in his cheeks. He gives Nick a smile which he hopes looks sharp and confident. “Yeah. We will. Pig and Stinky can help.”

“I’m sure they’ll be brilliant.” Nick rolls his eyes but he’s smiling again, small and tentative. “They can eat my boots and wee on the carpet.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of your dogs, Nicholas.” Louis flicks his lighter again, largely for something to do. He runs his hand through the flame. “Dogs are good at not making you feel like a fuck-up. It’s why I like them so much.”

“Me too.” Nick looks down and picks at his tissue. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Louis isn’t sure he’s done much apart from make Nick cry. His stomach twists. “I’ll get that McDonalds, shall I? One of us should stay here.”

“Okay.” Nick nods. “Yeah, good idea. Otherwise we’ll be all over Twitter.”

“What do you want?” Louis prods Nick in the arm. “If you say a salad, I might not come back.”

“Wouldn’t want that.” Nick looks at Louis. A strange expression crosses his features. He looks almost surprised, like he’s just remembered something that catches him unawares. He doesn’t answer for the longest time, looking at Louis and studying the lines of his face until the strange look passes. When he speaks again, the tentative smile curving at the corner of his lips widens a little. “Cheeseburger, then. Small chips. Maybe a Diet Coke.”

“Alright.” Louis leans over to give Nick a kiss on the cheek. It’s the kind of kiss Louis has thought about instigating before but he’s never quite plucked up the courage because it felt too intimate and Louis tends to overthink these things. Nick’s face is hot beneath Louis’ cold lips. “Back in a bit.”

Louis closes the door behind him and puts his hood up, hoping he can remain as inconspicuous as possible. He’s not in a selfie kind of mood.

He ducks his head and walks with his eyes on the ground, Nick’s anguished expression occupying every corner of his mind.

*

When Louis gets back, Nick tucks into his chips as if he hasn’t eaten a decent meal in weeks which he probably hasn’t. He lets out a groan of pleasure, finally pausing to give Louis a sheepish smile.

“Sorry. No carb diet.”

“Idiot.” Louis shakes his head, wondering not for the first time if Nick has any idea how bloody gorgeous he is. He pauses, hesitant to bring up the topic of Nick’s work again but also wanting to speak to him a bit more before they find themselves surrounded by other people. “Do your friends know about stuff at the radio?”

“Yeah.” Nick eats his remaining chips more slowly and he doesn’t sound quite as fucked up as he did before, his voice evening out a little. “They know most things about me.”

“Not about me,” Louis says.

Nick gives him a smile. “They’ll know about that too, soon enough.”

Louis’ hands get clammy at the thought and he eats a couple of chicken nuggets to calm himself. “What do they think?”

“I think they’re just, um, letting me process.” Nick opens his cheeseburger and takes a bite, chewing before finishing his train of thought. “They came over when I found out. Ian’s in radio anyway. Aimee’s done telly stuff with me. They could probably help, they’re just waiting for me to sort out what I want myself before they start giving me all their ideas.”

“That’s good of them.” Louis feels better about meeting Nick’s friends already. Still a bit like he’s going to throw up his Big Mac and nine chicken nuggets, but it’s more slightly queasy than I’ll be lucky if I make it through the weekend without vomiting.

“Yeah.” Nick clears his throat, screwing up his cheeseburger wrapper and slurping on his coke. “Sorry about earlier. Bit embarrassing.”

“Not embarrassing.” Louis shakes his head. He has the last mouthful of his Big Mac and puts Nick’s bag in his. He chucks the rubbish in a nearby bin and then gets back in the car, closing the door and pinching Nick’s coke to have a drink. When he finishes he leans in to kiss Nick. It’s just supposed to be a light peck on the lips, but Nick pushes his hand in Louis’ hair and tugs him into the kiss. The sheer force takes Louis by surprise and it’s all he can do to stop himself from scrambling over the gear stick and getting Nick to push his seat back so they can get up to the kind of thing they definitely shouldn’t be doing in the car park of a motorway service station. Kissing Nick is still new enough to send a thrill though Louis’ body whenever it happens and this time is no exception. Nick cradles Louis’ head firmly in his large hands until the kiss turns into a hot, filthy kind of thing that makes Louis breathless.

When they separate, Louis mutters a curse and gives Nick a look as his heart beats erratically in his chest. “Now I’m horny. Dickhead.”

“Sorry.” Nick doesn’t sound sorry. He looks like a smug tit, his lips red and his hair sticking up from where Louis tugged at it. “Don’t know what came over me.”

“Your insatiable need for my cock?” Louis smiles innocently at Nick.

“That must be it, love.” Nick grins and he presses close, letting his hand run over the bulge in Louis’ joggers. “It’s a very pretty cock, after all.”

“Shut up.” Louis doesn’t turn red. Not even a little bit. “Let’s get to this not really a farmhouse of yours before we end up in The Sun. Much more private for shagging.”

“We’re going to have a lot of questions to answer. No chance of smuggling you off to bed any time soon.” Nick starts the car and gives Louis’ leg a squeeze. “Be nice later, though.”

“Yeah.” The way Nick says later sounds soft and warm and it conjures up all kinds of delicious images in Louis’ mind. “Thanks for letting me come.”

“Thanks for wanting to.” Nick pulls out of the parking space and they get back on the motorway. It’s busy with Friday afternoon traffic and they have to slow to crawl behind a long line of cars.

“I’m sorry about Breakfast,” Louis says as the car slows to a stop and Nick fiddles around with the music again.

“Yeah. Me too.” Nick puts on a song and they listen to it in silence as they inch along behind the traffic.

Just a kiss and a smile, can we pretend for a while? That we got all the time in the world. We got all the time in the world…we gave it every chance…gave it every goddamn chance.

*

By the time they arrive at the large house it’s getting dark and there are already cars in the drive. Louis’ stomach rolls and he starts to regret his McDonalds related decisions. Nick chucks Louis his bag and he slings it over his shoulder. He packed and unpacked four times before sticking to his comfortable joggers and t-shirts. Nick doesn’t seem to care what Louis wears and it’s definitely going to be easier for Louis if he feels comfy instead of forcing himself into clothes that don’t feel right.

“Ready?” Nick gives Louis a questioning smile. He seems happier than he did earlier and he looks good in the soft light from the setting sun. Louis wants to kiss him so much.

“As I’ll ever be. Might need a vodka.”

“That can be arranged. My friends are filthy alcoholics.” Nick drops his bag and hugs two women standing in the doorway. Louis recognises the blonde from Monday night and he’s pretty sure the other person is Pixie Geldof. He might have spent a bit of time researching Nick’s famous friends before the weekend, scrolling quickly past the multiple articles and pictures focusing on Nick and Harry’s epic bromance, trying not to let his jealousy get the better of him. Nick turns to Louis. “Louis, meet Pepsi and Gelz. Or Pixie and Gillian, if you prefer.” Nick rakes a hand through his hair and gives his friends a sheepish smile, pointing at Louis. “Louis Tomlinson off of One Direction. My…err…yeah.” His cheeks turn a bit pink.

“Hi.” Louis isn’t sure whether to hold his hand out for an awkward handshake or just stand there uselessly, giving them both a wave. In the end he shoves his hands in his pockets and forces one of his brightest smiles as Pixie and Gillian stare at him, a bit goggle-eyed.

“We know who he is, Grim.” Pixie lowers her voice, but Louis can still hear her as they make their way into the large cottage. “You didn’t think you should give us any warning about this boy of yours being a popstar? I thought it was someone from work.”

Nick snorts. “Who would it be from work? FiFi? Not my type, funnily enough. Bit too female.”

“Still.” Pixie falls into step beside Louis and she looks excited. “I’ve got so many questions.”

Nick groans. He catches up with them and gives Louis a glance. “Told you. Where’s George? Pixie’s husband,” Nick explains, for Louis’ benefit. He doesn’t touch Louis at all but he shifts closer, the heat from his body making Louis warm all over.

“Gone to pick up some food. He’ll be back soon.” Pixie frowns and looks from Nick to Louis and back again. “No one knows about this then? Not even-”

“Haz doesn’t know.” Nick returns Pixie’s look with one of his own which seems to silence her. “I’ll tell him when I’m in LA. Better to do it face to face.”

Louis looks at Nick. That’s not something they’ve ever discussed.

“Okay.” The answer seems to appease Pixie and her momentary frown gives way to a broad smile. “We put you in the room upstairs at the end of the corridor, miles away from anyone else. We know what a slag you are.”

“Fuck off.” The pink in Nick’s cheeks deepens and he glances at Louis as if he’s a bit worried he might run off. As if Louis doesn’t already have his own plans for getting Nick to enjoy the weekend with booze and copious amounts of sex. “Open the wine, will you? We’ll be down in a minute.”

“Make sure you are otherwise we’ll come and find you.” Pixie cackles with laughter and then hurries off, as Nick groans and leads Louis to the bedroom which feels as though it’s half a mile away.

“Sorry about the LA thing.” Nick opens the door for Louis and lets him go into the room, closing the door behind them. “I had to say something. I’d never tell him unless you wanted. They’re close to Harry too. I just don’t want to deal with questions about when I’m going to tell him this weekend.”

“Oh.” Louis nods. It makes sense, even if the thought of bringing Harry into their bubble makes him unspeakably nervous. He pauses. “Do you want to tell him?” It’s different, telling Harry. Louis knows enough about Nick’s friends and their connections to the industry to be pretty sure they’re well used to keeping secrets. He doesn’t really know them. Letting them in on his secret feels easier than telling someone Louis knows as well as Nick does. Someone Louis used to know even better. He can’t imagine telling Harry and not telling Liam and Niall, or keeping his family and friends from home in the dark. The thought makes him feel a bit panicky.

Nick shrugs and he pulls jogging bottoms and bright orange hoody from his bag, together with t-shirt which looks familiar – one Louis has seen Nick wear before on his Instagram. He takes Louis’ bag from him and dumps it next to his posh Louis Vuitton case. “Maybe. I don’t want to lie to him but he also knows me well enough not to ask questions about my love life.” Nick pulls a face. “If I’m not talking about it, it’s usually because I don’t want to. I’m not lying, just…not saying anything.”

“Lying by omission,” Louis mutters. He chews on his thumb nail before Nick tugs him close, wrapping Louis up in his long arms.

“Doesn’t matter. Not at the minute. LA’s ages away. You might want to leave me after this weekend anyway.”

The panic subsides and Louis pushes Nick back a bit, his hand over Nick’s heart. He glares at him. “You keep saying that. I thought I was the one with issues.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “You listen to the radio. You watched me have a breakdown in the car over a few chips. Love, if you think you’re the only one with issues we’re both fucked.”

“I don’t.” Louis slips his hand under Nick’s shirt, feeling his warm skin against his palm. He gives Nick a half smile. “Knob like you. Bound to have a few problems. That quiff, for a start.”

Nick grins. “Yeah. That’s right, darling.” He catches Louis’ wandering hand, holding it still through the cotton of his shirt. “Is it just me that wants to hide in here for the rest of the evening?”

“No.” Louis shakes his head and presses closer to Nick. “I hope your mates serve wine in buckets. I’m going to need it.”

Nick presses a quick kiss to Louis’ lips and then moves away. Louis sits on the bed, watching as Nick pulls off his trousers, swapping his skinny jeans for the joggers and t-shirt, draping the jumper over his shoulders. He disappears into the bathroom and emerges in his glasses, looking soft around the edges. “Do you want to change?”

“Nope.” Louis looks down at his own jogging bottoms and t-shirt. He’s glad that Nick’s put on something similar. He can’t quite work out if it’s because he’s trying to make Louis feel at ease or if it’s just because Nick wants to get settled in for the evening. He supposes it doesn’t really matter. Whatever Nick’s reasoning, it makes Louis feel more comfortable and less like he’s going to burst out of his skin. “I don’t really have much else.”

“Don’t need it.” Nick holds out a hand to Louis and pulls him up. “We’re not doing anything posh.” He slips his hand down the back of Louis’ tracksuit bottoms and pulls him close, his breath hot against Louis’ ear. “Besides, easier to do this, isn’t it?”

Nick.” Louis sounds a bit breathless. He wants Nick to keep touching him, his heart already pounding in his chest and his body responding to Nick’s proximity.

“Louis.” With a groan, Nick puts his hand in less suggestive territory and brushes Louis’ hair back from his face. “We should go downstairs.” His eyes darken and he runs his hands along Louis’ arms. “Save this for later.”

Later. There’s that thought again. The one that makes Louis think about the condoms in his bag. The one that makes desire pulse through Louis’ body. He takes a minute to calm down, under the pretense of looking for a bottle of Grey Goose in his rucksack. He doesn’t want to see Nick’s friends again with his knob half-hard in his joggers.

“I’m going to get drunk,” Louis decides, like the mature adult he is. He holds up the vodka. “Party gift.”

“Oh fuck, me too.” Nick winks at Louis and then opens the door. He catches Louis by the wrist and pulls him into a quick kiss. “And thanks.”

“It’s just a bottle of vodka, Nick.”

Nick grabs Louis’ hand and twines their fingers together. “Not just for that.”

“Oh. It’s fine.” Louis squeezes Nick’s hand and doesn’t think anyone can blame him for the fact he clutches on for dear life.

*

Nick’s friends have stocked the house with plenty of booze, which Louis always appreciates. They’re surprisingly nice. Not that Louis really thought they would be terrible, but they’re loads warmer than he expected and they seem to genuinely love Nick to death. They all light candles and get the fire going, keeping the drinks flowing as Louis sits on the edge of the sofa a polite distance from Nick. Even though they have the sofa to themselves, he knows he can get handsy when he’s drunk and he doesn’t want to make Nick and his friends uncomfortable. He pushes aside the part of him that’s desperate to burrow into Nick’s arms so he can clutch onto him like an anchor.

The questions aren’t that bad. No one seems to want to interrogate Louis about the fact he’s supposedly straight. Instead, they seem more interested in teasing Nick. How on earth did you pull a popstar, Grim?. Does this mean you’re going to stop trying to steal my husband? Gillian, Pixie and George all laugh at Nick, but it’s not mean. It’s the kind of easy piss taking only friends can get away with. Nick turns a bit red, giving them the finger and drinking his wine more quickly.

The night settles in and the room is full of shadows and flickering candle light. George and Pixie tell Louis a story about their wedding in Mallorca which Gillian and Nick must have heard before because they keep giggling and adding bits of their own. Louis looks across at Nick. He just wants to sneak a glance. He wants to remind himself why he’s here with a warm glass of Pinot clutched in his hand and a slightly woozy feeling in his head. He never drinks wine and he doesn’t go on weekends away to private members clubs. He’s surprised to find Nick already looking at him. He has a peculiar expression on his face. He looks almost pained, with a lazy, wine-drunk smile stretching across his face as he blinks at Louis. Louis’ cheeks heat when their eyes meet and he runs his tongue over his lips, his mouth suddenly dry.

He wants to be closer to Nick. He wants to curl up beside him and not give a fuck what people say. He just doesn’t know how to instigate it or if Nick even wants him closer. He soon gets his answer when Nick holds out a hand to Louis. Louis takes it, shuffling closer. Nick leans in, his breath hot in Louis’ ear. “Why don’t you sit in my lap, love. I could use a proper cuddle.”

“I…” Louis looks at the others, who are pointedly not looking at Nick and Louis. He appreciates their instinct. He edges closer and keeps his voice low. “I’m too big. I’ll look stupid.”

“I promise you won’t.” Nick laughs, low and soft. “And you’re really not that big, darling.”

“Oi.” Louis jabs his fingers into Nick’s side but he can’t help but smile. This is new, too. Louis’ so used to being with girls who perch on his knee or sit comfortably in his lap. He’s never had it the other way round. Unless you count pretending to be James Corden’s cat, which Louis really doesn’t. He sucks in a breath and shifts a bit awkwardly into Nick’s lap as Nick puts his wine down for him. It doesn’t feel weird. They’re on the sofa for a start, so Louis can put his legs up properly, stretching them out. It’s not like he’s perching on the edge of Nick’s knees or trying to keep his balance. He can lean his side against Nick’s chest and with Nick’s arms wrapped around him it’s cosy. It also doesn’t go unnoticed that Nick takes a moment to breathe in Louis’ skin, holding him tightly as if Nick really did need a hug. It makes Louis feel a bit less ridiculous. A bit less like he’s the one getting all the benefit.

“Hey,” Nick whispers in Louis’ ear.

“Hi.” Louis lets Nick guide him into a brief kiss, his fingers firm on Louis’ chin. It’s not much but it’s the first time Louis’ ever kissed another man in front of anyone. The world doesn’t implode and clearly conscious of not wanting to be that couple putting on the show in the corner, Nick keeps the kiss light even though Louis has a sense that they’re both counting down the minutes for more.

“I can’t believe it.” Gillian tops up their wine when Nick and Louis join the conversation again, the lull in the room immediately obvious. Even though they’re trying to be subtle about it, Nick’s friends are definitely staring and exchanging lots of looks with raised eyebrows and quick smiles. Heat rises in Louis’ cheek and Nick lets out a world-weary sigh.

“Can’t believe what?”

“That apparently there’s someone out there who can get you to be quiet for once.” Gillian gives Louis a wink. He likes her. She’s smart and funny and she tells great stories about Nick. “Must be love.”

Louis freezes at her words but Nick just tightens his arms around Louis. “Stop trying to scare him off.”

“Okay.” Gillian laughs and Nick holds Louis close until the murmur of conversation around them and the warmth from the crackling fire makes Louis drift off to sleep.

*

Louis isn’t sure what time it is when he finally wakes, a bit stiff from being in the same position for a while. He’s doesn’t know how long he dozed off for and he hopes against hope that he didn’t start snoring or drooling on Nick’s chest. He keeps his eyes closed, the soft murmur of Nick’s voice in his ear. Nick’s fingers work through Louis’ hair, a gentle massage against his head and it’s so good. Every inch of Louis feels warm.

“You’ve got to admit, it’s a bit of a surprise.” The room sounds quieter and Louis is pretty sure it’s just Nick and Gillian left. He can feel the movement of Nick’s body against his own as Nick takes a slow sip of his wine.

“Tell me about it.” Nick huffs with laughter, keeping his voice low.

“How’re you doing, Grim? Really.”

“Okay.” Nick shrugs. “I’ve got a few things coming up before LA, then I’ll go and see Harold and do a few meetings. Ducky’s out there at the moment so I’ll have a few days with her, hiking and drinking too many cocktails probably. Think I’m going to stay with this one for a bit. After that, I’m going to have to start properly thinking about a Plan B.”

“This seems different.” Gillian keeps her voice low. “With Louis. Different to the others. I like him. You like him.”

Nick’s hand in Louis’ hair stills and then his fingers start moving again, his voice low and teasing. “What’s not to like? He’s got lots of excellent qualities. Lovely cheekbones. Fond of a chicken nugget. Good at pretending to be asleep.”

Louis opens his eyes and glares at Nick. "Cheekbones and chicken nuggets? Is that the best you can do, Nicholas?" He clears his throat and sits up, giving Gillian an apologetic look. “I haven't been awake for long.”

“I know. You stopped snoring when you woke up.”

“I wasn’t snoring.” Louis swallows. “Was I?”

“No, ignore him.” Gillian laughs and Nick gives Louis a nudge.

“Pins and needles.”

Louis shifts off Nick and stands, needing to stretch his legs. Nick does the same, before flopping back onto the sofa. Louis decides against having any more wine and pads into the kitchen to pour himself a vodka and lemonade, after asking if anyone else wants a drink. He’s a polite boy, Louis is. His mother raised him well. He sits back on the sofa and notices Nick’s topped his own wine up and Gillian hasn’t. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick and Gillian exchange a look and Louis wonders what he missed. He has a feeling his ears should be burning.

“I’m going to bed. Leave you to it.” Gillian gives Nick a wink. She pauses and then gives Louis a half smile. “Be good to him.”

“Gelz.” Nick lets out a frustrated sound and Louis just nods.

“I will.”

“Night, then.” Gillian goes to bed and the room is quiet and still, the fire crackling in the background.

“I can’t believe I fell asleep.”

“It’s really fine. I feel like if you can’t sleep when you’re on a weekend away in the country, when can you?” Nick sips his wine and he seems relaxed, his smile genuine. “They like you. They’re a bit surprised and Aimee’s been texting me all night, but they like you.”

“Good.” Louis’ cheeks heat. “They’re nice. Friendly.”

“’Course they are.” Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis. “Not bad for a load of pretentious hipsters.”

Louis winces and he gives Nick a sheepish smile. “I’m a knob sometimes.”

“I know.” Nick puts his wine on the table and takes Louis’ glass, before shifting towards him. He pushes Louis back onto the sofa and settles over him. It sends a flush of arousal through Louis and he has to choke back a soft groan at the sensation of Nick on top of him. He doesn’t know why that gets him going so much but it really, really does. “My knob.”

“Romantic,” Louis says. His voice is a bit weak.

“Very.” Nick kisses Louis’ jawline. “Sexy, too.”

“You’re pissed.”

“Not really.” Nick licks Louis’ throat, lightly and laughs. “Tasty. Maybe I am a bit.”

“You’re licking me, so I’d say definitely a bit.” Louis arches beneath Nick nevertheless. He can still hear Nick’s voice on the phone, telling Louis what he wants to do to him. “Shouldn’t we go to bed?”

“In a minute. No one’s going to come in now.” Nick’s breathing is definitely getting rougher and he moves against Louis. “I’ve been waiting all fucking night to get my hands on you. When you were in my lap I wanted to touch you. Wanted to watch your face while I made you come.”

“Bit rude in front of your friends. I might not be invited back.” Louis tries to make light of it but he knows what Nick means. He’s aching to be touched – desperate to touch. He feels a bit like a teenager again, snogging on the sofa and close to coming in his trousers. Nick’s hand finds its way onto Louis’ cock and the heel of his palm presses against Louis.

“Can you be quiet, love?” Nick’s voice is a hoarse whisper. Louis wants to roll his eyes because of course someone as loud as Nick would get turned on by having to be quiet. He’s a contrary, complicated mess and Louis is so into him it almost hurts. “Quieter than you,” Louis says. He’s not sure he can be quiet, though as he rocks restlessly against Nick’s hand. His breath catches and he whispers to Nick. “Make me? Right here.”

“Yeah.” Nick bites back a groan and catches Louis’ lips in a firm kiss. He pushes his hand down Louis’ joggers and this really does feel like being a teenager again, fumbling awkwardly on the sofa and trying not to wake anyone. It’s hotter than it should be. It makes Louis squirm beneath Nick’s touch, his low moans swallowed back by Nick’s endless kisses. It doesn’t take long. Louis’ still a bit sleepy and wound up and he jerks into Nick’s hand, spilling all over his fist as Nick swallows back Louis’ whimpers and groans. Nick slides his hand out of Louis’ boxers slowly, leaving a sticky trail. It’s ridiculous, how good it feels. Stupid how the messy, shagged out feeling curls pleasantly though Louis.

“Can I do something?”

Nick presses his lips to Louis’ neck, catching his breath. “Depends. Does it end well for me?”

“Reckon it does.” Louis pushes Nick back. “Sit up, yeah? Like you were?”

“Okay.” Nick does as Louis asks, moving easily so he’s sitting upright again with his legs spread. Louis moves to the floor in between Nick’s legs, the hard wood sore against his knees. It makes Nick’s breath hitch and he rubs his thumb over Louis’ cheek. “You okay down there?”

Louis nods, because he really is. It feels good being on his knees for Nick. Just as he likes Nick over him, he likes this. Likes Nick sitting higher up than Louis and stroking his large hand through Louis’ hair. Louis tugs at Nick’s joggers and he lifts his backside up to let Louis get his joggers and boxers down enough so he can suck Nick into his mouth. Louis still isn’t completely used to this – he’s got a lot of practice to do – but he likes it. He likes the taste of Nick on his tongue and the way his lips stretch around Nick. He likes the way Nick looks down at him with lidded eyes, his bottom lip catching between his teeth before his lips part and he lets out a low groan that sounds like Louis’ name. Louis pulls off him with a pop and he squeezes Nick’s thighs, keeping his voice low.

“Quiet, remember?”

“Yeah.” It seems to be taking visible effort for Nick to keep quiet, but from the flush in his cheeks and the way he looks at Louis it also seems to be getting him off. He’s so hard. So hard and thick, leaking at the tip and pressing up into Louis’ eager mouth. Louis lets Nick guide him. He lets Nick move his head as he wants it, slowing when Nick begins to get too loud until he’s quiet again. Eventually, Nick comes with a muffled sound. He spills into Louis’ throat and pushes up, before collapsing back on the sofa with a puff of air escaping the lips he’s been biting down on to try to stop himself from saying anything.

Louis wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and helps Nick back on with his boxers and joggers. Nick tugs Louis up and he straddles Nick on the sofa, ducking his head to give Nick a kiss. He keeps his voice low, pressing his lips to Nick’s ear.

“Want you to fuck me this weekend. Bought condoms and everything.”

“Proper little boy scout.” Nick laughs softly, but the way his fingers dig into Louis’ backside show exactly how much he’s into the idea. “Be prepared.”

“I want to.” Louis pulls back to look at Nick. “Want to so much.”

“I know.” Nick brushes Louis’ hair from his face and gives him a lazy, post-sex smile. “Me too. I’ve been thinking about it.”

“Bet you have,” Louis teases. He wriggles in Nick’s lap, suddenly wide awake. “Want to go to bed or get pissed?”

Nick looks shocked. “Booze. Obviously booze.”

Louis smiles and goes to get some more alcohol.

It's one more piece of common ground between Nick and Louis. The ability to make excellent decisions.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes up in the morning with a sore head which he decides to combat with a shower, singing at the top of his voice.

“You’re cheerful.” Nick is apparently quite alright with wandering into someone’s shower uninvited because he ducks under the spray and gives Louis a smile. “I don’t think I’ve heard you sing properly before. For real, I mean. Not counting Live Lounge.”

“Can’t a bloke just sing in the shower these days?” Louis’ cheeks heat and he shakes his head, spluttering under the water. “It wasn’t supposed to be a serenade.”

“Still going to take it as one.” Nick snatches the shampoo from Louis’ hand.

“I was using that.”

“I know.” Nick steps a bit closer to Louis. “Want me to?”

“Wash my hair?” Louis blinks at Nick, his eyes stinging from the shower. “Why?”

“Because it might be nice?” Nick rolls his eyes. “Don’t have to.”

“No.” Louis isn’t sure why he never thought of this before. He loves Nick’s hands raking through his hair and they’re both naked and a bit sleepy and hungover. It’s perfect. “I want you to.”

“Good.” Nick shifts behind Louis and begins massaging the shampoo into Louis’ hair. Bloody Nick. He knows that Louis likes it when his hair gets pulled. Knows full well Louis enjoys a head massage and how daft he is for Nick’s enormous fingers. He has a vague recollection of telling Nick something about liking his fingers over copious amounts of booze last night and he winces.

“You’re sneaky as fuck.”

“A bit.” Nick sounds smug. He rubs his fingers over Louis’ head and lets the water rinse the suds out. “I like to put these distracting fingers of mine to good use.”

Louis bites back a groan because of course, Nick remembers everything. “I didn’t say they were distracting. I said they were long and weird. Like an alien.”

“You also said you think about them when you’re wanking so I’m going to take the positives over the negatives.” Nick digs his fingers particularly firmly into Louis’ temple and sounds way too cheerful for someone who drank his own bodyweight in alcohol the night before. “You did say that, didn’t you? I didn’t miss anything out?” Nick hums under his breath and slides his fingers from Louis’ hair onto his shoulders. “Oh, that’s right, you also said…” Nick catches his breath and he leans close to Louis’ ear, brushing his lips against his neck. “That you like how they feel inside you.”

Nick.” If Louis wasn’t hard before, he definitely is now. The way Nick talks to him, filthy, low and dirty, gets him harder than any kind of online dirty talk. “You’re being…”

“Sexy?” Nick sounds hopeful and Louis can’t help but laugh.

“If you want. I was going to say annoying.”

“No you weren’t.” Nick slides his hands over Louis’ body and begins to wash him. Actually wash him. It soon becomes apparent Nick doesn’t have any washing related boundaries either. He doesn’t just wash the obvious bits. He spends far too much time on the areas Louis feels should be washed in private, his hands raking over every single millimetre of Louis’ skin, until Louis is aching to feel more of Nick.

“I had this dream,” Nick says, low and throaty. “Of tonguing you before I fuck you.”

“Sounds awful.” Louis presses back against Nick, his breath catching. “Bit like a nightmare.”

“Horrible,” Nick agrees. “I’ll never sleep again with those sorts of dreams.”

Louis turns in the water and pushes Nick against the tiles. He kisses him hard and fast and has to catch his breath when Nick turns it sweet, and slow.

“Take it easy, love.” Nick pulls back and he gives Louis a smile. “We’re got all the time in the world.”

“Your friends are going to want us to eat croissants with them. They’ll come and find us.”

“I promise, they really won’t.” Nick nips Louis’ ear. “I’ve asked for a bit of time. No one’s going to barge in. We can lock the door if you’re worried.”

Louis pushes Nick back. “You’re asked for time? You tit. That’s going to make it awkward as fuck when we do go downstairs. I don’t want everyone to know I’ve just had a shag.”

Nick laughs and he flicks off the shower. “Why? I’m sure they’re as shocked that you want to fuck me as I am, but they’re hardly going to bother about it otherwise.”

Louis pokes Nick because as usual he comes out with the kind of ridiculous retort that makes Louis angry on Nick’s behalf. That’s the thing about him and Nick. They can both be their own worst enemies.

“I meant it’s awkward having tea and scones when everyone knows you just had sex.” Louis rolls his eyes and he steps out of the shower, rubbing himself dry as Nick does the same.

“Tea and scones? You haven’t met Aimee yet. You're clearly completely unprepared for the way this weekend's going to end up going. More like Vodka shots and a pack of Wotsits than tea and scones.” Nick grins at Louis and pulls him close. “Anyway, we’re both going to go downstairs glowing and if anyone takes the piss it’s only going to be because they’re having awful sex and feel terribly jealous.”

“What if we have awful sex?” Louis stops drying himself and he stares at Nick. “It might be horrible.”

“Doubt it.” Nick drops his towel. “It’s been alright so far, hasn’t it?”

Alright is a bit of an understatement. Louis nods, bringing Nick closer for a slow kiss. It makes him a bit breathless and he has to move away to calm himself. He locks the door just in case before dropping onto the bed, next to Nick. It doesn’t escape Louis’ notice that Nick has put lube and condoms on the bedside table.

“You came prepared too,” Louis says.

“You’re not the only boy Scout.” Nick does something with his hands that Louis supposes is meant to be a salute. He wouldn’t know. He never did Scouts. Nick brushes his hand through Louis’ hair, watching him as they stretch out together. “Still want to?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods, pressing close to Nick. “Thought you were going to use your tongue. Wasn’t that the point of the shower?”

“The point of the shower was to get my hands on your body under the pretence of washing your hair, darling.” Nick grins at Louis then gives him a quick kiss. “Roll over, then.”

“Okay.” Louis does as he’s told and he turns so he’s on his front. He buries his face in the pillow but that doesn’t make it terribly easy to breathe so he turns his head to the side. He lets Nick move his hands over his shoulders and down his body until they arrive at his backside. Louis tries not to moan when Nick rubs his dry fingers lightly against Louis’ hole.

When Nick moves down Louis’ body he already feels restless. There’s something so intimate about the whole thing. Being in an unfamiliar bed, trying not to make too much noise and letting Nick use his mouth somewhere…well. It’s all a bit much. Louis sucks in a breath when finally Nick’s tongue slides over him. It’s good. The way Nick holds him apart and exposes him. Good the way Nick’s firm hands keep Louis pressed against the bed as he tongues him. He starts slowly at first, with distracting flicks of his tongue. Eventually, he presses his tongue into Louis and it makes Louis so desperate for more he tries to say as much under his breath. Nick pulls back and taps his fingers against Louis’ hips.

“Up a bit?”

“Mmhmm.” Louis can’t say much more, moving onto shaky knees and elbows. Nick presses a tender kiss to the base of Louis’ spine.

“Beautiful.”

“Shut up.” Louis laughs but it sounds a bit strangled and breathless.

Nick fiddles about with something behind Louis and then he returns to Louis’ body with slick fingers. He slides the tips over Louis, back and forth. They are cold and wet against Louis’ skin and he wants them so much.

“Gorgeous.” Nick keeps his voice low and this time Louis doesn’t fight back and Nick slides a finger slowly into Louis. The sensation is so good. Still unfamiliar, but after experiencing the sensations of Nick’s tongue Louis feels more relaxed than ever. He half suspects Nick’s doing this just because he’s a filthy cheat who knows exactly how his fingers make Louis hot and needy.

“Nick…” Louis presses back against Nick’s fingers. With aching slowness, Nick adds another finger. He presses his lips against Louis’ back and moves his fingers inside Louis until it’s almost too much. Louis is too close and he doesn’t want to come until Nick’s inside him. “Stop too close, fucks sake.” Louis gasps out his words and Nick slides his fingers from Louis with a chuckle.

“Turn over for me?”

Louis huffs and rolls onto his back. Nick looks pink-cheeked and rumpled, his smile so wide. He keeps his eyes on Louis as he tears open the condom packet with his teeth. He discards the wrapper on the floor, clearly not as tidy as usual when it comes to fucking. He slides the condom on and strokes himself a couple of times. Louis watches as he slicks himself and strokes his own cock largely so it doesn’t feel left out of proceedings.

Nick sits back and he slides his hands over Louis’ ankles, watching him. “Okay to do it this way?”

“Yes. Yeah.” Louis nods. He’s not sure of the logistics and the different ways there are of doing it when it comes to two men. Most of the online porn he encounters takes a slightly more aggressive approach. There’s not much looking into one another’s eyes in the videos Louis watches.

Nick takes a breath, his fingers stroking over Louis’ ankles and legs. Louis can tell he’s almost as nervous as Louis and makes Louis want him even more. He wants Nick so much it’s painful. Louis lets Nick slide his legs up and onto Nick’s shoulders. It’s weird being in that sort of position with his legs akimbo and hanging in the air. Exposing and unexpected. Louis wonders if he looks as ridiculous as he feels and he takes in Nick’s expressions. Nick doesn’t seem to find Louis ridiculous at all. His eyes are dark, pupils blown wide and a flush of arousal creeps over his chest and into his cheeks. Most importantly of all, he can’t take his eyes off Louis. He keeps his gaze firmly fixed on Louis as he leans over him, pushing Louis' legs forwards against his chest a little. Nick doesn't stop looking at Louis. Not when his breath catches on the first push inside. Not when Louis cries out because it's unfamiliar and it feels too much - too strange. Nick slides his hands over Louis’ legs and keeps himself still, brushing his lips against Louis' jaw.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” Louis says, when he can find the words.

Nick begins to move after that, slow and deep. What started out as a painful discomfort gives way to something else. Something which makes need burn through Louis. It’s not even the physical sensation, although as Nick moves sparks of pleasure which are almost too intense pulse through Louis. It’s more the way Nick moves over him. The way they’re doing something they can both get off on, with Nick perspiring lightly and his hair all over the place. The way Louis can look into Nick’s eyes and think Nick and I want you and please don’t leave because it’s all so much – too fucking much. Louis slides his hand to his cock and begins to stroke himself as Nick moves in him and Nick pulls back a bit to watch Louis stroke himself as Nick fucks him slow and hard. He keeps Louis’ legs in place, sliding his hands over them and shifting Louis’ backside up as he fucks deeper into Louis, the angle brain-meltingly good.

“Close,” Nick says. His breath is rough and his hands feel clammy and hot against Louis’ skin.

“Please. I want you to. Want to see.” Louis lets go of his dick and reaches for Nick to pull him into another kiss. That nearly bends Louis double again but he doesn’t mind because Nick’s ragged breath against Louis' lips feels amazing. The way Nick calls back a breath which lands with an ach in the back of his throat. The way he stares at Louis and flicks his tongue over his lips as he tries to make it last as long as he can. Every push and pull backwards seems to be hitting the spot now, for Louis too. He wants to tell Nick all sorts. Wants to beg him for things that might feel a bit too filthy if he said them after sex. He kisses Nick and he tells him it's good. Tells him how good it feels and how much Louis wants it. Because it is good. So good. It doesn’t take much longer for Nick to tip over the edge. He moves faster inside Louis and he kisses him hot and slow. When Nick comes, he cries out and he gulps in a breath, his lips against Louis’ neck.

"Nick." Louis beckons Nick close after he slides out of Louis, tying off the condom and discarding it on the side. Louis feels empty and so turned on, he just wants to come.

"I know, love." Nick kisses Louis before moving down Louis’ body. He takes Louis into his mouth, deep into the back of his throat. It’s so good and Louis is so close, when Nick pushes two freshly lube slicked fingers inside Louis it’s all it takes. Louis comes down Nick’s throat and groans out Nick’s name.

“Alright?” Nick moves up to rest alongside Louis. He pulls Louis close and kisses him on the lips, a sweet kiss that tastes like Louis and toothpaste. “Was it crap?”

Louis snorts with laughter because only Nick. Only Nick could leave Louis’ whole body shivering, like he could come again and again even though he knows he definitely can’t and then ask was it crap. “Horrible. Hated every minute. Put me right off sex.”

Nick grins, his face relaxing. He knows Louis’ sharp tone by now and he sees right through it. “Me too.” Nick kisses Louis slowly. “I think I’m going to become a nun.”

“Don’t think you can be a nun.” Louis runs his fingers over Nick’s tummy. “Because of the cock thing.”

“Hey.” Nick catches Louis’ hand and stills it. “That cock thing is one of my finest body parts.”

“I’ll say.” Louis wriggles, still able to feel the dull ache of Nick inside him. He knows he’s been fucked. Knows he’s going to go downstairs with that feeling of Nick in his body and it makes him feel so desperate and so good.

“Sore?” Nick brushes his hand over Louis’ backside.

“No. A bit. Good sore.” Louis shrugs, pressing back into Nick’s hand. His breath catches but he’s pretty sure he won’t get it up again for a while. “Do we have to go down just yet?”

“Nope. No rush.” Nick rolls Louis back and gives him another kiss. He settles over Louis the way Louis likes, his body hard and firm.

Louis kisses Nick and then yawns, pushing Nick back. “Knackered, now.”

“Have a nap.” Nick pulls the duvet over them both and slings an arm across Louis, his voice thick with sleep. “Wouldn’t mind a doze myself.”

Louis shifts back in Nick’s arms and closes his eyes, quickly drifting off to dreams of marshmallows, hot showers with Nick and Pig’s smiling face grinning up at him.

*

When they finally make their way downstairs after a nap and (another) very satisfying shower, there are two new people. One American with bright hair and a man Louis recognises from Radio 1 events. Pixie takes Nick off and Louis tries not to turn red when she laughs. He feels as though everyone is giving him knowing looks, even though that’s ridiculous. It’s awkward as fuck, honestly and Louis wants vodka rather than the coffee currently percolating.

“They told me, but I didn’t quite believe it.” Nick’s friend holds out her hand. “I’m Aimee.”

“Hi. Louis.” He breathes out a sigh of relief when Nick comes back to his side, slinging an arm around Louis’ shoulders. He instantly feels more at ease – more confident.

“Aimee’s been my friend for years.”

“Don’t I know it,” Aimee mutters.

“She married Ian. He used to produce my show on the radio.”

That’s how Louis recognises him. He gives Ian a nod. “Alright, mate.”

“Good.” Ian sounds a bit faint. “Good.” He looks at Aimee and murmurs something that sounds like How the fuck did he manage that? Aimee shrugs, giving Louis a curious look.

“Breakfast?” Nick’s breath tickles Louis’ ear and he pulls him a bit closer. “I’ll make it.”

“Nothing fancy.” Louis would kill for a bowl of cornflakes.

“Cereal? Bacon sarnie?” Nick seems to have an understanding of exactly what Louis wants and his stomach grumbles at the thought. He looks up and gives Nick a grin.

“Both?”

“So demanding.” Nick laughs low in his throat and he kisses Louis on the cheek. His lips feel cold. “I expect you’ll want tea, too.”

“I can make it.”

“Don’t worry.” Nick keeps Louis close. “You can help me with the bacon.”

Gillian clears her throat. “Do any of us get a bacon sandwich, Grim?”

“Or a cup of tea. I could murder a cup of tea.” Ian gives Louis a smile and Louis can’t help but be pleased he’s not the only one choosing a decent cup of PG Tips over a coffee.

“Or do we have to shag you first?” Pixie grins and she winks at Nick. Louis wonders if they know. If they know it was the first time. The thought makes his cheeks hot and he looks down at his feet. Nick moves away from Louis to settle against the kitchen counter, before tugging Louis back against his stomach. He wraps his arms around Louis’ waist and presses his lips to Louis’ ear, whispering so quietly that nobody else can hear.

“Turn of phrase, love. I don’t share that kind of secret.” He moves his mouth back from Louis’ ear but keeps his arms securely around him. “I’ll make you a bacon sandwich to get you not to sleep with me.” He sounds as though he’s giving Pixie a scandalised look.

Pixie smiles at Louis and there’s nothing malicious in it so he relaxes against Nick. “The paper’s said we were dating once. He didn’t know whether to find it hilarious or horrifying.”

Louis takes a breath because he can do this. They know Nick and Louis have been up to something but they don’t know the specifics and no one cares. No one apart from Louis. They don’t find Nick off with another bloke strange at all. They don’t find the idea that Nick would hole himself away with Louis for a while weird or embarrassing. They just want to take the piss out of their friend and be a bit nosy about how the fuck the person on the other end of the shagging came to be Louis.

“Funnily enough I know a bit about the press getting it wrong.” Louis smiles at Pixie and he pulls back from Nick’s arms slightly so he can look at him over his shoulder. “You’re going to make your friends hate me if you’re selfish about your sandwich making, Nicholas. Do the girls a bacon butty, would you? I’ll make the tea.”

Nick gives Louis a brief kiss. “You can make me a coffee.”

“Plenty of milk and sugar?” Louis gives Nick an innocent smile.

Nick gives Louis the finger and everybody laughs. Louis turns his back to the group to fill the kettle and he tries, he really tries not to feel too proud about such a small victory but he does. He can’t help the small smile that spreads over his face as he finally starts to relax. He makes the tea and a couple of cups of coffee with laughter and the sound of people talking over one another warming the room.

*

It’s much later and they’re all sitting by a campfire chatting over chilled bottles of beer and glasses of wine. There’s a pack of marshmallows so Louis hopes they’re going to toast them later. He likes setting stuff on fire, particularly if you get to eat something delicious afterwards. Nick’s wandered off to chat to George and Louis knows Aimee’s been dying to speak to him all day. Nick’s eyes catch Louis’ from across the circle, the shadows and light from the flames flickering on his face. He gives Louis a thumbs up, with an eyebrow raised. It’s more of a question than anything. Louis responds with a nod. He wants Nick to have some time with his friends without feeling like he has to look after Louis for the whole weekend. Nick’s hardly left his side and it’s not as though Louis isn’t used to meeting people after endless promotional tours, industry events and years of working.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be you,” Aimee says.

“I bet.” Louis swallows and he picks at his beer. Aimee feels different, somehow. She’s sharper than the others and has a way of looking at Louis that makes him feel exposed. Even with Nick she’s more cutting although Nick seems to appreciate it, their close friendship obvious to anyone spending time with them both. Something about her manner makes Louis want to tell her the secret he’s fairly sure everyone already knows even though neither he or Nick have said as much out loud. He stumbles over his words as they trip from his lips. “I’m gay. I’m not out in the press, but I’m not…experimenting.” He’s aware he sounds a bit choked and she puts her hand on his knee. Her nails are long acrylic and painted in bright fluorescents.

“You don’t have to say that to me. I didn’t ask. It’s not my business.”

“I wanted to.” Louis breathes out and takes a swig of his beer. “I’ve only said it to Nick. And me mum but she doesn’t count, because…” He shrugs. “She’s not here.”

“It still counts,” Aimee says. She keeps her voice quiet. “She probably is here, you know. I like to think that’s true of people who go somewhere and leave us behind for a while.” She leans close to Louis and gives him an unexpected kiss on the cheek before pulling back and watching the fire. “I think they show us they’re here when we least expect it. Not all the time, just when we need it.”

Louis breathes in the smoke from the campfire and he watches the way the wind moves through the trees. “London rain.”

“Wherever you see it. It’s different for everyone.” Aimee doesn’t know the significance of London rain to Louis, but she doesn’t need to. He does feel it sometimes, when the air has a fresh stillness in those moments just after rain. He feels it when he tips his head back and lets a heavy downpour rain on his skin as if he’s in the shower. He breathes in the air and lets his cheeks and lips get cold as he stretches out his arms and knows in those moments that the world is so much bigger than him. He doesn’t know what forces drove Nick and Louis together in a place where neither one of them should have been, but he knows he won’t ever forget standing with Nick under the silvery moon, losing himself in kisses that tasted like thunderstorms. Louis doesn’t believe in spiritual stuff but he’s thought about what it all means lately. Living, dying and breathing through another day.

Ian comes over and asks Aimee if she wants another drink. She gives him her glass before waving him off with an order to bring another beer for Louis.

“I don’t want to hurt him.” Louis looks at Nick, watching the animated way he talks and the expressive smile on his face and it makes his chest hurt.

“There’s an easy way to avoid doing that,” Aimee says.

“Yeah?”

“By not hurting him.” Aimee rolls her eyes and she nudges Louis. “It’s in your control.”

Louis isn’t sure that’s true. He’s always terrified of those external factors. The press. Other people in their lives. Nick getting sick or injured. He worries about so many things he can’t control that he doesn’t feel as though he’s got any kind of grip on him and Nick at all. There are days when it feels like someone’s taken him on the Black Run before he’s even learned how to ski and pushed him down the slope whooping go on, Tommo! Give it a go, lad. He rubs his hand against his knee and nods. He doesn’t want to share all that with Aimee. He doesn’t know her well enough and he can’t put thoughts like that into words very well.

Nick settles beside them, slipping an arm around Louis’ waist. “Can I steal him? I promised him marshmallows and he’ll only get feisty if I don’t deliver.”

“Wouldn’t want that.” Aimee pokes Nick in the chest. “I want a proper word with you, by the way. I know you’re avoiding me.”

“I…can’t,” Nick says. They both laugh, clearly sharing a joke that Louis doesn’t get.

“You can.” Aimee rolls her eyes. “You just don’t want to.”

Nick wrinkles his nose. “I’m scared you’re going to tell me I’m too old to be trying to keep up with a rich, fit popstar and you’re probably right.”

Louis frowns and he’s fairly sure it mirrors Aimee’s glare. “That’s not what I was going to say at all, actually.”

“Oh. Well, good. In that case I might have that chat after all.” Nick gives Aimee a quick kiss on the cheek and then he steers Louis away to a seat a little out of earshot of the others, close enough to the campfire to reach out with sticks and toast the marshmallows. Nick grabs the bag and a couple of sticks, and hands one to Louis. “Doing okay?”

“Fine.” Louis casts a glance at Nick. “Why do you always do that?”

“Do what?” Nick prods at the fire with his marshmallow and he’s so fucking terrible at this, Louis knows he’s going to have to toast all of Nick’s for him. That idiot. He’s probably only here doing this at all because Louis wants to.

“Make up some shit about you being too old or not fit.” Louis watches Nick’s carefully neutral face as the flames from the fire send shadows moving across it. “Because it’s not true.”

“Can’t argue with science.” Nick shrugs.

“I don’t think you’re too old. I think you’re fit.” Louis nudges Nick. “Shit at toasting marshmallows, but fit.”

“You have terrible taste in men, darling.” Nick curses when his marshmallow melts right off the stick and drops into the fire. “Story of my life.” He begins to sing Story of My Life, quiet and as tone deaf as ever. He looks like he’s going to get upset over his marshmallow so Louis curses under his breath and takes Nick’s stick from him.

“You left it too long. See?” Louis twists his own marshmallow. He pulls it out of the fire when it’s hot and sticky. “Careful. It’s hot.”

“It is.” Nick looks straight at Louis, not concentrating on the marshmallow at all. “Really hot.”

“Nicholas.” Louis’ voice comes out a bit breathless. “Eat your marshmallow.”

“Share?” Nick leans in and takes a bite, waving his hand over his mouth to cool it down. Louis rolls his eyes and pulls the marshmallow off the stick, sucking his sticky fingers when he’s finished.

“Want another?”

“Okay.” Nick pulls Louis close and rests his head on Louis’ shoulder. He smells of his distinctive posh cologne and the campfire. He seems quieter than he did earlier, lost in his own thoughts.

“You’re quiet.”

“Yeah.”

“Something I did?”

“Nope.” Nick lifts his head for a moment to look at Louis. “I can be quiet. Around you.”

“Oh.” Louis turns the marshmallow as Nick puts his head down again, watching the edges of the flames lick at it. “I’m glad.”

“Me too.”

They share another five marshmallows before Pixie tells them off for hogging the bag and they get pulled back into conversation. Nick’s arm stays warm and firm around Louis’ waist for the rest of the evening.

*

Louis wakes in the morning to an empty bed. He turns over and checks his phone, surprised to find it’s already nearly midday. He stretches and hears the door click, as Nick comes in with a couple of mugs of tea.

“You should have woken me.”

“It’s okay. Supposed to be relaxing, isn’t it?” Nick puts tea next to Louis and sits on the bed next to him. “Besides, Aimee wanted a chat. Thought you might prefer to sleep it off than get the inquisition.”

“Did it go okay?”

“Yeah.” Nick gives Louis a soft smile. “She told me what you said.”

“Oh.” Louis shrugs and turns to take a sip of his tea. “I wanted her to know. Dunno why.”

“I think she appreciated it.” Nick stretches out on the bed. “We should probably get off soon. Do you want breakfast?”

“We can stop at services. Maybe a KFC.” Louis grins and Nick rolls his eyes.

“Don’t let me have anything.”

“I might.” Louis puts his head on Nick’s chest, listening to the beat, beat of his heart. “Back to the real world.”

“Back to work.” Nick sounds gloomy. “I always loved going into work. Even after the holidays everyone would be all moody, but I miss it when I’m not doing it.”

“I know the feeling.” Louis picks at Nick’s hoody, playing with the edge of the hood by the neck. “Did you have a good weekend?”

“The best.” Nick pulls Louis close, his lips in Louis’ hair. “You?”

“Same,” Louis says. Same, same. He doesn’t want to go back. He wants to stay nestled up here with Nick before they leave. “Thanks for the tea.”

“You’re welcome.” Louis can feel Nick’s smile against his hair. “It’s traditional to exchange tea for blow jobs in Oxfordshire. It’s what they used to do in ancient times.”

“Did they?” Louis looks up at Nick, moving his hand lower down Nick’s torso. “I’m lucky you’re here to teach me about important historical customs. Wouldn’t want to make a tit of myself.”

“Very lucky.” Nick arches towards Louis’ hand, his eyes fluttering closed. “Funnily enough it’s also customary to thank someone with blow jobs in Oxfordshire.”

“They must have had a lot of fun in those ancient times. I’m surprised they got things done, like inventing wheels and building roads and shit.”

“Don’t think they invented the wheel in Oxfordshire.”

“Too busy blowing one another, I bet.” Louis unbuttons Nick’s trousers. His stomach curls with anticipation at the hard heat of Nick against his fingers through another pair of impossibly tight denim trousers.

Nick laughs, warm and low. “Yeah, that must be it.”

“I haven’t made you any tea.”

“No.” Nick pushes a hand into Louis’ hair and he gives him the dark, fond stare that makes Louis’ insides squirm best of all. “But you’re pretty enough to deserve one anyway.”

“So are you,” Louis says. He presses a kiss to Nick’s stomach, helping him work his way out of his jeans. “So are you.”

He’s not sure Nick believes him, so Louis doubles his efforts until they’re both sweaty and trying to catch their breath.

It’s perfect and Louis never wants to leave.

*

When they get back to London, Nick drops Louis off at his house.

“I’d stay but I’ve got to get the dogs and I’m off for dinner with Emily. She’s back for a week before she goes off again to America. She’s the friend I’m seeing in LA.”

“It’s okay. Come round during the week if you want.”

“I’ll try.” Nick pauses. “You can come over to mine, too. She won’t mind and the others know anyway. I was thinking of telling her, just in case.”

“You can.” Louis sucks in a breath, not sure he’s ready to do more meeting of the friends as nice as Nick’s friends were over the weekend. “Maybe I’ll come.”

“Or I can just come here.” Nick brushes his fingers against Louis’ leg. “If it’s easier.”

“Whatever.” Louis runs his fingers over Nick’s. He’s not sure they should risk a kiss outside Louis’ house, where the paps are sometimes lurking when they’re least expected. This is still at the able to explain it away stage of contact. Weird, maybe, but considering how much time Harry spends with Nick they could easily come up with some excuse for sitting in a car together. “I should go.”

“Alright.” Nick starts up the engine. “Have a listen to the show tomorrow, maybe. Might give you a shout out. A private one, obviously.”

Louis feels warm. “I’ll listen to it on iPlayer.”

“Thought you might.” Nick grins and he gives Louis a wink. “Lazy little popstar that you are.”

“I like a lie in.” Louis puts his hand on the door. He doesn’t want to go. Doesn’t want to leave the warmth of Nick’s smile or the sweetness of his kisses. He’s got that strange, creeping feeling of something going wrong if he lets Nick leave. He knows he can’t do that. Knows it’s all in his head, but it doesn’t help. It doesn’t stop him from lying awake at night feeling anxious about the things he can’t control. He thinks about death too much. About people leaving him. About everything ending when it just felt like it was getting started.

“Hey.” Nick reaches for Louis and slides their fingers together. “You sure you’re okay? I haven’t, like, put you off me completely, have I?”

Louis shakes his head, his chest tightening at Nick’s question. He makes it sound so light and breezy but Louis knows there’s genuine insecurity behind it.

“You pillock.” Louis squeezes Nick’s hand. He looks up, his heart beating and he wants to be brave so much. He wants to be able to put his heart out there because he thinks Nick deserves it. “I like you even better, now.”

“Lucky for me,” Nick says. He looks a bit taken aback and his cheeks turn pink. “That’s not typical.”

“I’m an enigma, me.” Louis smiles at Nick.

“You’re something.” Nick still seems a little dazed. “Text after you’ve listened to the show, will you?”

“Obviously.” Louis finally gets out of the car, waving Nick off. He can hear the music blasting as Nick rolls down the window and he watches until the car is just a speck on the horizon.

*

It turns out Louis can’t sleep, so he listens to the show. He dozes to the sound of Nick’s voice which is soothing and he listens for hints that Nick might be talking about Louis. He sounds happy. In a really good mood. Louis can’t help but wonder did I do that? The thought makes him warm.

“Good weekend?” FiFi sounds as though she knows something, her voice teasing.

“You are very chipper this morning,” Tina comments. She sounds suspicious. Because they laugh, Louis assumes Nick must be giving off some kind of freshly shagged glow that they both recognise. The thought makes him excited, nervous and just a little bit jealous of the people before Louis that could leave Nick energetic and giggling, humming along to his favourite tunes.

“Excuse me! What’s wrong with being in a good mood?”

“Nothing. There’s just usually a reason behind it.” Fiona sounds like she has an idea what the reason might be.

“I’ll have you know I’ve just had a very relaxing weekend with friends in the countryside.” Nick sounds like he’s smiling. “Fresh air is very beneficial – I’m glowing.”

“Because of the fresh air? Pull the other one. That’s the booze and boys glow, more like.”

“FiFi!” Nick laughs and he takes a minute to compose himself. “Do you know how difficult it is to toast a marshmallow?”

“It’s not difficult.” Fiona sounds incredulous and Louis definitely likes her. He sends a text to Nick.

told you it’s not difficult

difficult if you’re a total knob maybe

“It’s really hard! If you put it in the fire it just…falls off. Very sad. My friend’s an excellent toaster of marshmallows.”

“I bet he is.” Fiona sighs, the kind of long suffering I know what you’re doing sigh Louis is becoming familiar with.

Louis’ phone pings.

you’re the knob

Nick follows it with eight prawns and the kissy face.

mooooorning, darling

Louis’ body flushes with heat and he tugs the duvet up to his chin.

“Anyway, I'm going to play a song for my friend who feeds me marshmallows when he knows full well I’m trying to stick to my kale only diet.” Nick laughs with his familiar cackle. “He thinks he’s indie even though he definitely isn't, so here’s a bit of Florence for him. Love this song.”

The phone next to Louis pings again.

this one’s for you, popstar

Louis closes his eyes and listens to the song, finally able to fall asleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Nick has a seemingly endless string of meetings for the rest of the week. He posts pictures on Instagram of him and the team pulling disgruntled faces, surrounded by piles of paper. Louis and Nick try to make a plan for one of the evenings but Nick has to DJ on Wednesday and the week gets away from them both. Louis uses the time to write in a way he hasn’t for such a long time. The words finally start to flow and he sits at his piano and picks out the odd note here or there to as he tries to imagine the kind of music that might go with his words. Everything is so raw on the page. It’s all about Nick. Not his hair is an enormous quiff but his dogs are lovely stuff. It’s subtler than that. Louis still isn’t brave enough to make the whole fucking a man part obvious, and he’s not sure he needs to. Spending time with Nick has been enough to give his lyrics a new edge and the songs feel different somehow. More honest. Louis doesn’t have to write about torsos or short skirts to capture the thoughts that have been rocketing through his mind from the moment he first kissed Nick in the rain.

By the time it gets to Friday morning the sky is overcast and the air smells like freshly fallen rain, reminding Louis of Nick. Louis is going stir crazy and he takes himself to the shops just to breathe in London and take his mind out of the book full of scribbled lyrics and the persistent doubts that he’s still not good enough for the industry. When he arrives at a local garage, Louis picks up a copy of a paper just to see what’s going on. He flicks through The Sun and a picture of Nick catches his eye. With a lump in his throat Louis reads the article slowly. It’s shit. A nasty piece about Nick losing listeners and the imminent reshuffle at Radio One. Louis shoves the paper back because there’s no way he’s paying for that rag. He leaves with some cigarettes and texts Nick as soon as he gets home.

Saw the papers

Nick replies almost immediately with a series of angry faces followed by, You’re right. Paps are twats.

Louis Googles Nick and it doesn’t take him long to find other articles. He scrolls through Nick’s mentions on Twitters and they make him sick. For every positive one there are multiple Tweets delighting over Nick’s downfall. People bring up things that happened years ago and post unflattering pictures of Nick with GIRL, BYE at the top of them. Louis wants to respond to them. He sees Harry’s name mentioned in a few of the Tweets. The ones that say it serves Nick right. The Tweets that call Nick a poof, the ones that say he was always crap on the radio anyway. For all the support, there’s so much hate it makes Louis’ blood boil. He knows. He knows how it feels and he knows how difficult it is not to click through your mentions without feeling increasingly worse. He hopes Nick is nowhere near Twitter right now, but he can’t help thinking of pictures of Nick at awards events with his phone clutched in his hand and a wide smile on his face. Nick avoiding social media is about as likely as Louis not bothering to check the footie scores.

He looks at a couple of the nastier Tweets about Harry. The stupid thing is, some of them seem to think they’re defending Louis. He finds the whole thing so fucked up he itches to say something. Anything. Anything’s better than scrolling uselessly through the comments. As much as he tries not to focus on Harry and Nick’s friendship, it occurs to Louis how much Nick puts himself out there because of it. He knows Nick and Harry well enough to know neither of them would let online vitriol get in the way of them being friends, but considering Louis used to complain to Payno about Nick being a terrible hipster who used Harry for fame, he sees the flipside now in technicolour and fucking surround sound. He never really bothered to look too deeply into the hate Nick gets because of Harry. The fact people think Nick’s into young boys or that he’s a pervert trying to make Harry gay makes Louis want to throw up.

Thank you, he wants to tell Nick. For doing this with me, when you know what it’s going to be like if it ever gets out.

Louis waits until Nick’s show finishes after sending back a couple of angry faces and the prawn, pig and dog as a follow up to remind Nick he’s liked. Loved. Liked. Louis pushes the specifics to the back of his mind. He doesn’t get any response until later, when Nick just sends back a series of prawns. Louis picks up his phone and calls Nick, who answers on the first ring.

“Hi.” Nick sounds angry, worse than Louis’ heard him before. “Fucking press. I’ve been in meetings all day, just got home.”

“Are you going to give an interview?”

“They’re trying to sort something out, but what would I even say?” Nick’s laugh is harsh. “I don’t even know what I’m doing yet. I thought I had time. Fuck.”

“Want to come over?”

Nick pauses. “I’m actually…going out. It’s Friday night. I need to get pissed and be around people.”

“I get it,” Louis says. Because he does, even if it hurts. “I could come?” His heart hammers in his chest because he could, but he knows even as he says it that it’s a stupid idea. There’s a big difference between the solitude of a privately rented cottage at a members’ club in the middle of the countryside and London on a Friday night.

Nick pauses. “Obviously you can, if you want.” There’s another awkward pause. “But you should know I’m out with Harry, love. He’s in London and he wants to cheer me up.”

“Bet he does.” Louis tries not to be bitter and sharp. He really, really tries. It’s just another thing to be jealous about. The fact Harry can go out in London with Nick and help make him feel better. All Louis can offer is the four walls of his messy house and a night in front of the TV with a couple of fish finger sandwiches or a takeaway from Nandos. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Nick doesn’t sound as if it’s fine. He sounds a bit clipped and frustrated. He huffs down the phone after a moment’s silence. “No, I’m sorry. Really bad fucking day.”

“I know.” Louis’ heart flips upside down and he takes a breath. This isn’t about him. This is about Nick and his job. It’s not about Louis needing Nick to need him. It’s not about the fact Louis can’t go out anywhere with Nick because they’re still hiding away because of Louis. Because Louis is too fucking scared to say yeah, alright and let Nick hold his hand in public. He tries to control his tone. “Have fun.”

“Yeah, sure it’s going to be great with people taking pictures and Harry looking like Harry and me looking like…me.”

“You always look good.” Louis’ chest tightens at Nick’s words. He doesn’t know why Nick does that. Why Nick thinks everyone sees him next to Harry and finds Nick wanting. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what? Nothing more than people say anyway.” Nick groans when his dogs start barking. “Fuck. They’re here. I’ll text, yeah? Thanks for the call.”

“No worries,” Louis says, but Nick’s already gone.

Louis spends the evening reading articles and Tweets about Nick and it doesn’t make him worry any less.

*

When Louis wakes up the first thing he does is search for Nick online and there are so many articles which make his heart hurt. They’re full of the kind of headlines, speculation and photos that he really, really doesn’t want to see.

Nobody’s going to drag Grimmy down. Failing Radio One DJ Nick Grimshaw hits London’s most exclusive haunts for a night out with BFF Harry Styles. He shrugged off the rumours about his imminent departure from the Radio One Breakfast Show looking better than ever…

Sign of the Times? The bromance between Harry and Grimmy is back on folks, and we’re here for it…

Grimmy never goes out of Style. Harry Styles is still able to put a smile on Nick Grimshaw’s face, despite Grimmy’s rocky position at Radio One. The Radio DJ and ex boy bander have long attracted attention with their unusually close relationship. Gay DJ Grimmy and Styles, who refuses to be drawn on questions about his sexuality, were frequently spotted painting the town red and having sleepovers for two a few years ago. With Grimmy’s star plummeting and Styles increasingly becoming an industry favourite, could Styles be the perfect match to save Grimshaw from falling out of the limelight altogether?

Louis looks at his phone and finds one text from Nick. It’s a fairly incoherent series of emojis that Louis can’t really decipher. He gives Nick a call, getting a muffled hello after letting the phone ring out for long enough that Louis feels a bit desperate.

“It’s me.”

“Oh.” Nick sounds distracted and his voice is gruff and throaty, like he spent the night shouting along to Bieber which he probably did. “Can I call you back in a bit?”

Louis’ stomach turns because no, no, please no. “Is someone there?”

“Yeah.”

“Harry?” Louis’ stomach twists. There are only two reasons Nick would be so evasive. Either he’s with someone completely new – someone that isn’t Louis – or he’s with Harry. The first possibility makes every part of Louis hurt and a wave of nausea churns through him. He refuses to even contemplate that option, even though he’s not sure he feels completely at ease. Nick drunk. Nick looking better than ever with his shirt open to reveal his wiry chest hair and his tight jeans hugging his slim legs. Anyone would be lucky to get their hands on Nick. Louis swallows those thoughts down because Nick’s the one who asked for monogamy. He’s the one who wanted to stop any other shagging around. He wouldn’t have been interested in that if he thought he might not be faithful himself. Would he?

“Yeah, it’s Haz.” Nick says, which is both reassuring and not. In the background, Louis hears a slow voice – a deep, familiar murmur.

“Keep it the fuck down, Grim. Make us a coffee while you’re up.”

Louis’ face turns hot and his hand shakes as he clutches the phone more tightly. “He’s in your fucking bed?”

Nick curses with an ouch and a bit of a clatter. Louis’ fairly certain he can hear a pillow being thrown. The sound is followed by the click of Nick’s bedroom door and feet on the stairs. Louis nearly hangs up before Nick speaks again, his voice rough and cross.

“My mates sleep over. All the time. You know that.”

“Mates you’ve slept with?” Louis doesn’t want to start a fight with Nick. He knows his anger is partly due to frustration. He aches with loneliness and he spent half the night feeling so jealous of Harry being able to go out to bars and pubs with Nick that he wanted to gnaw his own face off. He just doesn’t like the fact there are other people who get to be with Nick and comfort Nick in a way Louis can’t. That’s not Nick’s fault. That’s all on Louis.

“Love, I’m not about to start shagging anyone else. I promise.” Nick pauses and then he lets out a strangled sound. It sounds like Stinky’s jumping up and Nick’s trying to fuss her and make her stop at the same time. They’re so out of control, Nick’s dogs. Amazing, but not the kind of dogs that sit on command. The kettle flips on in the background and Louis can hear Pig barking too, joining in the madness.

“I’m…” Louis swallows because he doesn’t know what to say. Sorry? Should he apologise for being pissed off that Nick’s in bed with another bloke? He tries to work through the thoughts racing through his mind but it’s just white noise. “I just wish I could be there.”

“Me too.” Nick sighs and he sounds calmer, the barking ceasing at last. He lowers his voice. “I missed you last night. Getting pissed isn’t as much fun without you giving me shit for my clothes or buying awful cocktails.”

The knot in Louis’ chest begins to unwind slowly. “I spent the night on the internet.” He races to clarify in case Nick thinks Louis ventured back into his chat rooms. “Looking at the press stuff, I mean. People are shit. Really fucking shit.”

“You know that as well as I do.” Nick sighs and Louis can almost picture him putting his head in his hands. “Hang on. You got Face Time?”

“Yeah.”

“Call you back.”

The call disconnects and then another flashes up. Louis answers and stares at Nick’s face on the small screen. It would be so easy to end this right now. So easy to say fuck you and to throw his phone across the room because Nick’s had Harry in his bed and it makes every part of Louis tense and angry. But Louis knows, deep down, that it wouldn’t be easy at all. Nick’s got Louis’ heart in his hands and even when it feels like he’s slowly twisting it in his fist, Louis will still fight for him. He’s scrappy. He can take Harry. He can take anyone. He’s not going to walk away when it finally feels like they’re getting somewhere.

Instead of shouting at Nick, Louis sits back in his bed and watches Nick’s expressions. The furrowed brow. The tentative smile. The lips Louis wishes he could kiss. He can see Nick tug at the collar of his t-shirt, awkward and uncertain. He’s as nervous as Louis is. Louis can tell by the way his hands move restlessly and the way his smile doesn’t quite meet his tired eyes.

“Missed you too.” Louis shuffles in his bed. “The paps thought the same thing as me. About you and Harry.”

“They always think we’re shagging.” Nick rummages around in the cupboards. Louis wonders if Harry has a mug. If he curls up against Nick when he’s sleeping the way he used to curl against Louis. Louis knows all about just friends with Harry. They may not kiss or go any further than cuddling, but Harry’s tactile and he sleeps like a bloody octopus. He winds himself up in the duvet and ends up throwing a long leg and arm over his sleeping companion, all with a smile on his face. It used to drive Louis up the wall and the idea of Harry in Nick’s bed being handsy and taking up the space Louis’ started to think of as his own makes Louis unspeakably angry.

“Can’t he stay in the spare room?” Louis’ struggles to keep the anger out of his voice, his tone sharp and cold. It’s enough for Nick to stop what he’s doing and look properly at the screen.

“Do we need to talk about this?”

“Maybe. No.” Louis tries to push it all back. “Doesn’t matter.”

Nick presses his fingers to his forehead, as if his head hurts. “You around later?”

“Think so.” Louis is. He absolutely is. He tries to sound casual, even though he’s not.

“Can I come over?”

“If you like.” Louis doesn’t mean to sound so angry but he’s not sure he manages. He’s so fucking jealous it claws at him and makes every part of his body cold. “When?”

Nick narrows his eyes and Louis knows Nick picks up on Louis’ mood. Picks up on it and maybe doesn’t like it. “This afternoon. Around four?”

“Fine.” Louis can’t anymore. He can’t speak to Nick with the emotions he doesn’t know how to process still rolling through him. “Come over then.”

“Okay.” Nick looks as if he’s going to say something else but the sound of Harry’s voice muttering in the background makes him look away with slightly panicked eyes. “I have to-”

“Go. I know.” Louis puts his phone next to the bed and tries not to throw up.

*

When Nick comes round, Louis has a plan. It’s a very mature plan which involves not talking about anything and fucking until everything feels numb again. He pulls Nick inside and shoves him against the wall with an umpf kissing him hard and rubbing the heel of his palm against Nick’s dick.

“Hi.”

“Hi. This is unexpected.” Nick looks a bit confused but Louis doesn’t want to talk. He just wants Nick to tie him up and make him hurt. He ignores the frown on Nick’s face and kisses him again until he can feel Nick responding – until Nick practically throws him against the opposite wall.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes into Nick’s kiss.

“Is this what you want?” Nick’s voice is rough and he grabs Louis’ hands at the wrist. “Want a spanking for being such a naughty boy?”

Something about that jars with Louis and he tries to tug his hands free as he jerks forward against Nick’s body. “No…not that…”

“Then what?” Nick’s breath is hard and hot on Louis’ skin as he keeps him pinned in place. “A good hard fucking, is that it?”

Louis begins to panic because no, no not any of that either. Instead of feeling the itch beneath his skin subsiding it gets worse and he shoves against Nick.

“No. No.”

Nick hears him. Thank fuck Nick hears him. He pulls back and he lets Louis’ hands go. His lips are red, his cheeks pink and he takes one of Louis’ hands and rubs his wrist. He looks broken, dark shadows under his eyes and his face twisted.

“I’m sorry. I thought you wanted this.”

“So did I.” Louis tugs Nick close and kisses him again, slow and soft this time. They rest their foreheads together. “I thought it would make me forget.”

“Forget what?” Nick looks so nervous and Louis pushes him back a little.

“Forget I’m angry and I know I don’t have any right…” Louis trails off. “I don’t want you to hurt me when I’m angry. I thought I did, but I don’t. It doesn’t feel good.”

“Of course not, you tit.” Nick sighs and he gestures to Louis’ living room. “I think we should sit. Have a chat. A tea or a beer if you fancy something stronger.”

“Beers are in the fridge,” Louis says.

“For the record.” Nick clears his throat and he grabs Louis’ hand before he can disappear. “For the record, you should be angry. You have every right to throw me out of the fucking house. On my arse.”

“I do?” Louis stares at Nick.

“You do.” Nick keeps hold of Louis’ hand, his voice low. “Because if you got into bed with a fit lad I would be beside myself. Even if it’s just friends. If you did that, I’d turn off my phone and make a little nest for myself with Pig and Stinky and never come out to see the world again.”

Louis swallows around the lump in his throat. When he speaks, his voice is hoarse. “Good job I’m not you then, isn’t it?”

“Very good.” Nick gives Louis a small smile. “We’d be fucked.”

Louis pushes Nick to get a couple of beers and goes into the living room, curling up on the sofa and trying to steady his racing heart.

*

“I fucked up. With Harry.” Nick opens his beer with a snap and sips it straight from the can. “I do that, when I’m miserable. I go out and get smashed and pretend life isn’t real for a bit. I’m so used to it, it’s difficult working out how to do things differently now we’re doing this.” He sighs.

“What are we doing?” Louis asks, even though it makes his body tense up even thinking about the multitude of possible answers. “What is this?”

Nick stares at Louis before looking down at his can of beer. “Boyfriends. I thought. Hoped.”

Louis feels a tug of warmth deep inside his belly. He has a sip of his beer and tries to mask the fact his hands are shaking. “We’re excellent boyfriends.”

“Really good at communication,” Nick agrees. He looks up and he shakes his head at Louis. “I should have just come to see you last night. I wouldn’t have ended up in the papers looking like a knob for a start. Not to mention I missed you.”

“You didn’t look like a knob.” Louis thinks of the pictures of Nick and why they made his skin crawl. Nick looked so good, so fit. Louis couldn’t imagine blokes keeping their hands off him. Why should they, when Nick’s footloose and fancy free according to everyone but a small handful of people? “At least no more than usual.”

“Thanks.” Nick smiles around his beer. “I love my friends, but trust me when I say I wanted you there. Every time a cheesy pop song came on about fancying someone I nearly bawled.”

“You did not.” Louis can’t help but feel happy at the thought anyway. He’s had the day to organise his thoughts and he tries to articulate the things that have been rolling through his mind. “I wanted to be there too and it’s one of the things I hate most of all. I don’t want to keep you indoors just because you’re with me. If you want to go out and get fucked up I don’t care – sometimes I want to go out and pretend everything doesn’t exist.” Louis picks at the tab on his can. “But we can’t do that. Not together. That’s my fault, not yours.”

Nick shifts onto the sofa next to Louis and he stretches himself out, resting his head in Louis’ lap and looking up at him. It makes his eyes look even more enormous, his eyelashes brushing his cheeks. He looks weird. Louis prods him in the cheek and he smiles, sure and wide.

“I don’t care. It would be nice to be able to go out and not give a fuck but even if you are out it’s not like the paps wouldn’t follow us all over town. I don’t mind, being at home with you. It’s nice. You have excellent taste in booze.”

“You’re drinking Stella.” Louis prods Nick again. “I got you the cheapest bottle of Chardonnay Asda do. You snogged me after pink cocktails that tasted like a nanas perfume. I have terrible taste in booze.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick leans into Louis’ fingers, his eyes closing. “You’re you, aren’t you?”

“Profound.” Louis takes another swig of his beer. He works his fingers through Nick’s hair, drawing a sigh of contentment from him. “I can’t stop you from going out. I don’t want to cause problems with H. I just don’t want him in your bed.”

“I think that’s fair.” Nick lets out a hum as Louis keeps his fingers working. “Lou?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know what to do.” Nick’s voice cracks and he draws a breath. “I don’t know what to fucking do.”

Louis brushes his fingers along Nick’s cheeks, takes in the contours of his face. Sometimes when he looks at Nick his heart gets too big. Even when Nick’s been a prat and slept in the same bed as Harry. Even then, Louis wants nothing but good things for him.

“Any plans? You’ve had all those meetings.”

“It’s all about the handover. There’s some new DJ coming in, a YouTube vlogger. Millions of followers apparently, more than my Instagram by a long shot.” Nick lets out a breath and it trembles against Louis’ fingers. “I need to do an interview. With X-Factor, I got ahead of it. Everyone said I was going to be fired but I didn’t want to do a second season anyway. This is out of my control. I hate that. Hate it when people think I’m fucking up.”

“They don’t.” Louis knows, though. He’s not being honest because he knows himself how people scrutinised the possibility of solo stardom when the band split. He knows he was low on the list of the ones the media kept their eye on and whenever he gets asked about new stuff all he can think about is empty notebooks and the desperate sense of fear which creeps through him when he imagines what it might be like to go solo. “Chris Moyles does radio now. You still could.”

“I know how much you love Moylesy.” Nick gets a prod in the side for that. “Radio Two doesn’t feel right and I’m used to the BBC. I could do Radio Donny and we could run that football club of yours together?”

Louis laughs, pressing his cold beer against Nick’s chest which makes him yelp. “As if I’d let you within ten feet of any football team. You’re better than any Donny radio station and that’s a big fucking compliment coming from me, by the way.”

“I know.” Nick’s lips curve into a smile. His eyes are still closed. “They mentioned maybe something like a John Peel kind of set, if there’s space.”

Louis stops drinking. “That’d be sick. Really sick. They don’t have a Breakfast Show stage at Glasto.”

“It took him years to build that up, though. I’m no John Peel. Man’s a fucking legend.”

“You could be, though. You’re good with music. You’ve got good taste.”

Nick pulls a face. “I’ve got weird taste. I’m obsessed with Bieber.”

Louis nods. “Obsessed with One Direction, too.”

“One member in particular.” Nick sighs. “I miss Zayn.”

It’s not Louis’ fault if he spills a bit of his beer on Nick’s face. It’s what Nick deserves. “Knob.”

“Joking.” Nick wipes the back of his hand over his face and sits up to take a sip of Louis’ beer before he settles back in Louis’ lap and closes his eyes again. “A lot of people don’t like me.”

“A lot of people don’t like the Queen, she still does alright.”

“Saying I’m a queen?” Nick smirks at Louis, his eyes opening. “I’ve been looking into set design stuff, too. Maybe make a few boxes for the next Kanye video.”

“Sounds good.” Louis thinks for a moment. “I mean, you don’t have to tell the press you’re going to be doing Kanye videos or want to be the next John Peel or anything.”

“Don’t want to sound rubbish, though.”

“It won’t.” Louis’ the master at being evasive when it comes to the press. “Just tell them you always knew you only had so long left to run on the show and that you think it’s going to be brilliant to have this new person involved. Say you’ve got things in the pipeline with radio, telly and working on music videos. An all will be revealed approach. People are going to be desperate to find out what you’re up to. Keep ‘em guessing. Everyone’s too bloody nosy anyway.”

“Thanks.” Nick huffs out a breath. “I don’t find it easy. Talking about it. Not to anyone. I didn’t say any of this last night, I just got pissed and did karaoke.”

“Christ,” Louis says. “Good luck doing karaoke with Harry.”

“It didn’t make me feel great.” Nick shifts a bit in Louis’ lap. “I know I can’t sing, but he doesn’t have to show off.”

“’Course he does,” Louis says. He really doesn’t feel bitter, not anymore. Not about the fact Harry can sing for England, at least. He runs his fingers through Nick’s hair. “It’s what popstars do.”

“I’d like to do karaoke with you, one day.” Nick sounds sleepy now, his words drawn out. “Private booths in Soho. We could sneak you in.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Louis lets the finer details slide for now. The fact he’s got half a book of unrecorded songs about Nick is not something he’s ready to disclose and the thought of singing in front of Nick makes him feel weird. “What made you tell me?”

“I’m hungover. Toffee vodka.” Nick gives Louis a smile and grabs a cushion. “Can I just…?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. He lets Nick sleep in his lap and watches every twitch and flex of Nick’s features. It looks like his dreams are as fucked up as Louis’ can be when times get tough. Louis taps through his phone and brings up the articles about Nick and Harry. They don’t make him hot with rage anymore. He just feels a strange, sad sort of displacement that he can’t quite put into words. He doesn’t think it’s about Harry at all. It’s about Louis. About what Louis wants to be able to do with Nick. About the things he wants them to be together, one day.

Louis opens up another can of Stella and puts on Match of the Day.

Nick can’t even complain because he sleeps right through.

*

The next morning when Nick’s in the shower, Louis makes breakfast. He’s quite proud of himself for making proper fried egg sandwiches which Nick tucks into with fervour. They polish off their breakfast and Louis looks at his empty plate. A couple of crumbs on the edge bother him and he swipes them off with his finger, sucking it into his mouth before speaking.

“Would it be weird if I told you I got something the other day?”

Nick laughs and he raises his eyebrows at Louis. “You know that’s a ridiculous question? It depends what you got. If it’s a giant statue of my face that might be weird.”

Louis stares at Nick. He’s fucking ridiculous. “As if anyone’s bothered about making statues of your face. You’re such a knob.”

“Yep.” Nick laughs again. “Be more specific.”

“A sex thing.”

“It might still be weird.” Nick slides his fingers between Louis’ and doesn’t seem to care about the bits of crumb and egg yolk. “But probably not. Try me.”

“A toy,” Louis says. He tries to fight back the heat in his cheeks. “I had this idea.”

Nick’s response isn’t at all what Louis expects. He expects Nick to get cocksure and confident and all I had a toy once. That’s not what happens. Instead he swallows and it looks like it hurts. When he speaks, his voice is rough.

“I don’t deserve you.”

No. No, that’s not right. Louis’ the one who isn’t out, the one with all the issues that keeps Nick hidden away. “Not true.”

“It is, a bit.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand. “I was a total dick on Friday. With Harry. I know that falling into bed with friends doesn’t work the same way now.”

Louis extracts his hand from Nick’s and takes a swig of his tea. “Harry’s handsy when he’s drunk.”

“A bit.” Nick’s brow furrows. “But not, like, sexy handsy.”

“Rude,” Louis says.

Nick laughs and he stands, leaning in to kiss Louis on the head before he starts clearing up. “I’m sure it works for some people but not for us. He’s important.” Nick washes the plates, his back to Louis. “An important friend. I went to his for Christmas the year dad died.”

“You did?” Louis didn’t know that.

“Yeah.” Nick switches off the tap after finishing the plates. “He’s been a really good mate. But I promise I haven’t been interested in shagging him for a very long time. It’s just not like that.”

Louis nods. “Okay.”

Nick watches Louis as he finishes his tea. “I just…I want you to know. I get it. I get there need to be boundaries. Like the blokes on the internet.”

“Boundaries,” Louis agrees. It feels better, knowing. Knowing there won’t be a next time. Knowing Nick isn’t pushing Louis to agree to the casual sleepovers, even if they do mean nothing. Because they don’t mean nothing. Not to Louis.

“So, what about this idea?” Nick puts his empty cup into the sink and swills it before facing Louis again. “Going to tell me?”

“Might.” Louis can already feel the heat rising in his skin. “It’s in the bedroom.”

“If it’s bigger than me, I’m going to get issues.” Nick follows Louis into the bedroom.

“You already have issues.”

“Just a few. That’s the one part of my body I have shockingly few complaints about.” Nick sits on the bed and waits for Louis to rummage around in his wardrobe. “This is good.”

“What?”

“The idea of you being here shopping for sex toys while I’m just going about my business.” Nick leans back on the palms of his hands. “You should have texted about it. I’d have probably had a wank.”

“You probably had a wank anyway.” Louis gets the box at last and opens it, shoving it towards Nick. “This.”

“Okay.” Nick peers inside, half as if he expects something to jump out. He pulls out the slim plug Louis selected and his cheeks turn a bit pink. “Oh.”

Louis clears his throat in an attempt to get out the speech he had planned. “I don’t think I want other toys if you’re here. Maybe we can get some if I’m away or for LA or something, but I always want you.” Louis tries to lighten it a bit with the this will be funny let’s not scare Nick off addition. “You’ve got weird enough fingers, nothing fake could compare.”

Nick laughs and he holds the plug in his hand. He looks up at Louis. “I like that.” Nick pauses. “Maybe I could choose the toys for when you’re away? Mainly so I don’t get performance anxiety when I turn up for real, but also because I’d like to tell you what to do with them.”

Louis sucks in a breath and he nods. “Should I give you the address for LA?”

“Yep. I’ll get something there before you arrive.” Nick grins at Louis and he turns the plug again in his hands. “I like this, though.”

“You do?”

“I do.” Nick reaches out a hand and tugs Louis closer, smiling against his ear. “What’s this idea of yours?”

Louis isn’t sure he can say and he swallows, trying to get the words out. “I want to wear it.”

“I definitely think you should.” Nick brushes his lips against Louis’ jaw. “Do you want it in for a bit?”

“Thought that might be good.” Louis tries not to shiver when Nick kisses Louis’ neck. “Maybe have me wait for a while once it's in?”

“Okay.” Nick leans back and he brushes Louis’ hair back from his face. “Do you want me to take it from there or do you have anything else you want?”

Louis isn’t sure. He can’t quite say what he wants. “The floor, maybe.” Is all he can get out.

Nick frowns for a moment, clearly trying to understand. Thankfully the penny seems to drop and he nods. “Okay.” He touches Louis’ neck with his fingers, averting his eyes. “I think…I think you should have a safe word. For if you need me to stop. I was freaking out a bit when you said no when I got here. I knew it didn’t feel right but I didn’t know if it was no for play or no for real. I think we need something other than no. For both our sakes.”

“Okay.” Louis licks his lips. “Marshmallow.”

“You tit.” Nick looks at him and he leans in, giving Louis a deep, slow kiss. When he pulls back he looks all kinds of fucked up. “That’s…”

“That’s my safe word, Nicholas. You’re not allowed to be weird about it.” Louis moves closer. “Are we doing this?”

Nick just smiles back. It’s goofy and ridiculous.

*

Nick takes ages downstairs. Louis is nearly crawling out of his skin by the time Nick finally returns.

“Okay. Let’s get ready.” Nick gestures to Louis. “I think you should be naked.”

“Okay.” Louis hoped Nick would go in that direction but the fact he has no real control over this other than buying the toy and making a few suggestions gives him goose bumps. He strips out of his clothes and sits back on the bed, watching as Nick gets some lube. Nick’s so fit. So fucking gorgeous. It makes Louis’ head spin.

“Come here, love.” Nick sits back on the bed and leans against the headboard, patting his lap. Louis does as Nick asks, straddling him and hitching a breath as Nick strokes his fingers along the length of Louis’ spine. Those fingers are going to be the death of him, Louis’ sure of it.

“Now what?” Louis knows Nick can see how hard he is but it doesn’t feel as weird as it did only a short while ago. He can feel Nick’s hard too and it makes him excited. He’s just about starting to realise it’s the same thing for Nick. Same hardness. Same flush of arousal. Same, same, same.

“Now we get you ready for that toy of yours, darling.” Nick brushes his lips to Louis’ chest and Louis is pretty sure it’s no accident when Nick’s teeth graze over his nipple. Nick’s slick fingers slide into the most intimate part of Louis and it’s so easy. He’s so relaxed perched on Nick’s lap and he’s used to fingers now. Used to craving Nick’s fingers. It’s not something that makes him clench or panic now.

“Please.” Louis rocks back against Nick’s fingers, leaning forward just to get them deeper. “So good.”

“You’ll get them properly, later. I promise.” Nick kisses Louis’ cheek and he slides his fingers out of Louis. “Look at me, pet.”

Louis does. He looks as Nick slicks the plug in his hand and bites back a groan when Nick slips it inside him, giving it a little push which makes Louis want to be fucked until he comes.

Nick.”

“You wanted this, yeah?” Nick brushes Louis’ hair from his forehead and kisses him briefly on the lips. “Your word. Anytime you need it. Can’t wait to fuck you, darling. We’re going to have so much fun.”

Louis feels like he’s on fire, rocking in Nick’s lap. He’s tempted to use his word just so Nick will pull out the plug and fuck him but he knows that’s not what it’s there for – knows that’s not what he really wants.

“Knob.”

“A bit.” Nick gives Louis’ backside a slap and fuck. “Go downstairs. I’ll come with you.”

Louis stands and it feels so weird. Weird and good. He feels more vulnerable than he has in forever and he watches Nick, fully clothed and looking right back at Louis as if he can’t believe what’s happening.

“Nick?”

“Louis?”

“It’s not a safe word, but.” Louis stops, trying to think about what he needs. The distinction between what he needs Nick to do and those lines he doesn’t want to be crossed. He needs this. This, whatever it is. He knows it’s good. Knows it’s going to feel good, but he needs something else too which is almost harder to articulate. “Don’t leave.”

Nick gets up and he pulls Louis close to him, stroking his hand over Louis’ backside. “No intention of it. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

That’s it. That’s what Louis needs. That promise of someone being there when this happens. The idea of being bound and gagged in a room by himself which features in a lot of the porn he watches, isn’t what Louis wants. The fact he’s starting to make these small discoveries feels like progress.

Louis follows Nick downstairs and sucks in a breath when he sees the living room. There are cushions on the floor next to the sofa and the whole room is lit with flickering candles Nick’s managed to pull out from god knows where. The telly is on in the background, but it’s old episodes of some shit British comedy that Louis knows both he and Nick can tune out of. Next to the sofa there are beers in an ice bucket and food and Louis makes a small sound in the back of his throat.

“I know you like the floor, love.” Nick sits on the sofa and he spreads his legs, gesturing for Louis to sit between them. “I know you want that, but not tonight. Because I’ve got weird boundaries too and I want you to be comfortable.”

“I feel like Pig.” Louis doesn’t mean it, though. It’s so Nick. If Louis wants to sit on the floor, Nick’s going to turn it into a fucking mattress.

“Prettier than Pig.”

“Oi. I’ll tell her you said that.”

“Ever thought about that?” Nick brushes his fingers over Louis’ throat, beckoning him back. “A collar? Not like the dogs, obviously. Just for sometimes.”

“Never thought about it.” But now Louis is. Now it’s all he can think about. A collar around his throat and Nick tugging his neck back. He’s got a sensitive neck, Louis has. Not to mention there’s something about the sense of ownership that appeals. He sits on his cushioned floor with his back to Nick, leaning between his legs. He feels restless.

“Not like that,” Nick says.

“Not like what?” Louis turns his face to look at Nick.

“Sit with your legs open. On your heels. You know how I mean?” Nick slides his fingers into Louis’ hair and he tugs his head back a bit. “Also, do you want to call me something other than Nick?”

“I don’t know.” Louis sits as Nick wants him to and oh Christ that makes the plug feel very different. “I’m not sure. What options are there?”

“Sir? Daddy?” Nick kisses Louis on the neck. “Or just Nick. I don’t mind, darling. It’s your choice.”

“Nick, I think.” Louis wriggles a bit. “Is that okay?”

“More than.” Nick kisses Louis again and then leans back, his hand in Louis’ hair. “Comfy?”

“Yeah.” Louis feels a bit weird. “Nick,” he says.

“Here, love.” Nick strokes his fingers through Louis’ hair and tugs and massages. Louis stays in the place Nick asked. He wants to be good. He wants to be so good for Nick.

They watch telly and the sensation inside Louis makes him quiver when Nick tells him to shift this way or that. After a little time, Nick moves onto the floor and he makes Louis shift onto his hands and knees. Nick gives Louis a series of sharp, stinging spanks as he kneels behind Louis until Louis is shaking with it. Nick sits back on the sofa and lets Louis return to his position, as Nick toys with his hair again. Eventually it becomes too much. It hurts and Nick gathers Louis into his arms, onto his lap. He pulls the plug out and replaces it with his cock after putting a condom on and slicking Louis with lube. Nick fucks Louis there on the sofa, with Louis moving up and down and it’s so good but so strange from the sting in Louis’ backside to the ache inside him. Nick finishes and he uses his hand on Louis, working over his prick with rough strokes and biting down on each of Louis’ nipples. Louis feels peculiar and he struggles to speak as his climax takes him over the edge. It’s good weird, but it’s still weird. Like he’s floating out of his body. He can almost see himself with wings spread and it’s like he’s falling, falling, falling – waiting to be carried away on a gust of air. He can’t manage any words and when he tries his lips feel heavy like lead and it’s as if his brain has been replaced with quickly moving clouds. The itch beneath his skin is gone completely and all Louis wants is to hold on to Nick.

Hold on, hold on

He’s breathless and he hates the fact he needs so much. He can’t even tell Nick. It’s not a marshmallow moment. He would let Nick do anything to him. Anything. It terrifies Louis and he clings on when Nick walks them up to bed, his voice low and soothing. When they go to sleep it’s like Louis still can’t be close enough to Nick. Like he can’t have everything he wants.

*

The next day, Louis feels strange and out of sorts. He doesn’t want to be the person who holds onto Nick and doesn’t let him go, but he also can’t imagine Nick leaving. Nick seems to understand and he keeps Louis by his side all day. He makes him a fish finger sandwich and lets Louis eat it in his lap.

“I feel…weird.” Louis shuffles on Nick’s legs after putting his plate to the side.

“I think it’s sub drop. Maybe.” Nick presses a kiss to Louis’ cheek. “I’ve done a lot of Googling.”

“Handy,” Louis says.

“Very. I appreciate the internet when people aren’t being knobs about me. I love a good meme.”

“Me too.” Louis appreciates much more than that. He appreciates the fact Nick cared enough to look up the stuff Louis doesn’t even understand. “Has this happened before? With other people you’ve been with?”

“Nope.” Nick keeps Louis close and tucks a blanket around them, his voice rough. “But I’m glad it has with you.”

They fall asleep together on the sofa and Louis is glad it happened too.

Chapter Text

If you're lost and alone
Or you're sinking like a stone
Carry on.
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground.
Carry on.

Even though it’s sweltering outside, Louis’ house in LA feels big and cold. He can’t help but look at things with a newly critical eye, wondering what Nick might think of Louis’ home. He wants him to like it. He doesn’t have to love it, because Louis hates it himself half the time, but he wants Nick to get that same throat-catching sense of wow, wow, wow when he goes outside. He wants to know if Nick feels it too. That odd sense of being right on the edge of the world. Louis called ahead to make sure the pool was sorted out and to get everything tidy. He knows he’s going to probably mess things up again before Nick arrives, but at least he’s making a bit of effort. He even digs out the stuff he needs to have a hoover round and a bit of a dust and wonders if Nick inspiring him to tidy is a sign of Louis being completely besotted. Frightening, really. The way his skin itches at the thought of time apart from Nick. The way he looks at the clock and wonders what Nick’s up to right now.

He grabs a beer from the fridge and pops it open. He had a shop delivered but he brought a couple of bits from home with him. The loaf of thick, white sliced Warburtons. The jar of Marmite. The toffee he always used to have when he went home as a kid, which he tips into a bowl. He freezes some of the loaf and makes himself a fried egg sandwich with loads of butter and ketchup. Despite being shoved in a bag for a long flight, the bread still tastes doughy and fresh. It reminds Louis of home. He leaves his plate in the sink – a great start to the whole keeping the place tidy plan – and takes his beer and ciggies outside to watch the world moving beneath him.

“Here I am,” Louis says. He breathes in the smoggy LA air and lets the heat of the afternoon sun warm his skin. “Here I am.”

He texts Nick even though he’s definitely going to be asleep, and sends him a selfie with his cap still on and a bit of scruff around his chin. He’s looked better, but he doesn’t care. He just wants Nick to see his face when he wakes up. Wants the text to say hi, hey, I’m thinking of you. He can’t wait to see Nick – can’t wait to be with him somewhere up in the hills away from the press and the speculation about Harry. Away from all the things that nearly made it all go to shit.

He's got a meeting tomorrow and one the day after. For the first time in ages he’s going to go to the studio and finally bring out that notebook he’s been carrying around. The one with the lyrics which are starting to feel a bit more rounded – the melodies more fully formed. His heart trips with excitement and Louis tips his head back towards the sun.

Even though he’s not, even though he isn’t, there’s a feeling rolling through his body that’s a bit like freedom. He thinks about having wings and soaring through the sky – about looking down as the world moves below. Those steps he takes so tentatively are getting bolder and braver. One day he’s going to march along to his own tune and nobody else’s. He’s not exactly making strides with anything, but the pieces are falling into place with painstaking precision.

For the first time in a long time, Louis wonders if everything might just be okay.

*

The meetings are boring but Louis makes a vague plan about recording again and schedules studio time to get some rough material down, more to get used to working on music again as much as anything. He doesn’t have to do anything with it, just yet. It takes time to get things right and he wants to speak to people about collaborating as well as working out where his lyrics are going to come from. He catches up with some old friends and colleagues. When he finally gets into the studio it feels strange – working out how to use his voice again. The lyrics are carefully neutral and he knows he’s been trying so hard not to say she or her that he’s holding himself back from just writing exactly what he wants, without caring what people read into the words on the page. Although he can sense his confidence growing, he finds himself getting frustrated with the way he gets pushed into a box that he can’t explain his way out of without exposing his whole heart to the people gathered in the room.

“Enough for today,” Mike says. He fiddles with his guitar and gives Louis a smile. “Sounding good, Tommo. This could be fun.”

“Thanks.” Louis puts his notebook carefully into his rucksack, making sure people don’t see the other notes scribbled in the places he writes when he thinks of Nick.

“Good to have you back, mate.” Mike claps Louis on the shoulder and packs up his things. “Give me a shout when you’ve got another session booked.”

“Yeah. Will do.” Louis calls a car and makes his way back to his house. It’s too late to speak to Nick but when he opens up his emails he finds a message from Nick which sets his heart racing.

Miss your face, it says. Think Pig’s lonely. Louis’ heart feels full. There’s a link to a picture and Louis clicks it, before he reads on. The picture makes him hot all over. It’s a blond twenty-something with angles and sharp edges just like Louis. He’s naked and he’s got a blissful look on his face and there’s someone behind him, holding his arms behind his back with a hand lightly on his throat keeping his neck back. They’re clearly fucking and the whole scene makes Louis half hard as he imagines Nick holding him, covering him and fucking away the itch beneath Louis’ skin.

Louis saves the picture and reads the rest of the email. It’s the usual stuff about work and the press being weird. There’s nothing too kinky about it but Nick signs off saying he’s going to be in tomorrow evening if Louis’ around. Louis is definitely going to be around and he wants to try to Skype with Nick. He shoots back an email saying he’s going to ring Nick at a particular time and then closes his laptop. He has a familiar desire to go online and chat to faceless men, the picture from Nick making him restless. He can do this, though. It’s not for long and the very last thing he’s going to do is fuck things up with Nick because he wants a cheap thrill which will make his skin crawl with shame afterwards.

He gets into bed and he ignores the light from his phone, the light from his laptop. He closes his eyes and sleeps to the sound of crickets.

*

“Hi.” Nick looks good. He looks really good. He angles the screen and Louis knows he’s already worrying about not looking quite right.

“You look good,” Louis says. It makes Nick preen. “Miss you.” Louis does a weird thing where he presses his fingers against Nick on the screen and Nick does the same. It’s like they’re touching.

“Did you get my house warming present?”

Louis flushes. “Yep. Haven’t opened it yet.”

Nick grins. “Aren’t you curious?”

“I wanted to open it with you.” Louis pulls the box over and begins to open it. “How’s stuff with work?”

“Better.” Nick looks more relaxed. “I think I might get a night slot. There’s room, so it’s up to me to make it work. Annie Mac said she’d have me on, but I don’t want to ride on her coattails.”

“That’s sick.” Louis finally focuses on Nick. The box is a bitch to open. “You’ve got a story then. For the press.”

“A for now story.” Nick shrugs. “I could do it for a month and get ditched.”

“You won’t.” Louis is sure of it, but he understands how that possibility feels. He feels it so keenly. Eventually the box opens. He pulls out a slim toy which gets larger at one end. It looks a bit knobbly and weirdly curved, smooth, slick plastic. “Nice.”

“It’s supposed to hit all the right places.” Nick looks sheepish. “There are batteries too. Might want to put them in.”

“Okay.” Louis puts the batteries in and then chucks the box on the ground. He turns the little dial at the end and the toy vibrates in his hand. It’s quite powerful and Louis swallows at the thought of feeling that inside him. He switches it off. “It works.”

“Good.” Nick clears his throat. “I thought you could use it on Skype so I could see. Properly be Sam for a night if you like. Is it awkward?”

“Maybe.” Louis turns the toy in his hands. “Haven’t decided yet.”

“There’s a message thing on Skype.” Nick sends Louis a hiya just to prove it. “You can use that if you want.”

“Might have to.” Louis swallows and then he tries to get into that headspace.

hi

hi, Nick types back. disappointed because of all the clothes.

sorry. Louis gives Nick the finger. “You need to take your clothes off too.”

“Are we doing this?” Nick pulls off his t-shirt so he’s only in his boxers. He looks a bit flushed. “Because, okay. But hurry up and get naked. Don’t want you laughing at my stomach rolls.”

“Idiot.” Louis shifts off screen for a moment. When he returns, he’s naked and Nick is too. Louis grins at him. “Where do we angle the cameras?”

Nick laughs. “It’s a porn fantasy. Best place for the money shot.”

“Fine.” Louis angles the laptop so it’s mainly focused on his cock and Nick does the same. It’s pathetic but Louis already misses Nick’s face. He wonders when the money shot became the way Nick looks when he’s coming hard down Louis’ throat. Nick has really ruined Louis’ life.

what do you want, love? Louis types as Sam again but it’s different because it’s Nick on the other end of the camera and god it’s so much better. Louis is flushed with embarrassment but he knows the dull sense of shame won’t creep through him when they’re done, even if he does feel awkward about how much he wants. How much he needs.

want you to get the lube – get that toy ready for me

Louis slides lube over the toy and makes sure Nick can see every moment.

like that, pet? Louis gives his cock a stroke just for good measure. He can hear Nick groan.

gorgeous darling. Nick keeps typing. I bet you taste incredible

Louis is glad Nick can’t see him blush. He types back the sort of response he imagines Sam might give.

like a fucking dream sweetheart

nice and tight too

Nick definitely groans at that, typing quickly.

I bet

the things I want to do to you

Louis slides his hand over his cock again. It’s still slick with lube and he has to bite back a hiss because it feels good to touch himself.

like what?

Nick responds quickly. Why don’t you lie back and use that toy and I’ll tell you?

Louis bites his bottom lip and writes can’t type like that (knob).

Nick laughs and Louis can hear him curse under his breath.

“Lou?”

“Nick?”

“Why don’t you just lie down and I’ll just tell you what to do?”

“Great idea.” Really, Nick is full of them. Louis shifts onto his back. “This is going to be awkward as fuck.”

“Why don’t you put it in and turn it on, then face me again. Keep it inside. Can you do that?”

“I can try.” Louis sits up again. He turns his back to the computer and reaches behind himself, dripping some more lube in the crack between his ass cheeks. “Can you see?”

“Yeah. Just a bit.” Nick sounds like he’s already wanking. Nick likes to wank with lots of lube and it’s noisy as fuck over the speakers. Louis loves it. Loves Nick. Loves all of it.

“My toy’s ready.” Louis wiggles at Nick. He can’t believe he’s doing this.

“I can see, love.” Nick’s breath catches. “Why don’t you slide it in for me? Nice and slow.”

Louis does what Nick asks. He gets the toy positioned in the right place. It’s pretty obvious how it’s meant to work when Louis nearly falls onto his front as it angles against the right spot.

“Turn the knob at the base.”

“Okay.” Louis does what Nick says and fuck, fuck the toy starts moving inside him. He should feel embarrassed but he wants to put on a show for Nick. He used to imagine being able to do this when he would go online. Used to imagine having an actual person like Nick that he could trust with computer screens and video calls. He didn’t ever think he’d find it.

“Can you keep it in. Let me see you. Your face too.”

Louis grins. Apparently it’s not just him that’s into the not just a knob thing. He turns back to face the computer and shifts the screen so his top half is in the frame, letting out a gasp as the toy moves inside him. He’s still on his knees and he feels so fucking filthy like that, upright and stroking himself for Nick. “Want to see more of you too.”

Nick groans but he shuffles back so his face is on the screen too. Because he doesn’t currently have something vibrating inside him, he can lean back on his heels. Louis has a feeling Nick’s got himself in the most flattering position as opposed to the most comfortable. It makes his chest tight.

“Make yourself come for me, love. Use the toy and your hand.”

Louis nods. He takes his time, stroking himself and then twisting the toy and moving it deeper which sends pleasure through his body. All the time Nick murmurs words of support to him and makes Louis feel like a million dollars, fit and sexy as if Nick can’t get enough of watching him. He lets his fingers stroke over his chest and really puts on a show.

“Nick?”

“Yes, love?” Nick sounds a bit choked.

“Do you ever finger yourself? Do you ever think about me when you finger yourself?”

Louis did not expect the dirty talk to be that easy. He watches Nick come over his fist and he wishes he was there to catch it in his mouth or have Nick make his face all messy with it before curling up with him after. He gives Nick a moment and finally the camera is back just on Nick’s face.

“Nick…” The sight of Nick coming brings Louis closer and he gives Nick a pleading look.

“That’s it, pet.” Nick nods and the tacit approval is all it takes for Louis to be able to stroke himself to completion. Wincing, he slides the toy out and switches it off. “One minute.” He dumps it in the sink in the bathroom, rinsing it quickly and gets back to Nick. “I know I’m messy but I don’t want that lying around.”

“Wise.” Nick has pushed his glasses on and he seems to have cleared up a bit himself. He’s also back in his t-shirt and boxers, which Louis likes less than Nick’s bare chest. He wants Nick to be comfortable though, so he doesn’t say anything.

“Thanks. Good present.”

“I’m glad.” Nick grins. He touches his fingers to the screen. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Louis touches his fingers back. “Still doesn’t beat the real thing.”

Nick wipes his brow. “Phew.”

“Just saying.” Louis shifts onto his stomach to get closer to the camera – closer to Nick. “Looking forward to that. The real thing.”

“Me too.” Nick nudges his glasses up on his nose. “Good for now, though?”

“Definitely.” Louis yawns. “What time is it there?”

“No fucking idea.” Nick laughs and his eyes crinkle at the corners and Louis loves him. “A weird time to be wanking.”

“You’re addicted to online porn, Nicholas.”

“I’m addicted to your online, porn darling. I took a few screenshots so I can retire a wealthy man.”

“As if you could work out how to take a screenshot with your knob in your hand.”

Nick looks put out. “Such little faith.”

Louis snorts and he shoves the screen back so he can see Nick better. “Hey, Nick?”

“Hey, Louis?” Louis loves it when he can hear the smile in Nick’s voice.

“Hurry up and get here, would you? I appreciate the toy but it’s not as good as having you here.”

“’Course it isn’t.” Nick is unusually quiet for a minute. “Miss you.”

“Miss you too.” Those three words burn on Louis’ lips but he doesn’t feel a post cybersex session is the right moment to let them out. “Night, then.”

“Night, popstar.”

Nick sounds so fond. If Louis gets a quick screen grab of Nick in his glasses with his hair all over the place, nobody has to know. Nobody but Louis, who quickly makes it his laptop wallpaper and makes a mental note to change it back to the Donny Rovers stadium before Nick arrives in LA.

*

When Louis spends too much time by himself, he begins to get that restless, itchy feeling again. It burns his skin and makes his head too full. The calls with Nick help but it’s not enough to settle Louis or make him feel less antsy. He’s counting down the minutes until Nick’s arrival and he knows when he starts digging up old family photos that LA is absolutely not a good place for him to be by himself. He spends too long looking out over the skyline and smoking pack after pack of Marlboros, watching the clock.

Can’t sleep, he texts Nick late one night.

Insomnia’s a bitch love

Bored, Louis types back. He lights another cigarette and watches the bubbles as Nick types a response.

Could go and see something?

Like what?

The bubbles reappear. Dunno. It’s America. Pretty big place. Get on a flight or something

Louis frowns at the phone. He didn’t even think about that. There are places he’s less easily recognised than LA. Even if people do recognise him, if no one knows where he is he could be there and back before anyone realises.

Maybe. Could get papped in LA tomorrow then disappear

There’s a pause before the bubbles follow.

Don’t disappear

Not for real

Louis snorts and he taps back quickly. Course I won’t. He bites his lip and then he taps out another message. I’d miss your face for a start.

Nick texts back a prawn emoji, a pig and a dog. A photo pops through on Louis’ phone and he swallows around the lump in his throat when he sees Nick all cuddled up on the sofa with his dogs, his glasses on and his hair soft and messy.

You can’t sleep and I can’t stop sleeping. We’re a right pair

The pair makes Louis feel warm.

Have a nap. Going to book a flight.

Where to?

Louis begins to type a few things into his laptop. He could go really mad and take himself off to Hawaii or one of those states nobody really bothers visiting. It doesn’t feel right, though. He needs the buzz of a city to keep his thoughts at bay. Besides, he wants to get in and out easily so he can make his escape once people get wind of his location. He always feels trapped on long flights. He doesn’t like being in small, confined spaces thousands of feet in the air. He likes to be able to make a quick exit if he has to and even in First Class, too many long flights make him knackered and irritable.

San Fran he types back, quickly. He’s going to get recognised there. It’s not as though people don’t know who Louis is in San Francisco, but the press attention is less constant than LA. He reckons he could probably keep his head down and spend a day mooching around. It’s only an hour on the plane. He could do it in one day if he wanted. In and out, before anyone really notices.

Nick sends the emoji of the Golden Gate bridge.

Never been

I’ll send you pics. Wish you were here

Nick replies with a heart, an aubergine, a peach and the rocket. It makes Louis’ skin feel hot. He puts his phone down and books his flight, lighting another cigarette and watching LA moving beneath him.

*

Louis is lucky at the airport. He has to take a few selfies but nobody seems to know where he’s going and the paps aren’t there. He asks the few fans he does see to hold off posting photos on social media for a couple of days. When he scrolls through Twitter he’s relieved to see they seem to have respected his wishes.

When he lands in San Francisco he gets a cab straight to the hotel. He doesn’t have to wait for his luggage as he’s only planning to stay for one night. It’s hot outside and as tempting as it is to stay in his air-conditioned room, he decides to explore. He gets the hotel to call him a cab and tries to decide what to do. He’s been to San Francisco before. He’s been to concerts – he’s played concerts – and walked along the Golden Gate bridge. He went out to Alcatraz and the whole place made him feel cold as he sat inside one of the cells, letting his imagination run wild. He didn’t sleep well for nights after that, even though he pretended to enjoy the trip. His dreams would fill with tiny, dark spaces and he would wake up thinking the walls were closing in on him.

Despite the heat, he puts on a hooded jumper and a baseball cap. He adds sunglasses and hopes nobody asks him to stop because all of a sudden, he knows where he wants to go. Somewhere he’s heard people mention. Somewhere he doesn’t know much about. Nothing about, except for one thing. One very important thing. His hands are already clammy when he tells the hotel he wants a taxi and gives them the name of a restaurant on Mission Street. When he finally slips into his taxi, he leans forward.

“Sorry, mate. Do you mind dropping me somewhere else?”

“Where are we going?” The driver doesn’t seem to know or care that he’s got one fourth of one of the biggest boy bands in the world in the back of his taxi.

“Castro.”

“No problem.” The driver punches something into his phone. He seems a bit bored and wipes his brow. “Anywhere in particular?”

“No. Anywhere’s fine.” Even with air con it’s too hot and Louis is sweltering under all of his layers, a combination of California sun and his nerves. Nervous anticipation tugs deep within his belly and he digs out his phone and texts Nick.

Going to Castro. Incognito

He adds the prawn and the sunglasses emoji and it’s a moment before his phone lights up with Pig’s face smiling up at him.

“In a cab.” He hopes the can’t talk is clear.

“Okay.” Nick sounds concerned, his voice low. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” Louis tucks his hands inside his jumper sleeves. “Just want to see somewhere new. Haven’t been there before.”

Nick clears his throat. “Lou…”

“I know.” Louis’ heart feels like it’s going to pound out of his chest. “It’s fine. Doesn’t matter.”

“If fans see you and take selfies?” Nick’s voice sounds a bit harried and clipped. “What then?”

“Then I’ll say I wanted to explore somewhere different, Christ.” It makes Louis’ insides squirm. It’s not like you have to be gay to go there. Not like anyone’s going to say Louis Tomlinson was in the Castro looking at some street art so he’s definitely gay. Well, they might. People have reached similar conclusions on less, but he can always deny it.

Nick makes a frustrated sound. “What’s the plan for later? Clubbing with some good-looking boys?”

Louis frowns because no that’s not his plan at all. Now he knows why Nick sounds a bit cross. He still thinks Louis is going to find something better. It makes Louis roll his eyes and his anger fades away. Doesn’t Nick get that Louis is completely arse over tit for him?

“Dickhead. It’s not that. It’s not even lunchtime here.”

“Then what?” Nick sounds more curious, less clipped.

“Just want to see it,” Louis says, mulishly. He can’t very well tell Nick he’s looking for something if he doesn’t know what that something is.

“Darling.” Nick’s voice wavers and then he sighs. “Okay. Just have a story ready.”

“Already working on it,” Louis says. “Don’t think people know I’m here, though.”

“Nope.” Nick laughs. “The papers here think you’re in LA. Hanging out with Kardashian-Jenners, according to the Mail. You’ve stolen Kendall right out of Harry’s arms. He’s heartbroken.”

“How do they come up with that shit?” Louis snorts and he clutches the phone close to his ear. He swallows. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.” Nick huffs out another soft laugh. “Counting down the days to LA. Working on my six-pack. It’s going badly, by the way. I had a cheese toastie and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps for lunch. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“I won’t.” Louis smiles into the phone. Nick and his six-pack. He hopes Nick’s stomach still has that soft bit Louis can press his cheek against after he sucks Nick off. Hopes Nick doesn’t mind ordering takeaway and watching telly in his boxers, bringing his loud, ridiculous voice into the too-quiet space of Louis’ LA home.

Nick sounds like he’s eating something crunchy. Probably celery or something equally offensive. “Get back to that popstar mansion of yours in one piece, will you? Try not to set anything on fire or break the internet in the meantime.” Nick sounds so fond. “Just…be careful. Cabs, not trams.”

“Will do.” Louis lets Nick crunch away on whatever it is he’s eating.

“You know, I can take you somewhere here. Somewhere of a night, if you want?”

“Really?” Louis can’t help but find the idea appealing. He lowers his voice. “You mean a gay bar?”

Nick sounds like he’s shrugging. “If you like. I know a few people who do drag too if you fancied seeing anything like that. I could see what’s going on.”

Louis nods and then realises Nick can’t see him over the phone. “I’d like to go. Just the once. Do you?”

“Not really. I don’t have much time for clubbing at all these days, but I used to.”

Louis hums thoughtfully, looking up to check the driver’s paying no mind to the conversation. “You know I’m not going for that? I just want to have a wander. Get a coffee.”

Nick is silent for a moment and then another crunch of celery seems to signal his consent. “I know.”

“Good.” Louis breathes out, his chest tight. “Because I’m not interested.”

“If you’re sure.” Nick sounds doubtful, as if he expects to have to negotiate the finer points of not fucking anyone else with Louis all over again. Although he’s fairly sure the taxi driver doesn’t recognise him, Louis has to keep his side of the conversation fairly neutral just in case and he can’t say the things he wants to Nick.

“Just get here soon.” Louis glances out of the window and watches the streets roll past. “Miss you.”

“You too.”

They hang up and Louis opens the window, letting in some fresh air in the hope it will help him to breathe.

*

Castro isn’t at all like Louis expects. It’s quite upmarket with lots of nice coffee shops and the streets are lined with rainbows and sunshine. The residential bits are smart and apart from a few same sex couples walking hand in hand, it’s a real mix of people from tourists to people doing their shopping and going about their day. It’s quieter than Louis expected and half the streets are almost entirely deserted. He doesn’t know what he thought it would be. Different, somehow. He thought it might be scarier putting himself out there – as if anyone would care if Louis wants to walk around and see the place. He pauses at a shop with leather, toys and wigs and part of him itches to go inside. He ends up taking a surreptitious photo and sends it to Nick with the caption know any places like this??

Nick comes back with a crying laughing emoji and the winking emoji.

Might do. There’s also the internet if you want to do some more shopping?

Louis responds with three aubergines, his face hot. Maybe, he types back which is Louis speak for definitely. He wants to sit with Nick and look through things without worrying about being seen. Louis moves on and reads the plaques on the pavement, crossing over roads which carry the colours of rainbows on the hot tarmac. He takes a picture of the shadows of the tramlines criss-crossing over the pavement. He thinks about going into a pub just because he could use a lager, but he doesn’t. He can’t bring himself to push open the door with the rainbow flag above it in case everyone stares. In case everyone just knows, like Nick did.

Eventually he comes across a small building with pale blue around the door. He reads the glbt history museum sign and the same hot, nervous feeling returns. This time he does push open the door because it’s a museum for fucks sake and if anyone wants a selfie he can say he just wanted to do a bit of tourist stuff for the day. He’s met with a friendly man on the counter who asks him for a donation and doesn’t balk or double-take. Louis gives five dollars and moves through into the museum, glad that nobody seems to have clocked who he is. It’s quiet, because it’s a day when most people are at work and there are only one or two people wandering around and talking quietly to one another as they take in the different exhibitions. Louis walks quickly past some of the more risqué art because he doesn’t want anyone to catch him looking too closely at pictures of men with their cocks out. He pauses at a section which talks about Harvey Milk. The Mayor of Castro. Louis reads a bit of the history before moving through to another room with pictures of men caught in dance.

Dancers we Lost

Louis spends some time looking at the exhibition and it makes his chest tight. There’s something about the men suspended in animation that resonates with Louis. That jump into the air, the step off the cliff. Hanging in the wind and waiting for the world to bring you back down with a bump. He tugs his hands into his sleeves and walks back towards the exit, his mind full. The man on the desk isn’t there anymore. He’s chatting to someone, animated and moving his hands as he speaks – a bit like Nick. Louis makes sure nobody’s watching him and then he takes a fistful of notes from his wallet and puts them in the collection box. He wishes he had more. He pulls his cap down and leaves quickly before anyone can call after him or ask if he’s made a mistake.

Eventually he finds a theatre and decides to buy a ticket. There’s no chance of anyone recognising him if he’s in a dark room. He doesn’t bother looking too closely at the film and takes up his seat in the quiet space as the curtains come up.

He slouches in his chair and puts his knees up on the empty chair in front, watching as the credits begin to roll.

*

When Louis leaves the theatre he calls for an Uber and scrolls through to Nick’s name, tapping it with trembling fingers. When Nick doesn’t answer, he does it again and again until Nick finally responds, his voice gruff with sleep.

“Lou?”

“Nick. Nick. You’re okay.”

“’Course I’m okay.” Louis can hear Nick whispering something to his dogs and Stinky lets out a little yip. Louis knew they slept in the bed. He can give Nick shit for that later. “What’s wrong?”

“I just…” Louis can’t quite get the words out, so many thoughts pressing against his brain and making everything hurt.

Nick begins to sound scared. “Is it the press? Is everything okay, love?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. No press. No one even noticed me. I’m getting a cab back to the hotel now.” Louis swallows back a gulp and he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “Just wanted to tell you something.”

“What?” Nick sounds cautious, his voice laced with trepidation.

“I reckon I’m in love with you. I mean, I am. I love you. You bloody knob. So hurry up and get here, will you?”

There’s silence on the other end of the phone. It goes on for long enough that Louis starts to worry.

“What brought this on?” Nick asks. His voice is rough and he sounds a bit choked.

“Went to the theatre. The big famous one in all the old photos. Watched a film and it made me think about stuff.”

“Oh.” Nick pauses. “Let me guess. It didn’t have a happy ending.”

“No, it…” Louis is reminded of the film again and he feels himself getting choked up. “Nick.”

“It’s alright, darling.” Nick’s voice is soft and his words slow and soothing. “Get your taxi back to the hotel and give me a Skype, will you? I miss your horrid little face.”

Louis laughs and he clutches the telephone close, slipping into the taxi when it finally arrives. “Didn’t even get to go dancing.”

“Lucky for me,” Nick says, lightly. “That means I get to take you myself. I can make sure you don’t go off dancing with anyone else.”

“I wouldn’t,” Louis says.

“I know.” Nick clears his throat. “Skype when you get in, okay? I’ll leave my computer on.”

“Okay.” Louis hangs up the phone, rubbing his eyes. It’s only when the taxi passes by the Tenderloin that Louis realises Nick never said I love you back. He tries not to dwell on it too much and pushes the thought to the back of his mind.

It’s midnight there

Louis finally realises the time when he checks his phone and taps out a quick message to Nick. You don’t have to wait up

I know, Nick replies. I want to

Louis focuses on his phone as the car speeds towards his hotel. The film is still fresh in his mind and he finds himself doing some internet searches that are probably going to cost a fortune. He doesn’t really care, he just needs to do something to keep himself busy. He can’t work out why he feels the way he does. His mind is full of images of illness and losing people too soon which always makes him think of his mum – always makes him scared for the people he loves who are still living. There’s something else, though. Something beyond the impact stories of loss have on Louis these days. Something about the rainbows, the marches and the people interviewed in the films – something about those dancers suspended in their timeless pirouettes. Louis finds the website for the film and he reads a bit about it before clicking through to more articles, more statistics, more names. Larry Kramer, Paul Monette, Harvey Milk, Peter Staley. He goes on a roundabout trip from America back to England, where he ends up reading about Mark Ashton and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners – that’s Oldham mentioned there right at the top of the article. Nick’s part of town. Louis’ brain fills with so much information it’s dizzying. He can hardly remember paying the driver or making his way up to his room, flicking on his laptop in a bit of a daze. Nick’s already online, thank fuck. Louis clicks on the video call button and waits for it to connect.

The screen flickers and then Nick answers, all grainy and pixelated. He’s tucked up in bed and Pig is cuddled up next to him. Louis wants to touch him so much. He wants to hold Nick close and not be by himself in his hotel room or vast house.

“You’re supposed to be having a break.” Nick gives Louis a half smile. “Not freaking yourself out at the theatre like a weirdo.”

“I know.” Louis takes a jagged breath.

“What was the film?”

We Were Here,” Louis says. “It’s about AIDS. San Francisco and AIDS.”

Nick furrows his brow. “Sounds cheerful.” He looks away for a minute, still frowning. “You know I’ve been tested and stuff. I go regularly. I’m all clear.”

“You think I’m upset because I’m worrying about catching something?” Louis glares at Nick. “Fuck off, will you?”

“Well, I don’t know!” Nick pulls a face and he looks confused. “You asked if I was okay.”

Said I loved you too, Louis wants to say but doesn’t. “Because I worry. I always have, but it’s worse now.” Louis shrugs and he picks at his fingernail. “I think people I…people in my life are all going to leave eventually.”

“Louis.” Nick’s voice is rough and he sounds as though he’s shuffling closer to the camera. “Do you want to talk about it? About the film?”

“Not until you’re here. Maybe then.” Louis chews at the edge of his thumb. “People are so brave. When they’re ill. Like my mum. The people who fight for things. Do you reckon they ever get afraid?”

“Probably.” Nick nods and his voice is so gentle. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“I don’t know.” Louis bites his thumb so hard it hurts. “I want to be brave too.”

Nick stills and he gives Louis a serious look. There’s no joking around. Not this time. It’s odd, seeing Nick like that. “You are. I think you’re already brave.”

“I’m not though.” Louis lets out a choked laugh. “Come on, don’t say that. I’m just hiding away in my massive house and still hoping everyone thinks I’m straight. I was so fucking scared just walking down a street today. A street. Like the street’s somehow gay or everyone’s going to know if I take a picture of a bleedin’ rainbow. You don’t have to worry about me going into the bars by myself. I was too fucking terrified to step through the door of a pub.”

“Unlike you.” Nick keeps his voice light and Louis knows he’s trying to calm him down. “You’re famously fond of a pub.”

“Not this pub. I thought I’d push open the door and then everything would change. It would only need to be one person on Twitter, then I’d have to tell lies or…stop lying. It’s all different now. Now I’ve stopped lying to myself. It was easier to lie when I was still pretending.”

“Louis.” Nick sounds like he’s picking over his words carefully. “Do you know why I think you’re brave?”

“Why?” Louis looks at Nick at last.

“Because you’re not running anymore.” Nick waves his hand. “From this. You’re not and you could, because I’m pretty sure you could run faster than me for a start. I’m old and I’ve got asthma.”

“Shut up.” Louis musters a small smile at Nick being as self-deprecating as ever.

Nick watches Louis intently. “You could go back to pretending. Pretend me and you never happened. It’s not too late.”

Louis’ stomach rolls. “I don’t want to do that.”

It's too late anyway, because Louis couldn't pretend it didn't matter. Couldn't ever. Not now.

“No.” Nick shakes his head. “Brave.”

“Not like them, though. Not like the people dying and marching and fighting for things.” Louis swallows and he shakes his head. “Having sex isn’t the same as that.”

“No, but…” Nick seems to be trying to find the words. “The stuff we’ve done. Meeting my friends. Coming back with me. Coming out.”

“Just to you, Aimee and mum.”

“Still counts.” Nick presses his fingers against the screen. “You did that. All of it. How did it feel to tell me?”

Louis shrugs. “Fucking terrifying.”

Nick gives him a smile. “But you did it anyway. You said fuck it, this is who I am.”

A wave of emotion sweeps over Louis and he rubs his eyes. “I want to do better.”

“Give yourself time.” Nick says. He pauses. “Are you thinking about coming out in the press? Is that what this is?”

“Maybe.” Louis shrugs and then he shakes his head. “No.” He twists his hands together. “I don’t fucking know.”

“Right.” Nick sounds suddenly firm and he shifts closer to the screen, looking intently at Louis. “Just do me one favour, will you? Don’t worry. You don’t have to do anything. In fact, I’m going to ask you not to do anything. Not until I’m there or you’re here. If you’re going to have to deal with a load of Twitter trolls, the least I want to do is be in the same fucking continent if we can manage it.”

“Okay.” Louis gives Nick a small smile. “Telling me not to go nuclear on social media, Nicholas? When do I ever do that?”

Nick snorts. He rubs his forehead and he seems to be thinking. “Did you know much about any of the stuff in the film before?”

“I thought I did.” Louis shrugs. “But I didn’t really know. Not the detail, not really. It’s always been like background noise. Never something I really paid attention to. Maybe because I wasn’t ready to see it as relevant to me, or maybe because I thought I didn’t need to. Who knows.”

Nick nods. “You were born in the nineties too, unlike some of us.”

“Sorry. I always forget you’re an old man.” Louis touches his fingers briefly to the screen. “Do you know much about it?”

Nick taps his finger to his lips. “I know more about some things than others. An American ex used to talk a lot about campaigning and equality, so I learned a bit from him. He’s really political. I remember being scared when I was younger. I was always told to be safe, told how important it was. I took a lot from music, too. People like Bowie made a difference. I’m definitely not an oracle.”

Louis shifts into a comfier position, drinking in the sight of Nick’s long eyelashes. “I’ve never watched anything like that. You know me, I’m not mad keen on documentaries unless they’re about footie.” He pauses. “I think I was looking for something, today.”

Nick nods. “I think you were too. Do you reckon you found it?”

“I don’t know yet.” Louis twists his hands together.

Nick’s duvet rustles. “I’ll help you look, if you like. Whatever you need.”

Louis’ heart swells and he nods. “You’ll be flying all over America with me. You could’ve just been ogling fit boys in pools.”

“Still plan to. Just going to be ogling the one fit boy, though.” Nick smiles and he looks sleepy. It’s so fucking late. Louis needs to let him go.

Louis shakes his head, trying to clear the fog in his brain. “I know I sound a bit mental. It’s just made me think. Made me wonder what it might mean, being part of something bigger.”

“Being gay?” Nick looks curious.

“Yep.” Louis shrugs. He doesn’t know what he wants to say. He feels like he could use hours of thinking about the film and still reach no real conclusion. “Because it’s bigger than me, isn’t it?”

“A lot of things are bigger than you, darling.” Nick grins, soft and wide. He touches the screen again, his voice low. “I miss you. Stupid knob that you are.”

“Miss you too.” The need to repeat I love you burns in Louis’ throat, but he doesn’t. He just rests his fingers against Nick and imagines curling up beside him again. He’s counting down the hours. “Thanks for answering. Needed to talk to someone. It got me thinking.”

“I bet. Things like that often do.” Nick is quiet for a moment. “Don’t, like, think too much though? I know what it’s like to lose yourself up here.” Nick taps his finger against his head.

“I won’t.”

Nick taps something into his phone. “Sent you a link to summat. Get that film. I’ll watch it with you and we can talk about it more when I’m there, if you want.”

“Okay,” Louis says. “But hurry up. Just hurry the fuck up, will you?”

“Going as fast as I can.” Nick grins and then he presses his fingers to the screen again, his face relaxing into a more serious look. “Not long, now. Can we stay in all the time? I don’t think I want to waste time eating or sitting in traffic.”

“I’ll get stuff in or we can order takeaway. Sorry for waking you.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Sorry anyway.” Louis waves. “Night then.”

“Night.”

After a moment the connection bleeps to an end. Louis reaches for his phone and opens the message from Nick. It’s a link to an article about Manchester’s Canal Street and he clicks through the links and reads about the history until his eyelids start to droop. He’s knackered, despite it still being early.

Can we go? he texts Nick.

When Louis wakes up bleary eyed and still in his tracksuit a few hours later, there’s a reply from Nick in his phone.

If you like

Might have to go incognito

The texts are followed by a picture of Nick dressed as Rita Ora, looking drunk and delighted as he wraps his arms around her and she kisses him on the cheek.

Tell Rita hands off. You’re taken, Louis replies.

He gets back a crying laughing emoji, the rocket and the party hat in response and Louis loves him so much it hurts.

Chapter Text

Louis counts down the days for Nick to arrive in LA. They tried to think of some way of meeting before Harry’s concert but it wouldn’t have worked without Nick shuffling engagements or cancelling plans and Louis really doesn’t want him to do that. Instead, Louis makes sure his days are reasonably busy by spending more time writing and in the studio. He goes to meetings he’s been putting off for months. When he does have free time he doesn’t just chain smoke on his balcony, watching the world go by. He watches films he finds on Netflix with his day in San Francisco still burned in his brain. Some of them are crap, but there are others that make his heart hurt and his head full of thoughts he doesn’t know how to process. The Laramie Project leads to Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine. He discovers the Pride film and laughs and cries as he watches. Then there’s Bridegroom, Paris is Burning, When We Rise, How to Survive a Plague, A Single Man. He orders a couple of books from Amazon but he can’t really get into them because he’s not much of a reader, so they sit largely unread and make him feel like a failure staring at him from the table. Louis is so full of thoughts by the time the day of Nick’s arrival finally rolls round, he's pretty sure he’s going to explode.

When Louis finally (finally) opens the door to Nick, his heart catches in his throat. Nick looks so good. He’s tanned and casual in a half open shirt which is too indecent for words and shorts which show off his long legs. His quiff is even longer and quiffier than Louis remembers and he looks refreshed and happy.

“Louis.”

“Nicholas,” Louis says. He tugs Nick inside and lets him drop his bags before he practically shoves Nick against a wall and kisses him until they’re both breathless. “Fuck, I’ve missed you.”

“Missed you too.” Nick’s voice is rough and throaty and he brushes Louis’ hair from his forehead. “So fucking much.”

“I’ll show you around.” Really, Louis just wants to shag but he’s also so on edge at the minute he doesn’t know if he could lose himself in Nick the way he desperately wants.

He takes Nick into the living room, where Nick has a look around and picks up one of the books on the coffee table. He arches an eyebrow at Louis. “Ginsberg? Who are you and what the bloody hell have you done with Louis?”

“Don’t.” Louis’ cheeks turn hot red. “I didn’t get most of it anyway. Bet you know all about him.”

Nick pauses and then he gives Louis a grin. “I’m a pretentious twat, darling. Of course I do.” He tugs Louis close and his voice is a bit muffled in Louis’ hair. “Promise not to tell anyone if I let you in on a secret. Half those books in my house have never been read. I don’t, like, sit around reading poetry all day.” He pulls back. “Frank Ocean. That’s my kind of poetry.”

Louis snorts but the feeling of being so inadequate fades a bit. He doesn’t know how Nick does that. How Nick manages to insult him and make him feel better all at the same time. His heart lifts and he frowns at the books. “I watched some more films. Read a few books. I tried to, at least. I get bored reading.”

Nick nods. “I get like that. There’s always something going on in WhatsApp or some new celebrity scandal to distract me.”

“Books are too…” Louis hunts for the word.

“Quiet,” Nick says. “Too quiet, sometimes.”

That’s it. Exactly why Louis can’t sit and read for long. Why he always needs something in the background – noise which stops him from feeling so alone.

“Tell you what.” Nick looks thoughtful. “I could make a playlist, if you like. Something you can listen to. Songs that have a meaning or whatever. If you want.”

Louis nods, hardly able to speak because Nick is so good to him and he’s missed him desperately. “Yes. Please.”

“Okay.” Nick laughs. “I haven’t made anyone a playlist for donkeys.”

Louis stares at Nick. “You do the Nixtape every week.”

“Yeah, but this is just for you. Different, isn’t it?” Nick begins to unbutton his shirt which seems a bit forward but Louis isn’t complaining. “Where’s this pool of yours, then?”

“Oh.” Louis gives Nick a smile. “I thought you were trying to start something.”

“Oh, I am.” Nick winks at Louis. “If we’re both in the pool you’re going to have all of those clothes off too and we’re not going to be wanking on about Ginsberg.”

“Let’s go, then.” Louis says.

He tugs off his jumper and doesn’t flush when he catches Nick eyeing him, up and down.

*

“Fuck me,” Nick says when they get outside. Eloquent as ever. “This is insane.”

“You like it?” Louis couldn’t give a shit about Nick’s opinion on the interior design Louis didn’t even choose, although he spent an irritating amount of time cooing over a giant urn and a piece of art by someone that Louis knows absolutely nothing about. “Sick, isn’t it?”

“Bit more than sick.” Nick looks out at the view and he sucks in a breath. His cheeks are a bit pink as he takes it all in. “You’re really going to sell this?”

“Don’t know.” Louis shrugs. “Seems a bit much to keep somewhere just for a view. It’s too quiet when I’m by myself. Too big for one.”

“Don’t be by yourself then.” Nick’s voice is low and serious but then he lightens the mood by adding, “Have a party. Ask all the LA celebrities and end up in the Enquirer.”

“As if.” Louis rolls his eyes. He watches Nick experience the view for the first time and it’s exactly what Louis wanted. It’s like he’s experiencing it all again through Nick’s eyes – that feeling of being so insignificant. Just one person while the whole world moves underneath you. “It makes me feel a bit small.”

“Understandable.” Nick gives Louis a look and Louis has a feeling he’s been both agreed with an insulted. Nick can’t half be a knob sometimes. “It’s incredible.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Nick sits himself on the edge of the pool and slides in letting out a hiss and a fuck me, that’s cold which does funny things to Louis’ insides. Just because he’s childish as fuck and has a bit of a self-destruct button sometimes, Louis dive bombs close enough to Nick to get him yelping and splashing about like he’s going to drown.

“Hiya,” Louis says when he surfaces.

“Hi.” Nick rolls his eyes but the way he looks at Louis makes Louis’ breath catch.

“I want to do some shopping while you’re here.” Louis bobs his way closer to Nick. “Internet stuff. Like you suggested.”

“You only want me for my body and sex toy knowledge.” Nick presses his hand to his heart. “And here’s me not even able to get a six-pack.”

Louis frowns and he moves closer. He touches his fingers to Nick’s chest, where his necklaces tangle with his wiry chest hair. “Don’t say that like I want it. I’ve already told you I don’t.”

“I believe you.” Nick drops beneath the water and comes up, shaking himself. He wraps his arms around Louis and holds him close. They stand like that for a minute, looking out over LA before Nick starts speaking again. “There’s something I wanted to tell you, by the way.”

Louis’ stomach drops and he pulls away from Nick so he can look at him. He wonders if this is the moment Nick breaks Louis’ heart. The moment he says, about Harry or about you not being out or about you not being able to read an arty poem without dozing off after the first few lines.

“What?” Louis sounds a bit clipped and sharp and Nick rolls his eyes.

“Between your issues and mine, I don’t know how the fuck we’re even here in LA and not both at home by ourselves drowning in our own misery.”

Louis can’t help but laugh because he’s thought that before, more than once. “Is that what you wanted to say? Moving speech, Nicholas.”

“Isn’t it?” Nick taps Louis on the nose, kisses his forehead and is absolutely avoiding getting any proper words out. “I worked on it for ages. Put it in one of your songs.”

“I might.” Louis thinks of his little notebook and wonders if he might show Nick over the next few days. The thought of singing anything to Nick feels so raw and exposing he’s not sure he wants to try. Besides, Nick’s always wanging on about not being comfortable hearing songs written by his friends. He’s a terrible liar and Louis isn’t sure his heart could take it if Nick tried to say I love it in that too bright, too loud way of his. “You’d have to play it on the radio loads, though.”

“They’ll make me play it anyway.” Nick pinches Louis in the side. “Even if it’s about my knobbly knees.”

“I love your knobbly knees,” Louis says. It makes everything quiet and the water splash splashes around them.

“About that,” Nick says.

“About your knees?” Louis pulls a face. “If this is some kind of old man excuse for can’t get down on them I’m not buying it.”

“Louis.” Nick’s cheeks are really red and even though he’s smiling he feels tense, like a tightly coiled spring. “Stop talking about my bloody knees.”

“You brought them up.” Louis sighs when Nick makes a frustrated sound in his throat. “Fine, you twat. What’s this important thing you’ve got to say to me?”

Nick stares at Louis and then he bursts out laughing. He laughs for so long he starts to sound a bit wheezy and Louis really doesn’t want Nick to die of an asthma attack before they can have a lot more sex.

“You…” Nick starts again, another giggle fit which leaves him wiping at his face with his hands. “Only you could make this so unromantic.”

“You’re trying to be romantic?” Louis raises his eyebrows at Nick. “Oh Christ, you’re not going to propose are you? Because it’s a bit difficult to get on one knee in a swimming pool. You tit.”

That starts Nick off again until finally he manages to get the words out, around another peel of laughter. “I’m trying to say I love you too, you enormous dickhead.”

The laughter leaves Louis and he stares at Nick. He can’t. He can’t laugh when it’s so important, when it means so much more than Louis can even put into fumbling words. He wondered, why Nick didn’t say it back. He pushed it to furthest corner of his mind and tried to pretend it didn’t matter. Just words. Just stupid words that he doesn’t need but he does, he does.

“About time,” he says. His voice is hoarse and he moves closer to Nick until even the water feels like it’s in their way.

“Didn’t want to say it over the phone. Or Skype.” Nick finally stops laughing as he wraps his arms around Louis, staring at him. “Felt it, though. Had to use my inhaler after that call. Thought I was going to die.”

“Glad you didn’t,” Louis says. He pokes Nick in the chest. “Would have pissed me right off.”

“Me too.” Nick pulls Louis closer. “Think I would have haunted you, probably. Like that film with Mark Ruffalo.”

“Haven’t seen it.”

“All about the documentaries these days.”

“Even watched Paris is Burning.” Louis puffs his chest out. “I’m educating myself. You should be proud.”

“I am,” Nick says and it sounds like he really, really is. It makes Louis’ heart thump and his body hot and languid in Nick’s arms.

“Nick?”

“Yep?”

“Are we going to fuck anytime soon?” Louis pokes Nick again and his eyes darken in anticipation even as he smiles.

“Reckon we should. Going to get out of the pool, then? Show me this enormous popstar bed of yours?”

“Okay.” Louis pulls himself out of the pool and begins towelling himself off, chucking Nick a towel as they make their way into the house.

*

Louis gets Nick a glass of iced water and a cup of tea before they make their way into the bedroom. Nick puts the water down without drinking any of it and Louis eyes it curiously. Nick seemed very insistent on getting a couple of drinks. He was almost offended because Nick didn’t seem in as much of a rush to go to bed as Louis. Louis loves a cup of tea, but there’s a time and a place.

He wonders what it’s going to be like, with Nick. Perhaps it’s going to be soft and slow like the films. The post-I love you shag. Big deal, that one. Lots of staring and whispering the words over and over again. It’s a bit intimidating. Louis is soon reassured that it’s probably not going to be quite like that, when Nick brings out the handcuffs.

“Fancy it?” Nick grins at Louis. He looks smug.

“Obviously.” Louis eyes the metal cuffs. “Glad you didn’t get the fluffy ones. I’d have felt like a right tit.”

“Might have been comfier, though.” Nick frowns, fingering the metal.

“Don’t want comfy.” Louis looks at his bed and he’s rather proud of his interior designers for choosing the kind of headboard Louis can be handcuffed to with ease. He’ll have to mention that if he ever needs to give them a reference. “How do you want me?”

“Naked, obviously.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Of course.” He strips out of his swimming trunks and drops them on the floor. “That was easy.”

Nick bites his lip, taking in every inch of Louis.

“Nicholas.”

“What?”

“You’re staring and my knob’s feeling self-conscious. Are you going to put those handcuffs on me or not?”

“Going to put them on you.” Nick brushes his fingers from Louis’ throat down to his belly button. It makes Louis shiver even though it’s not cold. “You know how I like to look at you, darling. I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming about this.”

“Is that a euphemism for wanking?” Louis smiles into the kiss he demands from Nick, pressing close against him.

“Absolutely.” Nick pushes Louis back towards the bed.

“I haven’t, since our last call.” Louis remembers that last telephone call before Nick hopped on the plane. The one where Louis had to push his hand into his boxers as Nick kept telling him all sorts of filthy things that had Louis coming hard in his fist in a manner of minutes. Apparently Nick’s got a paddle with him. It makes the suitcase full of pretentious designer silk shirts look a lot more interesting to Louis.

“Why?” Nick looks surprised, nudging Louis’ arms over his head.

“Because.” Louis definitely doesn’t blush. “I wanted to wait. Thought you might like it.”

“Oh, I like it.” Nick’s eyes darken. “Works well with my plans too.”

“It does?”

“It does.” Nick slides his hands over Louis’ arms and secures them in place with the cuffs on his wrist. The metal clinks as Louis tugs his arms. It feels good. “I thought we could try these, then another time…” Nick clears his throat and he brushes his lips to Louis’ neck, his breath hot and heavy. “Ankle cuffs maybe. Something like that. You can attach them too. Ankle cuffs and wrist cuffs. For when you’re on the floor or something.”

Louis bites back a groan imagining his body held in position by two sets of cuffs while Nick teases him and brings him back to that strange, floaty sort of space. “Okay.”

“Internet shopping. We’ll get onto that. Soon.” Nick nibbles Louis’ earlobe and then stands, pulling off his own swimming trunks. Louis gets more worked up stretched out on the bed, as Nick rummages through his case and retrieves lube and condoms together with a package Louis eyes suspiciously. “I’m lucky I got through customs without people searching my case.” Nick pulls a face and then he kneels on the bed, next to Louis. “Got you a present.”

“Are you expecting me to open it with my teeth?” Louis gives Nick a pointed look and tugs at his hands. “There’s nothing wrong with flowers, you know. A nice bunch of daisies.”

“Who the fuck buys anyone daisies? Knob.” Nick gives Louis a kiss on the forehead. “Might have got you something that doesn’t involve your arse or my cock too. You can wait for that.”

Louis squirms because oh he likes that Nick thought of getting him something but he also likes the rough way Nick talks about his arse. It makes his body respond.

“Turned on by being showered with gifts?” I might have known. “Nick grins at Louis to show he’s teasing. He lets his fingers move lightly down Louis’ torso and brushes a soft line over Louis’ cock which makes Louis groan.

“What’s this present then?”

“Impatient.”

“Just a bit.” Louis rolls his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re not impatient.”

“I’ve been wanking a lot.” Nick laughs and wiggles his fingers. “Unlike you.” Despite his claim that he’s not feeling desperate, Louis isn’t sure that’s true when Nick fumbles with the package and bites back a curse as he tries to get it open. Eventually, he manages it. Inside is a blindfold, a soft grey material which feels good against Louis’ skin as Nick brushes it over his cheek. “This okay?”

A wave of trepidation passes through Louis but he nods. He wants to say something but he’s not sure how. “Yes.”

Nick raises an eyebrow at him. “Tell me what’s going on up there.” He brushes Louis’ hair from his face, his fingers lingering on Louis’ temple.

“I think I’m going to need to know where you are,” Louis says. His voice is a bit rough. He doesn’t know how because he’s not done much of this before, but it’s a bit like sitting on the floor. A bit like the way he knew he didn’t want Nick to leave the room. He doesn’t think he would like being bound and blindfolded if Nick’s voice isn’t the one he hears and if Nick doesn’t keep touching him.

“I’m going to be right here. You’ll hear me. I’ve got no plans to keep my hands off you, not for a second.”

“Okay.” Louis relaxes. “Get on with it, then.”

“Okay.” Nick slides the blindfold over Louis’ eyes and knots it tenderly. The world is plunged into darkness and it makes Louis feel vulnerable. Not being able to see. Not able to move his hands. He sucks in a breath as Nick whispers his name and strokes his fingers against Louis’ thigh. He hears the clank, clank of ice in the glass as Nick takes a sip of his water. He huffs out a breath.

“I’m glad you’re able to just sit there having a drink while I’m-” Louis arches up as Nick slides his mouth around Louis’ cock. It’s fucking freezing, his usually hot mouth ice cold. “Fuck.”

“You were saying?” Nick pulls back and then there’s another clink of ice and Nick’s hand presses a cube onto Louis’ torso, sliding it over his chest, over his nipples and down, down, down. It makes Louis shiver all over and not because it’s cold – because with his eyes closed and his hands bound, all he can do is feel every sensation. Nick obviously has a sip of his hot drink because the next time he envelops Louis’ cock, his mouth is warm and the contrasting sensations make Louis wriggle in place as a desperate moan escapes him. Nick continues his assault on Louis’ body, whispering the kind of things that Louis wonders if it’s easier to say when he’s blindfolded and not looking straight into Nick’s heart. There’s a whispered I love you and the broken syllables of Louis’ name as Nick touches him all over, stroking over every inch of his body and using his cold mouth – and his hot mouth – to give Louis every pleasure. Eventually Nick’s slick fingers push into Louis. He doesn’t take his time. He uses lots of lube and pushes inside Louis with two fingers, the stretch making Louis writhe in place. He fingers Louis deep and fast and swallows him down again, until Nick’s face is pressed against Louis’ stomach. The sensations pulse through Louis and his skin feels like it’s on fire. Every nerve is sensitised, every touch unexpected when Louis can’t see what Nick’s doing.

It’s been long enough without wanking or taking the edge off that Louis’ orgasm comes quicker than he wants and it takes him by surprise. He comes at the curl of Nick’s talented fingers, the push and pull in and out of his body and the delicious sensation of Nick sucking him, tonguing him and pulling his orgasm from him in a rush of pleasure which crashes over him like waves on rocks. It leaves Louis shaking and as his pleasure subsides, Nick undoes the handcuffs and rips off Louis’ blindfold. He moves over Louis and then he slides his hand over his cock until he comes over Louis’ face, catching his chin and his lips.

Fuck.” Nick moves off Louis and groans, giving his cock another slow tug and then throwing his arm over his face as he tries to steady his breathing.

“Sneaky,” Louis says. “With the ice and the tea.”

“Very.” Nick sounds proud of himself. He removes his arm from his face and tips his head to the side, looking at Louis. “Was it good?”

“Yeah. Yes. So good.” Louis presses against Nick and kisses him until they’re all tangled up in the sheets. “You just ended up having a wank again, though. You must be a bit bored of those. Being such a regular.”

“Rude.” Nick pokes Louis in the side and gathers him close. His cheeks feel hot against Louis’ skin. “It’s alright. Got a plan for later.”

“Full of plans, aren’t you?” Louis kisses Nick’s neck. It’s warm and smells like Nick’s cologne and a bit like being back in London again. “Care to share?”

“Not yet. Later.” Nick yawns and he pulls Louis closer. “Fancy a nap?”

“Might as well.” Louis does feel tired, now. Blissfully shagged out and his mind is quieter than it’s been in days. He needs that. The moments of being able to be still for a bit and stop his rolling thoughts. He feels loose-limbed and sated.

“Love you,” Nick says. It’s mumbled against Louis’ skin and it’s not the staring into the eyes slow fucking Louis thought it might be, but it’s better. It’s better because he and Nick just fit, even when they shouldn’t. Like two pieces in a really difficult jigsaw that nobody expects to go together.

“Love you too,” Louis replies. He kisses Nick and drifts off listening to Nick’s gentle breathing, hot and content in Nick’s arms.

*

That evening they eat pizza on the balcony, drinking beer. Nick seems as content to be outside as Louis and he’s in no rush to sleep. They both put on comfortable jogging bottoms and t-shirts and listen to crickets and the odd sound of a motorbike or car roaring through the winding paths up, up, up into the hills.

“Was the concert good?”

“Brilliant.” Nick casts a look at Louis. “You could’ve come.”

Louis shrugs. “Maybe. It would have been weird. Let Harry have his moment. I might come to the next one.”

“Really?” Nick sounds surprised.

Louis runs a hand through his hair and takes another sip of his beer. He’s reminded of being in Nick’s garden and feeling so nervous, so excited. It feels like forever ago. “I want to come out.”

“Okay.” Nick keeps his voice quiet and measured. “To Harry?”

“To everyone.” Louis gives Nick a side-long look. “I know me and Harry were…”

“Nauseating? Love’s young dream?” Nick’s teasing because he knows all the fan theories but Louis knows it’s just Nick’s way. Things get serious, lighten the mood. He does it himself, too.

“Close,” Louis offers. “But he’s not my best mate anymore. Telling him and not anyone else feels weird. There are other people that need to know too. Payno and Niall. My friends from home. My family.”

“I know.” Nick picks at the label on his beer. “You’re thinking of doing that soon?”

“Not yet.” Louis shakes his head. “Not quite ready yet. But it’s why it’s different, telling him. If Harry knows everyone else has to know too.”

“Makes sense.” Nick clears his throat. “I think he misses you. All of the lads. He’s got his friends, but he misses the band too. Don’t think he doesn’t.”

“I don’t.” Louis gives Nick a side-long look. “Did you shag him again?”

“Repeatedly.” Nick rolls his eyes and huffs out a breath. “Also, no. Obviously. We didn’t share a bed either. I’ve been very lonely.”

“I knew that.” Louis’ voice is quiet. “I knew that, but I wanted to ask.” He pauses. “I wanted to go online again when I was here by myself. I didn’t, but I thought about it for a minute. That first Skype call helped.”

“I’m glad.” Nick takes a sip of his beer. “If you ever feel like that send me a few dirty messages if you like. Pretty sure I won’t mind.”

“I might.” Louis’ cheeks get hot.

“Do.”

Lois thinks and he turns the bottle of beer in his hands. “Maybe we should tell Harry first. Before the others. I understand why you want to.”

Nick pulls a face. “I’m fucking terrified to be honest. But now other people know and they think I’m going to tell him during this trip. I’ve been putting off replying to texts.”

Louis didn’t even think about Nick’s gang of friends and the fact a few of them are in on the secret. Didn’t even imagine that might be difficult for Nick, or his friends. “I didn’t think. Sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick tips his beer in Louis’ direction. “I just want to enjoy this. We can be in a bubble for a few days. Get off social media. Get out of our heads for a bit.”

“Sounds good.” Louis pauses. “Nick?”

“Hmm?” Nick’s taking in the skyline, watching the clouds roll like thunder and it makes everything in Louis’ chest feel too big – like his heart’s going to burst out of his ribcage.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too.” Nick is far too quiet and Louis can tell he’s got something on his mind. “I wish we could get our laptops out.”

“You’re three seconds in to a social media blackout and you already want to check what’s going on with the Kardashians?” Louis rolls his eyes. “Why the fuck do you want your laptop?”

“Remember Sam?” Nick’s eyes are a bit dark and his cheeks are pink, shadowed in the evening light.

“Yeah.” Louis winces. “I don’t do that anymore.”

“I know.” Nick turns away. “Remember how it was easier, though?”

“It was until you started making me talk about stuff.” Louis swallows then he grabs his phone which sits next to Nick’s on the table.

What’s up?

Nick hears the ping, sees Louis with the phone in his hand and laughs. “Okay. We’re doing this?”

“If it’s easier.” Louis shrugs.

Nick picks up his phone and types out a message.

Want you to fuck me

Louis can hardly breathe when he gets the message, his heart skittering and jumping. He types back all fingers and thumbs.

Could have just asked

Yes. Obviously

He adds the aubergine, the dancing boy and the rocket. He hopes they convey his enthusiasm sufficiently.

He takes a breath and looks at Nick. “It’s amazing we get anything done at all.”

“We’re fully functioning people with excellent ways of dealing with difficult topics,” Nick says. He looks more relaxed, now Louis’ said yes. “Wasn’t sure you’d be into it.”

“Why the fuck would you think that?” Louis raises his eyebrows at Nick.

“Dunno. Not really how we do things.”

Louis thinks about that for a moment. “Is it everything? Or just fucking?”

Nick pokes Louis in the thigh. “You’re not going to get your grabby hands on me for a spanking if that’s what you’re after. I just thought switching up the fucking thing might be fun.” He sounds confident, but Louis knows better by now.

“I’m into it,” Louis says. He can feel his body responding and he is, so, so into it. He swallows because Nick is so confident with stuff like this and Louis isn’t sure he can do the take this kind of dialogue with the same ease as Nick. “You’ll tell me what to do?”

Nick relaxes and he takes a sip of his beer. “Obviously.” He leans in and whispers to Louis as if anyone is around to hear them. “They call it topping from the bottom, love.”

“Oh.” Louis quite likes the sound of that. It makes it feel like Nick’s still going to be in charge which is important to him somehow. A bit like Nick doesn’t need Louis to be all thigh-slapping confidence or to know every aspect of how to actually fuck another man. It makes Louis relax and he takes in the still setting. “Is that the kind of thing you might want to do outside?”

“With something that isn’t your expensive stone beneath my arse?” Nick laughs into his bottle and it makes a whistling sound. “Sure. We haven’t done that. Outside.”

“We should.” Louis stands and he gestures to the house. “I’ll get some stuff.”

“Okay,” Nick says.

Louis can hear the smile in his voice.

*

Louis does the things he knows Nick would do for him. He makes sure there’s a whole bed outside, dragging cushions and duvets and pillows around until Nick can’t stop laughing at him.

“What?”

“It’s a den. Like we’re kids.”

Louis huffs because it’s been a lot of bloody effort and Nick should be grateful. “Nothing childish about my sex dungeon, Nicholas.”

“Not much of a dungeon.” Nick pulls Louis into his lap and it’s not so comfortable when they’re not on the sofa and Louis has to get into the topping Nick mindset. “More a fluffy pillow fest.”

“I know you’re old. I want you to be comfortable.” Louis kicks his way out of Nick’s lap. “Stop being a dick.”

“I’m not. Thank you for thinking of my elderly bones.”

Louis knows false bravado when he sees it. He thinks of Nick wanging on about his stomach folds and six-pack. The way he goes on about eating kale and looks mournful after he’s demolished a burger. Louis isn’t sure exactly how he’s going to do the whole being on top thing, but there’s one thing he does know. He’s going to tell Nick everything he feels when he gets up in his own head and worries about Nick cheating because he’s so fit, so desirable. He wants to do that for Nick. Something about watching the LA sunset has left him feeling a bit wild and brave and Nick always does that for Louis. He always makes Louis feel like he’s a bloody Monet or something and it’s as brilliant as it is embarrassing. He wants to make Nick see himself through Louis’ eyes.

“Always thinking of you, pet.” Louis can be sassy and sharp too and he feels buoyed with confidence by the fact Nick wants Louis to top. He finishes getting everything ready and then he gestures to the enormous pile of pillows and duvets he’s put on the balcony. “I’m going to get the lube and stuff. Stay here. Get naked.”

“Okay.” Nick sounds amused. Louis goes into the house and grabs what he needs. When he comes back, Nick is on the makeshift bed and he isn’t wearing a stitch. The sight of him makes Louis’ breath catch and he strips off himself before joining Nick, dumping the other stuff by his side.

“You look good,” Louis says.

“Thanks. Get on with it, yeah? No false platitudes necessary.”

Louis glares at Nick because no. He shifts over Nick and looks down at him. “I know you’re going to tell me what to do, but can I do something first? Without you telling me to shut up or get on with it?”

Nick looks surprised, but he nods. “’Course. Do what you want.”

“Okay,” Louis says. He brushes his lips to Nick’s jaw. “I want to talk.”

“Hopefully not about Ginsberg.” Nick snorts with laughter but he sounds a bit breathless and he tips his head back to give Louis better access to his neck. “What do you want to talk about?”

“You. How fit you are.”

“Louis.” Nick’s voice holds a warning note.

“Why not?”

Because.” Nick groans and he rubs his hand over his face. “I don’t need to be buttered up, I just want to get fucked. Trust me, I’ve done this before. You can lube up and just get on with it if you want.”

“I don’t want, though.” Louis jabs Nick in the side. “Let me have this.” He thinks of a way of convincing Nick. “It gets me hard.”

Nick sees right through Louis. “You’re already hard, darling.”

Louis makes a strangled sound. “Just let me do what I want, will you?”

“Fine.” Nick lies back on the pillows and throws an arm over his eyes. “Whatever.”

Louis doesn’t feel enormously encouraged by that but he’s determined. He starts by kissing Nick’s collarbone, licking along it and sucking on a sensitive spot on Nick’s neck. The fact that Nick’s breathing gets more shallow and ragged is definite progress. “Every time I see pictures of you at events I want to fuck you.” He takes a breath and carries on, brushing his lips against a spot beneath Nick’s ear. “Do you know what it does to me? Seeing those pictures in the papers?” Louis groans and he moves a little lower, stroking his fingers all over Nick. “They make me hard. Just seeing you there with your fucking sexy as fuck outfits. Your chest. Your legs. I think about you holding me against a wall or pinning me down on the bed and everything gets hot. I think about the way you feel when you’re inside me.”

“Louis.” Nick sounds a bit faint. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I do though, because I don’t think you get it.” Louis slides his tongue over one of Nick’s nipples before he bites down lightly, drawing a ragged gasp from Nick. “I don’t think you realise how into you I am. Your hard parts, your soft parts. Every single bit of you.” Louis tongues over Nick’s other nipple and bites down again. He moves into Nick’s armpit because Louis is a weirdo and he likes the way Nick smells when he’s raw and open. He brushes his lips there and then moves lower, stroking his fingers over every part of Nick he can reach until Nick is practically writhing.

“I don’t give a fuck about your diets,” Louis says. “If they make you happy then do them but I don’t want…” He slides his tongue lower. “I don’t want you to think I need it.” He tongues at Nick’s bellybutton and runs his fingers lightly over Nick’s cock which twitches beneath the touch. He’s so hard. “I get hard when you look at me, sometimes. I get hard when you’re in the shower. I get hard from magazine pictures and the way your body fits over mine. I don’t give a shit about kale and coconut water unless you enjoy that stuff.” Louis brushes his lips over Nick’s hips, close to his cock. “You feel good enough already.”

“Are you finished?” Nick sounds so breathless.

“Are you listening to me?” Louis bites down on Nick’s inner thigh.

“Yeah. Not sure I’m believing all of it, but yeah.”

Louis makes a frustrated sound. “I believe you when you tell me I’m fucking gorgeous and I’m a sorry mess of tattoos that make no sense and I hardly sleep at all these days.”

Nick snorts and he pushes a hand into Louis’ hair. “But you are gorgeous. Breathtaking, honestly.”

“So are you,” Louis says. “To me.” He runs his hands over Nick’s thighs and watches him. Nick’s face softens and he nods.

“Okay, love. I’ll take it.”

“Good.” Louis moves his fingers over Nick’s thighs. His hands are trembling a bit. “You might have to tell me what you want, by the way. Tongue? Fingers?”

Nick relaxes under Louis’ touch. “Fingers.” He catches Louis’ hand before he can reach for the lube. He sounds a bit embarrassed when he speaks. “I don’t really need them. I reckon you could fuck me as I am and it would feel good, but I like the feeling of fingers every once in a while.”

“Tell me about it.” Louis slides his fingers between Nick’s. After a minute he extracts himself and slicks his fingers with lube. “How do you want to be?”

“Why don’t you get me nice and ready, then I’ll tell you.” Nick winks at Louis. He shifts onto his hands and knees. “This should do for now.”

“Okay.” Louis swallows and then he rubs his fingers against Nick. He hasn’t done anal before with anyone. He was always too busy avoiding the sex with women part to get much beyond missionary and a bit of mutually unsatisfying oral. He slides a finger into Nick when Nick tells him to. It feels hot and tight even though Nick seems relaxed. He makes appreciative sounds as Louis fingers him slowly, adding more lube and a second finger when Nick tells him it’s okay. Just watching himself do this is almost too much for Louis. He’s going to be lucky if he can manage to fuck Nick at all at this rate.

“You’re so hot…fuck.” Louis presses a kiss to Nick’s back and works his fingers in deeper, fucking him slowly as he leans over him. It seems to be doing the trick as Nick hums and moans, pushing back against Louis. With a desperate need to please Nick, Louis slides his fingers out of Nick’s body and presses his face close. He tongues tentatively around Nick’s hole, unable to believe he’s doing this. He knows Nick is shower-fresh and clean, mainly because Nick spent a long time in the bathroom with the shower on full blast and now Louis knows what he had in mind he’s fairly sure Nick spent a bit of time getting ready. Nick hisses when Louis moves his tongue over him, parting the cheeks of his backside to get closer.

“You don’t have…to…fuck.”

“Don’t you like it?” Louis pulls back and wipes a bit of the lube from his lips. It tastes chemical and he wonders about asking Nick for some flavoured stuff. Some stuff Louis can put on Nick as he tongues him until Nick’s shaking beneath him.

“’Course I like it.” Nick presses back again, gruff and breathless. Louis grins and continues, hoping he makes Nick feel as good as Nick makes him feel. When his jaw aches a bit he pulls back and adds more lube to push his fingers deep into Nick again. He can feel how relaxed Nick is, he can slide his hand over Nick’s cock and feel him hard and leaking for Louis. For Louis.

“That’s enough.” Nick sounds hoarse now. “Put a bit more lube there and grab a condom. Lie down.”

“Really?” Louis does as he’s told and he stretches out on his back, stroking the condom over his cock.

“Yes, really.” Nick shifts to straddle Louis and oh fuck. “Okay?”

“Yes.” It really is. It’s still somehow Nick on top of Louis. Taking charge of the movements of Louis’ cock inside him. It’s like he’s using Louis’ body to get off, just in a different way. With a low groan, Nick reaches around and lowers himself onto Louis. The sensation of Nick stretching around him and the tight, lube-slick heat is almost too much for Louis who lets out a strangled sound. “Wait. Give me a minute.”

“Okay.” Nick runs his fingers over Louis’ chest and gives him that soft, fond look that’s become so achingly familiar to Louis. When Louis thinks he’s calmed down enough to not come on the spot, he gives Nick a nod and Nick begins to move. Louis has no complaints about Nick’s time in the gym anymore. Nick’s clearly fit enough to be able to manoeuvre himself exactly as he wants to take everything from Louis. He pulls gasps of pleasure from Louis’ lips with each movement and he’s got a confidence which Louis didn’t expect from Nick in this position. Nick’s clearly enjoying it and he takes Louis’ hand, adding a dollop of lube and speaking breathlessly. “Wank me off, yeah?”

Fuck. Yeah.” Louis strokes Nick as he moves, watching Louis through lidded eyes. It doesn’t take long before Nick comes, clenching around Louis. The expression on Nick’s face and the way he clenches around Louis’ body is enough to bring him over the edge and it only takes him a few more thrusts, gripping onto Nick’s hips and taking control at last. He comes inside Nick and collapses back on their makeshift bed, slipping off the condom and dropping it on the floor when Nick moves off him.

“Thanks,” Nick says. He’s quiet and he turns to look at Louis, his cheeks pink.

“Don’t thank me, you tit.” Louis leans into Nick and kisses him. He runs his fingers through the hair on Nick’s chest. “Reckon you might want to do that again, sometime?”

Nick gives Louis a lopsided smile. “Reckon I might.”

“Good.” Louis’ breathing finally settles. “Because I definitely do.”

Nick stares up at the sky. When he speaks, his voice is low and a bit rough. “It’s beautiful here. So peaceful.”

“Too peaceful sometimes. Difficult to sleep.”

“Have to make sure you come with someone who can keep your mind off other things for a while, perhaps.” Nick takes a breath. “Lou?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not sure about this night time thing. At work.”

“Oh?” Louis props himself up and looks down at Nick. He reaches across and gets a beer which Nick takes a sip of and Louis has a long drink.

“I’ve done that before.” Nick pulls a face. He props himself up and grabs his own beer, watching Louis as he talks. His eyelashes brush his cheeks and he looks as open as Louis has ever seen him. Unguarded. Louis’ heart swells watching him – the way the moonlight catches him in silvery tendrils of light and the way the shadows contour his face. “Back in the days when I used to go out and party all the time. I’m not sure I fancy doing a late show again. I’ve had to keep weird hours with Breakfast and it might be nice not to spend the day sleeping off a hangover and getting ready for radio of an evening.”

“Are there other options?” Louis doesn’t want to push Nick. He tries to keep his questions and advice limited. He knows it’s something Nick needs to work through.

“Afternoon might be good, but there isn’t anything at the BBC on Radio One in the pipeline at the minute.” Nick stretches out again and puts his beer down, blinking at the sky. “Fuck.”

Louis thinks carefully. He tries to draw on the way he felt when the topic of the hiatus first came up. That feeling of having the rug pulled from underneath him too soon, too soon.

“Do you have time to think about it?”

“A bit. Not ages.” Nick sighs. “I can’t imagine not doing the radio, though. What would I do if I didn’t take it?”

Louis picks his words carefully. “You know when you told me to just let things…process for a bit? It was good advice. Don’t jump into it. Let’s make a list or something. Talk about it. Take a step back for a bit and work out what you want – the things you’re prepared to do and the things you’re not and then the nice to haves. It might make it get a bit clearer.”

“You’re right.” Nick slips his fingers between Louis’. His hands are warm. “Thanks.”

“It’s fine.”

“What about you?” Nick turns slightly, looking at Louis again. “I heard a rumour you’ve been spending time in the studio.”

“Who the fuck knows that?” Louis rolls his eyes. He watches the sky, the vastness of it and the odd star which manages to break through the smog and the clouds. Go on, he thinks. You can do it. “I’ve been trying some new stuff. It’s all early days.”

“Good.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand. “Does it make you happy?”

It used to be such an easy question to answer. Now Louis knows what really makes him happy and it’s part of it but it’s not everything. Not the be all and end all anymore. His mind is preoccupied with other things he thinks might make him happier – not hiding. Not feeling as though he’s trapped in four walls which keep pressing in on him. Success feels different, now. Sometimes success is getting up and showering. Breathing in another day.

“Maybe. It did.” Louis pauses. “I think I like writing stuff. I like being creative. It helps work through things.”

“I paint a bit.” Nick laughs, low in his throat. “I’m crap at it, but it helps too. Maybe it’s the same. Except people don’t pay millions of pounds for my stuff.”

Louis snorts. “Not sure if they’ll pay that for my stuff either, now. It’s different. Different to before. I’m writing about the stuff I want to write about now. Not pretending.”

“Is it all cocks and sex toys?” Nick sounds like he’s smiling and Louis tickles his side until he moves away with a laugh and an oi!.

“Yes, Nicholas. I wrote one about you actually. It’s called My Boyfriend’s a Wanker. Literally.”

“Catchy. Let’s get it to number one.” Nick presses his cheek against Louis’ chest. “I won’t play anything else but that, see how they like firing me then.”

“I could write a few more. There’s one which describes being eye-level with your cock that’s got the feel of a summer club classic about it.”

“Perfect.” Nick runs his fingers over Louis’ stomach. “I’ll do the nude for the cover.”

“You should.” Louis can feel his body start to stir with interest again. What is it about Nick and his fingers that drives Louis to distraction every single time? “Be dead arty. You could do a self-portrait of your knob.”

“Fine art.” Nick laughs. He shifts closer to Louis and moves his hand over Louis’ throat, tipping his head back. He presses a series of damp kisses on Louis’ neck, his breathing already a little shallow. “I’m glad you’re writing again. Really. Will you show me when you’re ready?”

“Yeah.” Louis bites back a groan and stretches into Nick’s kisses which are very distracting. “I will.”

He thinks of his notebooks filled with the deepest corners of his heart and perhaps showing Nick at some point won’t be so scary after all. Soon, he tells himself. With all of it. Telling Harry, telling other people, showing Nick his songs and saying this one’s for you. It hangs in the air like a promise.

Louis lets Nick take him away from all of it, just for now and the streets of Los Angeles hum and whir as the night watches over them and covers their bodies with its blanket of clouds.

Chapter Text

Los Angeles is different with Nick. He makes thing loud for a start, but he also makes the quiet moments comfortable. There’s a certain kind of warmth when he’s around, that Louis can’t find even in the relentless heat of the California sun. By the time they get to Nick’s last day it’s all Louis can do to stop himself from rearranging the flights so he doesn’t have to spend that one extra day and night without Nick. He thinks that’s a bit pathetic, but the way Nick holds him close and says come round as soon as you’re back makes Louis think maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s not.

“You said you had a present for me?” Louis takes a sip of his beer, his feet in Nick’s lap as they soak up the sun. “Something that wasn’t arse and cock based.”

“I did.” Nick gives Louis’ feet a squeeze and he moves inside. Louis likes the way Nick’s found his way around Louis’ home. He likes that he can give Louis shit for not having the right pans. Likes that Nick’s been here for long enough to know where the mugs are and that Nick’s taken the time to select one for himself – the one with One Direction in the early days printed on the side. Louis’ backside still stings from Nick’s paddle and he likes the way it feels when he shifts in his chair. It’s been forty-eight hours. For the first twenty-four, Louis clung onto Nick as tightly as he could and Nick held Louis close and made the grey turn into technicolour. Louis doesn’t have that strange low feeling today, the one that forces itself on Louis after a blissful moment of flying away from it all. He loves it, but it’s a bit like flying into the sun. It’s so, so beautiful but you wake up with burns. Nick seems to get it and he doesn’t let Louis out of his sight, keeping him warm and comfortable and curling up with him in front of the telly, eating takeaway out of the cartons. Aftercare, Louis thinks it’s called. Thankfully Nick’s as good at that as he is with the other stuff.

Nick returns with a Coach bag. Inside there’s a box and something wrapped in tissue. “It’s not much.” Nick looks red and Louis suspects there’s something more to the gift than meets the eye – a reason Nick might have to pretend it’s rubbish so his heart doesn’t end up overexposed. Louis gets that.

Louis loves presents, although he’s always loved buying gifts more than receiving them. There’s something about seeing the look on someone’s face when he hands them over. Opening gifts reminds him of family holidays and he shoves that thought to one side. Not tonight. That’s not for tonight.

“I’m crap. Didn’t get you anything.”

“I’m staying at your place. Only polite, isn’t it.” Nick gives Louis a smile. “Besides, you got me those daffodils.”

“They were shit. You thought I stole them.”

Nick shrugs. “I’ve got one of them drying in between two books as we speak so they can’t have been that bad.”

“You haven’t,” Louis stares at Nick. Nick just winks back and Louis suspects he’s never going to know how Nick squirrels away trinkets which represent pivotal moments in their relationship. He’s going to have to get it out of him when he’s drunk.

“It’s not much, anyway. Proper rich popstar like you can afford a lot of stuff. The jumper was free.”

“You’re not supposed to tell me what it is, you’ve ruined the surprise, you knob.” Louis laughs nevertheless and tears open the rest of the tissue. It’s a jumper Louis thinks was part of Nick’s Topman range. It’s large with black wool and a white sketch of Pig on the front. When Louis presses it against his cheek it’s so soft and it smells faintly like Nick. “This is yours.”

“Might be.” Nick’s cheeks turn pink. “It’s silly. Pig wanted you to have it, I think. Maybe you can keep it for when it’s okay to wear it. Whenever that is.”

“Yeah.” Louis breathes in the scent of Nick on the jumper and he pulls it on. It’s a bit long and loose on him but in a way Louis likes. He’s always fond of clothes you can drown in. They make him feel protected, somehow. “I love it. Don’t you want one? It’s your collection.”

“I’ve got plenty of stuff. Jackets, t-shirts, shirts.” Nick raises his eyebrow at Louis. “Like the shirt with the jizz.”

“I didn’t describe it like that. Filthy lies.” Louis did, actually, he just didn’t know Nick overheard. “I love it. Thanks.”

“It’s okay.” Nick laughs and he snaps a shot of Louis in the jumper. He fiddles around on his phone and then tips it towards Louis. “Screensaver. Just for now. I’ll change it.”

“Oh.” Warmth slides through Louis as he looks at the picture. The way the sun catches him he looks soft and happy. His smile is so wide and his eyes are doing a weird, fond sort of thing that makes Louis feel a bit embarrassed. So that’s what he looks like when he looks at Nick. Christ. It’s a bit much to see it there on Nick’s phone.

“Tell Pig thanks.”

“I will.” Nick grins and he pokes Louis with his foot. “Open the other one.”

“Impatient.” Louis opens the second gift, his heart full in his chest. It’s a leather-bound notebook in soft grey with a small inscription across the middle etched into the leather.

over the rainbow

Nick watches Louis react. “It’s a Judy Garland song.”

“I know that.”

“Bit depressing, actually but it made me think of you, a bit. Off taking pictures of your rainbow flags.”

Louis wonders if Nick knows. About the rain and how it always reminds Louis of his kisses. About the days when Nick brings a certain warmth that even the sun can’t manage. Louis suspects not.

“Rubbish pictures. I thought someone might see me and work it all out.”

“Then we’ll just have to go back one day and take proper ones.” Nick pauses. “I thought you could write in it. Those songs of yours you’ve been beavering away at. You’ve probably already got a book so use it for recipes or summat if not. Doesn’t matter.”

“Recipes? No one needs instructions on potato waffles and beans.”

“You,” Nick says, pointing his beer at Louis. “Are a horrid child. Potato waffles and beans?”

“Heinz. Only ever Heinz, Nicholas. With some grated cheese. Not the poncy sort you probably like. Just a good old-fashioned cheddar.”

“Delightful.” Nick looks a bit disgusted but his lips quirk at the edges.

“I love it,” Louis says. “Really.”

Nick flushes. “It’s not a big thing. Don’t make it into something.”

“As if.” Louis swallows back a wave of emotion. “I’ll put all my new songs in there.”

Nick nods. “Whenever you’re ready to write more.”

I’m ready, Louis thinks. Ready, ready. “I’ve nearly finished my other book. Had a lot to say recently.”

“I bet.” Nick lightens the mood by smiling around his beer. “Gobby.”

“Oi.” Louis’ skin feels hot but he ploughs on. “Could show you? Probably won’t sing. Not yet.”

“Okay.” Nick’s eyes widen. “Yeah. Do.”

“Now?”

“If you like.” Nick puts his feet up on Louis’ chair when Louis gets up to retrieve his notebook. He gives it to Nick, who begins to flick through. “You’re right about nearly being out of space. That’s good, isn’t it? Got your new book now for when you finish.”

“Yeah.” Louis takes a breath as Nick studies the ragged pages. “There’s some stuff at the back. Stuff I haven’t really shown anyone.”

“Lucky for me I get to see, then.” Nick flicks towards the back. When he gets to the part where Louis’ writing is so obviously about Nick, Louis can see his Adam’s apple working when he reads. “Lou?”

“Nick?” Louis feels a bit breathless.

“I really want to go to your room now.”

“Okay.” Louis drags Nick through the house and Nick puts the book on the side of the table, gently as if it’s made of something fragile. Nick tugs at Louis’ clothes, his breath hot against Louis’ skin.

“Off. Get them off, will you?”

“I’m going as fast as I can, Nicholas.” Louis really is. He nearly trips over his joggers trying to pull them off and he stumbles towards the bed. He stretches out and Nick moves over him. He shifts under Nick, desperate to feel him. “I don’t want to wait. Just use lots of lube and fuck me, will you?”

“Lou.” Nick makes a strangled sound, his hands large on Louis’ skin.

“It’s fine. Please.” With a low groan, Nick does as Louis asks. He slicks himself thoroughly and Louis too, pressing his fingers inside him just for a moment. Louis finds he really doesn’t need much. He’s relaxed and so, so ready for Nick. When Nick pushes inside him and nearly bends Louis double, the stretch is sharp and intense but it’s good. It’s so good.

“Okay, darling?”

“Okay. Okay.” Louis nods, his voice ragged and pitchy. Nick pushes into him and this. This is the moment Louis wondered about after the first I love you. The looking into one another’s eyes and the light beads of perspiration salty and sweet on their skin. The way Nick’s eyes never leave Louis. The kisses and the way Nick’s body shudders and trembles as he holds Louis in place and moves into him, hard and slow. It’s everything. The don’t want you to go home shag. The wanting to stay in the bubble and not having to go back to earth with a bump. It’s more than just fucking. It has been for such a long time but in the intimacy of this moment in particular, Louis feels it more keenly than ever. This is going into one of his new songs. He already knows it’s going to be etched between verses in his new book, hidden somewhere in lyrics that sound a bit more polite than remember when you were inside me and I forgot how to breathe? His body pulses with pleasure – his head full of Nick. Each kiss brings Louis even closer to the edge.

“Louis…” Nick sounds strangled and breathless, his voice cracking. “Lou.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “I know.”

When Nick comes deep inside Louis, he tries to grind into Louis for long enough that Louis can bring himself off with his hand. It doesn’t take long and Nick slides out of Louis when Louis clenches around him and comes hard over his own fingers.

They stretch out on the bed and look at the ceiling and Louis almost thinks he can hear their hearts beating in tandem.

“Wish I didn’t have to leave.”

“Wish you didn’t have to leave,” Louis agrees. “Is it all going to change when I get back? When I come out?”

“Some things will.” Nick presses a kiss to Louis’ tattoo, the one that covers his collarbone and curves over his skin.

“Not everything, though.”

“No.”

“Not this,” Louis says.

“I hope not.” Nick kisses Louis again and he keeps his expression hidden as he presses his cheek against Louis’ skin. “They’re all going to tell you it’s a mistake. Being with me.”

They?”

“Your fans. Your management, probably.”

“Well they’ll be wrong.” Louis tries to sound more confident than he feels as his next words leave him. “We’ll show them.”

“Yeah,” Nick says. “We will.”

That night they watch the film Louis saw in the Castro. They curl up together on the sofa and watch every minute, hardly talking as Nick takes it in. Afterwards, it’s quiet. They smoke cigarettes on the balcony and watch the stars.

“Thank you,” Louis says.

“For what?”

“Just because.” Louis shrugs. “I never thought I’d be here.”

“Funnily enough, neither did I.” Nick stretches across to take Louis’ hand. “Hey.”

“Hiya.”

“Proud of you.”

Louis leans in and kisses Nick, wanting to cling onto the moment forever but also desperate to get back to the streets of London with its cool rain and cloudy skies. He can’t stay here forever and he doesn’t want to, anymore. He’s not going to be stagnant. Every day he spends with Nick feels like a shaky step forward – like learning how to walk.

He wants to keep walking.

He wants to run.

*

They agree to tell Harry when they get back from LA. Nick makes the suggestion quietly, over an episode of The Simpsons and Louis says he’ll think about it. They end up in a sweaty tangle of limbs and Nick’s face is so close to Louis, his eyes so soft and fond that Louis can’t believe he’s real.

“Okay,” Louis says. “Let’s tell him. At the weekend or something, so we can all get drunk.”

Nick gives Louis’ cheek a poke and he grins at him. “Mature.”

“Proper adult decision making.” Louis thinks his heart is going to beat out of his chest, his hands clammy and his body tense.”

Nick pauses and then he presses his lips to Louis’. “Brave.”

“Give over.” Louis’ cheeks heat.

“Nope. Don’t think I will.” Nick reaches for his phone and taps something out, replying to the ping, pings from the enthusiastic recipient. Nick tips his phone so Louis can see the texts about Nick wanting to introduce Harry to someone and the !!! about time, Grim that follows. Louis might look up to the text above, might notice the picture of Stinky that Nick sent to Harry earlier that day. Might read a couple of the responses. The easy banter between them suggests that even though Nick doesn’t mention Harry much they’re in touch. A lot. Louis tries not to let his jealousy get the better of him because of course he knows. He knows Nick sometimes omits Harry’s name from stories on the radio and Louis’ long suspected he does the same with Louis when he tells him something funny or shares a story of his lunch with a friend.

Later that week, Nick books a meal somewhere Louis really doesn’t fancy going. It sounds a bit posh with the sort of bite-sized food that makes Louis feel queasy and uncomfortable. He does a quick Google and wonders why they’re going somewhere that snootily asks for jackets just to get through the door. Louis doesn’t have that sort of casual evening meal jacket and he doesn’t want to put on his suit from the Brits just to go out and have some food. When he texts Nick about it he gets the reassurance that they don’t really enforce those rules and definitely not for two popstars. It doesn’t make Louis feel much better, which is why he’s horrible to Nick on Friday morning and the reason Louis switches off his phone when Nick leaves.

He only has himself to blame, Louis supposes, when the door to Nick’s flat opens and a voice that’s definitely not Nick’s shouts for Pig and Stinky. With a muttered curse, Louis turns on his mobile and holds his breath. Ten messages. Ten texts from Nick and seven missed calls. The last message just says Pick up, you twat. Harry’s coming round. He’s got a key.

For one frantic moment, Louis thinks about hiding in the wardrobe. He appreciates the irony of hiding in a fucking closet, but he’s not really in any mood for humour when he’s half naked, hungover and Harry is right there in Nick’s house. Saying something schmoopy to the dogs and being barked at by Stinky who is – rightly – suspicious.

Louis curses and gets out of bed, shoving on a pair of jogging bottoms and the first t-shirt he can find. It’s the one Nick took off the night before. It’s got Dr Dre on the front and it still smells of Nick’s cologne and deodorant. It’s strangely calming. Louis pushes open the bedroom door and makes his way downstairs, where he can hear Harry whistling in the kitchen.

“Hi.” He stands awkwardly, not sure what to do with his hands.

“Fucking hell.” Harry turns and stares at Louis. His face does all kinds of things. He’s always had an expressive face, Harry has. It moves from a weird kind of eyebrow raised, I think I’m going to have a heart attack moment into a furrowed brow. Louis watches the reactions as they happen and he’s pretty sure the landing point is best described as a confused grimace.

“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.” Louis shoves his hands into Nick’s tracksuit bottoms for want of something better to do with them.

Harry’s eyes narrow, the furrow in his brow deepening. “I mean…I can probably work it out. Are you shitting me? You’re the mystery bloke I’m supposed to be having quails egg and steak tartare with tonight?”

Louis winces. “That sounds rank, mate.”

Harry is definitely glaring. “Grim said he wanted to introduce me to someone.”

“Here I am.” Louis puts on his best fake smile. He keeps his voice sharp and light but Harry knows all of Louis’ tricks. “Consider yourself introduced.”

“Fuck.” Harry sits in one of the seats in the kitchen, opening a bottle that looks suspiciously like coconut water. He looks like he’s just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Here he is. Harry Styles. The industry darling. The coulda, woulda, shoulda of the One Direction boys. The one everyone knew would make it in the end. Louis isn’t jealous of that as much as he is of the fact Harry always fit into spaces where Louis felt like a square peg in a round hole. Now, it’s no different. Harry slides effortlessly into Nick’s chair as if he’s been there a million times before, which he probably has. He looks at home. There are pictures of him on the fridge – held in place with magnets right by the butterflies which don’t look too dissimilar to the one Harry has etched into his chest. He’s even wearing one of Nick’s shirts – the one Louis told Payno looks a bit like someone jacked off all over it.

“Bit of a surprise.” Louis refuses to let himself feel out of place here, in Nick’s home. Refuses. He fills the kettle and reaches into the cupboards for the teabags, grabbing milk from the fridge. He’s already come downstairs from the bedroom in Nick’s clothes. It’s not exactly going to change things if he makes it clear he knows his way around the place.

“Grimmy doesn’t even drink proper tea,” Harry says. He sounds a bit faint.

“What?” Louis turns to face Harry, half way through the tea making process. The tea he makes for Nick when he can be arsed to get up early. The tea he makes for Nick when he’s getting anxious about something.

“He prefers green tea.” Harry sips his coconut water and pushes a hand through his hair. “Christ, Louis.”

It’s why they don’t work anymore. Not because of Larry Stylinson or because of the Louis Tomlinson gay for Harry Styles rumours. They were uncomfortable at one stage, but not the problem, not really. It’s not because of the fact Harry really is making it with critically acclaimed albums and another one coming soon, when Louis has been struggling to get any words to mesh together on a page. The problem is, Louis backed off from Harry because it's just too hard to watch him interact in the places Louis never felt really comfortable. They can wear all the designer garb they like, but Harry’s like Nick. He puts on YSL shirts and Gucci and he fits into those places where people talk about fashion and image like it’s everything. Louis can wear everything Kanye West puts out on the market but even when he’s in head to toe designer he still wears clothes that make him feel like the boy from Doncaster – the boy fame happened to when he wasn’t even noticing.

“Fuck off,” Louis says. Sharp, cold and irrationally really fucking angry about Harry and his Nick only drinks green tea judgments. He wants to shout and scream and throw things around and say he made Nick eat a McDonalds, had him out there in the fucking LA moonlight and he wasn’t giving an arsing fuck about his tea then. Nick’s a boy from Oldham and Louis is a boy from Donny and they get one another. They understand. Louis doesn’t say that, though. Louis does what he always does. He smiles and knows it’s colder than granite.

Harry flushes, his cheeks dusky pink. He studies his coconut water like it’s one of his bloody books full of the kind of highbrow culture Louis missed when he was playing Fifa and kicking a ball around with Liam. Full of the sort of stuff that’s everywhere in Nick’s house. There’s something about having Harry here that sets it all into sharp relief. The reasons why Louis and Nick shouldn’t work. The reasons they can’t have the things Louis wants. His breath catches in his throat and Louis doesn’t even realise he’s dropped his mug until it’s all shattered china and Harry’s stroking his back saying Lou…breathe, just breathe in that slow, deep, familiar way of his.

“Sometimes,” Louis says. “Sometimes I hated you.” He doesn’t know when his cheeks got damp or when Harry being so close again was okay. Okay.

Harry makes a distressed sound because he’s Harry and he wants to be loved even when it’s hard. Louis knows that. He knows Harry needs the praise and the validation and doesn’t everyone, really? It’s not like Louis saying piss off, I don’t care makes any real difference to the way his stomach twists when he reads those articles, when he sits down and takes in the things they say about his drinking or the drug habit they like to make up when the press can be bothered to write about him.

“I never hated you,” Harry says. His words are thick like treacle and he sounds like he did when he was young and found all the awful shit on Twitter that made Louis want to fight a war for him. “I don’t. I thought we were friends.”

“Because of the WhatsApp group and a few text messages?” Louis rubs his hand over his eyes and leans back against the counter. His feet are still bare and the floor is covered in jagged edges from the broken mug. It’s the one Nick’s sister got him. The one Louis suspects Nick keeps around because it reminds him of his dad. It makes Louis’ stomach roll. Nick’s going to take Harry’s side on this because Louis is a dick and he broke Nick’s mug and made Harry look like a kicked puppy, when Harry’s there in Nick’s Topman clothes with his face on the fridge where there’s no space for Louis because no one can know.

It’s a panic attack, probably. The not quite being able to breathe and the way Harry makes a quick, snappy call on his phone before handing Louis a brown paper bag.

“Use this.”

“You’re an idiot.” Louis breathes into it anyway, because it’s only polite. It tastes faintly of croissant, like the ones Harry put on plates before Louis came downstairs. Two pastries, side by side. No place for you here, lad. Louis’ going to choke on a bit of hipster pastry and Harry and Nick can bond over burying his body somewhere Pig can’t dig him up. He closes his eyes for a second and lets his racing heart calm. Maybe it’s not a panic attack. Or just a small one. He doesn’t even know why everything is so suddenly displaced. He opens his eyes and blinks at Harry. “I’m gay.” He says it out loud, in the open and nobody comes charging in demanding interviews. “By the way.”

“I got that.” Harry smiles around his frown. He puts his hand on Louis’ shoulder, clap, clap, it’s okay, don’t stress yourself out. “I mean, you’re definitely not straight if you’re shagging Grimmy.”

All those endless articles come to mind and Louis stares at Harry. “You’re straight and you shagged him.”

Harry turns a peculiar colour and looks awkward as fuck. “He told you about that?”

“Not really. I asked and he’s shit at lying.” Louis doesn’t want to drop Nick in it because Nick definitely doesn’t deserve it. He’s already coming home to a broken mug, possible One Direction related drama and Louis choking to death on Harry’s hipster food on his kitchen floor.

“Oh.” Harry looks thoughtful, taking his time. He’s so different to Louis. So, so different. Louis doesn’t hate him. He shouldn’t have said that, because he doesn’t. He’s not sure they’ll get back to those days of sharing beds and cuddling up when things become confusing, but it would be pretty tough to dislike Harry, and Louis has definitely tried. “I’m not, like, completely straight. More fluid than that.”

“Do you like him?” A desire to know burns through Louis. He knows he told Nick Harry was straight but he also knew that was a fucking lie even when he said it. He suspects Nick knew that, too. It’s just been easier to convince himself that Harry’s straight so he doesn’t start acting like a child when he sees pictures of Nick and Harry together splashed all over the press. Honestly, he’s not sure it works.

“Do I like Grimmy?” Harry raises his eyebrows at Louis. “I’d have probably got out of meeting the boyfriend if I did. I’m seeing someone. A girl.” He shakes his head as if he’s trying to clear away a cloud of thoughts. “Doesn’t matter. Even if I wasn’t. No. Not like that. He must have said what it was.”

Louis thinks back to that first night. The ask him yourself. Louis sitting on the floor, carefully choosing David Bowie and so excited about kissing. Just kissing.

“Maybe. It was ages ago. We weren’t really sharing much beyond bad booze and saliva.” Louis pulls a face.

The door rattles and the dogs clatter through the house, barking loudly as Nick tries to calm them with his my dogs are amazing voice. He settles them before he appears in the kitchen, his hair all skew whiff and his face pale. He looks from Louis to Harry and back again.

“Hiya,” he says. Louis loves him, so fucking much.

“I broke your mug.” Louis gestures to the china around his bare feet. “The one with Beckham.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick gives Harry a glance and something passes between them which Louis isn’t sure he understands. It makes him feel small. “You can replace it with one of those ones where his kit comes off when you pour tea into it.”

“They’re sick.” Harry’s face brightens and he wraps Nick in a hug. “Hi, Grim.”

“Harold.” Nick hugs Harry and then he turns to Louis. Louis who feels like he might shake out of his skin. “You’re a twat.”

“What?” Louis’ teeth are chattering a bit and he can’t stop it. It’s not even cold.

“You’re a fucking knob. You and your phone off and being pissy and breaking my mug and everything. I’ve been losing it in meetings, trying to get home before this.” Nick gestures between Louis and Harry. “Before this happened.”

“Sorry?” Louis offers. He’s so fucking cold. How do you really like your tea? he wants to say. Was it better with Harry?

“You’re a complete and utter knob.” Nick definitely overuses that word but he’s side-stepping the china and he takes Louis’ face in his large hands, which are warm and firm. “Don’t turn your phone off again. I was worried, you tit.” He pulls Louis into his arms and kisses him. Like he doesn’t give a flying fuck who’s there or what Harry knows or anything. Like he doesn’t care about the broken pieces littered all over the floor or the way Louis sometimes feels like the fractured china. “Hey,” he says, when he pulls back.

“Sorry.” It’s not quite as cold in Nick’s arms because he’s tall and ridiculous and he smells like home. “You could’ve told me you only drink green tea.”

“Filthy lies.” Nick gives Louis a wide smile and he kisses his forehead. “Listen to Harold here and he’ll have me dressed entirely in hemp.”

“Hey.” Harry sounds like he’s smiling. “Shall I get the thing for the mug?”

“Yeah. Cheers.” Nick lets Harry traipse off into the house and he kisses Louis again. “Idiot.”

Louis can’t even speak because his chest is full and Nick makes everything that’s out of kilter balance again. When he can finally speak, he manages to steady his voice.

“Is it true? About the tea?”

“Nope.” Nick shakes his head. “Green tea, kale smoothies, only eating raw fish sourced from a nunnery in Scotland.” He pokes his fingers into Louis’ side. “It’s me, innit? I like to do a diet that makes me miserable when all I really want is a McDonalds cheeseburger, a nice cup of builder’s tea and a couple of chocolate digestives.”

“Then you’re the knob,” Louis says.

When Nick kisses him again, it feels like Nick agrees.

*

Harry tidies up the bits of Nick’s mug and they sit on Nick’s sofas, with Harry sprawled in a chair he’s clearly commandeered for his own and Louis trying not to curl too close into Nick. It all feels a bit strange.

“Do we have to go out for that meal?” Louis looks from Harry to Nick and back again.

Harry shakes his head. “I don’t think we should. The press are going to be all over it. Someone saw me coming into Nick’s and it’s all over Twitter.

Nick frowns at Louis. “We’ll have to be on the lookout if I take you back to yours tomorrow. They tend to hang around when they know Harry’s in town. Unless you want to stay a bit?”

“I can stay.” Louis shrugs. “Nothing much else to do. A meeting I can shift.”

“Good.” Nick stretches his arm across the back of the sofa. It’s not like he’s pulling Louis into his lap because that might be a bit rude with Harry there, but it feels vaguely territorial. Like Louis belongs here, on the sofa next to Nick. Even with all of the books Louis knows he’s never going to read and the candles he thinks are a right waste of money.

“How long are you in town for?” Louis tries to make polite small talk with Harry but he’s not sure it’s working. Harry puts his phone down and he rubs his forehead.

“Err, not sure. A week or two.” Harry looks from Nick to Louis and back again. “Why did you want to tell me? I assume it’s not going public.”

Louis bristles and it’s only Nick’s fingers rubbing over the nape of his neck that keep him from snapping. “It’s going public.”

“Lou.”

“No, it is.” Louis looks at Nick. “Soon.”

“Okay.” Nick nods. He doesn’t offer anything else because Louis knows they really do need to talk about this more together but it’s not the right time with someone else in the room.

“I met some of Nick’s friends. Some of your friends. It’s not fair if some people can know but not everyone.” Louis shrugs.

Harry’s eyes widen momentarily and he looks at Nick. “Like who?”

“That weekend at Soho Farmhouse.”

“Oh.” Harry obviously knows about because he sits back, still looking thoughtful. “So it’s properly serious?”

That really raises Louis’ hackles and he gives Harry a sharp smile. “Any reason it wouldn’t be, love?”

“Settle down you monster.” Nick huffs out a laugh and he stands. “Fucking hell, I’m getting some booze. I’m going to be a bit. Put on a pizza. Make a salad. Feed the dogs and have a fag. Sort it out, will you? It’s Friday night and my career’s falling apart. I could do with a bit of fun instead of sitting here with two popstars throwing daggers. Kiss and make up.” He points a finger at Harry. “But don’t actually kiss. I’m keeping an eye on you, Styles. You and that slow blink.”

Harry laughs and it’s warm and genuine. He makes a shooing motion at Nick. “Go on, then. Tell Stinky I want to see her after she’s fed.”

“You should be so lucky.”

“She likes me,” Louis feels the need to offer.

“Oh my god.” Nick leaves the room with a groan, shaking his head.

There’s an uneasy silence as Nick begins to potter around in the kitchen. Louis lights a cigarette and grabs an ashtray. He doesn’t usually smoke in the house but Friday nights are an exception and this is definitely a moment which requires a smoke.

“I thought we were fine.” Harry watches Louis smoke, staying quiet for a minute. “I mean, not great. But okay. We all went off on good terms. We’re in touch.”

“We are fine.” Louis shrugs. He pulls a face. “I shouldn’t have said that about hating you. I couldn’t hate you. Bit jealous sometimes.”

“Why?” Harry shakes his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Because it comes easily to you.” Louis stubs out his cigarette, but he doesn’t want to chain smoke. Harry knows that’s a sure sign Louis is nervous or miserable. He doesn’t want to give that impression, even though both would be an apt description of his current mood. “All of it. Being around some of those twats at parties. Keeping your nose clean. I just said stupid shit on Twitter and everyone thought I was this wanker who threw a strop about being a celebrity or about paps getting in my face.”

“Scrappy,” Harry says. He grins, because he knows Louis. He knows him. “It’s not like you think for me. Not always. Did Nick tell you about that girl?”

“Nope.” Louis gives Harry a look. “Funnily enough we don’t sit around talking about you and playing your album on repeat.” He winces because it sounds sharper than he means it to. “Sorry. It’s good, by the way.”

“It’s alright. Thanks.” Harry’s smile looks a bit watery. “I thought she was into me. We did some stupid shit together. I took a few things. Did some sex stuff I don’t really want out there. I thought it was, like, love, or something. She went quiet after a bit. Next thing I know I hear there’s going to be a big interview. Exposing the real Harry Styles.”

“Oh.” Louis’ stomach rolls because he can imagine that happening to him. Can imagine how painful that might feel, how fucked up he’d be by someone he trusted turning on him like that. “That’s shit. I didn’t hear anything about it.”

“You wouldn’t. We reached a deal. Lots of money, lots of lawyers.” Harry winces. “The last time I saw her we were sitting across the table deciding how many zeros not ruining my life might be worth.”

Louis lights another cigarette. It feels necessary. “I didn’t know.”

“No one did.” Harry’s smile doesn’t meet his eyes. “Bit embarrassing, that.”

“Yeah. Shouldn’t be, though. Not for you. Embarrassing for her.”

“Yeah.” Harry looks away. “Was it hard for you?”

“What?”

“The stuff about you and me. Did I make it worse?”

“Oh.” Louis thinks about it. It wasn’t easy but he was so young when that was at its peak. He played on it too, he supposes. He had fun with it because he enjoyed being close to Harry and having someone who was a kid from the North like him going through the same crazy things. Maybe it was something else, for Louis but he’s not sure it was. It was all intense back then. He just loved their friendship and having someone who could talk him down in those moments of wanting to set the world on fire. “No. Not really. I think I was still…suppressing it.”

“Right.” Harry looks back at Louis. “Not anymore, though?”

“Nope. Not anymore.” Louis waves a hand in the direction of the kitchen. “Nick’s been…great.”

“He is great.” Harry’s smile lights up and it’s weird, how it doesn’t make Louis feel as jealous. Nick deserves it. Deserves to have a friend who smiles like that whenever his name gets mentioned. Louis wants that for Nick. Even if it has to be Harry and that might feel awkward and weird sometimes. He wants Harry to have a Nick that he can talk to about things like realising love wasn’t love at all. He wants Harry to have someone he can be a fuck up around, because Louis is slowly coming to realise that Harry might not have many people like that. Jeff, definitely. Ben. His sister and his mum. Nick and his friends are important to Harry too. Louis gets that. Louis also wants Nick to have someone who lights up just because he’s so fucking happy to be with Nick. He wants those things for Nick and Harry. For both of them. As long as it’s just friends Louis can cope with that. He understands the importance of friendship and loyalty.

“Yeah. Really great.”

“Who’s great?” Nick comes into the living room trying to balance some shit looking booze in his arms as Pig jumps up.

“Barry Manilow,” Louis says at the same time Harry says, “Justin Bieber.”

They laugh and Nick looks confused, finally putting down the booze and flopping on the sofa next to Louis.

“I’m bored in the kitchen. It’s lonely by myself, talking to the dogs.”

“You were gone about five minutes.”

Nick frowns at Louis. “Still lonely.”

“Don’t be lonely, then.” Louis pokes Nick in the thigh. “Knob.”

“I won’t.” Nick catches Louis’ hand and pulls him a bit closer. He makes them all drinks which are bright orange and taste like grapefruit. He clinks his glass with Louis’. “This is an Aperol Spritz.”

“It’s a fucking travesty is what it is,” Louis says after taking a sip. “Does it do the trick?”

“After a while.” Nick looks from Harry to Louis. “Fancy sitting in the garden for a bit?” He looks at Harry. “You’ll stay for a bit, won’t you? Not dashing off now you’ve seen me all domesticated with Tommo here.”

“’Course I’ll stay.” Harry stands and stretches, flashing his tanned stomach and endless tattoos. Louis sneaks a glance at Nick but he’s looking at Louis, his face a bit warm and goofy. “Don’t start snogging or something in front of me. I’m getting over a broken heart.”

“As if I would.” Nick looks shocked, but Louis thinks he probably would, given half the chance. Nick gets a bit grabby after a few.

“You would,” Harry says.

They go into the garden and even though it’s still warm, the sky is grey and thick with clouds. It looks like rain. Louis watches the clouds moving through the sky as Harry and Nick talk about Harry’s new girlfriend. He feels the first drops of rain on his face and the wind whispers in the trees.

It’s okay, darling, they tell him. It’s really okay.

They barely make it inside before the heavens open and fat droplets of rain make a pat, pat noise on the windows.

*

Later that night Louis waits for Nick to get out of the bathroom and slip into bed beside him. Harry’s asleep in the spare room after getting pissed on Nick’s weird drinks. Louis feels a bit light-headed but he’s otherwise okay. It’s not been a bad night, all things considered.

“Nick?”

“Louis?”

Louis turns on his side and props himself up on his elbow, looking at Nick. “How come Harry has a key and I don’t?”

Nick swallows. When he speaks his voice is gruff. “Thought it might be a bit for real giving you a key.”

“Oh.” Louis puts his hand on Nick’s chest. “Bit late for that. It’s a bit for real already. Even without a key.”

Nick pushes a hand into Louis’ hair and he kisses him so soundly it makes Louis’ whole body hot with desire. “I’ll get one cut tomorrow. You can have ten keys. A hundred.”

“Just want one. Knob.” Louis runs his hand through Nick’s hair. “You can have a key too, if you like.”

“So I can come round and wash up for you?” Nick gives Louis a look but the pink in his cheeks give away his pleasure.

“Just try to keep the noise down if I’m having a lie in. No hoovering in the morning. Have to wait until at least lunchtime. Get me a keyring with a picture of your knob on.”

“I’ll try to remember.” Nick leans into Louis’ hand, tipping his face and kissing Louis’ palm. It’s a sweet gesture. “I’ll show you where the dishwasher is for when you’re round here.”

“I know where it is.” Louis frowns at Nick.

“Really?” Nick rolls his eyes and then he turns his face upwards to the ceiling. “Better show you again, then. I think you get lost on your way from the sink.” He clears his throat. “Lou?”

“Nick?”

“It’s customary to celebrate adult conversations about exchanging keys with blow jobs.”

Louis grins. “Customary for who?”

“For us, hopefully. To be repeated whenever said keys are put into use.” Nick pulls Louis closer into a filthy kiss, running his hands down Louis’ back and squeezing his backside.

“I like these customs of yours. I’m learning so much from you, Nicholas.”

“I’m a stickler for tradition.”

Nick kisses Louis and they don’t talk about much else for a long while after.

In the morning Harry makes them avocado on toast and Louis even pretends to enjoy it.

Chapter Text

I feel like I'm standing on a mountain
where everyone can see me
in the worst way.
All of these eyes on me expecting
but I can't find a thing to say.

Headlights
casting my shadow
on the clouds behind me
darkening all that define me.
In all that blinding confusion
how did I ever find you?

Once Harry knows it’s like being on a rollercoaster that’s going a bit too fast. Louis wants it to slow down but at the same time he wants to push his hands in the air and yell I wanna go faster even when his stomach turns and his heart pounds in his chest. Louis knows he needs to tell people. He goes to Liam’s place and meets Bear. It’s weird because Cheryl knows Nick and Liam clearly doesn’t know what the fuck to say.

“Cool, man.” He says for want of something better, over and over. Cheryl gives Louis a hug and makes him tea. The baby throws up on Louis’ shoulder and he considers the whole thing a success, even if Liam is still a bit wild-eyed by the time Louis leaves.

“I’ll be alright,” Louis says. He claps Liam on the shoulder and hopes Liam isn’t going to think Louis’ been after his knob the whole time. “Send me a text if you want to grab a drink or anything.”

“Thanks, Tommo.” Liam’s brow furrows. “I’m not sure people are going to be nice to him.”

Louis stares at Liam. “Who? Nick?”

Liam nods. “You know what it’s like, sometimes. Cheryl said he had a nightmare with X-Factor. He pretended he didn’t care but he couldn’t get off his social media mentions and kept looking at the worst ones – the ones where people said he was crap.”

Louis’ stomach turns, because Nick. He doesn’t want Nick to get hell for him. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t spend too long on Twitter.”

“Do that.” Liam gives Louis a hug – a very laddy hug. “You take care too, mate. They might not be nice to you either.”

“Don’t care,” Louis says, even if they both know he does. “Fuck ‘em.”

“I’ve got your back.” The sounds of Bear crying makes Liam turn. “I better…”

“Yeah.”

“It’s just weird.” Liam shakes his head. “Not bad. Just weird. I thought you always said Grimmy was a bit of a dick.”

“Oh, he is.” Louis smiles at Liam because he’s pretty sure Liam doesn’t believe him for a minute. He’s probably got his giddy Nick face on. The one that takes him by surprise sometimes when he catches sight of himself in the mirror. The one without dark circles and eye-bags where his smile looks as if it’s full of so many secret, happy things. “Thanks. For today.”

“Any time, mate.” Liam smiles. “You might have to tell me what to say on Twitter. Send me a text.”

“Can do.” Louis and Liam hug it out again, and it feels like it’s all going to be okay.

Niall is ridiculously unphased. He jumps up and down when he hears about Nick and they drink about five pints each until they’re both horribly pissed. He asks Louis about the sex with a broad grin on his face. All about the details, Niall. Louis doesn’t tell Niall all the details, obviously. He makes Niall turn green by saying Grimmy is hung and after that they talk about other shit like football and golf. Niall isn’t as into hearing about the sex as he thought he might be, after all.

His family keep him close to his heart the way they always have. “We’ve had too much shit,” Lottie says. “Too much bollocks.” She sounds like she’s crying but she’s fierce and so supportive it makes Louis’ chest warm.

“Careful now, that’s a lot of swearing for one revelation.” Louis smiles down the phone and Lottie tells him he’s a fine one to talk about swearing too much. They move on. It’s okay.

He has an awkward chat with Stan which feels a bit did you ever want to shag me? but like mature adults they deal with it by getting drunk. Very drunk.

It’s when Louis speaks to his PR that things get trickier. It’s when, after a moment of madness and long conversations about how to present the message Louis goes on Twitter.

He says it like he said it to Nick in the bedroom all that time ago. He says it like he whispers it into a quiet room sometimes, just to feel the truth against his lips. They’re such simple words. Simple words that don’t feel simple at all when your hands shake as you type them out. He does it when Nick’s asleep which isn’t ideal, but Nick knows something’s going to happen. He knows it’s going to happen soon. They talked about it at length over Chinese takeaway with the dogs curled up on the sofa next to them. They discussed if it’s going to be a just Louis or a together thing and of course it’s together. Louis can’t imagine going through all of this and then not being able to hold Nick’s hand when they go to whatever public event they choose for their first red carpet experience. He decides not to @ Nick yet. He will, but Nick absolutely needs to be awake for that. Louis needs him to look at Louis dead in the eye and say okay, okay. Let’s do this. He needs to hear it, one more time.

Louis feels a bit like he’s speaking to his faceless men on the internet. There’s something distancing about putting it out there on Twitter. Like it’s still contained somehow – like it’s not for real even though it definitely is real. He just puts those two words out there as if he’s typing just like that, darlin’ to an anonymous internet hook-up and nobody is ever going to really know. But it is real. It is, it is.

I’m gay, his Tweet reads. He adds a prawn just for Nick’s benefit and the cool as a cucumber emoji with the sunglasses. He follows it up with Just thought you should know.

He switches off his phone and curls up by Nick’s side, falling asleep as he listens to Nick breathe.

*

“Louis!” Nick’s long fingers jab into Louis’ side as he pulls the duvet over his head.

“Piss off.”

“Not this time.” Nick yanks the duvet off Louis and Pig yaps, chasing her tail. “What the fucking fuck? I’ve got the radio in half an hour and I can’t keep this off the entertainment news. What the fuck am I supposed to say?”

Louis groans and blinks his eyes open. Nick looks a right mess. Hair everywhere and a bit discombobulated. “Tell them you’re fucking me. I don’t care. Out there now, isn’t it?”

Nick purses his lips. “It’s not out there for me, you tit. I can’t just say oh yeah, I knew about that we’ve been shagging for ages. We need to speak to PR. My PR. Your PR. Fucking hell.

Louis sits up, shuffling up in the bed. His heart is in his throat but he grabs his phone. Liam and Niall have already Tweeted their support. Harry’s sent Louis a text. It just says proud of you mate see you soon and he’s added a rainbow emoji. Harry never uses emojis. The rainbow is a big deal. “Are you pissed off?”

Nick’s face softens and he stops shouting for a minute. “No, darling. I knew it was coming. I just thought there’d be more time.”

“Sorry.” Louis begins to feel a bit panicky and he watches Nick. “Sorry about the radio. I didn’t want to make it difficult.”

“It’s fine.” Nick studies Louis closely. “What do you want me to do? What do you want people to know?”

“I want them to know about us.” Louis shrugs, even though his heart feels like it’s beating too hard and too fast. His whole body is hot, his hands clammy. He’s really done it. Fuck. “Now it’s out there I don’t want to hide anything else anymore.”

“Fuck it, then. Take a selfie. Let them deal with that on the entertainment news. I’m leaving anyway.” Nick sits heavily on the bed. “Also, don’t fucking go on Twitter while I’m away.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a cesspit and it’s a shitty place to come out. It’s not going to help if I’m involved.”

Louis takes a breath and then he pats the bed beside him. “I want you involved. You are. Involved.”

“Proud of you.” Nick gives Louis a quick kiss and then shuffles next to Louis on the bed. “I look like a dead person.”

“Nope.” Louis scrolls through a couple of filters and takes a black and white picture of them both. “You look fit. You always look fit.”

Nick looks at the photo. “I’ve got eye-bags. I look like your grandad.”

“You look good.” Louis sighs, looking at the photo. Nick does look good. He’s got that hot just got out of bed rumpled look about him and it’s perfect. Louis’ phone is also going mental, with notification after notification popping up. He’s going to have to turn those off. “Should I?”

Nick frowns at him but the corner of his mouth tilts in a smile. “Go for it, I’m fired anyway.”

Louis grins and he posts the picture. He adds the caption moooooorninnnnng that Nick always uses and switches his phone off. “Can I go back to bed now?”

“There’s going to be press everywhere.” Nick looks a bit mad and distracted. “Every. Fucking. Where.”

“We’ll deal with it,” Louis says. He’s not sure what he thinks yet or how to address anything, but the news is out there. The news is out there and he’s going to ignore it and that’s going to be fine. For a little while.

Nick leaves the house after giving Louis a slow kiss and calling him a tit. The sound of the last song Nick played before he left is the one in Louis’ mind before he goes back to sleep.

*

Louis sleeps until he hears the door go and the dogs barking as if something has them agitated. He ducks into the shower and shoves on some of Nick’s comfy clothes. He has a few things of his own at Nick’s house now, but he likes wearing Nick’s clothes. The less ridiculous ones, at least. He has a feeling Nick likes it too, because sometimes Louis catches Nick looking at him out of the corner of his eye with that soft look that does strange things to Louis’ heart.

“Louis?”

“Here.” Louis comes into the living room. Nick looks flustered and pink-cheeked. “I’ve been sleeping.”

“It’s mad outside.” Nick gestures towards the front door. “Fans and paps everywhere.”

“Shit.” Louis twists his hands together. “What should I do?”

“Stay inside forever with me.” Nick groans and he tugs Louis into his arms. “You didn’t listen to the entertainment news today, then?”

“Sorry.” Louis pulls back to look up at Nick. “How did it go?”

“Okay. Bit shit when I got there. People were going mad. Want to listen?”

“Yeah.” Louis lets Nick get his laptop set up and waits for him to find the right bit of the show on iPlayer. They sit on the sofa together and Nick’s voice fills the room, echoing and tinny from the laptop speakers. Nick sounds wired and giggly, a sure sign he’s nervous as fuck.

“I think you should tell us about today’s biggest story.” Sinead sounds as if she thinks the news is completely made up. A bit like she can’t quite believe it. “It sounds like you have the inside information.”

That sends Nick and FiFi into a giggle fit and Louis rolls his eyes at Nick. “Mature, Nicholas.”

“Always.” Nick grins at Louis. His voice carries out of the speakers into the quiet living room. Stinky yips and Pig growls at her, chasing her around. They know something’s going on too. Something big.

“Yeah. Well. Big surprise, this. At least it was for me when I woke up this morning with a popstar in my bed and Twitter going mental. Louis Tomlinson off of 1D has come out as gay, everybody. Well done Louis. Big step, that. Brave decision. Don’t be shi-rubbish to him, okay? Let’s give him lots of love and support.”

“Absolutely, well done Louis.” Sinead pauses and it sounds like she’s trying not to laugh. “Didn’t he also Tweet a picture of his boyfriend?”

“Oh! Nearly forgot about that, thanks for the reminder.” Louis can picture Nick’s face going red as he tries to talk his way around the news. “Not much to say about the boyfriend. Personally, I reckon Louis could do better. He’s probably going to get Jake Gyllenhaal bringing him flowers now everyone knows. James Franco might give him a call. I’ll be heartbroken.”

“You always do that.” Louis pokes Nick in the side. “You tit. Now everyone’s going to think I’m after James Franco. Is he even gay?”

“Don’t think so.” Nick sighs and it’s a bit shaky round the edges. “Sorry. Self-defence.”

“Idiot.” Louis carries on listening.

“Well they both look very happy. You’re in a good mood this morning, Grimmy.” Sinead is definitely smiling and Fiona sounds like she’s cackling in the background. “Lucky Louis.”

“Lucky boyfriend.” Nick takes a breath and then he carries on, quick and efficient. “Anyway, I think this deserves a song, don’t you FiFi? Something nice and upbeat. How about a bit of Vogue? Here we go, Louis Tomlinson. This one’s for you.”

Louis pauses the recording. “Was that it?”

“Pretty much. Spent the morning fending off demons on Twitter.” Nick pulls a face. “Speaking of…”

“I haven’t checked yet.”

“Do you want to?”

“Okay.” Louis takes a breath and he logs in to his Twitter account. It’s all going a bit mad. His agent has called him about a hundred times. “I should probably make a few calls.”

“Probably should.” Nick gives Louis a hug and kisses him, soft and slow. “Think I might have to have a beer. Is it too early? It’s too early.”

“Doesn’t matter. Big day.” Louis presses close to Nick. “Get me one too. Reckon I’ll be alright to have a smoke outside?”

“Out the back, probably.” Nick stands and makes his way into the kitchen. “Want a sandwich or anything?”

Louis’ stomach is in knots as he reads some of the comments. For all of the outpouring of love and support there are some awful comments. Some directed at Nick, others just at Louis. They make his stomach roll.

“Can’t eat at the minute. Nick?”

“Yeah?” Nick returns with beers and sits close to Louis. He feels so warm. So solid. Louis loves him.

“Is this going to be shit for you?”

“Maybe.” Nick clinks their beers together. “Worth it, though.”

“Yeah,” Louis thinks. He presses his leg against Nick’s and picks up his phone. Worth it. So worth it.

*

It takes a day before Louis snaps on Twitter. A day before the insults directed at Nick and the shit filling Louis’ head gets to be too much. He can tell Nick’s deflecting on the radio and there’s a moment with a caller which ends with the call being terminated early and Nick laughing nervously. Louis hates this. Hates that Nick is caught up in the whole mess and that people seem to think they have to protect Louis. From Nick. From the one person who protected Louis from all of the bad stuff he used to think about himself. The one who can make the quietest room feel full. The person who can settle the noise in Louis’ head like no one else has ever managed. Nick’s been so patient it makes Louis’ heart ache with it. He can’t help but feel like maybe it would be easier for Nick if he just ditched Louis and found a nice, fit model. Someone who could look after Nick and not fuck everything up, just like Louis always does.

He types out a series of Tweets.

Thanks for all the love and support. You guys are amazing !!!

Thanks @grimmers for giving me the confidence to do this !! Best lad. He adds a #throwback hashtag and a selfie he and Nick took on his balcony in America. They both look good in it. Happy and tanned, with massive smiles on their faces. He reckons even Nick can’t complain about that one. Nick re-tweets it right after with a kissy face and the boyfriend emoji. Louis wonders if they’re going to be nauseating on social media. He hopes not, but he’s making no promises. People will just have to put up with it.

He follows that with the show sounds siiiiick ! and adds a prawn and as many different hearts as he can fit.

Interview coming out next week, he types next and adds the ‘cool’ emoji. They’ve managed to sort him something with The Guardian and Louis thinks they’ll do a good job. Not like The Sun who have already dredged up old theories about Nick and Harry, not to mention the theories about Louis and Harry. Louis scrolls through some of the more vitriolic comments. To the commenter who tells him he’s going to burn in hell he replies thanks sweet cheeks with the devil emoji and the dancing boy. He finds one of the (many) comments suggesting Nick corrupted Louis and re-tweets it with the eye-roll emoji and a selfie of himself giving the camera the finger, smiling into it with Pig in the background. When he’s finished his hands are shaking and the sound of Nick at the door jolts him from his racing thoughts.

“You’ve been busy.” Nick drops some shopping on the floor and shakes his head. “Nearly got attacked in the supermarket. I had to tell them you’ll get cross without your tea and nobody likes an angry popstar-” he trails off. “Lou?”

“Yeah.” Louis has that strange feeling he had when Harry came to Nick’s that first time. The one where his chest is tight and everything feels like everything’s moving too quickly, spiralling out of Louis’ control. He gulps in too much air and it’s dizzying, torn between not being able to catch his breath and taking in too much air all at once. His hands tremble and he’s pretty sure his cheeks are damp.

“Louis. Louis.” Nick says his name, over and over. He wraps Louis in his ridiculously long arms and smooths his hand through Louis’ hair. It should be suffocating. It should be difficult to breathe, with Nick so close and hot against Louis. It’s not, though. It makes it easier. It makes the tightness in his chest loosen and he just gets used to Nick surrounding him. Breathing in Nick. Holding Nick.

“It’s such a mess. Why do you bother with it?”

Nick lets out a choked laugh, his face buried in Louis’ hair. “I love a bit of drama, me. I’m thriving.”

“Liar.” Louis knows he sounds gruff and choked too. “Also, not answering the question.”

“If you have to ask, love I don’t think you’ve been listening to me.” Nick takes Louis’ face in his hands and kisses him – just briefly. It makes Louis warm all over.

“I listen. Have to tune you out sometimes when you’re on about avocados or something.”

“Understandable.” Nick flicks through his phone and then puts it face down on the table. “Fuck it, we need a night out or something.”

“Now?” Louis really doesn’t want to go out. He’s not ready to leave the four walls of Nick’s house yet. Not until the interview with The Guardian is out there and he feels a bit less terrified of the reactions he’s going to get.

“Not now. Maybe the weekend.” Nick thinks carefully. “I reckon we should try to pull something off. Sneaky, like.”

“I like sneaky.” Louis demonstrates this by sneaking his hands underneath Nick’s jumper. His skin is so warm and he flinches beneath Louis’ cold hands with a snort of laughter.

“I can see.” He stretches back on the sofa and pulls Louis over him. “You’re quite sneaky yourself, sometimes.”

“Just a bit.” Louis’ cheeks flush. “Nick?”

“Mmm?”

“Fancy having a bit of sex so we can remind ourselves why we’re doing this?”

“Gladly.” Nick pushes Louis’ t-shirt over his head and he runs his fingers along Louis’ belly. “For the record, I don’t need a reminder but I’m not going to turn it down.”

“No.” Louis kisses Nick and when he pulls back they’re both breathless. “Me neither.”

*

They make their first trip out somewhere local so they can leg it back to Nick’s if it all gets a bit too much. It’s a small pub in Hackney and Nick keeps them flanked by his army of friends. The paps follow them and take as many shots as they can, yelling questions to Louis.

“Louis! Louis! When did this start? When did you know? Why Grimmy? Does this mean he’s going to keep Breakfast? What about the music? What about LA?”

It’s dizzying and deafening and it’s only Nick’s sweaty hand in Louis’ that calms him. When one of the paps yells out what took you so long? and they all fall around laughing, Louis turns with his best fuck off, I hate you smile.

“I don’t know, darling? Maybe because of this fucking circus.” Nick pulls Louis close, his friends laugh and then at last they’re inside the pub.

Louis has to take a couple of selfies with fans and finally he’s squeezed into a booth away from the crowds. He can still see people gawking but Nick’s hand on his leg is sure and firm. He leans into Nick and breathes. Slow, slow, take it slow. He has three pints, two shots and he walks home feeling dizzy and breathless and a bit like life is just getting started. Nick fucks him hard that night and everything melts away until it’s just hot breath and whispers of things that Louis thought he might never say to another man. His senses fill with Nick and it’s everything. Everything.

*

Nick smuggles Louis away to Manchester. It’s cunning as fuck and Louis is so in love with the fact Nick even managed to come up with the idea, he has to blow him on the sofa just to say thank you. They forget to put the dogs in another room and it ends with Stinky pawing at Louis as Nick comes down his throat. It’s all a bit rubbish and awkward but it makes Louis feel better than he has in a while, after too many nights scrolling through comments about him and Nick on the internet.

They work out the press are all over Louis’ house and Nick’s and they’re keeping an eye on their houses up North, too. Louis knows this because he meets Nick's mum Eileen over Skype. She seems delighted to meet him, but holds back no punches when she tells Nick off for keeping Louis a secret. Because Louis is a bit of a shit he takes Eileen’s side until Nick starts moaning about people ganging up on him. Louis has to blow Nick for that too, by way of apology. He’s getting used to Nick’s wily ways and frequent blow job related requests. They decide to put the press off the scent by booking into cheap apartments in Manchester city center, which is the last place anyone expects them to be. They drop enough hints to suggest they're going to be in London all weekend.

“It’s going to be rubbish.” Nick warns Louis as their taxi stops outside the apartments in Manchester. Nick dealt with getting everything sorted, while Louis made helpful comments from the sofa. “Not one of those fancy hotels you’re probably used to.”

“Don’t care,” Louis says. They check in and nobody really seems to bother with them. Thankfully Nick’s wearing something a bit less YSL Autumn/Winter Collection than usual and with Louis’ baseball cap and scruff around his chin they manage to remain inconspicuous.

“Our wonderful new home for the next two nights.” Nick opens the door to their small apartment with a ta-da sort of motion. He looks pleased as punch.

“This place is shit.” Louis doesn’t want to burst Nick’s bubble, but it really is. It’s nothing to do with not being posh, it’s just clinical and depressing.

“Not that shit.” Nick opens the curtains in the living room to reveal a balcony with a view all over Manchester. “Bit like LA.”

“Not shagging you on that balcony.” Louis pulls a face. Other people’s cigarette butts litter the floor outside and inside the flat he’s fairly certain something died in the fridge.

“I should bloody hope not.” Nick huffs and he opens his suitcase. Louis expects all sorts of ridiculous clothes but instead Nick pulls out a lot of booze, including a pack of beer and some of the shit drinks Louis made fun of the night he first came to Nick’s.

“Thanks.” Louis’ chest tightens and he pulls Nick close. “Surprised you haven’t run off yet.”

“Why would I?” Nick shrugs. “I’m going to get it in the neck, whatever I do. Might as well have some decent sex to make up for the trolls.” They’ve both had a lot of flack to deal with, but Nick definitely gets the worst of it. Louis hates that Nick has to put up with that. He wants everyone to see how brilliant Nick is.

“Might as well,” Louis agrees.

“You’re getting a bit up yourself after one too many nights in the Ritz.” Nick puts his feet in Louis’ lap and wiggles his toes. They’re weird. Long and a bit misshapen. “There’s nothing wrong with this.”

“I wasn’t expecting chandeliers.” Louis rolls his eyes. “It’s just…empty, isn’t it? Like a flat someone’s left behind. There’s nothing here but plastic wood and lumpy sofas.” It makes Louis feel a bit sad.

“Big bed, though.” Nick raises his eyebrows.

“Obviously.” Louis looks at Nick. “What’s this plan of yours, then? Long way to come for a pint.”

“Gay bar.” Nick takes a sip of his drink. “I thought we could check out Canal Street, if you fancy? Like we said. I booked this place for convenience, not just the charming ambiance.”

Louis’ stomach rolls with nerves. He should have guessed. He thought it was a bit odd going off to Manchester of all places when they could have gone to a village with people too old to know the first thing about One Direction or the Radio One Breakfast Show. He didn’t even connect the dots between Manchester and visiting a gay bar. He wants to go. He wants to go so much. He feels like there’s all this stuff he’s missed out on – things he was never able to find as a celebrity when it was all lights on Louis. The good messages – the supportive ones – talk about the bigger picture and the way Louis might be able to use his voice to help. Louis isn’t sure he’s going to be much of a public advocate. He still needs to find his own voice before he starts trying to speak on someone else’s behalf. He’s used to keeping his philanthropy pretty quiet because he doesn’t do it so people can praise him. He does it because he wants to help. Not to get an award or a pat on the back or his name in an Honours List. But he knows this is different somehow. There’s something he can do with this if he starts speaking out. He just needs to find the right words.

“Will it be okay do you think? Me being there?”

“Why wouldn’t it be okay?” Nick frowns at Louis.

“Because.” Louis shrugs. “Because it took me so long to say something.”

“I don’t think people are going to give us too much crap when we’re there.” Nick looks closely at Louis. “I’ve got some friends that can look after us. We’ll keep it pretty lowkey and I don’t reckon anyone’s going to kick off. We’re not going to a footie match.”

“Shut up.” Louis snorts and he squeezes Nick’s toes making him yelp. “I’m just saying. People might think it’s weird.”

“Let them.” Nick kicks his feet off Louis and he gets on his knees, kissing Louis’ temple before grabbing a couple of drinks. “We’ll have a few beers before we go and then see what it’s like. We can always come back here to our beautiful flat if you don’t like it.”

“Thanks.” Louis looks at his hands, not quite able to meet Nick’s eyes. He feels strangely like he wants to cry. Sometimes his emotions get too big and it all feels too much. Thanks is so small and so insignificant it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the things Louis wants to tell Nick. It’s the slightest acknowledgement he can offer. The only one he feels capable of giving at the moment.

“You’re welcome.” Nick clinks his can with Louis’ and it makes a tinny sound. “Now get that down you. We’ve got some drinking and dancing to do.”

Louis does as he’s told and tries very hard to mask the smile on his face.

*

The bars are hot, loud and Louis tugs at the neck of his t-shirt. It’s a ripped, thin t-shirt which hangs low on his collarbone and he feels like a bit of a tit in it. Because he’s sneaky like that, Nick packed jeans and the t-shirt for Louis with his own luggage and convinced Louis to wear them.

“You can’t wear a hoody clubbing.”

Louis flicked through his Instagram to show Nick a picture of one of his clubbing outfits. Nick looked so horrified it was definitely worth it.

“Trackies and a football shirt, mate. Can’t go wrong.”

“No chance.”

Fine.”

Nick got Louis to agree by getting on his knees and sucking Louis off in the shower. Louis has learned a lot of things from Nick, but one of the finest is how to demand blow jobs on a regular basis.

“I made you that playlist, by the way.” Nick shouts over the music, steering Louis towards the bar. “I’ll give it you when we get back. Just putting the final touches to it.”

“My own Nixtape.” Louis grins and Nick gives him a quick kiss, squeezing his arse. It’s Louis’ instinct to bat him away but nobody’s paying them much mind and there are two men snogging at the bar. He relaxes, trying not to stare too much. “What’s on it?”

“You’ll have to have a listen. A bit of older stuff.” Nick pulls a face. “Some of it not so cheerful at the start, but I thought you might want to hear some of that anyway. Then some club stuff. Some bits and bobs from LGBT artists. All sorts. Even put some show tunes in there. Never let anyone get their hands on it. Might ruin my reputation if people know I cuddle my dogs and cry along to the Frozen soundtrack.”

“Sounds good.” Louis keeps close to Nick and he’s rewarded by Nick slinging an arm over Louis’ shoulder. “No Vogue, I hope.”

“You’re going to have to learn to love that sometime, darling.” Nick tugs Louis a bit closer. “But no, not on this list. It nearly killed me to leave it off.”

“I bet.” Louis finds his foot tapping to the music. It’s fun and bouncy. Something about feeling mighty real. Louis recognises it. It’s an old one. “What are we drinking?”

“Shots? Spirits and mixers maybe.” Nick leans in and asks for a couple of drinks. Louis tries not to bristle at the look the barman gives Nick. He presses his face into Nick’s neck and bites lightly. “No flirting, Nicholas.”

“As if I would when I’ve got my own little parasite.” Nick laughs, low in his throat. He downs a sticky shot in small plastic shot glass and hands Louis one. They take their drinks through the bar and Nick goes straight up to a Drag Queen on the decks. They laugh and kiss and Louis feels strange and out of place. It’s only when a new song comes on that Nick introduces Louis.

“I’m so glad you’re here, darling. I’m Queenie.” She envelops Louis in a hug and he tries not to get her wig in his mouth. He’s fairly certain the wig is taller than he is. She pulls back and gives Nick a look. “He’s so pretty. Oh, to be young and fancy free again.”

“Hands off,” Nick says with a grin. He wraps an arm around Louis and Queenie leans close to speak in his ear over the music. Her perfume is strong and floral and her dress is sequined, glinting in the lights which flicker and pulse through the bar. “We’re so proud of you, pet. Nick’s told me all about you. If you ever want anything you only have to say the word. Are people giving you a lot of shit for everything?”

“Some.” Louis looks at Nick a bit nervously. Nick nods, as if to say it’s fine. You’re doing fine. Louis doesn’t mean to be ignorant but he’s just never been somewhere quite like this and definitely not under these circumstances. “I have to stop going off on Twitter. They’re worse to Nick. I hate it.”

Fuck them, darling.” Queenie laughs and she gathers Louis in another hug. “I might not look like someone you’d want on your side in a fight, but if you want to know how fierce queens can be just look up the Stonewall Riots. You’ll be fine. You’ve got more people rooting for you than people who want to drag you down.” She laughs because drag you down. It makes Louis smile and his nerves ease. “Have to get back to it. Enjoy your night and dance. We dance far more than we cry and you’ve got a good man. Maybe you can find me one of those tonight.”

“I’ll do my best.” Louis lets Nick lead him off somewhere else. They find a relatively quiet corner and watch people move on the dance floor. There’s a real mix. There are people in drag, lots of men in t-shirts waving their hands above their heads and losing themselves in the music. There are a couple of women and two girls kissing in the corner before running off to join their friends.

“Okay?” Nick pulls Louis close and Louis nods. Nick kisses him, then. Right there in front of everyone. Louis doesn’t even know the name of the bar they’re in. He’s not sure where they’re going afterwards. All he knows is that Nick’s lips feel hot and hard against his own. Nick’s fingers brush under Louis’ t-shirt and Louis knows Nick isn’t going to push him further but even just this feels like so much. It doesn’t matter if someone snaps a picture on their phone and puts it on Twitter. It doesn’t matter. He kisses Nick back, a bit shameless and a bit desperate. He kisses Nick back because at last they can sit in a bar beneath the heady lights and kiss until Louis feels breathless.

Eventually Louis pulls away and Nick looks a bit dazed. No one’s watching. One person gives Louis a curious look and Queenie waves at them from across the room, but otherwise no one cares. They’re all lost in their own night, dancing to their own tune.

One night, Louis hopes he can do that too. Dance like nobody’s watching, even if they are. For the first time ever it feels like a possibility and the thought settles in his chest, warm and comforting. He has a giddy sense of freedom. He wants to dance. He doesn’t mind getting up there and making an ass of himself, because who the fuck cares?

“Want to dance in a bit?”

“Definitely. Let’s get a couple more shots in.” Nick grins and he beckons over a half-naked man who’s selling shots. He’s gorgeous. Tanned and gorgeous. The stupid thing is, to Louis he’s still not a patch on Nick with his wide smile. Nick, who leans forward and hands over money, not even noticing he’s being given the eye.

“Hey. You’re Louis Tomlinson.” Shot Man opens his eyes wide and he looks from Louis to Nick. “Bloody hell. You two are all over the news. Hiya, Grimmy. Love the show.” He gives Nick his shots and Nick gives Louis a nervous look as if to apologise for the fact they’ve been recognised.

“Nice to meet you.” Louis gives Shot Man a smile and he takes a drink, downing it in one. He looks over at Nick who still looks worried, and decides to take matters into his own hands. He’s well used to being spotted out and about somewhere he doesn’t want to be seen even if it’s not quite like this. “Listen, we just want to go under the radar for a bit. Maybe not be noticed for a while.”

“Oh, no problem. Can I have a selfie? People ask me for them anyway, would you believe. No one will think anything of it.”

“Sure. Keep it off social media for the weekend though?”

“No worries. We get celebs in here from time to time. Ones who aren’t even out yet. I don’t have to post it at all if you don’t want?”

“Doesn’t matter. Do what you want on Sunday.”

“Thanks, man.”

Nick takes Shot Man’s phone and fiddles around with it, pointing it at Louis. Shot Man shakes his head. “No way. I want you in it too, Grimmy. I love you.”

“Oh.” Nick flushes and Louis is so, so pleased. He’s going to buy a hundred shots off this bloke.

“Me too. Don’t tell him, though. Don’t want to make his head bigger than it already is.”

They take a selfie together – all three of them – and then Shot Man wanders off, looking like the cat that got the cream.

“If he says we had a threesome I’m never buying a single drink from him again.” Nick settles back in his seat and puts an arm around Louis, tugging him close. “Fancy trying another bar in a bit? We can get something greasy to eat when we’re ready to go back. I know how fond you are of a chicken nugget.”

“Whatever you want.” Part of Louis wants to just go back and to show Nick in painstaking detail how much Louis wants him. He wants to do all sorts of things with Nick, who looks fit and happy and a bit rumpled. The sensible part of Louis also knows the sorts of things he wants to do aren’t a good idea after a load of shots. There’s just something about watching Nick that makes Louis’ heart hurt in the best of ways and he wants to make sure Nick knows. Despite wanting to get back to their bed, Louis also suspects this isn’t going to be something they do all the time. Even if people are good about selfies, it feels like they’ve been lucky tonight. Louis doesn’t want a moment of the experience to end because he doesn’t know how frequently they’ll be able to go out like this. He doesn’t know whether London will be as easy when people know where they are and when the press are still lurking around outside Nick’s house to get that coveted shot.

“Nope. Whatever you want, love.” Nick is relaxed and easy, warm and confident by Louis’ side. “Although I definitely need to see you on that dance floor. Have to teach you to Vogue for a start.” Louis’ never going to live down admitting that he wasn’t that into the song after Nick played it for him on the radio.

“I bet you’re a right twat when you’re dancing.”

“Oh yeah. Lots of bumping and grinding.”

“No grinding with anyone else.”

“Never,” Nick says. He kisses Louis and he tastes like shots and alcohol. “You look good tonight.” He runs his finger along Louis’ collarbone and it makes Louis shiver. “Happy.”

“That’s because you’ve got me drunk, Nicholas.” Louis smiles at him and Nick looks as if he can’t quite take it all in. He hopes Nick knows why Louis looks happy, even when he doesn’t always say it.

Because of you. Because of you.

Dancing on My Own comes on in the background and Louis kisses Nick because he wants to remind him that he isn’t on his own. It’s the kind of song Nick mutters story of my life to and Louis wants to remind him that no, actually. Not this time. Louis isn’t leaving Nick’s side in a hurry and Nick’s just going to have to deal with it.

They end up dancing until five in the morning. Nick sings every cheesy song at the top of his lungs until his voice starts to crack and Louis is ready to dump his vodka and coke all over Nick’s quiff. Nick gives Louis a hand job in the least disgusting loo they can find, because he refuses to get on his knees and ruin his designer jeans. He then proceeds to moan all the way back about being far too old for clubbing and Louis has to cough up for the chips and chicken kebabs just to shut him up.

It’s perfect.

*

When Nick gets back from the radio on Wednesday morning, he looks a bit thrown. He makes two cups of tea and sits with Louis in the kitchen. “Something weird happened today.”

“Was it that outfit?” Louis looks critically at Nick’s t-shirt which has a picture of Bieber’s face on it and his grey jogging bottoms.

“Bit rude.” Nick tugs at the collar of his t-shirt. “They said they want to reconsider things.”

“What? Why? Can they even do that?”

“Apparently this YouTube person’s stalling.” Nick winces. “Plus…”

Louis frowns, the penny dropping. “Because of us. They want to keep you on because of us.”

Nick shrugs. He doesn’t look happy about it. “The ratings have been ridiculous. People are listening to hear me mention you, I think.”

“Some might be, but you’re also good. You’ve always been good. That’s what they’ll stick around for.”

“I don’t know.” Nick pulls a face. “I thought this would feel better. I thought all I wanted was for someone to say they made a mistake and I could keep Breakfast.” He looks at Louis, his lips pressed in a grim line. “But honestly? I don’t think I want it like this. It doesn’t feel good because I know I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

“You have, though.” The fierce, protective feeling Louis sometimes gets when it comes to Nick rises from deep within him. “They don’t give a job like that to someone crap just because they’re shagging someone from a boyband.”

“Maybe not, but they didn’t want to keep me on and now they do.” Nick gives Louis a tired smile. “I appreciate you going into terrier mode on my behalf, but I know exactly why they’re rethinking things. The fact they asked if you might want to be part of a regular slot sort of cemented it.”

“I’ll do it,” Louis says. “Whatever you need.”

“Thanks.” Nick looks confused. “But I haven’t done anything. It’s not something I’ve done.”

“Apart from put up with me.” Louis reaches out and Nick takes his hand.

“You’re right. That’s been a nightmare.”

“They should give you an award.”

“Services to the Community. Very altruistic, me.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand and his lips curve into a small smile which doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “What do you think I should do?”

Louis takes his time answering, thinking how he might feel. “Part of me says fuck it. If you want to do the job, then just take it. I’ll do whatever you need if you want, always enjoyed that bit on the radio with Greg. Fuck their reasons.”

“Yeah.” Nick doesn’t sound convinced and his face drops. Louis gets up and puts on the kettle.

“But if it was me, I think I’d tell them to shove it.” Louis keeps his back to Nick. “It doesn’t feel good to spend too much time in your head wondering why people keep you around. Trust me.”

Nick’s warm arms wrap around Louis from behind, his face dipping into Louis’ neck as if he’s breathing in the scent on Louis’ skin the way Louis does sometimes when Nick’s sleeping or when Louis feels a bit weird and out of sorts. “I hope you don’t get up in your head wondering why I keep you around.”

“Obviously not. I know it’s because of all the sex, Nicholas.” Louis sounds breathless. He makes the tea as best he can with Nick clinging onto him and making Louis feel things. Bloody Nick. “You’re not going to get anyone else to shag you with a quiff like that.”

“Lucky for me you’re here then, isn’t it?” Nick lets Louis turn in his arms. He kisses him and pushes Louis back against the counter. After a breathless moment, he breaks the kiss and thumbs Louis’ cheek. His eyes are soft and fond and his smile is back. “Bit more than the sex, love. Bit more than that.”

“Good.” Louis swallows and he tugs Nick into another long kiss. “Good. What are you going to tell them?”

Nick shrugs. “I’ll decide tomorrow.”

Louis loses himself in another dizzying kiss and he supposes any major life decisions can wait for now.

Chapter Text

You don’t need the things you thought you wanted most of all. Acceptance. Tolerance. That desperate, heart-aching desire to be normal fades and softens until it’s just like a piece of well-used sandpaper. Sometimes you feel it more sharply than others, if the angle’s just right. Most of the time, you don’t even feel it at all. You’re not sure you know what normal even means. You’ve never been normal and doesn’t that make life a lot more complicated, messy and exciting? It’s not just because you’re gay. It’s because you haven’t known a minute without cameras in your face since you were a teenager. It’s because people asked who are you? before you even knew yourself.

You used to crave it. That tacit approval from faceless journalists who now veer between celebrating you and turning the tide against you, depending on the paper you pick up. You spend longer than you care to admit, scrolling through your mentions on Twitter until the sun comes up.

You like the fact you know you don’t need that altar and the girl in the white veil saying I do. Marriage is a weird thing. It feels like you might want it, sometimes. Like you want to drop on one knee and make Nick reach for his inhaler and wheeze at you with his eyes so wide. You also don’t want to actually kill Nick and you think you might, if you do give in to the impulse. If you told him, hey. It’s you, it’s you, it’s you. It’s pretty much always been you.

For the most part, you don’t want it. Marriage. It’s not your happy ending. You don’t know what that looks like yet, but you know you have so many happy moments right now you don’t even want to think about endings. That night when you go into a pub with Nick and do a pub quiz is one. You can fuck his hair up and steal the pen off him for the music round and drive him absolutely mental. You can kiss him, just to appease him. Just a light peck on the cheek that makes you both flush but everything keeps moving and the sun goes down, the moon comes up and the world keeps on turning. You’re not sure you were ever designed for the ending everyone else told you would be the best. You wish you’d listened to those niggling doubts a lot sooner but you also don’t have any regrets. Because this isn’t the end of your story. In so many ways, it’s just the beginning.

Nick doesn’t stick with the BBC in the end. It goes a bit sour after they ask him to stay because of you. It’s rough. You find him one night curled up with Pig, with his eyes red-rimmed and sore. You cuddle up next to them without saying a word and let him cry it all out. Let him be quiet. Let him be still. You fuck him later and tell him you love him and he sleeps with a sort of smile on his face. You encourage him to take time out. Step back. Learn how to breathe again after everything goes to shit. He does and one morning you find him painting something, biting his lip and studying his canvas with wide eyes. It’s a bit fuck you, capitalism and you suggest he might want to take out the BBC logo because honestly, he doesn’t want to put that stuff on Instagram. It seems to help, though and watching him when he smiles at you with his hands covered in paint and Stinky pawing at him makes everything so, so warm.

You do endless interviews. People ask about all sorts and you tell them what you can. The age thing is a problem that keeps coming up. People give you the names of twenty-something models from Nick’s past and dredge up the always liked them young articles that make your blood boil. Like he’s this predatory man that wasn’t once just young himself – floundering in an uncertain world, fucking and flirting and getting all kinds of smashed up just to feel alive.

You defend him. You defend yourself. You balance private and public and try to work out how you can manage them both in a way that works. You begin to realise that it’s so much bigger. It’s bigger than you and Nick because every time you defend yourself - every time you defend him - it helps someone else. For all the Twitter trolls and all the people who call you a faggot there are hundreds more who say thank you. Thank you for amplifying our voices. Thank you for saying the words we can’t get out there without a person who knows. Knows what it’s like to be afraid of being different. Knows what it’s like to hide and what it means to be free.

Nick gets to a place where he has offers on the table. More radio, even if it's not at the BBC. Something with fashion. He designs a set for a music video for one of his indie friends and you go to the concert with him, wondering if you need to grow a beard and start drinking organic beer from London Fields. The band play Fireproof and the lead singer gives you a shout out. Nick gets drunk and it’s one of those moments that you love him hard enough to hurt. There are a lot of those.

You go back to America together during Nick’s time out and decide to do a bit of a road trip. Nick goes to San Fran with you and this time you go into that bar. Twin Peaks, it’s called. It’s famous and it feels like an important moment to step over that threshold and say I’m here. You push the door wide open and nobody cares. It doesn’t feel so scary now, drinking in a bar with a rainbow flag above the door. More like a home away from home. You trail around the shops with Nick in New York and he buys you a Brooklyn beer in the Stonewall Inn, where you beat him at pool and steal his money after suggesting it's a good idea to put a bet on the outcome. You use your winnings (and a little bit more) to buy him a terrible shirt he eyed up for ages before leaving the shop empty handed. He wears it almost every day for the rest of the trip.

You remember the early days of feeling like a bird in a nest. Trying to learn how to fly. You’re not sure you’ve got it, just yet. You still fire off things on Twitter sometimes, when it gets bad. You punch a pap who calls you queer (and not in a good way). It nearly gets you into a whole lot of trouble. You release one of the songs you’ve been hiding away and it has a momentary surge and then limps its way along, trying it’s hardest to sing listen to me, listen to me, listen to me. It becomes about adjusting expectations. Because not everybody listens, not everybody hears. But some people do. And it matters. It fucking matters.

You’ve got your wings, but you’re still learning how to use them and that’s okay.

You do a thing with the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and you take a bit of time to fight for the bars shutting down all over London because you remember that one heady night in Canal Street and how much it mattered. They’re not really a safe space for you. Gay bars. There are still people with cameras who remember a boyband and the kid who used to sing about Girl Almighty. The press still hang around outside and read insomnia or just a terrible fucking day as Tommo and Grimmy in Cocaine Heaven. You Tweet that one particular article with the caption paps are twats. Nick retweets it with oooh, Stacey and the nail painting emoji and #PapsAreTwats starts trending within minutes.

You still love London rain. One night you drag Nick out into his garden when it’s chucking it down and the dogs are going mental because they hate thunderstorms. He thinks you’re a right knob, but you make him stand there in his ridiculous shorts with his long, skinny legs and his fucked up hair. You make him stand there and kiss you. Because it’s important. Because he’s so fucking important.

There’s never going to be a time when London rain doesn’t taste like Nick; a time when the heaving masses and the city lights don’t make you think of Nick’s hands on your body and that deserted street in the posh part of Mayfair you never revisit.

There’s never going to be a moment when you forget how the world turned upside down and inside out that night you kissed Nick Grimshaw outside a wanky club, with shitty cocktails and a terrible DJ. There’s never going to be a day when you don’t remember how it felt to whisper to Nick in the shadows I’m gay. I’m gay.

That’s why you kiss him. Away from the cameras, away from the noise. You kiss him because he made you say those three words with his knobbly knees and his ridiculous dogs and the way he held you down – the way he holds you down – when you need it the most. The way he doesn’t sleep when you’re wide awake and crawling out of your skin. Instead he sits with you and watches the stars.

There’s never a moment when you don’t remember looking up to the clouds and saying, Hi, mum. I miss you. I love you. Do you understand it all now? There’s nothing but whispering trees and a shit load of rain but you know she hears you. Perhaps it’s the way the rainbow comes afterwards, when the sun breaks through the clouds.

At last, the sky says. Here are my colours. Here are yours.

And aren’t they so fucking beautiful?

Fin

Chapter Text

TOMLINSHAW: KISSING IN THE RAIN PLAYLIST

Kissing in the Rain.jpg

NOTE: I'm currently having some problems embedding the playlist from Spotify. The tracklist is below and I will include the Spotify embed once I've figured out the issue

Introduction. Sigma / Nobody to Love

I know you're tired of loving, of loving with nobody to love, nobody, nobody. So just grab somebody, not leaving this party with nobody to love

Prologue. Lorde / Liability

They say, “You're a little much for me, you're a liability, you're a little much for me.” So they pull back, make other plans. I understand, I'm a liability. Get you wild, make you leave. I'm a little much for…everyone

Chapter Two. Heather Nova / London Rain

And when I'm home, curled in your arms and I'm safe again. I'll close my eyes and sleep, sleep, to the sound of London rain…Nothing falls like London rain, nothing heals me like you do

Chapter Three. David Bowie / Changes

Strange fascination, fascinating me. Changes are taking the pace I’m going through ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strange)

Chapter Four. The Verve / Velvet Morning

And now I'm trying to tell you about my life and my tongue is twisted I’m more dead than alive, and my feelings they've always been betrayed and I was born a little damaged, man and look what they made…into the half-light…another velvet morning for me

Chapter Five. The Killers / Dustland Fairytale

Now Cinderella don't you go to sleep, it’s such a bitter form of refuge. Ah don't you know the kingdoms under siege and everybody needs you

Chapter Six. Banks / You Should Know Where I’m Coming From

What if I said I would break your heart? What if I said I have problems that made me mean? What if I knew I would just rip your mind apart, would you let me out? Maybe you can stop before you start. Maybe you can see that I just may be too crazy to love…you ought to know where I’m coming from

Chapter Seven. Kings of Leon / Sex on Fire

Hot as a fever, rattling bones. I could just taste it. Taste it…You. Your sex is on fire

Chapter Eight. Dua Lipa/ Blow Your Mind (Mwah)

We fight and we argue, you'll still love me blind. If we don’t fuck this whole thing up, guaranteed, I can blow your mind

Chapter Nine. Rhys / Last Dance

You wanna be free, I'm gonna be fine in this new reality of a different kind…I'll stay away from daylight And hardly eat at all…If this would be the last dance we'll ever dance together, you and I…we gave it every chance. Gave it every goddamn chance

Chapter Ten. Florence and the Machine / Dog Days are Over

The dog days are over, the dog days are done. The horses are coming so you better run

Chapter Eleven. Lady Gaga / Paparazzi

Promise I'll be kind but I won't stop until that boy is mine. Baby you'll be famous, chase you down until you love me. Papa-paparazzi

Chapter Twelve. Fun / Carry On

If you're lost and alone or you're sinking like a stone carry on. May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground. Carry on

Chapter Thirteen.The Ravonettes / Ode to L.A.

Come on let’s go to where it’s fun. I want a slice of L.A. sun…see you excited in her arms, L.A. and all her crazy charms

Chapter Fourteen. James Bay / Best Fake Smile

No, you don't have to wear your best fake smile, don't have to stand there and burn inside

Chapter Fifteen. Tor Miller / Headlights

Headlights casting my shadow on the clouds behind me darkening all that define me. In all that blinding confusion how did I ever find you?

Epilogue. Cyndi Lauper / True Colours

You with the sad eyes don't be discouraged. Oh I realize it’s hard to take courage in a world full of people. You can lose sight of it all and the darkness inside you can make you feel so small. But I see your true colours shining through. I see your true colours and that's why I love you. So don't be afraid to let them show. Your true colours…are beautiful like a rainbow

Conclusion. Jake Bugg / Two Fingers

So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain, light a cigarette and wish the world away. I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay. So I hold two fingers up to yesterday, light a cigarette and smoke it all away. I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay