Nick's sat in his living room in the midst of his luggage and a very large glass of alcohol when it hits him.
"Did I agree to move in with Harry Styles?" he asks the room at large, his volume control destroyed by his level of intoxication.
"Pay up!" Collette cackles from the corner. Nick can see Sadie passing her money as Pixie groans.
"Couldn't you have waited at least until you got to America?" Pixie asks, patting his arm. "I had it a week in."
Nick huffs. "You never made a pool."
"More to drink, Grim?" Aimee holds up a bottle. It's a measure of how big this moment is that Aimee's there. Even having married Ian, who's out in the garden admiring god-knows-what with Finchy and Gillian, she's barely been in London the last year.
Nick waves his free hand in front of his face even as he hands Aimee his glass. "This isn't even my proper going-away party. I already had that hangover."
"And now you'll be hungover on the plane." Daisy giggles from above him. "It's not like you haven't done that before."
"But I was much younger."
Aimee laughs. "If by 'younger', you mean 'six months younger'."
Right. He'd forgotten Coachella. "I'm going to be a proper late-night host now. I really need to get my act together. Be a true adult."
Most of the room laughs, and Nick pretends to look offended, but he can't blame them. He's midway through his thirties - something which he will never admit out loud if he can help it - and has acted pretty much exactly the same for the last ten or fifteen years. A new job isn't likely to change him.
Except. "I am moving in with a man. Even if it's temporary."
Fiona runs in, having missed the last few minutes while in the loo. "Right, what did I miss?"
"He figured out he's moving in with Harry," Daisy tells her.
"No! I had him for a week and a half from now." Fiona sits on the floor opposite Nick. "Wait, did you say 'temporary'?"
"I told Harry before he offered that I was searching for my own flat. Well, house. It is Los Angeles. Do they even have flats there?"
"It's all houses and freeway," Aimee says seriously.
They keep talking for a while, and Harry sits heavily in the back of Nick's mind. Still, Nick's mostly thinking that, even though this is Nick's place and will continue to be his even while he's living in America the next two years, it doesn't feel like his flat any more. It doesn't feel like home.
It actually doesn't help that it's ringing with the laughter of his friends for once, all of whom had dropped in without informing him of their plans in advance. Granted, Nick's own plans for the evening had been to moodily watch telly one last time before he stops needing his BBC licence, but he won't have this group in America, and seeing them set against the naked walls is a bit much.
Except Daisy hugs his head and lays a big kiss on it. "Don't be getting sad on me," she says, her tone much sweeter than her words imply. "I'm over there constantly, and I'm not the only one. We'll see you loads."
"If you and Harry aren't too busy shagging to give us the time of day!" Collette says, hoisting her glass in the air. "To your disgusting life together!"
The entire room raises their glasses and cheers. Nick maybe wipes away tears. Something else he won't admit out loud.
Nick's early onset homesickness and mild hangover shifts to pain and panic when he's woken up by the lights brightening in the cabin at the end of his flight.
It's not the technical end; the plane's circling in the air, and as Nick pushes his eye mask off his face and his window shade up, he can see the city directly under his window, as if he could fall straight through his window and into the buildings.
Harry's down there.
Nick had texted him before takeoff to finalise their plans. Nick had said he had a car scheduled and that Harry should be waiting for him at his house. Harry told him to cancel the car and not worry about a ride, which is rubbish. Nick worries. It's a natural function of his brain. Nick likes people, Nick hates a long list of things, and Nick worries.
The worry doesn't lessen when the plane touches ground and slows. It doesn't lessen when Nick disembarks and heads through the international terminal in LAX to find his checked baggage. It certainly doesn't lessen when he texts Harry to let him know he arrived, and Harry says "ok" in response. Helpful. Nick has no idea if Harry sent a different car or someone from his security team or what's going on, but that part of it doesn't bother him as much as it should. Harry always comes through in surprising ways.
Still, by the time Nick's purple luggage appears on the track, and he's dragging it out toward the exit, he's about ready to vomit. And it's not just the car fumes, although whoever thought to put arrivals underneath a road where smells could accumulate was clearly mental.
He scans the sidewalk outside, eyes glancing over the various clumps of crowd. In Nick's experience, it's busy all day and only slightly less so in the middle of the night. This early, there's a lot of honking cars and a lot of people chatting and yelling in various languages and...
...a lot of flashing cameras?
Sure enough, the largest crowd is comprised of photographers both professional and amateur, and the focal point is one Harry Styles. He's smiling directly Nick's way, leaning against his Mercedes and holding a sign that reads GRIMMY in Harry's handwriting. Nick can't remember when Harry abandoned smaller-case letters, but he's never been happier to see them - and yes, the person who wrote them - in his life.
Someone, probably an employee of the airport, steps up to Nick when Harry points and says, "Hold on, Mr Grimshaw."
She means for him to hold onto his luggage, probably; she grabs the nearest part of the handle, and Nick, duly warned, manages to hold on to his part. It's a good tactic, leading with the heavy things. Most people don't want their toes run over, and those who don't move in time get their shins smacked by suitcases, one of which just contains some of Nick's shoes. It doesn't fully clear a path, but it does enough of a job that Nick manages to squeeze over to Harry.
Harry, of course, is leaning against his car like it's a normal day for him. Probably because it is.
"Hello, Harry Styles," Nick says.
Harry beams. "Hi, Nick Grimshaw."
He gives Nick a big hug one moment, but before Nick can so much as registers it's happening, Harry pulls away to help the airport staffer load the luggage inside his car. Harry ignores the yelled questions, some barely audible to Nick over the sound of snapping, and it isn't until someone yells Nick's name that Nick figures out Harry isn't the only one getting mentioned.
"Nick, happy to be starting the Late Late Show?" someone asks.
"Absolutely." Nick's vaguely surprised to find his voice still works. "Corden's run it into the ground. Glad he sorted himself at such a good time for me."
A couple people laugh, just loud enough for Nick to hear over the noise. At least some Americans aren't without humour.
It's only when Nick feels Harry's hand on his arm that Nick turns away from the crowd.
It's probably cliché to think that time stops when Harry's touching Nick, but it does a bit. Nick hasn't seen Harry in a few months, and there's some minor differences, but generally Harry looks like Harry. A happy Harry, more importantly. Tan, well-rested, and showered. His grin could power the entire West Coast, Nick suspects.
And just like that, Harry dazes Nick enough that they're on the freeway before he realises they're even in the car.
"Missed you," Harry says, voice as pleasantly deep as ever. He always had a great voice for radio. Or other things, but radio had been Nick's first thought when he'd seen him on X Factor. That big voice in that tiny body. Amazing how the rest of him caught up over the years.
"Yeah," Nick says, a little hoarse. Harry looks golden in the smoggy Los Angeles sunlight. Of course air pollution makes him more beautiful. It was that way in London, too.
Harry takes Nick's hand and squeezes.
"Eyes on the road, popstar," Nick says. Time's improved a lot of things about Harry, but his driving isn't one of them. If anything, his time in California's made his driving much worse; Harry changes lanes with abandon and barely uses his signal as an alert.
But when Nick squeezes Harry's hand back, it's not because he's scared.
Harry takes Nick to a restaurant tucked away from the freeway. It serves mostly vegan and vegetarian fare, and it's one of those moments when Nick feels the odd line he treads. He's sitting at a two-person table with one of the most recognizable faces in the world, but Nick really really wants a McDonalds burger in a quiet house.
"I just wanted you to try their quinoa salad with avocado," Harry says. "Been obsessed with it."
Nick raises his menu higher just to be an arse. "Don't know that I'm in the mood for avocado."
"You're in California now. They won't let you have residency unless you eat avocado once a day."
"I didn't see that on my visa paperwork." But Nick concedes and drops the menu. "I suppose you can order for me as long as I get to choose dessert."
Harry smiles like he's won and attracts the attention of a server. Which isn't hard because half the wait staff are clumped around the door to the kitchen, carefully not looking as Nick glances their way. Still, Harry waits until an employee walks past the table before he says "Excuse me" very politely. No snapping or rude gestures. Nick's been on dates with shitheads like that before, and...
It's not as if Harry and Nick haven't been out just the two of them before. Platonically. They've also been out with other intentions, even if they've been unspoken. It's most often Harry asking Nick out - Nick always invites everyone else along on their outings without meaning to - and Nick only figures after they're sat at some table alone that it's an actual date.
When the server's gone away, Nick says, "You trying to wine and dine me?"
"Not trying," Harry replies. "Did you notice the wine I ordered with dinner? Even if you don't have any, there will be wine during our dining."
Nick feels his face twist into incredulous fondness. He wouldn't know exactly what it looked like if Harry wasn't followed by photographers in most places. Harry's foot nudges Nick's under the table in response, and Nick nudges him back. It starts as fond little taps and quickly degenerates into a minor kicking war, mostly on Harry's side of things, with Nick trying not to laugh and trying to stop Harry simultaneously.
"It's good...fuck, are your boots lined with steel? It's good age and fame hasn't changed you."
Harry waggles his eyebrows a couple of times before he says, "I'm not that famous these days. You know half of those photographers were at the airport for you."
"Yes. Because a chat show host is big dollars in the gossip rags."
"You're in America now. It's a talk show here." Harry grins. "You got the Late Late Show."
Nick blows out a shaky laugh. "I got the Late Late Show."
"Are you nervous?" Harry says it in his I'm-on-the-radio voice, like he's the one who's spent the last few years interviewing guests.
"Honestly?" Nick asks. Harry nods. "Absolutely fine. Completely calm. There's no way I'll ruin things on my first night and be run out of the country by angry Americans, is there?"
Harry frowns. Nick has stepped into genuine Harry territory. "They wouldn't."
"You wouldn't. You're close enough to an American at this point, aren't you?"
"You've worked for this." Harry leans forward and drops his voice. "You're brilliant."
Nick pats Harry's hand where it's resting on the table. It's the only way he can acknowledge that warm feeling in his chest. If there weren't likely phones around, Nick would hold Harry's hand like he did in the car. "As long as you don't fall asleep the first night I'm on air, I don't care how brilliant I am."
Harry scoffs. "How many mornings did I wake up early?"
"Stayed up late, more like."
Harry shrugs just as the server shows up with their food. It looks like salad, but as Nick pushes it around, it's all too easy to see that it has avocado in it. Harry grins as Nick takes a delicate bite, which is totally unnecessary. Nick likes avocado as much as the next bloke.
"Remember when I blew you under the table during dinner that one time?" Harry asks in a low tone. Nick tries not to choke on his tiny bit of salad. Oh. That's what Harry's smile means.
When he's recovered, Nick takes another bite and says, "I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm always exceedingly well behaved when I'm out in public, particularly when you're there."
Harry pushes at one of the sleeves of his shirt, flashing some of his ridiculous tattoos. Not that Nick can talk in that department.
"I think about it a lot," Harry says with probably more innocence than he should have. "You pretending that I didn't have my mouth on you or my hands on your thighs. And lord, that duck. I think I asked the chef for the recipe, didn't I?"
Nick drops his fork onto the plate with a clatter. "Oh my god, you did."
"So you do remember?"
"Of course I do, you menace. But I blocked the part with the chef out of my mind for my sanity. Who does that?"
"I do," Harry says, again completely serious. And of course at the time it had turned out well. Harry had been draped on Nick's side because he'd pregamed their very nice dinner, and he'd been asking Nick at the table if he'd remembered the fashion show they had literally gone to the day before, and then Harry had insisted he'd needed the recipe and asked the server more than once if they could go into the kitchen to speak with the chef. Never mind that the chef had already come out to speak with them about the food.
Nick had expected a Gordon Ramsey-style meltdown; he expected all chefs had that kind of temperament. Whether or not that particular chef did, he had been charmed by Harry's terrible attempt at French and had written down the recipe for Harry in exchange for a selfie. And then Harry had cooked Nick the duck not even a month later.
Of course, Nick being human, what had stuck with him had been the blowjob portion of the evening. Nick had half-heartedly tried to get Harry out from under the table when he'd sunk down; he would be lying if he pretended the thought of Harry on his knees for Nick so publicly didn't do it for him. Luckily, no one could see because of the too-dark "mood lighting". Even Nick could only barely see the hint of Harry's boots sticking out from the table. It was still on the list of best orgasms of Nick's life.
"How many times have we actually shagged in a bed?" Nick muses as they work through their salads. "Because I can't actually remember it much."
They've spent the night together all the time, but when orgasms were involved, it was usually in other places in Nick's flat. The couch while they were watching telly. The shower while they were cleaning up after the handjobs on the couch. The kitchen while dinner cooked. Honestly, by the time they made it to bed, they were both so tired and spent that they would only sleep. Spooning may have also been involved.
"I can think of a few," Harry says, face thoughtfully distant. "But it was sparing."
"Nice to know I'm not going senile in my old age."
Harry kicks at him again.
"I am much older than when we met," Nick says.
"So am I."
"You aren't near thirty yet, Harold. You can't think about reminiscing until you reach that point."
Harry's smile turns a little sad. "I don't know. I do a pretty good job reminiscing about the lads most of the time."
Fuck. Nick hadn't meant to bring that up. He grabs Harry's hand again. "You talk all the time still?"
"Loads. Liam wants to take another group holiday." They had been on one last year, all the lads and various spouses and kids. Harry hadn't stopped sending Nick pictures and video.
"You should go," Nick says.
"Maybe in a while." Harry runs his thumb over the back of Nick's hand. "Got things to take care of here first."
Nick likes to think Harry's talking about him. He doesn't think Harry would be looking this fondly at Nick if he was talking about his songwriting, in any case.
Harry's changed houses twice since he bought property in Southern California. His current one isn't as large as the past two; he purposely scaled down after One Direction went on hiatus, and not because he needed to conserve money. It's still ridiculous compared to London real estate.
It's dark when they make it to Harry's house. When Harry's pulled the car in and closed the gate behind them, the street's quiet enough that it feels like the house is isolated from the rest of the world. But then, paparazzi had followed Harry and Nick to Nick's front door more than once - practically had their lenses pressed to Nick's windows - and he hadn't felt them at all.
Harry pulls out Nick's luggage from the boot to Nick's objections. Well, objections Nick would have if the wine Harry plied him with wasn't making him yawn every two seconds. Nick waggles his finger at Harry as Harry wheels Nick's things inside.
"You..." Nick yawns, the sound catching on Harry's entry. "Planned this."
"Planned what?" Harry turns to look at Nick with a grin.
"Don't think I won't stay up all night to spite you."
"You're an adult, Nicholas. An adult who worked an early morning job. I think you know how to sleep when you have to."
"But I don't have to." Nick yawns again, a big one that requires a full stretch and closed eyes and everything, and when he's done, Harry's out of sight. "I have a fortnight before meetings start! I'm supposed to have fun while I'm not tied down."
He jogs down the hall. Harry's had two-storey houses before, but this one's all the same level, so it's not hard to find Harry again. The frosted glass exterior walls do give Nick a little vertigo and the feeling that they're being watched...or maybe it's the wine. God, Nick really is old if it's hitting him this hard.
But Nick heads right to Harry's bedroom, and sure enough, Harry's lining up Nick's luggage in front of his closet. There's a couple of Nick's boxes there as well, things he knew he'd need immediately that he'd sent off weeks ago.
In Harry's bedroom.
"I'm fucking tired," Nick says aloud, and he giggles a little, putting his hands over his face. "Christ. I'm too old for this."
Harry's sitting on the bed, unzipping his boots, when Nick lowers his hands again. The light in the room is low and golden, and the little part of Nick's chest that he thinks of as Harry's aches as Harry brushes hair out of his face. He's starting to get lines at the sides of his mouth and creases at the edges of his eyes, and a slightly sad expression turns fond as he looks up at Nick, but really, Harry's never looked better.
After kicking off his own shoes, Nick stumbles onto the bed, which is of course soft enough to be comfortable and firm enough to not give his back complaints. He sighs in relief before he remembers things like cleaning his teeth and changing clothes. He still smells like the bloody airport, after all. He groans, trying not to notice how much his eyes want to close and stay closed.
But Harry catches his hand before Nick can rock himself out of bed again.
"I stink, Harold," Nick says.
"But your bed."
"It can be cleaned, if you're that worried."
"So you're saying I smell?"
Harry leans over Nick and kisses him. It's nothing more than a gesture of comfort, a familiar moment that Nick has missed so desperately that he would almost say so even if he wasn't drunk, but it settles the spiky parts of Nick that have been up since before he left London. Maybe he isn't settled for good, but Nick will take for now.
"Missed you." Okay, maybe Nick will say it after all.
Harry tugs Nick in until he's more solidly on the mattress, and when he's settled in, Harry pulls the sheets over them.
With a kiss to the tip of Nick's nose, Harry says, "Me too."
Nick wakes before Harry. The room's still dark, so it's still early - early for LA, not for London - and Harry's quiet beside him, turned away so Nick can't see his face but he can see the way the different pieces of Harry's hair rest on the pillow underneath his head. Nick strokes one piece with a finger, knowing Harry won't wake up, and watches the way the duvet rises and falls with Harry's breath.
Eventually, Nick's need for cleanliness drives him out of bed. His mouth's a disgusting wasteland, and the rest of him isn't much better, so he goes to Harry's en-suite bathroom. The bedroom has solid walls, but the bathroom's more frosted glass, in case Nick was curious if Harry's exhibitionism had toned down.
Nick strips quickly and wears a towel as he climbs into the shower, even though there's very little chance anyone would be around to see even the foggy shape of Nick through the walls. He drapes the towel over the door where it won't get wet and turns the shower on. It's been long enough since he was here that he's forgotten how to get the proper temperature right away, and he squeals a little as cold water blasts him.
Oh, but the water pressure is heavenly when it doesn't feel like his balls are freezing off. Lord. He should have shacked up with a wealthy pop star sooner.
Said pop star appears moments later as if summoned by Nick's thoughts. His presence is only announced because the shower door complains when it swings open and because a thread of slightly chillier air makes it inside. Nick jumps, but he relaxes when logic returns a moment later.
"Can't you tell me you're here like a normal person?" Nick's got his eyes closed because he's started his hair product routine, and suds are trickling down his face. His heart's pounding, but it's not because Harry surprised him.
"Hi! I'm in the shower!" Harry's hands join Nick's in his hair, and Nick groans and lets him rub the shampoo in.
"You're absolutely wasted in entertainment." Nick ducks away to rinse his hair out. "Quit your solo artist gig immediately. You have to wash my hair every hour for the rest of your life."
Harry laughs, and Nick opens his eyes to see him, hair slightly damp and water trailing down his chest. He's been exercising even between tours, possibly more now that he's been able to keep to a somewhat rational schedule. He also waxes the little hair he's managed to grow, and Nick sees smooth, tattooed skin all the way down to Harry's trimmed pubic hair. Harry's half hard and just as large as ever.
Nick, of course, is hairy and proud of it. He scratches a little at his chest hair for something to do.
"You should be the one to quit your job," Harry says, taking his turn to wet his hair. "Your fingers are obscene."
"Are they. I had no idea." Nick takes the hint and grabs what he presumes is Harry's shampoo. He rubs some into Harry's hair, using the full length of his hands to rub in circles and gently pull out any snarls. Harry makes pleased noises that bounce off the walls and back, and it's Nick's turn to harden a little.
But they don't get each other off in the shower. They finish washing, and Harry switches off the water, handing Nick his towel from the door.
"Fancy eating break..." He trails off as Nick's stomach growls, loud enough to hear. Nick doesn't bother looking innocent. "Well. Seems you are hungry."
"How on earth could you tell?"
Harry tries to snap Nick with his towel. Nick easily dodges, but he slides a little on the floor. It's surprising they both don't end up in casualty when they spend time together. Harry catches his arm and manages not to fall on top of Nick, which just might be a first.
"We should sell tickets," Nick says, grabbing the counter to steady himself.
Harry laughs. "After breakfast."
They eat in the kitchen, which has a nice view of the converted guest house. Apparently, Harry does a lot of work in there; he's just had Liam and Louis over for something hush-hush. "Not anything One Direction, so don't think about it," Harry says, waving a bit of food on his fork in Nick's face for emphasis. "I know you want to steal a piece of Zayn's shirt, but that won't happen."
Nick sighs heavily. "I suppose I'll settle for one of yours. But only if I get it whole."
"Like half of your luggage isn't my Laurent...Burberry...which was it you stole last time?"
Nick raises an eyebrow. "Who flew back to America with one of my designer coats last visit? Hmm?"
"In the dead of winter, I might add. Probably used the coat to line your pillow or sommat. Lot of good it would do you here."
Harry bites his lip. "It smelt of you. For a little while, anyway."
Well. That's...honest. If Harry had asked Nick why he'd stolen half of Harry's wardrobe, he would have made a quip about Harry's wealth and Nick's comparative poverty and completely buried his memories of smelling Harry's shirts when he missed him.
He doesn't look at Harry when he asks, "Did you need a piece of me that badly?" He doesn't sound as sarcastic as he'd like.
Harry pushes his plate away, too. He stands up and stands over Nick, brushing at his hair with a hand.
Nick's the one to close the gap. He kisses Harry with everything he has, with every emotion he can convey. Harry sinks into his arms without prompting, making a noise that sounds halfway between a groan and a sob.
There was a day where they would just tear each other's clothes off. They will probably get back to that kind of day after a little while, come to think of it. Today, they kiss for a while in each other's arms just because they can, and when Harry murmurs, "Take me to bed", Nick does just that, leading Harry like they're drunk on the street and there's a million paparazzi around them. They cling to each other's wrists like they would die if they let go.
They kiss more in bed, to the point where Nick's sure his stubble is rubbing Harry's face raw. (Harry's face, on the other hand, is still hairless enough that Nick's face feels fresh.) They had put only robes on to eat breakfast, and they slip out to nakedness, using the time without physical contact to smile at each other like they just said something ridiculously romantic. Maybe they did, if not in words.
"Want to make you come," Nick whispers into Harry's ear. He does. He wants to make Harry feel good and touch Harry and remember that they're here together. There's always been a "get it while you can" feeling to their interactions before, and it hasn't gone away.
Harry rubs his arms on Nick's back and whispers back, "Want your hands."
Nick gives them to Harry. He runs his fingers through Harry's hair, tugging just a little to make Harry hum and shut his eyes. He plays with Harry's nipples, feeling them harden under his touch and Harry shift closer to urge him on. He rubs a hand on Harry's stomach, tracing the tattoos there. Harry's body is just a little softer under Nick's hands than it was when they fucked regularly, but it's just as good to feel Harry again. Maybe better.
By the time Nick gets to Harry's cock, just kissing and touching have made Harry almost entirely hard. Nick works at the precome and spreads it down, jerking Harry a few times until his cock's at full stand.
"That good?" he murmurs as he leans over to one of Harry's bedside tables for lube.
Harry bites his lip and nods. He's flushed, and his lips are swollen, and Nick can't resist kissing him again when he gets back. Harry sounds pleased when he does, and when Nick slicks up his hand and pumps Harry's cock again, Harry's noises turn breathy.
What Nick doesn't understand about all this is why it never feels like how it's felt with other men. He's made a lot of men come, and he's enjoyed it pretty much every time, but this...something like a handjob shouldn't make him feel as tender and fond as he feels turned on. And yet it's always been that way with Harry, even when they did their one-offs back in the day. It felt like something special, something to hold onto.
And when Harry grabs Nick's hand and comes, eyes squeezed shut and hips arched in the air, Nick feels it again. Like this isn't something they've done loads. Like this is new, and worthy of protecting.
Nick's busy enough wiping the sweat off Harry's brow as he comes down from his orgasm that Nick forgets about his own cock until Harry says, "Want me to do something about that?"
"Well. If you insist."
Harry pinches his side and laughs when Nick playfully slaps him away. Harry also licks his lips, which means he's going to put Nick in his mouth, and it's reflex for Nick to get harder just from the hint of Harry's tongue he sees.
"But isn't your voice going to be..." Nick cuts off. "Sorry. Force of habit."
Harry looks fondly at Nick, tugging on a piece of Nick's hair. "You're the one who has to protect his voice."
Harry doesn't play with Nick's nipples, but he bites the lobe of his ear and rubs his back in the way he knows Nick likes until he slides down the bed. When Harry gets his mouth on the tip of Nick's cock, he hums happily. Nick, of course, makes a completely undignified gargling noise, and Harry pulls off to laugh at him.
Nick's "Cheers" in response comes out fond and breathy, the latter mostly because Harry goes back and takes more of Nick's cock in his mouth. Nick's longer than Harry without quite the girth, and it's never served him in bad stead, but he always wonders what it would be like to see Harry's mouth really stretch around his cock. Not that his cock does a bad job at all as it is. Just idle curiosity.
Harry pulls off long enough to say, "You're thinking too hard" before he goes back and presses down. It isn't quite deep throating, but he can't fit his full hand on Nick's cock, and he's got the perfect amount of suction and slide.
"How...oh, Christ, how many times have I had to..." Nick can't get it out, but more than once, he's been inside Harry or Harry's been rimming him or something, and the whole thing will stop because Harry's had some deep thought about the nature of celebrity or mused about the existence of fruit and derailed the whole evening. It's not (just) the sexual frustration that bothers Nick. Half the time, Harry's circling something interesting, and it's maddening because he never quite lands on his point.
Luckily, Harry shows no signs of stopping this time, so before long, Nick's pushing at his shoulder in warning. Harry pulls off and jerks Nick, and Nick comes, feeling it all the way down to his toes.
When he's recovered, Harry's poking at the bits of come that made it onto his chest. Nick managed to stripe at least two of Harry's tattoos. Nick probably shouldn't be proud of that.
"Was that good?" Harry asks, frowning like he isn't sure.
Nick kisses Harry's forehead. "Wasn't terrible."
They cuddle for a while as they both check their messages; something that Harry has always understood about Nick and vice versa is how important digital connections are. Harry still juggles two ridiculously expensive mobiles without proper cases, and Nick still makes fun of him for it.
"Say hi to Anne," Nick says when he notices Harry's in contact with his mum. Harry nods without speaking and tilts the phone over once he's finished typing so Nick can see. Anne's reply is as bright and cheery as she is.
"She's visiting next month." Harry puts his phones on the bedside table, kisses Nick's cheek, and rolls out of bed. "Reckon she'll want to see you."
Nick, who is in the middle of sending Alexa a slightly inappropriate message, hums in acknowledgement. It's been a while since he's seen the Twists. "Gemma coming too?"
"Not this time. Work."
Nick hums again.
"I want to poke at my bike. Want to go shopping in a bit?"
Nick finishes getting back to all the friends who have asked him if he's in a sex coma (shagging once hardly qualifies, but he does feel pretty smug about it) before he gets out of bed. He considers showering again, but he opts for a quick clean up at the sink and is pleased there's hampers to stash away dirty linens. Nick isn't a slob, exactly, but it's much easier to not be a slob when there's a system in place.
He's humming a hip-hop medley under his breath - he might not be able to sing, but he can piece songs together - and heading in the direction of the garage when he passes a table in the foyer. There's a paper folded up with Nick's name on it. He stops in his tracks, stops humming, and picks up the note, which reveals a key underneath.
"Forgot to give you this earlier," Harry's handwriting informs him. "Welcome home."
He stares at the words until a door slams, and then Nick jumps into action. The note's carefully folded and placed in his back pocket; the key's stuffed into a front pocket. He leaps away from the table like he's afraid to be caught - caught doing the thing that Harry wants him to do - and leans until he can see Harry wiping his hand on a rag in front of the door to the garage.
"I've made a proper mess of things," Harry says cheerfully. "But it still runs. Ready to shop?"
Nick laughs shakily to give himself a moment. It doesn't work. "We're not taking the bike, are we?"
Harry waggles his eyebrows and laughs, probably at the alarm that Nick suspects is covering his face.
They take the car, of course; Nick might be brimming with affection for Harry, but they both know affection only goes so far. It's only when Nick sits in the passenger's seat - still odd, sitting in the right side of the front and not driving - that he realises his error; there would have been no opportunity to talk while on the bike.
It's not that Nick doesn't like talking to Harry. Nick often takes the conversational lead when it's the two of them, and that's difficult when Nick's head is overrun with what does the key mean. Nick deflects by asking Harry to pick out some Miley Cyrus or something to play - on his phone's speakers, since his car isn't wired for any kind of modern connection - and tries not to think. Something else that doesn't work.
Why is a key different? It's a key. It's a nice note. It's nothing they haven't done for each other in the past without any deeper meaning. Now everything they've done before seems different: going out to eat, shagging in bed, Harry's mum wanting to see Nick. The potential's always been there, that hanging feeling that they both knew they couldn't touch. Is that what's bothering Nick now? That it's there for the taking?
He keeps turning it over in his head while Harry parks and they slip into a mysteriously empty store...except that it's an art gallery during the day, and Nick's only seen galleries with people during openings and such. Nick doesn't know what he expected. Maybe a run for toiletries or sommat. He's okay looking at paintings, though. It gives him an excuse to stare and not talk.
He's staring at crumpled paper on canvas made to look like the ocean when Harry excuses himself. Nick had been so deep in thought he hadn't noticed Harry's hand on his lower back, Harry's cheek against his shoulder. His mental static only dissipates when Harry touches his shoulder again. "Can I show you something?"
Nick nods and follows Harry and a woman with trendy hair to a back room with a hint of paint smell in the air, which is probably only appropriate for an art gallery, and sees a canvas covered by a drape on a stand. The lighting's deliberately focused like the gallery would do if the canvas was hanging on the wall, and Nick wonders if they have enough patrons that need private viewings to justify light in what's probably a space primarily for employees.
Harry's watching Nick and looking a bit sad, if Nick's not reading him wrong. Nick, forgetting the key for a moment, stares back with eyes as wide as he can make them until Harry cracks, smiling as he shoves his hair out of his face. Much better.
The sounds of rustling brings Nick back to the employee. She's taking off the cloth in her gloved hands. Does she get paid for the extra flash? Of course she does, what is Nick thinking, who wouldn't want a show when they're...
Nick's thoughts end when he sees the painting, and his jaw literally drops. "Oh my god."
The painting's a tableau of the kings of West Coast hip-hop in the '90s: 2pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg. It isn't by accident that Nick thinks they're kings; they're all wearing crowns on their stylistically large heads. It's modern and classic and captures the vibe of their music in painted form.
"Do you like it?" Harry asks, probably because Nick hasn't said anything for a while, too busy drinking it in. "Found it last month and put it on hold so you could see it."
"Do I...do I like it."
"I was thinking of putting it over the bar next to the dining room. Seems like a place it should be." Harry shoots a look at the patiently waiting employee. "It has nice light."
"Yes," Nick agrees. His tongue doesn't want to move more, but he's bobbing his head. "This is. Brilliant."
Harry beams and asks the woman, "Amanda, can you tell Nick about the artist?"
Amanda brightens and explains that the artist has had initial commercial success with a mixtape inspired by his work on the painting - painting is his sideline - and Nick is in absolute awe. She starts to lose Nick a bit when she talks technique and composition, but either way, it's ridiculous how perfect the painting is.
Harry's shaking Amanda's hand and thanking her and starting to arrange delivery to his house. It's not Harry's kind of art at all. Harry likes Tracey Emin, likes the kinds of things that would be the proper amount of quirky in a modern house, and there's a lot of overlap with Nick's tastes. This isn't one of their overlaps. This is something for Nick. Put deliberately in Harry's house.
Forget the possibility of accessing their potential. Apparently they've blown past touching and gone right to rolling around in it.
There are a lot of times to start an actual talk about what they're doing. Before Harry escorts Nick out of the gallery. In the car as they drive back to the house. After they get out of the car. Before Harry uses the toilet and runs off to a label meeting.
Nick, of course, doesn't manage to talk or even imply that they should later. That would make him a functional human being.
When he's alone in the house, he drifts to the back to stand at the bar and stare at where the painting's due to go in the next couple days. He draws his finger over the bar's countertop and remembers doing just that while he was on the phone with Harry years ago. He wasn't tracing the patterns on a bar; he was poking at his nightstand because he was talking to Harry and it was hard to sit still when he couldn't touch Harry.
"You reckon I'll have a Portia to my Ellen someday?" Nick had asked idly. They'd been discussing a recent appearance of One Direction on Ellen. Nick would be lying if he said she wasn't an influence on his life.
Harry had been quiet for a moment before he'd asked, "Is that what you want to be? Half of a power couple?"
Nick hadn't really thought about it at the time, probably because it had been past his bedtime, but he'd said, "Could do. Be nice to have someone at my side who can keep up. Or, more likely, keep up with someone else." He'd laughed because who had he been kidding? He'd had longer relationships with plants at the time than actual men. Harry had been rather quiet when Nick's laughter died down, and Nick's instinct against dead air had led him to change the subject, but they'd joked about the elusive Portia to Nick's Ellen more than once after that.
Harry is less like Portia and more like...Justin Timberlake, if he'd gone the way of The 1975. Harry's tour schedule is less punishing than One Direction's, which is why he has a proper break now and has time to assemble an album that isn't recorded in hotel rooms. His last tour was mostly in North America, broke all kinds of records for a show of its kind, and he's in his LA home more often than not these days. Everyone visits Harry here instead of Harry going to England; Nick had spent the days surrounding Coachella in bed next to Harry for a reason. That was when Harry had suggested Nick move in, saying while Nick had been collecting his thoughts that it could be "while you find another place". Harry had maybe been running his fingers through Nick's hair at the time.
Nick pulls away from the bar and goes into the master bedroom to grab his computer and phone. It's tempting to use them in bed, but he doesn't want to be moping when Harry gets back, so he opts for sitting on one of Harry's couches as he calls Collette. He barely gets out the latest news before she gives him her opinion.
"Christ, you're an idiot," she says.
"Ta, love." Nick says this with his phone on speaker and his face buried in his hands, gapping them just enough that his voice isn't muffled.
"He's practically gone on one knee and given you a big bloody ring, Grimmy. You do realise that?"
"But we haven't..." Talked. There should be some kind of intentions speech, some point where Nick says that he doesn't want that this-is-enough life they had before. That they have to tell the world who they are and what they mean to each other.
Which could be the very things that turn what they have arse up.
Nick's computer's on, so he starts searching houses in one tab and realtors in another. If this goes wrong, he might need to clear out quick.
"Need a place I can hang the painting," Nick mutters to Collette. Because even if Harry hated Nick or whatever, he'd still give him the painting. That's how Harry is. "Do you reckon I'm more ranch style or bungalow?"
"Running? No." God, maybe Nick is turning into a true adult after all. "Need to be ready, just in case."
Collette sighs, but she sounds gentle when she says, "Unless you fuck it up, there will be no 'just in case'."
Nick really is an adult because he knows it isn't that simple and he doesn't say as much out loud. Grimmy, finally grown. Who knew it would take the impending decimation of his heart to do it?
"Love you," he says.
"Start with that when you and Harry chat, hmm?" Collette pauses. "Love you, too."
Nick stares at the window longer than he'd like to admit after she hangs up. He's not the type to brood (much). He goes out and sees his mates and dances to loud music and avoids his emotions. He has standards when it comes to being a mess, and he's not meeting them right now, but maybe it's because...no, hope is dangerous when it comes to relationships. He's known that longer than he's known Harry, but perhaps Harry was really the one who drove it home.
He misses the sound of the front door, Harry's keys jangling as he walks, and Harry calling his name. Nick slams down the top of his laptop with a snap when he feels Harry's head brush his own - they've long had the nasty habit of looking over each other's shoulders when electronics were involved - but he knows it's too late when Harry doesn't make some quip or ask him what he's up to. There's nothing but the sound of Nick's own quick breath and Harry's measured one.
"We should..." Nick swallows. It feels odd to say this when he can't quite see Harry but while Harry is so close at the same time, but he can't bring himself to look either. "I want to..."
"Later," Harry says in a hushed tone, impossible to read. "I want to pick when and where we talk, yeah?"
Nick shouldn't be relieved, but he sags against the couch, his breath coming easier. "All right," he says. "It's time for more food, isn't it?"
When he pulls away and risks a look at Harry - only when they aren't in contact, of course - Harry's smiling. It's definitely not an easy one, and Nick can't tell if there's worry and unhappiness underneath, but the happy part of the smile seems genuine enough. Nick leans forward so he can make contact again, brush a hand over Harry's hair until the edges of the smile melt away into something content.
"I had something in mind," Harry says.
They eat in the kitchen again. Harry cooks, and it's obvious he's had this in mind because he has elements of the meal waiting in the fridge. Nick would have thought, with whatever they haven't said hanging between them, that it would be hard to sit and keep Harry company, but of course it isn't. This isn't the first time things have felt fragile. More permanent whatever the outcome, certainly, but no less fleeting than the nights before Harry left for tour and Nick had no idea the next time he'd be around.
While they eat, Harry tells Nick about some of the ridiculous merchandise he was pitched at the label meeting. Just because fan ages have changed doesn't mean that there aren't more weird things for him to slap his name on. Nick misses Harry's primarily-youth demo on occasion, and Nick suspects, from the way Harry speaks, that he does as well.
Nick does Harry the courtesy of rinsing out his dishes and letting Harry rinse out his before he pulls him to the room with the largest TV, which happens to be an actual home theatre that Harry owns. Nick's seen films in smaller places in London. They don't watch anything particularly stimulating, but that's never been the point. Making fun of whatever's on and wrestling occasionally and kissing and cuddling? Definitely the point.
They're wound up by the time they adjourn to the bedroom again. It's an early night for Harry, but Nick still feels the drag of the time zone he's not in, so a good orgasm will be the perfect way to cap off the day. Harry, of course, doesn't complain. He strips them both because Nick knows Harry likes to feel useful, and Nick climbs atop Harry, rutting his hips against Harry's until they're both hard. Nick lets his guard down just a little, tells Harry how good he is and how amazing it feels, and Harry's smiling, but Nick pauses when he sees tears glistening in Harry's eyes.
He's said "I love you" to Harry before. He's said it casual, like Nick would say it to another friend when they're parting ways for the night, and Harry's eyes would sparkle as he said it back with a wave. He's said it less casual at important moments, kissing the top of Harry's head like he would another friend, and Harry would hug him back like he'd hug another of the lads from his band. Nick's never said it in the "I want to spend the rest of my life with you" way, but he wants to now, and it's. It's terrifying.
He doesn't say it aloud; Harry wants to talk on his own terms, and the least Nick can do is accommodate him.
"All right?" Nick asks softly.
Harry blinks tears out of his eyes and nods, stroking his hands up and down Nick's back. "Keep going," he says.
And Nick does.
The light's unfamiliar when Nick wakes. He thinks, at first, that it's just because he's in a house he's only spent a little time in - it does take him a few groggy seconds to remember Harry's bedroom, and it's more the smell of Harry all around than the look that reminds him - but it's only when he checks his phone that he sees it's because it's noon. He slept over twelve hours. Changing time zones really is awful.
Nick rolls over and sees Harry, as dressed as he ever is with his shirt hanging open, sitting atop the duvet with his phone in hand. It's obvious he's been awake for some time.
"Sorry," Nick says. "You've kept busy?"
Harry nods. "Had a few things to do. You hungry?"
Nick should probably eat, but the way Harry asks makes Nick's stomach churn. He shakes his head slowly, knowing he's probably losing some more time to think things through, but at the same time, best to just do it.
Harry apparently feels the same way. His face gets solemn as he nods and says, "Let's go for a drive."
Nick can tell he's being a bit melodramatic because he's feeling poetic about the roads in Los Angeles. A road is a road, even if it's a different country and they're driving on a different side. It's a way to get one place to another, and it shouldn't feel jarring, but Nick can't help but notice every little thing that makes the experience strange. The different way the car turns into traffic and out. The different markings and signs. The different ways the cars move and merge. This is Nick's new home, and there's so much he still doesn't know.
It's more than driving, of course. He could be a spectacular failure; the possibility's always there. At least this show isn't his dream job. He's done his dream job, and it's an odd feeling, knowing such a major part of his life had been checked off before he'd turned thirty, but not necessarily bad. There's a lot left to be explored.
Nick's never had the solid goals for romance that he's had for his career. He's wanted children, but Nick's known he could do that on his own if no one turned up. He wanted to experience real love, and he has, even if it doesn't mean a lifetime commitment. But whatever Harry says here...bloody hell, he's ready to take a next step in general. That's what's been making Nick feel so weird. He's just. Ready.
"Where are we going?" Nick asks. Harry laughs incredulously, and Nick says quickly, "In the car, I mean."
"It's a surprise."
"But..." Harry sighs and looks nervously at Nick, like he wants to say something but he isn't sure how.
Right. Nick can do this.
He takes a deep breath like he does when he's on the radio, but he speaks quietly when he asks, "You want to talk now, love?"
Harry swallows hard and nods, not looking away from the road.
"Can I start?"
Harry nods again.
Might as well start where Collette suggested. "I love you. No matter what."
"Love you, too," Harry says, and his voice is a little strained, probably from nerves.
"No." Nick reaches out to hold Harry's closest hand. "I mean, I love you. In that way where I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
There's a moment where time freezes or they stop breathing or something dramatic of that nature, and then Harry looks away from the road. For a while. Nick's eyes go wide as he sees the car start to drift, and he says, "Driving, we're driving, you need to drive."
Harry's head snaps back - fucking hell, Nick thought Harry had moved past that charming attribute - and corrects to keep the car from moving into a lane with a large truck.
"Maybe we shouldn't have started talking in the car," Harry says with a nervous laugh.
"Maybe." Nick's not going to hyperventilate. Adults breathe and give people time to think about major life-changing revelations and not crash the car. "Do you have any thoughts, perhaps?"
"I thought...I thought you didn't want me."
"Because I was Googling houses?"
"Because...yes." Harry shakes his head to get hair out of his eyes. "'S not a treat, being with me. Even now."
"Oh yes, such a burden being with the fit millionaire popstar you're madly in love with."
The corners of Harry's lips twitch upward, but he says, "Need to focus for a minute."
"Right, of course."
It doesn't take long for something to happen. Nick is patient. Mostly. He wants to take out his phone or play with the radio, but it doesn't feel appropriate, so he sits and figures "a minute" can't last long.
It's about five minutes later when Harry signals and...parks the car at the side of the road? Nick looks around quickly as they slow to a stop, trying to determine if there's something wrong with the car or the traffic.
"What's the problem?" he asks. "Blown a tyre?"
Harry shakes his head. "Get out."
"Here?" Nick watches the cars blow past too quickly and too close to where they are. There's worse places to get out, but probably not by much.
"Trust me. Want to show you something."
Harry climbs out of the car. Nick takes a deep breath.
"Fit millionaire popstar you're madly in love with," Nick reminds himself, and then he follows suit.
He sees nothing that he didn't see in the car. It's louder outside, and Nick feels the warmth of the sun on his skin and the keen edge of panic that tries to protect him when he feels like he's about to die. It's not a good environment to notice anything in the first place, but he's particularly baffled when Harry gestures at the guardrail excitedly.
"Well?" Harry half yells to be heard over the traffic, looking...amused? Pleased with himself? Nick can hardly imagine why that is, and he's sure his face reflects it, so Harry mimes something, like...
"No," Nick calls back, equally as delighted when he gets it. "That's here? You still remember where it was?"
"Checked the pictures this morning," Harry says, grinning. "But I generally remembered."
"Surprised there isn't a shrine to you here."
"There was. It just wasn't permanent."
"Christ." Nick had forgotten that part. He remembered calling to rib Harry a little and crashing his car and puking on himself, so maybe he can be forgiven for losing some of the details.
Harry's smile fades, although the fondness doesn't fade, and he moves in closer. "There's a car behind you, and there's a man taking pictures. No, don't look. Not unless you want your face seen."
Nick hardly cares one way or the other at this point. He shrugs. "Why are we here? Besides marking ancient history."
Harry shifts on his feet, looking more like a scarecrow of a rock star than a man. "It's when you called me after this happened that I knew. You were sick on the other end of the line, and I thought 'I want to marry him'."
Nick barks out a laugh. "You never."
"Should have proposed then, made things really interesting."
It's Harry's turn to laugh. "Figured it might be better to talk when things were a bit calmer. I did think about it again, when we were talking about Ellen. Wanted to be your Portia."
That's enough to make Nick's smile fade. "Wanted?"
"My life's shit to other people. That was around the time Taylor put out her album, you know. And it's not like I didn't see what people said about you on Twitter."
Nick swallows. It would be so easy to dance around the point, to joke around more, but he feels the strain from yelling in his throat and feels the breeze made by passing cars. Heartfelt confessions weren't meant for places like this.
"So you wouldn't want to be out?" There. He's said it. Funny that he doesn't feel any better.
Harry frowns so deeply, it looks painful. "What?"
"With me. If you were with me. Christ, do you even want to be with me? We never got there."
Harry's eyebrows twitch and he looks away from Nick, and Nick knows this is Harry's I'm-thinking body language, but oh god, Nick's old enough to have a heart attack from stress. American hospitals are crap. Why didn't he think about that before moving?
When Harry's face clears like he understands, he says, "You want me to be out with you."
"Well..." Nick finds himself at a loss for words. Excellent work, Grimshaw. You talk for a living, and you can't summon the speech when it matters most? "That is, if you're with me, yes. Ellen doesn't hide Portia away in the wardrobe at home."
Harry laughs again, looking befuddled but...happy? Can Nick dare to hope?
"That's part of why I brought you here," Harry says, nodding Nick's way.
"Reckon a kiss in the tabloids would be seen by a lot of people."
It takes Nick a moment. He actually counts his heartbeats, one, two, three...
...and then it feels like a jolt of electricity when he gets it.
"Then you follow it up with an interview?" Nick asks. "Maybe not an interview specifically about the kiss. Talk about your new line of merchandise, and when they inevitably ask about the pictures, you say something like..."
"'I'm very happy with my partner." Harry grins, cheeky. "'And I can't wait for his new show to premiere next month on CBS!'"
Nick cackles. It hurts a bit, the way he's laughing and releasing the tension he didn't even know he was carrying.
When he manages to breathe again, Harry's looking at him with tears shimmering in his eyes, and Nick dares to take Harry's hand.
"It can't be this easy, can it?" Nick asks. "I mean, I should probably speak with my publicist before we make any moves."
"Spoke with mine. She loved it."
"We won't be able to take it back." Nick moves closer to Harry.
"Don't want to."
"Even if they run me out of America?"
Harry slips in close enough that his lips are against Nick's ear. "I'll move with you to Oldham."
"What makes you think I'd move back home?"
"Why not? My mum would love us so close." Harry sounds genuinely pleased by the thought. "Or we could move to Ibiza or somewhere and throw parties for the rest of our lives. Or..."
"I don't want you to give up your life, love."
Harry squeezes Nick's hand tightly. "I've done the big things. This is what I want now."
It's so ridiculously close to what Nick was thinking about his own life that he doesn't think about it any more. He closes the last bit of space between them, turns himself and Harry so he can see the black car out of the corner of his eye, and presses his lips to Harry's. It's easy. It's so easy.
It seems just as easy for Harry to throw his arms around Nick's neck and kiss him back. Nick doesn't even hear the traffic passing them by any more. It's like a film, really; for one moment, this gigantic, sprawling city is just them.
Neither seem like they want to pull away, but eventually, Harry does. "Do you want to move in with me?" he asks, smiling innocently.
Nick laughs, and he kisses Harry again, just because he can. "I want to get in the car and not die just after we've finally worked this out."
"All right. Let's go home."
Nick grins. "Home," he agrees.