“What about that blonde over there? She’s had her eye on you since you walked in here.”
Harry sighs deeply, taking a sip from his dry martini which he ordered thinking it would make him feel better if he could pretend he was James Bond in a secret mission. It hasn’t, and he doesn’t even like how it tastes, but he’s not gonna ruin some poor bartender’s career by showing it. It’s rather fitting, actually, since he’s being forced to be at this party, and forced to talk to these people, that now he’s also forcing himself to drink something he hates.
“That’s Karlie,” he answers shortly, and Liam’s face falls a little.
“Oh. Right.” Liam finishes his rum and coke which Harry’s been making sad eyes at, and he looks around, scanning the crowd. “I don’t know what to tell you dude, I’m usually a kickass wingman but you’d have to be at least a little bit interested in someone for me to work my wingman magic. There’s like a billion lingerie models and none of them have caught your eye at all, I think maybe you’ll have to tell your agent this isn’t gonna work out right now.”
With a groan, Harry puts his head in his hands. Liam’s right, as usual, but he doesn’t know he’s already told his agent he wasn’t able to handle a PR relationship for the time being at least three times in the past year, so that’s probably not gonna go so well.
“I don’t even know what the point is, if my music’s doing fine on its own and I’m sure these girls are all doing great too, since they’re here and everything. I don’t need to get any more famous.”
“Maybe it’s the gay rumors,” Liam says casually, and Harry shoots him an unimpressed look. “You know, you may have a thousand girlfriends but then you’re mostly always hanging out with your super fit, very out of the closet, best of friends… what’s his name again? That awesome singer you like so much?”
“You’re an idiot.” Harry nudges his ribs softly, because it’s a bit of a fancy party they’re at, so he figures getting into a tickle fight might be out of place. “Everyone knows you wouldn’t even know my name if you hadn’t needed me to get into Louis’ pants.”
“They were tight pants, it was hard getting into them.” Liam replies seriously, and Harry cracks up laughing despite himself.
“Please, I’m not interested in the details.” He takes a deep breath, and then another look around. It would be so much easier if he could just get over himself, talk to one of these pretty girls, ask her out after his team explained the terms and conditions and made her sign the paperwork. All the regular stuff twenty two years old go through when going on dates.
There was a time when that was just as easy as it sounded. Going to events, getting to know other celebrities, agreeing to be seen together only to improve their public image. There was nothing to it. Harry Styles, popstar, would pose and get his picture taken holding some girl’s hand, he’d give his public what they wanted, and then he’d go back home, where he could take off his expensive jacket and slip back into his own self. The one he kept from the cameras, the one he’d worked so hard to protect all these years that he wouldn’t let even the owner of the hand he was holding get a glimpse at.
It’s not like that anymore.
It’s been a year, and he still feels like the walls he’d built around himself aren’t back up yet, not entirely, like there’s too much of him that’s been exposed for everyone to see. There’s a leak somewhere in his fortress that he hasn’t quite managed to repair, and he’s scared someone will find out and know where to poke to hurt him.
Taylor did that to him, and the worst part is, he did it to her as well. They tore each other apart in a way they didn’t think was possible, and now they’ve both been hiding and licking at their wounds for twelve months, two weeks and five days. Except Taylor gets to stay protected for as long as she wants to, she’s shaken off her previous public persona in favor of this new, feminist self that surrounds herself with girl friends and declares a war on needing romantic love. It works for her, and since for her being in charge of everything is more than the illusion it is for Harry, she’s allowed to do it. She can stay safe while she’s done rebuilding her armor.
Harry, instead, is here, once again forced into this, even though he swore it would be the last time the night he drove away from Taylor’s house, sitting next to Liam trying to find someone he can talk to without being in absolute panic they’ll see right through everything he wants to keep hidden.
Liam nudges him and snaps him out of his own thoughts, pointing to a corner of the party where everyone seems to have forgotten how classy they’re supposed to be, since they’re all laughing loudly and making quite a fuss.
“It’s that new girl from Ireland, I think,” Liam explains, and Harry squints until he spots her in the crowd. “See, now that’s someone you should seriously consider. I hear she’s a laugh, and she’s not been in the UK for more than like a month, so I doubt she’s friends with anyone you wouldn’t wanna run into just yet.”
As Liam speaks, Harry’s eyes are trained on the girl and the way she’s cackling, head thrown back, and he doesn’t even notice how hard he’s staring until she takes a deep breath, her laughter quiets down to giggling, and for a moment their eyes meet.
“Yeah. I think you might be right.”
Niall doesn’t know it, but it takes her exactly an hour and three pints of beer to convince Harry she’s everything he didn’t know he wanted in a fake girlfriend.
“But you literally just said like two minutes ago you were done with the whole PR thing, and now you’re asking me to do it? How drunk are you?” Niall snorts over her beer, and it still amazes Harry how little she seems to care about not looking like a delicate flower every time she breathes. She’s entirely unapologetic in her ways, and hopefully that’s just what Harry needs.
“Well, for starters, it’s not as if I can decide to be done with it that easily, or I would’ve done it years ago, and I’ve already promised them to give it one last shot. Sort of. And if I have to do it with anyone, well, I just think you’d be fun to go out with, and, you know. We’d make great pals.”
It’s as subtle as he can be, but Niall seems to get it. She’s not laughing anymore, and she nods like she understands though Harry knows she can’t possibly know he likes her because she seems harmless. She didn’t care for him before he came up to her, so maybe she won’t try to dig any deeper than he’ll let her. Maybe she’s safe.
“Does this mean you’d take me out on dates, then?” Niall asks eyeing him consideringly. “Because you’re not my type at all, but I’ve never been one to say no to free meals. And I’ve heard you’re into golfing and I haven’t found anyone to be my play with in this dumb country yet, so I guess we could do that. And let people take pictures, I guess.”
Harry grins relieved, and for a moment wonders if there’s any way he could fist bump himself without looking like an idiot. It’s probably not the right time to find out, though, so he makes a mental note to pat himself on the back later on, because he was right, and he’s solved his own critical situation like a champ.
“Food and golf. Sounds like my perfect kind of fake date.” He says, unable to stop grinning, and when Niall smiles back he raises his beer to clink it with hers. “To the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”
There’s an incredible amount of factors Harry hadn’t taken into consideration when deciding on Niall as his new winter girlfriend, and right now, the most obvious one is that he possibly should have chosen someone slightly less attractive. At the party, where everyone was a model of something, she hadn’t quite caught his eye all that much. But here, in the court, where she’s clearly in her element, she’s stunning.
The minute he’d spotted her walking towards him, cameras going off in a not very discreet way, he’d known this might be a problem. In a bright pink polo and tights, Niall had bounced up to him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Cheeky, aren’t we,” Harry had stuttered, as if he hadn’t gone bright red on the cheeks, and Niall had laughed, shoving at his chest.
“I don’t fake date people without getting a little physical, mate. I mean. Harry. Darling. Love. Sweet cheeks.”
“Anything but sweet cheeks, please.” Harry had groaned, only realizing a beat too late that meant he’d basically doomed himself to be called sweet cheeks forever.
“You alright there, sweet cheeks?” Niall giggles, hooking her chin over his shoulder after he’s screwed up his shot -again. It’s hard to concentrate when she’s fluttering about all the time, looking so incredibly pretty and free in a way Harry could never dream to be. The more he watches her, the more he realizes there’s bits of him that are insanely jealous of how she honestly doesn’t care about the people watching them, or about him, or about anyone. She’s exactly the same person she was at the party, and the same person she was when they met up later that week to make the arrangements with their managers, and he’s sure she’s this same person when she’s all by herself as well. She’s just Niall.
Even before everything happened, Harry was always a kid with limbs too long for him to flail around without worrying he might stumble into something, a kid with a heart too big who had learned a lesson far too early in life about how easy it would be for someone to come and break it if he didn’t protect it. The more exposed he became, the more self conscious he grew. Even now, when he’s on stage, dancing and prancing, it’s his stage self. He does things because it will please people, and there’s not a second in his life when he’s not worrying about crossing the line between being nice to his fans and giving them more than he can afford to lose.
He’s thinking too much and it’s messing up his game so much Niall’s been laughing hysterically at him for the past two holes. At first she’d tried to look away so he wouldn’t see her giggling, but right now she’s literally doubled over her stomach.
“It’s fine, don’t worry, I’d just heard you were into golf and I assumed it meant you could play but it’s alright, we can go home.” She says, wiping her tears with the back of her hand as she watches Harry coming back from the lake his last ball had ended up in.
“I don’t know why I thought you’d be fun to hang out with,” Harry frowns, though it’s hard to stay serious when Niall’s almost blinding him with her smile.
“Because I’m delightful. Come on, mate, let’s call it a day. If you buy me lunch, I might stop mocking you sometime soon.”
“Fine,” Harry grunts, but then Niall reaches out and grabs his hand, pulling him towards her to kiss his cheek once more and he finds himself smiling a tiny bit. “I do know how to play, you know. I’m just a little off today.”
“Yes, yes, I know. It happens to most guys, it’s alright.” Niall manages to get to the end of her sentence before cracking up, and Harry can’t help but laugh along because as offended as he is, he’s not a man who can feign indifference when faced with a good pun.
“You’re not that bad, you know. I could’ve done better, but I could’ve done worse too.” Harry finally says, and Niall bumps their shoulders together with a soft smile.
“Let’s hope all those newspapers think so too.” She says, gesturing with her head to the paparazzis lined up outside the club’s restaurant, and Harry’s face falls a bit. For the shortest moment, he’d forgotten that was what they were doing this for.
They don’t turn out to be quite the it couple, but at least people seem to be endeared by them, and they buy the magazines and tweet about them, so that’s good enough for them. And Niall gets as many free dinners as she wants, because even though their deal was for them to have eight dates in two months, Harry gets bored on his own, and she hasn’t made that many friends yet, so they end up hanging out with each other more often than not, despite all the alarms going off in Harry’s head about how dangerous it can be.
It’s just not as hard as he’d expected, because with Niall he can have fun and talk for hours without telling her his life story or revealing his biggest secrets. She’s easy going and seems to know how far Harry is willing to go with conversations, besides quickly learning how bad he is at handling his alcohol and not letting him get too drunk even when she’s beyond pissed.
“Whyyy won’t you let me have another one if I’m way more sober than you are?” Harry whines from Niall’s lap where his head somehow landed at some point between the fifth and sixth glass of wine. Niall is absently running her fingers through his hair while she finishes off her sixth can of beer, and it takes forever for her to focus on Harry and reply.
“Because, Harold,” she starts saying, slurring ridiculously, and Harry’s never letting her hang out with Louis and Liam again because she picks up the worst things from them, including that dumb nickname, “I have the feeling you are the kind of drunk who will start telling me all his secrets and I am not interested in those.”
If she said it as a way to get him to sober up, it works like a charm. Harry sits up a little too fast and everything spins for a moment, but he doesn’t care. He’s staring right at Niall’s eyes, squinting, as if he could see in them how much she knows. Someone must have told her, because he doesn’t understand how else she could have figured him out.
“I have no secrets.” He says it in all seriousness but Niall cracks up laughing anyway.
“Oh, yes. No secrets. Harry, with his heart on his sleeve, I’ve heard it.” She brushes her hair off her face, still with an amused smile on her face and she leans in until their foreheads are touching. Her accent grew thicker with each beer, and by now Harry actually has to make an effort to understand what she’s saying. “You can’t fool me, Styles. Not even your smart cute ass can fool an Irishwoman.”
“You think my ass is cute?” Harry tries, hoping to change the topic, but Niall scrunches up her nose and giggles some more, looking very determined.
“I do. But I also think you think I’m dumber than I am, or maybe you never heard us Irish folks are very perceptive. We can see through people. All those fairies in the forest we grow up with teach us stuff.”
Now it’s Harry’s turn to crack up laughing despite the fact Niall isn’t smiling anymore. Apparently fairies are serious stuff and she doesn’t seem to appreciate Harry laughing at it, so he tries to compose himself.
“Okay, and what did the fairies tell you about me?”
Niall takes a deep breath and suddenly Harry is very aware of how close their lips are because he can feel the air she exhales on his mouth and he gets goosebumps all over his skin, but if anyone asks, he’ll blame it on the cold. Even though he’s got the heat on.
“They said you pretend to have your heart on your sleeve but it’s actually locked away, and I respect that. It’s not how I live, but I understand why you’d do it, so I’m never gonna say anything about it to you.”
“You’re- you literally just said something about it.”
There’s a pause and then Niall starts cackling, dropping her head on the sofa, finally putting some space between her and Harry though it might be too late, if how hot all over he’s feeling is any indication.
“I’m sorry. I think I might be drunk.” She shrugs her shoulders, and Harry doesn’t remember ever lacing their fingers together but they seem to be holding hands a lot these days, and he can’t bring himself to care. It’s nice. It doesn’t feel like she’s grounding him, it makes him feel like she’s taking him along to all the high places he can’t quite reach because of how heavy he feels sometimes.
“I think you might be.” He replies softly, tracing small circles on her hand with his thumb as he watches her close her eyes and shuffle around making herself comfortable. “I think I might like you.”
He’s a little bit drunk, enough to say it, and she’s definitely too drunk to remember it, or at least he hopes so.
“I think I might like you too,” Niall says, smirking at him and pulling him closer by the hand she hasn’t let go of. “And it’s okay if this is as far as you’re gonna let me go, but you know, just because you keep me out of the dark, twisted corners of your heart, doesn’t mean you have to keep me out of your pants.”
Harry chokes on his own saliva at that, suddenly forgetting how to make words because he was sure he was being subtle at that too, but it seems the fairies have told her a lot of things about him.
“I don’t- “ He starts saying, but Niall cuts him off.
“I’ve seen you look at me. And like I said, I think your ass is cute, so it only makes sense. Friends can do that.” She says nonchalantly, and Harry’s not sure about it, but when she looks up at him from under her eyelashes, he thinks he might be willing to give it a go. “I can stay over, right, because it won’t look good at all if you let your fake girlfriend out on the streets when she’s this drunk.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to sleep here.” Harry gets up from the couch, pushing her up, and it isn’t until she gets on her feet and stumbles over her own long legs that he confirms how drunk she really is.
“Ah, what a gentleman my boyfriend is, offering to carry me to bed,” Niall sighs in an overdramatic way, and before Harry can protest she’s climbing on his back. “Just pretend I’m a koala.”
“You don’t make any sense,” Harry breathes out, helping her up and putting her legs around his waist.
“Your face doesn’t make any sense,” Niall replies sleepily, resting her cheek on his shoulder. She’s sound asleep by the time he gets her to his bed, and when he gets under the sheets next to her, she rolls over and throws a leg over his, putting her head on his chest.
When he thinks of how there’s going to be blonde hairs all over his pillows in the morning and he can’t find it in him to care, he knows he’s fucked.
“Hey. Hey, Harry. Harryyyy, wake up.”
He doesn’t know what time it is, but it’s definitely too early to be waking up, especially after all that wine, yet Niall won’t shut up.
“Shhh. Hangover. You should have one.”
“I do have one, but I have a great idea to get rid of it.”
Harry fumbles around, trying to put his hand on her mouth until she licks it and he’s forced to open his eyes. He’s ready to give her a disgusted look but then she shifts and sucks his finger into her mouth, running her tongue over it so slowly Harry gasps a little.
“You said last night,” she says letting go of his finger now that his eyes are wide open, “something about my ass?”
“Actually- “ Harry starts correcting her, but then he realizes she’s moved so she’s not lying entirely on top of him, and she seems to have got rid of her jeans which is. Well. He’s not sure what exactly he was going to say. “Are you sure?”
“Positive, it’s a known cure for hangovers.” Niall nods, giving him the world’s most encouraging smile. “I promise, friends can do this. If you want to?”
“I do.” Harry doesn’t know how she could possibly doubt that when his hard dick is pretty much pressed up against her thigh, but he smiles back anyway. “I really, really, really do.”
Niall quite literally beams at that, and before Harry’s had a moment to prepare for it, her lips are on his and she’s kissing him deep. It’s messy, and it takes a while of clashing teeth before they get used to each other, but when they do, Harry can’t get enough. His fingers get tangled in her hair pressing her as close as humanly possible to him, and only when they break apart he realizes he’s completely breathless.
“Fuck.” Niall rests her forehead on his, and for a moment they just breathe heavily, eyes shut.
“What do you want?” Harry asks, and Niall presses a kiss on his cheek.
“Anything. Everything. Whatever you want.”
There’s a million things Harry wants to do to her right then and there, but kissing her again is somehow at the top of his list, so he sits up and presses his lips to her jaw, kissing down her neck, a hand on her waist. She’s still wearing the same football shirt she was wearing the day before and nothing else but her panties, which Harry can’t wait to get rid off. He wants to touch her everywhere, his hands slipping under her shirt, feeling the smooth curve of her back and unclasping her bra.
“Can I?” He asks quietly, lifting the hem of her shirt, and Niall breathes out her permission. They’re too close together, so she leans back to take it off, but her legs get tangled in the sheets and before Harry can do anything to help, she’s rolling off the bed.
There’s a silence and then an outburst of laughter from the floor.
“Brilliant,” she says as she gets up, standing in just her panties, and Harry knows he should ask her if she’s alright and help her get her legs out of the mess she’s made with the sheets, but there’s more important things on his mind.
She’s almost done kicking the sheets away from her when he gets on his knees and crawls over to her, putting one hand on her ass and pressing a kiss to her belly button.
“I was gonna go back to bed, you know,” she says, her voice caught in her throat.
“Shhh,” Harry whispers, making sure to blow out the air against her skin to get her to shiver like she does. He kisses his way down to her panties, hooking a finger in them and slowly pushing them down her legs as he keeps on kissing her, lower and lower.
Very carefully as to not repeat what just happened, he shifts so he can move his legs from under himself, sitting at the edge of the bed while he keeps his lips pressed against her skin. It’s just like when they were kissing, after a rough start, they are slowly learning to read each other and when Niall finally opens her legs and puts one knee on the bed beside him, Harry knows to sit back and put his hands on her thighs, helping her crawl over him and nudging her forward when she hesitates, until she’s hovering over his face.
There’s a moment when he wonders if he should ask, but she looks down on him and bites her lip, looking almost desperate. She’s wet enough that he can smell it, and he wants to taste her more than anything in life.
He licks his way up to her clit once before going back and burying his tongue in her, his fingers digging into her thighs as he fucks her slowly and as deep as he possibly can. Soon, her hands are in his hair, and when he licks at her clit once more, she tugs at it. He moans against her and she tugs even harder, like the best vicious cycle Harry’s ever heard off.
She rocks her hips against his tongue, and he lets his head fall back, letting her fuck herself on his tongue, lowering herself until his nose is buried in her as well and there’s a strain of curse words rolling off her tongue that are only making him harder.
It isn’t until he lifts her up and starts licking at her clit that she starts saying his name. Her knees have started to shake, so Harry pushes her away until she gets the hint and lies down on her back, legs spread open, and he lifts them over his shoulders so he can get back to licking her.
She tightens her grip on his hair as a warning when she’s getting close, as if he wasn’t feeling how she’s throbbing against his tongue, so he slides two fingers inside her and she keeps moving against him, finally in perfect sync.
When she comes, she whimpers so softly Harry barely hears it, but she doesn’t let go of his hair and she presses her thighs against his head as if to make sure he won’t leave just yet, so he keeps licking at her with broad strokes until she’s panting and pushing him away.
“Fuck, Styles. We’ve been wasting our time at golf, this is what you’re good at,” she laughs though she’s still out of breath, and Harry would pretend to be offended if he wasn’t achingly hard and in desperate need of a hand. “Come here, yeah?”
She kisses him slowly, and he’s pretty sure she’s taking her time to taste herself on his lips which is possibly the hottest thing he’s ever taken part of, and just as they’re breaking apart, her phone starts to ring.
“Leave it,” he says, putting his hand on the back of her neck and kissing her again. His dick’s leaking at the tip and he’s pretty sure he’ll come in two seconds even if all they do is keep on kissing, but Niall pulls away and grabs her phone, groaning loudly at the text on the screen.
“You’re gonna hate me,” she says, looking back at Harry with the most apologetic look she can muster. “But I kind of really have to go.”
“Now?” Harry whimpers, looking down at his neglected dick.
“I’m sorry,” Niall scrunches up her nose, and leans down to press a kiss onto it, which only makes Harry frown harder. “But I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
“You better,” he says, getting up from the bed. “Think you can let yourself out? Because I need a shower right now.”
Niall nods, and starts picking her stuff up and putting her clothes back on, which is a terrible shame.
“This is gonna look great though, you know. Me coming out all disheveled out of your place. People will start planning our wedding anytime now.” She tells him over her shoulder as she’s tying up her boots, and Harry shuts the door to the bathroom behind him because that’s not something he’s willing to think about right now.
For a fake girlfriend, she just had very real sex with him, and he’s not so sure about how good he is at not getting things mixed up when it’s like this.
“I’ll be back later and I expect to find the same hard dick I left waiting for me to look after it,” Niall shouts from the door, and he can hear her cackling at herself as she walks down the hall.
Now that’s definitely gonna be making headlines tomorrow.
She does indeed come back later, and even though she bangs her head pretty hard against the bed’s headboard as Harry’s fucking her mouth, she laughs it off and rolls them over to end up riding him. It’s all a bit hectic, and by the time they’re done, Harry’s panting heavily and Niall’s curled up around him, half asleep.
“Sorry about that,” Harry says, rolling over so he’s lying on his side to look at her properly. “I’m usually better at things, I think.”
“What are you apologizing for?” Niall says, eyes still tightly shut.
“What.” Now she opens her eyes, raising an eyebrow at him. “What are you even talking about, Harry?”
“I mean like, both times things were, uh. Messy. Bad sex. You get the point, please don’t make me embarrass myself any further.” He tries to cover his face with his hands, but Niall grabs them and moves closer, eyes locked on his.
“One time, a guy was eating me out and stopped halfway through it to tell me he usually liked how pussies looked but mine looked really gross when I was horny. That’s bad sex. This is just little accidents that happen to everyone, but there was nothing bad about it, you have to stop worrying so much.”
“I’m not worrying.” Harry mumbles, looking away from her, and Niall’s serious expression fades away.
“You’re such an idiot.” She smiles before leaning in and kissing him softly. “I promise. That was great sex. I want to have more sex with you, and I wouldn’t want to if it had been bad sex. Do you want to have more sex with me?”
Harry nods, feeling a bit like a child, but Niall just grins and cuddles in closer.
“Perfect. Then do spoon me please, so we can go to sleep because that last bit was really exhausting.”
“Alright, alright,” Harry concedes, waiting for her to roll over to put his arms around her waist. He’s not sure if spooning counts as part of the things friends can casually do, but he’s too tired to care, and maybe a part of him thinks he’s already too fucked to be worrying about such things.
Being friends with Louis was easier, before Liam. Harry loves Liam, but the fact is, before he came along, Louis was more like Harry. He kept to himself as much as he could, never quite letting anyone get too close, because the business was brutal enough as it was without him being dumb enough to go and get his heart broken by someone. And then it had all happened like in a stupid Disney movie, someone had told him about this guy with a great voice who was in need of a manager, and they’d bonded over songwriting.
“I mean, could it have been more of a cliche? Falling in love while writing a song together?” Harry scoffs before taking a last gulp of his scotch, while Liam and Louis give him equally amused looks from the couch they’re sharing even though it’s very evidently a couch made for only one person.
“I’m gonna go bring the food before it gets burnt and someone gets even grumpier.” Liam says and disappears into the kitchen, and Harry frowns when he sees Louis’s eyes following him until he closes the door behind him.
“It’s not our fault if you’re being an idiot, Harold, you know that.” Louis states when he finally manages to unglue his eyes from the door.
“I’m not being an idiot about anything, excuse you.” Harry grunts, and he’s about to add something else when his phone starts beeping like there’s an avalanche of texts coming in. There’s a picture attached to most of them, and he doesn’t think twice before clicking on the link. “Shit.”
“What is it?” Louis says as he gets up and goes look over his shoulder. “Oh. Harry, that doesn’t mean anything. You know it doesn’t mean anything.”
There’s a strange feeling building up inside him, something like his own heart chanting “I told you so” while also managing to feel betrayed. It’s too soon, it was always going to be too soon, and he knows it doesn’t make sense for him to feel like this marks the end of everything but he does.
“I was being an idiot, wasn’t I,” he says slowly, and there is something in Louis’s eyes that looks a lot like pity and he doesn’t like it. He’s had enough pity from people who have somehow managed to make their love lives work instead of royally screwing them up over and over.
“That’s not what I meant.” Louis says and he attempts to put a hand on his shoulder but he pulls away before he can do it. “Harry…”
“It’s fine. It’s whatever. Let’s go check on Liam, yeah? He’s been in there for an awful long time and I fear there might be nothing left but ashes.” Harry stands up, tossing his phone onto the couch, the picture of Niall and Taylor out having lunch together still on the screen.
Harry’s plan is to ignore Niall forever and pretend she never existed, even if that also means having to ignore his agent forever since he won’t stop texting him about how they had an agreement and he can’t just drop everything like this. It’s fine. He’ll get a new agent. And he’ll probably have to destroy his phone to get it to stop buzzing.
It isn’t until he picks it up to turn it off that he sees the number, and he thinks of himself as a rather capable guy but if there’s one thing he couldn’t ever do, it’s hang up on Taylor Swift. Even now. Especially now.
“At last, you dumbass,” she says and he frowns even though she’s clearly teasing him.
“You couldn’t leave it alone, could you. The one girl I’ve actually liked, and you just had to go and recruit her for your army of girls and cats.”
He’s being an idiot, he’s vaguely aware of that, but he can’t help himself. He was starting to get comfortable around Niall, but something about her and Taylor hanging out flipped a switch in his brain, and it’s all Taylor’s fault.
“I didn’t recruit her for anything, Harry, and for the record, I don’t have an army. We just hung out. She’s friends with a friend of friend, you know how those things go, and we had a bit of a chat, but it wasn’t a big deal.” She pauses, and Harry’s about to reply when she starts talking again. “You don’t have to worry about her, Harry, I promise.”
Harry wants to say he’s not worrying, he never would, Niall’s just a friend and he just doesn’t like his friends hanging out with his ex. It’s nothing more than that. But he can’t make the words come out of his mouth, because they’re lies, and he hadn’t realized how far away from the truth they were until now.
“I really like her, you know. I think I didn’t know how much, but I really like her, and it’s fucking scary to like someone again.” His voice is barely audible and he doesn’t want to be saying these things, doesn’t even want to think about why he’s telling Taylor all of this, but he needs to.
“I know.” She replies shortly and now he really does feel like an asshole because of course she knows. He hurt her as much as she hurt him. “I, um. I met someone, you know.”
“Oh.” He does know, he’s seen the pictures, but he couldn’t know if they were real, and he didn’t dare ask because he wasn’t sure how he’d feel about it.
“And I think I understand it better now, why you and I were such a catastrophe.” She’s nearly whispering too now, and he gets the feeling of saying things that should never ever be said out loud. Things that would expose their darkest corners if people heard. “There was that thing we both did, where it was all a game that we played that no one knew about, you know. Fame. Knowing what to give to people so they would be pleased, so they’d leave us alone with the parts of us we wanted to keep to ourselves.”
“I’d never met anyone who was as good at it as I was until I met you.” Harry says slowly, because he’s starting to understand what she’s trying to say and it feels a bit like an open wound finally being closed.
“Me either.” He thinks he hears a smile on her voice, and he’s not sure but he smiles back at the phone. “But it felt like a competition. Whoever broke through the other defenses’ the fastest won.”
"It doesn’t feel like anyone won anything.”
“It never was a game. I think we lost sight of that.”
They fall silent for a moment, and Harry thinks he realized all of what Taylor just said the moment it all ended between them. It was fun and games until they got hurt, and then he looked back on it and realized how little of it had been fun. None of it had been a game.
“We could have been pretty amazing, if we’d known better,” he says, if only because he had that thought in the back of his mind for a very long time and he feels like right now is the time to say everything he never said.
“I’m not so sure. Maybe. But maybe we wouldn’t have ever known better if we hadn’t gone through this.”
“Maybe maybe will be our always,” Taylor says and there’s a whole three seconds before they both start laughing. “Sorry. I just… I wanted to talk to you. Because ever since I met him, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about him and I didn’t understand why if we hadn’t spoken since, well. Everything. But it’s because you’re the only one who could understand why it was hard to let him in, and now I think you might also be the only one who understands how strange it was that I woke up one day and suddenly realized I had done just that without realizing it.”
Harry thinks of a night at three am, with a half empty bottle of vodka and Niall fast asleep on his lap as The Great British Bake Off was ending.
“I thought letting her in would mean telling her stuff. Like saying things out loud, explaining things that happened and no one heard of. But it’s not quite that, is it?”
“No, I think it isn’t. And I think you should.” Taylor hesitates for a moment, before she says it. “She really likes you, Harry. And she’s a much better girl than you could ever deserve.”
“I know,” Harry says, suddenly eager to be done with the conversation because there’s one other call he needs to make right now. “Thanks. And, uh. I hope maybe we can be friends now. Or at least try.”
“Maybe,” Taylor laughs, but it sounds enough like a yes to him. “See you around, Styles.”
“Good luck with /him/.”
He hangs up, and his finger hovers over Niall’s name, losing his courage the second Taylor’s voice isn’t in his ear urging him to call her. It’s only been a couple of days so he thinks Niall might not have even noticed he’s been ignoring her, but that’s not the problem.
The problem is if he calls her now, he’ll have to say it. All of it.
She answers right away, which is a blessing because Harry would have hung up otherwise, and if she’s noticed he hasn’t been replying to her texts, she doesn’t mention it.
“So, Styles, what’s got you calling me in this serious, business like tone? Do we have another date we must go to? Because I’m not sure I can pretend to enjoy your company once again but I guess I might be able to pull it off if you promise we can go golfing and I can laugh at you as much as I want to.”
She sounds like she’s grinning her most dazzling smile, and Harry can’t understand how he ever doubted he could put it all on the line for someone who can get him to laugh like this over the phone.
“It’s something like that,” he says, leaning back on the couch and looking at the ceiling. “Except maybe, uh. Maybe not so fake.”
There’s a pause, and Niall takes the deepest of breaths, loud enough for him to hear. Harry’s heart skips a beat, and he wasn’t scared of what she might answer but now he’s truly terrified he might have misread the whole thing.
“I cannot believe this is happening. Is Harry Styles asking me, a tiny Irish peasant, on a real date? Without telling the paparazzis? Am I going to get a kiss at my doorstep and no one will get pictures of it?”
He can’t tell if she’s mocking him or what, so he doesn’t answer and waits instead until she cracks up and it takes her a whole minute to stop laughing and catch her breath enough to form sentences.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this, darling, but we’ve kind of been on real dates before. If I bring wine and you cook dinner, and then we fuck, that’s a date as far as I’m concerned.”
“Those weren’t dates, that was just dinner,” Harry fights back, frowning at the phone, and then he realizes what she’s saying. “Oh.”
“Oh,” she echoes, and though it still sounds like she’s teasing him, it also sounds endeared. “I would love to go out on a real date with you, Styles. Really, one hundred percent, would adore it. And if you want to, and your management won’t have your head for it, we can even stop going on fake ones forevermore.”
“Are you sure?” Harry asks before he can stop himself because the question is always at the tip of his tongue, every time someone agrees to becoming a part of his life in any way. “It might suck. The fans might be horrible, the press might eat us alive, and I. I might be terrible. This might end in the worst possible way.”
“I’m willing to take my chances,” Niall replies, and she doesn’t hesitate at all. “I know what I’m getting into, remember how I’ve been fake dating you for a while now? I’m in it if you are.”
“You said my heart was dark and twisted.” Harry remarks, if only because he has an excellent memory for things that hit a little too close to home and since he’s being so honest, he might as well get that tiny little thorn that got stuck in him out of the way.
“I was /joking/, sweet cheeks, ever heard of those? They might not be so common where you come from, with your grey cities where it’s always raining, but they’re supposed to make people laugh.” Niall’s tone drips sarcasm but because it’s coming from her, Harry finds himself doing nothing more than barely roll his eyes at her. “I didn’t mean it. I like what I’ve seen of your heart, and I’d like to get to know more of it, if you’ll let me. I promise I’ll do my best not to break it.”
He still hasn’t said most of what he wants to tell her, about how scared he is, and how paranoid he might get about some things, and how bad it was last time he let someone in. But then she makes that promise ever so lightly, like she knows, and he remembers this is why he’s doing this. This is why his heart has been calling out for her so loudly. He doesn’t need to say any of it, not until he wants to and feels like he can.
“Thank you,” he says. “So, tomorrow night? You can come by and I’ll make dinner.”
“I’ll bring the wine.”
It’s so simple, and when he hangs up, he can’t quite believe how little it took, and yet here he is. Watching it begin again.