Nick's hand is open and empty on the stark white hospital sheets and somehow it's the most terrifying thing Harry's ever seen. He knows it would be easy to reach across and hold it, to feel Nick's cold fingers against his own. He knows he should.
Harry looks up from Nick's hand. "Sorry."
"It's fine." The nurse in the doorway has a kind smile and long, purple braids. "I just need to pop in and check Mr. Grimshaw's vitals."
"Of course," Harry skitters out of his seat. She pats him on the arm as she passes, swiping Nick's clipboard from the end of his bedpost and flipping through it. There's a tiny gold star at the end of her stethoscope.
"Is it just you this evening, love?" she asks, writing something down. "He usually has a harem up here."
Harry thinks about his own relief at finding the place empty. He isn't quite ready to face Aimee Phillips-Chaloner tonight. "Just me, yeah."
She hums. She either doesn't know who he is or is doing a good job of pretending she doesn't. He doesn't know if he's relieved or annoyed.
"Well," she puts back his chart and smiles. "I'll leave you and Mr. Grimshaw to it. Let us know if he wakes up."
She goes. The room continues to beep, whirling and twirling noises like something out of Doctor Who. There are cards lining the windowpane, bright colours and funny drawings. Taped next to them on the wall is a big poster from Radio 1. Greg James has drawn a giraffe with a quiff and a speech bubble: don't you know who i am??
Harry knows he doesn't belong here. He pulls out his phone, shuffling through. He has 400+ unread emails and nearly the same amount of texts but he skips over them to fuck around. He pulls up the calculator app and then closes it, opens his photos instead.
The last one he took is a picture of his producer's youngest daughter. She's got curly blond hair and chubby cheeks and her smile is beautiful. She showed him around their backyard with one hand clutching his thumb, and then made him take a picture of her next to the biggest tree in the back. The screen dims and then lights up again as a new text comes in: hey loser text me back.
Harry's texting Gemma back with one hand, the other still cowering next to Nick's on the blanket when he hears the machine measuring heartbeat shift out of time. He looks up.
Nick is blinking his eyes open.
"Oh," Harry says. Stupid. "You're awake."
"You're here." Nick's voice is a croak. The breathing tubes in his nose make him look sick and older than he is. Harry's takes a breath.
"Of course I am."
"Haven't seen you in ages."
Harry nods and tries to convince his hand to move closer to Nick's. It stays where it is.
"Didn't have to come," Nick says, sliding his eyes shut. "I'm alright."
"Nick, you're in the hospital."
"Getting out tomorrow."
"Mhm," his eyes flutter open again, staring back at Harry. It makes him feel open, vulnerable, like a frog in a sixth form chemistry class. "You look good."
Harry smiles with half his mouth, looks down. "Thanks, Grim."
"Not going to return the favour?" He's got that light in his eye that means he's joking. Harry's seen that look a thousand times. "You're getting rude in your old age, Styles."
"You do look good. Considering."
"Charmer," Nick rolls his eyes. Harry laughs.
The beeps and whirls of the hospital machines take over the conversation. Through the window London is dark and bright, car lights crawling in every direction. When Harry slides his eyes back, Nick is checking his phone with one hand, his other weighted down to the bed with an IV.
"I'm sorry for, um," Nick looks away from his phone and Harry falters. "Uh. Sorry for getting here late. I didn't hear you were in the hospital until yesterday."
"It's not." There's a ceiling fan on Nick's ceiling. Harry focuses on one of the panels and lets his eyes follow it around and around. "The Daily Mail knew before I did."
"Well they've got more spies than you do," Nick says, smiling.
Harry thinks of Niall in Chelsea, of Daisy who texted him a recipe on Thursday but didn't think to mention that Nick was in the fucking hospital.
"I guess," he says. "How are you? Fuck, I should have asked that first, shouldn't I have? Damn."
"It's cool, I won't tell anyone."
"You're a godsend."
Nick laughs, still all croaky and weird like he is sometimes after a rough night out. "I'm okay. Feel a bit weird. And I'm massively bored. I did the crossword yesterday."
"What was 24 across?"
"Dickhead," Nick says. He laughs when Harry does.
They're still laughing when the nurse from earlier pokes her head in.
"Nicholas," she says, smiling. "I see you're awake."
"This is Meredith," Nick tells Harry. "She calls me Nicholas because she thinks it's cute."
The it is is on Harry's tongue but he doesn't let it out. He doesn't know how to flirt with Nick when there are strangers in the room.
"You know the drill," Meredith says as she walks to the bed. Nick leans forward, pulling his shirt up at the back.
Meredith listens to his breath. Nick makes a funny face at Harry.
"Sounds good," she says, pulling back. "Do you have your things packed for tomorrow?"
"Daisy helped me," Nick says gesturing to the bag on the ground. "Just got my pillows and my Heats left over."
He pats the pile of magazines on the little table next to him. Meredith laughs. On the cover of the first page Harry can see a picture of himself in the left corner, one of Auden and him at a frozen yogurt place in West Hollywood. It makes his stomach squirm, to think that Nick's seen those photos.
He tunes back into the conversation. Meredith is going through the list of things Nick needs to remember, "-and you'll need someone to take you home, of course. You can't drive by yourself for awhile."
"Aimee's coming to pick me up," Nick says, shaking his phone. "She just needs to check with the sitter."
"I can do it."
Nick glances at Harry. Harry feels as shocked as Nick looks.
"That's okay, Haz," Nick says, slow. "You've probably got a million things to do-"
"I don't," Harry looks at Meredith expectantly. "What time do I need to be here?"
"Mr. Grimshaw is discharged at 9:30."
"Great, I'll be here at 9."
"You really don't need to do this," Nick says. "Aimee can pick me up and make sure I don't kill myself having a shower."
"She has a four month old," Harry says, sharper than he means to be. "And you need someone to make sure you eat right, to help you cook meals and walk Pig. I can do that."
Nick just stares at him. They keep up their contest until Meredith's cough breaks them up.
"Well I'll be back to check up on you in an hour," she says, fluffing Nick's pillow once. "And Mr. Styles?"
Harry looks up in surprise.
"Visiting hours end in five minutes," she smiles. It's kind of nice to see that someone is rooting for him. "Don't forget to sign out at the front desk."
"Thank you, I won't."
It's only after she's left that he realizes he never told her his name.
"Well," he starts a moment later. "I should get going."
"Harry," Nick says, putting his hand over Harry's. His hand is colder than it was the last time Harry had Nick's skin on his. "You don't have to come tomorrow, really. I'm sure you probably want to see Gemma and your goons before you go back."
"I've got time."
Harry doesn't get to say that very often.
"C'mon, when's your return flight."
"Didn't book one."
Nick raises one eyebrow. "Are you lying to me Harry Styles?"
"I don't lie to you."
London bleeds in through their room, the screech of an ambulance through the air. Harry stands up, shoving his phone into his back pocket.
"Okay, I'll be here at 9 then. Do you need me to bring anything?"
"I wouldn't say no to James Bay serenading me," Nick says. His eyes are still cautious, disbelieving.
"I'll try my best."
He leans in, one hand on Nick's pillow to lower himself down. Harry presses a kiss to the skin next to Nick's right eye.
"See you tomorrow?" he asks, feeling jittery, as he pulls away.
Nick blinks at him, twice, and nods. "See you tomorrow, H."
It was Fiona who called him.
"Hey Harry," the voicemail said when Harry finally had a minute in between studio sessions and lunch dates to check his phone. "This is Fiona. Hanlon. Off the Breakfast Show? I grabbed your number off Nick's phone, hope that's okay. Anyways, a bunch of us are pooling together to get him something while he's in hospital. He's got about a million flowers and he says he had a dream where they all, um, came to life? And ate him? Basically he's just complaining, you know Nick, so we thought he might like something artsy instead. Fincham's been looking at galleries. So uh, if you're interested just let me know. Yeah. Uh. This is Fiona. Hanlon."
There are fresh flowers in a vase on Harry's kitchen table.
He drops his keys in the little dish by the door and kicks off his boots. He pads across the cool kitchen floor and goes to the sink to wash his hands.
It's so quiet. The refrigerator hums behind him, the ice maker in the freezer clunking. His hands reach out for a hand towel before he realizes it's hung over the oven door handle.
He doesn't know London anymore. He doesn't know his house anymore. The sun's gone down, streetlight pouring into Harry's living room through the curtains left a little open from Marie-Lys. Harry's never met her, only glanced over her CV, but he knows she's been to his house more times than he has.
The jars of pasta in the pantry are fully stocked even though Harry's sure he finished the last of the penne off the last time he was here, at Christmas, when Gemma wanted pasta and pesto for a midnight snack.
Harry finds fresh tomatoes in the fridge, new basil leaves in the roundabout next to the stove, and makes a mental note to thank Daniel, his new PA.
He settles down with his pasta in front of the television half an hour later. There's nothing on but he's wired. He switches it over to Netflix, selecting the latest Pegg/Frost comedy, and feels his eyelids droop.
Nick is in the hospital. Nick is in the hospital. Nick is in the hospital.
Harry stuffs a glob of tomato into his mouth. On the screen a hand holding a phone enters the frame. Simon Pegg waves it off.
Nick is in the hospital. Harry closes his eyes and sees it again. Sees the tube of air across Nick's nostrils, the clamp around his finger, the white sheets against his white skin.
Harry's phone buzzes on his thigh. It's his mother.
"Hi darling," she says as he picks up. "I hear you're in London and didn't even think to call your dear old mum."
"Sorry," Harry says automatically. He picks at the hole in his jeans. "Went straight from Heathrow to the hospital."
"How is he?"
Harry shrugs. "Fine. Okay. I don't know."
"Did he get the flowers we sent?"
"I think so. Aimee's been taking them back to his flat for him."
Harry tries to picture her at home; standing next to the back door, staring out into the dark garden, the new kitten weaving between her feet, cup of tea in one hand. Harry should make some tea.
"You coming up North before you go back home?"
There's an explosion on his television. "Huh?"
"Are you going to make it up this weekend before you get your return flight?"
"I didn't book a return flight."
"Oh," she sounds surprised. "Wonderful. We'll see you when we see you then."
His mum is great on the phone because she lets him breathe, let's him take time to reply. He needs it now.
Once, when Louis was overtired and feeling sharp, he told Harry that he's a coward. He said that Harry runs from everything and that he's scared of staying in one place because he doesn't want to be disliked.
"If you actually made a commitment you'd break it," Louis said. "So you don't commit to fuck-all and then you can drift in and out of people's worlds. You're gone before anyone can actually get mad at you because you're so fucking scared of confrontation."
Louis apologized eighteen minutes later because Liam made him, with a mutter and a tight smile, but the comment stuck.
Harry isn't an idiot. He knows that he floats, that he doesn't nest in places for too long. He knows the longest relationship he's ever had is with his boys, that he changes phones every five months.
Robin takes him aside every Christmas and tells him that one day he'll "find someone worth staying for" and Harry's waiting, waiting for the tug, the shiver down his spine that will make him never want to leave.
But maybe it isn't a tug or a light bulb above his head. Maybe it's a settle in his bones, a sigh of relief, a gentle caress in knowing that he won't sleep alone.
Maybe he doesn't have to run away this time.
"Yeah," Harry says, finally. "I'll let you know."
He takes another breath and hears his mother do the same thing.
"How are you?" he asks after a long moment. "How's Robin?"
He settles back into the cushions as she talks. Outside the window London calls out and the dull ache in his stomach calls back.
Aimee Phillips is standing in the doorway of Nick's hospital room when Harry arrives at 9:03am. She stares him up and down and then gives the carnations he debated over for six minutes a look down her nose.
"Oh," she says coldly. "You came."
On Harry's first proper trip to New York, Aimee let him sleep on her couch and introduced him to all her friends. They went to Top of the Rock and ate pizza in Washington Square Park.
Now she's looking at him like she doesn't even know him.
"Yeah," Harry says. He pulls at his bottom lip. "Nick still in?"
Aimee doesn't blink. It was a stupid question.
He follows her into the room. Nick is sitting on the edge of the bed, a new nurse prodding his back with a stethoscope. There's a cotton ball and plaster on the inside of his elbow.
"Harry Styles," Nick says when he looks up. "Good morning."
"Morning." Harry smiles at the nurse.
"Are those flowers?"
Harry looks down, feels stupid. "Um."
"Oh," Nick says, sounding delighted. "Are those flowers for me?"
"If you behave yourself," Harry says, putting them down on the bed next to Nick and then hovering a few feet away. He feels unsure with Aimee watching, which is ridiculous. Aimee once walked in on Nick's cock halfway down Harry's throat and all she had to say was 'Good form, Styles'.
But it's been years and Harry isn't so sure anymore. He doesn't know if he's welcome to put his mouth on Nick's dick anymore, which is never a thing he had to wonder about before.
"Always behave myself," Nick says. "Don't I, Winta?"
The nurse, Winta, smiles fondly. "Should I lie to your friends then, Nicholas?"
Harry laughs before he can stop himself and can hear Aimee's own cackle behind him. Nick's face tries to hold down a pout but he's helpless to giggles when people are teasing him, loves to be part of any laugh.
"Your vitals look good," Winta says, squeezing at Nick's fingertips. She has a slow grace about her and it reminds Harry of Linda from the bakery he worked at as a teenager. Linda taught him to knead, slow and steady and calculated.
There's paperwork to do, forms to sign, so Harry and Aimee go into the hallway again. Aimee pulls her phone out immediately, long nails tapping away on the screen. Her hair is candy floss pink but her roots are coming, dark pushing into light. She doesn't look put together, which is a first for Aimee.
"Erm-" Harry clears his throat. "How's Ian?"
"And Farideh? She looked beautiful in the photos I saw on- um, Instagram."
Aimee looks up, finally. There's a dark ring around her eyes. "What are you doing here, Styles?"
"Seeing an old friend."
"Bull shit," Aimee says, stare unwavering. Harry's never been on this side before, used to be behind her, next to Nick, feeling pity for the person in his shoes. "What, you want to remind him you're still alive? Want to make sure he's still your number one fan?"
"Nick's in the hospital, Aimee," Harry says, ignoring the squirm in his stomach. "You can't honestly think that I wouldn't be here."
"You weren't at his birthday party. Or when he sprained his ankle in March. Or the first day he was back on nights."
"This isn't a competition."
"But it is, isn't it?" she says, slow and careful, like a lioness stalking her prey. "You spend ages ignoring Nick and then still get liked best at the end of the day."
"I get that you hate me right now, or whatever, but- I think we can be civil for five minutes."
Aimee snorts and looks back to her phone. Harry takes his own out of his pocket. Gemma's texted him a picture of her breakfast. Jeff's sent him a definitely puked in ashton kutcher's pool last night why the fuck weren't u there?? Harry flicks through a few more messages, replies to his PA, and then-
"Oi!" It's Nick, obviously, voice still scratchy. "I need help getting up, slaves!"
Harry makes it to the door first because he's a child and fuck it, he's made up his mind. Aimee can give him passive aggressive looks and yell at him daily if she's so inclined. Harry isn't going anywhere.
Nick is in a wheelchair with a pillow on top of his lap, looking absurdly pleased. His things are in a bag next to him, and Harry dives for it before Aimee's even properly in the room.
It weighs approximately eight thousand pounds. Harry grunts quietly as Winta speaks:
"Mr. Grimshaw is not quite ready to enter life at full speed just yet. His recovery is going very well but we don't want to risk anything. He will not be able to drive for a least a week due to the antibiotics and pain killers. He's going to need friends and family to make sure he doesn't take on more than he can chew."
Aimee puts up her hand, "I'm on first shift as Nick's personal slave. I've already queued up ten Gosling movies."
"Aims, you remembered-"
Everyone turns to look at Harry. It should unnerve him but it just makes him stronger. Harry's spent a lot of years being stared at.
"Aimee has a new baby at home," Harry says, looking anywhere but at Nick. "Not to mention a career. I'll do it, it's no big deal."
"We have a schedule worked out already," she glares. "Colette is coming by tonight and then Daisy-"
"Why bother a bunch of people when I'm here and happy to help?"
"You don't know the first thing about taking care of-"
"He needs lots of rest, right?" Harry asks Winta. "And liquids, so he doesn't get dehydrated."
Before going to bed last night, Harry sat against the headboard with his iPad and googled until his eyes hurt. He skimmed over a lot of words he didn't understand, pneumothorax and intercostal drain, but picked up on the important parts – the weighty words under treatment.
Winta smiles at him, slowly. "Yes. He'll also need an extra pair of hands so he doesn't wreck his stitches."
"I've got hands."
"Hey," Nick pipes up and Harry's eyes flit to his unintentionally. "Do I get a say in this at all?"
"Shut up Grimmy."
"Look," Nick puts his hands out all placating while Harry shifts his bag between hands. Does Nick really need to pack every coat he owns every time he leaves his house? "I appreciate the offer, Harry, but if you're doing this because you feel bad about-"
"-bad about not being here when it happened," Nick continues, maintaining eye contact. "Then you don't need to. You don't owe me anything."
"I know that," Harry lies. He owes Nick the world and then some. "I just think this is the situation that works best for everyone."
"This is so fucking stupid."
"Aims," Nick turns away from Harry and Harry lets out a long breath. His body's forgotten what being near Nick does to him, heart rate fast and hands sweaty like he's seventeen again. "This is a good thing for you. No babysitter problems, right?"
"This is a bad idea."
They're engaged in some kind of intense staring contest. They're obviously talking; some stupid language of gestures that only exists when you've known someone for a long time. Harry can tell when Niall's angry just by looking at the way his shoulders are set.
"Do you want Harry to go home with you?" Aimee asks, final and furious.
"Yes," Nick says, annoyed.
The room feels tight like a rubber band. Nick looks away first, then Aimee. Her eyes roll up to the ceiling before they latch onto Harry's, narrowing distastefully.
"You win again, Styles," she says. "What a surprise."
The last time Harry was in England was a week at Christmas. He was gone before New Year's Eve. But he can't leave now, doesn't want to. He wants to see what's changed in Nick's flat, wants to see if the curry at the corner shop is better when he's sober. There used to be a feeling he got when he walked around London as a teenager and he misses it, that first taste of freedom.
It reminds him of Taylor and the last time they hung out. They baked cookies together in her penthouse and she told him that she still feels good in New York, that it still sends shivers up her spine. Then they sat on the couch and didn't talk about the last time they fucked on it and Taylor told him all about her new album and her new friends and Miles.
Harry wants that feeling back. He wants London back. He wants it to be his again, like it used to be when he was young and dumb and following Nick out of clubs.
As Harry drives a chatty Nick home from the hospital he makes up his mind.
"Okay we've got a box of tissues, two types of paracetamol, every issue of Heat from the last week, your phone, your phone charger, a second phone charger for when the cord inevitable breaks on that one-"
"I take care of it!"
"-putting tape over the exposed wires is not taking care of it, Grim," Harry says, running a hand through his hair. "On your left you've got crackers and your second favourite kind of crisps and your third favourite kind of biscuits. There's a book of Sudoku and a multipack one that also has crosswords in it. Per the doctor's orders you've got two glasses of water, one glass of juice, and one mug of tea. I've even got you a book in case you get inspired."
Nick picks it up. "Eat Pray Love?"
"The lady at the Waterstones said it was very spiritual." Nick smiles. "Now, your remote control is under your pillow, your laptop is in the living room because you're not supposed to be working and I don't trust you with it."
"You're a cruel man."
"Tell me about it. Now that should be all – oh. Almost forgot," Harry produces a shiny silver whistle from his pocket. "If you need me, for any reason, and I am not already pining by your bedside, then you can whistle for me and I will appear."
"Wow," Nick takes it, swinging it down to the knuckle of one finger. "You've been very thorough, Styles, I have to hand it to you."
"I promised," Harry says, adjusting one of Nick's water glasses because he can see the accident before it's happened. "Can't go back on a promise."
Nick looks at him for a long moment. "Guess not."
Harry swallows and straightens Nick's duvet. The room feels stifling all of a sudden, contained. It's raining outside, the splash of water hitting the glass door at the back. Harry has to walk Pig in a minute and he's dreading it.
He misses the sunshine.
"You don't have to do this."
"I know you feel like, fucking guilty or something," Nick says, looking down at his fingers. "But I can take care of myself, really."
"I owe you. That time with the kebabs and the puke in your kettle, remember?"
Nick makes a face.
Harry opens his mouth to say more but is cut off by the pitter-patter of Pig's feet against the wood floors. He snaps his mouth shut, the little Mary Poppins in his head warning him he looks like a codfish.
"I'm going to take Pig out, okay? You'll ring if you need anything?"
"You can hear the whistle from the park?"
"Popstar ears," Harry winks and leans forward, presses a kiss to Nick's temple. He regrets it as he leans back. "Be back soon."
"Have fun," Nick says, burying his nose in Eat Pray Love.
The park is quiet. Pig takes off to yip at some squirrels while Harry sits on the driest bench. He still has to crouch at the very edge, the end of Nick's ridiculous purple raincoat under his arse.
He takes a deep breath in.
There are two unanswered texts from Auden on his phone as well as a voicemail from Jeff. In the hospital it was easy to be detached and Nick's house always makes Harry feel like he's in a bubble away from reality, but this park, the fresh air, the rain, it makes everything come back to him.
He wants to stay in London. He wants to go back to LA. He wants to kiss Nick. He wants to fuck Auden. He wants to stay here and be with Nick and do all the things he knows Nick wants from him. He wants to run and run and run.
Usually this kind of panic sits in later. It's at night after a good fuck, when Nick's asleep and he's got his face buried in Harry's stomach, that Harry will stop and think and freak the fuck out. It's in the quiet moments, life's pauses, that Harry finds the energy to turn his brain to overtime.
Pig comes back with a thick stick, her mouth wide, eyes sparkly.
Ignoring the crack in his knees as he does so, Harry stands and throws it far, watching as she runs for it. She goes for ages, barking happily, while Harry breathes.
The first time Nick let Harry fuck him was a Tuesday afternoon a week after Harry's eighteenth birthday. They'd been dancing around each other for months but both had people, Harry with Caroline and Nick with an Adam who liked cocaine and Cher. Their first kiss sober was sweeter than either of them expected, soft and gentle.
At first it was awkward and messy. They nearly burnt down the kitchen making lasagne so the whole house smelt like smoke. Then Harry used too much lube out of inexperience and his elbow caught Nick in the stomach.
But, instead of wincing and throwing a fit, Nick threw his head back and laughed. He laughed and laughed and then kissed Harry for a long minute.
"Let's start over," Nick said.
"Okay," Harry said back.
Afterwards Harry made them beans on toast while Nick went looking for that glass of red he was sure he put in the bottom drawer of the fridge.
"All I've got is bleeding apples in this one," Nick said, head stuck in the fridge. The cool air made the hair on the back of Harry's exposed calf stand up straight. "I can't remember the last time I had an apple when it wasn't followed by the phrase 'tini'- ahhh there we are."
He shimmied over to Harry with a bottle of Merlot, grin wide, eyebrows waggling. He poured them both a mug and danced around Harry, tickling up and down his sides, until the beans were done.
Harry couldn't stop smiling. Not when they cuddled to watch reruns of Would I Lie to You?, not when Nick got bored with television and did lopsided plaits through Harry's hair instead.
They fell asleep like that, on the couch, Harry's head pillowed on Nick's stomach.
"You're absolutely sure."
"I am absolutely sure."
"You don't need another pillow?"
"I don't need another pillow."
"A second glass of water? Another blanket?"
"Hazza," Nick says, holding back a laugh. "How can I phrase this in a way that will make you believe me?"
"I want to be sure."
"I'm sure, babe."
A thrill goes up Harry's spine. He always forgets what it feels like to have Nick's eyes on him, to have his fond smile and wry nicknames. It's one of the best highs Harry's ever found and he once smoked up on Machu Picchu.
"Okay," Harry says, swallowing back a smile. "But you'll ring if you need to?"
"Uh huh. You know where the sheets are?"
Harry nods. It's not that he expected to sleep in Nick's bed with him but. Well, Harry kind of did expect to sleep in Nick's bed with him.
The first time Harry ever slept in Nick's bed was after a night out at Groucho. They were both wasted, stumbling around and laughing over nothing. Harry went to pass out on the couch but stopped short when Nick grabbed his round the back of the neck and tugged him into the bedroom.
It's been like that ever since.
"Good night then, Harold."
"Good night Nicholas."
Nick snuggles down into his blankets until only his eyes are showing. Harry knows it's all an act, knows Nick runs as hot as he does and is prone to sprawling out in bed and whining when it gets too hot, but he smiles anyways. It's cute. Nick's always been cute.
The couch is smaller than it used to be. Harry slips the sheets on and lies down, his legs bunched up to his stomach a bit. He turns his head to look out the skylight. It's beautiful at night when he can see a faint star or two, but he knows it's going to wake him up with the birds as the sun rises and the day grows.
It's too quiet without Nick's heavy breathing next to him and it takes Harry an hour to fall asleep.
Harry wakes up to the sound of a whistle.
His left leg fell off the couch in the middle of the night and is now lying over Nick's wooden floors. Pig, who went to sleep easily in her little bed by the door, is curled up in the empty space between Harry's right leg and the couch, head pillowed on Harry's thigh.
He lifts his head and a string of drool snaps, leaving a mess on his chin. It's not completely light out yet, the sun just peeking in through the spaces in between Nick's neighbour's rooftops.
"I need to wee!" Nick calls from the bedroom, shameless and annoying. "Personal slave, helloooooo, I need to wee!"
Every Christmas Harry's mum has them do a little game around the table before they're allowed to tuck in. Everyone has to say one word about the person next to them. Last year Harry had Robin and he said "dependable". His mum had him and she said "patient".
Harry channels that patience now as he slowly stands. His bones are sore and his back is on fire; as if on cue his phone chirps on the coffee table, a reminder of his weekly massage with Astrid back in LA.
"Helloooooooo," Nick says as Harry comes into his room. He grins from where he's propped himself up on four pillows. "Ah, hello Harold. Good sleep?"
"I hate you."
"I had a good sleep too," Nick says, smiling smug. He's terrible and charming. "I have to wee but don't want to rip me stitches."
Harry knows Nick's just being a shit, that he gets like this where he needs attention and someone to poke, so he holds his hands out and helps Nick off the bed. They hobble together to the bathroom and Harry laughs while Nick makes dick jokes.
Nick's feeling like pancakes so Harry whips some up as the sun rises across the rooftops of London. He puts cheese in Nick's, because Nick is weird, and fresh blueberries in his own.
"Could you do me a favour?"
"That's what I'm here for."
Nick pours more syrup over his pancakes. They're basically swimming and it's gross to look at. Harry butters his own pancakes delicately, watching it melt off the edges and turn dark.
"I have a bunch of forms I need to drop off at Radio 1," Nick says, stuffing a chunk of pancake into his mouth. It leaves a sticky mess around his mouth. "All business-y and boring."
"Could you use a napkin like a normal person please?"
Nick chews with his mouth open, obnoxious. Harry grimaces.
"Anyways," he swallows loudly and takes a sip of guava juice. "I was going to just scan them over but Matt left a jumper on the couch last time he was here so I should probably bring that to him."
Harry cuts his last pancake into four triangle pieces.
"Soooo. Will you go to Radio 1 for me?"
Nick is still a bit sleepy round the eyes but there's more colour in his face, a red, healthy flush over his too-pale skin. Harry wants to rub away the sleep in the corners of his eyes, but he thinks that would probably be weird.
"I guess," Harry sighs. He smiles when Nick cheers. "You'll be okay without me?"
"To take my 12 o'clock nap? I think so."
Harry sticks out his tongue. Nick laughs and throws a syrup soaked napkin at Harry's head. It gets stuck in Harry's hair and he spends the next five minutes with his head under the kitchen sink, watching Nick laugh at him.
Matt greets him at the canteen on the second floor, his phone in one hand and a kind smile on his face.
"Fincham," Harry says, pocketing his keys and handing over a black hoodie.
"Hello Harry," Matt says. "How have you been?"
"Can't complain. How was the wedding? That was – last month?"
"Two months ago," Matt's smile has never really changed, always polite and nice. "It was good. Nearly lost the ring at the last second, but we pulled through."
Harry saw the pictures on Twitter. Nick got really drunk and started taking photos of everything from every angle he could think of. He took his role as one of Matt's ushers very seriously.
Harry can't remember exactly when it was that he started attending things only on social media. Once upon a time he would have been at Fincham's wedding, dancing with aunts and sneaking off to the loos with Nick later for a snog. It makes his heart feel heavy, a bit.
Matt leads them upstairs where Nick's desk is. People wave and smile at Harry as he passes through, new interns faltering and blinking a bit. He spots Greg coming out of a studio with a pot of yogurt and spends a couple minutes looking at pictures of his daughter on his phone.
He gives Tina a hug when he sees her, which makes her hesitate for a second before hugging back. She smiles and blushes at him the same as she always has, like when he was seventeen and on the Chris Moyles Show for the first time and flirting up a storm.
"I'll give this stuff to Ben for you," Matt says, taking the forms from Harry. He gives him a couple of sticky notes off Nick's desk. "He'll probably want these."
"What are they?"
One of the notes just says HAIM ATTACK!!! CANOEING. Harry can feel his face go fond and draws a hand through his hair to cover it.
"You coming with?"
"Uh-" Harry jerks his thumb backwards, thinking quick. "I might nip out for a wee actually. Toilets that way?"
"Take a right at the glass doors."
Harry follows down the hallway until he's out of Fincham's eye line then dips into the double doors that lead into the studios. The second one is occupied, a pretty black girl behind the desk with huge headphones, smiling at a producer, but the third on the left is free. Harry slips inside.
It's not the same one as the last time he was here, the proper last time, when up was down and Harry could barely get a sentence out. It was February, the Brit Awards, cold and wet and dark when they rolled up to the BBC. Harry was still in his suit, hair pushed up, on edge from a round of shots and bumping into Taylor backstage.
He spent most of the summer of 2012 in and out of Nick's studio but had never really been to the new offices. It was different, odd to see the shiny hallways and glass windows. But it was still Nick and it was still the high pressure adrenaline of live radio; near enough to the same.
Sometimes, when he's feeling young and moody and shit, Harry thinks he left a piece of his heart back in Nick's old studio, somewhere between the couch and the guest chairs.
Falling in love with Nick is late nights and sleeping until two. It's hand delivered cheeseburgers and secret kisses in the parking lot when the only light is coming off the streets. It's kind eyes and Gemma's laugh at Christmas dinner, soft hands and petty arguments, rough fucking and illegal blow jobs.
"Are you meant to be in here?"
Harry starts, eyes wide. There's an intern in the doorway, blue hair tied in a neat bandana.
"Sorry," Harry says, running a hand along the back of one chair. "I was just looking around."
"This isn't part of the tour," she says, but it's slower now like maybe she recognizes him, maybe she was a teenager on her way to school when Harry used to stumble in at six am.
"I'm just going."
He passes by her in the doorway. She smells sweet, like some kind of berry, and Harry thinks forcibly of Auden and her pomegranate shampoo, the one with the leaky lid. It spilled out all over the bottom of his shower, making it as red as the sun. All she did was laugh when he told her.
Harry rounds the corner and sees the toilets. Just next to them is Matt Fincham, smile kind and polite, eyes distant.
"You find your way?"
"Yeah," Harry says. "Thanks."
Niall calls him Tuesday and Harry is amazed that it took this long.
"Mate," Niall says down the line, voice quieter than it was years ago, no longer used to filling stadiums. "Heard you're in town? Up for a pint?"
Harry drains the tortellini in the strainer he had to buy – because in the immortal words of Nick Grimshaw: 'Who the fuck has strainers anymore' – and plunks it into the sink. "Always."
"Brilliant." Some shuffling goes on Niall's end. "Liam's got a dinner to go to tonight, so I was thinking this afternoon? Round three-ish?"
"Sounds perfect," Harry says, checking on the sauce. It's good, not too "tomato-y" less Nick complains. "I've missed you."
"Missed you too."
"The usual place?"
Harry gives the affirmative and hangs up. Nick is whining in bed, stroppy now that he's spent so long lying around, but he usually shuts up once Harry's stuffed enough pasta down his throat. It's rather like babysitting twin toddlers, tending to Nick Grimshaw, but Harry wouldn't have it any other way.
It's not often they're all in London but when they are it's drinks, always, at the Irish place around the corner from where Niall once ate 12 chicken wings on a dare from Louis and then spent the rest of the day moaning around the X Factor house.
Sometimes it's five but most of the time it's four. Liam always extends the invite, always promises everyone it won't be weird. Harry hasn't gotten over it yet, doesn't think he ever will fully, but it's only warmth he feels when he arrives at 3:05 to find Zayn tucked up next to Niall.
Liam stands to greet him. "Alright, mate?"
It's been years but Liam's hugs are still just as warm as they've always been. Sometimes Harry misses the boys' touch like a second skin, misses Niall's laugh on his throat or Liam's gentle hands curving around his waist.
"Thanks for not replying to my last text, jackass."
"Sorry, Ni," Harry slides into the booth next to him and gives him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "New cologne? Hey Zayn."
Zayn nods back at him.
"The spinach dip here is fucking unreal," Niall says, flipping through the menu. "We should order two just to be safe."
"We don't order until everyone is here," Harry says.
"Harry's right," Liam shuts his menu, polite. "He said he'd be here soon."
He isn't. Louis arrives twenty minutes late holding a cup of Starbucks coffee and a pack of cigarettes.
"Traffic," he says, flapping one hand around. "Anyways. Shove over Liam, there's a lad."
The waitress put down waters when they waved her off, so Harry sips his while flittering through the menu. He's looking at the avocado chicken salad and is just debating whether or not he could ask for extra sweet corn when he hears his name.
"So Harold," Louis says, taking a sip of Niall's water and making aggressive eye contact. "You look well."
Harry, who is way too old for Louis' bullshit, just stares back blankly. When he was eighteen he realized that all Louis really wanted was a reaction. He's spent the last seven years trying his hardest not to give him one.
"Anything you'd like to share with the group?"
Liam gives Louis a sharp look. Just then a waiter appears, his hair short and white.
They rattle off their orders; Niall gets the special because he always does. It's soup and a salad and Harry's pretty sure the soup is butternut squash and the salad is Waldorf so Niall's going to hate it and Harry will end up eating it instead.
"How's the new puppy, Li?" Zayn asks, smiling soft. "Still eating your shoes?"
"He took out the Prada yesterday," Liam says, peering at the drink menu. "Like everything Prada. Both mine and Sophia's stuff."
"So Harry," Louis says, leaning back in his chair. "I hear you're back in town for awhile."
Louis is notorious for calling mums up for information on the sly. "You heard right."
"Needed a change of pace?"
"Something like that."
"It wouldn't have anything to do with Grimmy being in the hospital, would it?"
"I read about that in the paper," Niall says. "Sent him one of those cactus plants in a little jar. How's he doing?"
"He's okay," Harry says, drawing a line through the condensation on his glass. He keeps his eyes down. "Needs a lot of rest."
"Among other things," Harry looks up at Zayn. "How's the second album coming along?"
It's a bit of an unfair jab but it gets the heat off him. Zayn blushes red and tells them about the song with Rihanna.
They stick with neutral topics, girls and music and old friends, until the dessert menu is brought out. Harry wipes the smudge of butternut squash soup off his lip with a napkin and gives the plate to their waiter.
"Does anyone want to split a sundae with me?"
"Okay," Liam says gamely.
"Sick," Harry closes the menu and sets it aside. Niall and Zayn are both on their phones while Louis is drawing squiggles in the ketchup with his chips.
"So," Harry starts, swallowing. "I have an- a question to ask you guys."
Niall puts his phone back in his pocket. Zayn looks up briefly.
"Yeah H?" Liam asks, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. "What is it?"
Harry takes a deep breath in and catches Louis' eye. It's calculating, sharp and curious.
"What would you say if I was to get back together with Nick?"
There's a long second of silence.
Harry rolls his eyes. "Yes, obviously Liam."
"I was double checking!"
"You serious about this?" Zayn asks, eyes searching Harry's face. "Things didn't end so well last time."
"I know that."
"You want to risk it?"
"I think so," Harry looks at the skin around his nail, picked at slightly and red. He pushes at it. "I just feel like it's finally- our time. You know?"
Niall nods. Louis still hasn't spoken.
"I think it's good," Liam says. "I like Nick, he's a good guy."
"He is." Harry thinks about Nick's kind smile and soft eyes. "He's a really good guy."
"Always liked Grimmy."
"Thanks," Harry says, turning to Niall. The boys haven't always had a say in his relationships, but he's never regretted one that they approved of.
Louis is still quiet.
"Lou?" Harry says. "What do you think?"
"Sounds great, H," Louis says. He turns to Zayn. "If I order the cake and it's gross will you eat it?"
They spend the rest of the lunch laughing and chatting and drinking. It's wonderful and fun and awkward at times, weird, space filling the gaps between them. For the millionth time in his young life, Harry gives a mental thank-you to Simon Cowell.
He's only a little tipsy when the car drops him back to Nick's, putting his hands out so he doesn't fall down the steps. He kicks off his boots at the front door and stumbles into the living room.
Nick is there, cuddled under the softest blanket Harry's ever met. He's got Pig under one arm, her big nose pushed into his side and snoring. The television is blaring Corrie and Nick is definitely eating the biscuits Harry hid from him this morning but-
It's Nick. It's Nick.
Harry takes an unsteady breath and Nick looks up. He looks so soft like this, breakable. It makes Harry's heart flutter and his bones settle.
"Hey," Nick says, smiling his best smile. "You have fun with your boys?"
"Mm. They say hello."
"I saw that Liam posted a selfie," Nick says, shaking his phone. "The David Beckham thing is getting worse with old age, Harold, he needs to be stopped."
"I'll let him know," Harry pushes off the doorframe. His head feels clearer than it did a minute ago. "You want soup for dinner?"
His tongue is out, face scrunched up, and Harry feels stupid. Absolutely stupid over Nick, who's been in and out of his life since he's been seventeen. He hates it and loves it and never really wants it to end.
"Nickkk," Harry whines. Nick grins at him and Harry can feel his own mouth unfurl from his pout, tighten up at the corners. It doesn't matter how old he gets, how many years wear down on his bones, he can't help his smile.
"You good?" Harry asks, helpless.
"I'm good," Nick says, soft.
Nick once told Harry he was terrified of him. They were lying in bed, drunk on peach schnapps. Harry's hair was spilling over onto Nick's pillow and he was so close to falling asleep-
It was still, quiet. Harry didn't say anything back.
"You scare me," Nick said. "You scare me so fucking much."
Harry opened his eyes then. Tried to focus on Nick.
"You could break my heart so easily," Nick muttered, eyes slipping shut.
Harry stared at him for a long time. Nick fell asleep. They didn't talk about it the next day but now, with their smiles stretched tight and everything up in the clouds, Harry wishes they did.
"Are you sure you don't want more soup?"
"I swear on Mean Girls that I am sure."
Harry looks down at the pot of soup. "Did you not like the soup?"
"I loved the soup," Nick calls from the living room, over a rerun of the Kardashians. "It was the best soup I've ever had."
"Now you're just lying," Harry says, smiling.
"Do you fancy anything else?"
"Just a pop star to massage my feet."
Harry bites down on another smile. Nick is funny. He's always been so fucking funny.
"God what time is it?" Nick asks as Harry flops onto the couch. The curtains are drawn and on screen Kendall's bachelorette party isn't going to plan.
"Fuck, I'm old," Nick's head drops into the crook of Harry's neck.
"You're not old."
"Do you know how much I want a warm cup of milk and a 12 hour sleep? So much."
"You're recovering from surgery," Harry says, lightly. "And you need your rest. Do you want some tea?"
"I'll make you some tea."
It takes Nick half an hour to get all settled. Harry makes his tea and puts it in Nick's big blue mug emblazoned with a flashy KLAXONS SAY BOUNCE. He plugs Nick's charger in and helps him from the bathroom even though Nick bats at him, grumbling.
With two pillows keeping his neck up and the blankets tucked up to his chin, Nick is quite the picture.
"You good?" Harry says, adjusting the mug on Nick's side table. He doesn't know what to do with his hands. "Need anything else?"
Nick shakes his head. He looks so soft like this.
"Okay," Harry smoothes his hand over the duvet and then feels dumb. "I'll be on the couch then, if you need me."
Harry looks up. Nick's eyes are so patient.
"You can stay in here," he says. "If you want."
Something settles in Harry's stomach. He straightens his spine unconsciously.
Harry flicks the light off and peels his jeans down his legs. Nick's comfy shirt drawer is at the very bottom and Harry finds an old one of Henry's glowing in the dark.
The bed feels smaller than it used to. In Harry's memory it is vast, as endless as Nick's legs when they wound round his waist, but tonight it has shrunk. Harry's nerve endings feel sharp, his toes curled against Nick's smooth sheets.
Harry shifts closer. It's always warm in Nick's room and usually Harry has to sprawl along the top but it's nice like this, under the sheets.
He moves a little closer and hears Nick giggle.
Harry opens one eye, helpless to the smile curling his mouth. "What?"
"Your hair," Nick says, still laughing. "It's tickling me."
Harry thinks about the Grinch cartoon Gemma and he watched when they were children, when the Grinch's heart swelled three times too big.
"Do you want me to tie it up?"
"No," Nick says, soft. He turns his face. "It's awfully pretty."
They look at each. It's hard to make out Nick's features in the dark but Harry knows them by heart. His eyes trace over the smudgy freckles on his lips, the strong line of his nose.
"Good night," Nick says, eyes slipping shut.
An hour later and Harry's bladder is about to explode.
He slides his arm out from where it's under Nick's and tiptoes to the bathroom. The tiles are cold on his feet as he has a wee. He runs his hands under water, not bothering with soap, flicking it onto his face a bit to wake himself up.
There are approximately seventeen thousand photos of Harry in the world but he's always been fascinated by his reflection. Not because he likes to look good, though he does, but because it's odd to see himself in certain places.
At his house in LA he always looks relaxed. In Jeff's bathroom mirror he usually looks high as a kite, red eyes and a goofy smile. In the little mirror on Taylor's vanity he almost always looks mused, even if they're just having dinner with pals.
At Nick's he looks- soft. His hair is fluffy, eyes gentle, skin pale. Even when they used to go out all night and would stumble home drunk, Harry could always count on seeing himself in a soft light, fluffed up like a baby duck.
He pads out of the en-suite. Pig's up, wagging her little tail and smiling up at him. He hurries her away from where Nick's wheezing softly in his sleep.
"Pig dog," he whispers, shutting Nick's door shut behind him. "Are you making trouble? Are you making trouble?"
Pig puts her paws on Harry's thighs. She's such a happy dog and it makes Harry's heart hurt.
"Alright," Harry says, pulling her ears. "Alright lovie, okay."
It's chilly out. Harry rubs at his arms, breath just turning white in front of him. Pig takes off for the bushes in the back of the garden.
In the dark Nick's garden could be a portal to some magical world. He imagines it in his sleepy state, stumbling through the archway covered in ivy and reappearing again in Narnia.
Pig and Nick and Harry all alone in Narnia. It sounds nice.
It takes six sharps calls for Pig to come back in. She gives Harry one last grin before settling down in her bed near Nick's door.
Harry slips back into bed as quiet as possible. It's not quiet enough though because as he's stretching one leg out Nick wakes up.
"Hmm?" Nick murmurs. "Pig?"
"Just me," Harry says, squirming up higher on the bed so he can whisper in Nick's ear. "Go back to sleep."
"I was having the weirdest dream," Nick says, tipping his neck back to meet Harry's eye drowsily.
"Yeah?" Harry takes a chance, slips his arm around Nick's hip, curling his fingers around the sharp bone there. "Tell me about it."
"You were there," Nick's voice is so rough and- sexy in the dark. A tremor goes through Harry's toes. "And we were on this Ferris wheel? But there was also a restaurant. There was a restaurant on the Ferris wheel."
"Joanna Lumley was serving us," Nick says, nose flopping into Harry's neck. Harry stays extra still. "And that boy from um- that- Malcolm? Malcolm in the Middle? Who's that boy?"
"Yeah who's the actor?"
Harry frowns for a minute. "I don't know."
"Oh," Nick says, disappointed. "Well he was there."
Harry reaches over to the side table and grabs his phone, trying not to move as much as possible. He turns it on and winces, the light blinding.
"And we had spaghetti," Nick's voice is so faint now, his mouth smushed at Harry's collarbone. "And then we got off the Ferris wheel and Joanna told us to watch out for Kermit the Frog-"
"Frankie Muniz," Harry says, switching off his phone.
"That's it." For a second Harry thinks Nick's gone to sleep but then he hears the last murmurs. "We went back to the castle we were living in and you fucked me on the balcony while the kingdom watched."
Harry puts his nose to Nick's hair. It smells like sea salt. "Mm. I like it when you have dirty dreams about me, Grimshaw."
"Then we fell asleep," Nick says, slow, he's falling asleep. "And you stayed."
He lets out one final sigh and snuffles deeper into Harry's neck. His breath is slow and heavy.
Harry opens his eyes. Nick's hair is tickling his nose but he doesn't dare move.
He doesn't fall asleep for an hour.
When Harry was eighteen and brighter than a fucking star, Nick threw a party at his house that rivalled any party Harry had ever been to.
There are only three things he can remember:
1. There was a girl there that Nick met in a supermarket and he invited her to the party because they were both going for a bag of sour cream and onion crisps at the same time and Nick's horoscope said something about food and friendship.
2. Pixie made him a martini that made him go colour blind for fifteen seconds.
3. Harry spent a stupid amount of time in the middle seat of Nick's couch sandwiched by Gillian and Lily Allen, staring up helplessly at Nick chatting at the mantle piece. It got so bad at one point that Lily poked him in the stomach and told him to "chill out, heart eyes".
The get-together Harry helped Nick put together now, to show off his healthy glow and keep him entertained, is different in a lot of ways. Lucy is there, but she's no longer Sour Cream and Onion girl. This time everyone's older and the only drinks that are flowing is the white wine Pixie brought with her in a grocery store bag.
This time the boy staring at Nick adoringly from the couch is blonde and has wide brown eyes and is named Will. He came with Annie, an assistant producer from Alice's show. When he arrived Nick got that little smile on his face, his flirty smile, the one Harry used to pretend was just for him even though he knew better.
There's a weird feeling in his stomach every time he sees Will and every time he sees Nick and any time he sees any of Nick's friends. They've always had the same friends, Nick sharing his like well-mannered kids with toys in a playground, but the separation has created pauses in their stories.
Pixie gives him a big hug and a kind smile but she's with Gillian who just nods at him. It's hard for Harry, Harry the well liked, Harry the charming, Harry the wanderer. He feels sorry for himself for a long moment, watching Will on the couch and Nick at the mantle, the same plot but different actors and a distorted lens.
"Harry!" it's someone from Nick's work, a woman with bright eyes and pin straight hair. Harry tries to remember her name but falls flat. He's too tired to work tonight. Instead he smiles and takes a sip of his water.
"Nick was just telling me about your nursing skills," she says, smiling. He tries to place her and comes up with nothing. Fuck. "You'll have to consider it for a new career."
"I'll put it on the list," Harry says.
She laughs. She's probably read the papers, seen the stories about his time in the studio, the ones about that film he just might be in.
"Excuse me, will you?" he asks, putting his glass down on a side table. "Got to run to the toilet."
She steps aside and he slides into Nick's bedroom. It's dark and cool when he shuts the door, muffled voices coming through the wall. There are a stack of coats on the bed, furs and Burberry because Nick's friends are anything but normal.
Harry steps into the bathroom and locks it. He doesn't bother with the light, knows it hums and is too bright. Instead he steps into the bathtub and edges himself against the side, head between his thighs, eyes closed.
His breath sounds loud in the quiet. He feels like a girl in a film for a long second before he shrugs it off and focuses back on his breathing. He's never had an anxiety attack like Niall, not quite, but in the last few years there's been a creeping in his lungs, a heaviness in his chest that comes around every now and again.
His phone buzzes inside his pocket.
Auden: Went out to Sammi's, you jealous? When are you back?
He unlocks it and makes a call.
"Louis," Harry says, tipping his head back. It feels good against the cool of the porcelain tub. "Hey. Sorry for calling."
"That's okay," he sounds weary, tired. "What's up?"
"I don't know what to do."
Louis doesn't say anything.
"There's a boy here, tonight," Harry says, breath coming out sharp at his knees. "Nick's boy. Some guy he's been- fucking or whatever. And I don't know- it's not that I was ever the only one, okay? I know I haven't been the only one, I fucking know that. But it's different seeing it."
"Are they together?"
"Fuck, Louis, didn't you hear me?"
"Yes," Louis says, voice sharp. "I did. But you didn't answer my question. Are they together?"
"Yes. No. Fuck, I don't know."
"Do you want to be with Nick?"
"Yes. No. Shit."
"Harry," Louis says. "I get that you're scared. But you can't be a coward about the things that really matter."
The scariest thing Harry's ever done was try out for X Factor at sixteen or maybe that time he jumped off a cliff in New Zealand. The scariest thing Louis' ever done is propose to Eleanor. It didn't work out so well.
"I need more time," Harry whispers.
"You don't have any more time."
Harry swallows. Over the line he can hear Louis open and close a door.
"Look, H," Louis says and Harry knows the conversation is over. "I've got to let you go, okay?"
"Remember what I said."
The line goes dead. Harry puts his phone down on the lip of the bath and closes his eyes again.
He imagines a different world, one where he isn't so stubborn, one where Nick's eyes don't lull Harry into promises he can't keep. He imagines himself in Nick's hospital room, just for a visit, and then back to his house and his pool and his girl. He imagines Colette or Aimee or Ian or Daisy in his place, laughing with Nick about soup and movies.
Then Harry thinks back to the last time he was in Nick's bathtub. They were sitting together like puzzle pieces, Harry's back to Nick's chest.
"We're going to turn into prunes," Nick had said.
"I don't care," Harry said. He remembers the feeling of Nick's arms around him, of the gentle swish of the water over their intertwined legs. "Let's stay here forever."
Forever lasted another hour. Harry's never felt so safe in his life.
Harry opens his eyes. The party pulses through the walls, polite chatter and tinkering laughs. He takes two deep breaths and stands up. He walks back into the party, puts on his smile, and gets to work.
The front door opens at half six. Harry stands behind table in the dining room, breath shallow in his lungs, hands clasped into the small of his back.
There are twenty tea candles littered throughout Nick's flat. The lights are dimmed, AM is on, and Harry's heart is racing. It took three tries to get the roast out of the oven because his hands were shaking so much.
Nick greets Pig at the door with his usual loud, slurring affection. She barks along quietly with him, both of their feet pitter-pattering down the hallway. It's one of Nick's first expeditions alone, a cab picking him up to take him in for a check up, and the rain seems to have done him good if the lift in his voice is anything to go by.
"Haz? Did you put my load of drying on because there's a silk-"
Nick's face as he enters the living room is quite the picture. His eyes go wide, body jolted into a freeze. The curled quiff on the top of his head is even more curled with the humidity, frizzy at the ends.
He drops the plastic bag he's holding. "Harry, what is this?"
Harry swallows and takes his time before replying. "I made dinner."
"Sunday roast on a Thursday?"
"Wanted it to be special. Sit?"
There's a rose on Nick's plate, blood red and soft as satin. Harry spent half an hour in a florist shop choosing it. There's a white one in a vase in the fridge for later. If things go well.
Nick doesn't sit. "Harry."
"Harry," his voice is heavy, weighted. "What are you doing? What is this?"
"It's dinner, Nick."
"No it's not." He still hasn't moved from the doorway and no, fuck, this is wrong, this isn't how it was supposed to go. "It's never just dinner with you and me."
"Just sit down, please."
"Stop being a fucking child, Nick," Harry says, sharp. They don't fight very often, don't have the need to, but when they do they know exactly what to say.
"Oh I'm being a child, am I?"
"How exactly did you see this going, Harry?" Nick asks, taking a step forward angrily. "Did you think I would fall into your arms? Did you think I'd ride you off into the sunset?"
"Fuck you," Harry snaps but his cheeks are burning red.
"Honestly. Did you think I'd tell you I love you and all the bad stuff would just disappear?"
Harry snatches the rose off the table and throws it to the ground. "Fine. Fucking fine."
He grabs the plates next, stacking them one on top of the other. He grabs a fistful of cutlery and marches into the kitchen.
Nick follows him because he doesn't know how to fucking leave things alone.
"What are you doing now?"
"You don't want dinner? Fine." Harry throws the plates on the counter, starts a tap of hot water up. "We won't eat. Fuck it."
"Now who's being a child?"
"You can fuck right off, Nicholas Grimshaw," Harry says, glaring. "You can fucking fuck right the fuck-"
His elbow catches against the side of the counter and a plate goes plummeting towards the ground. It smashes into a hundred little pieces.
"Shit," Nick says after a minute.
"I got it," Harry says. He feels very tired all of a sudden. "Fuck. Okay."
Harry kneels down to assess the damage. Next to him Nick does the same.
"No, no," Harry waves him off with one hand. "Go watch something, I can do this."
"I can help."
"Really, go into the living room-"
"Harry, I'm perfectly capable."
"I don't need you to-"
"Harry," Nick says, flat. "I can do it. I'm not an invalid."
"You were in the hospital."
"I had minor surgery."
"Your lung collapsed," Harry says, not looking up. "It fucking collapsed, Grim."
He hears Nick sigh. A hand cups around his neck, scratching through his hair. It's an old move, the way Nick used to hold him when he was drunk and whining about Caroline.
"I'm okay, Haz," Nick says, gentle now. Harry wishes for the snide comments from before. "I didn't die."
"You could have."
"But you fucking could have," Harry turns then, feeling his brows drop and his mouth tighten. His mother always told him anger didn't look right on his face. "And I was halfway around the world drinking champagne."
Nick tries a smile. "Given up the martinis, Styles?"
"Shut up," Harry glares. He stands up, watches as Nick does the same. "You didn't take care of yourself. You let this happen to yourself and I'm fucking furious."
"Hey," Nick says back, sharp, like he finally understands that Harry wants to fight. "It's not my fault that you weren't here, okay? That's all on you."
"It's your fault that you didn't go to the hospital when you had pneumonia, Nick! You can't just ignore problems and hope they go away."
"You want to talk to me about ignoring problems? That's rich."
"I can't do this now," Harry says, turning away. He needs to find his wallet, his keys, needs to get out of here. "I don't want to do this now."
"And now you're leaving," Nick says, dry, eyes sharp and hurt. "What a surprise."
"I'm not-" he just needs some air, that's all, just needs to get away for a second. "I'm not leaving I'm just-"
"I'm used to it," Nick says with an awful laugh. "See you at Christmas, yeah?"
Harry stops in the doorway, shoulders pulled tight. He wishes there was music playing but all he can hear is Nick's breath.
"I can't believe I almost fell for it," he sounds like he's talking to himself, now, voice softer. "Can't believe I thought you'd actually stay."
A part of Harry wants to scream. A different part wants to slam the door on the way out, so loud it shatters the windows, just to spite Nick.
He doesn't do either. Instead, he turns on one heel and walks past Nick in the kitchen, pushing the sliding back door open with one hand.
The last time Nick called, Harry didn't pick it up. He was in the hot tub with Danny and his new wife, Cynthia, and Auden. They were laughing and drinking and when Harry saw Nick's name flash across it he let it go to voicemail.
Afterwards he fucked Auden and fell asleep with her breath against his chest, her slim legs tucked around his.
It's not warm in the garden, a little frost on the grass, but Harry stays out there for an hour.
Harry likes making pie crust. His mother taught Gemma and he one day when the rain was falling like sheets against the windows. She gave them a bowl and let them rub the flour into the butter until their fingers were sore and crumbly.
Even now, more than a decade on, he's brought back to that place, to the quiet simplicity of his mother's home and the gentle sound of rain against the glass, of Gemma murmuring next to him.
Harry washes his hands, drying them on the towel slung over his left shoulder. Nick is in the living room with a chirpy Pig and the first season of The OC. Every once and awhile Harry hears him gasp and make a comment to Pig.
The well thumbed copy of Ruby Tandoh's Crumb sits on the island of Nick's kitchen. Harry's never made a butternut squash pie before but Nick said it looked good and after yesterday's fight Harry is eager to smooth things down.
"Misha Barton is terrible," Nick says later, as Harry comes into the living room. The pie is snug in the oven, toasty on the second shelf. "She once tried to force Gels and I to see the Pigeon Detectives at Glasto."
Harry's heard the story before but he laughs.
"Bored," Nick says, fiddling with the remote. On screen the one with the curly hair and brown eyes says something about Hannukah. "I want to go out, H."
"Yeah," Harry feels bad, then, like it's his fault Nick isn't allowed to run around screaming. "Do you feel better than yesterday?"
"Yep," Nick turns to him, smiling. "Twice as good as Tuesday."
"That's what I like to hear."
They stare at each other, Nick's eyes heavy lidded and sweet like toffee. Harry feels the air from his lungs tighten, feels his heart beat twice in his ears. It's always the same, every time it happens.
It starts slow, as it always does, Harry's bottom lip caught between Nick's. A hand reaches up to Harry's hair, fingers sliding through gently, thumbs to his cheekbones. Nick strokes down his face and nips the corner of his mouth, the spot that makes Harry's spine wriggle like he's on fire.
Pause. Breath. Back for more.
Harry kisses the freckles off Nick's lips. He lets his fingers skim over the rough stubble on his chin and the soft behind his earlobe. It's familiar; it's electric.
"Harry," Nick whispers. His voice is unsteady, unsure. Harry pulls back and hopes his eyes aren't too bright and helpless.
"Close your eyes."
"Shh," Harry kisses one shut, then the other. Nick's eyelashes fan out like branches in a forest. "Just let me. Let me."
Nick's hands fall to his waist, pull him in tight. Harry loves girls, loves the soft give of their lips, the gentle swell of their chests, the fearless way they laugh, but he's never felt anything like when Nick pulls him in by the waist.
A hand to his belt buckle stops him.
"Wait," Harry breaths, pulling back from Nick's neck. "Wait, hold on."
"Mm," Nick says. He sucks on Harry's jaw. "It's okay."
"No. No, shit."
He pulls back, licking across his bottom lip. Nick's eyes are clouding over, guarding himself.
"If we do this," Harry says slowly, breath coming out in pants. "I have to make a phone call."
Nick's eyes flick down. On the television screen a boy with blond hair and a shell necklace pushes someone else around. Pig has fallen asleep.
"Oh," Nick says. Harry waits for more but it doesn't come.
"You don't have to break up with her," Nick says, eyes still looking down, away from Harry. "In a couple days I'll be fine and you won't have to feel guilty anymore."
"You can go back to LA, no big deal. Wouldn't want to end things with your new blond model, it's not worth it. I'm not worth it."
"She's – nothing, Nick."
He laughs. "Never heard that one before."
"C'mon," he says, moving away, pulling his hands close to himself. "Everyone wants you. If you're with them it means they're special."
Harry wants to run away, wants to crawl back to LA, back to the sunshine. He wants Auden because she's easy, beautiful and funny and kind, like all the girls he doesn't bring home. He wants her and the sunshine because it blocks out all of this.
Nick isn't easy. He's never been easy. He's annoying and selfish and kind and handsome and hilarious and ridiculous and gentle and he can see through Harry. He can see right fucking through him.
And yet, for some reason, he still stays around.
"She is special," Harry says, thinking of the little freckles on the inside of Auden's knees, of her sharp wit and love for classic films. "And she's kind. She deserves to know the truth."
Nick raises an eyebrow but Harry waits until he asks – "And what would that be?"
"That there's not a future for me and her," Harry says, staring at Nick's hands. "And there never will be as long as you're around."
The timer in the kitchen beeps three times. Pig barks along with it.
"I'm going to get that," Harry says, standing up. His back shifts and cracks twice. "Do you want anything? Some more water?"
Nick shakes his head. Harry checks on the pie.
He remembers everything.
The television was on, low, some repeat of Nigella that they've both seen twice. The Indian takeout was almost finished except for the courgette dish that Harry told Nick he wouldn't like. There was rain splattering the windows. Pig was curled up at their feet, Harry still had a tan from his week in LA, and he was ready to say what he came to say.
"I can do it now," he told Nick, not letting his eyes waver. "I know before I wasn't good with the casual thing. I know that I got in too deep and I got mad at you when you were with someone else. I know that."
"But I can do it now," Harry said, putting his hand on Nick's thigh. "I can be causal. I don't get jealous, I swear. I won't get mad if you're fucking around with Italian models, I won't, Grim, I-"
Nick was shaking his head, eyes sad. Harry couldn't figure it out, not when he was finally saying what he couldn't say a year before.
"Why?" he said, angry but trying not to let his words bite. "Why are you shaking your head? I'm giving you what you want – this is what I want too."
"Harry," Nick said. He put one hand over Harry's on his thigh.
"Will you do this with me?" Harry's hands were shaking. "Will you be like we were before?"
It felt like an eternity before Nick spoke. "No."
Pig snuffled in her sleep. On the television Nigella chopped something quickly and scraped it off her knife into a pan. Harry's hands had stopped shaking.
"Why?" he asked, quiet. He could feel his own pulse in his twisted fingers.
"I don't want that anymore."
"Bullshit," Harry kept his face down, didn't want to feel exposed. "You told me that you couldn't be with me until I learned how to control it. Well I did."
Harry used to fly into London, fuck around with Nick for a week, and then fuck other people in other places. He was good at being casual. He wasn't good at watching Nick be casual.
"I can do this, Nick, fuck."
"I don't want this anymore."
"No," Nick's hands were fiddling at the hem of his jumper.
Harry looked up. Nick still looked sad.
"Harry," he said, cupping Harry's face in his hands. Harry flinched but Nick held him still. His eyes were pretty and Harry's stomach hurt. "I'm old, okay."
A harsh exhale – "You're not old-"
"No, no," Nick stroked his thumb across Harry's cheekbone. "I don't mean that in a self pity way. I just mean that I'm old. I'm tired all the time. I'm grouchy and picky-" Nick laughed at himself then "-and I don't want to mess around anymore. I don't want to fuck in a club loo. It hurts my back and it's gross."
"We don't have to-"
"I've been doing casual for a decade now," Nick said. "And now, I just want to be with someone I like. I just want to eat food together and watch shows and make each other laugh."
Harry bit his lip as Nick continued, "I don't want marathon sex weekends, I just want to get off and then eat some ice cream and talk about X-Factor."
"We can do that," Harry whispered. He knew he lost even as he tried to win. "We can do whatever you want."
"I want someone who's here," Nick said, gentle. Harry closed his eyes. "I want someone who can stay the night. I want someone who's content with this."
"I love you," Harry said, stupidly. He opened his eyes
"This place is too small for you," Nick said, quiet. "You don't fit here anymore, H."
Harry cried and Nick let him. They stayed on the sofa until it was late and then Nick put away the food while Harry waited for a car to come pick him up.
His heart had been bruised before, but never like this.
They fall into bed slowly.
Naked, grasping, wanting, waiting, anticipating. Nick pulls Harry's hair and bites his neck. Harry strokes his thumbs down Nick's hips and makes them both wobble. Nick's eyes go half mast when they're like this, eyelashes dark and beautiful in the smudgy black of the night.
"Want this," Harry whispers, kissing down Nick's chest. "Want you."
He feels Nick swallow hard. It's always been so much with them, so much more than just a kiss or a fuck. It's stupid, how stupid they've been.
"What do you need?"
"You know what I need." He's Nick, he's Nick, so he always knows exactly what Harry needs.
Harry skids his lips across his hips, chin prickling over soft hairs. Nick is hard, flushed red and wanting, and it's like a second nature to kiss up his length, red dragging on red, and suck hard on the head. He dips low, retreats, dips lower, ears prickling for a reaction. It's a basic human instinct, sex, but they're so fucking good at it.
And then it gets better. As he comes to a stop on his cock, jaw aching, Nick reaches down and plugs his nose shut. It isn't like drowning, this feeling. It's not a choke but a simmer. It makes Harry feel dirty in the best way.
"You like that so much," Nick whispers. Harry's eyes close. "Show me how much you like it."
Harry sucks harder; spit dribbles down his chin, making it wet and shiny. He loves the shame of a messy face, the evidence that he got someone off. He starts as Nick's other hand drags him off, hair pulling tight on Harry's scalp. His breathing is harsh, heavy, and he's only allowed a second before he's pushed back down.
The first time Nick choked him was early on a Sunday morning. The sun wasn't even up yet and they were fucking, Harry on his knees, spine bent, head wrenched back. He can still remember the first flash of fear as Nick's fingers curled around his throat followed by warm spread of safe. It was hard and rough, Nick tugging Harry onto his cock by the neck, over and over, but fuck it was good.
Nick moans above him and Harry sucks harder, cheeks hollowing. He pulls back to rub the head against his tongue, knows Nick loves it when he looks up like that, mouth open and eyes wicked. He doesn't disappoint.
He makes a soft cry when he comes and Harry kisses down his cock wetly. He licks up what's on his lips and catches the rest with his hand, wiping it down on the sheets.
"Oi," Nick says faintly. "Those are Egyptian cotton."
Harry blinks up at him. He watches Nick swallow, Adam's apple bobbing, and feels powerful. He can't quite help the smirk that curls across his lips.
"No." Nick says it just to be contrary because he's lying back in the next second, letting Harry kneel over his chest. It's easy for Harry to get off like this, with Nick spread out under him looking beautiful and tired and fucked out.
"You're so important," Harry says, voice caught tight in his throat. "You're so fucking important to me."
Nick's face softens, eyes wide and open. He used to tell Harry he wasn't vulnerable to seduction, that he liked to woo, not to be wooed. Harry's never really bought it.
"Going to come on me, Styles?"
"Make me yours?"
Harry whines, pushes up into his own fist. "Yeah. Fuck."
"Can I tell you a secret?"
A gasp escapes Harry's throat. He nods, eager.
"Never stopped being yours," Nick says, eyes flickering down off Harry's face then back once more. "Not really."
Harry comes, streaking Nick's stomach with white. It's a picture, a beautiful picture, and Harry's stares before he lets himself collapse onto Nick's side.
They let the silence speak for them. On the other side of Nick's bedroom door, Pig chatters about. Through the window a lorry drives by, loud clanking wheels bumbling over potholes.
"Did you call her?" Nick asks some time later.
Harry's heart beats loud twice. "Yeah. It's done."
Auden didn't cry or get mad, she just asked if she could pick up her stuff from his house Tuesday. He told her he'll have Jeff let her in and then hung up.
"Okay," Nick says.
Harry turns his face into Nick's neck.
They fall asleep with love on their lips and it's the same as before except everything is different.
A ruptured lung.
No wait, backtrack. An untreated case of pneumonia which led to one lung collapsing in on itself.
Harry watches Nick's chest rise and fall. It's hard to go to sleep, knowing that Nick's lungs are still fixing, their fragile tissue shaking with the effort to keep Nick strong. It's hard to sleep knowing that Nick was cut open by doctors in a surgical room while Harry was halfway across the world partying with models.
He lets his eyes blur around the edges, gaze caught on Nick's sharp points and gentle slopes. There's a freckles on back of Nick's ear and Harry can remember the first time he ever saw it, the fantasies he had about it. When Nick let him kiss it, heated kisses on Nick's couch, it sent a thrill down Harry's spine.
Nick makes a little noise. Harry settles back down onto his pillow, curling his hands under his face. There's a little smile spreading across his face, uncontrollable, and it takes him a second to realize that he's just happy. That he's always happy with Nick.
When Harry wakes up he's more scared than he's ever been.
Nick is on the other side of the bed, chest moving up and down in slow waves. His face is soft in sleep, gentler than during the day when he has to smile and make jokes. It's not something he lets everyone see, not really. Nick lets people into his bed but the only ones who get to stay the night are friends, his girls, people he trusts. People he loves.
Harry is out the door before he can think clearly.
London is cloudy and still cold, the sun not really up yet. Harry takes the walk he does with Pig, two rights until he gets the park, eyes bright and watering in the cold. His hands jitter so he puts them in his pocket, pretending it's shivers when he knows it's not.
The park is quiet. There are some early birds running, a few dogs, but his bench is open so he falls into it. He takes his phone out for something to do, flicking through new messages. Liam is asking him to come by for a dinner party and he tries to imagine it, posed up in a suit for Liam's friends, smiling with a glass of wine. He has two pictures in his head, one with Nick next to him and one without.
The panic starts back up in his lungs. He opens Safari and searches flights to LA. There's one leaving in an hour and if he ran back to the house he could make it.
"Harry?" A voice calls.
Harry closes his eyes. He doesn't want to deal with a fan now, doesn't want to be told that he's so great and he's so loved, not when he's running away-
"Thought that was you," says a woman, in front of him now.
Harry opens his eyes. It's Fiona.
"Hi," he says, slow.
He swallows, sure she can smell the fear on him. She's wearing a big white sweater with red writing on it and is holding a Starbucks cup. There's a diamond ring on her left hand.
"You walking Pig?" she asks. She must know that he isn't, must be able to see the lack of leash in his hand.
"Oh." Harry can't read her face. "Well I'll leave you to it then. Tell Nick to check his texts."
"I will," Harry says. He watches her go and then-
"Wait." Fiona stops, turns towards him with an inquisitive look. "Can we- um, do you have time to talk? Just for a minute."
She blinks. "Sure."
They sit on the bench, not touching. It's odd, awkward. For the first time in days Harry feels like he needs to fill the space with chatter. It's never been that way with Nick. He can vividly recall a drive up north where they put on Kendrick and just drove, comfort in the silence.
"So," Fiona says.
"Sorry. I know this is weird."
"It's fine," she says, fidgeting. "What did you want to talk about?"
He bites his lip. "I left the house while Nick was asleep."
"Oh. Did you leave a note?"
"Yeah," Harry lies. "It's just that I think I'm afraid. Afraid of what this could be."
"What could it be?" Fiona takes a sip of her drink and Harry has to bite back a laugh. She has the same face Nick gets when he hears good gossip.
"Wait," she makes a cute gesture with her free hand. "I'm confused. You and Nick are together."
Harry shakes his head slowly.
"Okay, so you're fucking."
The laugh bursts out of him. "Uh, yeah. Off and on for a couple years."
"Knew it," she whispers then blushes, clearing her throat. Harry's amused. "And now you- uh, want to be more?"
"We've always- it's not just sex with us. It's always been more than we can deal with."
"But you've always left."
"And now you can stay."
Harry wets his lips. "Yeah."
Fiona nods. She's always been a bit of a mystery to him. He's spent roast dinners mocking Ian's dot-to-dots and has seen Fincham puke in a potted plant but Fiona has always been untouchable. She doesn't smile at Harry like everyone else does.
"You always run away," Fiona says slowly.
"This time you don't want to."
He nods again.
"It's not that simple."
Fiona's face calls bullshit.
"You're into Nick," Fiona says, slow like she's talking to a child. "He's fucking stupid over you. You don't have to leave on a world tour. He's here. You're here. Why is this complicated?"
"I've never done this," he says. The park is coming to life gently; a woman in head to toe Adidas runs by them with a border collie. "I've never been settled down with someone. I don't walk around holding hands with people. I haven't since- Taylor."
Fiona's eyes shift to the side and he knows she wants to ask. Everyone always wants to ask.
"Okay," she nods, serious. She's looking out so he does too, watches London wake up. "You've never done this. And you think that means you can't."
"I don't want to mess things up with Nick," Harry says. "I can't let myself do that."
"Alright," Fiona says, turning to him. Her face is sharp. "I'm going to be honest with you. Is that okay?"
"Nick has been hung up on you for years," she says, staring him down. "He's broken things off with boys who are good for him because of you. And you've let him."
Harry stares down at his boots. They look back up at him, smiles in the creases.
"If you don't think you can do this, if you're afraid to fucking stay here and be in love with Nick, then you have to let him go. He's funny and nice and fit and he deserves more than this back and forth bullshit you've been giving him. If you don't want to do this now then you're never going to do it."
A couple jogs by. Harry blinks away the wetness in his eyes.
"Make up your mind, Styles," Fiona says, standing. "Okay. Enough honesty. I have to go. Are you okay?"
Harry nods. His stomach feels like lead but his lungs feel light.
"Right," Fiona sounds like she's trying not to apologize. "Okay. Yes, good. I'll see you some other time."
"Thank you," Harry says, still looking at his feet.
"Yes. I mean, you're welcome. Bye." He hears her leave, muttering quietly under her breath as she goes.
Harry sits on that bench for a long time. Then he stands up and goes home.
The worst thing Harry's ever done is probably when he was fifteen and he cheated on Amanda Rollins with her best friend, Beth, in Amanda's house while at a party.
It was the first and only time he ever cheated. News caught around town so fast by the time he got home from the party his mother was standing at the door with the most disappointed look he's ever seen.
The second worst thing Harry's ever done was when he was 20. It was a tour break and he was planning on spending the whole time in LA.
But then he spent one too many restless nights on Instagram and he couldn't help but notice the same blond boy popping up all over Nick's feed.
He got jealous. Even though they weren't really anything and he hadn't fucked Nick in months he was still full of this choking sensation. He felt submerged.
So he took a plane to London and knocked on Nick's door and then he ignored Nick's weak protests. He made himself a brew and bit his lip a few times and Nick was his all over again.
They fucked for a weekend. Harry left on Monday morning while Nick was at work.
The blond boy stopped being in every picture.
Even now, even when Harry knows how horrible it was to ruin Nick's happiness, he doesn't regret it. He feels terrible and guilty but he doesn't regret it.
Nick's at the counter with a bowl of cereal when Harry comes back.
He looks up, startled, and then looks back at his cereal.
"Oh," he says, disconnected. "You came back."
Harry bites back the of course on the tip of his tongue. He stops himself from saying I'm not running this time.
Instead he swallows and asks- "do you want a brew?"
Nick's face is like a map. There are ridges and dips along it, the canyon of his smile, the rivers on the side of his eyes. To Harry it's always been the best map because it can tell him exactly what he needs. Exactly where X is and how he can get there, whether with a smile or a joke or a hug.
Right now the map of Nick's face is carefully blank. The scatter of freckles along his mouth, like a line of cities over an interstate, is flat.
Harry passes him on the way to the kettle. Nick has one that goes on the stove because sometimes he's a nan, so Harry fills it with water and sets the gas on as high as it will go.
"Don't you have to get home?" Nick asks in the stillness. His voice is dull, cool.
"Home?" Harry asks back. He has the strangest desire to break into song, to croon Edward Sharpe at Nick, home is wherever I'm with you.
"America. LA. That girl you're fucking."
"We broke up," Harry says because he can play games too.
"You'll find another one."
"I don't want another one."
"I'm here, Nick," Harry turns back to the counter. They're not looking at each other. He doesn't want to see Nick's face now. "I'm here and I've been here and I'm staying here."
He hears Nick stand then, hears him come up behind Harry. Next to him the kettle steams away.
"You didn't leave a note."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"The last time you didn't leave a note you were halfway to Brazil by the time I woke up."
Harry bites his lip. "I know. I'm sorry."
"I can't do this again, Harry."
"I know you can't."
"I can't wait again. You can't ask me to wait again."
"I know," Harry says, turning to look up at Nick. He's so beautiful. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you wait."
"I'm tired, Harry."
"I'm tired too."
"You fucked me up, Styles," Nick inches closer, looks less like he's going to run away. Harry's heart flutters weakly.
"You fucked me up too. You fucked me up so bad, Nick."
They stare at each other. Harry can see the harsh rise and fall of Nick's chest and a strong part of him wants to find Nick a chair, make sure he's not exerting himself.
"If we do this," Nick says, closing his eyes. "It's going to be different. No messing around. No kissing pretty girls. No leaving."
"I mean it, Harry."
"Do you want me to sign something?" Harry asks, softer now. "A contract? Blood oath? Do one of those Satanic rituals?"
"Give me a promise," Nick says. His eyes are so patient, gentle. "Promise me this is the time. Promise me that you're ready."
Harry breaths in four times, lets the air settle. "I promise."
"I can't do this again."
"I know," Harry thinks back to Fiona's words in the park. "I've put you through so much. And I'm sorry."
Nick moves, slowly. His hand cups around Harry's cheek, thumb stroking down one cheekbone and into the dip of his dimple. He watches him steadily, eyes sweeping across his nose and down his chin, over his forehead and around to his ears.
"What?" Harry asks, soft as a whisper.
"Don't make a fool out of me," Nick says. He brings them closer together. "Please don't make a fool out of me."
Their lips meet. It's exactly the same and completely different and Harry wouldn't have it any other way.
The first time Harry realized he was in love with Nick was a Tuesday afternoon. Nick was baking a cake for a friend's birthday party. He turned to Harry with flour smudged over his nose, a bit of egg in his hair, and a pink, sparkly spatula in one hand.
He asked where the measuring cup was and Harry felt a warmth spread from the tips of his ears to the tops of his toes. There was a lightness in his lungs, a spark in his heart, a net of safety over his skin.
Harry gave him the measuring cup. Nick baked the cake. The world kept spinning and the Harry's heart kept beating, but everything was different. And it hasn't been the same ever since.