They’re in the studio toilets when Niall drops trou, wriggling out of his trackies and tighty whities, bracing himself over the sink to present Harry with the curve of his bare arse. “Everything look good to go?” he asks. “Oh hey Zayn, cheers, mate.”
Zayn flicks his hair out of his eyes, washes his hands, and leaves.
“Your arse is fine, Niall,” Harry says without even looking up from his phone. “10/10, supremely shaggable.”
“You sure?” Niall asks, trying to twist around so that he can stare at his arse in the mirror. “Thought I saw a spot earlier. Oh hi Liam.”
“You boys ready?” Liam asks, sticking his head into the loo. He turns a little pink when he sees Niall’s state of undress, which is vaguely amazing to Harry considering he works for a porn studio and in less than half an hour he’s going to be seeing a lot more of Niall than that. But Liam’s a darling, and Harry tells him so, hopping down from his perch on the counter, pocketing his phone, and nearly tripping over Niall from where Niall’s got one leg up on the counter, stretching his calves and no doubt the boundaries of Liam’s sexuality as well.
Niall’s junk is on full display between his legs, and his actual junk is all over the counters too: plastic see-through baggies with Harry’s handwritten scrawl in black marker: VEGGIE SNACK (GOOD FOR YOU), GREEN JUICE (YOU’LL LIKE THIS, I PROMISE), EXTRA BRIEFS (CLEAN), CHAPSTICK (NOT LUBRICANT), and ENEMA EQUIPMENT. Harry gathers all of it up into his arms and dumps it into Niall’s backpack, grabbing Niall’s hand and dragging Niall out of the loo.
“Get to work, you tosser,” he says, fishing for his phone again.
“It’s like you don’t even love me,” Niall says sadly, reaching down to give himself a leisurely pull. Harry grants him his most unimpressed stare, which is ruined only a little by the way he ducks his head to smile because he can’t help it, Niall is ridiculous, especially when he’s jonesing for a laugh.
“Go on then,” Harry says, “get fucked.”
“‘s what they pay me for, innit.” Niall grins and wanders off towards the set, stripping off his plain black tee and tossing it on the ground. He knows with blind confidence Harry will follow him and pick it up, because that’s what good personal assistants do. And Harry is a fantastic PA, ask anyone, though maybe not his mum who still thinks he’s PAing for a small, struggling indie movie company and not After Dark Productions, which instead of being small, struggling, or indie, is good-sized, filthy successful, and makes shit ton of gay porn.
The one time Niall popped into view while he was Facetiming his mum, he’d introduced Niall as my colleague, this bloke I work with, and not actually: Niall “Irish” Horan, studio’s most successful porn star, twink extraordinaire, I bring him smoothies and book his medical tests and remind him to do his kegels every morning.
Harry isn’t Niall’s PA; technically, like Liam, he belongs to the entire studio. But After Dark Productions knows who their hit count driver and moneymaker is, and very early on in Harry’s job, Louis, the company’s creative director, had pulled him aside and said, “Look, Harold, Niall’s exclusive contract is coming up and we can’t let other studio twats poach him, so bat your pretty bambi eyes, moan a little when you’re talking about lunch orders, and make him stay.”
“Does this mean I’m like a secret agent,” Harry said brightly.
“No, it means you’re the candy we dangle in front of our actual candy,” Louis had said, and then pinched his cheek, hard.
“Owww,” Harry had said, and gone home that night wondering how he was supposed to be responsible for the future of one of the brightest stars in the gay porn industry. If he failed here, he could be depriving millions of gay lads the wank material that got them through their days. Servers would go dark, tears would be shed, stiffies would be further stiffened — and it’d be all Harry Styles’ fault.
He was, honestly, kind of a mess when he showed up for work the next day, and the next, what with Louis glaring daggers at him every time he came close to breathing on Niall.
But really he shouldn’t have been fussed at all, because Niall never is. PAing for Niall turns out to be the easiest job Harry’s ever had because Niall is, like, constantly cheerful and good-humoured, messing around with the cast and crew whenever the cameras aren’t rolling, ribbing people over their choice of footie teams, asking about their kids, or showing how he can tie a cherry stem into a knot with his tongue.
Even when he’s flat on his back being pounded to an inch of his life, he seems delighted to be there. “I love sex,” Niall told Harry once with a shrug, “and I want my viewers to see how much I love it.”
Today they’re filming a special vid for the diamond-level subscribers on the site — “the Big Dicks,” Louis had said and yelled at their webmaster until it became the actual name. The setup is: prep school boy comes home and finds twinky, laddy boy fixing his sink. Cue dickfucking. Niall’s lounging around starkers with only his snapback and his socks on, eating a granola bar and waiting for the cameramen to set up the scene, and when he catches Harry looking, he grins.
“Hey, is this, like, designer water?” James, the prep school boy, asks with genuine concern, as if it’ll be a serious violation of his contract if he finds out he’s been drinking regular H20 this entire time. Liam, who is an assistant for the entire studio but also mostly Louis, looks pained.
“Suck my prick,” Louis says. “But not until you suck Irish’s first.” He claps with growing impatience. “Are we ready to start rolling yet? Boners are wilting, people!”
The first time he ever watched Niall on set, Harry’d popped a boner, and had to skulk away shamefacedly to jerk it off in the loo. It was embarrassing because it wasn’t as if he didn’t know what was going to happen, didn’t exactly think they were making educational videos for preschool teachers here, but it was so completely different to actually see it happen, to see how good Niall was at hooking his legs over a man’s shoulders and taking his cock, moaning the whole while like he was slutty Cinderella and all his dreams were coming true. He could see why people paid to watch Niall then, because Niall was fit but Niall deep in pleasure was life-changing, he’d made Harry break out into a sweat just watching him.
That was the first time. Now, these days, Harry mostly scrolls through Instagram and checks his Twitter feed while Niall films. Ho hum, he thinks, Niall’s sucking cock. Ho hum, Niall’s getting fingerbanged. Ho hum, Niall’s being put on all fours. Ho hum, ho hum, ho hum.
Mostly, Harry’s hungry for a sandwich. He grabs a turkey one from craft services, and a tuna one for Niall, because Niall will definitely be hungry once he finishes.
Harry eats his own sandwich carefully, licking the mayo from his fingers and liking his friends’ posts on Instagram, while Niall moans and mewls under James, and the cameras roll.
He’s hearting Nick’s latest picture of Pig, and typing out a text to meet up after work for some drinks, just as Niall starts to come.
“Okay, so,” says Niall, still wiping the come off his abs, “you wanna see pictures of my giant—”
“For fuck’s sake, does no one here know how to properly take off a cock ring!” Louis is shouting from the direction of the set.
“—gardenias,” Niall finishes.
“Oh yeah, sure,” says Harry, who always loves seeing pictures of Niall’s latest indoor gardening project. The number of Niall’s gardenia pictures he’s liked on Instagram while Niall’s off getting dicked must be astronomical at this point. “Mmm, very nice,” says Harry, “very, uh, gardenia-like.”
“The humidity in my flat’s been pretty bad lately,” Niall says thoughtfully, “so I was worried it’d fuck with the plants, but it’s been mostly alright.” He moves to put his phone away and then remembers that he’s naked and there’s nowhere to shove it. He hands it over to Harry instead. “Is that sandwich for me? Nice! Gimme please.”
“Maybe you ought to put on some pants first,” Harry suggests.
“I suppose,” says Niall doubtfully, Niall who’d be comfortable flashing his limp prick in front of the Queen. Harry hands him his backpack as well as his sandwich, and Niall puts on his pants, hopping on one leg and grabbing at Harry’s arm for balance. Harry hands him a cotton robe to throw on.
“mmph, thanks,” Niall says, toppling over so that his mouth is briefly smushed against Harry’s clavicle, like he’s going to chew it like a prime slab of steak. Harry makes limpid motions to push him off. “Good to know! Sandwich now, what’s later?”
“You’ve your medical tests this afternoon,” Harry says, because all the performers at After Dark are required to be tested every two weeks, “and then an interview tonight with Good Vibes who want to do a profile of you, a followup to that article about porn stars and tats.”
“And how I don’t have any?” Niall says. “Ha, sure, don’t need a tat for me arse to be recognizable, do I?” He grabs at his cheeks. “The boys do the job just fine.”
Liam, wandering by with a clipboard, turns fiercely red.
“Oh my god, Louis is going to eat that boy alive,” Niall says.
“RIP Payno, we barely knew you,” Harry says solemnly. “Send us a postcard when you’ve gone to that great porno set in the sky.”
Niall’s laughter is a cackle that starts low in his throat and bursts open like popcorn before ending on an undignified snort; Harry never gets tired of hearing it.
Niall can’t leave until Louis decides there aren’t any extra shots to film, mistakes to do-over, so while the film and editing crew are going through their footage, he grabs his guitar and rests it on his lap. He starts out strumming chords from Eagles songs, warbling Witchy Woman while Zayn meanders past them with a croissant half dangling out of his mouth, on his way to shoot his own scene in Studio B, which is just a fancy way of saying “that other room, the one with the leak in the ceiling.”
The thing about Zayn is that he may be breathtakingly beautiful, a face that could give God a hard-on, etcetera, but he’s never completely there at any given moment of the day. Not, like, mentally, Zayn’s plenty smart, but he takes aloofness and rubs it to high shine. Harry gets it. Porn is something Zayn does to pay the bills and he’s already got one foot out the door.
Sometimes, though, Harry misses the days when he first started at After Dark and Zayn was still new enough that it was all a novelty, and they would take the piss together, miming o-faces and eating hot dogs suggestively.
“Hey man,” Harry says. “Break a leg.”
“Hope not,” Zayn says with his thick slashes of eyebrows raised, but then Niall sees him and segues from Witchy Woman into Dolly Parton.
“Your beauty is beyond compare, with flaming locks of auburn hair, with ivory skin and eyes of emerald green,” Niall sings. Zayn touches his dark, pink-tipped hair and snorts. Niall gives him a shit-eating grin and hollers, “Your smile is like a breath of spring, your voice is soft like summer rain, and I cannot compete with you, Jolene.”
“You’re a laugh, Nialler,” says Zayn, and Niall waves him goodbye as Zayn disappears into Studio B.
Niall’s tried to teach Harry how to play the guitar, and Harry gives it a half-interested go every time, but the truth is, he likes watching Niall do it better.
Niall plays guitar the way he fucks: easily, unselfconsciously, not afraid to be silly. He wanders around serenading the film crew, getting on his knees and belting out show tunes for Louis until Louis tells him to fuck off; he tells Liam to Don’t Stop Believin’ until Liam looks ready to swoon; he plays I’m a Slave 4 U for their key grip Paul while making sultry eyes and Paul’s struggling to keep his face stony.
Turns out they do have to refilm a part of the first scene, not the shagging but the setup where Niall’s pretending to fix the sink. Studio A has a full kitchen rig because bending over the kitchen counter is a porno classic, and Niall’s done this enough times that he actually looks like he knows what he’s doing when they take the second shot. Next time, though, they’ll probably find an off-site kitchen to film in; their fans will get bored seeing the same set every time.
There’s another round of reviewing the footage after, which mostly consists of Louis snarling and ordering Liam to bring him another latte. As Niall gets dressed again, Harry can’t help but crowd around the screen a bit, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Louis as discreetly as he can.
“Curious about editing, aren’t ya?” Louis asks, but not meanly. Harry nods and shoves his hair out of his eyes with two ringed fingers. “Oi, come on, might as well sit down for this.”
There’s an extra chair, and not long after Harry sits down, watching Louis and his team edit as much on the fly as they can before it gets the more finessed post-production treatment, Niall comes by and drops himself into Harry’s lap. “What’s up, Haz,” he says, and cranes his neck to the screen, watching himself blow James enthusiastically while James moans with increasing incoherence. “Oi, my face looks really red there,” Niall says, squinting at his fair Irish skin on-screen.
“Looks fine, plus it seems like you’re blushing, which is hot,” Harry says absently, wrapping an arm around Niall’s hips to keep him stabilized. “Lighting’s a bit weird there,” he points, “but not enough to redo it, like.”
“Sure,” Niall says, a warm weight spreading heat through Harry’s muscles, his fingers scritching into Harry’s hair, tugging on a single curl with a whispered sproing, followed by Niall’s definitely manly and not at all girly giggle. Louis shoots them a look, not that Harry really notices. He’s watching the video over Niall’s shoulder and holding on firmly so that Niall won’t tip off his lap, because Harry would be a very bad PA if his charge fell to the ground and broke a collarbone because Harry couldn’t keep a strong grip on him.
Niall’s hair smells like lemongrass and verbena from where it’s tickling Harry’s nose, making him want to sneeze, but of course Harry already knows that; Harry’s the one who bought him that shampoo from Boots. It was a good choice, he thinks. He should buy it again.
Niall runs his guitar-calloused fingers over Harry’s arms, poking at his tattoos, and Harry shivers.
“But officer,” says Zayn, hunching his shoulders into his oversized hoodie and tugging on the strings, “I didn’t do nuffink at all.”
“I’ve seen your file,” Niall says in his police uniform that Louis definitely did not steal from an ex. “I know this is three strikes, you’re out. Don’t blame me, kid, I want to help you, yeah? But you’re making it real difficult for me.”
“What if I gave you somethin', bruv?” Zayn says. “Somethin' you might like.”
“I’d like you to sort out your life, Z—ah, uh, Colin,” Niall says, wincing. Harry winces alongside him. They’ll have to refilm that line for sure.
Louis glowers but waves a hand for them to carry on, so Zayn says, slightly wooden because Zayn is a horrible actor, “I’d like to sort you out, officer,” and puts his hands on Niall’s skinny hips right above where the fake gun belt sits.
Harry can see Louis scribble in his notes, Z, FLUTTER EYELASHES MORE!!!
Niall pretends to startle, wide-eyed, because in porn you’ve got your usual scenes with chavs and police officers where the police officer’s a burly meathead who rough-hands the chav around a bit. But Niall’s Niall so they’re going for fresh-faced baby officer on his first beat instead, which Niall can pull off, kind of spectacularly if their previous ratings are anything to go by.
Zayn undoes the first button of Niall’s police uniform, and presses a kiss to Niall’s throat. Niall closes his eyes and swallows, hard.
It looks real, Harry thinks, watching from the sidelines. Niall really does look like an overwhelmed rookie with an armful of beautiful boy, when just a few minutes earlier Niall was jumping on Zayn’s back demanding a piggyback ride while his mouth was full of gummy bears from the candy bowl on Lou’s makeup table.
Usually in his scenes Niall bottoms, red-faced and begging for more cock. But since nobody, least of all their discerning viewers, can believe Zayn has the ability to top even a bag of marshmallows, Harry watches as Niall finally puts Zayn on his knees and slides in, eyes screwed shut, breathing shallowly. Zayn, who, if Harry’s going to be honest, normally seems bored in his scenes, bites down on a gasp as Niall pushes in.
Topping like this is is hard on Niall’s knee, Harry thinks, and goes to fetch an ice pack. When he gets back Niall’s still shagging Zayn, the both of them making realistic-sounding whimpers, Niall twisting his hips with liquid grace and groaning with every thrust as he grabs at Zayn’s pink-frosted quiff. “So tight, so gorgeous, yeah, take it, take it,” he growls, which wasn’t part of the script at all, but Louis motions for the boom mic to go closer.
When they’re done, Harry hands Niall the ice pack. “Thanks,” Niall says, grinning, throwing a look over his shoulder where Zayn’s lighting up a fag.
“That good, huh?” Niall says to him.
Zayn smiles and shrugs. “You’re the star, mate.”
Which is when Louis pops up behind them like the evil shadow of Mordor, and says to Harry, “We need to talk about your performance.”
“Ack,” says Harry, trying to ward off a heart attack while flailing ineffectively, each of his limbs moving independently. He looks at Niall, who shrugs, as confused as he is, and follows Louis to Louis’ office, which is a mess of papers, empty mugs, and gum wrappers. Louis pops a fresh stick of gum into his mouth, doesn’t offer Harry a piece, and says, “Your performance, Styles.”
“What?” Harry asks, bunching his face up. “Did you hit your head on the pavement? I’m not a performer, Louis.”
“Well, you know, I did offer—”
“No thanks,” Harry says.
“You’d be a sensation!” Louis says. “Look at you, mate. I can take all this,” he gestures at Harry from top to bottom, like sizing up cattle. “Good height, sweet doughy face, manbun, dumbfuck tattoos, huge cock—” Harry blinks at the catalogue of his physical traits, “—and spin it all into Rumpelstiltskin gold. The viewers would eat you up, you’ve no idea. Even if your clothes do blind my fucking retinas every time I turn around.”
“Heyyy,” says Harry, who thinks a shearling coat over a leopard print onesie is fantastic. “I like being behind the camera better.”
“I’ve seen you strut around at parties, you sodding princess.”
“Yeah, but,” Harry says slowly, “that’s for real. That’s me. I’m not good at turning it on and off like Niall is. I’m not good at playing characters and pretending to feel things I don’t.”
“Fine, whatever, if I listen to you ramble out your oh-so-deep thoughts, we’d be here all day,” Louis says. “Niall’s contract is coming up. Again.”
“Yeah,” says Harry, nodding. Niall’s contract that makes him exclusive to After Dark has come up before, the last time a few months into Harry’s stint as a PA, and it got extended, easy peasy. Niall’s lawyer had come in and looked over the document while Harry fluttered at Niall to drink a green smoothie Harry had blended especially for him, making a series of extremely disappointed faces when Niall had laughed him off.
“Has he said anything to you,” Louis says, trying for casual but missing it by an entire continent, “about not staying?”
“Why wouldn’t Niall stay?” Harry asks, genuinely astonished. Niall likes After Dark Productions, has been with them since the day Simon, their CEO, discovered him at a bar.
“Blaze wants him,” Louis says. “I was at a meeting with those wankers the other week and they kept smirking at me, dropping hints like they were sending Niall gifts to court him or some shit. Have they, Harold? Have our biggest rivals been courting Niall away from us?”
Harry reels back a little from the force of Louis’ vehemence. “Uh, no, if they’d been sending him gifts I would see it. I handle his mail.”
“At the studio, you prat,” Louis says. “You don’t handle his mail at home. Do you?” he asks, suddenly suspicious. “You two are all up each other’s business something awful.”
“Sometimes?” Harry says. Sometimes when they’re at a party together or they’re filming off-set at a location that’s too far from the Tube, Harry drives Niall home and makes sure he gets in safe. He’ll take a look at Niall’s mail then, just to be helpful, or pick up Niall’s dry-cleaning. “But I’ve not seen anything from Blaze, I promise! Or any other studio. Just golf or gardening magazines, or like, adverts from Tesco, or Theo’s drawings that Denise sends him.”
Louis isn’t convinced. “These people know how to be crafty. They’ll do anything to get our Nialler to their stable, and then where would we be? No, don’t answer that question, dipshit,” he says when Harry opens his mouth. “I’m telling you: keep an eye on Niall. Just like when we first hired you. Make him happy, suck his dick if you have to, and tell me if you notice anything, anything suspicious.”
“You’re the boss,” Harry says dutifully.
Louis grabs Harry by the shoulders and stares into his eyes wildly. “Swear to me on your firstborn child.”
“I don’t have any children,” Harry frowns. “I think.”
“Swear to me on all the little swimmers in your bollocks that could one day become your firstborn child. We’re not going to let Niall leave us.”
“Jesus,” Harry says, trying to wriggle out from underneath the unyielding prince of paranoia that is Louis Tomlinson. "Alright, alright, I’ll let you know if I see anyone trying to poach him. And of course I’ll do my best to make him happy. That’s what I’m here for. It’s my job, and also he’s my friend.”
“Yeah, Tommo, sure,” Harry says, “whatever you say.”
Niall’s feelings about yoga mostly rest in the realm of vast indifference, but it keeps him loose and limber for work, so he goes with Harry sometimes. Harry loves mornings, loves the sliver of pink and reds soaking through the sky as he goes for his daily jog, then drops by Niall’s flat to pick him up for morning yoga class.
“You can get up early for golf, you can get up early for this,” Harry says firmly, shuffling Niall out, making sure he’s got his oyster card on him.
“Golf,” Niall yawns, “is the sport of kings. Yoga is the sport of, well, wankers like you, Haz.”
“You’ve an entire fanbase composed of literally wankers jerking it off to your face,” Harry says, “so I don’t see how you’ve a leg to stand on.”
Yoga class is great, it stretches him out for the day just the way Harry likes it, and it’s good for Niall’s bum knee, he reminds him again as they leave the yoga studio, Harry making them stop before the Tube station to grab a cold-pressed juice. When he’s actually at the counter he’s not sure what juice to get though, there’s an awful lot of selection, so he thinks about it out loud until Niall jabs him in the ribs and points, “That one, you want that one.”
“Carrot, lime, and coconut juice,” Harry says. “I dunno…”
“Yes, you want that one,” Niall says. He raises his voice to the store employee. “He wants that one, wants it so bad.”
“You ought to take healthy living more seriously,” Harry says to him as he gives in and pays for the juice Niall’s shoved into his hands. “It’s good for your body and—” he hits upon inspiration, “eating more greens will make your come taste better! Isn’t that the polite thing to do for your coworkers?”
“One, my body ain’t an artisanal kitchen producing come salad,” Niall says, “and two, we all wear condoms during blowies anyway, you know that.”
“Oh yeah,” says Harry sadly. “But there’s outside of work too. What about for your, like, actual boyfriends?”
“My actual boyfriends,” Niall repeats.
“Them,” Harry says, feeling awkward all of a sudden. In the time he’s been Niall’s PA, he’s never seen Niall in a relationship, but it can be hard for people in porn to meet people who get it, he knows, and Niall’s the type to go all-out serious when he wants something. He has seen Niall pull at parties, once in a while, chatting up some lovely bloke at a bar, but not for some time, he realizes. These days, work aside, Niall probably gets less action than Harry, who’s always happy to bring a new friend for the night home and forget to get their number the next morning.
But then again, it’s not entirely impossible that Niall’s got something going on with a bloke. He could be, like, hiding in the pantry every time Harry comes over. Harry may run Niall’s work calendar with an iron fist but he doesn’t actually know every single thing about what Niall does on his off time, and Niall’s a private person, can be close-lipped about certain things not blurring between work and home.
Niall’s a wily bugger too, case in point later that day when he’s laughing at something on his phone and Harry leans over, wanting to see. Niall quickly pockets his phone before Harry can get to it, though, looking fishy.
“What was that?” Harry asks. “I want in on the joke.”
“God, you’re so needy,” Niall says, pink-cheeked. “It was just a text from Liam. Not really funny now that I think about it.”
Harry takes it in stride, as just because he answers Niall’s work email and picks up his work phone for him doesn’t mean he needs to monitor his friends too. He doesn’t think much of it, except it happens again in the afternoon, and then again after that. Every time Harry comes close to Niall’s phone, Niall’s quick to angle the screen from him, and when Niall sits down with his laptop he does the same thing, slamming the top shut when he senses Harry creeping up behind him.
“I’d ask if you were looking at porn,” Harry drawls, “except, you know…”
“That’s even worse than Liam’s joke,” Niall says. “Hey, you busy tonight?”
“Niall Horan,” Harry says delightedly, “you want to spend your entire day with me?”
“Was just a question,” Niall mutters.
Harry’s face falls. “Oh but I can’t. I just remembered. I’ve an appointment with Jeanette tonight to get another tattoo. Been looking forward to a new one.” Jeanette is his favourite tattoo artist in London, all dreadlocks, foul mouth, and eagerness to listen to Harry’s ideas about what to put on his body without laughing at him.
“Oh yeah?” Niall asks with interest. “Whatcha getting?”
“More Mayakovsky,” Harry says happily.
“Your weird Russian dudes,” Niall says, and laughs. He pulls at Harry’s gauzy shirt, where Harry’s only bothered to do up one button out of four, and peers at Harry’s chest, where among the swallows, the moth, and the other bits and bobs of ink, are the words sing away the drabness of the universe sliding alongside his collarbones.
His weird Russian dudes, Harry thinks. It’s an apt description. Before he started working for After Dark, he’d been a grad student. He’d ambled mildly through a master’s in English, writing a thesis on Russian futurists before applying for a doctoral program because what else was he going to do with his time. Then, a few days after he got his acceptance letter he’d gone out for drinks with Nick and some other friends, and came to the realization that every PhD student he knew had dead shell-shocked eyes, and his mum was ringing him up, saying gently, maybe you should try working for a bit first.
He can’t imagine going back to school now, not when his mum was right, there’s so much else to do out in the world. But he keeps his Russian futurist poets close to his chest, literally.
“It’s from the poem ‘An Extraordinary Adventure Which Happened To Me, Vladimir Mayakovsky, One Summer in the Country,’” Harry says. “I’m going to get another line on my forearm tonight: spite every hell combined.”
Nick mocks Harry all the time for getting his thesis work tattooed on his chest and using it to pick up at clubs, but the way Harry sees it, he already gets all the other important parts of his life onto his skin, why not this. He was a student for a long time, then he wasn’t, and even if he left it behind he has something to remember it by. He wonders what he’ll have to remember his time here, with Niall, when it’s over.
When it’s over. He thinks, then, of the conversation he had with Louis about Blaze trying to steal Niall away, and he thinks of how cagey Niall had been with his mobile and laptop. No way, Harry thinks, but now that the thought’s in his head, it makes him uncomfortable.
“Earth to Harry,” Niall’s saying. "Earth to Haz, come in, astronaut, are you still with me?”
“What? Oh, um, yeah, you were saying?”
Niall sticks his hands in his pockets. “Could I, like, come with?”
“...come with?” Harry echoes.
“To the tattoo place,” Niall says. “If you’re busy. I could come with.” He looks nervous. “Always wanted to see how it was done, even if me da put the living fear of ever getting one in my head. People are always asking me about why I don’t have one, so it might be good to — to have some firsthand knowledge.”
“Of course you can come with,” Harry says, because he can never say no to Niall, and Niall beams at him like the fucking sun. Harry gets a little overwhelmed by it and has to turn his head away, cough out a distraction into his fist.
“Harry Styles!” Jeanette says when he walks in that night, Niall in tow. “Do you really go around like that all day? Fuck, son, aren’t you cold? Your tits are practically falling out of your shirt.”
“The better to show off your work,” Harry laughs, making no move to button up, doing the opposite actually now that he’s here to get more ink.
“Ohhh who’s this?” Jeanette asks, sizing Niall up. “You look really familiar, where’ve I seen you before… oh shitting fuck, I know!” Harry tenses, because sometimes the realization isn’t a good one, but he shouldn’t have worried about Jeanette. She smirks and says, “I watch your videos with my girlfriend sometimes, they get us really fucking hot.”
“Yeah? Do you have a favourite?” Niall asks, smirking right back. “Also, if I pay you a hundred quid, will you tattoo a pair of bollocks onto Haz’s forehead?”
“That’s not how I want to remember you by,” Harry complains.
“What will you remember me by, babe?” Niall asks sweetly, while Jeanette’s head swivels between the two of them and her grin grows more shark-edged.
“I dunno,” Harry says, thinking again of end of contracts and Louis’ worry. It makes his stomach feel all weird and he doesn’t like it. “I guess I’ll have to think about it some more. Come on, Jeanette,” he asks, flapping his hand, “you ready?”
One time, doing some research for Louis, Harry had come across a forum thread on their website devoted exclusively to Niall’s legs. Which had been described, alternately, as “toothpicks,” “skinny as asparagus spears” and “just think about them wrapped around your waist, go on, you know that’s exactly what you perverts are imagining.”
Niall’s chicken legs may be the spark that launched a thousand fantasies, but Harry’s one of the few people who knows them truly intimately: can count nearly every freckle, every mole, every scar, and knows when Niall’s bad knee is hurting. It’s been acting up all day today. Niall’s supposed to be filming a solo masturbation vid for the website but they switch from on his knees to lying on his back with a dildo between his cheeks, only it’s still painful because Niall has to keep his legs open and spread for the cameras. Morning yoga can’t do much for this, Harry thinks, and feels bad. He’ll have to schedule Niall for more PT appointments.
Niall hobbles off the set after the fifth take, face pale and pinched. Harry pulls up a chair for him immediately and brings him more paracetamol and some ice, as well as a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, Niall’s favourite. “Gonna go straight to my hips,” Niall says when he sees it, but he takes it anyway with a thankful smile.
“Straight to your love handles, you mean,” Harry says. “More to hold onto.”
“That’s right, mate,” Niall cackles, and stuffs the cookie into his mouth in one go. Blowjob mouth, Harry thinks without meaning to. He rubs his forearm absently and then hisses when his rings catch on the still-healing redness of his new tattoo.
“Careful there,” Niall says, “you’ve got to let it heal,” like he knows more about tattoos than Harry does.
“Think you’ll feel up for the interview later on?” Harry asks, because he’s lined up a whole slew of them for Niall as they’re heading into the AVN Awards and everybody wants Niall’s opinion about who’ll win. Being an English company, none of After Dark’s performers can qualify for the AVN, but it’s still good to ride the buzz.
Niall gives him a thumb’s up, but Harry keeps a close eye on him anyway — the level of scrutiny he gives would make Louis proud. He drives Niall out to the Dick Dick Goose office and tries to seem intimidating when they walk in because sometimes people aren’t very nice to porn actors, even if their full-time job is writing about the industry. Harry’s seen it happen a whole bunch of times, and the disrespect really makes him angry.
The Dick Dick Goose — your #1 site for all news porn! — staff seem really nice, though. Niall explains his knee and they find him a pillow to fit under it on the couch, and they fetch both him and Harry some coffee. The interviewer is their features editor, a dark-haired woman named Asha with a tongue piercing that flashes every time she talks.
“I want to say before we begin that I’m a big fan, Mr. Irish,” she says, calling Niall by his porn name, the one most people only know him by. “You’re honestly one of the best talents in the field right now, and it’s a fucking shame about the AVN and the porn industry being so American dominated. We get that a lot here, you know, because we’re a British site. Feels like we’re constantly chasing after an older sibling.”
“It’s tough sometimes,” Niall agrees. “Like, normally my interviews are with American sites and you do it over the phone, and the time difference is rough, and phone interviews are great and all, but you miss a lot of nuance. Sometimes you think what you’re saying is sensitive and witty, but when you read the interview, you just sound like a tootin’ arse.”
Asha throws her head back and laughs. “Well, we’ll try not to make you sound like an arse, not the kind you don’t want to be.”
She turns on her recorder and starts asking questions, starting with questions that are honestly sort of a warm-up, Niall’s been asked them so many times. Harry could pretty much autofill a bunch of email responses with the answers to these, like how did you get into porn? Answer: Niall was nineteen and had followed his then-boyfriend from Mullingar to London, he was at a gay bar, the CEO of After Dark happened to be using the loo the same time he was sucking his boyfriend off, and was impressed by how good he made it look.
Or, what was your first shoot like? Answer: Niall started out doing solo cam boy vids, streaming live, but on his first video production set he was proper nervous, his gag reflex wasn’t great, he almost threw up into his poor costar’s lap. Oh, and he broke up with his boyfriend right after because his boyfriend had been skeeved out by the whole dating-a-porno-actor thing, had called Niall a nympho and stormed out.
Or, you’ve stated many times that unlike most actors in porn, you aren’t interested in getting a tattoo. Have you ever wavered on that decision? Here Niall launches into a story about going with Harry and meeting Jeanette, and he sings Jeanette’s praises for three minutes straight. “Definitely put that in, please,” he says. “Just because I don’t want a tat doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve good business.”
He makes Harry come over and take off his shirt to reveal Jeanette’s work, and Asha oohs and ahhs appropriately. Harry has to explain the Russian futurist thing, though.
When Harry’s back on the sidelines, tugging his shirt on, one of the other editors sidles up to him. “He’s really nice,” the editor says, rubbing at his sideburns thoughtfully.
“He is,” Harry replies, feeling strangely possessive and defensive of Niall, like why should it be a surprise that Niall is nice? Most people in porn are, in Harry’s experience, and Niall is… well, Niall could serve up niceness for Christmas dinner and still have enough left over to dole out for a full English breakfast the next morning. Niall’s so nice that he doesn’t even mind answering all of these questions that he’s answered a hundred times before, though he definitely perks up more when Asha mentions one of his cam vids where he played his guitar, and is music an interest of his.
aaaaaand they’re off, Harry thinks, because Niall can talk about music until his face turns blue, and it turns out Asha’s a huge fan of the Eagles too, but had just discovered them because she’s trying to, quote on quote, expand her shit taste in music, and she knows nothing of classic rock. Niall rattles off a bunch of recommendations for both classics and new bands he’s been listening to lately, and then Asha mentions she has time for one hobby and one hobby only, and lately it’s been gardening, and Harry can see Niall is over the fucking moon.
“I love plants, I’ve been trying to grow these gardenias in my flat,” he says, and Asha whips out her phone to show pictures of her gardenias. A part of Harry wonders if maybe they ought to go back to talking about porn, except Asha makes Niall laugh so hard he rolls around on the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest even though it must hurt, wriggling his shoes in the air.
“Wow, he’s quite flexible, isn’t he,” the other editor says, and Harry remembers that he’s still there. “I don’t watch a lot of gay porn, I cover the straight stuff for the website, so I haven’t seen him before.”
“Uh huh,” says Harry.
“And he’s charming too,” the editor muses. “Asha’s dog died last week. I’ve not seen her smile since. Oh hey, you’re smiling as well.”
Harry hadn’t even realized he was smiling, but now that it’s been pointed out to him, he knows that he’s grinning dopily at a still-laughing Niall.
“So you’re his boyfriend, right? Coming along for moral support?” the editor says, which finally catches all of Harry’s attention and makes him sputter like there’s not enough air in the room for his lungs to suck up.
“What? No! I’m his — I’m his PA.”
“Oh! My bad. Sorry, man,” the editor says. “Just, you seemed — never mind, foot in mouth, forget what I said, you want another coffee?”
“What’s eating you, Gilbert Grape?” Niall asks when they leave the Dick Dick Goose office. “Your face is all—” and here he makes an expression of tortured constipation that Harry’s never made before in his entire life, what a liar. Niall’s on his phone again, typing madly away, and when Harry glances over, he deliberately tilts it to the side for what seems like the thousandth time that week.
“Nothing,” Harry says moodily, because it’s not fair that Niall gets to keep secrets while Harry’s face is supposedly an open book to everybody, even strangers. Not that the editor bloke whose name he never got was right — Harry does not perv on Niall, it would be so cliche whereas he is a consummate professional. But he doesn’t like that someone would take one look at his face and think it, like it’s obvious. Harry hates being misconstrued like that.
Niall’s phone secrecy grows so severe that Harry’s pretty sure Niall’s getting some sort of sick joy out of it, and also he feels no choice but to tell Louis. Louis freaks out, throws a paperweight at the wall, and promises immediate and painful vivisection. Then the last week of January rolls around and he tells Harry, “Forget it, it’s not important, don’t think about it, god you’re so thick, Harold.”
“I don’t need to tell you these things if you’re just going to be mean to me,” Harry frowns.
“Yes you do,” says Louis, “‘cause I’m your boss.”
“Technically I think Simon’s my boss? You’re just in charge of the creative content for the male-male department?” He’s not sure why it comes out as a question, but it’s hard to be 100% sure of anything in the face of Louis’, well, Louisness.
“Have you seen Simon around recently?” Louis retorts. “No, it’s because I killed him and threw his body into a ravine. I’m the CEO of After Dark now, I just haven’t gotten around to telling everyone yet. Now get out of my office.”
Niall tags Harry in an Instagram pic the next day that’s just a photo of him texting on his phone while grinning, winter light through an open window throwing little sunbeams over his bleached hair. Harry looks at the photo, and frowns and frowns. what are you up to, he types in the comments. you won’t get away with it!!
He figures it out on his birthday, though, mostly when he walks into the studio, finds the foyer completely dark, and then someone’s screaming SURPRISE! into his ear while he jumps in the air and screams right back, less out of camaraderie and more out of abject fear. He stumbles, because Harry’s body’s first instinct when surprised is to always shut down all systems of coordination. Then he’s smashing into something with a hard edge, a table, he realizes, when he grabs what feels like a tablecloth for balance and the whole thing crashes to the floor.
Someone flicks on the lights, and Harry sees: all his coworkers holding party balloons, a crooked banner that says HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARY with glitter dripping off it, still wet, and a tablecloth on the floor alongside the remains of cake and fruit platters.
“Uh, happy birthday?” Niall says weakly.
“Oh my god,” says Liam. “You were right. I shouldn't have put the table so close to the door. I didn’t think he would be that clumsy though.”
“Harold’s got the grace of a newborn deer,” Louis says. “Come on, everyone, clean up that fucking mess. Unlike the rest of you slack-jawed twats, Nialler and I were ready for this. There’s another cake in my office.”
As people, namely Liam, get moving to clean up, Niall slings an arm around Harry’s shoulder and pokes him in the cheek. “Happy birthday for real,” he says. “Sorry about sending you into cardiac arrest. It’s the thought that counts?”
“Is this what you were being all sneaky about?” Harry asks, smiling. Niall rubs his thumb into the indent of Harry’s dimple.
“You know how hard it is to keep a secret around here?” Niall says. “I was James Bond level of sneaky, bow down at my mastery. But everyone helped. Liam herded everyone here, Louis bought the food, and Zayn made the banner.”
“It’s beautiful,” Harry says earnestly. “If a comet came and destroyed the entire world right now, causing unending death and destruction and the end of civilization as we know it, this is exactly where I’d like to be.”
“Alright, Ezekiel, let’s not go that far,” Niall laughs. “Have some cake first. Before the comet gets us and all.”
Liam comes back with a paper crown that says BIRTHDAY GIRL, which he smushes onto Harry’s head. “I found this in Louis’ office too,” he says, and proceeds to take pictures of everything on his phone: Harry’s face as he tries to untangle a curl from the crown, Louis bringing out a fresh cake that has an icing doodle of some cock and balls, Niall’s salvaging of some of his fruit platter, including the bananas and plums he stuck together with toothpicks to, coincidentally enough, also look like cock and balls, Harry’s soft, glowing face as he looks at the perverts he calls his colleagues.
“I’m going to post all of these and tag everyone,” Liam says happily.
Liam has the candles, Zayn has the lighter, and Niall has his guitar as he leads everyone into singing happy birthday. Liam snaps a shot just when Harry’s leaning over to blow out the candles, one hand wrapped around his hair to keep it from falling forward and catching fire, both of his cheeks puffed out like zeppelins. Harry’s looking at his phone later when he sees that Liam’s tweeted it to the After Dark twitter: our very own Hazza, sexy as ever.
There’s still work to be done and filming schedules to keep to, but for once Louis isn’t shouting at all of them to hurry up and stop wasting time. Harry’s somewhat suspicious of this uncharacteristic display of generosity, except Louis catches him staring and shrugs. “If it makes Nialler happy,” he says, and ah, all right, that makes sense.
People are coming up to Harry, paper plates balanced with slices of cake in hand, wishing him happy birthday. Niall’s off in the corner horsing around with Zayn and some of the new performers Louis’ signed on, young and sweet enough to still be in awe of him. He keeps on coming over to ambush Harry, however, adjusting the crown on his head, pressing sloppy kisses to his cheek, or playing him whatever song he happens to think of.
“Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation,” he strums. “And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar, they’re just another good vibration.”
Harry sings back, “And tidal waves couldn’t save the world from Californication.” He holds the last note, warbling, remembering that he ought to book their flights to the AVN Awards soon, though the show is technically in Las Vegas, not California.
“You look good, birthday boy,” Niall says, setting his guitar aside. “I like this floral on floral thing you’ve got going.”
“Thanks,” Harry said easily, “you look good too,” because Niall does, it’s just a plaid shirt and black skinnies he’s wearing, but he carries it off well.
“Nah,” Zayn says, coming over. “Harry looks like he’s dressed to go gardening with his mum and her colourblind church ladies. Between the two of you, everyone knows that Nialler’s the cool one. Harry’s just naff.” He rubs his knuckles over Harry’s ear to take the sting out of it, and Harry chortles.
“That’s more than enough to be getting on with,” he says, shoving Zayn away good-naturedly.
“Nah, Harry’s pretty all right, I reckon,” Niall says. “I mean, there’s nothing to be done about his hideous face and atrocious personality, but he’s not, like, the worst person I’ve ever met, so at least he’s got that going for him.”
“Heyyy,” Harry says, though secretly he loves it when Niall takes the piss out of him. Niall’s so good at being nice to everyone that sometimes it’s a treat to be the only person he’s really paying attention to, like soaking up healthy vitamin D rays from the sun. Niall and Zayn continue talking about Harry right in front of him, reminiscing about every daft thing Harry’s ever done in their vicinity, and Harry’s laughing so hard that he’s pressing his hands over his mouth, eyes crinkled shut like raisins and hiccuping with the force of his giggles.
“I’m only letting you say these awful things because you planned such a nice party for me,” Harry tells Niall when Zayn’s wandered off.
“I’ve something else for you too,” Niall says. “C’mere.” He takes Harry’s hand and leads him a bit away from the party, meandering over to the lockers where staff without offices keep their stuff. He opens one of the empty lockers, except it isn’t empty, there’s a succulent in a cheery purple pot. The leaves are thick and fleshy, almost rubbery to the touch, and Harry thinks it’s so, so pretty.
“Thought you might like to try growing one yourself, and these are dead easy to start with,” Niall says, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. “Uh, you don’t have to take it if you don’t want to. I just thought, you know, it reminded me of you. Like if an evil wizard came and transformed you into a plant, and I had to wander the entire gardening store looking for you, this is the one I’d pick.” His cheeks colour. “Never mind. Ah, I’m just rambling now, aren’t I?”
“Plant Harry,” Harry says solemnly. “I love it. I promise to take good care of him.”
“I could come over sometime,” Niall says. “Give you some tips.”
“Oh!” Harry says, trying not to smile too hard and scare Niall off, because he’s a perfectly normal lad able to host perfectly normal houseguests in a perfectly normal way. “Yes, I’d love that too.”
“One,” Harry says.
Niall bounces up and down on the balls of his feet, grimacing. “Two.”
“Three,” Harry says.
“Five!” says Harry and rips off the strip as quickly as he can.
“Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!” Niall shouts, and proceeds to shriek as if he’s in an opera and he’s just found out his lover is really his sister and now everybody has stabbed themselves and is dying. “Ah, Jesus Christ! That never gets any easier.”
“Sorry,” Harry says, dropping the wax strip into the garbage where it’s now covered in Niall’s chest hairs. “Still three more strips to go. If you shout loud enough, maybe Louis will really think you’re dying and come rushing in ready to save you.”
“I don’t think I could handle being saved by Louis,” Niall says truthfully. “I might rather prefer to die.”
“Have you ever done a scene like this before?” Harry muses. “Hot wax, a little bit of pain…”
“—a merciless PA with the face of an angel and the heart of a bloody devil?” Niall finishes. “Might’ve, once. They’re all starting to blur together, to be honest. Not really my thing though.” He runs a hand over the smooth swatch of his chest where they’ve just finished, and looks sad. Niall, Harry knows, is genuinely fond of his chest hair, even though it doesn’t fit in with the twink image After Dark usually wants him to portray. “All right,” he nods. “I’m ready for the rest. Lay it on me, mistress.”
“I feel like I should have a whip and leather stilettos if you’re going to call me mistress,” Harry says, and rips the next one off neatly. Niall curls up into a ball and moans theatrically. Harry also sort of secretly likes this too.
He hands Niall a freshly laundered robe when it’s done. It’s Harry’s favourite of Niall’s robes, a blue and pink vintage silk piece that Harry actually got him for his birthday last year. He’d found it in the back room of a thrift shop on Brick Lane for five pounds and it’s worth every penny, he thinks, because when Niall wears it he looks half like he’s about to swagger into an MMA prize fight and half like he’s about to start dancing for the Moulin Rouge.
Niall puts on the robe and then slouches in his chair, pressing at Harry’s sides with his toes. “Haz,” he says, “I’m in so much pain and it’s all because of you. Make me a margarita.”
“Stop whinging,” Harry says. “Make your own damn margarita.” But he’s only doing it to be ornery, they know, because it’s their thing: whenever Harry has to wax Niall’s chest and legs, he brings along the ingredients for two margaritas. The first time he’d had to wax Niall, he’d been so nervous and unsure of what he was doing, he spent the entire time babbling about going to the club last night and a great margarita he’d had from a fit bartender, until Niall shouted at him that he wasn’t sure what was worse, the waxing or hearing Harry go on and on about this damn margarita without being able to have one right now.
If Harry weren’t such a professional, he’d snap this for his Instagram too: Niall Horan, porn star, about to go on set, swathed in silk and drinking a margarita while Harry ducks in with some lip gloss because shiny lips are sensual lips, he’d read that in a magazine, no, stop laughing, Niall, it’s true!
“You look like a desperate housewife,” Harry says with supreme satisfaction.
“Keep the roast warm for me, sweetheart,” Niall says, getting up and heading for the door. “Mama’s gonna paint the town red tonight. Gotta keep her baby fed.”
“Gross,” Harry says, “you just had to go and make it weird.”
They had to put some of the filming on hold for Niall because of his knee problems, but the PT sessions seem to be helping, and Niall says he’s up for it today. Up for it today translates into a vid where he and Zayn are American frat pledges being hazed during rush week by two larger, stronger frat boys. There’s some kink in it too, since Louis says they’re going to advertise it as bareback though it’ll all be slight of hand and editing magic because neither Niall nor Zayn ever fuck without condoms.
The two tops are John and Ryan, and Harry knows them only vaguely; they’re not After Dark exclusive performers. He watches Niall make polite small talk with John, the man who’s going to shag him in the vid, and John throws his head back and laughs. John also whips out his phone to show Niall pictures of his baby daughter born last week. Niall squeezes his cheeks together and coos.
Harry holds onto Niall’s discarded silk robe when they start filming. There’s the bit in the beginning, the obligatory setup dialogue, always somewhat awkward. Niall tries to get into it though, treating it as good fun, and ad-libs a line about him being an Irish exchange student because everybody knows his American accent is awful.
Then they’re on the bed, Niall and Zayn being hazed, and Niall pretends to be shocked and hesitant when John tells him to put his face in Zayn’s arse. He does it, tongue flicking out tentatively, and Zayn squirms at the first touch, his wrists pinned down by Ryan. John grabs Niall by the hair and drags him in closer, nudging his nose against Zayn’s taint, and then Niall starts licking for real, deep and strong, making helpless noises of arousal as Zayn groans. Zayn tries to squeeze his knees together, feigning disgust, but Ryan yanks them apart.
“How’s it taste?” John’s murmuring to Niall now, as the boom mic dips low to catch his words. “You love eating ass, don’t you? Tastes so good, I bet.”
“So good,” Niall whimpers.
“Lift your hips up, pledgie,” John says. Niall does, and moans in surprise as John wriggles underneath and slides Niall’s dick into his mouth. He does something with his tongue that makes Niall cry out, and all this while Harry was going to hold onto Niall’s robe and check Twitter on his phone, like he usually does, but suddenly he’s riveted, unable to look away.
Niall, flushed and turned on, hips pinned by John’s massive hands, cock humping into John’s mouth. Niall, sweaty-haired and lean-muscled, arms braced around Zayn’s waist as he eats him out. Niall, moaning like there’s nothing better in the entire world.
It really shouldn’t make sense that Niall’s success in porn has lasted so long, Harry thinks dispassionately. There’ve been blog posts written about the very subject, usually by self-important twats. But Niall’s twenty-six, turning twenty-seven this year, and while male performers in porn can usually stretch out their careers longer than female performers, which is an unfair truth of the industry, Niall’s fanbase was built on his image as a twink. Niall’s not really a twink anymore, is the thing. Sure, he’s still baby-faced enough to get away with it, but for how much longer, Harry thinks.
And god, does it matter, Harry thinks, sweating under his collar as John turns Niall over. Does anybody really care that Niall’s not the acrobatic nineteen-year-old he was when he started out, not when Niall mewls so beautifully as John stretches him open with his fingers. Niall’s never been particularly kinky either as an actor, and while normally that’s a bad career choice, to limit your options like that, Niall’s gotten away with it all these years. Why not, Harry thinks, when Niall can make vanilla porn seem so dirty by sheer enthusiasm.
John and Ryan are egging Niall and Zayn on, watching them snog each other. Niall’s got his fingers dug into the grooves of Zayn’s hipbones, kissing him deep and dirty, panting into his mouth. John makes Niall prep Zayn, Niall moaning as he spreads Zayn open, alternating his fingers with greedy licks of his tongue. Zayn’s legs are trembling around Niall’s head, and he’s moaning too in a way that Zayn rarely does.
Harry tries to focus on Twitter. Usually it’s easy enough to do, but then he hears Niall’s voice, low and scratchy, breaking open on an overwhelmed whimper, and concentrating on his phone is the hardest thing he can imagine right now. He has a book in his bag too, he could read that, but even Mayakovsky is poor distraction for the sight of John positioning himself behind Niall and thrusting in with a hard push.
Niall looks up from beneath his lashes as he’s breached and he’s angled just right so that he catches Harry’s eyes. Harry doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, why his mouth goes dry the moment their eyes meet. Niall’s mouth is wet and shiny, from the lip gloss, Harry thinks, and from the sex.
Harry looks away. What the fuck. It’s just Niall, he tells himself. It’s just Niall, and Harry isn’t so green in the industry that this should still be affecting him like this. It’s Louis’ fault, he rationalizes. Louis got him worked up about Niall maybe leaving that it was like pushing a reset button on Harry’s nerves, scraping away all of his previously achieved immunity.
It’s all Louis’ fault.
He gets out of his chair, leaving Niall’s robe behind. He goes into the hallway where he leans against the wall, breathing heavily, hands trembling so hard his rings keep banging against his plastic phone case. He thinks of the most boring, least sexually appealing topic he can, and that’s when he rings up Nick with a croaked, “Hey Grimmy, tell me about your thesis.”
Nick doesn’t believe him for a second.
Niall’s unhappy about something. But whenever Harry asks, he just rolls his eyes and says, very shortly, “My gardenias died.”
I think I’m having a sexual crisis over you, Harry thinks. I think my brain is melting into my ears and my heart is sizzling over the grill marks of my ribs, and I’m starting to question everything I ever thought about this job.
“Aw, mate, I’m sorry,” is what he says instead. “Rough day.”
Niall laughs hoarsely. “Yeah, rough day is a good way of summing it up.”
“Do you want to,” Harry thinks over his next words carefully, “grab a pint after work?” The part of him that is rational and logical and self-preserving immediately wants to kick his own bollocks, but he hates seeing Niall sad, and if there’s anything he can do in his power to fix it, then he’ll take that chance.
They end up at a bar down the road from the studio, one they’ve been to before a couple of times, though usually with Liam or Zayn in tow. It’s just the two of them now, and Harry fiddles with his coaster to give his hands something to do while Niall takes a pull of his pint, swallows violently, and goes for another deep draw. He wipes the froth from his lips, making Harry look away again, except Niall goes on to say, “Look at me, acting the maggot. Didn’t mean to bring everybody down today with my whinging.”
“What happened?” Harry asks.
Oh. That explains a lot, actually. Harry knows Niall came out to his family a few years ago about what he does for a living, and while some of them took it better than others, his brother Greg was the worst.
“He doesn’t think I ought to be around Theo,” Niall says. “Because of, you know.”
Harry wants to get in his car and run over Greg a few times. “What does your dad say?” he asks quietly, because Bobby’s always been good at supporting Niall’s choices, the one member of Niall’s family who makes visiting home every year for Christmas never complicated, never hard.
“He doesn’t know what Greg said,” Niall says, “and I ain’t gonna to tell him either. ‘s not fair, getting Bobby tangled up like that in our shite. Greg’s got a problem with me and I’m the one who’s gotta deal with that.”
“But it’s not fair,” Harry says, blinking hard. “You love Theo.”
“Love that little bugger with all me heart,” Niall agrees. “But listen to me banging on. Greg changes his mind more than he changes his trousers, and Denise likes me, she wouldn’t stop me from—” he sighs. “She wouldn’t, I hope. I’ll ring her up tomorrow.”
“If you need someone to butter her up, I can do it,” Harry offers.
“I bet, yeah,” Niall laughs. “One dollop of the good old Harry Styles charm and she’ll be ready to do anything we ask of her.” He tips the frosty lip of his pint against Harry’s. “Cheers. You’re a good mate to me, always been.”
“As a good mate,” Harry says, “it’s my job to get you pissed tonight.”
“Look at this English lad go!” Niall cheers, but he’s game for it, was probably game for it the moment Harry suggested going out tonight. They demolish the first couple of pints watching the footie match, Niall running his mouth off on commentary that makes the other bar patrons glare at them, but which only serves to make Harry laugh, burying his face into Niall’s shoulder to hide his alcohol flush. Then more pints, followed by Niall ordering fish and chips and Harry pretending to object but actually stealing half of it, and then another pint, or two, or three, really who’s counting at this point?
Harry doesn’t even know how but at some point in the night they end up in North London at Alexandra Palace playing crazy golf. Niall’s got his hands stuffed down Harry’s pockets, distracting him horribly as he shouts in Harry’s ear, “Sacrilege! This isn’t real golf! Off with their heads!”
Harry, drunk, warm, and swaying on his feet, says, “‘course it ain’t real golf, Niall, that’s why they call it crazy golf. Or as the Americans say it, minigolf. You’ll have to remember that when we’re in Las Vegas for the AVN Awards.”
“Fuck the AVN Awards,” Niall says, and lets go of Harry to trip over his own feet.
“Oi, you, you’re lying in the middle of the green,” Harry says, kicking him in the ribs. “How am I supposed to beat your arse in crazy golf if I can’t even finish my swing?”
“I can’t get up, Haz,” Niall says. “I fought the crazy golf and the crazy golf won.”
“Weak,” Harry says. “Pathetic.”
“I am but a mere mortal,” Niall giggles, “oh what, stop pouting at me, Haz, I mean it! Do not pull out the pout, that pout is dangerous, I refuse to be moved by that pout — oh very well, I’m getting up.” He rolls over onto his knees, winces for a second, and then stumbles up to his feet. “Harry,” he says, swaying forward, “Harry, Harry, Harry.”
“I think,” Harry says slowly, slurring over his words, “if an evil wizard turned me into a houseplant and you were trying to find me, all you would need to do is say my name exactly like that — yes, exactly like that! And I’ll be like, ‘I’m here, Niall!’” He switches to a high-pitched plant voice, before realizing that plants don’t have voices. “Anyway, that’s what I’d say. If I were a plant and could talk.”
Niall beams at him. “How’s Plant Harry doing? Haven’t killed him yet then?”
“I’ll have you know, you tosser,” Harry says in tones of deep affront, “that Plant Harry is very much alive and is doing well, nay, is thriving under my tender loving care. Just like you are.” He drops his golf club to pat Niall on the cheek. “Just like you are, Human Niall.”
Niall turns his head and bites Harry’s fingertips. Harry rears back with a giggle. “Friend, not food,” he warns.
Niall pulls his mouth away, and Harry wonders if he made the right decision after all. He squints at Niall, who’s wearing a heather grey jumper that looks so soft that Harry’s been reaching for it all night, finding any excuse to touch it and marvel over its softness. At the start of their failed golf game Niall had offered to give Harry the jumper since he liked it so much, but Harry thinks it’s probably not the jumper he’s so fascinated by, not that he can tell Niall this.
He does want the jumper, though. It’ll smell like Niall’s cologne and underneath that, it’ll smell like Niall. This is a thing that pleases Harry very much.
Niall grabs Harry, hooks two fingers underneath Harry’s collar and pulls him in close. Harry goes with him with only the minimum amount of flailing. “I was talking to Louis,” Niall slurs.
“Oh no,” Harry says, “this can’t go well.”
“He was weirdly nice to me,” Niall says. “‘s been like that for a while now. It’s frightening.”
“That’s ‘cause he wants you to—” Harry stops.
“What?” Niall asks, eyes big. “What kinky shite does he want me to do? Wait, do I even want to know? Maybe I’ll pretend like we never had this conversation.”
Harry pats Niall’s cheeks between his hands. “No, nothing like that,” he says. “He wants you to stay. With us. Don’t go getting poached by Blaze, is what he wants.”
“Is he really worried that—” Niall throws his head back and laughs. “As if I’d go to Blaze! Tommo’s bloody hilarious when he wants to be.”
“Good,” Harry says, “good, ‘m glad you’re not getting poached then. So,” he says, struggling to wind his mind back to the start of their conversation, “what were you two talking about then? If it weren’t about Blaze?”
“You, you twat,” Niall says. “Louis says he’s been showing you more of the — editing stuff, I guess? Says you’re keen on it. I’ve noticed that too and meant to ask, like, is he right? Do you want to go into filming and editing? You can’t be a PA forever, Haz, you’re too good at it.”
Harry scrunches up his nose. “I can’t be a PA forever because I’m too good at it? That makes no sense.”
“Harry,” Niall whines. “What does your squishy little superfood-loving heart want?”
Harry thinks about it. It’s difficult to; he’s had a lot of pints tonight, and he’s not sure he’s ever seriously considered what he wants out of his life, not even when he was still in school and figured he’d just stay in school for the next twenty years if he had to. “I do like being behind the cameras,” he says finally. “I like — what Louis does? If I could have his job someday, I think I’d be pretty happy with that.”
“Yeah?” Niall asks, cocking his head. “In porn?”
Harry shrugs. “People are friendly to me in porn. I like that there’s less — bullshit.”
“Yeah,” Niall bobs his head, “nothing more honest than good old fashioned shagging for money.” And maybe if Harry were more sober this would be the perfect chance to ask Niall what he wants out of life, if not to go to Blaze, except Niall’s trying to bite him again, this time on the ear, and it’s all he can do not to shiver and collapse. “Harry,” Niall breathes, “Harry.”
“What?” Harry asks faintly.
“This is a good look on you too,” Niall says, groping Harry’s velvet trousers and then flicking at Harry’s matching velvet headband that’s keeping his hair back. “You look like an 80s lounge singer.”
“See, Horan, I always knew you were a man of exquisite taste,” Harry squirms. He looks over their shoulders. “Oh, uh, we ought to probably go though. There are kids staring at us? And I think the staff look mad too.”
“Bunch of prudes,” Niall says with a huff of breath against Harry’s collarbone. “Can’t I fondle my good mate on a public golf course anymore? What is this world coming to.”
“Don’t say the word ‘coming,’” Harry instructs. “Please.”
Between the two of them, it’s apparent that Harry’s the marginally less pissed, so he gets Niall home, somehow. It involves a cab, probably, and wrapping an arm around Niall’s waist to help him with the stairs up to his third story flat. Niall’s telling him about Theo again, sharing the greatest hits of Theo’s most adorable moments, and this is good, Harry thinks, this is safe, talking about relatives and children is the least sensual thing in the world imaginable, they’re doing well.
Inside Niall’s flat it’s like a country manor vommed up its garden, there are plants everywhere. Harry notices that the gardenias aren’t actually dead, but they do look kind of wilty. He wrestles Niall into bed, yanking his shoes off his feet, and then drunkenly ambles back into the living room to water the gardenias. He can’t find a glass so he uses his hands instead, cupping them under the kitchen sink and running over to the gardenias before all the water can leak between his fingers.
“The fuck are you doing,” Niall asks. Harry looks up.
“I just put you to bed,” he says accusingly.
“Then I got back out to wee, and found you doing this,” Niall says. “God, you’re unbelievable,” he laughs, shuffling over on the carpet. He presses his thumb to Harry’s chest, right over Harry’s rapidly beating frightened rabbit heart. “Where did you even come from, that you can do things like this and be so fucking wonderful.” He runs his tongue over his bottom lip, and Harry can’t stop staring but he can’t move either, and water’s dripping from his rings to the ground.
Niall’s thumb swoops to Harry’s arm and rests over his freshly healed tattoo, over spite every hell combined. Niall’s eyes when he looks up at Harry are very, very dark, and very, very blue. “Jesus,” he says, “I want to eat you whole.”
“Oh my god,” Harry squeaks, “we’re so sodding drink.”
“Right,” Niall’s eyes widen, and he drops his hand from Harry’s arm. “Uh, right, yeah, we are.”
“I didn’t mean—”
But the moment’s over, and Niall already looks like he regrets it.
“We ought to go to bed,” Harry suggests. “Sleep it off. I don’t mean together — I mean, you go to bed and I’ll sleep on the couch if you don’t mind me staying over, because you’ve had a rough day, and—”
Harry hates it when his tongue can’t stop flapping like this, Niall clearly wants him to shut up and is too polite to say so. Niall is also pissed, so very pissed, and doesn’t mean anything he says tonight. Harry’s hit on plenty of people himself while being completely wankered that he never would’ve in the day. So, bed. They’ll be their regular selves in the morning, safe and ordinary, which is exactly what Harry should want.
“Bed, right,” Niall says, “we ought to — get on that.” His smile is tight and unhappy. “G’night then, Haz. Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams,” Harry says, watching him go. When Niall’s out of sight, he grabs a throw pillow from the couch and screams into it, softly.
Like most other red-blooded lads, Harry’s usual response to being confronted with the two-headed beast of sexual confusion is to wank it out, but he’s fairly certain that’s not the way to go here. Niall’s job is to motivate people to wank it out all day long, anytime, anywhere. Harry’s job is to be the one person who won’t creep Niall out by wanking over him.
It’s a dilemma, to say the least. He goes to yoga instead. He puts his head between his knees, and like his instructor says, empties his mind. If he tries hard enough he can almost pretend as if he’s not even Harry anymore, Harry’s an inconvenient person who timeshares his brain space. He’s really just a body, a long stretch of sinew and muscle, and sometimes bodies have needs that have no bearing on the person that rents it.
He knows the answer, it’s so obvious: he should get laid. Louis told him from the very beginning, like he was passing on a piece of sage wisdom: get enough to eat at home so you don’t come to the job hungry, you get my meaning?
Yeah, Harry gets his meaning. And getting laid is so easy for Harry too. He knows he’s easy on the eyes, has a good smoulder, and his dimples are fantastic, ask anyone. Sex is an itch Harry’s never had trouble scratching, and now he’s wondering why he’s let such a long time elapse since the last time he pulled. He fishes his phone from his coat pocket after yoga, scrolls through his WhatsApp messages, and invites himself along to the bar that evening with Nick and their friends.
Nick, Alexa, and Pixie are already crammed into the back booth when Harry slides in. They cheer at the sight of him, and Pixie drops a kiss onto his cheek. “Haven’t seen you for ages, stranger!” she says.
“Been busy,” Harry says, grinning at her.
“Busy with work?” asks Alexa. “Oooee look at this one, a real proper working man, not like us lazybones grad students.”
“Nah,” Nick smirks, “been busy with his Niall, more like.”
“It’s not like that,” Harry lies, shaking his hair from his face. “Anyway, I reckon you lot are just jealous because I’ve juicy stories to tell you about working with porn stars, and you just have the same old boring tales about creepy advisors and entitled students.”
“You got us there,” Nick says. “Go on then, young Harold, tell us these juicy stories of yours.”
Harry doesn’t actually have many juicy stories to tell; or he does, but it doesn’t feel right to share dirty laundry outside the studio, not when so many people in porn have become his friends. But since everybody agrees that Harry’s a shit storyteller anyway, it’s all the same when they lose interest and start talking about their creepy advisors and entitled students. That’s fine to Harry as well, because then he can take the time to keep his eye out at the bar, looking for anyone who’ll strike his fancy.
He doesn’t end up taking anyone home that night, and he doesn’t really understand why. There were plenty of fit folk who wandered in and out of the bar; there was a redhead in particular with the amazing legs, for one, who’d met Harry’s eyes and smiled at him in clear invitation. Harry ought to have gone with her, or if he was fancying a bloke tonight, there’d been that freckled blond with cut-glass cheekbones who’d ducked his head at Harry’s attention and blushed so sweet.
Harry knows he could’ve made either of those happen; Harry goes home alone anyway, itchy under his skin and too sober for his own good. Nick, Alexa, and Pixie are howling at the moon when he leaves them, shrieking with laughter when they realize he’s going.
“It’s not even midnight!” Pixie says. “So staid! So responsible!”
“So completely knackered, love,” Harry says, squeezing her in a hug. “Some of us have to get up early in the morning.”
He kicks off his boots when he gets home and throws his coat over his old quilted sofa that once belonged to Gemma. He wasn’t lying, he is knackered, but instead of going to sleep he makes himself a quick supper of quinoa and tahini salad based on what’s left over in his fridge. It’s much better than bar food, and he eats it on his sofa with his laptop balanced on his knees, checking up on Twitter and replying to a few messages.
He’s still not sleepy after washing up, so he glances at his bookshelves and thinks of how many books he’s bought whilst browsing secondhand shops that he’s never even cracked open. It’s not that he doesn’t mean to read them, he did buy them with that intention, only sometimes the thought of reading them is more delicious than actually finding the time to. Well, he has the time now, he thinks, and stalks his shelves to pull down a slim volume of Bukowski’s poetry.
He takes it back to his sofa, sets it beside his laptop, and that’s about how long the pretense lasts. Harry’s body is sinew and muscle, he thinks, an organ that’s only sometimes piloted by his mind. That’s the only explanation for why he ignores the Bukowski entirely and logs in to the After Dark website, pulling up Niall’s profile and scrolling through his video archive.
I’m probably the worst person to ever live, Harry thinks dreamily as he looks at all the different videos Niall’s been in over the years. He looks at his left hand in surprise, as if he’s not quite certain how it’s moved to rest over his cock, waiting. He looks at his right hand in surprise, as if he’s not quite certain how it’s pulled up one of Niall’s camboy videos from a year and a half ago, and clicked play.
It’s really all a mystery to him, every last bit of it.
Like most young performers at After Dark, Niall started out doing live cam vids, building up a reputation as people dropped in and out of his chatroom. He doesn’t do it so much anymore, not when his value is high enough that they can make more money starring him in higher-production feature vids, but once in a while, as a gesture to his fans, Niall still streams the occasional cam vid.
Harry gets why fans still demand them. They’re more personal. Niall talks directly to the camera, and he’s not playing a persona, not spouting off lines of dialogue, it’s all meant to be him, the real thing. You can type comments into the chatbox and if you’re lucky, he’ll even answer them. You can have a conversation.
Not this time, though, The website’s saved some of Niall’s top-rated cam vids from the past, but it’s not live anymore, thank god. Harry can almost pretend he’s not doing what he's actually doing, which is watching Niall grin at the camera and say, “Hi everyone, how’re we all doing, really glad to have everyone here tonight,” in his beautiful Irish drawl.
Niall’s in a vest and a pair of mind-blowingly small red shorts. The vid is forty-five minutes long, and within the first five minutes he’s removed the vest, giving everyone a view of his tight pink nipples, not that Harry’s ever had a filthy thought about them to begin with, oh no. Within fifteen minutes Niall’s toying with the band of his shorts, playing up the tart as he chatters on to the camera, telling his viewers about his gardening projects and what he ate for dinner.
Niall, horribly enough, actually segues into having a genuine conversation about gardening with one of the viewers, squinting at the comments on his computer before breaking into a real smile and going on about soil types. “Oh my god,” Harry mouths, trousers and pants already off, his hand on his cock. “What the fuck, Niall.”
It’s at the twenty-five minute mark that Niall seems to remember he’s supposed to be filming a porn vid, and he wriggles out of his red boyshorts and starts a leisurely rhythm jerking himself off.
“No but really, Geraldine, you’ll have to tell me how your roses are doing. Next time, yeah?” Niall says while wanking, and Harry wants to laugh or cry, he’s not sure which.
Even on a dimly lit, honestly-sort-of-grainy vid that’s over a year old, there’s a lot of Niall to take in at once, and it feels different here when Harry knows there’s no chance of Niall catching him staring. He feels like he can look his fill, guiltily, drinking in the flushed curve of Niall’s cheek, the bite of his imperfect teeth, the constellation of freckles over his shoulders and his back, the wet pinkness of his cock as Niall pours lube over his fingers and goes to town.
“Yeah,” Niall breathes, “oh god, yeah, feels good.” He squeezes his eyes shut, and Harry does too, bowing his back on his sofa as he tugs at his cock, smearing precome all over the underside of his thumb.
At the thirty-five minute mark, Niall stops wanking himself and flops over to the nightstand where he pulls out a bullet-sized vibrator. “Can’t forget my good friend here, can I?” he grins for the camera before getting flat on his back and lifting his hips. Harry groans with how obscene it looks, Niall fingering himself open, Niall’s hole flexing around the vibrator, Niall’s whimpers getting louder and louder.
“So,” Niall croaks, shivering, fucking himself on the vibrator, “I was telling everyone about my day but I almost forgot to mention: got assigned a PA today.”
Harry’s hand moves faster as he gasps.
“Never had one before,” Niall says, clenching his teeth, “oh fuck, uhhh. What was I saying? Right. Got assigned a personal assistant. Means I’m going up in the world, innit. He seems like a nice bloke so far. ‘s got so much hair I’m worried he might be hiding classified documents in there, who can tell.”
Harry chokes out a laugh as his balls seize up, and sweat drips onto his knuckles as he smears his precome round and round his cockhead.
“He’s really gorgeous though,” Niall’s saying on camera, voice turned sly, “but don’t tell him I said so — ah!” The sound he makes then as he starts to come is what sends Harry over the edge, coaxing pained groans from Harry’s throat as he orgasms so hard his toes curl and he arches his back straight off the sofa, bellowing. He creams his shirt in thick, wet ropes, twitching and gasping, feeling completely out of control of his body, like he’s shedding his own skin.
It takes a long time for him to come down, and when he does he hits exit on his browser so fast that he’s pretty sure he’s bruised his index finger. He looks at the succulent on his bookshelf, though he doesn’t mean to. He wonders if plants can feel ashamed on behalf of their owners.
“Plant Harry,” he says, “I think I’m fucked.”
Definitely fucked, he thinks, though definitely hungry again. He cleans himself off, eats the last carton of yogurt from his fridge, and goes to bed.
They fly out to the AVN Awards the following Friday. Niall’s out the moment his head touches the airplane seat. Harry tries to get some reading done, and then tries to bounce his knee without jostling Niall awake, and then tries not to stare at the slope of Niall’s nose. When this all fails, he orders himself a shot, watches half of a Disney movie on the in-flight entertainment system, and then falls asleep too.
When he wakes up, they’re in Las Vegas, and he’s drooled a sizable puddle onto Niall’s shoulder.
Things are a bit awkward between them, he can tell. Not because Niall knows that Harry brought himself off to one of his vids, because if he ever found that out, Harry would have to slink off to the nearest toilet to die. But that night they got pissed and said inadvisable things to each other is like a bad perfume wafting between them; they can both smell it, even though they’re pretending very politely not to.
Despite questionable life choices for young men their age, they are professionals, and none of the awkwardness stops them from working together to do their jobs. Harry gets them checked into the hotel and reviews Niall’s itinerary for the day, which involves first sleeping off the jet lag and then making an appearance at the AVN convention where he’s been scheduled for some meet-and-greet and autograph sessions.
Niall nods through it tiredly, and then flashes Harry a smile. “Sounds great, wake me up when it’s time to go?” he says.
“‘course,” says Harry. “I’ll also make sure your suit is cleaned and pressed for awards night.”
“Thanks, Haz, you’re the best.”
“Well,” Harry says consideringly, “can’t have you embarrassing us porno folk from across the pond, can we?”
Niall doesn’t embarrass them. The next day, when they show up at the convention, the queue to meet Niall winds out of the room and down the hall. Harry never stops being amazed by it; gay porn is only a small subset of a much larger industry, but it feels like everyone they meet knows who Niall is and is an admirer of his work. “He’s just so good, it doesn’t even matter that I don’t normally watch guy-on-guy porn,” says a bloke who looks like he could be a trucker, and who honest to god squeals when his turn is up to get something signed by Niall.
Niall signs an endless array of tits, dicks, forearms, buttocks, you name it. He poses for photos with his fans, bright and cheerful, and chats with them about their kinks, their jobs, their hopes, their dreams. A group of university-aged girls come by with guitars and play Desperado for him, shyly; they got inspired by one of his vids. There’s Niall cosplay more than once, Harry laughing when he sees familiar peroxide blond heads bobbing in the crowd, and a Vietnam vet who comes up to him and thanks him for helping his grandson feel less ashamed to be gay. Niall actually cries at that one.
There’s a woman in her late sixties who brings him an armful of roses, blushing and stammering, until Niall shouts out, “Geraldine!” and folds her into a huge hug.
He insists Geraldine join them for lunch after the signing, and makes Harry wait on them hand and foot, bringing them cokes and sandwiches while Niall and Geraldine chatter happily about the state of their gardens. “I’m really stoked you could make it,” Harry hears Niall saying as he approaches the table with more napkins, “this being my last convention and all.”
Harry frowns; he must have heard that wrong.
“Reckon you made that woman’s entire life,” Harry remarks when lunch is over and they see Geraldine back to her hotel. “That’s some dangerous power you’ve got in your hands.”
“Nah,” Niall says, “her life is rich and complex and huge. All of theirs are. I’m just, like, a small speck in it, a tiny little window they sometimes look through.” He’s smiling as he says it, and Harry wants nothing more than to take his hand and squeeze it tight, because Niall’s not a window for him, he’s the entire world that waits beyond, but Harry’s too much of a coward to say it.
The last night of the convention is always the awards show; the Oscars of porn, as Harry’s heard it phrased more than once. He doesn’t know much about what it’s like to attend the actual Oscars, but the AVN Awards are always a real laugh, the red carpet flocked by porn stars, producers, and directors who just don’t give a fuck about hiding what they are. There’s women with silicone tits in low-cut dresses who grin at Harry with straight white teeth; there’s men with huge cocks outlined in their suits toasting each other with champagne flutes. There’s drag queens, and twinks, and BBWs, and schoolgirls, and all of them are set to have a good time.
Niall’s in a bespoke navy suit that brings out the blue in his eyes, and he’s wearing thick-framed black glasses, which makes Harry’s knees feel watery the moment he puts them on. Harry loses him in the crowd briefly, and gets distracted talking to an Australian star with spaceship tattoos; at the end of their conversation, they both agree on their favourite brand of condom.
When Harry finds Niall again, Niall’s surrounded by three drag queens who are clucking their tongues over him and taking turns fondling his bollocks. “Harry!” Niall says happily, waving him over, and Harry feels three pairs of eyes turn towards him, looking him up and down in his pinstripe suit with the pencil he’s stuck through his bun. Liam had called it his sexy schoolteacher look when he’d tried it on in front of him last week.
“This is Harry,” Niall says, slinging an arm over Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, this is Ruby Sheen, Selma St. James, and Lady Daiquiri.”
“Harry, is it?” Lady Daiquiri says, shaking his hand. “We’ve heard so much about you.”
“So much,” Selma St. James croons, and Niall responds by ducking his head and clearing his throat.
“Anyway,” he says quickly, “actually we were talking about the U.S. electoral college system? Ruby Sheen’s a lawyer in her day job.” He grins at Ruby Sheen. “I didn’t know a lot of that stuff before. It’s really interesting how fucked up some of the systems are. Are there books I can read to find out more?” Ruby laughs and laughs, and then proceeds to rattle off a whole slew of titles when Lady Daiquiri and Selma St. James jump in to argue or make other suggestions, and that’s how Harry finds himself in his first impromptu drag queen constitutional law book club, right on the red carpet of the AVN Awards.
“They all reckon you’re my boyfriend,” Niall says when the lights start dimming and they take their seats in the theatre. “That’s why they were giving you those looks, sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Harry says quietly. “I, um, don’t mind.”
Niall trips out of nowhere, and Harry catches him before he can go careening into the laps of other people. “My knee,” Niall explains, and then looks up at Harry from beneath his lashes, laughing. Harry doesn’t know whether to hold on tighter or let him go. “My prince,” Niall says.
“Can’t even walk in a straight line on your own,” Harry retorts, and maybe it’s because Niall’s batting his eyelashes so outrageously it’s impossible to take him seriously, or maybe it’s because they’re at the fucking Oscars of porn where it’s practically your duty to flirt with everybody else, but it’s suddenly easy to talk to Niall again.
“I’m not the one who fell into me own cake on my birthday,” Niall says.
“I thought we were going to pretend that didn’t happen,” Harry complains.
“Well,” Niall says, “it’s the other way around, see. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in London, we’ll take the piss out of you for the rest of your life.”
“Good thing we’re in Vegas then,” Harry says, and Niall looks at him for a moment before flicking him on his nose. “Owww.”
“Good thing,” Niall agrees.
The awards show goes mostly like how you’d expect it to: there’s singers, dancers, comedy skits, speeches, highlight reels, people getting weepy over awards they got, people getting angry over awards they didn’t get. Maybe there’s a few more bawdy jokes in there than most other awards shows, or maybe a whole lot more bawdy jokes, and the awards are for categories like Best Anal Sex Scene, which is perhaps not quite ordinary either, but Harry loves it.
Loves it more because the wine is free-flowing, comes round their table again and again, and by the umpteenth glass Niall’s given up on sitting in his own chair and has decided Harry’s lap is a much more comfortable place to watch the rest of the awards. He’s also decided that he doesn’t like Harry’s pencil-in-a-bun schtick and has borrowed some hair-ties from the actress sitting beside them to redo Harry’s hair into pigtails.
Harry’s fairly certain that Niall’s given up on watching the awards entirely, but nobody around them seems to be fussed, because it’s porn and nobody’s that uptight, which is one of the things Harry loves best about this world he’s gotten himself into.
The afterparty is brilliant too, strobelights and teeth-pounding music in the club, and Harry dances to Kesha remixes with more beautiful men and women than he’s ever danced with the rest of his life combined. He and Niall are both tremendously bad dancers, their moves more grandpa than slutty, but a few more drinks in and Harry’s shaking his hips and thrashing his hair without a care in the world.
“Nooooo, your pigtails,” Niall cries in dismay, but Harry just grins and reels him in. He presses his hand to the small of Niall’s back and grinds his dick against him.
Niall licks his lips and smiles with the sharps of his teeth; Harry shivers. Then Niall wraps his arms around Harry’s neck and grinds right back. “How much did you drink?” Niall asks, breathing hot into Harry’s ear, and gooseflesh pricks up on Harry’s arms despite how hot it is inside the club and how badly he’s sweating otherwise. God, he wants to take off his suit and dance starkers, press all of his too-warm skin right along every inch of Niall’s body.
“Dunno!” Harry shouts back. “Lost count! Might’ve also taken one of those colourful pills they were handing out!”
“What happened to healthy living?” Niall laughs.
“Gotta let loose sometimes!”
“Yeah,” Niall says, his eyes bright. “Haz, I got something to tell you.”
“What?” Harry shouts as the DJ turns the music up even louder and it gets harder to hear.
“I said — I got something to tell you!”
“Can’t hear you at all, mate!” Harry says. “Tell me later!” He takes Niall by the arm and twirls him around, and if Niall was disappointed at not getting to tell Harry right then, he’s laughing too hard by the time he’s facing Harry again, his glasses sliding down the sweat on his nose. Fuck, those glasses, Harry thinks. He wants to bite them off Niall’s face.
They dance into the late hours of the night, the two of them, pressed close together, grinning like madmen. It’s so good like this, Harry thinks, feeling light-headed and happy, floaty too, like if he doesn’t stop dancing he won’t ever have to come back down to the earth. He doesn’t have to think about anything real when he’s like this, high on something he can’t even name, and one look at Niall’s face tells him he feels the same way too.
“I won’t be renewing my contract with After Dark Productions,” Niall says, and Harry draws in breath so sharply between his teeth that it sounds like a snake’s hiss. He comes down to earth, hard.
They’re in Louis’ office, and Louis practically bangs his knee on his own desk when he whirls on Harry. “You told me he wasn’t getting courted by Blaze. You swore on your firstborn child!”
“It’s not Blaze,” Niall says.
“Then who the fuck is it?” Louis says. “What the fuck are they offering you?”
“It’s no one,” Niall says evenly. “Look, you’ve got to be fair to me — this is the only real job I’ve ever had. From the time I was nineteen to now, I’ve only ever done porn. Almost eight years in the business. Porn’s been good to me. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s put a roof over my head, it’s let me meet all sorts of great people,” here he smiles at Harry, who doesn’t smile back, “but I’m twenty-six. I can’t be doing porn for the rest of my life.”
“You’ve still got plenty of good years left in you,” Louis argues, “and then you can go into producing, or take an interest in filming like Harold here. There’s lot of options.”
“But that’s exactly it,” Niall says, leaning forward. “There’s so many options for what I could do. I could be a botanist, if I wanted. I could be a sound engineer. I could, I dunno, join the army and learn how to fly jets. Anything!”
“What makes you think you’d be good at any of it?” Louis asks, and Harry wants to say something but he still can’t speak, tongue stuck gummy to the roof of his mouth.
“Well, I don’t,” Niall shrugs, “but I gotta try different stuff until I know what fits me, right?”
“After Dark fits you,” Louis says desperately. “Porn fits you.”
But it’s Harry Niall turns to look at, it’s to Harry that he says, lightly and firmly and with the surefire confidence Niall’s had from the day they first met, “I’ve always been jealous, you know, that you have two degrees and I dropped out of sixth year to follow a boy to London. It’s not that I think you’re smarter than me, because sometimes you can be awfully thick, Harry, but you had a chance to dick around at uni, figuring yourself out, and I—” he laughs, “I’ve just been dicked a hell of a lot.”
“Nialler,” Louis says, “you’re breaking my heart.”
“I’m sorry about that, Tommo,” Niall says, “but you’ve so much fresh talent ready to take my place, I promise you won’t even miss me.” He stands up from his chair. “If you want, I’ll have my lawyer come in and sew everything shut proper-like.”
“Yeah, that’d be best,” Louis says blankly. “Oh and Nialler?”
“Yeah?” Niall pauses at the door.
“Don’t become a botanist, you’ll be such a massive knob.”
Harry follows Niall out into the hallway. He still doesn’t know what to say, and he wishes he were Zayn then, or at least had Zayn’s habit of carrying around fags, because he could use one right now, just to give his hands something to do. Niall leans against the wall, waiting, and when it’s clear that Harry isn’t about to say anything, he says, “Sorry, I know it leaves you in the lurch too. You’ll probably be assigned to someone else as a PA.”
“How long have you been thinking about this?” Harry demands. How long have you been keeping this from me, he doesn’t say.
“A while now,” Niall replies. “Known for a long time that porn wasn’t my endgame.”
“And what’s your endgame then?” Harry asks.
“Thought I’d go back to school,” Niall says. “Been doing online courses in the evenings so that I can sit the Leaving Certificate exam later this year, and if that goes well, then start applying to universities.” He rubs his neck, a little sheepish. “That’s why sometimes I didn’t let you see what I was doing on my phone or my laptop. Didn’t want you seeing me studying before I was ready to explain.”
“I thought that was planning for my birthday party,” Harry says.
“Part of it, yeah,” Niall says, “and other stuff, no.”
“I didn’t notice you doing it after my birthday.”
“Got sneakier, I suppose,” Niall says, smiling. He drops the smile when he sees the frown on Harry’s face. “I’m real sorry that I didn’t tell you earlier. Trust me, there were so many times I wanted to blurt it out at you. But we never had the timing quite right, it seemed like, and then I — I chickened out, I suppose. Thought it’d be easier to tell you and Louis in one go, so I wouldn’t have to see your face.” He laughs, but this time there’s no humour in it. “Got that one wrong, didn’t I?”
Harry takes a shaky breath. His skin is buzzing beneath his tattoos. “No, it’s not that — it’s, god, I’m being a cock about it, aren’t I? Of course I’m happy you want to go back to school. I’d never — I’d never want to stop you from doing that.”
Something in Niall changes then, relief maybe, the way his shoulders suddenly get looser. “Thanks, mate. That means a lot to me. I wanted your approval more than anyone else’s, more than even my da’s.”
“Really? I mean, I’m just a—”
“Yeah,” Niall says, nodding fiercely, “I really fucking did. Would’ve killed me if you’d laughed at me, not that I reckon you would’ve. But the thought of it.”
“Oh.” Harry looks down at his boots. His throat feels like he’s swallowed a stone and it’s sitting in his belly. He is happy for Niall, he knows. Uni was a great time for him and Niall will be brilliant at it, Niall who has so many interests and is curious about everything. Niall deserves to be whatever the hell he wants to be in life. Only — “It’s too bad,” he jokes weakly. “I thought we had a good thing going, you and I.”
“We had the best thing going,” Niall says. “C’mere, Hazza, c’mere,” and he puts his arms around Harry and buries his face in Harry’s shoulder, nosing his curls. “Dunno what I’m going to do at school without my trusty PA to carry my books and sort out my belongings in carefully labelled plastic baggies. You’ve spoiled me rotten for real life.”
Harry’s laugh is a syrupy hiccup; his eyes are wet. Later that afternoon Niall films his very last vid, and Harry takes a photo: not when Niall’s bouncing on John’s cock, not when Niall’s lying on the bed languidly with come splattered over his belly, not when Niall goes around kissing everyone on the cheek and telling them goodbye. But it’s when Niall’s waiting at the station for his train to come in, Harry standing beside him, waiting too.
He takes out his phone and snaps a shot before Niall even notices. Niall’s face in black and white, thoughtful and serene, the collar of his winter coat pulled up to nearly his ears. He looks young, a little rumpled, a lot satisfied. He’s watching for the train; he knows it’ll pull in to take him home.
Harry posts it to Instagram with the comment changes. It gets 36 likes.
Harry goes to work, and Niall isn’t there.
It unmoors him; he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s already logging into Niall’s work email and thinking of the next round of blood tests he’ll have to book before he remembers oh, and it’s like a fist pushing upwards through his chest and grabbing for his lungs. He has to sit back down before he gets too dizzy.
Louis is a monster to work with the next few days, scaring all the new performers with his moods. Liam keeps walking around like someone’s stolen his puppy. “Niall would’ve liked that,” Harry overhears him saying more than once when something funny happens, and then sighing. Only Zayn seems cheerful, though he keeps on saying, “can’t believe he got out before I did, man,” to anyone who will listen, which only makes Louis even angrier, forcing Harry to double and triple check Zayn’s contract, which won’t end until at least another seven months.
Harry waits to be reassigned as a PA, his stomach queasy with the thought of it. It’s not that he doesn’t like anyone else at After Dark, there’s plenty of folk he could PA for without problem. It’s just that they won’t be Niall, obviously, and he’d gotten so used to Niall’s habits and quirks. It’ll be hard to build all that up again with someone new.
Louis doesn’t give him a new assignment though, and he doesn’t hear anything upstairs from Simon either. It’s as if Harry’s been forgotten, and that only increases his sense of melancholy. He finds a corner to sit in when they’re filming, and opens up his phone to find that Dick Dick Goose has tweeted a new article by Asha. AFTER DARK’S “IRISH” QUITS PORN: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW.
Harry wasn’t at that interview. Niall must have scheduled it himself. Harry reads the article while eating his yogurt very slowly and with great deliberation. It’s not a bad article, he decides. It’s not a bad yogurt either.
A week later Louis blinks, lifts his head up, and says to Harry, “Aren’t you supposed to be behind a camera or summat? We’re too shorthanded to have you sitting on your arse doing nothing.”
That’s how Harry starts learning camera work for real, working alongside Paul and Al and Caroline and the others, and with Louis breathing down his neck the entire time, snapping, “This isn’t fucking Instagram, you don’t get to slap a nice Valencia filter over it to hide your mistakes. Do it right — no, not like that, I said right.”
A month goes by, and Harry starts to feel like things fit together a little better now. He’s learning new things every day on the job, keeping himself challenged, and if his first instinct whenever something happens in the studio is to turn around and look for Niall to share it with, well, at least he’s keeping his disappointment to himself.
“Are you kidding me,” Liam says when Harry tells him this. “You’ve been moping around this entire time. You have his personal number, right? For fuck’s sake, go text him, invite him out to drinks.”
Harry looks at him, as scandalized as if Liam just told him to touch his nipples in front of the Queen. “I can’t do that,” he says. “He left this all behind, remember?”
“That don’t mean he left you behind,” Liam says, rolling his eyes. “Go on then, send him a text. Just one. See what he says.”
Harry thinks very hard about it, and after half an hour’s strategic planning, he texts Niall hi, followed by a picture of his shoes.
“All right, that’s a start,” Liam says encouragingly. “Now how about something else, and a photo that makes sense?”
“What? I can’t do that,” Harry says, still scandalized. “Not when he hasn’t even replied.” But even as he’s clutching his phone to his chest, he feels it buzz, and when he looks down there’s a reply from Niall.
“I have no idea what to do now,” Harry admits. “Help me, Payno.”
“Oh my god, just tell him you miss his face and his hands and his pretty cock,” Liam says. “How is this that hard? I’ve seen you dirty talk in bars before, plenty of times.”
Harry sticks out his tongue between his teeth as he types back, very laboriously, How are you. He realizes he’s left out the question mark, wonders if he ought to send it as another text, and what Niall will think if he does.
Niall’s reply is nearly instantaneous, so the lack of question mark must not have made a huge difference. good how r u.
Good, Harry types back with Liam looking over his shoulder.
oh good 2 hear then, is what Niall says.
Yes, we’re all very good, Harry replies, and Liam’s making pained noises that are genuinely sort of medically alarming, so he turns around and narrows his eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I give up,” Liam says. “This is physically hurting me. I’m leaving you two to sort it out yourselves.”
Niall never answers Harry’s last message, not even after Harry leaves work and rides the train home where he lies down flat on his sofa and rereads his last exchange with Niall obsessively, wondering where he went wrong. Should he had used more emojis? Should he have used less capitalization? Harry squints at Niall’s hi for so long that his eyes start to sting, and then, before he knows what he’s doing, he’s swinging his legs off the sofa and pulling on his coat.
His heart thrums like an electric fence, quiet and lethal; his heart feels hot and swollen against the clamminess of his skin. It’s snowing outside as he stuffs his hands in his pockets, keeps his head down, and motors his way back to the Tube station. There are five stops between his flat and Niall’s, and Harry watches each of them go by with his head carefully blank, snow melting in his hair and on the bridge of his nose.
He bangs on Niall’s door louder than he intends, his rings a rough rap-a-tap-a-tap against the wood. There’s silence for a moment, during which Harry feels like he has to find a trash bin and vomit, but then Niall’s voice is calling out, “‘s unlocked, you can come in.”
“This ain’t Mullingar,” Harry says sternly as he steps inside. “I could be anyone.” But he shuts up when he sees Niall lying on his carpet with a pillow wedged beneath his bad knee, reading a book about the history of the U.S. electoral college system. Niall’s in his joggers and an old worn tee, and his hair’s ungelled, flopping over the rims of his glasses — Harry can see the dark roots coming out, peeking through the blond, and it’s too much to take in at once, it hurts him so badly.
“Haz!” Niall scrambles up when he realizes who his visitor is. He puts an old receipt in the pages of the book to mark his place and hoists himself to his feet. “Hey, didn’t expect you. Thought you were me landlord coming in to check on the humidity. It’s been whack lately, did I ever tell you that?” He runs a hand through his hair.
“I think you mentioned it,” Harry says through dry, cracked lips.
“Um, yeah, probably did, didn’t I?” Niall laughs nervously. “So, like, what can I do for you, mate? Did I forget my enema equipment at the studio or summat? Probably won’t be needing that much anymore.”
“I — I —” Harry waves his hands helplessly, the truth tumbling out from the spaces between his teeth. “I miss you.”
Niall goes red. The colour blooms through his pale cheeks like paint swirls in water. “Miss you too. Hasn’t been the same since, just me on my lonesome.”
Harry nods fervently, so, so glad that he isn’t the only one who’s been feeling at odds with himself.
Niall’s still talking. “Glad you texted. Glad you came over too. Was thinking — didn’t want to give you the wrong impression, like I don’t want to be friends now that we don’t work together. Not sure if you’d care to, but I would. ‘course I would. I’d like us to stay friends.”
Harry’s nodding yes, yes, yes, and then no, no, no.
“I don’t want to be your friend,” he says.
Niall’s face falls.
“No!” Harry practically shouts. “That’s not what I meant. Fuck, I’m doing this all wrong, this is so fucking embarrassing.” He wants to grab handfuls of his hair and tear at it, and he’s certain his face is as red as Niall’s. “I’m just trying to say that I don’t—”
“—want to be my friend,” Niall says, staring at him.
“Yes!” Harry says, willing Niall to understand. He’s probably got this all wrong in his head, he thinks, coming over like this. Niall doesn’t care, Niall’s probably annoyed that Harry interrupted his book, Niall wants to stay friends-friends, and Harry’s the one who’s come and mucked it all up with his inability to shut his gob and pine silently.
He sees the moment when Niall gets it, and Niall looks down at his feet, briefly, while Harry contemplates if the heat of his own skin would ever reach a point where it’d melt him into the floor and free him from this earthly misery. Niall looks up from his feet, which — all right, Harry does think that Niall has some of the loveliest feet he’s ever seen, which just goes to show how far gone he is for this wanker, but Niall not looking at his feet means Niall’s looking at Harry instead, soft and hopeful and grinning.
“Don’t want to be your friend either, if we’re being honest,” Niall says, and then he’s got both hands on Harry’s coat and is yanking him forward, Harry tripping over his own feet as he crashes into Niall and the two of them fall to the ground in a messy, uncoordinated heap.
Niall kisses him, wet and sweet, pressing one hand to the nape of Harry’s neck, pulling him in closer. Harry makes shocked, needy noises, kissing Niall back eagerly, groaning deep in his throat when Niall’s tongue traces his bottom lip, coaxing his mouth open even wider.
“Knew you’d be loud,” Niall whispers, sounding as pleased as anything, and Harry’s body doesn’t know whether to blush or whimper or go immediately hard, so it decides to do all three at once.
“Look at you,” Niall says, and it’s as if his own body doesn’t know whether to keep on kissing Harry, bite Harry’s jaw, or help Harry out of his coat. It also tries to do all three things at once, to limited success. They fumble together for a bit, giggling as Niall gets tangled up in Harry’s giraffe limbs, and then again as Niall tries to kiss Harry just when Harry turns his head, and Niall gets a mouthful of Harry’s hair instead.
“Stay still, would ya,” Niall says, but Harry can’t. Having Niall’s hands on him, getting rid of his coat and touching his bare skin is like having all his birthdays and Christmases rolled into one. He can’t stop writhing, pushing up his hips, gasping, running his palms over Niall’s collarbones peeking out from beneath his tee, kissing Niall’s mouth, trying to kiss Niall’s mouth again and getting his nose instead, more grinding of his hips, more clumsy kissing, anything, anything if it means he can keep touching Niall.
It makes him feel better that Niall appears to be coming just as undone, hips humping Harry gracelessly as he keeps trying to get their mouths realigned, only to gasp every time and bury his face in Harry’s shoulder to moan. They can’t even get their kits off, they’re snogging so hard, and when Harry finally manages to wriggle Niall out of his tee, he flicks his wrist and one of his rings accidentally catches Niall across the mouth.
“Ow,” Niall says mildly, and Harry crawls back up him and tries to kiss it better. Niall slides his hands up Harry’s shirt and rests them on his bare back. Harry shivers and tries to get Niall out of his joggers too, only Niall is intent on trying to entwine himself around Harry with all of his available limbs, so that they’re both just rolling around on the carpet, rubbing against each other like cats, Harry doing his best to be considerate of Niall's knee.
Harry hasn’t had sex this awkward since he was in sixth form, still trying to figure out the mechanics of how his body could get off with someone else’s. He wants to, he wants to do so much — to snog Niall for hours, to get him out of his bloody clothes, to take him into his mouth, to sink down on him and ride him until he screams — but it’s like all he can manage in the devastating moment of actually having Niall in his arms is to frot against him and pray he doesn’t come in his pants.
Niall isn’t much better. He keeps on making attempts at greater ambitions, and he keeps on forgetting them to grind his cock against Harry’s and make noises that sound like Harry’s name, until Niall’s voice breaks and he’s just one long breathless moan against Harry’s mouth, jerking erratically.
All of that other stuff will have to come later, Harry thinks. They’re stuck at remedial shagging for the time being. Niall accidentally elbows him in the gut when he’s trying to scramble on top of Harry, and then knocks his own glasses askew, and Harry has the wherewithal to hiss how are you actually this bad at sex, while Niall cackles delightedly and throws his head back.
The sight of his long white throat and the redness of his kiss-swollen mouth makes Harry crazy, and he comes at the sight of it, comes in his pants like a fucking teenager, thighs shaking and head spinning. Niall watches him the entire time with an expression that borders on astonished reverence, and it makes Harry spasm even harder, wringing out endless spurts of come before Niall’s twitching on top of him, moaning, the front of his joggers growing wet with a huge, unmistakable stain.
He rolls off Harry afterwards, panting. “Next time,” he says, “I’m gonna get your kit off and I’m gonna come all over your moth like I’ve been wanting to this entire time.”
“Money shot,” Harry agrees, and Niall presses his face into his clavicle and giggles. They lie there for a while on the carpet without speaking, Harry rubbing circles into Niall’s hip, Niall pressing little biting kisses over Harry’s throat that’ll leave marks for days.
“We’re really fucking gross,” Niall says after several minutes, and Harry lifts himself up on an elbow to look at him. Niall’s red-faced and sweaty, sticky with rapidly-drying come, and Harry thinks that if there was an AVN Award category for most gorgeous person you could ever hope to get into your bed, he’d have won it right there. He says this out loud, because why not, and only stutters over his words once.
“You’re such a sop,” Niall says, eyes bright.
“Mmm,” Harry mumbles, not bothering to deny it because Niall will find that out soon enough. He rolls over to press their hips together. “You think you’re up for another round?”
“What the fuck is this, porn?” Niall says, laughing, and reaches to pull Harry down for a filthy kiss.
It isn’t anything like porn. Making porn is what Harry does for a living, and he loves it, wants to be better at it, but it’s nothing like the parts of his brain that light up when he looks at Niall.
It’s nothing like waking up in the morning with Niall’s freezing toes pressed up against his calves, and Niall listening sleepily as Harry tells him about the strange dream he’d had, Niall so patient even when Harry knows he’s rambling and losing the plot. Niall getting up out of bed to make them a proper fry-up, even though it takes twice as long as it ought to because Harry keeps sneaking up behind him and kissing his neck.
It’s nothing like Niall sitting his Leaving Certificate exams, passing, and starting uni in London in the fall, eager but also a little anxious because he’s older than most of the fresh-faced eighteen-year-olds he’s taking courses with, and some of them recognize him from his vids and make sly comments in the aisles. It’s not all bad, though, and Niall finds his tribe soon enough, joining Nick, Pixie, and Alexa for pints after class, the four of them sometimes completely sozed by the time Harry drops by to pick Niall up, practically carrying him home.
It’s nothing like Harry coming over after work to find Niall spread out over his bed, textbooks and notes covering the entire duvet, Niall wearing his glasses and not much else. “I’m trying to study, Haz, I’ve an exam tomorrow,” Niall says when Harry immediately crowds him in for a kiss, and Harry spends the rest of the night pouting with blue balls, but Niall always makes it up to him when he’s ready, takes Harry apart with skilled, deft fingers and a sinful mouth.
It’s nothing like moving in together after their first year, throwing a party in their flat for all their friends, the uni gang mixing cheap beers with Zayn, Liam, and even Louis; Zayn telling everyone about an artist he’s been PAing for, so excited he nearly sends Plant Harry toppling over to a soiled death, and Louis congratulating Harry on graduating from camera work to being lead film editor on After Dark’s latest vid. “Nothing like spending hours in a dark room cutting out stills of people’s arses,” Harry says happily.
It’s nothing like visiting Niall’s family for Christmas, and making the night-time drive from Dublin to Mullingar, Harry behind the wheel while Niall hums along softly to the radio, leaning over to touch Harry’s skin right above the collarbone: sing away the drabness of the universe. Putting his thumb over it, feeling Harry’s pulse, and keeping it there.
“Hi,” Niall says, eyes crinkling when Harry glances over.
“Hi,” says Harry, and later on, when they pore over all the photos Bobby and Denise take during dinner, and all the poorly shot family videos, he doesn’t even know which one he likes best because each one they’re in together, they’re smiling.