If This Is Love
Harry turns up at Nick's flat at approximately still-the-middle-of-the-night-o'clock on Saturday morning. It's very obviously Harry, because Harry is an obnoxious child of a man. No one else Nick knows will actually lean on the buzzer for the whole of the time it takes for Nick to startle awake—mistakenly convinced there's a fire and he's going to die—and carry on leaning on it whilst Nick stumbles out of bed and into the hall to fumble with the entry phone.
"I hate you."
"Let me in," Harry says, and Nick knows he's grinning. He can hear it in his voice, the bastard.
Nick, meanwhile, had fallen asleep in his contacts and now his eyes feel like grit. He tries to take them out without dropping the phone, but it turns out to be a feat of co-ordination he's not sure he's up to. "How do you sound this awake? When I said bye to you last night, you couldn't even say my fucking name, you were so drunk."
"Let me the fuck in," Harry presses the buzzer again, making Nick jump. It's even more obnoxiously loud standing next to the phone than it was in the bedroom—something that should have been obvious, but he's only just woken up, and the hangover that's been nudging him from behind the ears has just turned into a fully-fledged death-ray headache in the space of two seconds.
He makes a noise like argh and presses the little unlock button on the phone to let Harry in downstairs, peering blearily down at the handset before realising that he has about thirty seconds before Harry bursts into the flat and causes havoc. Nick takes the opportunity to go into the bathroom to grab his glasses and throw away his contacts before going to open the front door.
Harry's waiting for him already, bouncing from one foot to the other, and holding out a green John Lewis carrier bag.
Nick rubs his eyes. "Seriously. We were at the same party. How come you look like you've never had a late night in your life, and I look like I've actually died?"
"Bought you something," Harry says, pushing past Nick and elbowing him in the side by way of greeting.
Nick sometimes remembers being that young. Then he looks down at the John Lewis carrier bag that he's somehow holding, and blinks.
"It's because you're old," Harry carries on, already halfway down the hall and on his way into the kitchen. "Open your present."
Harry's already got his head in the fridge when Nick gets to the kitchen, piling ham, cheese, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and butter on the counter top.
Nick remembers being that hungry, too. Sometimes he's glad that phase has passed. Harry always eats him out of house and home, although he's also not shy about going to Tesco with Nick and paying for half, so Nick doesn't complain. And even with the dull throb of his hangover, he's pretty sure he could manage a toastie.
"Do us a cup of tea," Harry says, already grabbing the bread off the top of the microwave and buttering it directly on the counter top. Some people use plates, or a chopping board, but Harry is an obnoxious little shit. "And open your present."
Nick fills the kettle and flicks the switch. When it's switched on, it glows blue like something you'd take to a rave, which is the only reason he bought it. All kettles boil water, so there's no point looking at the specifications. What's it going to tell you? Turn it on and the water boils, big deal. What's important is what it does to keep you entertained mid-boil, that's the thing. Nick likes the way this one changes colour. He's had rave accessories that have done less than this kettle. Although he'd look a lot like a dipshit if he took his kettle to an all-night party; for a start he'd have to find somewhere to plug it in. It'd be handy though, for cups of tea.
"I'm doing you a toastie, but you're not allowed to eat it if you haven't opened your present."
Nick tries to roll his eyes but ends up yawning instead. He is deliberately not paying any attention to the way that Harry's leaning forward over the kitchen counter, narrow waisted and long legged. That way only danger lies. Instead, he looks down at the bag he's still holding, and opens it up.
It's a fucking cake tin.
Harry Styles has bought him a cake tin.
"It's a cake tin," Harry says, looking back over his shoulder at him. "To bake in."
"Yes," Nick says, because he's never baked a cake in his life.
"You made a pie."
"Yes," Nick says again, because occasionally Harry has this weird, odd power of managing to rob Nick of the ability to speak. Sometimes more than just occasionally.
"You like Mary Berry. You sent me all those pictures of the TV screen when she was wearing that floral bomber."
Nick feels oddly proud. Harry had no idea who Mary Berry was before this summer. "Harold."
"Shut up," Harry doesn't look around again, poking at Nick's toastie maker like that's going to make the light go off any quicker.
"I've put mayonnaise on your toastie."
Nick hates mayonnaise. It's like—an actual burning passion. He could write songs about how much he hates mayonnaise. It's only in the fridge at all because he'd happened to look the other way when they'd been walking down the condiment aisle in Sainsbury's, and Harry had bunged about fifty-six varieties of shit that Nick would never eat into the trolley. His fridge is now full of stuff like piccalilli, and Nick's had vomit that's looked more appetizing than piccalilli. That piccalilli's going to be there when he finally moves out of this place, neon and terrifying, reminding Nick every time he opens the fridge that Harry's a troublemaker.
"Doesn't matter," he says, which doesn't sound at all like, I fucking hate mayonnaise. He'll eat the fucking mayo. He goes to the cupboard and gets out a couple of mugs. One of them has a cat on it, and underneath it just says, I love cats. It's Harry's favourite, but Nick suspects that's just because secretly, Harry has no taste at all. Either that or he's just fucking with Nick's head, and Nick's not entirely sure which of those would be better. His mug has a My Little Pony on the side, and a troll, a Sindy doll and a Sylvanian family. Harry bought him it, because it also says, Child of the Eighties on the side, and Harry likes to point out at every possible moment that Nick is ancient and about to pass over to the land of the dead. Nick can't buy Harry a mug that says Child of the Noughties because they haven't made them yet.
Being young is tiring, sometimes.
"Did you go to John Lewis this morning?" Nick asks, once the kettle's finished boiling and he's poured water onto two teabags and called it a culinary success. He gives the cat mug a little pat as he passes by on the way to the fridge for the milk, in recognition of the fact that Harry's a weird dude. It's partly why hanging out with him is so great. Hardly anyone is as odd as Nick; finding Harry has been like a revelation in weird co-dependency. "Like, before coming here?"
"It's a cake tin, stop talking about it."
No one has ever bought him a cake tin before. He's not sure what to make of it. He suspects he should buy a cookery book and try and make a cake.
"You don't have to use it."
"Shut up, I'm going to bake a cake." Nick can absolutely bake a cake. He opens the cupboard above the microwave. It has a half empty bag of pasta and an imported bag of Sour Patch Kids in; the Sour Patch Kids are Harry's. He shoves them to one side and gives the cake tin pride of place on the middle of the shelf.
"You've got a baking cupboard now," Harry tells him, bumping his elbow into Nick's.
"Yes," Nick says. He does. He's just not sure why.
When Nick emerges from the shower twenty minutes later, hangover mostly dissipated after standing under the hottest water for as long as possible, he finds Harry watching TV in his pants in the living room, Nick's laptop open on the coffee table. Nick takes a couple of paracetamol and ibuprofen and rolls his eyes.
It's a strange and unusual fact that Harry enjoys taking most of his clothes off at any given point in time, if given the opportunity. It might also explain how Harry's clothes keep finding their way into Nick's washing basket, although Nick thinks that that is sometimes partly by design instead of accident. Harry is both lazy and sneaky, a skill-set Nick can only be envious of.
"Is this a come on, Harry?" Nick asks, helping himself to a handful of the salt and vinegar kettle chips that Harry's magicked up from somewhere. Nick's pretty sure that Harry has a secret cupboard somewhere in this flat, because the last time he was here, he'd walked in without a jacket or a bag and had then produced a packet of Jaffa Cakes half an hour in.
He makes Harry shove over and make space on the sofa. Harry's a disgraceful space hogger, and he steals all the cushions. Nick makes a grab for the Pacman cushion, with the reasoning that if Harry can't recognise a Pacman ghost from the first time round, then he doesn't deserve to sit on it.
Harry just spreads his legs to show Nick the outline of his dick in his underwear. "Absolutely a come on," he says. "Nah, James was on the telly."
Saturday Kitchen definitely makes Nick want to get naked too. "Are you reading my emails?"
"Only the interesting ones," Harry says, angling Nick's laptop so that Nick can actually see it. "Who's Nige?"
"Someone I was in halls with. He's coming to London next week for some reason I didn't pay any attention to. Work, probably."
"Huh," Harry says. "Is he as boring as his name suggests?"
"He's as dull as your name suggests." Nick sprawls out on the sofa, shifting so that he's got one leg over the end, and his cheek rests against Harry's shoulder. He hugs the Pacman cushion. "Nah, he's okay. Give me the crisps, come on."
Harry angles the bag of crisps so that Nick can take a handful. "What are we up to today, Grimshaw?"
That's a good question. There's a party tonight—two parties, if he counts the one that Jamie's throwing. Jamie is about as boring as Nige sounds, though. But before that, the day stretches out before them, a positive plethora of opportunities. "There's Cassie's party tonight. Or Jamie's."
"Not Jamie's," Harry says. "Jamie has the personality of Piers Morgan."
"Oh, look at you with your age appropriate pop culture references."
Harry messes up Nick's quiff, just because he can. He's such a shit, honestly. Nick doesn't know why he's even friends with him.
"Why are you even friends with Jamie? He's such a dick."
"Why are you friends with him?" Nick retorts, since having one child in the house just makes him regress to being twelve again.
"I'm not," Harry says. "He said my band was shit."
Nick has a lot of feelings about Harry and his band, and none of them at all involve thinking that they're shit. "Let's go to his party and punch him in the face."
"Let's not. His party is going to be shit anyway, and I've already had to sit through one boring meeting this week about 'bringing the brand into disrepute'."
"Eh. What does that even mean?"
"They basically just said don't punch anyone or end up in court or have affairs with anyone who's married." He makes air quotes. "Apparently our target demographic don't appreciate violent homewreckers, or some such bollocks. Liam wrote it down in his notebook."
"No, he didn't. But you would have believed it if he had."
Harry makes precisely no sense at all most of the time. Nick loves it.
"Do you want to go to the pet shop? Jo says they have snakes in there now."
Harry actually flicks him in the forehead. "You have the worst ideas in the world. Let's go get a Frappuccino. Then get fro-yo."
"Oh, fro-yo." Nick nodded sagely. He leans in to whisper, "Did the Americans get you? What else did they tell you was cool?"
"Peanut butter M&Ms. And Thanksgiving. Do you think they really have sweet potatoes and marshmallows?"
"If they do, they're crazy and wrong," Nick made a face. "That's so wrong, why would you even—did you make that up?"
"Swear on my life it's true." Harry holds his hands up. He's got the kind of face which makes people believe whatever shit he spouts, though. Nick can usually see through him, but this time he doesn't look like he's lying. Americans are fucking crazy. Who the fuck puts marshmallows with vegetables?
Harry waits a beat before leaning in to sniff Nick's hair. "You smell good. New shampoo?"
"Splashed out in Lush," Nick says. "It's Snow Fairy. Who the fuck can resist Snow Fairy? It's like Christmas is already here."
"Do you know, Mr Grimshaw, you're really weird."
"Fro-yo," Nick says sagely. Harry pokes him in the side until he creases up, laughing. The crisps end up going everywhere, just like always. Harry gives no quarter.
So there's this thing, okay, where Nick Grimshaw is twenty-eight years old, and, like, a proper adult, and his best friend is a teenager in a boy band.
It's a thing that happened. He wouldn't change it, even if he could.
(One of their first interviews had gone like this:
Nick, reading from his interview cards: Which one of you is the best at karaoke?
Which was a perfectly reasonable question, if a little inane. At least no one made Nick dress up as a sumo wrestler, like they did the week before, which his vague pre-One Direction attempt at a hangover was thankful for. He really did have to stop bulk buying buy-one-get-one-free cocktails on the night before he was supposed to interview top pop sensations.
One Direction, unanimously, as one: Harry's the king of karaoke.
That was a challenge if ever Nick had heard one, since there was only one person in London Town who was the king of karaoke, and it was him. He was the only person who knew all the words to Party in the USA, for a start.
"Them's fighting words," he said, because they were.
"It's on like Donkey Kong," Harry said, and that was that.
Turned out, going head to head with an actual pop star in a karaoke booth wasn't the brightest idea he'd ever had. He resorted to devious measures to keep his title, ending up standing in front of the screen when Harry was trying to sing Star Girl, and asking him, "But can you move your hips like yeah?"
Harry moved his hips like yeah.
He lost his place in the music, because for a pop star, he had the co-ordination of a drunk jellyfish, but Nick conceded the title anyway.
Afterwards, they got well and truly wasted on buy-one-get-one-half-price whisky sours, which Nick wasn't entirely sure wasn't illegal, but when he got home he had Harry Styles' number in his phone, so he counted it as a win.
When he woke up in the morning, he also had a crappy camera phone picture of Harry Styles' passport set as his phone background, so at least he wasn't going to forget he was legal any time soon.)
Nick: So, today in the studio we have Mr Harry Styles, of boy band The Wa—nope, sorry. Wrong band. Don't hit me, Harry. Listeners, can you hear this? I'm being destroyed. No, not the hair! Harold. I'm on air, this is like my actual job? Where I can be fired. Harry! Stop tickling me—he's tickling me, and I have questions to ask and everything. I like my hair like that, Harry, stop it. Look, question number one—are you even listening? This is so unprofessional, oh god, why am I even friends with you. You're destroying my studio. I'm going to get Louis on instead. Question number one: if you could be an animal, any animal, which animal would you be?
Nick: Oh my god. Are you serious? Is that your answer? Will you stop trying to destroy my studio; they'll make me pay for that.
Harry: Because it sounds good. Harry the Hamster.
"Hey, so." Harry doesn't even wait for Nick to say hello before he starts to talk, the phone line crackly and cutting in and out. "Today I met this girl, okay, and she was really great. Like, totally hot."
"What the fuck time is it where you are?" Nick interrupts, lifting one corner of his eye mask up to peer blearily at his alarm clock. "Because here it's three am, and I was asleep."
"I choked on a pubic hair, Nick."
"Holy shit," Nick says, sitting up in bed. He pulls off his eye-mask, because there is no sadder sight in the world than a man in his late twenties sitting up in bed and wearing a pink frilly eye-mask that says princess in curly writing. It's supposed to be imbued with crap that reduces puffy eyes, or else Nick would have consigned it to the crap birthday presents he didn't know what to do with pile ages ago, but there's also a really annoying street light right outside his bedroom window that keeps waking him up. "Are you kidding me? Like, one of hers? Are you in California? I didn't think Californian girls had any pubes."
"She was from Ohio, or something. And anyway, there I am, being the total gentleman that I am, and I'm pretty good at going down on girls—"
"Don't doubt it for a second, Hazza."
"And then, all of a sudden, there's like this tickle at the back of my throat, and you know when you really need to cough but you can't, and your eyes start to water and everything's really weird and you can't get rid of it? That. Only it was one of her pubes."
"This is amazing. I'm going to tell this story on air."
"Fuck off," Harry says, but he's laughing. He's always laughing when he phones Nick with stories like this. Harry's a player, but he doesn't ever promise more than he can give.
"What happened then? Did she throw you out onto the street?"
"Nope. I retched in her sink for a minute, and then came back and finished her off."
"I'm shedding an actual tear right now, I'm so proud of you."
Harry laughs again, and then there's quiet for a moment. "Sorry for waking you."
"Doesn't matter," Nick says. "Got to get up in a while anyway. How's the jolly U-S of A? Have they put marshmallows on vegetables for you yet?"
"It's fine. Same old, same old. Fun, you know? There was this thing, it was great. I almost fell off a building."
Nick rolls his eyes. "Don't do that. Who would I constantly make fun of on air if you'd gone and accidentally killed yourself?"
"One of the others," Harry says, but Nick knows, and he knows Harry knows, that as much as Nick likes the rest of Harry's band, they're not Harry. "We're on TV tonight."
"I have precisely no idea what you mean by 'tonight'." Working out the time difference between London and wherever Harry is a feat of calculation at the best of time, but it really is the middle of the night, and Nick hasn't had a cup of tea yet. He's supposed to be on this detox diet thing that Pix swore would rearrange his chakras, but Nick isn't really all that sure he knows where his chakras are, or what he'd do with them once they were all neat and tidy, so he's not exactly making an effort. The Pu Erh tea smells like dead mackerel anyway, so it seems pretty reasonable to substitute that out and Harry's Yorkshire Tea (for hard water, naturally) in. He's supplementing the detox with plenty of vodka so he's fairly sure it's all going to plan.
Harry laughs. "My tonight," he says. "It's like, seven here."
"And you've already choked on a pube? Good going, Styles."
"We filmed our bit this afternoon. She was a runner, you know. Backstage."
Nick just laughs, and shakes his head. "Harry Styles," he says.
"I know, I know."
"How are the others?"
"Awesome, great. The usual. I'm going to get some more ink, I think."
"Must be a day that ends in 'y', then."
"Shut up. You can see it when I get back. Thursday."
Thursday. "You have plans for the weekend?"
"Not until Sunday afternoon. You're going to have to entertain me until then."
"Someone has to do it," Nick says. He's mostly kicked the duvet off during the night, so he's trying to rearrange it without actually getting out of bed and starting again from scratch.
"You going to go back to sleep?"
Nick looks at the clock. "I think so. What are you going to do?"
"Crazy shit. Mini golf with Niall."
"Push that fucking boat out."
Harry doesn't say anything for a while. "Go back to sleep," he says finally.
There's a pause, longer this time, and then the click as he hangs up.
Nick lies back down again, and stares up at the ceiling for a while, until he falls asleep with the phone still in his hand.
Harry shows up at work, half an hour from the end of Nick's show.
"What are you doing here?" Nick asks, once he's cued up Girls Aloud and left the studio in the capable hands of Matt Fincham. The corridor is perfectly BBC; a little dilapidated, the carpet worn, a stain on the wall in the perfect shape of a hamster. He leans against the wall and doesn't know what to do with his hands.
Harry looks half asleep and jet-lagged, and impossibly perfect bearing all of that in mind. Nick's quiff is probably going in three different directions, he's eaten breakfast twice already, and he forgot the name of the work experience girl who's been working on his show for the past ten days. And he had enough sleep.
"I was in the area," Harry grins sheepishly. "Here, have a bacon sandwich."
"It's got a bite taken out of it," Nick points out.
"I was hungry."
Nick snorts, rolling his eyes. He doesn't push the question of what Harry's doing here, because Harry's been dropping by since Nick did the evening show, sometimes in a quasi-official capacity—probably to his publicity team's horror, who find out he's giving a live radio interview at approximately the same time as the listeners, and usually later—but mostly completely unofficially. Nick has never exactly understood why, because the only explanation appears to be that Harry just likes to watch him work. He can't be bored, he's got more contacts in his phone than Nick, and Nick's got a lot. "You want me to tell the listeners you're here?"
"Nah. I'm just going to hang out with Finchy and watch, if that's okay."
"Cameras aren't on. You can come in the studio if you want."
Harry grins again. "Okay," he says. "Do I get a cup of tea?"
"If you make it. Make us one at the same time." He needs to get back in the studio.
"Okay. Be in in a minute." Harry knows his way to the production office by now, brushing past Nick with a hand to his elbow, there for a moment and then gone again, just the memory of his touch remaining.
When Nick looks up, Finchy's watching him through the window, his finger pointing at his watch. Yeah, Nick knows, he has a breakfast show to finish.
They get photographed looking at cookery books in Tesco, which is about as truly rock and roll as Nick can ever imagine being. It's also going to ruin his plans for not helping in the kitchen at his mum and dad's at Christmas. He texts his mum when they're in Harry's giant fuck-off Range Rover going back to Nick's, to tell her don't believe everything you see in the papers mum, still can't cook xxxx
She texts back, don't need to be able to cook to crosshead sprouts love.
Nick fucking hates sprouts. He also hates My Chemical Romance, which he suspects is why Harry is blasting out Welcome to the Black Parade at full volume, with the windows open, and isn't turning it down even when they get to the traffic lights.
If Harry comes over to his at Christmas again, Nick's totally getting him to crosshead the fucking sprouts.
Harry is still an obnoxious little shit, even if he is Nick's best friend. Even if he has just been dumped by his sort-of-but-not-really-it's-just-sex girlfriend, Hayley. Harry doesn't look all that bothered by it, all things considered, but Hayley had been really annoying and didn't like Nick staying over at Harry's, so Nick's hardly broken-hearted either. He's doing the decent, best friend thing and keeping Harry's mind off it with the application of a trip to Tesco and then plans for a lot of alcohol.
"I hate you," Nick tells him over Welcome to the Black Parade, which is one hundred per cent true. He tries to get the windows to close, but every time he presses the button, Harry smirks at him and overrides it from the driver's seat, and the windows stay down.
Harry's smirk is the stupidest in the whole world, Nick's totally sure.
He's still smirking as he uses the stupid flappy paddle on the steering wheel to flick back to the start of the song again.
"I'm going to cut your hair off as you sleep," Nick tells him. "That's a promise."
"When you grow up, would you be the saviour of the broken, of the beaten, of the damned?" Harry sings, turning the volume up even louder.
Maybe Harry's smile can just keep on getting wider and wider, like, exponentially, the more annoying he is. It's a life skill and a half. Nick can't even poke him in the side, because Harry's in charge of a moving vehicle, and anything that may result in their deaths is probably best avoided.
"Stop it," Nick begs after the fourth or fifth time, because it turns out Harry knows all the words, and knowing Harry, he's probably learnt them all especially for this one, enforced experience. "I'll do anything. Just turn it off."
Harry grins at that, and promptly switches CDs so that the dulcet sounds of Ke$ha fill the car, albeit at a slightly lower volume than before.
Nick likes Tik Tok as much as the next person, so he executes a perfectly timed dance routine from the privileged position of the passenger seat. Harry joins in when he stops at the T-junction, proving—yet again—that for all Harry's talents, dancing is definitely not one of them.
"What the fuck is that?" Nick splutters, since he's pretty sure that what Harry's just done was supposed to be some version of either the wave or the robot, only—wrong.
"Boys trying to touch my junk, junk," Harry sings, winking at Nick as they turn right out of the junction and onto the main road again. It's problematic how much Nick appreciates Harry when he sings. It's almost criminal, what Harry's voice does to him. He's never, ever admitting that out loud.
Instead, he rolls his eyes and attempts a body-pop from the passenger seat. "Let's go out tonight instead of staying in," he says. "Call James. Go find some cheesy pop night and dance until dawn. He'll be up for that."
"You're working tomorrow," Harry points out, which is only slightly unreasonable considering that Harry pretends to be the least responsible person ever the nights before he has to work. He also turns up on time to work, mostly looking perfect, a skill Nick's not exactly perfected. "Anyway, don't you want to touch my junk?"
There is a weird line that falls somewhere about now, where they stop being able to joke about the gossip magazines' constant interest in their friendship. Mostly it's something they don't particularly talk about all that often, because it's just one more thing that the newspapers print about Harry that isn't wholly true (the Natalie Imbruglia thing is true, though. Nick's mostly jealous because he had an important sexuality-related epiphany whilst staring at Jeremy Sheffield in her Torn video, a million years ago whilst Harry was probably still at playschool). Occasionally they end up the wrong side of the line, with nowhere to go but downwards, and it's not actually as much fun as it should be.
"I mostly want to ensure that you are provided with exactly the right amount of potassium in your diet," Nick tells him, since one particular newspaper double-page spread had centred entirely around Nick buying Harry a banana, and had felt it necessary to highlight the potassium content. Nick had been left Googling 'does potassium make you better at sex', because he'd been a mixture of bewildered and confused. He'd found an article that said, Potassium may not be something stimulating or even slightly sensual but it is necessary for your body to respond to all playful and intense behaviour with stability1. Which was nice. "What you do with your junk after that is entirely up to you."
"Saucy," Harry says. He taps at the steering wheel, mostly in time with the music, and finally turns the volume down. They're at the line, Nick knows. They pretend it doesn't exist, and they don't like to cross it, but they both know it's there.
He's not dating Harry Styles. He's not even close to dating Harry Styles, since Harry is eighteen, and probably mostly straight, and approximately a million times hotter than Nick, and therefore way out of his league. They're also just friends, and if they spend as much of their free time together as they possibly can, and run up stupid phone bills texting each other pictures of their food whenever Harry's abroad, then that's still fine, because they're doing nothing wrong.
Except Nick second guesses himself at the best of times, and turning around every two days to see yet another article re-hashing the same pictures of the two of them both wearing the same jumper (Nick's), or the same shirt (Harry's), or drinking outside a pub with friends (Nick's) or driving to the park to go for a run (Harry's idea, and not to be repeated, because Nick likes exercise about as much as he likes The Wanted (not a lot))—it's confusing. It's confusing for Nick's mum and dad, who like Harry, even though his dad keeps getting his name wrong. He came over on Christmas last year, and wore a hat out of a cracker and sat next to Nick's nanna to repeat bits of the Queen's speech to her when her hearing aid packed in. His dad keeps trying to ask if they're going out, but his dad hasn't got the vocabulary to talk about gay stuff, so he calls Harry, Nick's "young man". His mum had to have a bit of a talk with Nick about how young Harry was, and whether it was a good idea to focus so much of his attention on someone who was renowned for—Nick didn't know his mum had it in her—loving and leaving young ladies, and some of them not so young. She'd looked a bit pink at that point, so Nick had done her a favour and given her a bit of a fan with a copy of Woman's Own. The very last thing he needed was his mum getting a crush on Harry Styles.
He still hasn't told Harry about that one.
Anyway, it's confusing. It's confusing for his friends, and for people who've known him a long time but haven't seen him all that recently, and sometimes it's confusing at work, and worse than any of that, it's confusing for him, because Nick is twenty-eight years old, and fairly sure that he likes Harry better than anyone else he can remember fancying.
So there's that.
He shifts in his seat and looks out the window for a minute.
"What are we cooking for dinner?" Harry asks, finally turning the volume down to almost nothing as he executes a probably illegal u-turn into the bottom of Nick's road. There's a boringly complicated one-way system that tries to make them go down the hill to the roundabout just to come back up the other side of the road. It adds a whole four minutes onto their journey time, and Harry's young enough that he thinks minutes matter, so he skips it. He also likes to park in the space reserved for Nick's next door neighbour, which Nick partially suspects is why the free gift that was supposed to come with his subscription to a One Direction fan magazine went missing from the post boxes downstairs.
"You pick something when we get in." Nick has his new cookery book in a carrier bag on his lap, but Harry's probably pickier about food than Nick is. Harry really would live on the chicken from Nandos if he could. He'd practically had a heart attack when they'd gone in there and Nick had ordered a spicy bean burger instead of chicken, but whatever, their veggie burgers are amazing, Harry will just have to learn to deal. "If we can't be bothered to go out again though, it has to be something we can cook using stuff we can get from Budgens."
Harry grins at him. "Really pushing that boat out, Nicholas."
"Shut up, Harold. You forfeited your right to choose with My fucking Chemical Romance." They're almost back at Nick's flat, but Nick likes to have music right up until the moment the engine turns off, so he rotates through the CDs in the changer, Harry letting him this time. He stops on Elvis Presley, skipping through the tracks until he gets to A Little Less Conversation. It's his second favourite Elvis track. He keeps the first a secret. Some things are just personal.
When Harry's phone starts to ring, Harry fumbles in his lap for it, tossing it at Nick. "Answer that, will you?"
Nick rolls his eyes and does it without looking to see who's calling, turning the volume down to nothing on the stereo at the same time. "Good afternoon, you have reached Harry Styles' house of debauchery and delight, how may we service you today?"
It is, of course, Harry's mum on the phone.
Anne doesn't completely hate him, which is nice, but she also refuses to be won over by what Nick likes to think is his natural charm and grace. Whenever Nick mentions it to Harry, he rolls his eyes and tells him it's nothing, but Nick isn't actually an idiot. He knows as well as Harry does that Harry's mum believes at least some of what she reads in the papers, and on top of that doesn't like Harry being friends with someone so much older. It's similar to how Nick's mum feels about Harry actually, the difference being that Nick's mum is actually nice to Harry, and Anne barely puts up with Nick. They might follow each other on Twitter, but they don't actually ever talk.
Nick doesn't like to think about whether Harry's mum has a problem with him and Harry being friends because of all the insinuations the papers and magazines make about Harry being gay.
"He's driving," he tells Harry's mum. "Do you want to—"
"Tell her we just got papped looking at cookery books," Harry says, leaning over so that he's closer to the phone.
"Harry," she admonishes, as Nick holds out the phone for Harry to say hi.
Nick takes back the phone, because the last thing Harry needs is to be photographed having an illegal phone conversation whilst in his car outside Nick's flat. "Did you hear that? We were looking at cookery books in Tesco, and then bam, we're being photographed. It's like every debauched celebrity with an actual drug problem is on holiday, and the only thing they can find to take pictures of is us, looking at soup."
"Hello, Nick," she says reprovingly. Nick might have forgotten that part of the conversation, bowling on in without a hello. Parents usually love him. He'd managed to win over Bob Geldof, what the fuck, and Bob Geldof is legendarily grumpy. He's also a sweetheart who can make a proper good cooked breakfast as well as saving starving kids, but Nick's appreciation of the finer things in life mostly centres around breakfast foods. Anyway, Anne loves Harry's band, and probably everyone else in the world, but she doesn't love Nick.
It makes him a little bit sad, actually.
"Hi, Harry's Mum," he says. "How's your day been?"
"Positively boring in comparison to yours, it seems."
"I don't know how Harry manages it, getting followed all the time, Anne. It's a right pain."
"I wouldn't wish it on anyone," she says, with a level of reproof which Nick can only assume is because Harry gets photographed more when he's with Nick, because apparently their so-called bromance is worthy of the gossip magazines and the newspapers. It's all a load of bollocks, and Nick is half-convinced they wouldn't be writing all of this stuff if he wasn't gay, but whatever. Harry Styles is Harry Styles, and everyone loves him, including the cameras. Including Nick, too, but the worst thing about all of this is that the one person Harry is safe from in the world is Nick, because Nick is never, ever going to make a move.
Anyway, what everyone is forgetting is that it takes two people to make a fuck-up, and Harry's attention is fixed firmly on sleeping with people who aren't Nick.
Which is good.
"Give me that," Harry says as he pulls into Nick's neighbour's parking space and switches off the engine. Nick lets out a breath of relief at being able to get off the phone. He grabs the cookery book and hops out of the car instead, striding ahead to go check his post rather than wait for Harry to finish.
Harry trails after, still on the phone. Nick does his best not to listen, because he tries not to think about it too much, but the fact that Anne doesn't like him really does make him unhappy. He holds the door open behind him for Harry, fingers splayed across the glass, the smear of many fingerprints glinting in the sunlight. Harry's in his hi-tops and low-rise jeans, a white t-shirt hanging low in a v on his chest. He's wearing one of Nick's checked shirts, hair tugged under a beanie. Nick isn't ever going to pretend that under different circumstances—in a world where he wasn't rubbish at relationships, say, or a world where they were closer in age than they are right now, or one where Harry wasn't an international pop star who could take his pick of people a lot hotter than Nick—he wouldn't want more than he has. Or, you know, a world where Harry Styles was gay. That would work too.
Harry grins at him as he catches the door, long fingers touching his as he edges inside, still talking. Nick's holding his gas bill and a credit card statement. He'll chuck them in the pile with the rest of the stuff he keeps meaning to get round to looking at, just like the last gas bill, and the last credit card statement. Harry's not a kid, he's an adult, with a full time, high energy job, and an income that's probably exponentially off the charts in comparison with Nick's. He's travelled the world already, and been on more TV shows than Nick's probably had hot dinners. He's competed on X Factor—and lost—and sometimes it's all so far away from anything that Nick's ever, or will ever, experience that he can't even get his head around it. And yet, whenever he has downtime, whenever he's in London and not working, Harry chooses to spend his time with Nick.
It's baffling to him, too.
Harry hangs up when Nick's half way up the stairs, bounding up the steps after him to dig his fingers into Nick's sides.
"Oi, watch it," Nick tries to get out of the way, but Harry's had more practice at being annoying recently than Nick has, so he wins, hands sliding down to Nick's hips. They skitter through the doors into the hall by Nick's flat still touching, and then they have to sidestep the lady from down the end who always looks at Nick like something she stepped in. Nick would take it personally, but he's had more than his fair share of parties, and half the time he forgets to make sure the front door's shut behind him when he comes in, so he's probably a rubbish person to share a building with. "Hi," he says, as she flattens herself against the wall as they stumble past.
"Hi," Harry echoes, still holding his hips, his chin hooked over Nick's shoulder.
She rolls her eyes at them both, which Nick thinks is a step up from her telling them to fuck off, which is what she did last time she saw them. Admittedly, it was four thirty in the morning and they were singing umbrella-ella-ella-ella outside Nick's door whilst he tried to find his key. She never did say thank you for the flowers they left outside her flat the next day.
Harry steals the key from the back pocket of Nick's jeans and fumbles it into the lock, pushing him inside. "Come on, come on," he says, grabbing the bag with the cookery book in and heading for the living room. "I could eat a fucking horse."
Nick dumps his letters on the pile on the kitchen counter and grabs them both a Coke Zero from the fridge. "Don't you have other people to hang out with?" he asks, going into the living room with a bag of Monster Munch in his teeth. He drops it down on to Harry's legs, because Harry's a dick who's sprawled full length on the sofa, trainers on the arm. He doesn't want to be rid of Harry—he's his best friend, not that he's ever actually told Harry that—but Harry is only eighteen, and probably has friends of his own. He has a band, for a start. Does he really want to spend all of his downtime doing the shopping with Nick, instead of indulging in a perfectly good drink and drugs habit, like a proper pop star? Surely there's someone he could be snorting coke off of whilst in a hot tub filled with vodka. Instead they've just been to Tesco, where they'd bought a Lorraine Pascale cookbook, a multi-pack of Curly Wurlys and a bag of Monster Munch. And a bag of booze for later, but that's not exactly a coke-fuelled orgy.
"Yep," Harry says. He doesn't move. "We could make knuckle duster sausage rolls." The page of the cookery book he shows Nick is called, sausage roll's big night out.
They do in fact look like knuckle dusters. This is potentially why Nick's never bothered learning to cook properly before, because all cooks are bonkers. He prods at Harry's ankles until he moves. "If we made them, they wouldn't end up looking like that. It would just be a splodge with a sausage in the middle."
"I know," Harry flicks over a few pages. "Minted lamb and coriander burgers with cucumber yogurt? No, hang on, chocolate digestive cheesecake with white icing."
Nick makes a face. "Cheese. In a cake. I've never got that. Texture's all wrong."
"Weird," Harry says. He pokes his toes into Nick's thighs. His socks are orange, and bizarrely, they don't even match. Who has two completely different pairs of orange socks? "Let's have burgers."
"Out of that list of ingredients," Nick points at the page, and the long list of things that you're supposed to have in order to make perfect burgers, "I have a toffee Muller Light. I'm pretty sure you can't make a cucumber yogurt dressing with a toffee Muller Light. Do Budgens even have lamb? I've never bought lamb."
"Shut up," Harry reaches for his phone, which has buzzed about five times since they've come in. He scrolls through his messages, doesn't reply to any of them, and drops his phone back onto the table. Nick thinks he's popular, until he hangs out with Harry for more than fifteen minutes. "We're making them, so stop complaining."
"Lorraine Pascale's going to be so proud." He shakes his head. "This is the weirdest fucking day."
Harry just laughs at him, grin wide. "You love it."
Nick's spent a good proportion of his adult life hanging around not doing much, and having fun, and calling it work. He's a fucking pro at hanging around. He's just not that sure how it's got to the point where hanging out with Harry is the best thing in his life, up to and including doing the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. "Whatever," he says. "You're not picking the playlist."
"So long as it's got more than one song on it, I don't care."
Nick had once made Harry listen to Sexy and I Know It seventeen times in a row. He'd done a dance too, round his kitchen and over the remains of their McDonalds meals, and Harry had laughed the first ten times, and just begged him to stop after that. Harry's band had been leaving the following morning to do a show in New York, and when Harry wasn't looking, Nick had wiped his iPod of everything but that one song.
"You want to go to the shop now?"
Harry throws a Monster Munch at Nick's head. "In a while."
Nick grins, and pats Harry's leg. "Cool," he says, and they stay where they are just a little bit longer, Nick opening his laptop so that they can make a playlist for when they cook.
"I love your music collection," Harry says, hooking his chin over Nick's shoulder. "Best of anyone I know."
"I'm in the business, me." He pats Harry's hand without thinking.
"I'm stealing half of this, just so you know." Harry's taken over the mousepad, scrolling down through Nick's iTunes.
"You only want me for my iPod."
"Yeah, baby," Harry tells him. His breath is warm against Nick's throat.
Nick shivers, and tries not to imagine the headlines if they were photographed right now.
"So, right, let's get this straight, because it's important for the listeners to know—I spent forty minutes this weekend in a car park arguing about crisps. That's right. Crisps. It was like a proper argument and everything, with like, me folding my arms and looking the other way and saying, 'well, if you knew me at all, you wouldn't have bought me cheese and onion'. I was proper stand offish and everything.
"This is what my life has come down to, I'm presenting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and instead of jetting off to Ibiza for like, a twenty-four hour dance rampage at the weekend, I'm in a supermarket car park having a row because someone bought me a bag of crisps and didn't get me salt and vinegar.
"Finchy, look at the texts, they're all asking if I had a fight with Harry Styles at the weekend. It's not all One Direction all the time round here, you know. I am friends with other people.
"Well, okay, apparently there are pictures in The Mirror of me and Harry Styles arguing in a car park, and potentially I should have checked that before sharing my story of how we had a proper fight about crisps, so I'm just going to play a record now and—"
Lisa's party is still going on at about half three. Nick's had more than his fair share of vodka cocktails, and he's been banned from the stereo and the laptop because no one—not even Harry, and Harry's almost as drunk as Nick is, sprawled on the sofa with his feet in Nick's lap—wants to hear Live While We're Young for the eleventh time that night.
Nick disputes that, but whatever. The laptop has been removed from his general vicinity, and even though Nick complains, no one will let him have it back, not even Harry. Nick has the kind of obsessive personality that means he can quite happily listen to the same song on repeat for a week, but sometimes even Harry begs for relief.
Harry's lost his shoes somewhere along the way, socked feet in Nick's lap, pinning him to the seat. Nick wants a drink, but he really can't be bothered to move. He flags down Caroline Flack as she walks by, begging her to get him another drink. He's known Flacky a long time, and she just grins at him, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. She hasn't been at the party all that long, and Nick hasn't had a chance to talk to her yet.
She's rosy-cheeked from the heat and the alcohol, and even though things aren't awkward between her and Harry anymore, she doesn't say hi to him. Harry's attention is elsewhere, anyway; he's talking to a couple of guys at the other end of the sofa, his chin tilted up. He's loose-limbed when he's drunk, and Harry just has a way of easing himself under people's defences when they least expect it, and then just—staying there. He makes people do things they wouldn't normally consider doing, regardless of the consequences, and Nick doesn't know how he does it, but it's the reason he's still hanging out with Harry even though the constant media speculation is starting to wear on him. It's pissing him off, and he'd like to be able to go for a coffee without someone asking him where Harry is.
Caroline's hand rests on Nick's shoulder, and he knows she saw him looking.
Nick really, really needs her not to say anything, because Caroline—out of everyone in the whole fucking world—knows more about being in Nick's shoes right now than anyone else. They laugh off the rumours to everyone else, but Nick knows that when he meets Caroline's eyes, she's going to know how he feels, for real, and Nick's not going to be able to hide it.
"Don't," he says softly.
"He's careless with people's hearts," she says. He knows she would never have said that if she wasn't drunk. She's always pretended she was okay.
"I don't think he means to be." He's way too drunk to be having this conversation. He curls his hand around Harry's ankle and Harry looks at him, smile wide.
When he sees Caroline he raises his glass to her, hi.
"Hey, kiddo," she says. She waits until Harry's attention is back on his friends before giving Nick a lopsided smile. "It's too late for you, isn't it?"
"Get me a drink, will you?" He can't say yes. "Something where the vodka outweighs the rest of it."
"On its way."
They finally try and leave about an hour later, standing at the door with Nick still clutching the remains of his cocktail as Harry pulls on his shoes. Lisa has to actually remove the glass from Nick's hand as he leaves. This is where the majority of the glasses in his flat come from—accidental thefts from various parties across London.
He kisses Lisa, and hugs her tight. "Great party," he says, and she's drunk too, so she hugs him right back before leaning past him to plant a smacker on Harry's cheek.
Harry always looks so charming at times like these. Nick's like an awkward monkey, but he hopes his cheeky smile gets him through. It usually does.
This time though, Harry blushes and ducks his head. "Thanks for the party," he says, and he's just so thoroughly charming that Nick really does feel like he could love him for approximately ever if only given the opportunity.
He is really very drunk indeed, and somebody, somewhere, is playing Number 1 at a very loud volume.
He likes a bit of Tinchy Strider. And N-Dubz! Nobody can resist N-Dubz if they're drunk. It's a rule. Nick does a totally ace and very adept impression of Dappy as they go down the stairs. If only he didn't have the quiff, that's totally spoiling it. He tries to flatten it, but ends up tripping down the final step instead, landing with an oomph against Harry's back.
"You're totally wasted," Harry tells him, helping back onto his feet.
"I know," Nick says, wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulders. "How come you're not drunk?"
Harry starts to laugh, mouth wide, eyes bright. Nick wants to kiss him. "I'm just not as drunk as you, that's all. You're wasted."
Nick always wants to kiss him, and it would be stupid to even try and lie about it. He stares at Harry's mouth a while. It's really pretty.
"Let's get a taxi to mine and play dinosaur Top Trumps," Harry says all of a sudden. He doesn't push Nick away, and as it's definitely easier to stay standing if he has Harry to lean on, Nick stays exactly where he is.
Harry's place is a pit of unwashed socks and a promise of moving somewhere else soon. There are still piles of his bags in the hall, probably from about five trips ago. Harry keeps promising he's going to move, but he spends a lot of time hanging around and annoying estate agents, and not all that much time actually buying anywhere. Until he does, he's definitely a teenage boy in his first proper flat. One of the newspapers had printed pictures of Harry's supposed new house, but they'd got it wrong. Harry hadn't ever put an offer in, so he's still in his grotty, sock-filled, expensive flat. At least for now.
It's the first time Nick's heard about Top Trump dinosaurs, though.
"Okay," he says. "Are they new?"
"Got them at that Smiths we did the signing in, last week. Louis got High School Musical ones."
"Cool," Nick says, and they stumble down the road and head for the high street, where at least there will be a taxi rank and probably a takeaway where he can still get a bag of chips. "What happens if you mix them up?"
"Zac Efron eats a velociraptor," Harry tells him, and Nick's reminded that Harry was practically a baby when Jurassic Park came out, which—yeah. No.
They get chips at the last remaining open takeaway on the high street, and Harry buys a kebab because he's never had one, and okay, Harry didn't make an attempt at university like Nick did, but how the fuck did he get to the ripe old age of eighteen without having a kebab? Wasn't the point of sixth form to go out a lot and make poor life choices and drink blue WKD and eat kebabs? And potentially throw up in someone's front garden, just as their mum and dad got home? Surely Harry had experienced at least some of that before throwing it all in to be a top pop sensation the world over. He tells him all of that as they stumble into the back of the taxi, all whilst solemnly swearing to the taxi driver that they're definitely, definitely not eating anything in the back of his cab.
Harry is really loose-limbed when he's drunk. He takes up most of the seat in the taxi, sprawling so that his cheek is resting on Nick's shoulder. "For an old person, you talk a lot."
"Remember that time that guy thought I was your dad?" Nick asks.
"A perfect, perfect day."
Nick pokes him in the side so that he squirms away. That had been a shit day. They'd been in Manchester, and the shop assistant in Selfridges had told Nick he must be proud of his son. Nick has never, ever got over it. Not even the fact that someone else that day had mistaken Harry for Frankie Cocozza could make up for the horror of that experience.
"I wanted to have a tantrum, right there in the aisle."
"And I couldn't stop laughing."
No, tell a lie, it had been a good day, mistaken identities aside. They'd eaten a pizza that had been approximately the size of both of them, and then Harry had spent a good twenty minutes pissing himself laughing as Nick bought out the whole of the age-defying moisturisers section in the Boots by the Arndale Centre. His wallet might have taken a beating, but no one was going to mistake him for Harry's dad again.
"Which Power Ranger were you when you were growing up?" Nick asks all of a sudden. "Which one did you want to be?"
"None of them," Harry says, which is code for before my time.
"One of them grew up to be a porn star."
"Really? Think we can watch it online? Is he dressed like a Power Ranger in it?"
"I think so, and I don't know, and it would probably be better if he was."
"Think we can get it on my phone?" Harry roots in his pocket for his phone, scrolling through to the browser and typing in power ranger porn. He shows Nick the screen.
...Wow, that's a lot of results.
"None of these look like it," Harry says, and he sounds miserable about it. Nick can see his point. The idea of seeing someone dressed up like a Power Ranger whilst going at it is suddenly higher up his priority list of things to view than it had been five minutes ago. "Think we should ask Twitter?"
"I think if you ask Twitter about porn you'll never hear the end of it." Nick might be drunk, but he's not drunk enough to forget, if in doubt, don't get your phone out. "Let's just ask Google when we get home."
"Okay." Harry scoots a little closer, sneaking some of Nick's chips out of the bag.
"You'll get us chucked out," Nick says, with one eye on the taxi driver but he doesn't mean it. It's only chips. Chips and Harry.
"Yeah, okay, whatever." He'd say yes to anything right now, so long as it meant that Harry stayed where he was, sprawled out over Nick like a drunken octopus. He doesn't say, am I staying at yours, then? Because he is, and they both know it.
It's at times like this that Nick lets himself believe what they write in the newspapers, and he hates it when that happens, because this? Him and Harry? It's never going to be more than this, and sometimes Nick doesn't know if he can settle for less.
"I'm going away next week," Harry says later. It's almost dawn, and they're supposed to be playing Top Trumps, but they've ended up sprawled on the sofa again, Harry's cheek pressed to Nick's chest, Harry protesting that he's too tired and too drunk to move.
"I know," Nick says. He wants to say, don't go, but he's seen Harry's schedule. He's been lucky to have him for this long. "How long for?"
There's a bed in Harry's bedroom, and a spare duvet for the sofa in the corner, but he doesn't let go, and neither does Harry. He'll stay here as long as Harry will let him, because four weeks is a long time, and he legitimately doesn't know what he'll do without him for all that time.
"Don't go," he says finally, when he thinks Harry's asleep.
Harry shifts a little, his fingers splayed across Nick's shoulder. He doesn't open his eyes. There's a long pause before he says, "I'm coming back, you know."
Nick doesn't say anything to that, and when he opens his eyes again, the sun is streaming through the window, and it's lunch time.
"I tried and failed to bake a cake," Nick says proudly, as soon as Harry answers his phone. "I've emailed you pictures."
"Oh my God," Harry says. "What time do you call this? We're four minutes off going on stage."
Nick looks at his watch—not that it makes any difference, since what time it is for him doesn't have all that much relevance when it comes to him working out what time it is for Harry. Time zones really are like another language. Maths has never been his strong point.
"You shouldn't have answered your phone, Harold. Why'd you even check?"
Harry hums. "Because it might have been important."
Nick has seen Harry drop phone calls from all kinds of people who are more important than him, and at times much more convenient than this. He's not actually an idiot, and part of the reason he knows that he and Harry are different is because Harry always picks up the fucking phone. He always picks up the fucking phone.
"Be good out there, kid," he says, but Harry's already talking over him, saying he has to hang up, has to go, and then there's just dead air, and Nick looking down at a lopsided cake.
It's been a week, and it feels like too long.
Nick's at the train station when his phone rings, just hanging around in Paperchase whilst he waits for his platform to be announced. He's going to Birmingham for a thing, and he mostly doesn't want to go. He's picked up a shower cap shaped like a Christmas pudding and just gone back for another one, because if he's going to look like a Christmas pudding, then Harry might as well look like one too. They both have a lot of hair, anyway. Maybe they could wear them out to a club. That would be cool. Or in the shower. Together. That would work too.
His ringtone is really obnoxiously loud, and no one—not even Nick—needs to hear Shake Your Pom Pom at that volume, especially when he's already trying to juggle his bag, his wallet, two shower caps and half of a lukewarm, mostly-melted Frappuccino. "Hi," he says, answering his phone as he drops all of his stuff on the counter in a pile. He makes a mostly successful attempt not to spill the remains of his Frappuccino all over the chip and pin machine, and makes an apologetic face at the girl behind the till.
"Hey," Harry says, one long drawn out syllable that doesn't end. He sounds fucking exhausted, like he's burnt the candle from both ends and then a bit more besides.
Nick puts his card in the machine and doesn't bother covering the keypad as he puts in his pin. "Isn't it the middle of the night for you, Harold?"
He's tried not to keep that close an eye on Harry's diary since he's been gone, (that way only madness lies), but he's pretty sure that Harry's supposed to be on the west coast right now. Last week he'd been in New York, and Harry had gone on Letterman wearing one of Nick's shirts. Harry had emailed him a link to a Tumblr post with a picture of himself giving a thumbs up to the camera, shirt bright and centre stage. Nick still has no idea what to make of that. Anyway, he doesn't have that clear an idea of what time it's supposed to be in California right now, but not getting up time yet seems like a pretty good bet. It's only quarter past eleven here. His train doesn't leave until eleven twenty-seven.
He takes the bag when the shop assistant gives it to him, stepping out on to the busy Euston concourse. There's nowhere to go that's quiet, and Harry sounds so unlike himself that Nick's already worried. "You're not sleeping?"
"Don't think so," Harry says. "Let me just check. No, it feels like I'm on another planet, but I'm here. Where are you? It sounds pretty loud."
"Euston. Got a meeting in Birmingham. Just bought you something, though."
Harry being this quiet is more than just weird, it's unheard of. "You okay?"
"I'm really fucking tired," Harry says, after a while. Nick's had to go stand outside the station just so that he can hear what Harry's saying, freezing to death opposite Pret. He would go in and get another coffee to replace his Frappuccino dregs, but he's learnt from bitter experience that having a private conversation anywhere people can overhear is just asking for it to be put up online. Tumblr is—occasionally—his least favourite place on the internet. Mostly it's his go-to place for a good time, but it's also where private conversations go to gestate.
Nick goes quiet, turning around to face the wall in a pretence at privacy. "Has something happened?"
"No. Yes—" he sighs, long and loud. "Can you do me a favour? Mum's got some awful gastro bug thing, and fucking Barclays have fucked up my bank account and stopped my card. I can't get them to fix it, and Gemma's on holiday in Tenerife, and my stepdad is in Aberdeen at a work thing, and could you just—if I told you what to get, could you like, order her a bunch of flowers and some stuff off the Waitrose website and get it delivered? Soup, or whatever. A hot water bottle. You could probably get it at Boots and get it sent over. I don't know—"
"Harry." Nick stops him. "It's fine, I'll get it, don't worry."
"I'll pay you back."
"Don't be stupid, it's fine." Harry sounds like he's the one who needs soup and a hot water bottle. He sounds wretched. Nick walks past Krispy Kreme and doesn't look at the doughnuts.
"How poorly is she?"
"Throwing up everywhere. Doctor said it's probably just a stomach bug, but it's like, day three and she's all by herself. I mean, I'm glad I'm not there, I always hate it when people are sick, but I'd like it if she wasn't totally fucking alone. I hate vomming."
Harry had held Nick's quiff back the last time he'd thrown up, after a game of truth or dare with cocktail forfeits. Fuck knows what had been in that paint stripper cocktail that Pixie had made up for him, but he'd chucked the whole thing up and it had been bright fucking green. He suspected that was why he still couldn't look Midori in the eye. They'd spent two hours in the bathroom, sitting up against the side of the bath whilst Nick switched between throwing up and groaning.
Harry had never once said that he hated people being sick.
"I'll fix it, don't worry," he says, one eye on the departure boards through the doors to the station. "I'll get her a get well soon gift basket. Don't think about it anymore. I'll be your mum's knight in shining armour." He pauses, tapping his fingertips against his jeans. They've shrunk in the wash, so they're bollock-tight and probably indecent. He's not entirely sure Harry's mum wants him to be her knight in shining armour, but whatever, Harry does. He'll take that. "How come you're not asleep?"
"Don't know. Can't sleep."
Nick lets out a breath, and carefully does not rest his forehead against the window of the posh shirt shop he's standing outside of in desperation. He is tragically and ridiculously out of his depth. "Don't suppose you can rustle up some hot milk in a hotel room, either."
"We're not at a hotel. There's a guy at the record company, he's let us have his place. It's like something out of a movie. Swimming pools and hot tubs and a Jacuzzi and everything."
"A modern day Sunset Boulevard."
"I don't know." Harry's probably never seen Sunset Boulevard. "There's a pool house."
Like The OC. "You should try hot milk," he says, aware that he sounds like his mum. No—his nanna. He's fallen in love and accidentally turned into his nan. There is nothing about this that doesn't cause him acute embarrassment, but in a way he doesn't care, because Harry sounds like shit.
"You sound like my gran."
"Well, you are always calling me old."
"You're not old," Harry says. His voice is low and rough and tired and—wrong. Harry is a mess of weirdness, and Nick normally likes that, but this is weird in a way he doesn't know how to deal with.
"That's what I've been saying," he says. "Now he listens."
Harry huffs a laugh. "Where are you?"
"Still at Euston. Train's not for a few minutes."
"Do you have to go?"
Nick thinks about a transcript of their overheard conversation going up on Tumblr, and of the weird, desperate edge to Harry's voice. He fumbles in his pocket for his train ticket. "No," he says. "I don't have to go. You've got me for the whole train journey if you want."
"I listened to the show earlier. Heard you talking to Kylie."
"I love her, but I've seen waxworks whose faces move more than hers," Nick tells him, because he likes to make Harry laugh. "Remind me never to get Botox."
"Deal," Harry says.
"Did you hear the whole show? Have you even been to bed?"
"I went for a bit. This place is really creepy in the middle of the night, you know. Everything's pitch black and creaking."
"Turn the light on, idiot." Nick scans the departure boards for his platform.
"Nah, I'm going to try and go to sleep."
"Okay," Nick says. "But you should try the hot milk."
"All right," Harry says, and Nick knows he isn't going to, but whatever. He wouldn't either, because he's not seventy-three years old. He has, however, slept recently, which he thinks is probably a good thing if Harry's anything to go by.
"I'll leave my phone on. Call if you still can't sleep. And I'll sort your mum out, don't worry."
"Okay," Harry says softly, and there's a long moment where neither of them say anything. "Thanks."
Harry hangs up without saying anything else, and Nick looks down at the phone for a moment before he joins the queue to get through the ticket barrier and onto the train.
"Mum, are you up to anything this weekend?"
"Why?" his mum sounds way too suspicious, which is unfair as she doesn't actually know that Nick's done anything yet. Well, okay, he is sitting in his car at the end of his mum and dad's street, about to turn up on their doorstep at midnight on a Friday, but that isn't actually all that suspicious, if you don't think about it too much.
"Me and your dad are going to a murder mystery party at Kevin and Gail's tomorrow. We've got to dress up. Your dad thinks it's stupid and hasn't even started thinking of a costume. Can you see your dad spending all night pretending to be a rich American businessman? I'll bet you anything this is because he made fun of Kevin's new car."
"Great," Nick says, because he tends to tune out whenever his mum starts talking about people like Kevin and Gail. It's like a different world. "You're not doing anything that would mean I can't come and stay, right?"
"Well," Nick says. "I'm at the end of the road."
"Which road? Our road? Now? What are you doing here?"
Nick can't say, my best friend is having some kind of breakdown in America, so I'm here to bring his mum soup. "I was in the area. Had a meeting in Birmingham." That's not in the area, and he's left out the part where he didn't decide to do this until he'd been on the train back to London from Birmingham, so then he'd had to go back to his flat to get the car, and then drive north on a Friday night. The traffic, even this late, had been rubbish.
He lets his mum assume he's just driven north from Birmingham, which is much more of a reasonable drive, and doesn't involve the decision making skills of a crazy man.
"Why didn't you call?"
An excellent point. "Can I come in, or what? I look like a right weirdo, sitting here at the top of the street."
His mum tuts down the phone. "I haven't got a room ready or anything, and your dad's gone to bed with a Dick Francis, and—"
He cuts her off. "I'll be in in a minute. Put the kettle on."
He parks the car in the drive behind his dad's, which will be a right pain in the arse if his dad wants to go out before he's up in in the morning, because then he'll have to get out of bed and go move his car first thing. He's had to do it a million times, his mum making him wear his dad's dressing gown because apparently going out in his boxers and a Dr Dre t-shirt isn't acceptable behaviour on their road. No one round here likes joy.
His mum is waiting by the door, and he grabs his bag from the boot, ignoring the bags of stuff he'd picked up for Harry's mum on the way, and goes inside to be hugged. There's tea on the way, and Corrie is paused on the telly—Sky+ really is the greatest invention the world has ever seen—and it's nice to be home. Nothing ever changes, not really, and when it does there's outrage from him and his brother and his sister. His mum had had to phone them all up to warn them that the tumble dryer his mum and dad had had since the seventies had finally packed up and they'd had to replace it. She'd circulated a picture that she'd taken of the tumble dryer on the kerb, waiting for the council to come and collect it. Underneath, she'd written sad times, and Nick had saved it to his computer in a folder named "mad things mum's done". They'd all begged her not to document the plumbing in of a new downstairs loo in the same way. Apparently the old loo had had pride of place in the middle of the back garden until his brother had driven over, put his back seats down, and taken it to the tip.
There's a new school photo of his niece on the mantelpiece, and an open box of Maltesers on the coffee table. He helps himself to a handful whilst toeing off his shoes, pressing play on the Sky remote.
"Oi, you," his mum calls from the kitchen, as Ken Barlow starts up again, mid-sentence. "Don't you start watching without me."
He grins, puts his feet up on the table, and pauses the TV again. Whilst he's waiting for his mum, he pulls his phone out of his pocket, and sends a text to Louis.
Is harold ok?? Sounded tired
It's been about twelve hours since he's spoken to Harry, and since then there's been nothing, no texts, no emails, no picture messages of hot dogs that look like penises. It's not unreasonable as they're hardly in touch twenty-four hours a day, but Harry had sounded so tired and un-Harry-like earlier that he's been checking his phone all day.
A message comes back almost immediately. Not sure maybe just tired and in bad mood. Will report back
It doesn't help. It's not his business anyway; Harry is his friend, and the newspapers and magazines might want to find more in their relationship, but in reality, they're just friends. It's not Harry's fault that Nick's kind of stupid about him, and sort of ridiculously in love.
He doesn't bother replying to Louis' text yet, flicking to Twitter instead whilst his mum comes back in balancing two cups of tea and a packet of custard creams on a narrow tray.
"Don't eat all of them," she warns. "You know what your dad's like if someone has all of his biscuits."
"Swear to god," Nick promises, taking a handful. Two hours ago, Harry had tweeted marmite (yuck), bacon sarnies, spag bol, baked beans.
It's been retweeted six thousand eight hundred and eleven times. In two hours.
There is no way on earth that Nick is properly prepared for being friends with someone who is as famous as Harry Styles.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" his mum asks.
He shrugs, feet up on the coffee table. "Can't I come home without the Spanish inquisition?"
She narrows her eyes. "Did something happen? Is it that boy?"
"I have literally no idea what you're talking about," Nick lies. His mum loves Harry, but she also reads the papers. The last time she'd come down to London—to see Wicked with Nick's Auntie Sue (not actually Nick's auntie, not actually called Sue—Nick's mum is madder than Nick, sometimes), he and Harry had taken her out on the town, going to The Ivy and then to a bar that played the most ridiculous sixties music. They'd treated her like a queen, Harry in particular, and when the three of them had been photographed arm in arm leaving the restaurant, his mum had glowed like it was the greatest moment in her whole life.
"Hmmm," his mum says. She never believes him, even when he's telling the truth, and lying to her is inevitably going to lead to the same conclusion. "I haven't made a bed up for you, can you do it yourself? There are sheets in the cupboard."
"I know where the sheets are," he says. "I only lived here for a million years."
"You might have forgotten, now that you're a famous man about London town."
"Mum," he tries to brush her off, but he's forgotten that his mum is a lot more perceptive than she looks.
"Don't give me that. I've seen you on the 3am pages. All those models. Do they know you're gay?"
Nick rolls his eyes. "They all know, Mum." Everyone knows.
"Well, good. Drink your tea, Corrie will be over in a minute and then I'm off to my bed. Don't eat all of those custard creams, here, let me take a couple up to your dad for the morning. He'll have fallen asleep over his book, or else he'd be down here rattling on about me talking to myself. You can surprise him tomorrow."
Being home immediately makes him feel like a fifteen year old staying up past his bedtime again. "All right."
"Are you coming up?"
"I'll stay here for a bit, have my tea."
She leans in and kisses his temple. "Good to see you, son. Don't stay up too late. Don't think I won't get it out of you tomorrow, why you're here."
"I won't." He waits another couple of minutes until her tread on the landing has gone, and the door to the bedroom is closed. Then he picks up his phone again, and skims through Twitter, just to see if Harry or any of the rest of his band has tweeted.
They haven't, and there aren't any texts or emails in his inbox either. There's nothing, just radio silence.
He texts Louis back. Keep an eye on him, will you?
Louis doesn't respond straight away, and Nick stays up for a bit, flicking through the music channels. One of them's playing What Makes You Beautiful, and he stops, unable to help himself. He's driven four and a half hours north on a Friday night, just to deliver soup to someone who doesn't even like him, and he's done it all because Harry sounded exhausted on the phone.
Nick has done some stupid, ridiculous, mad things in his life, but falling for Harry Styles might be the stupidest thing yet.
Will do, Louis' text says, Nick's phone beeping obnoxiously as he tries to put a fitted sheet on a single bed. A second text follows the first: think he's missing you.
Nick looks down at his phone for a long time.
In the end, he climbs into bed still in his boxers and t-shirt, and pulls the duvet over his head.
In the morning, when he wakes up, the world's still there and he has a delivery to make.
Nick Grimshaw really has done some stupid things in his life, but turning up unannounced on his best friend's mum's doorstep, clutching a handful of carrier bags and his best smile, is potentially up there with falling for Harry Styles on the stupid scale.
There's a long wait between him ringing the doorbell and anyone coming to the door, long enough that Nick's half convinced that Anne's not in. That really would tip this over into being the most ridiculous thing he's ever done, travelling hundreds of miles to deliver soup to someone who's not actually home. He sees the net curtains move though, and a moment later Harry's mum opens the door in a dressing gown and her pyjamas.
She looks dreadful. She has that pallid look that people who haven't been out of the house in days have, complete with dark shadows around her eyes and her hair everywhere. She looks really sick, and Nick hopes that whatever she's got isn't contagious, because he really doesn't want it. Can he take a step back and not make it noticeable? Probably not.
"Hi, Harry's mum," he says, holding up one of his carrier bags, the Waitrose one. He's hoping it'll speak for itself, but clearly it doesn't because she still looks completely baffled by him standing on her doorstep.
"Harry's not here," she says stupidly, wrapping the dressing gown tighter around herself. It's pink and fluffy, with purple spots. He can get behind that in a design. "What are you—I don't understand. What are you doing here?"
"Harry was worried about you, so he asked me to bring you some stuff. Soup. Biscuits."
She still looks bewildered, but she at least takes a step back so that he can come inside, shuffling awkwardly past her with an armful of bags. Inside, the living room is a mess of used tissues and stale air and a blanket nest on the sofa that's probably harbouring all kinds of germs. He dumps the bags on the armchair whilst she hovers by the door.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
He's the one supposed to be helping her. Maybe he should have told Harry to tell her to expect him. Not much use now. "I'm fine, thanks."
He's dropped Harry off here before, and come in more than once for an awkward conversation or two, but he hasn't had a chance to have a proper look round before. The room is full of pictures of Harry and Gemma, and some of Harry's band too. There are awkward school pictures of both of them taking up a shelf by the stereo, and Nick peers in gleeful joy at one particularly unfortunate one of Harry. It's so rare for him to take a bad picture that this one resonates particularly highly with Nick, because Harry's got spots and a bad haircut and is looking somewhere that isn't directly at the camera. That said, Harry has more than his fair share of the good kind of genes, and even a bad picture is better than most of the good ones of Nick, so it's swings and roundabouts.
"So anyway, on the phone Harry rambled on about soup, so I've been to the shop and got you some cartons, and I didn't know if you were veggie or not, so I've got you three different kinds. One's lentil and bacon but you don't have to eat it if you don't want to. There's a hot water bottle—it's shaped like Peppa Pig because Boots was crap—and I got you some fruit, and some Ribena. Everyone likes Ribena when they're ill, it's a thing."
"Uh-huh," Anne says, still looking a bit dazed. There's an empty bin by the side of the sofa, and Nick suspects that's a sick bucket. He hopes it hasn't been used.
"There's a three-in-one DVD of Julia Roberts' films too, sorry it's a bit crap. I was a bit limited by the stock in the service station on the way up. Pretty Woman, though. And Runaway Bride. The third one's probably Erin Brockovich but I can't remember. I wrapped it up, though. Everyone likes wrapping paper. You don't really get wrapping paper that says, Get Well Soon, so it says, Happy 7th Birthday. Hope you don't mind."
"Nick, this is—"
"Harry was worried about you," Nick stops her. "He said you were here all by yourself. He's not here to do this himself, so I said I would."
"I'm only here alone until tomorrow. Robin's in Scotland with work, he's coming back on the sleeper tonight. And Gemma's back on Monday—"
"There's enough to get you through until then, then," he says. He feels so incredibly awkward, like this is actually the stupidest thing he's ever done. "Can I get you anything? Before I go? Cup of tea? Warm you up some soup?"
He ends up making Harry's mum a cup of tea, and warming her up a bowl of Covent Garden leek and potato soup in the microwave. After that he puts the dishwasher on to run and gets on with washing the rest up, because the place is pretty much a pit, and then he takes the dry clothes off the airer by the back door and folds them up on the kitchen table. It's hardly nursing to rival Florence Nightingale's, but even doing this little still feels like he might be helping a bit. He can report back to Harry at least that his mum's had a bit of looking after.
"Here's my mum's number," he says finally, because Anne looks tired and worn out, and nobody wants to stand on ceremony with guests when they're ill. You want to hide in a duvet nest and never come out. He writes his mum's telephone number down on a page torn from a Cath Kidston magnetic notepaper block on the front of the fridge, and hands it over. "Anything you need, honestly. We'll come over. She's dead good at being nice to you when you're ill, promise. Makes a mean macaroni cheese with bacon in it. Lived off that when I had chicken pox."
"You don't have to—"
"Harry's worried about you," he says finally. If he thinks about how stupid and overwhelming this is for any more than about two seconds, he's going to slowly start to disintegrate in front of her.
"Thank you," she says after a minute, staring down at the telephone number in front of her. "That's very kind."
"Well, Harry wants you to get well soon. Me too, obviously," he says. "There's a card in the bag, too. It's got a cat on it. Everyone likes cats when they're poorly."
After he leaves, he sits in his car at the end of the road for a few minutes and tries not to dwell on the fact that Harry's mum must now have a pretty clear idea of how in love with her son he is. "Fuck," he says, hands on the steering wheel. "Fuck."
"What the fuck did you say to my mum?"
"Harry—" Nick's only just figured out how to use the hands free kit his dad had given him for Christmas last year, and even though he's mastered the stupid little ear piece thing, he can't quite co-ordinate driving with having a conversation with Harry when Harry sounds like he's on the edge. He pulls over into a bus stop so he can talk properly.
"She just phoned me up crying. Jesus Christ, Nick."
"Bad crying? Fuck, I just took her some soup and a hot water bottle; I didn't mean to make her—"
"It was good crying, Nicholas. She like, sobbed. She kept saying how nice you were."
Nick makes a face. "Um, yes?"
"You went to her house."
"Well, your house."
"I can't—for fuck's sake, Nick. I can't—this is—you went to my mum's house?"
Harry's voice is shaking, and Nick's never heard him sound like this. He sounds wrecked.
"I really seriously can't deal with this right now," Harry says, his voice catching. "I'm just going to—I'll call you back."
When Nick looks down at his phone, Harry's hung up.
"Well, shit," he says softly, because there's a good chance he's just fucked everything up.
"So, this girl was blowing me, right?"
Nick thinks he's probably still asleep. He has to be, right? Because why else would Harry be calling him at quarter to three in the morning, words slurred, to tell him about having sex with someone who isn't Nick. "You're drunk," he says, burying his face in his pillow. This is what hell is like: being told about the person you're probably in love with having sex with someone else, and them sounding drunk as fuck whilst they're doing it.
"And she was down there, on my dick, okay? And normally I like this kind of thing, right? Because I fucking love sex. And blow jobs, man. Blow jobs."
"Yes," Nick says, because he has to say something, otherwise he's actually going to do something stupid like tell Harry to stop breaking his stupid fucking heart.
"Except, I'm looking down, and she's looking up, and all I can think about is how she's not you."
Nick actually—in real life and not just joking—can't breathe.
"And I'm not gay, okay? I fucking love pussy. But I can't stop thinking about you."
"There's somewhere in the middle, you know," Nick manages, since he's sitting up in bed in the middle of the night and Harry Styles is telling him something to do with getting a blow job and thinking about him, and Nick kind of wants to actually die. He wants whatever alcoholic drink that Harry's got his hands on right now, and lots of it. Enough to make him forget this ever happened. "You can be somewhere in the middle."
"I know, okay. I know. And it's not like—this isn't new, okay. It's not like I've been through my entire life and not like, thought about kissing a man. It's not like I didn't know I was in the middle."
Harry's entire life is just short of nineteen years. It's all spectacularly, ridiculously, incredibly stupid. Harry sounds so fucking drunk. Nick is stupid. Everything is stupid.
"What did you do earlier? With the girl?"
"She finished me off, I came. I fingered her, she came, she left."
"Nice," Nick says.
"Yeah," Harry slurs. "You know I can't go out with you, right?"
Nick knows. Harry is a member of a boy band so hot right now that the entire world wants a piece of him. He's part of a brand. He has to go to corporate meetings about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and it isn't that being gay isn't, it's not. It's just—Harry can't go out with a guy that's like, almost ten years older than him, who's weird and has a strange sense of humour and wears a pink princess eye mask in bed. Harry doesn't even want to go out with him. Harry probably barely wants to go out with anyone, and Nick knows that. He just likes sex, and a lot of it, and if wanting repeats means going out with someone a few times, then that's what he does. It's just that casually dating men is not the same in the tabloids as casually dating women. It never is.
"I never said I wanted you to," Nick says eventually, because he gets sharp and spikey when he's hurt, and it's the middle of the fucking night, and this is actually painful.
Nick's hands are shaking. He bunches them up in the duvet instead, because he has to get up for work in a couple of hours, and what sort of fucked up radio show is he going to put out after this conversation? "We all fucking fantasise when we're having sex, okay?" he says, because making an attempt at fixing this is his first priority, and trying to hold himself together when it feels like he's broken into a million pieces is sort of a secondary thing. "It's not—it's okay. It doesn't have to mean anything. It could just be like—cheese. Like eating too much cheese before bed. Like a cheese nightmare."
"You're not a cheese nightmare."
"A cheese dream, then, I don't know. It doesn't have to be—it's not anything. Friends sometimes think about other friends, that's all."
"Maybe," Harry says. "I was freaking out."
"I know," Nick says. He's freaking out too, but mostly because this is like having each of your dreams accidentally smashed with a sledgehammer and then stamped on, right there in front of you. "Are you still sleeping badly?"
"Jet lag," Harry says. "I'm still jet-lagged."
He's been out of the country three weeks; it isn't jet lag. Nick knows it's not jet lag. Whatever sexuality crisis is going on in Harry's head right now, it isn't to do with the fucking jet lag.
"It's not a big deal, I promise you," Nick lies. It is; knowing that Harry's contemplated being with him and decided it's not something he wants, is potentially worse than him never even thinking about it.
Nick can hear Harry breathing, but he's not saying anything. The silence stretches out, long after it stops being comfortable, and a part of Nick wants to just hang up and pretend this never happened.
"I miss you," Harry says, after a while. "I like—I miss you every day."
"Yeah, I miss you too. You're my best friend, dickhead."
"You're mine too. That's probably why I miss you so much."
"Yeah," Nick lies. "That's probably it."
"Let's go out and get burgers when I get back. Like, best friend burgers."
"I know. I drank a whole bottle of rum. I threw up twice. I think I'm sober again now."
"I got vom on my shirt, Nick. And on Louis' socks."
"Bet he's happy with you."
"I threw up on Liam's bed, he's more pissed off."
"They'll get over it." He doesn't say, did you tell them why you were so drunk? He doesn't know whether having them all know is better than Harry being alone with the inside of his head right now.
"I'm coming home next week."
Nick doesn't say anything for a while. "I know," he says finally. "We'll get burgers."
"Yeah," Harry says. "I'm really tired, Nick."
"Yeah. And drunk."
"Go to sleep, dickhead." Harry's in New York; he knows it's not as far as LA and therefore it probably isn't a respectable hour to go to bed, but Harry sounds like he's about to drop.
"Okay," Harry says, and Nick can hear him pulling the bedclothes back and then climbing into bed, pulling the covers over his head so that when he speaks again it's muffled and sounds a bit like he's in a cave. "I love you."
"I know," Nick says, because he can't say I love you back and not have it mean I'm so in love with you I can't breathe. If he says it, they can't come back from it. "Go to sleep."
When Harry ends the call, Nick takes his duvet into the living room and watches Tool Academy repeats on E4 until his alarm goes off, and he has to go into work.
"So anyway, why aren't they putting the Great British Bake Off on DVD? It would be like my favourite DVD ever, I could just fast forward—oh my god, do we still say fast forward? Is that like, showing my age? Like, the last remnant of the video age? What do we say instead? Finchy, ask the text machine, get them to tell me. Anyway, whatever, I could just fast forward through to Paul Hollywood poking people's bread and saying 'soggy bottom' a lot and looking disapproving.
"And don't look at me like that on twitter, @johnwhaitebakes, I would absolutely fast forward to your bits too. Like when you got your glove full of blood. Had to look away at that bit in case I sicked up a little bit in my mouth. This is why I never dreamed of being a doctor, innit.
"So, I'm like, thinking about becoming a baker now. A friend of mine got me a cake tin and everything, and I bought a cookbook. I'm going to turn into Lorraine Pascale, you know, successful model and then throw it all in to be a top celeb chef. I could have my own show, Nick Grimshaw bakes...it'll be amazing. I've been sending all these pictures of my cake to the friend who bought me the cake tin—I bet they're really happy they wake up in the morning to eleven pictures of my attempt at baking—and I bet we could like, touch them up and put them in my new cookery book. What do you think, Finchy? The Radio 1 breakfast show cook book?"
"It's a bit Radio 2."
"Ha, we'll just swap. Swap shop! Grimmy's cookery segment, only on Radio 2."
nick grimshaw @grimmers
Mooooorning. Tired today.
Anne Cox @AnneFoxyCoxy
@grimmers back atcha. Have a brew, wake yourself up x
nick grimshaw @grimmers
@AnneFoxyCoxy good plan, Anne. [_]D x
"What the hell are courgette fries, and why would anyone ever want them?" Harry asks, once they've got the corner booth at Byron, and Harry's ordered two chocolate malted milkshakes to get them started. He's been back in the country less than forty-eight hours, and he looks so fucking wired that Nick isn't sure he's slept since then.
"I have no idea," Nick says, looking down at his menu. He's stared at it for about three minutes now, but he's pretty sure he still hasn't taken in a word. He's tired and kind of fragile; there had been something in the newspaper that morning about how Nick's been cheating on Harry whilst he's been in America by bromancing the Radio 1 breakfast team, and the whole thing is just so teeth-grindingly frustrating that he doesn't know what to do with himself. Even Alexa has sent him a text that just says bastard!!!1! :) which he assumes is Harry related. He hasn't spoken to her in about a month, so it's either that or he's missed her birthday. The accompanying phone picture of a newspaper rack suggests Harry, though.
Even now, there are people in the restaurant staring at him and Harry, and whispering behind their hands. He shouldn't care—he's been courting a kind of D-list celebrity status ever since he can remember, if making friends with people who the newspapers and magazines like to photograph is courting celebrity—but the last few weeks have been draining.
"Have you picked yet?"
"Still choosing," he says, making a concerted effort to concentrate on the menu. "Why does a burger without a bap cost more than a burger with a bap?"
"I think you're paying a stupidity tax on top of eating. It's the only thing that makes sense."
"Look at you, talking about tax. Harold, how you've grown." He puts the flat of his hand to his chest, feigning upset. "Not my baby anymore."
Harry looks amused. He bumps his knee against Nick's under the table. "Shut up."
He looks back down at his menu, but doesn't move his leg away.
Nick concentrates on trying to pick out something—anything—that he wants to eat. In the end, he just picks the Byron burger, because it was the first thing he'd seen, and he can't seem to think about anything else other than him and Harry. He pushes the menu away.
When he looks up, Harry's watching him from across the table. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Nick says. "Didn't we do this this morning?" Harry had shown up at the radio station about half way through the show, with doughnuts from Krispy Kreme for everyone and a tray of coffees almost as big as the studio itself. They'd had Dani Harmer in that morning—always topical, Radio 1—and Harry had had to hide in the production office so that the webcam didn't pick him up in the back of the shot. When Nick had finally had a moment to double bill Skrillex with a bit of Mumford's, he'd had to force himself to amble into the office to say hi.
Harry had had his feet up on Nick's desk, doughnut crumbs on his t-shirt, and had been laughing at something LMC had said. He was stupidly, effortlessly gorgeous, just like always. Even running on jet-lag and enthusiasm, he was bright-eyed and handsome. He didn't stop laughing even as he saw Nick, as he spun around in Nick's wheely office chair and planted his feet either side of Nick's legs.
"Nicholas Grimshaw," he'd said, like that was a good enough way to greet Nick after a month away and some kind of meltdown in a hotel room. "I'm back."
Nick had come into the office wielding a cold cup of coffee in one hand, and a soft toy lobster from Dani Harmer in the other, deliberately keeping his hands full so that he and Harry wouldn't have to go through the awkward do we touch or not? dance in front of everyone Nick worked with. They'd gone for not touching, and staring instead, Harry's smile wide and bright.
"I hope you brought me a present," Nick had said. "And it better be large. You're totally rich and famous."
"It's a diamond studded toothbrush."
"I always did want one of them." And then they'd stared at each other for a bit longer—not awkward at all, Nick was sure—and then he'd gone back to the studio to apologise for having Skrillex lead in to Mumford's.
After the show was done, Harry had sat in on the production meeting, and hung around whilst Nick got stuff ready for the show in the morning, and then they'd decided to go to the Byron on Shaftesbury Avenue, because it was new and Nick hadn't been yet.
Which is where they are now, early for lunch and not all that hungry.
"I didn't get to say hi to you properly before," Harry tells him.
I'm pretty sure you saying hi was you saying hi properly."
Harry shrugs. "Everyone was around."
Nick thinks, oh. Harry looks less wide awake and vibrant now; he looks tired and a little washed out. If he's been able to hide feeling like this all morning, Nick is seriously fucking envious of his skills. Under the table, Harry's knee is still touching his, and Nick should be able to ignore it, he really should, but Harry's just staring at him.
"What?" he asks. "Is this—do I have tomato sauce on my face?"
"No," Harry says softly.
"Mayonnaise?" Nick asks, although Byron never put mayonnaise on the table. There are two types of mustard, a biro, a playing card, and hot sauce, but no fucking mayonnaise. Nick always has to ask for it, because even though he actually thinks that mayonnaise is the food of the devil, it is the only acceptable accompaniment to Byron chips. It's lucky he's so great, otherwise his inconsistencies would be really annoying.
"No," Harry says.
Their waitress turns up with their drinks then, and tries to take their food order. It might have gone more successfully if she'd been able to stop staring at Harry, or if Nick could remember what it was he wanted to order.
"Any sides?" she asks, after they've both managed to take a stab at ordering a burger.
"Courgette fries," Nick says without thinking.
Harry makes the kind of disgusted face that Nick has mostly seen in gif-format on Tumblr. "No way. I want fries. And onion rings."
"Skin-on chips or just fries?"
"I really don't care," Harry says, but he flashes her a bright smile anyway. "Whichever you think tastes best. I trust you."
His special ability to make people fall in love with him just like that would make Nick go slowly insane, if he wasn't one of them himself.
When she goes away, they sit in silence for a moment, Nick stirring his huge milkshake with his straw.
"What are your plans now you're back?" Nick asks. He takes a long sip of his drink; the first sip is always the deepest because it takes such a fucking long time to get anything up the straw.
"Four fucking awesome weeks here," Harry says. "Christmas and the new year, I'm just going to do my stuff, and the rest of the time do nothing and hang out. It'll be great. Especially as we're working pretty much every second next year."
"Diddums," Nick says, wiping away a fake tear. "It's so hard being a mega-fancied, international pop star."
Harry laughs. His cheeks go all hollow when he takes the first sip of his milkshake, which makes Nick want to blush and look at something completely innocent for a while. "I'm not complaining."
"I know, because I'm not sympathising. People who play Madison Square Garden don't get any sympathy from me."
"Shut up." Harry pokes him in the shoulder with one long finger.
When the burgers arrive, Nick's is leaking blood, which is exactly the way he likes it. Harry had asked for his well done, and he makes a dickhead attempt at smirking around his as he takes a bite. Each of the plates has half a giant gherkin on it too, and Nick steals Harry's whilst Harry's busy being smug over his burger. He takes a bite out of both his and Harry's, so that Harry won't steal it back.
All the time, Harry's knee is brushing up against Nick's, and neither of them are moving away, and neither of them are mentioning it, like if they talk about it, they'll just have to stop and pretend it's not happening.
Their sides arrive in tiny metal dishes, and Nick has to flag down the waitress to remind her to bring the mayonnaise. He doesn't know why he ordered the courgette fries, and Harry is deliberately shielding his bowls from Nick with a mocking expression on his face, so Nick just decides he's going to pretend the courgette fries are the best thing ever even if they taste like shit.
They taste fucking fantastic, so he forces Harry to try one, Harry pushing him away as Nick leans over the table to make him eat it. They're loud and ridiculous and the salt tips over and spills across the table top, and Nick doesn't care at all. Especially when Harry makes a face and says, "They're not as bad as I thought."
"Ha!" Nick says. "You're such a shit."
Nick just grins and steals an onion ring, eating it as obnoxiously as he can manage, his mouth open as he chews.
Harry pushes the remains of his burger round his plate a bit before saying anything else.
"I remember," he says finally.
"That I'm better than you? About bloody time. Let's get that tattooed. You can just get Nick is better than me somewhere everyone will see it."
"No," Harry says. "The other thing. What I told you. That night."
There is probably a good chance he's talking about the night he got drunk and told Nick he couldn't stop thinking about him, but there's a line. They never talk about the two of them beyond what the tabloids say about their so-called bromance. He brushes away the grease from his burger on to his jeans. "What thing?" he asks lightly. Maybe he'd better start sweeping up the salt they'd spilled on the table. He could probably do it if he stole the serviette from the next table.
"Nick," Harry says, reaching over the table and stopping him with a hand to his wrist. "Don't. Just—listen."
Nick waits a moment before nodding, then Harry lets go of him and leans back in his seat. "Okay."
"I can't stop thinking about you," Harry says softly. "Like, all the fucking time. It's like you're on a loop in my head and all I can think about is you."
"Harry." Nick can't help but glance around them to see if anyone's listening, but it's still really early for lunch and anyway, nobody's seated near them. If he can just stop Harry talking then it's all going to be okay, they can fix this, it's rectifiable. They're not about to fuck the most important thing in his life up. "Don't."
"I can't not," Harry says. "I can't not want you."
"This is such a bad idea," Nick says, trying not to sound desperate.
"It's not a bad idea, it's a good idea."
"I don't even know what the idea is. Fuck."
"You're not a cheese nightmare."
"Well, I'm glad about that." For a moment he'd forgotten their cheese conversation. It all comes back to him in startlingly bright colour. He remembers the stomach churning fear that they were screwing everything up. It hasn't left.
"I'm going to get the bill, okay?" Harry says. His phone is ringing, but Harry just silences it and shoves it back in his pocket. "And then I'll drive you back to my place."
Nick literally has no idea what's going on, because all he can hear is Harry saying I can't not want you over and over and over in his head on a loop. "Okay," he says, but he could have been agreeing to anything. He probably is.
Harry holds his hand up and the waitress comes over to them like a flash.
"I'd like the bill, please," Harry says, already getting his wallet out of his bag. "Actually, do you think fifty quid will cover it? We have to go." He gets out three twenty pound notes, and winks at her. "Sixty's better. Keep the change."
Sixty quid would probably cover the bill twice, but whatever. Nick gives her an apologetic little smile as he grabs his coat, but Harry's already signing his name on her order pad, writing, thanks for the brilliant service!! in all caps above his name. She looks a bit like she's dying right in front of them in sheer joy.
"You didn't have to pay," Nick says, trying to catch up with Harry as they leave. "I can pay for myself."
"My treat," Harry says, without looking back.
Harry's parked around the corner, paying an exorbitant central London parking meter charge just for the privilege. Nick has no idea what's going on, but when they're in the car with the doors locked, Harry leans over and covers Nick's hand with his own, sliding his fingers into Nick's.
Nick trembles, unable to help himself, because Harry Styles is trying to hold his hand, and this is so stupid. So stupid. Are they—is he going to have sex with Harry Styles? Because if he is, then he might need more than twenty minutes to deal with the enormity of that. He's so rubbish at casual sex. He's rubbish at relationships too, but that's probably not something he has to worry about now. Harry only does casual, everyone knows that.
"This is such a bad idea."
"Sometimes bad ideas are the best ideas," Harry tells him, starting the engine and shooting him an only partly-awkward grin. He squeezes Nick's hand before he pulls out into the road, doing an obnoxious u-turn just to save himself the hassle of a queue at the traffic lights. The sound of beeps travel with them for a while. Driving with Harry is always a joy. "So, um. If we go back to mine and I kiss you, how's that going to, you know."
"Well, are you going to punch me in the face?"
Nick can't help but wonder if Harry has ever seen Nick try to hit anything. "No," he says. "But this is still a terrible idea." He's in way too deep to be able to walk away unscathed afterwards. All the same, it's not like he's going to turn Harry down. He's not sure he could, even if he did want to.
Harry leans over and squeezes Nick's hand again. "Seriously," he says. "Stop stressing. I can't stop thinking about you, and I'm sort of sure you feel the same, and sex is amazing, so we should have some."
Nick concentrates on not swallowing his tongue, because a) he quite likes his tongue and b) he doesn't actually know what the fuck is going on. Where has this even come from? And worse: Nick can't think of a single person who Harry's slept with that has remained a close friend afterwards. The only example he can think of is Elle, who used to work for Harry's music label, and who had shagged Harry fourteen times in a weekend before jetting off to LA to start a new job. Harry had confided in Nick that his dick had just about fallen off for the thirteenth and fourteenth times, but Nick had just rolled his eyes and mimed playing the world's tiniest violin for him. Elle and Harry hang out in LA when he's over there—probably having sex—and she's the only friend of Harry's that Nick can't stand.
He's not stupid enough to think it isn't because Harry's having sex with her.
"Harry—" He needs to stop this, because Harry is the most important person in his life, and because he's eighteen years old, and because Nick is actually a lot more fragile than most people give him credit for. And because he secretly wants to go out with Harry, and Harry doesn't want that.
"I've thought about this a lot," Harry interrupts him. "Like, all the time. I can't stop thinking about you. So I just think that this is a good way of dealing with it, you know?"
Nick can't actually think of anything that would be better than having sex with Harry, but the fact is, once they're done, they're going to have to get up and figure out where the fuck they stand. And what he does know is that what they most definitely won't be is boyfriends. He's pretty sure that this isn't a good way of dealing with whatever it is that's between the two of them.
Harry's band is a brand, and right now they're being marketed as clean-cut, nice, wholesome lads. They're boys next door who like having fun, and having a joke, and being a laugh. It doesn't matter that Harry is seen with a lot of girls. It wouldn't even matter if he was gay, because it's a rule of thumb that if there's five of them, one of them has to be gay—Stephen from Boyzone (R.I.P), Mark from Westlife (the fact that Jason Orange is straight still surprises him, but Nick really does like to let people pick their own labels to live by, so he'll let it pass), even sometimes-bisexual Duncan-from-Blue. But you can't be a teen sensation who sleeps around with men, because people don't like that, even if they don't mind you shagging every eligible woman in the northern hemisphere, and most of the south. It's not right, but it's how it is, and it's why this is such a bad idea. Nick's heart is already fragile enough without adding a secret one-night stand with Harry to the mix.
And the thing is, Nick isn't really sure how to go about hiding the fact that he's in love with him, and if he lets on that it's more than just a crush, then everything's going to be ruined and he's not sure that he's going to be able to cope when that happens.
Harry's phone starts to buzz, and he tosses it to Nick. "Send it to voicemail, will you?"
"She called me before. She'll leave a message, if it's important," Harry says. "Let it go."
Reluctantly, Nick rejects the call. "Harry—"
"Do you want to have sex with me or not? Because I don't know about you, but I could get really fucking hard for you, really fucking quickly." He glances at Nick as he changes lanes, making the left filter on the traffic light with about half a second to spare.
Nick puts his head in his hands. "This is such a bad idea," he says, but he wants this so much. He wants Harry more than anything, and a minute ago Harry's hand was in his, and this is everything he's dreamed about for months. How the fuck he's supposed to go on the radio and pretend that Harry's just a friend after this, he has no idea. He's always had the worst fucking poker face. Radio voice. Whatever.
"Tell me no," Harry says. "Tell me you don't want to."
He isn't a strong enough person for this. "Okay," he says. "If you promise this isn't going to fuck us up."
There are traffic lights coming up, and Harry slows down too early, crawling the distance to the car in front. When he's stopped completely, he reaches for Nick's hand, and curls his fingers into Nick's.
Harry leans in and presses a kiss to the back of Nick's hand. "I promise."
Something inside of Nick dies, just a little bit. They're so fucked. He's so fucked.
So, so fucked.
"Okay," Nick says, once they're through the gates and in the car park for Harry's flat. Harry glances at him, smile wide but still a little nervous. He's biting his lip, and it's just so endearingly charming that Nick would say yes to anything, even something as mind-numbingly stupid as having sex with his best friend.
"No backing out now," Harry says, and he sounds a little nervous, even as he deliberately parks badly across his space, and lets the engine rumble away to nothing. Nick isn't sure whether Harry's saying it to Nick or to himself.
Maybe he's saying it to both of them.
"Have you done this before?" Nick can't help but ask.
"A blow job once."
Nick didn't know about that. "Really?"
"Yes, really," Harry says. "I don't tell you everything, you know."
"You should have told me about that." Nick tries to sound nonchalant and relaxed, but he's tense and apprehensive, and aware that this is a really stupid idea, and that it's something they should have talked about a lot more. He doesn't tend towards thinking before he acts in general, but in this he should probably have made an exception.
"I don't want to talk about someone else right now. Come on. Come up to mine."
There's a lump in Nick's throat. He nods, climbing out of the car and following Harry over to the front door. It's a keycard, so he waits as Harry fumbles in his pocket for his card, finding it eventually and holding it up against the lock.
When they get inside, Nick's hands are sweating. He's shaking, he's so nervous, and Harry looks equally uncertain.
"Can I—" Harry says, and he makes an aborted twitch forwards, into Nick's space and out again, one hand out to curl around his bicep.
"Yeah," Nick can't think. "Just, um. Yeah."
"Oh fuck," Harry darts forward, and Nick can't help but reach for him, hand to the back of Harry's neck, pulling him in, and then Harry's mouth is on his and they're kissing. It's messy and both of them are breathless, and they need to move away from the fucking front door and upstairs, but Nick can't let go of him. He kisses him again, just to make sure he's real.
"I can't—" Harry starts, tugging him towards the stairs. "No, don't stop. Upstairs. Come upstairs."
"No, the lift." Nick stabs at the call button, and Harry's hands are everywhere, his arms, his face, catching in the collar of his shirt as Harry pulls him closer, pushing him into the lift when the doors ping open. It smells like Dettol.
"I want you," Harry tells him, rocking his hips up so that his dick is touching Nick's.
This is such a stupid fucking idea, and right now it's also the best idea either of them have ever had.
"Want you right back," Nick manages, kissing Harry even as the lift doors open again and they stumble out into the hall by Harry's flat. He just hadn't ever imagined this actually happening outside of his imagination. He's tilting Harry's chin up with the tips of his fingers, tripping over his own feet and it's real, it's happening, this is him and Harry, and they're doing this, and it feels so good.
"Nick, want you, come on—" Harry's hands curl into his shirt, probably stretching it past wearable size for the rest of forever, but whatever, Nick doesn't care. He'll sacrifice the shirt, even though it's his favourite.
Nick backs him into the wall and kisses him again, sliding his hands into Harry's hair. Harry laughs, and somehow his hand has found its way under Nick's shirt. He shivers in anticipation.
"Oh my god. Harry?"
They both freeze, because that's a girl's voice. That's a girl's voice, and they're not alone in the hall.
When Nick looks up, Harry's sister Gemma is standing by Harry's front door, her phone in her hand.
"Holy shit," Harry laughs, wiping his mouth, but it doesn't sound as easy as Nick might have imagined. He sounds scared.
Nick takes a step back, out of Harry's space. What had felt easy just a second ago doesn't feel comfortable any more. Nick wants to laugh, just to ease the nervous tension. He always wants to make a joke in the middle of fights; it's his thing. "Hi, Gem," he says, because neither Harry nor Gemma are saying anything at all, and Harry is never stuck for words. Obnoxiously silent at moments where it'd be better if he spoke, yes, but never without something to say if pressed.
"What the hell," Gemma says wildly. She looks between the two of them, her eyes bright. "This isn't—you two aren't—you're not, Harry. This is a joke, right? The two of you's a joke, everyone knows that."
"Um," Harry says. Nick sort of wishes he'd said something other than that, because Gemma has quite obviously been crying—and clearly not due to Nick and Harry, either, because her eyeliner is smeared all under her eyes and looks like it's been like that for a while—and Nick's just been caught getting off with Harry Styles, and that's a kind of big deal. It merits more than an um.
"This isn't happening," Gemma shakes her head, still looking between the two of them. "If this was—if you two were doing this, I'd know. Harry would have said. I'd know."
Nick's relationship history hasn't been stellar, okay, and it's mostly involved a series of non-starters and commitment-phobes that Nick's liked, and a slightly creepy list of over-enthusiastic mouth breathers that have, to his horror, liked him. His experience of this, of what's happening right now in the hallway, is non-existent. His ability to run from conflict is also legendary, and the only reason he's not walking away right now is that Harry genuinely looks like he's might break.
He reaches for Harry's arm, but Harry steps away, towards his sister.
"Gem," he says. "I'm sorry—"
"No, I'm sorry. This is—this is weird, and it's gross. Nick, you've been to my mum and Robin's house. Harry came to yours for Christmas. You're, like, thirty. Can't you get a boyfriend your own age? Why do you want Harry? He's not even gay."
"I'm not thirty," Nick says, because he doesn't care if it's the least important thing that Gemma's just said, he's not fucking thirty. Does he look thirty? He looks at Harry to make sure, but Harry's looking at Gemma.
"It's not gross, and it's not weird," Harry says, still not looking at Nick. "And he's not thirty."
"I don't care how many weeks he's got before he's thirty, Harry. I care that he's trying to get off with you, and he's like, old."
This is actually what hell is like.
Except Gemma doesn't look pissed off or like she hates them, she just looks overwhelmed and confused, and like she's been crying for a long time and can't fucking deal with any of Harry and Nick's shit on top of her own. It's entirely possible that she's wearing a pyjama top under that coat, but Nick's always been rubbish at fashion. He buys what he likes, which means that his appearance veers from one extreme to the other.
"It's a joke," Gemma says again, rubbing at her cheek with her fist. "Everyone knows it's not real, it's just the papers and the magazines making stuff up to sell more copies."
"What are you doing?" Gemma's voice catches, and then she's crying, and Nick sort of wants to cry too, from sheer horror. "Nick, he's like—he's a kid. And you're an adult."
Nick is very, very aware of the nine and a half years age difference between him and Harry. All of the arguments that he's practiced in his head for this eventuality—Harry is emotionally older than most of the people Nick knows, he's got an inner strength that meant he could compete in and lose a televised singing competition without any accompanying psychological trauma, he's old enough to be at university and going out with anyone he wants, get married, fight in wars, sing live in front of a crowd at Madison Square Garden, and live out of a suitcase for months on end away from his family—but now it comes to it, none of them seem like good enough arguments. None of them take away from the fact that Nick is almost ten years older than Harry, and that Gemma's right, and this is wrong.
He swallows. "I should go. Leave you two to—" he doesn't know how to end that, but he's not sure that either of them are listening to him anyway. Harry and Gemma are having a silent conversation of their own, staring at each other and both ignoring him.
Gemma's still crying, and Nick's never made anyone cry just at the prospect of someone sleeping with him before. It's like a new achievement level he's just unlocked. Maybe he should get some kind of prize, although there's barely any room, what with the giant crown of stupid he's currently wearing. He'd known that messing around with Harry was going to be a crap idea, and that someone was going to get hurt, and that the chances of it being him were quite high. He shouldn't have gone along with it, but he had because Harry was persuasive and he was in love, and now everything was getting fucked up, and fuck.
"Yeah, I'm going to go."
"Don't—" Harry says, but then he looks between Gemma, who's still crying, and Nick, who isn't, but wants to. "Okay," he amends, and reaches for Nick's sleeve, touching it for a moment before dropping his hand again. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Okay. Right, bye." Nick shoves his hands in his pockets, and feels awkward leaving, but what else can he do? Behind him, he hears Harry let himself into his flat, and Nick can't look back, he can't.
He takes the stairs instead of the lift back down to the ground floor, and it's only when he gets outside that he realises Harry drove him here, and he doesn't have his car with him. He walks towards the gates instead, drizzle turning to actual rain even as he crosses the car park with the vague hope of finding a bus stop pretty close, and a bus that goes fuck knows where.
If he closes his eyes, he's pretty sure that he can almost feel the ghost of Harry's kiss on his lips. His hair feels like it's sticking up in the wrong direction (one direction, oh god, what the fuck has he just done) and he's tried so hard to keep what he felt for Harry a secret, and now it's out in the open and everything's screwed up.
It's all gone to shit, and there's only himself to blame.
Nick's a helpless gossip. It's kind of why he loves doing the job that he does; if he didn't take at least some pleasure from talking, he'd be an accountant (he wouldn't, he's crap at stuff like actually budgeting) or a gardener or something. He shares part of his life with the airwaves every day, but it turns out that getting off with Harry Styles after going for a burger isn't something he can tell anyone.
He sits at home with his phone out in front of him and the telly on, and Harry doesn't ring, and there isn't a single person in his phonebook that Nick can phone up and say, fuck me, I've totally fucking fucked up, and hey, did you know Harry Styles goes both ways? Because Harry has a career, and a future that could be affected by this, if Nick picks the wrong person, and because Gemma said that Nick was gross, and Nick is probably sure he could go through the whole rest of his life without having to hear that again.
His whole life, he's not even joking.
In the end, he watches Hollyoaks (shit), Emmerdale (pretty good), and Corrie (same as it's been his whole fucking life, which is to say: Ken and Deirdre), and Harry doesn't text or call or tweet or send a pigeon or turn up on his doorstep. He doesn't do any of those things, so Nick does what any self-respecting, almost-thirty, fucked-up and in-love guy would do, which is compose thirty-seven different texts, delete them all, and finally send one that just says, you ok? Nick x and hope for the best.
He deliberated for the whole of Coronation Street about including the x.
In the end, Harry calls him just as he's trying to pick between World's Craziest Police Pursuits and Holby City—a choice no one should ever have to make—and Nick's so nervous about answering the phone that he drops it down between the sofa cushions and accidentally presses answer even as he's scrabbling for it in amongst four years of sofa detritus.
"Sorry," Nick says breathlessly, coming up for air and brandishing his phone like a trophy.
"Where the fuck was your phone?" Harry asks, and he sounds tired. "Sounds like you're underground or something."
"Dropped it in between the sofa cushions." Nick lets out a breath. "You okay?"
"Gemma's dickhead boyfriend dumped her for her housemate," Harry tells him. "I'm going to drive right up there and punch him in the fucking face. And tell Sarah she's a total fucking dickhead too. I signed a t-shirt for her. I'm having that back."
"Shit," Nick says. "That's awful."
"I know. And she found them in bed together. Can you imagine seeing that? It would just about be the worst thing ever."
Nick is personally of the opinion that getting caught snogging by Harry's sister is just about the worst thing ever. Or maybe this conversation is, where neither of them are talking about what they did earlier, and what that might mean. "Yeah, the worst."
"She's really upset."
Nick really, really doesn't want to say, about us?
"Why's everything so shit? Like, everything. My stupid fucking CD player's fucked and we can't get the drawer out, so we're having to listen to this stupid Christmas CD over and over, and I'm pretty sure I could go through the whole of the rest of my life without hearing Driving Home For Christmas again. That's shit, right?" Harry lets out a breath. "Do you think you were right? Was it a stupid idea? You and me?"
Nick squeezes his eyes shut, one hand pressed to his forehead. "Yes," he says, because it has been. Because this is the result, this awkwardness and Gemma's reaction and everything. He'd hate it if the newspapers started printing shit about how old he was, and the age difference between them. "It's not that I didn't want to—" he'd wanted to so very fucking much indeed.
"I know," Harry says. Neither of them say anything, and Nick feels any hope he might have had start to fade away.
"You're my best friend." Nick's never told him that, not explicitly, not sober. He means, I love you. I love you and I never want to lose you and please don't stop being my friend. It feels like something is trying to crawl its way out of his chest, painful and hurting and he wants this so badly.
Harry doesn't say anything for a while, and when he does, his voice is soft. "You're mine too."
"We can't, can we?"
"No," Harry says. "I don't think we can."
Nick squeezes his eyes shut and presses his fist to his forehead. "Okay," he says.
"I'll call you tomorrow. We can go for a drink or something."
"Yeah," Nick needs to get off the phone, because he can feel his voice starting to catch in his throat. He'd always known it could never happen, but knowing it and knowing it are two different things.
When he hangs up, he covers his face with his hands and tries not to cry.
He's woken up by a text message, his phone vibrating so hard it falls off the bedside table and onto the floor. He groans, burying his face in the pillow as he fumbles sleepily for it on the carpet.
It's from Pixie, and it just says, youre in the sun bromance of the year!
As wake up calls go, that's probably the worst he can think of today. Especially when his network—which is always shit in his bedroom—fucks off and dies, so he has to go and stand in the bathroom and wave his phone around to get his 3G back. When he does, he daren't move, so he sits on the loo with the lid down and tries to make The Sun's homepage load. It doesn't cross his mind that it might have been quicker to go and turn his laptop on in the living room until the page has finally loaded, but by that point it's too late, and the pictures of him and Harry at Byron yesterday are already there, staring at him.
The first one looks like they're holding hands—they're not, they didn't, they hadn't, but maybe it's from that moment where Harry had reached for him and told him that he wanted him, and Nick can't help but look at the picture and want to cry. He should have said no then, when there was still a chance that the two of them could emerge unscathed. If they hadn't have kissed, he could still have got over him. Maybe. Possibly.
The next picture is of Nick leaning over the table and stuffing a courgette fry into Harry's face, and they're both laughing and trying to push each other away, and it really does look like they're about to kiss. He stares down at it, because is that how they look to other people? That close? That happy?
The third picture is of the two of them walking down the road to Harry's car, hands close enough to brush, and underneath the picture, the text just says that surely Harry's girlfriends are going to be put off by the closeness of Harry and his best friend, gay DJ Nick Grimshaw (almost thirty).
He's not fucking thirty, but he is way too old for Harry fucking Styles.
He shuts the page down and sends a text to Harry. Seen the paper today?
After a while he gets one back that says, will call u later x
Harry doesn't call until late that evening, and when he does, he sounds tired. "Hi."
"Hi, stranger," Nick says. He doesn't want to rebuke Harry for not calling, but Nick has slowly been dying of a nervous breakdown all by himself. He doesn't deal very well with these sorts of things by himself, and what he really, really wants to do is phone a friend and just tell them everything, but the thing is, he can still hear Gemma saying, it's gross, he's almost thirty, and he's too ashamed to tell anyone that Harry's who he wants.
"Sorry," Harry says softly. "I didn't—I've been busy."
"It's okay." It isn't, but whatever. None of this had been a good idea. "How's Gemma?"
"Still here. We ate pizza and watched Titanic."
"It was on the telly. Sky."
"I saw the paper," Harry says finally.
"I didn't know anyone was taking pictures." The pictures had been taken from outside the restaurant, through the glass windows, zoomed in and grainy. Covent Garden is always so busy; they could have looked out of the window and across the interchange and not noticed someone with a camera if they'd tried.
Nick lets out a breath. "Probably a good idea if we don't go for that drink."
"Probably not, yeah. And Gemma's still here anyway. Could properly murder a rum and Coke right now, though."
Nick laughs. It sounds strained, and it's a lie, but if it's one they're both telling, then at least they can pretend it's for the best. "I'd have a Malibu."
"With an umbrella in it."
"Obviously." The newspapers are right about them, but it's all such a bad idea, and Nick's slowly going crazy trying to figure out how to get through it all in one piece. "You okay?"
"Definitely," Harry says. Nick knows him well enough to tell when he's lying, but whatever. "Miss you, though." He says the last part quietly, like he's making sure he's not overheard.
Nick nods, even though Harry can't see him down the phone. It's only been a day, and they've both been apart much longer than this in the past. They're both so fucking screwed. "Me too," he says finally, and after a minute, Harry hangs up.
What the fuck he's going to do now, Nick has no idea.
The article comes out on Sunday, on the front page of the Sunday Mirror. It's slightly better than being on the front cover of The Mail on Sunday, but only just.
Nick wakes up to fifteen text messages that all say a variant of shit.
He ends up in the living room, opening up his laptop, all fingers and thumbs.
The headline says, Harry's Gay, and underneath that, ex-girlfriend Hayley Eco tells of her tragic tug of love with Radio 1's Nick Grimshaw for Harry Styles' heart.
Well, she can fuck right off. The Mirror can fuck right off. Hayley fucking Eco, who'd shagged Harry for two fucking weeks in the summer and then fucking dumped him, can fuck right off and leave them both the fuck alone, and fuck, fuck, fuck.
Hayley has been out of the picture for like, four fucking months. What the fuck.
It's not fair. None of this is fair. Harry shags around, okay, but he doesn't cheat and he doesn't lie and he isn't a dick. Nick's a huge believer in people being able to label themselves exactly how they want to, and Harry doesn't identify as gay. Somewhere in the middle is about as close as Harry has come to labelling himself to Nick, and it isn't fair that some fucking newspaper got to out him before he outed himself. And fuck this shit, Nick hasn't actually done anything wrong. Neither of them have. They're not having an affair. There isn't, and hasn't ever been, a tug of fucking love. And he hates that he knows that it's this that's going to fuck him and Harry up, more so even than their aborted one night stand.
When his phone starts to ring, Nick wants it to be Harry, but it isn't, it's his mum.
His mum is crying, and Nick has seen his mum cry at exactly four points in his life: his granddad's funeral, his great aunt Betty's funeral, when Vera came back in Coronation Street to dance with Jack as he died, and when Buffy the Vampire Slayer lobbed herself off that tower. The last one had surprised Nick too, but apparently the next door neighbour had given her the box sets on video when they'd upgraded to DVD.
"It's nothing," she says, but he can still hear her crying. "Two stupid women in the shop, that's all. I never thought I'd have to hear two old witches badmouthing my son when all I wanted was a packet of digestives and a pint of milk."
Nick presses the heel of his hand to his eye for a moment. "Mum," he says. "It's not true. It's all rubbish." That's not quite the truth. He's reading the newspaper article as he's talking, and whilst everything about it is out of context, there's less made-up bollocks than Nick's hoping for. There's a picture of Hayley in a demure blue dress, holding a picture of her and Harry together and looking sad, next to a paragraph where Hayley explains that she'd genuinely thought that she and Harry had a future together, but that Nick monopolised all of Harry's time. Coming home to find Harry and Nick in bed together had been heartbreaking, she says. The two of them never had a chance with Nick always in attendance, but she had chosen not to believe that until her birthday, when Harry had blown off her party in favour of going to watch Nick DJ in Camden.
Written like that, it does sound bad, but Harry had gone out with Hayley for like, two weeks or something, and finding Harry and Nick in bed together had been exactly that—the two of them passed out, fully clothed, and sprawled all over Harry's bed like they'd just partied all night. Which they had.
Okay, so Nick is number one on Harry's speed dial, but that's only because Nick stole his phone when he was drunk and moved his mum to number two. Harry had gone to watch Nick DJ instead of going to Hayley's birthday party, but Nick had asked him first, before Harry had even met Hayley. Harry does fall asleep on Nick's shoulder if he's tired, and Nick has—once or twice—been known to fall asleep on him too. That doesn't necessarily mean they were having an affair. And he hadn't deliberately sabotaged Harry and Hayley's relationship with his "barbed, bitchy asides". They might as well have said he was being queeny and been done with it. Fucking Mirror.
"It's not true," Nick says again, because all he can hear is his mum quietly crying, which is a sound he'd quite like to never actually have to hear again. For fuck's sake, Hayley and Harry had gone out together a handful of times, and had sex a few more times than that, and that had been it. They'd broken up just before Nick and Harry had got papped buying a cookbook in Tesco. "This is all bollocks. Hayley's talking crap, she probably needs rent money or a holiday or something. And her name isn't Eco, it's flippin' Adams. She only changed it to Eco to make her sound posher."
"They'll all say no smoke without fire, Nick."
Me and Harry have never—" He can't say kissed, because that's not true. "We're not going out," is what he settles on, but the lie sits heavy in his stomach, because he can't pretend that's not what he wants. He can't pretend it's not what he needs. He can't pretend he isn't in love with him. He just knows that it would never actually happen. Harry wouldn't go out with him.
"I'm not saying that you are. I'm saying people think you broke that poor girl's heart, sneaking around behind her back. It makes you sound—I didn't bring you up to behave like that girl's saying you did. All of that nastiness. They're going to think—" she stops, and lets out a breath. "Don't mind me, love. I know it's not true."
"I'm sorry about the women in the shop, Mum." He doesn't know what else to say.
"Don't worry about them. As they say, it'll be tomorrow's fish and chip paper. Or it would be, if they still did a fish supper in newspaper. Anyway, me and your dad are going to drive up to that big supermarket over by the dual carriageway. It won't be like round here, they never know who you are over there. We'll go over there now; you know your dad hates it when there's no milk for his cereal."
Nick rubs at his forehead with his fingertips. "You know that's a Sainsbury's, right? You'll never get Dad in there."
"I can put up with him whining for half an hour. Been doing it for years. It's not like it's Waitrose, anyway. We'll stop off at Aldi on the way back, let him bulk buy frozen fish as a treat."
"Get some frozen pizzas too, keep them in for me." Aldi do the best frozen pizzas. Even under blind taste tests—which he has carried out—they always come out top.
He doesn't know how they got onto pizzas. For a moment, neither of them say anything.
"The Mirror isn't good enough to wipe my shoes on," she tells him, after a minute. "You tell Harry he's welcome here anytime."
"I'll tell him my dad will even try and remember his name this time."
"Phone me up first, I'll remind him and everything."
Sometimes there's a moment where you can't help but know that everything's changed, and for Nick, it's this one, with the article on the screen in front of him, unwittingly the death knell for any hope he might have that he and Harry might one day figure out some kind of way through all of these feelings they're not putting a name to. He pinches the bridge of his nose, aware it makes him look like he's about forty. Or a teacher. A forty-year old teacher. He and Harry are never going to work. "I'd better go," he says finally.
"Phone us if you need anything, love. Fuck the Sunday Mirror."
"Everyone else gets to swear, I wanted a turn."
Nick tries to laugh. "Don't do it again, Mum. You'll give me a complex." He wants to say, don't cry again. "Get fish and chips for your lunch, you and Dad."
"Will do," she says, and they're not a demonstrative family, none of them, so there's a pause before they ring off, a space for all the things they want to say but never do.
Nick drops his phone down onto the sofa next to him, and it's a full five seconds before it rings again, this time with Harry's name flashing up on the screen, underneath a picture of Harry pulling a face for the camera.
Looking down at his phone right now is probably what having his heart broken feels like.
When Nick finally works up the nerve to answer it, Harry sounds exhausted. "Don't fucking bollock me," he says in lieu of a hello. "Do you have any idea how many people have bollocked me this morning? Like, people have got out of bed specially to bollock me."
"I'm not going to bollock you," Nick says. Nothing good can come of a bollocking, right now.
Harry doesn't say anything for a while. "They've said I'm bringing the band into disrepute. That it's a brand, and I'm damaging it. Even the lads are pissed off at me."
"Because of one stupid, made-up article? That's bollocks." Horror unfurls slowly, spreading over his skin like icy tendrils. Because of me is what he wants to ask. And the boys are pissed off at him too? That's unexpected.
"Because of everything," Harry says. "Because Hayley makes me sound like a fucking dick who cheats around. Because we can't go anywhere without people following us around. Because one day we're The Sun's bromance of the fucking year, and the next we're having an affair behind Hayley's back and I'm breaking her heart. Because everyone's mad at me, and everyone had to get out of bed just to yell at me, and everyone else got yelled at too, and then they yelled at me because they all got woken up, and nothing is fun anymore, and I hate it. I hate it."
No, this is what having his heart broken feels like. This right here.
"She's making shit up," Nick says finally, because that's the only part of any of this he can fixate on.
"But is she, though?"
Oh, god. "We never had an affair behind her back. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered that." He would have remembered every last fucking moment.
"Good as, though, maybe."
Nick doesn't know what to say to that, so he says nothing, because he's been hiding how he felt about Harry for so long that finding out he fucking knew hurts more than the rest of it, and he doesn't know why. "I would never have—not behind her back, Haz."
"I would have done," Harry says softly. "If you'd asked."
There's nothing Nick can say to that, so he doesn't say anything. His chest hurts.
"Do you think it might—it might hurt less if we didn't see each other for a while? If we had, like—a break?"
No. It's going to hurt more. Nick isn't stupid. He also knows Harry, and Harry wouldn't ask for a break. He's hearing someone else's words come out of Harry's mouth, but maybe it's not the worst idea that anyone's ever had. "Maybe."
"Elle wants me to go see her new place in LA. I could go there. Just—maybe being somewhere else is a good idea."
Nick has to squeeze his eyes shut to stop himself from doing something he's going to regret. "Okay," he says, and he tries to hide the frog in his throat he's got from trying not to cry, but he doesn't know how well he's managing. Harry sounds like he might be crying too, and fuck the Sunday Mirror, for serious. Fuck the Mirror, and the people around him who've tried to make Harry a brand, and fame, and celebrity, and his stupid fucking thirtieth birthday and Harry's twenty-first, and which one comes first.
"I'll just—I'm going to just fly out there."
"How long are you going to stay?" Christmas is like, next week, and Harry is supposed to come over to Nick's. There are plans. Nick's dad is going to remember Harry's name. He's primed him and everything. There are plans.
"I don't know. Elle's probably doing something for New Year. A party or something."
Nick doesn't say, call me. He doesn't say anything, because there's nothing to say. He talks for a living, and he can't find a single fucking thing in the whole of the world to say in response to Harry telling him he's going half way around the world just to get away from him.
In the end, he hangs up when Harry does, and calls Aimee, and manages five seconds before he breaks down and tells her everything.
Aimee doesn't tell the press, or the magazines, or any of their friends. She just comes over to his and makes him a cup of tea, curls into his side on the sofa and says, "You poor, stupid bastard."
He doesn't do any of the things he'd normally do, like remind her of the time she'd had that one night stand with the guy who was obsessed with orange, and whose entire flat had been like one giant you've been tango'd advert, or pull her hair. "He's leaving the fucking country, Aims."
"I know, babe."
"He's going to have sex with Californian girls with no pubes."
"Probably," she says, curling her hand around his knee. It doesn't help that Aimee never fucking bullshits him. He could really do with someone right now to tell him that Harry is going to be celibate forever, and that hot Californian girls with less lazy shaving habits than his are off the menu. "Is he a good kisser, though?"
He rolls his eyes, and drops his chin to his knees, drawing them in to his chest. "This is not the comfort I was looking for, kid."
"You should have called someone else, then," she tells him, unrepentant. This is why she's his best friend after Harry.
"Aims," he says, and his voice catches. "Aims, I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know what to do."
"Oh, you fuckhead," she says, and tugs him into a hug. "You've been in love with him this whole time, and you never said?"
He doesn't say anything to that, because there's no point. There's nothing to say. He doesn't know why he's bothered, anyway, since Harry wasn't ever actually going to go out with him.
It doesn't stop it hurting, though. Knowing it for sure.
Aimee curls into his side. "You want to get twatted and pretend none of this is happening?"
Normally hearing Aimee say things that Americans should never, ever say at least makes him smile, but he can't even bring himself to do that. He agrees, though. In principle. "Let's drink until we puke."
"That's my boy," Aimee says, rubbing his stomach. "Let's get you through this."
The thing is, Nick isn't sure that he can.
Just boarding. Take care of yourself. See you soon. H x
Nick—too hungover to speak—throws his phone at the wall.
"Go and help your mum in the kitchen," Dad says, rolling his eyes at Nick, who's sprawled on the sofa clutching a giant tin of Roses, the Christmas Radio Times, and the TV remote. He's feeding his broken heart with chocolate, booze, the contents of the fridge, and crap on the telly. He's had eleven cold pigs in blankets already today. "She's been crossheading sprouts since eight this morning."
Nick steals the last strawberry cream out of the Roses tin and changes the channel. Someone, somewhere, has to be showing Elf. "You don't need to crosshead sprouts anymore, I saw it on Nigella." He raises his voice. "Mum, stop crossheading the sprouts, it's not 1988 anymore."
His mum sticks her head around the kitchen door. "If it's good enough for Delia, it's good enough for me. Ignore your dad and go and pour some sherry for everyone."
"Mum," he complains. Nobody drinks sherry. Anyway, he's too miserable and full of self-loathing to get people sherry.
"And don't go pouring it out in tumblers, not when I've got that whole shelf of sherry glasses. Do one for your sister too. And Liv, if she wants one. Make it small, though."
"Nobody wants sherry, Mum."
"Do as you're told, Nicholas. And if you've eaten all the strawberry ones out of the tin, you're sleeping on the patio."
"Dad did it, it wasn't me." He rolls off the sofa and into some pretence at a standing position. He's been at home for two days, and so far he's drunk the best part of a bottle of Baileys, a lot of mulled wine, dusted off the advocaat and drunk that, and the only remaining options—if he doesn't want to go to the shop, or figure out once and for all where his mum is hiding the Christmas alcohol stash that she's surely bought for the two days the shops are shut and they're all trapped inside together—are sherry, or some kind of port that the next door neighbours brought back from Portugal for them four years ago to say thank you for looking after the cat. That port will still be there when they're all dead and gone; Nick had had a whiff of it two years ago and even the smell had been enough to strip paint. "Anyway, you ate all the Twirls out of the Miniature Heroes."
If he does nothing but eat and drink and watch Christmas films on repeat for the next ten days, then he doesn't have to think about Harry once, and everything will be just fine. As an actual life plan it does have some holes, but if he can manage to hide from his parents the fact that he's both in love with Harry and a bit brokenhearted, then he can count the whole of Christmas as a win. Harry's probably in California having sex with blonde girls with perfect hair anyway. Nick's still wearing his pyjamas at two-thirty in the afternoon, and his options for the next hour are watching either a) Cool Runnings or b) The McFly Show, both of which he's already seen.
He'd go for the blonde Californians with perfect hair if he had the choice, too.
His mum sticks her head around the door again. "For the last time, I didn't eat all of the flipping Twirls. And are we going to put any clothes on today, or are we staying in our pyjamas until tonight?" By we she means Nick.
"Someone did, unless we've got actual elves." He kneels down by the drinks cupboard, ignoring the pyjamas jibe, and brings out a dusty bottle of dry sherry. Nobody likes dry sherry, unless they're actually too old and decrepit to have taste buds anymore. He's not drinking that. "Dry? Mum, are you trying to kill me?"
"There's some sweet on the dining room table. Pour everyone a glass and put a record on. It's Christmas!"
He rolls his eyes, but dutifully goes to pour everyone a glass of sherry. His mum, dad, Jane, and Liv all get a tiny sherry glass with roses on the side, but he pours himself half a heavy-bottomed tumbler full and takes it off to the corner to go through the records, just like every year. His parents' records are well-thumbed, and well-appreciated. He alphabetises them every time he comes home, but someone gets to them in between times and puts them wherever the fuck they want. It'd drive him mad, except he quite likes sorting them out once a year.
It keeps him busy, anyway.
After a while, he checks his phone, just in case there's a message from Harry. There isn't, but then there hasn't been, not for days. Not since, see you soon. He'd sent an ill-advised text to Louis to see if he'd heard if Harry was okay, but the only answer he'd got was, youd know better than me mate, and Nick tried not to read anything sharp into that, but he couldn't help but remember that Harry had said the boys were pissed off at him, and at least wonder. He didn't particularly want to get involved with any of that, especially when he had his own broken heart to get over, so he'd left it. He had his own Christmas to get through.
As life plans go, drinking the rest of the sherry and listening to Beatles albums on repeat until New Year seems like the best one he's got. He can try and patch his life back together next year, right?
And least he can get drunk and eat himself stupid in the meantime.
"Nick," his dad calls up the stairs the day after. "Door for you."
Nick makes a face. "Who is it?" he yells, because he's dressed, but being dressed when he's at his mum and dad's that just means anything that isn't pyjama bottoms. He's wearing his dad's socks, because he hadn't packed all that well for coming north—his mind being somewhat on other things, namely the fact he had a best friend to fall out of love with—and a t-shirt with a wolf on it that he's hoping belongs to his brother, but he's pretty sure actually belongs to his mum. At least he can claim ownership of his jeans.
"Come down and see," his dad calls back, which means his dad doesn't know who it is. His dad is about as subtle as a brick, sometimes.
There's something about being at home which makes him immediately regress to being fifteen again, so he thunders down the stairs to see who's ringing for him, and then comes to an abrupt and not at all awkward standstill in the middle of the hall, because Gemma Styles is standing in the doorway, looking embarrassed.
"Hi," she says.
"Um," Nick says, because he's nothing if not clumsy. "Harry's not here?"
"I know," she says, holding out a tin in an Asda carrier bag.
The last time Nick had seen Gemma, she'd been crying in Harry's hall and calling him old, so Nick isn't exactly convinced that she's giving him a present he wants to take. Plus, what is it with members of the Styles family handing him tins in carrier bags? He still doesn't know why Harry bought him a cake tin. Occasionally he opens the cupboard in his kitchen just to look at it and wonder.
"Happy Christmas," she says, still holding out the tin. "There are some biscuits for your mum and dad."
"Oh," he says. "Um, thanks." Now he's the one standing his hall holding a tin and looking embarrassed. Christmas really is just this great time of year. And Gemma looks like her brother, and her brother is over the other side of the world, on the world's most obvious Nick-avoidance trip. So this is nice.
"Would you two like a cup of tea?" his mum asks, coming into the hall and taking the tin of biscuits. She doesn't know who Gemma is, which is probably why she's giving Nick a weird look that says, introduce this stranger who is in my house. Nick can't really think of anything to say, though, so he just makes a weird attempt at a smile and leaves it at that.
"Not for me, thanks," Gemma says. She looks at Nick, and it looks like she's trying to tell him something, but without much luck. In the end she clearly gives up. "I was wondering if you wanted to go for a drink, Nick?"
It's the twenty third of December, the pubs round here are rubbish, and he's pretty sure that he and Gemma have nothing to say to each other. They've got nothing in common at the moment other than they both love Harry, and Nick for a start has nothing to say about that. He doesn't exactly have the option of saying no, though. "Okay. I'll just, uh, get my wallet."
He takes the stairs two at a time, and then tips his bedroom half upside down trying to find any money at all, or failing that, his cards. "Mum, can I borrow twenty quid?" he yells finally, coming back downstairs with a large Christmas-themed reindeer jumper in one hand, and his shoes in the other. He ends up sitting on the bottom step trying to shove his feet into trainers with the laces still done up, and getting a bit red-faced.
"So, this is Harry's sister," his mum says, coming back with her purse. "Thanks for the introduction, Nicholas. We had to do it ourselves. I've got ten pounds, hang on, I'll see if your dad has another ten."
"I thought you knew each other," Nick lies as she sticks her head around the door into the living room to get his dad. He's finally got his shoes on. "Sorry."
His dad comes into the hall bearing two crumpled five pound notes. "Are you going out?"
"Only for a drink, Dad."
"Are you not taking a coat?"
"Wasn't going to," Nick doesn't say, I'm twenty-eight, although he is. In London, he makes decisions about whether to wear coats every single day. It's great.
"I don't know where it is." He's dumped his coat somewhere, and with it is his wallet and his cards, but bearing in mind his memory is a complete blank right now for anything that isn't Gemma Styles standing in his hall for reasons that Nick has no idea about, he doesn't feel like that's too unreasonable.
"There's spare ones under the stairs," his dad says, and his mum is already pulling open the cupboard, to reveal a selection of mostly neon anoraks and painful memories of the nineties.
"Do you want this one?" His mum's holding out one with a purple one with a light blue trim.
"No," he says, wrinkling his nose. "Who did that belong to? I'm not wearing that. Did someone die in that?"
"Next door was getting rid of a whole pile," his dad tells him. "Perfectly good coats, all waterproof. Said they didn't like the colour! Bloody idiots, must be made of money." The sofa in the dining room came from next door too. His parents like making do and mending. Nick doesn't. He definitely doesn't want to go down the pub in next door's old awful anorak.
"I don't need a coat," he protests. "I'm fine."
"I'm driving," Gemma says, butting in. "I've got the car."
"Well, you'll need a scarf, anyway. There are hats in the basket behind you, and probably gloves if you want to root around for a pair. Have a look, Nick. Don't make that face at me, we're only concerned you'll get cold."
"Mum, I dress myself every single day, and I haven't died of cold yet. I am certified hypothermia free. Promise."
"Well, you do live in the south," his dad says. "You don't get much cold down there for your money."
"I'm twenty-eight," Nick says. "I don't need a—" His mum has that face on her again, so in the end, Nick finds himself on his knees by the wicker basket in the hall, rooting around for some kind of non-shaming pair of gloves and a scarf. It's all a giant failure, and when he finally gets outside on the drive, he's wearing a pair of teal one-size-fits-all gloves (but not fits-Nick, apparently, they end half way down his palm), a knitted scarf with a bobble on each end, and a matching hat. He's now had a fight with his parents in front of Gemma too, so precisely everything that could have gone right has now gone right. Perfect.
"Which pub are you going to?" his dad asks from the door. "If you want a proper pint, Wetherspoon's have them on tap."
Nick's dad still hasn't picked up the fact that Nick doesn't drink beer, and he's not betting on it or anything, but he's pretty sure that Gemma isn't going to go out of her way for a pint of something that men with neck beards have named snodwhistle either. "We're not going to Wethy's, Dad." He does have some class. Not much, mind you, but enough to avoid Wetherspoon's in the run up to Christmas. It'll be full of office parties, with someone named Bryan wearing a comedy tie and a piece of tinsel round his neck, leching over all the girls.
"Do you want the Good Beer Guide? Hang on, I'll get the car keys—"
Gemma is looking at him in muted horror, and Nick feels mostly the same, except with a strange, odd, little bit sad kind of affection for how annoying his dad is underlying his frustration. "It's okay, Dad, we're just going down the Feathers."
The Feathers is the local-ish pub; it's the one down the road from his school, and on one particularly great Wednesday afternoon when he was in the lower sixth, Mrs Howells—erstwhile head of sixth form and veritable gorgon—had stormed in, yelled, everyone who should be in school, get up now, and then carefully written all their names down on a bit of paper as half the sixth form miserably trudged past her in embarrassment. They'd all had a detention where they'd had to pick bits of chewing gum off the bottom of years-old exam tables after that. Nice.
"They've got bloody crap beer at the Feathers," his dad says, still fumbling for his car keys.
"Good thing we're not going for the beer, then," Nick sing-songs, hurriedly trying to herd Gemma up the drive and out onto the road, where he's hoping one of the cars there is hers. "Bye, Dad, see you later, Dad, be home later, Dad."
It's really, really like being fifteen again.
"We're over there," Gemma says, pointing across the road to a little Ford Fiesta. It's blue and shiny, and Nick knows it's a Fiesta, because Harry had bought it for her and bored him with the specifications for about two hours one afternoon. He'd tried to buy her an Audi but she'd preferred this one, speedy and blue and not likely to get nicked from outside her uni house, apparently.
"Nice car," he says.
"Thanks. Harry bought it for me. He shouldn't have, really. I could have just got something second-hand until I graduate, Robin was looking for me. I quite fancied a really old, battered Golf."
"He likes being generous," Nick says, trying not to make eye contact as Gemma unlocks the doors and he climbs in.
"Yeah," Gemma says, dropping her bag into the foot well. "Are you going to direct me?"
"Down here to the bottom," Nick says, pointing down the road. "Then turn right." He looks out of the window. Nothing ever changes around here. Well, number seven have a new caravan. Someone else has cladding and someone else has made the massive decision to have solar panels fitted. His dad had gone over and over why that was a financially bad decision the night before, so Nick knows more about solar panels now than he ever really wanted to. He doesn't really know how to say, what the fuck are you doing here and when are you going to bollock me? though so he stays pretty quiet.
They drive to the bottom of the road, and it's all quiet apart from the tick-tick of the indicator as Gemma waits for a gap in the traffic.
"I owe you an apology," she says, not looking at him. "For before, you know."
"You don't," Nick says automatically, since there's nothing he hates more than awkward confrontation, and she hadn't exactly said anything that wasn't true, back there in the hallway with him and Harry looking awkward and caught out.
"No," she says. "I do. Harry was upset with me, after."
"Where now?" It takes a moment before Nick realises she means directions.
"Oh, um. Down here to the traffic lights, then we turn left, then past the school and you'll see it on the right. There's a car park."
"Thanks." She sighs. "I—it's weird, him not being at home. It's Christmas. Mum told me, about you coming over when she was poorly."
"Oh." Nick flushes. He's still feels a little bit odd about that, like he did something he shouldn't have, bringing Harry's mum soup and a DVD. He can still remember how strange Harry had sounded on the phone though, sort of fractured and a bit broken. He'd do a lot to avoid hearing him sound like that again.
"That was really nice of you."
"Ah, you know. Harry wasn't around, so."
"Have you spoken to him?"
Nick shoots her a glance, but she's still looking at the road, hands fixed ten-two on the steering wheel. "Not in a while. Have you?"
Gemma doesn't answer him. "He hadn't told me, you know. That's—that's partly why I was so upset that day. I mean, I'd just been broken up with, but I thought that me and Harry were, like, close. But he was kissing you, and I didn't know he wasn't straight."
Nick doesn't like to think about Harry kissing him. It had been a bad idea, and absolutely nothing good had come of it. "If it helps, I think it was pretty spur of the moment for him, too." He's not sure how much of a lie that is.
Gemma raises an eyebrow. "Do you?"
Nick knows now that Harry has spent his whole career being careful with pronouns, and that what's going through Harry's head right now is probably not a giant sexual epiphany. But if Harry wants to come out as whatever it is he's calling himself, it should be him who does it, and not Nick. He doesn't answer Gemma's question.
For a minute, there's silence. The traffic lights are amber, then red. There's a wait whilst traffic goes the other way. There aren't as many red cars on the streets as there used to be. They're all silver, and blue. His mum had said that once and now he can't help but notice.
"You know what he told me?" She doesn't wait for Nick to answer before talking again. "He said he likes boys as well as girls, but he'd never told anyone before. And he told me he wanted to kiss you. And then he said he wished I hadn't cried." Her voice catches, and she rubs at her nose with her sleeve.
Nick can't help but remember what it was like to kiss him, to feel Harry's hands on his skin, his mouth against his. It had been stupid, and it had fucked everything up, and there wasn't a way through this that meant they all emerged unscathed, but for that moment—those few moments—the kissing had been pretty close to amazing. Harry Styles wanting to kiss him had been amazing.
"Did you know that girl? Hayley Thingie?" Gemma asks.
"Was she—the things she said—"
"But you and Harry—"
He shakes his head. "It was just that once. Just that time you saw."
She slows down to pull into the pub car park, which seems startlingly full until Nick remembers it's the day before Christmas Eve. There are only a couple of spaces left, and Gemma takes the one in the back corner, under a willow tree whose branches fall so low they touch the car as she reverses into the spot.
"Come on," she says, picking up her bag. "Let's go and have a drink."
The pub is even fuller than the car park would have had them believe, and they end up doing two circles of the pub, Nick keeping a hold on two Amaretto and diet Cokes and a share-size bag of Quavers, before they find a little table going spare in the corner by the toilets. Even then they have to shrink to get themselves round the table without jolting everyone around them, and it's a while before they get themselves sorted. Nick does the gentlemanly thing and opens the bag of crisps so that they can both help themselves, tearing the front open to make a little door.
Gemma takes one but doesn't eat it. "I didn't mean what I said about you being too old for Harry."
Nick laughs, just a little bit, just enough to make his shoulders shake. He doesn't find it funny. "Yes, you did."
She smiles at that, but it doesn't reach her eyes. As far as awkward drinks with siblings of hot pop stars he's in love with goes, this is up there with the worst of them. "Yeah," she says. "I did."
Nick looks down at the table. The edge of the beer mat is wet; he picks at it with his fingernail. The cardboard's starting to come away from itself.
"I've spoken to him, you know." Gemma tilts her drink a little, one way and then the other.
"Yeah? He okay?"
"Not really. I think he thought getting away was just going to be easy, like it's been before."
Nick doesn't really know what she's talking about, but whatever. At the moment he mostly feels like he's only half-understanding what everyone's on about, but half the time that's because he's off in his own world, thinking about stuff. About Harry, mostly.
"The thing is," she starts, and then she trails off, and eats a crisp, and doesn't say anything for a bit. "I walked in on my boyfriend having sex with my housemate. I wasn't really in the mood for someone else keeping things from me, you know? And I'd driven all the way from Sheffield, and Harry wasn't at the flat or answering his phone, then he turned up with you, and it looked like he was keeping something from me too. It turned out that the reason he wasn't answering his phone was because he was getting off with you, and I didn't know my brother went that way." She starts to talk again, and then stops. "I'm never going to know how I would have reacted to him coming out, if I hadn't already been that upset. He's always going to be able to remember telling me he wasn't straight, and me crying."
Nick isn't going to tell her that that isn't true, because it probably is. He remembers nearly all of the times he's come out (apart from the ones where he was too drunk to pay attention), and he remembers the bad ones in much more detail than the ones that were just fine. He's had tears too. It fucking sucks. He had one person be so shocked they couldn't speak, which was weird as well as unexpected. It's the unexpected reactions that hurt the most. "He'll get over it. I don't think he's going to like, hate you for it or anything."
"I know. But still." She lets out a breath, like she's steadying herself, and then she looks at him. "I cried when I found out he wasn't straight, and then I told him that he was too young to be with the person he liked, and I think he believed me. And I think that's part of the reason he ran away."
Harry left because everything was shit, and he was being bollocked everywhere he turned, by everybody. Nick would run away if he had that to deal with, too. "Gemma—"
"No, listen. I told him he was eighteen, and he should be sleeping around with girls—and boys if he wanted—but people who were the same age as him. I told him it was weird that he wanted to go out with you. And I've been thinking about this for days, okay, so just listen, because I've been going over and over this in my head and I think I did it because I just wanted him to be okay? People give him so much shit all the time, and he pretends he's all right with it, but I don't think he is. And I didn't want people to have one more thing to hassle him about. But anyway, the thing is, I think he believed me? And I think that's why he's gone. I think he's trying to do what he thinks I want him to. I think he's trying to do what he thinks everyone else wants him to do, and none of that is what he wants, because he just wants you."
Nick has precisely zero idea what he's supposed to say to any of this. Good? Oh no? Gemma's wrong, anyway, because Harry doesn't want to go out with Nick. Why would he? Nick's twenty-eight, and a guy, and Harry's world-famous and eighteen and could have anyone. Underneath everything, Nick just wants the best for him. He wants him to be okay. He wants people to stop hassling him all the fucking time. He would have taken that one night stand and he would have loved it, and he would have let Harry walk away afterwards, because that was how this was going to play out, and everyone knew it.
"Like what? Even if Harry did want to go out with me—which he doesn't, because you're right, and I'm too old—you know as well as I do that me and him is a terrible idea. What do you want me to say?"
"You could get angry," she suggests.
He smiles instead, even though his chest feels tight and painful. "What makes you think I'm not fucking mad as fuck? Have you ever thought for a single moment that there's even a hint of a future for me and Harry? Because there isn't." He doesn't pretend that it doesn't hurt to say that, but it's the truth.
"I did think that," she says. "And then Harry came out to Mum and Robin yesterday."
Nick didn't know that. "What?" he says softly, hand curving around his glass, like holding on to something is going to make any of this easier to deal with, or change the fact that he's in a pub he's been frequenting since he was fifteen years old, and he's still in love with an eighteen year old, and still a total fucking loser. The pub is just the same as it's always been, flocked wallpaper and serving food until ten, a play area round the back and mostly peopled with pupils from the high school and its teachers. He's fairly sure his old maths teacher is at the bar. It doesn't matter what he's done and where he's been, he's still ended up back here. "Why—"
"He did it over Skype, yesterday. Told them he liked men as well as women."
"Yeah?" He doesn't know what to say. He's half annoyed that Harry's done it without telling him, that there's yet more secrets out there that they're keeping from each other. Every day seems to just be the two of them getting into bigger and bigger messes. "What did they say?"
"I cried again," Gemma tells him. "Because I knew and they didn't. Because there's only one reason he's coming out, Nick."
"Because he's not entirely straight?" Nick says, trying not to be flippant, and failing.
"I swore to myself I wouldn't cry in front of him again," she says. "I swore. But it's scary, you know. He's my little brother, and he's trying to do something that's just going to make the newspapers even more interested in him, and it's going to make some people hate him. He's my little brother, Nick."
"I know," he says, because he does.
"You know what my mum said, though? Afterwards?" She doesn't wait for Nick to say anything. "Mum pointed out that Harry's always fancied older women."
He doesn't see how that's all that helpful, to be honest. "Good?"
"I don't think he wants to go out with someone his own age, Nick. I think I've been trying to make him do something he's got no interest in doing. Like—if I lined up all the eighteen year olds in a row, he still wouldn't pick one of them. Do you get me?"
Nick looks down at the table. Harry has always had girlfriends who were older than him. Caroline is an easy example; he doesn't need to delve further than that, even though it's not exactly hard to make a list. Hayley's about twenty-four. Elle's twenty-five. Caroline's even older. She's older than Nick is, too. "Don't," he says. He can't—he doesn't need someone to be kind to him right now. He doesn't need the possibility of hope. He's never let himself believe for a second that there's even a chance of him and Harry going out together.
"He's my little brother, and I have to see people talk shit about him every single day, and that's rubbish," she tells him. "But you never do that. All you ever do is tell people how great he is. All the time."
Nick swallows, and doesn't look at her. He's drunk most of his Amaretto without even noticing it. It tastes like alcoholic Dr Pepper. Normally it's his favourite. He can't think of anything to say, because all he can think about is the small possibility that Harry might want to do more than just shag him a couple of times in secret.
"My ex-boyfriend used to say, I love my girlfriend, but fuck, she can talk. In the end it was but I can't make scrambled eggs like his mum. But I'm shit in bed. But I didn't give him what he wanted, so he had to go to someone else. There was always a but. Everything he said, there was a but." Gemma toys with her beer mat, turning it over and over in her hand. "Are you in love with him?"
"With your ex-boyfriend? No."
There's no point hiding it anymore. "Yes," he says.
"Is there a but?"
He can't think of anything. He shakes his head. "No."
"Do you think—" she trails off.
"We're not going to work out," he says. "He can't go out with me. It would mean—" He shakes his head, because Harry would have to come out to more than just his family. Harry doesn't do long-term, anyway. Well, neither of them do, but Nick's fairly sure he wouldn't settle for anything less where Harry's concerned.
"What if he wants to, though?"
Nick just shakes his head. It doesn't matter what he wants, it isn't going to change the fact it's a stupid idea. "I'm rubbish at relationships."
"So's Harry, if you think about it."
"Everyone in the world fancies him."
"Yeah, well," she smiles. "I think he just fancies you."
"This doesn't change anything, Gem," he says, although it does, and it has, because he's pretty sure that feeling in his chest is the possibility of the potential existence of hope, and that's a stupid fucking idea, but he can't help but get behind it.
"It might," she says. "My brother's an idiot, and half the time he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing, but I think you're his best friend."
"Me and his band." He doesn't ask if Harry's come out to them. They're all good guys, and Nick has all of their numbers in his phone, and they're friends, but it doesn't come close to Harry. Nobody does, though. That's the problem.
"He's not all by himself, you know. That's what I'm trying to say. It's like—the two of you are acting like you can't even try this because it's too hard. And I'm just—I just wanted you to tell you that maybe it's, well. Maybe it'll be worth it."
Nick looks down at the table, and nods. He doesn't know what to say. "Okay."
"Okay," she says, and stands up to go get them both another drink.
When he gets home, he sits down on the sofa still in his hat and scarf, and sends Harry a text that just says, Dad called you monty stars last night.
The reply is instantaneous. Your dads a legend
I'm gonna call you monty stars from now on
Do it. Makes me sound like a porn star
Nick leans back into the sofa cushions, and reaches for the tin of Celebrations on the table, grabbing a handful. "Okay," he says softly, over his mum and dad and sister fighting in the kitchen over how best to cook roast potatoes.
It's not like he's made a move, or declared undying love. Nothing's changed at all since he went out with Gemma.
But still. He's terrified.
On Christmas Eve, Nick eats all of the Twirls out of the box of Miniature Heroes his mum is hiding down the back of the sofa, has a fight with Jane about wrapping paper, lies to his dad that yes, he does want a battery-powered drill for Christmas, thanks for asking, and spends two hours in his bedroom with a Sellotape dispenser that hates him. It's business as usual, except that he can't stop thinking about what Gemma said about Harry always fancying older women, and Harry coming out, and what the fuck that might actually mean. He's so caught up in going over and over the same things in his head for the hundredth fucking time that he's twenty minutes into Rod Stewart's Christmas on ITV before he realises what the fuck he's got on.
"Fuck," he says, scrabbling about for the remote. Two minutes later, he's half convinced himself he's wrapped it up by accident, because he can't find it anywhere, and Rod Stewart won't stop fucking singing. Eventually he finds it underneath a DVD of Step Up 4 he's supposed to be wrapping for Liv, and then there's blessed, amazing silence.
Silence is dangerous, though, and always has been. Nick doesn't deal very well with boredom, and he never has. He could get on with wrapping the rest of his presents up, but frankly, he doesn't feel drunk enough to brave the perils of the Sellotape dispenser again, and that's what one am on Christmas morning is for, anyway. His parents are usually on the gin by then, and there's hurried meetings on the landing to exchange half-used rolls of wrapping paper, and working biros to write gift tags, and not wake Liv up, all at the same time. He's got hours before he needs to have finished wrapping, so if it's a toss up between Rod Stewart and, well, anything else, he's going to reach for his laptop.
He searches for Harry's name on Tumblr, because underneath it all, Nick's a masochist with desperate tendencies, and because maybe seeing his face will somehow make it hurt less. Maybe he can find the answers in a picture of Harry, and then Nick needs only to figure out what the fuck the questions are, and everything will be okay.
Harry being somewhere else is supposed to make it easier. Taking a break is supposed to fix all of this, help them both get over it, or at least that was what Nick thinks is supposed to be happening. But Harry being away is just making everything hurt more, but then, what the hell is Nick supposed to know, he's shit at relationships, and always has been.
The first picture on the Harry tag is from ages ago, Harry and Liam coming back from the shops and Liam sporting a shocking head of blond highlights. "Just say no, kid," Nick says to the screen, scrolling down. The next is of Harry and his mum, both with the same smile and the same bright eyes. Good looking family, the Styles'. He can't help but feel a pang of something sharp in his chest. Harry's mum has never shown him that easy smile, and he knows why; who wouldn't be concerned that their eighteen year old son was spending all their time with someone who was close (ish) to thirty? If it was Liv who was hanging out with someone nearly ten years older than her, there'd be trouble. Or at least some sternly worded arguments and a conversation about not-okay touches.
The next picture is new, Nick knows. It's a pap shot, from the last few days. There's a date and a time underneath, so maybe it isn't a pap shot but a fan shot instead; Harry's not smiling, his hair is in his eyes and he looks tired.
Poor pup, it says underneath the picture. Someone needs a hug.
The next one is a text post. Harry's not gay. He's in LA with his new girlfriend, so I hope the Sunday Mirror posts an apology soon.
Not bloody likely, Nick thinks, ignoring the bit about a girlfriend. He hopes it's Elle, and the Tumblr kid's just confused, but Nick has no way of knowing. It's not like he didn't imagine Harry shagging his way through LA, anyway.
(There's a part of him that keeps fixing on the fact that Elle's at least twenty-four. Maybe twenty-five. He keeps going over and over it in his head).
Nick didn't think it was that cold in LA, but in the picture, Harry's got his hood up over a knitted beanie and a scarf wrapped twice around his neck. He's carrying two cups of coffee in a cardboard cup carrier, eyes down, his keys in his hand. Nick's seen pictures like this before; it's not unusual to be caught by someone taking a photo in the one moment you're looking grumpy in twenty-four hours of sheer joy, but exhaustion is written all over Harry's face.
For one long, terrible moment, he considers reaching out and stroking the picture with the tip of his finger, but he's seen scenes like that in films about stalkers, and nobody wants that. He shuts the lid of his laptop instead, and fails to resist the urge to check his phone to see if anyone's texted. They have, but none of them are from Harry, so he doesn't bother reading them.
"Nick," his mum calls from the bottom of the stairs. "Do you want to come and play Monopoly?"
"I'd rather die," he shouts back, since Monopoly is of the devil, and because hiding out in his bedroom pining over a boy is something he used to be pretty good at when he was fifteen, so there's no real point in changing just because he's twenty-eight.
"Pictionary, then. Or Cluedo."
"I'm a world-famous DJ of international renown, Mum. I can't play Cluedo." He comes and leans over the bannister, narrowly avoiding knocking a pile of bedding which his mum inexplicably keeps there over the rail and down onto his mum at the bottom of the stairs.
"You've just said two things which mean exactly the same thing, Nicholas. If you don't get yourself down them stairs and into the living room in precisely five seconds, we're playing Ludo and I'm telling everyone it's your fault."
"Mum," he complains. "Mummmmm."
"Right." She claps her hands, turning around to go back into the living room. "We're playing Ludo, and if any of you have got any complaints about that, you can blame your brother."
"Fine," he shouts, taking the stairs two at a time and narrowly avoiding going head first into the basket of miscellaneous knitwear, where the one-size-fits-all giant lie of a pair of gloves are reclining luxuriously on top. He hates those gloves. "We can play Cluedo, I don't care."
"Too late now, Nicholas." In the living room, his mum, dad, sister, niece, brother, nephew, and sister-in-law are all looking at him like he's the Grinch. Yeah, he saw that film once. "We're playing Ludo and it's all your fault."
All of them are staring at him. There's no Ludo board on the table.
"I'll get the Cluedo board down," Nick says sullenly, since they've played him, and won.
"Good boy," his mum says. "Bring in the gin whilst you're in the dining room."
"And the Twiglets," his dad says.
"Diet Coke," Liv says. "And those biscuits things that are shaped like fish. Can I have vodka?"
"Fish biscuits," Jane supplies. "But if you're hungover tomorrow, you still have to eat your sprouts. Oh, Nick, I could eat some cheese. Get the crackers, too."
"We'll be eating dinner soon," Mum says.
"Good point," Jane says. "Hold the crackers. Just bring the cheese. And the gin."
Nick rolls his eyes, and goes into the dining room. He very carefully doesn't pay any attention to the large multipack of prawn cocktail Skips that nobody else likes apart from Harry, and that his mum has clearly bought in in anticipation of Harry joining them at some point over Christmas. Before he can tell himself it's a stupid idea, he's taking a picture with his phone and sending it to Harry.
Faaavourites, Harry sends back. Stop making me hungry for shit they don't sell here.
You know the drill, Nick types. The tray of snacks and drinks is listing dangerously to one side as he tries to balance that and type one-handed at the same time.
It's five minutes before Harry messages him back. The Cluedo board is halfway to being set up by then, and the Twiglets are opened, and mocking everyone but Nick and his dad in their awfulness, and the gin is being poured out. He's already been sent back into the kitchen for lemons and a bottle of Slimline for a gin and slim for him and Jane, and by the time he gets back to the living room, he's been left with fucking Colonel Mustard.
"You are all dickheads, and I hate you all," he says, sitting down by the edge of the table.
"Stop complaining, and go find us some bloody biros that bloody work," his dad says, scribbling on the corner of his Cluedo score card with a dead Bic with fluff on the end.
Nick makes a noise like a teenager and stomps out into the hall. "I hate being Colonel Mustard," he complains, trying to find a handful of biros in the drawer by the door. "Do I look like a person who looks good in mustard?" When his phone buzzes, he slides it out of his pocket and unlocks it one-handedly.
Save them for me when I get home grimmers
Nick swallows, chewing on his lip.
"Hurry up, Nick. It'll be bloody Boxing Day by the time we've finished at this rate. How long's it take to find a flippin' biro?"
"Coming," he says. Will do, he types. x
He shoves his phone in his pocket and pretends he doesn't notice that it doesn't buzz with a reply.
Most of Christmas Day passes in a haze of sprouts and bacon sandwiches and turkey and wine and party hats and stupid fucking streamers and Christmas pudding and wrapping paper. Nick starts drinking at ten-thirty in the morning with what his mum deems a little glass of sherry, and continues all the way through the day, through what seems like eleven-and-a-half courses of Christmas dinner and way too much white sauce with his Christmas pudding. It's the one day of the year where it's legitimately acceptable to offer a different type of alcohol every hour, on the hour, so by four in the afternoon Nick's way too full and lazy to consider moving. He lies on the floor in the living room complaining about how full he is whilst eating his way through a box of Toblerone Tinies and watching his mum's new Harry Potter DVD box set instead.
After that, it's Christmas Doctor Who time, which everyone approaches with something like rabid glee—although that could be the gin talking—and Nick steals the cushions from the sofa to lie on when his mum's nipped to the loo.
When she gets back, she says, "Would you be in my grave as fast?"
He makes a face at that. "No?" At least he didn't steal her seat. She should be grateful.
Harry calls at ten past six, which means that Nick is forced to miss the last five minutes of Who. Not that he's been properly paying attention anyway, but as he launches himself off the floor and into the hall, he's followed by his entire family yelling after him about whether he wants them to pause it on Sky or not. "Don't bother," he calls, taking the stairs two at a time so that he can answer his phone all by himself. "Hi," he says breathlessly, because moving that quickly after that much food was seriously not the best idea he's ever had. "Hi."
"Hi," Harry says, after a moment. "You having a good Christmas?"
"The usual," Nick lies, since his Christmas had involved plans for Harry to come over right up until a week ago, when Harry had texted him from Heathrow and turned that plan right upside down.
"Get anything good?"
Nick's in the middle of sweeping a stack of new t-shirts and bars of chocolate off his bed and onto the floor. "A lot of Toblerone. And a popping candy Chocolate Orange."
"I don't know how I've managed to wait this long without eating it."
"Crack it open now," Harry suggests. Apparently neither of them are mentioning the giant, fuck-off elephant in the corner that's mostly made up of them kissing, Hayley selling her story, everyone getting bollocked, and Harry coming the fuck out and not telling him. At least the newspaper interest in Nick has died down a bit, if not in Harry. Nobody had given Nick the side eye when he went to the shop yesterday for some tin foil for the Christmas Eve ham, and a bottle of brandy for the mulled wine. The fact that there was a tray of Crème Eggs by the side of the till had been depressing enough, without someone accusing him of turning that nice Harry Styles as well.
Yesterday's Sun had printed pictures of Harry and Elle having coffee in LA under a headline that said, Harry's new girlfriend?; for a lot of people that would put pay to the Harry's gay rumours, but Nick isn't stupid enough to believe that that will be the end of it for good. There probably won't ever be an end to it, not if they stay being friends and being photographed together. The only thing that would stop the rumours about the two of them for good was if they stopped being friends altogether, and Nick can't even let himself stop to think about that for a second. It's been hard enough just having a week where they've barely spoken, anything more permanent's too difficult to consider. Anyway, Harry's come out to his family, now. That's changed everything, whether Harry meant it to or not. There probably isn't a way back anymore.
"You going to enjoy it vicariously?" he asks, breaking the seal on the Chocolate Orange and tugging it out of the plastic carton. The wrapper always says to tap gently, but that's bollocks and everyone knows it. He drops it with a heavy thump on the bedside table, in-between the lamp he's had since his twelfth birthday and a stack of change he'd emptied out from his pockets before stuffing most of his clothes in the wash yesterday, in his dad's loudly advertised, documented, and complained-about 'last wash before Christmas'.
Harry clears his throat. "Yeah," he says. "Make sure you chew it really loudly, though."
"Anything for you," Nick says lightly, although of all the things he's said recently, that's probably the least light thing he could have picked. He unwraps the foil wrapper and takes out a segment, pausing before he puts it in his mouth. "How's your Christmas been?"
"Oh, you know," Harry says.
"Tell me, you dick," Nick says, trying to keep their conversation as easy as possible. The chocolate is starting to melt on his tongue. He resists biting down on it because he likes it when it melts.
He's never actually spent a Christmas away from his family, and he doesn't want to even though he's twenty eight. He can't really imagine missing Christmas. He'd have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the homestead.
"It's fine," Harry tells him. "Huh, what's that noise?"
"Popping candy," Nick says thickly, sticking his tongue out. "Can you hear that?"
"Yeah," Harry laughs. "That's loud. I didn't know you could get Chocolate Oranges that did that."
"I'll save you some," Nick says, already wrapping the foil back around the remaining segments. Harry can have all of it. There's a box of Segsations he can have too, even though they're far and away the best Christmas chocolate you can buy. "Go on, you were saying about your day."
"It's fine," Harry says again, sounding just like he does in those interviews where they ask him questions he doesn't want to answer. Nick's seen those interviews. He's given those interviews. "Elle's been great."
"But," Nick prompts, because he can't tell anyone else in the world about what's going on in his head right now, but he sort of wishes that at least he could tell Harry, and that Harry could tell him back.
"You know," Harry says softly.
Nick abruptly can't speak over the lump in his throat. Yeah, he knows. He really fucking knows. What is there to say? He sort of wants to talk about what's in his head right now, but even if it was a good idea, he's still pretty sure he couldn't find the words. He struggles for something to fill the gap with, but nothing's coming to mind. "You okay?"
"I Skyped home earlier. Gemma said she'd seen you." That isn't an answer.
"We went for a drink," Nick says.
"What'd you talk about?"
Nick makes a face. "You," he says finally, when the silence has gone on for too long. "You coming out."
Harry doesn't answer for a while, and when he does, he's quiet. "Mum told me to be who I am. What do you think that means?"
"I don't know? Live while you're young, I suppose." He doesn't say, ignore the fucking newspapers, like he wants to. He doesn't say, ignore everyone, and go out with me.
"Live while we're young," Harry corrects.
"Same difference." He's made the joke more than once.
"No," Harry says, after a while. His voice sounds rough. "It isn't."
Nick picks at a thread on his faded Postman Pat pillowcase. His mum always gets out the sheets she's saved since they were kids at Christmas. Nick kind of secretly likes it, even though he always complains about being too old for Postman Pat and his black and white cat. Jane always has the Wombles at Christmas, though, which kind of beats Postman Pat hands down. Liv gets fucking Toy Story. "Harry," he says, because he has to say something. "Fuck. Were you going to tell me? About coming out?"
"I didn't think me being bi was news. I kind of thought you'd figured that bit out."
"You told your parents." Nick wishes there wasn't half a world between them right now. Their conversation feels stilted and awkward, and he can't help but feel like this would be easier if they were just in the same fucking country.
"Yeah," Harry says. He doesn't say anything for a while. "I can't stop thinking about you."
Nick can't say anything. It's Christmas day, and it's bollock-shrinkingly cold in this bedroom, and downstairs he can hear his family talking over the TV and reading questions out of the new pub quiz book his brother got his dad for Christmas. His mum had left enough of the posh crackers for Harry to have one tonight, because he's supposed to be here, and even though Nick's pretended everything's okay, everyone downstairs knows it's not. Nobody's asking where Harry is, and nobody's talking about the newspaper article, or him and Harry being the bromance of the fucking year. Nobody's talking about it, and Harry's half way across the world and all Nick wants for Christmas is him, here.
"Nick. Say something."
"I wish you were here," Nick says softly, because it's true, and if they can't speak the truth now, then when can they? "I really fucking wish you were here." I'm in love with you, he thinks, and he knows he can't say it, but that doesn't stop him wanting to.
"Fuck," Harry says. "For fuck's sake. I fucking hate Christmas. This was supposed to make it all easier."
"Was it?" Nick's tired of pretending. "I'm fairly sure this was supposed to just make it all go away."
"It's not though, is it?" Harry's voice catches in frustration. "I miss you so much it hurts. I've never—I've never felt like this before. About anyone."
Nick hasn't either. It isn't like they haven't been away from each other a lot longer than this before, but it's stupid to pretend things were the same then. This is a first. It's not like he'd never fancied himself in love a couple of times, but it hadn't ever come to anything. Turns out it's a pain in the fucking arse to fall for someone who is approximately the most complicated person in the world to try and go out with. "Me neither."
Harry laughs then, sharp and loud. "What the hell are we doing, Nick? I mean, seriously."
"I've got no fucking clue. Maybe we should just try drinking. Let's just get twatted. It all goes away then."
"Is that what you're doing?"
"Sure is," Nick says, although inside his chest feels like it's getting tighter. "I puked sweet sherry last night."
"You never did."
"No, but I could have done." He tries to laugh, but he can't manage it, and his voice catches. "Come home, Harold."
"You think it might hurt less, being in the same country?"
"I seriously have no fucking idea. It can't hurt more though, can it?" Nick's never been in love like this before. He doesn't know the answer. He barely knows which way is up anymore. How the fuck is he supposed to tell Harry Styles what he should be doing with his life? Just—maybe, maybe, he'll hurt less if Harry's here, and not in America with Elle, doing whatever famous, rich pop stars do when they've got a penis and no commitments.
"I'll think about it," Harry says after a while. He's stubborn when he sets his mind to it. "I just—I don't know what to do anymore."
"I know," Nick says, and he rolls over onto his side, phone pressed against his cheek. If he listens hard enough, he can just hear Harry breathing down the phone.
"Elle's calling me for breakfast. I should go."
"Yeah," Nick says. "All right."
After he's hung up, Nick spends a while just staring down at his phone and wondering how the fuck he's supposed to fix this so that nobody gets hurt. He can't. There just—there isn't.
"You okay?" Jane leans against his door, holding a cup of tea out.
"Did you hear that?"
She gives him half a smile. "A bit." She hands him the tea. "You and Harry, really?"
"No, not really. It's stupid. We've just got to get over it. It's no big deal." The lies feel thick and heavy on his tongue, but Jane doesn't call him on them, even though they must be obvious. She sits down next to him on the bed instead, and bumps her knee against his.
"Chin up, Chuck."
"Happy fucking Christmas," Nick says in response, and cradles his cup of tea. His mug has a picture of the cat from the old Felix adverts on the TV on the side. Fuck knows where his mum got it from.
"Are you two—"
"No," Nick shakes his head. "It's too difficult, you know? It's complicated."
"Yeah," she says, and doesn't press him. It's a good thing, because Nick isn't sure he could find anything to say.
They sit there in silence for a while, Nick staring down at his tea. "On a scale from one to ten, Janey, how stupid do you think being in love with one of One Direction is? Like, really?"
She doesn't say anything for a bit. "Fairly stupid," she says finally. "It probably gets less stupid if one of One Direction loves you back, though."
He nods, but doesn't look up. He's allowed to be sorry for himself, just this once.
"Come on. Come down and play Bananagrams with me and Liv."
"Okay," he says. "Okay."
Nick blinks away sleep, staring down at the phone in his hand. The display flashes 4:00am in garishly bright lettering. What on? he types.
Nick covers his eyes with his palm. Jesus. His phone buzzes again. And again. And again.
Told the lads I'm bi.
Remember that time we stayed out all night and went to Giraffe for breakfast
He remembers. They'd gone back to Harry's after, and stumbled fully clothed into Harry's bed to sleep it off. They hadn't shut the door properly behind them, and Hayley had let herself in and found them asleep. Yeah. Were they ok?
Yeah. Wish I'd kissed you then
Nick had never been as good at being eighteen as Harry is. You're drunk.
Not drunk enough.
He stares down at his phone and wishes he knew what to do for the best. Four in the morning isn't the right time to make any kind of life changing decision, he knows that, but some things seem clearer in the cold dark of the morning. I love you, he types.
He deletes it without sending it, and Harry doesn't send him anymore.
Think dad might actually think your name is monty now, hazza
Think I like your dad better than I like you.
You're his favourite too. He doesn't say, 'he keeps asking if you're coming over', because that's not in anyone's best interest, let alone Nick's. He slides his phone into the pocket of his jeans, and stuffs the last remaining present into the top of his sports bag. There's only the giant bag of leftover food his mum's packing up for him in the kitchen, and then he's ready to go.
"I'm making you sandwiches," his dad calls up the stairs. "Do you want tomatoes on the sandwich or just in the box?"
"I don't need a sandwich. I'll just stop and get something on the way. M&S in the Services will be open, won't it?"
"You don't need to buy a bloody sandwich when we've got all this food here. All that money when I can make you one here for free. White bread or wholemeal?"
Nick lets out a breath, and patiently doesn't roll his eyes. "White." His mum has been calling up the stairs every two minutes for the last half an hour, asking him if he wants a bit of this coleslaw or a few slices of that ham, or if he could eat any sprouts if she put some in a bag. In the end, he's said yes to everything, even a good pound of the Christmas cake that Jane and his mum had been feeding since about August. There's about a hundredweight of fruit in that cake, and half the alcohol aisle from Tesco's, and if there's one thing Nick can't stand, it's fruit cake and marzipan, but he's probably told them that about a hundred times and no one has ever remembered. His mum's even put a bit of Wensleydale in to go with the cake.
"What about milk?" his dad shouts up the stairs, as Nick tries to make the zip on his bag show at least some attempt at doing what it's supposed to do, and bloody shut. "For when you get back to yours?"
"I don't need milk." Christ, this bag weighs a ton.
"But you'll want a cup of tea when you get in. You'll need milk. I'll put some in a little bottle for you. If you wash it out properly when you get in—can't be too careful with milk, make sure you use a cloth round the rim—you can use it again."
"What the bloody hell am I going to use a reusable milk bottle for? And I live in London, not the Arctic. There'll be a shop open when I get back." He's short not because he's pissed off at his dad, who—let's face it—has been making the same pre-leaving gestures since the beginning of time, because in Nick's family they demonstrate affection by ensuring that people have enough milk for a cup of tea and enough food on stand-by to avoid starvation, but because everything's shit and he doesn't want to go back to London and sit in his flat by himself until he goes back to work. He should have gone to Puerto Rico with his friends, but he'd cried off because he had plans for New Year that had revolved around Harry.
Fuck everything, for real.
"I've done you some celery too, for a snack," his dad calls. "Do you want smoky bacon or salt and vinegar crisps?"
"Do you want me to do you a flask, love?" his mum shouts. "Some coffee for the way?"
His family are a mixture of the worst things on the planet, and the best parents he can imagine. He really, really doesn't want to go back home to be by himself. It just turns out that staying here and pretending he's not just a little bit broken-hearted is too hard too.
He checks his phone for the fifteenth time that hour, and tries not to think about what—or who—Harry's doing now.
His flat is colder, and quieter, and worse than he imagines. His friends are either busy, or in fucking Puerto Rico, and it doesn't really matter because there's only one person he actually wants to hang out with, and he's in fucking California.
In the end, he resorts to spending all day lying on the sofa in yesterday's pants, under his duvet, watching the Die Hard box set his brother had mistakenly thought that Nick might appreciate for Christmas. He almost tweets that Bruce Willis was kind of hot, back in the day, but he's sworn off twitter for a bit, so he dumps his phone on the coffee table instead and turns the volume up. He's been here all day, so he's surrounded by empty boxes of Jaffa Cakes, the remains of last night's pizza, empty bowls of cereal (his dad's emergency milk had turned out to be useful, not that he's going to tell his dad that any time soon), and endless cups of tea because he couldn't be bothered to reuse his mugs. If he's going to wallow in his misery, then he might as well do it properly. There's the remains of tonight's takeaway too, sweet and sour pork balls still in their foil container.
He's really pushing that boat out.
He's been home for twenty-four hours, and there's nothing to do in the lull period between Christmas and New Year except eat a lot of cheese and make some kind of headway into the Toblerone mountain in the name of a January detox. Harry hasn't called him since Christmas Day, and Nick is slowly, slowly going insane.
The credits are just rolling on Die Hard 2 when his phone buzzes with a message. For a moment, he thinks it might be Harry, but it's a DM instead.
He and Elle aren't friends. They have been in the same place at the same time on more than one occasion, but the truth remains that Elle is the only person that Harry has shagged, stayed friends with, and then shagged again. On more than one occasion. It's not that Nick is a particularly jealous person—okay, he is—but he likes that he's the closest friend that Harry has. He doesn't like that there's someone else who's succeeded where he hasn't, so it's not like he's particularly open to being Elle's BFF. Elle makes Harry laugh, but she never bothers to try with Nick, which makes Nick less inclined to be nice to her, either. He knows it's probably his fault, but whatever. She gets a part of Harry that Nick doesn't get.
She also doesn't tweet or text Nick, so why she's sent him a DM he has no idea. He only follows her so that he can see what Harry's up to when he's in LA. Yes, he knows that's creepy. It's probably the reason Harry follows a lot of Nick's friends too, although that's not something they talk about.
Harry flying into Heathrow 10.45 tomorrow AM. Air New Zealand. He's just checked in. Thought you should know.
Air New Zealand isn't a real airline, but whatever. His hands shake. Why are you telling me, he types back, and presses send.
The reply doesn't come for five minutes, which is five minutes Nick spends trying fruitlessly to see if there's a real flight from LA that looks like that, leaving now.
Because he's in love with you dickhead
Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. He literally does not know what to do. He stares at the twitter conversation on his laptop screen, phone in his hand, and thinks, fuck, fuck, over and over. Harry's coming home.
In the end, he tries to call Harry, even though he has no idea what to say to him, although are you coming back seems like a good start. And, like, maybe he wants Nick to meet him at the airport, or for Nick to go over to his, or something.
Harry's phone goes straight to voicemail. He tries again, in case Harry's on the phone to someone else, but the same thing happens again.
Going to the airport in the morning is the worst idea he's ever had, he knows that. There's a list of reasons a mile long why he and Harry aren't together, and they start and end with it's a really stupid idea. The thing is, he can tell himself a million times—and he has done—that it's a bad idea, but that doesn't stop him wanting it. And he wants it so fucking much, more than he's ever wanted anything in his whole life, up to and including the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. If Harry's going to be back in the country, there's no fucking way that Nick can even imagine not being there to just see him. He's missed him so much.
But Harry hasn't even told him he's coming home, so it can't be that he wants Nick to be there when he lands. If he wanted him there, he'd have told him. He'd have sent a text, or called him, or emailed, or tweeted. Last time Nick checked, there wasn't a carrier pigeon waiting on his windowsill either, so it's fairly clear Harry hadn't wanted him to know.
He shovels all of the rubbish off his coffee table into an empty Tesco carrier bag and dumps it by the bin, dragging his duvet behind him in the direction of the bedroom.
He won't go. That's the best plan. He'll just call Harry tomorrow instead, feign surprise he's home. Yeah, that's the plan.
Except—Elle had messaged him. What if Harry had asked her to let him know he was flying home? And then Harry might be expecting him at the airport.
In that case, he should be there. He should go and meet him. Tell Harry how he feels once and for all, get it all out in the open so they can figure out where the fuck to go from here.
The retro 1960s alarm clock by his bed flips over to 4.30am.
He puts his pillow over his head and tries to go the fuck to sleep.
In the end, he gets to Heathrow forty minutes before Harry's plane is even supposed to land. Arrivals is cold and loud and busy, and half of the seats are already taken up with families and crying children, even though it's first thing in the morning. Quite frankly, everyone with a grain of sense should be holed up on the sofa with the remains of the cheeseboard and a jar of Branston, like any sane adult with nothing to do between Christmas and New Year, grimly clutching the TV remote and watching endless hours of Christmas special repeats and drinking. Why are there so many people here?
The fact that it's this busy has knocked him off balance a bit, although he's pretending that it's got more to do with him getting a grand total of about two hours sleep, rather than the terror that's lodged firmly in his chest at the thought of seeing Harry again. He hadn't expected to meet Harry off the plane with this much of an audience, though. Not that he's let himself think about it too much, but in his head he'd sort of imagined it just being him and Harry.
Being here and doing this is a really, really terrible life choice.
Knowing that isn't enough to make him leave.
Even so, he can't sit still. He tries sitting by an arrivals screen, but he has to stand up and walk around after a minute. At least he can put that down to the fact he'd had to have three coffees before leaving just to make sure he didn't fall asleep at the wheel. He's so nervous. Is what he's doing completely stupid? Is wanting to see Harry as soon as he possibly can the worst idea he's ever had? Nick's had some pretty shit ideas over the years. If anyone was handing out prizes for bad ideas, Nick would definitely be on the shortlist for the lifetime achievement award. If it's not bad, it's embarrassing. He's still not quite got over the whole falling-over-dressed-as-Lily-Allen thing.
And, let's face it, there's nothing more embarrassing that throwing yourself at a pop star in front of a whole airport of people. He's the fucking king of bad ideas.
He finds himself in the café, staring at trays of unappetising breakfast foods under a glass counter. He's flown out of Heathrow any number of times, but he's never had to hang about waiting for someone before. It's rubbish. There isn't a Starbucks or a Costa. He would have settled for a Caffé Nero, he's that desperate, but all there is is this overpriced concession that wants to sell him a latte and a miserable-looking blueberry muffin and practically nothing else. He doesn't want either of those things. Even though it's freezing cold, he kind of wants a Frappuccino and a piece of toast. The Frappuccinos are Harry's fault; he'd spent about three months constantly interrupting any journey, anywhere, to stop and get some kind of iced drink that was more syrup than caffeine, and then he'd forced them on Nick too. Somewhere along the line Nick had actually started to like them, not that he was going to tell Harry that.
The concession doesn't sell iced coffee in any form though, and he can't make a decision about picking anything else, so he skips out on the rubbish coffee stand and ends up in Boots instead, accidentally staring at the eyeliner pencils instead of the chiller cabinet because all he can really concentrate on is the fact that he's going to see Harry again, and he has no idea what he's going to say.
When the security guard starts to take an unhealthy interest in why he's been staring at the nail varnishes for five minutes, he shifts two feet to the left and stares at the drinks' fridge instead. He chooses a bottle of Ribena just for something to do, and then goes back to the coffee stand for a blueberry muffin that he doesn't particularly want. Then he finds a pillar by one of the arrivals screens to lean on, and obsessively checks for Harry's flight status.
There's only one Air New Zealand flight on the screen, and yes, it's coming from LA, so Nick's concern that Elle had sent him on a wild goose chase with an imaginary airline can be put to rest, at least.
Turns out Air New Zealand is totally real and everything. Who knew?
And then all there is to do is wait. He can't eat much of the muffin, because his stomach is turning over and over, and because the muffin is a bizarrely neon kind of blue inside. Is that really what happens to blueberries when they're baked? He's so nervous. It's like the nerves he had before the first morning on the Breakfast Show. Just like that day, he's running on virtually no sleep, although at least they had the basics of a script and a schedule to refer to. Now he doesn't have anything, and he's running on empty, and that's fucking terrifying. He's terrified. What if he lays everything on the line and Harry doesn't want him? This is why he never makes grand gestures. He's not a brave person. He's the kind of person who makes stupid jokes and hopes nobody notices he doesn't have a fucking clue what he's doing seventy-five per cent of the time. He's worked on that. He's good at that.
He can't even throw the awful muffin away, because there's no fucking bins in a five mile radius. He ends up eating it just because the alternative is holding it forever, and nobody wants that.
When Harry's flight status changes to LANDED, he stands up and makes his way to the roped-off barrier by Arrivals, even though there's no chance of Harry turning up for ages yet. He's got to go through customs, and get his bags, and there's probably a bit of a walk in there somewhere too.
He taps his fingers against his thighs. Behind him is a row of drivers, all holding out hand-scrawled signs with people's names on. He asks one of them if he can have a piece of paper and a pen, and then he borrows a clipboard to lean on and writes HAROLD STARS in thick black marker pen, mostly for something to do.
Is it too late to back out? Probably. He hands the clipboard back, and says thank you for the pen, and goes back to stand at the end of the rope line, probably right in everyone's way. The information on the screen has changed from LANDED to BAGGAGE IN HALL, so it can't be long now.
His heart feels like it's trapped in his throat.
There's nothing to do but wait. Wait, and tell himself that even though he doesn't have a fucking clue what he's doing, seeing Harry has to be less painful than not seeing him. It has to be.
There's nobody coming through the doors yet. What if he's got the flight details wrong, or the airport? What if he's supposed to be at Gatwick right now, and Harry's waiting for him there? What if Harry's too famous to come through the same doors as all the normal people, and he's been ushered out an exit that's especially for people who are dead famous, like Lady Gaga and Madonna and George Michael? George Michael can't use the same doors as everyone else. Elton John certainly can't. The world would probably explode, or something. Maybe he's missed Harry already, or Harry didn't get on the flight, or—he's thinking too much. Nobody from the LA flight has arrived yet. It's okay. There's time yet.
It's another five minutes before the first people from Harry's flight start to come through the doors, trailing suitcases and overnight bags and clanking duty free carrier bags. Nick can tell they're from the LA flight because he can a) spot an American tourist from fifty feet away, courtesy of living in London for so long, and b) they all look like they're the walking dead. Night flights are the scourge of the devil.
It's a thin trickle of people at first, people with small cases and carry-on luggage only. One person has a bag of duty free larger than his suitcase. Nick sort of wants to salute that guy on the way past, but resists. Manfully. He holds his sign against his thigh, HAROLD STARS facing out. He knows it's stupid, but he doesn't scrunch it up and shove it in his pocket. He just stands and waits.
The first real sign he has that Harry was actually on this flight are the two teenage girls who come through the doors next, following their parents. They're both blonde, and clearly related because they almost look close enough alike that they could be twins, and they're giggling and looking behind them, and Nick recognises that kind of heightened emotion. He's felt it enough himself. He wishes he wasn't so easily charmed by Harry sometimes, but he can't help it. He's putty in his hands.
Sort of literally, if he thinks about it. That's a bit revolting.
As the girls get closer, Nick can hear them talking. They're not exactly quiet. One of them is saying, "Oh my god, Harry Styles," whilst the other one is begging her mum to let them wait around to see him come through the doors. The mum has that tell-tale flush too, the one that either means, I haven't slept in thirty two hours and I'm going to kill somebody if I don't get a coffee and a kip in the next twenty seconds, or alternatively, that she's been charmed by Harry Styles too. When she lets them wait on the other side of the rope line, and fumbles for her camera in the pocket of her suitcase, he knows it's the latter. He gets exponentially more nervous, especially when they're joined by another family with daughters—although this one has a son who is either doing a very good job of pretending he doesn't care he was on a flight with one of One Direction, or is texting every single one of his friends about the greatest day of his life whilst doing a very good impression of someone who couldn't give a shit. Their luggage starts to create a bottleneck, which in turn leads to a couple of security guards coming over to move them over, further behind the rope.
Of all the ways this could have turned out, the deterioration of Terminal 3 Arrivals into some kind of rock concert rope line is not how Nick imagined it. Although if he gets Harry to autograph his HAROLD STARS sign, he could bung it on eBay and make a few quid. It would probably pay for Christmas, at least. There has to be one upside to this not going well.
There are about eight kids waiting now, their parents looking long-suffering and exhausted. Half of them have started bickering and the other half have run for the nearest coffee stand, something Nick can sympathise with. He can also sympathise with the kids, though, bright eyed and excited, and when the fuck did this become his life?
Harry walks through the automatic doors, a beanie tugged down low over his hair. He looks exhausted and worn out, and if the beanie is supposed to disguise who he is, it's doing a piss-poor job. He's pulling a suitcase and carrying a battered—but expensive—sports bag over his shoulder.
He doesn't see Nick at first, doesn't even look up, and Nick doesn't say anything. He can't. All he can do is hold his sign up, and try to think of a way to attract Harry's attention that isn't dropping to his knees and saying, thank fuck you're home.
He doesn't, which is probably for the best, all things considered.
One of the girls standing near him at the rope screams then, and fuck, this is like Nick wanting to go out with one of The Beatles, and it's ridiculous. The girl is furiously shushed by her mother—and immediately grounded for calling a scene, which is funny—and then Harry looks up, and Nick knows the exact moment Harry sees him in the crowd. His eyes go wide, and he stops right there, right in the middle of everyone, and it is all at once the single scariest moment of Nick's whole life.
Watching Harry walk towards him is fucking terrifying. There isn't a trace of the normal Harry, the Harry that Nick's spent countless hours hanging out with. There isn't a smirk, or any kind of obnoxious grin which means the next few hours of his life suddenly have trouble stamped all over them in Harry's scrawl. There's nothing that Nick recognises from spending endless hours together whilst Nick fell quietly and desperately in love. Harry just looks—exhausted. Exhausted, and oddly bright-eyed.
"Hello," Harry says, when he's close enough to talk without being overheard. He sounds rough.
"Hello," Nick says. He hadn't exactly had a script worked out for how this was going to go, but now that Harry's standing here, every thought he had in his head has just gone. He's not sure it matters though, because Harry's starting to smile, even if it looks like it's in disbelief.
"You made me a sign," he says, pointing at the piece of paper Nick's still holding up in front of him. He laughs. It sounds a little hysterical, but whatever. "You made me a sign."
"Yep," Nick says, licking his lips. His mouth is dry. Harry's hair is curling out from underneath his beanie. He looks pale and tired, but it doesn't matter, because he's laughing. Nick wants to reach out and stroke Harry's hair behind his ear. "Just in case you forgot who you were."
"As if I could forget being Harold Stars," Harry says, and then he lets go of his suitcase and drops his bag on the floor, and leans in to wrap his arms around Nick, tugging him into a hug so hard that Nick can barely breathe.
Nick freezes for a moment before hugging him back, one hand sliding into the small of Harry's back, still clutching his handmade sign, the other on his neck, holding him close. Harry smells faintly familiar, like deodorant and aftershave, mixed with the stale smell of eleven hours on an aeroplane. Nick hides his face in the curve of Harry's neck, because he doesn't trust himself to speak, and all he can think is, thank fuck.
"Fuck, Nick." Harry's mouth is pressed to Nick's ear. "I wanted you to be here. I didn't know if you'd come."
Nick doesn't say, I'd go anywhere if you asked me to, or, why didn't you ask me to come yourself then. "I just—I couldn't—" He stops. They're surrounded by people, and most of them are watching him and Harry. He hadn't wanted this to be as public a homecoming as it's turning into. "I've got my car. Do you want to—"
"Yes," Harry nods. He steps back, reaching for his bag, for his case. Nick doesn't know what to do with his hands, so he holds one out, give me something to carry.
He ends up with the suitcase; it weighs a ton. Harry's ended up with his carry-on bag and the Harold Stars sign. Nick isn't sure that's a fair exchange, but Harry's looking down at the sign and holding it carefully. "What the fuck have you got in here, rocks?"
Harry shrugs, looking at him and then looking away again. "I bought stuff," he says, folding the sign up and sliding it into his pocket. "Where are you parked?"
Nick's fucked if he can remember. "That way?" he points one way, but that's just the café. "No, that way." Harry's standing so close that his elbow brushes Nick's.
It's so loud. There are people shouting, and calling their names, and only the arrival of a battery of airport security guards, who stand between them and the flimsy rope line, stop them from being mown down by a crowd of teenage girls. Where they've all come from, Nick has no idea. Surely there weren't that many a minute ago?
They sneak glances at each other all the way to the car park, until they're standing in the entrance and Nick's trying to find his pay and display ticket in his pockets and trying to remember where the fuck he's parked.
Harry stands next to him and doesn't make fun of him at all, which Nick knows is weird. Harry never stops making fun of him. It's part of the reason he loves him. Harry looks a little bit like he's the walking dead. Nick's never seen him look so tired.
"We'll take the lift," he tells Harry, once he's located the parking ticket and they've stood by the pay and display machine and Nick's paid an entire year's salary in parking charges.
They stand by the lifts and press the call button. There are still some people following them, Nick knows, but at least it's much quieter than the main Arrivals area.
The lift doors open with a ping, and Nick lets Harry go in first, following behind with the case. He parks the case right in the middle of the doorway so that no one else can follow them in.
As the doors close, Nick can hear his heart beat loud and heavy, and his breath feels tight in his throat. It's now or never. When he tries to speak, his voice catches. "Harry," he manages.
"I thought I'd get over you," Harry says softly, almost too quietly for Nick to hear. "I thought I'd stop wanting—"
Nick stops him then. "I'll do anything," he says, as quickly and as quietly as he can manage. He needs to get this out whilst he's still brave enough. "Anything you want. Like—if you want to keep us secret, or if you just need someone to come with you on tour and like, hand wash your socks, I don't care. If it's just one night, I don't care, I just need to—not be away from you again. Just for a bit." He can't breathe. He doesn't care that he's begged. He's desperate.
The doors open again at their floor, and he almost can't make his legs work. His car is just by the lifts though, two steps, three steps, and then he can park Harry's case by the boot and turn back around. Some girls pile through the doors over by the stairs and stop, giggling. He tries not to look at them.
"I can't stop thinking about you," Harry's voice catches, and he drops his bag on the floor by the car door. He makes a jerky movement with his hand, and then stills. "I tried."
"It doesn't work," Nick says. He can't say, I love you. He makes an impulsive grab for Harry's wrist instead, but Harry's reaching for him, reaching up and cupping the back of Nick's neck and pulling him in.
"Nick—" Harry says. "Nick, please."
Nick feels like he's drowning. He nods, unable to help himself, and then Harry's hands fist in Nick's coat, and Harry's kissing him.
He kisses him back, heart caught somewhere in his throat. It's—it's everything. Harry's everything. He's trembling.
Harry kisses him breathlessly, his lips chapped and dry. Nick's sure his breath smells like stale coffee and desperation, but he can't bring himself to care, because Harry's kissing him. Harry Styles is kissing him, and even though the car park is quieter than it was inside, they're still technically in the middle of Heathrow. They can't—this can't be happening.
He pulls back. Around them, the car park comes into focus again.
Neither of them move.
There are people watching them. Nick can see them with their phones out. Harry is totally fucking screwed. He's just outed himself in the most obvious way ever.
"No," Harry says, his gaze flicking from the people watching them, to Nick, back again. "Don't. I can't. I can't not. Just let me. Let me—"
He reaches for Nick again, lips red and bitten, and it's all Nick can do to stay standing, his legs are shaking so much.
"It hurts too much being away from you," Nick says, his hands circling Harry's wrists. He knows he's asking too much. He's pretty sure the girls by the stairs will already have uploaded their pictures to the internet. He feels helpless at the enormity of what they've just done. Of what Harry's just done. Nick being hopelessly in love with him doesn't change anything, no matter how much it hurts.
"I don't care anymore," Harry's saying, but Nick knows that he can't mean that. "Nick," Harry goes on, cupping Nick's face in his hands.
This isn't happening, Nick thinks. "What?"
"I want you." Harry kisses him again, breathless and half desperate, and he's begging Nick, Nick can feel it in the way that his fingertips are pressing into his skin. "And like, I know we have to talk about this, and I kind of want to take you to bed more than anything in the whole world, but can we just, like—" he stops to kiss him again, "fuck, I'm so tired. Can we just—I just want to sleep first. Don't let me fuck this up. I don't want to fuck this up."
Nick tries to hear more than, I kind of want to take you to bed more than anything in the whole world, but it's hard. "Okay," he manages, and he hugs him then, holds on tight because, if for some reason it turns out that they just get to have one moment together, he wants to remember every single second of it. It already seems like a blur, but Harry's clinging to him, shaking like a leaf, and it's not like Harry is any stranger to late nights—Nick has the text messages and the voicemails to prove it—but he feels oddly fragile in Nick's arms, like he's held together by little more than desperation itself. Nick recognises the signs, because he feels the same.
His brain still isn't quite firing on all cylinders. Part of him can't stop thinking about the fact that Harry just kissed him, and told him he wants to take him to bed, and that Harry Styles has just come out—with him, oh fuck—but the rest of him just keeps babbling inanities like isn't that Go Compare advert on the wall over there just weird? It is weird, by the way, but even that can't drown out the fact that Harry's eerily bright-eyed and clearly exhausted, and is reaching for Nick's hand.
Nick is terrified and desperate and so in love he can't even think straight, and he can't help but let Harry take his hand.
"You okay?" He likes to ask things that are bleeding obvious at times, just for fun. "How tired are you, on a scale of one to ten?"
Harry shoots him half an exhausted smile. "About a hundred. And I'm bricking it," he says, but he doesn't lose the smile, and whether it's for the sake of Nick or the people around them, Nick has no idea. "Never been so scared in my whole life."
"Me neither," Nick says. He's never made a grand gesture before. It's fucking mind-blowingly scary. His hands are still shaking with it all. The first day on the breakfast show was like a stroll on the beach at sunset in comparison. If he'd ever done that. The last holiday he'd been on, they'd slept most of the day and partied all of the night. He'd come home with less of a tan than he'd left with, although that was mostly because the tan he'd left with had been decidedly fake and he'd left most of it on the hotel sheets on the first night. Good times.
"For god's sake, take me home." Harry says.
Nick smiles at that, at the re-emergence of the quasi-obnoxious Harry he knows and loves. "Aye, aye," he says, and leans past Harry to open the car door for him.
Getting back to Primrose Hill is more complicated than it seems, if only because they're being tailed by cars from the airport. Nick's old car doesn't have tinted windows or the height of a great big fuck-off 4x4. His car has a lot of rubbish on the back seat and Harry Styles in the front seat, curled up and half asleep and looking at Nick like he's hung the fucking moon.
Nick's not going to get tired of that sight any time soon.
"What?" he says, when Harry leans over and touches his fingers to Nick's thigh whilst they're queuing to get on to the roundabout. If there really are cars following them—and there look to be a few semi-familiar cars in the rear-view mirror that he hasn't shaken off since leaving the car park—then they're going to get lost pretty quickly, since Nick's temporarily lost any memory he had for where he's actually going. He remembers he wants to take the slip road onto the motorway with about half a second to spare. At this rate he's going to end up going wrong and getting on the M25 instead, driving endlessly round in circles with Harry beside him.
There are downsides to that, but for the life of him, Nick can't think of them right now. He puts his foot down.
"I haven't slept in about two days," Harry says, and when Nick glances across, he looks about three times as exhausted as that, even though Nick's not about to tell him. "Maybe three. I can't believe you're actually real."
Nick knows that feeling. "I'm real," he says. He doesn't need to change gear because he's going seventy in the fast lane, but he rests his hand on the gear lever anyway, just because it's closer to Harry than if he leaves it on the steering wheel.
Okay, seventy-five, but who's counting?
Harry leans over and slides his hand over Nick's, linking their fingers for a moment. "Just checking," he says lightly, before leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes.
Nick doesn't pretend that there's anything light about it. He glances across at him. How dangerous is being distracted on the M4, anyway? "So, uh, what happened back there, then? Or are we not talking about it until we've both had a kip?" If Harry's going to catch up on his sleep, then Nick's bloody getting in on that too. He's wiped.
Harry opens one eye. "I think you kissed me."
That's not what happened. "You kissed me." He likes things to be right, even when it doesn't actually matter.
"You and I appear to remember things differently, Harold. This is what being young does for you."
Harry opens both eyes at that. He looks worn out, but—but happy. He pulls off his hat and rests it on his shoulder so that he's got something to lean on as he shifts position, curling up in the seat. As much as he can curl up, for someone who's approximately ninety-eight per cent limbs. "The important bit was the kissing bit."
"Yep," Nick says, watching out of the corner of his eye as Harry lets out an enormous yawn. "I quite liked that bit myself." He pauses. "How come you're so tired, anyway? Partying twenty-four-seven in LA? Whoop whoop?" Part of him wishes he hadn't attempted the whoops.
"Something like that," Harry says. "You don't mind if I just crash when we get to yours, do you? I'm so tired I can't remember how to talk."
So, the thing is, Nick hadn't actually thought about what to do if they got to this point. He hadn't actually thought past the grand declaration of his intentions, because he'd just sort of assumed the world would explode in a giant ball of fiery death at that point and that would be it. He hadn't actually considered the possibility of Harry coming back to his. It turns out he was kind of maybe driving Harry back home. "I haven't tidied."
"Like I care. Just—I really missed you. Like I've ever cared your flat's a tip."
Nick blinks a couple of times. "Missed you more," he says. "Probably."
"They should move Heathrow somewhere closer to home," Harry tells him sleepily.
When Nick risks a glance a minute later, Harry's asleep, his mouth fallen open. Good thing he's not dribbling, Nick would go right off him then.
Or not. Whatever. "Yeah," he says, half to himself. "Let's do this."
Hammersmith is unreasonably busy for a lunchtime in-between Christmas and New Year, and traffic slows almost to a stop by the time they get to the Westfield. Harry sleeps through it all, and Nick—suddenly so thirsty it's ridiculous—contemplates stopping to pick up a drink for about the split second it takes him to remember that Harry Styles just came out, and that stopping for a coffee is probably a really bad idea. He hasn't checked in the rear-view mirror for a while, but he's not stupid enough to think that what he and Harry just did isn't newsworthy. His phone is on silent in his pocket so he doesn't know who's trying to get in contact, and he doesn't even want to think about who's ringing Harry up right now. If he was getting bollocked before flying out to the states, what coming back and getting off with Nick's going to do to that is probably kind of ridiculous. He really, really doesn't want to think about Harry getting into trouble because of him. That's the last thing he wants.
It's about an hour and a half from Heathrow to his, and most of that is spent with Harry asleep next to him. Harry doesn't even start to wake up until Nick's parking the car up in the space by the flat. Never has he been happier to have moved out of his old place, where parking was on the street and subsequently never fucking available. At least here there's a little off-road place where he has a space reserved just for him. This is what a nice steady income gets you: off street parking.
He turns off the engine and lets the car fall into silence.
Harry's waking up beside him, stretching, arms out.
"Shit, did I fall asleep?" Harry yawns, rubbing his face. "Fuck."
"Only a little bit." Nick feels awkward and a little unsure about how to act around Harry, which is weird because he's never felt awkward around Harry. He's always felt like it was just the two of them against the world, or something. He's always liked that feeling. "Come on, let's get you in. You can fall asleep in an actual bed inside."
"You spoil me," Harry tells him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Fuck, I think something died in my mouth." He stretches again, hands cramped above his head. His jumper rides up. "You got a toothbrush I can use?"
"Share mine," Nick says. It isn't like they haven't done it before.
"Great," Harry says, after a beat. "God, I'm tired."
"Come on," Nick says. "Let's go in. You'll feel better after a kip."
There's already a guy on the corner with a camera. Nick's too overwhelmed to pretend not to see it, especially when he hears the shutter as he gets Harry's case out of the back of the car.
"Ignore them," Harry tells him, leaning in past him to get his other bag. He's close enough that Nick can feel his breath against his cheek.
Nick can feel himself flushing at Harry's proximity. This is all so confusing. He doesn't know what any of it means. The kiss at the airport had been perfect in its own way, desperate and so fucking right—but they weren't at the airport any more. This was real life again, Nick's place, a weekday in London, and he has no idea how any of this—how he and Harry—are supposed to fit into that. If they're supposed to fit in at all.
He shuts the boot and fumbles in his pocket for his house keys. "Got everything?" he asks. He's holding the handle of Harry's suitcase, and Harry's holding his other bag.
"Yeah," Harry says, and then he holds out his hand.
Nick looks down at Harry's outstretched hand, and thinks, fuck. He really doesn't want Harry to get into trouble because of him.
"Nick," Harry says.
He doesn't sound as brave as he normally does.
Nick swallows, chewing on his lip. He waits a breath before sliding his hand into Harry's, and tries not to fall over with the sheer enormity of what they're doing.
"Come on," Harry says. "Before I fall asleep standing up."
Nick doesn't look back at the guy with the camera, not once.
Inside the flat, he leaves Harry's suitcase in the hall where they can both trip over it, and goes into the kitchen, shedding his scarf and coat somewhere along the way. He busies himself putting the kettle on, not because he particularly wants a cup of tea, but because that's what you do when you come into the house. You put the kettle on, take your coat off, and decide when it's boiled if you want a brew or not.
Harry's disappeared towards the loo.
"You want a brew?" he calls, because he can't think of anything to say that isn't, what the fuck are we doing or I love you, never leave or make this less awkward, I have no idea what I'm doing.
He thinks Harry calls something back, but he can't hear over the sound of the toilet flushing and the kettle boiling. He gets two mugs out of the cupboard anyway, one with a giant moustache on the side, the other with 'keep calm and play a record' on. He has two of those, because apparently people can't think of anything to buy him for his birthday that isn't DJ related. When he hears the bathroom door open, he fumbles for the box of teabags, taking out two and trying to tear them apart without getting tea leaves everywhere. He's all fingers and thumbs.
"Did you want one?" he asks, without looking over his shoulder when he hears Harry in the doorway. "I'm doing you one anyway." It's what you do when there's a gap to fill: make tea. Everyone always wants tea; it's a rule.
"Nick," Harry says, from somewhere behind him.
Nick doesn't look around. "It's funny, right? First thing you do when you come through the door, make a cup of tea. Like a rule, innit."
Harry touches his elbow. Nick doesn't jump, but he comes close. He hadn't even heard him cross the kitchen.
"Nick," Harry says again, and his hand moves from Nick's elbow to his hip.
"You want sugar?"
"No," Harry says, and he moves closer, hooking his chin over Nick's shoulder, fingertips pressing into Nick's hip.
Nick sneaks a look then, because he can't not. Harry's taken most of his clothes off at some point in the last two minutes, and stripped down to his black boxers. There isn't anything Nick can think to say to that, other than, oh god. He can feel Harry's breath against his neck. His heart's beating fast; he's hyper-aware of how loud his breathing is now that the kettle's finished boiling and the kitchen's quiet.
Harry slides his hand into Nick's hair, and Nick swallows, turning round to face him. Harry moves closer, bracketing Nick's legs with his own. His breath smells minty.
"You cleaned your teeth," Nick says.
Harry's gaze flicks down to Nick's mouth, and back up. "I wanted to make a good impression. Trying to, you know."
"Oh," Nick says. He doesn't really know, but whatever. Somehow his hands have ended up resting on Harry's hips, his skin warm beneath his fingertips. Surely this isn't really happening. This must just be a really, really vivid dream.
Harry opens his mouth and breathes out. His nose is touching Nick's. That feels real enough, at least. "How'd I do?"
Nick swallows, closes the tiny distance between them, and covers Harry's mouth with his own. Harry makes a soft, whimpering kind of a noise and kisses him back slowly, one hand in Nick's hair.
It's possible he could stay here forever, trading half-asleep kisses in his kitchen. After the past few weeks, it hardly seems possible that they're here, together.
"Minty fresh," Nick says, after a while.
Harry smiles then, wide but tired. "Come to bed," he says. "Because I'm actually falling asleep, and then you'd have to carry me, and nobody wants that. You'd drop me, for a start."
"Wouldn't," Nick says. "Anyway, you're kind of sexy when you're sleepy." He can say that now, because he's standing in his kitchen with a mostly-naked Harry Styles in his arms. And Harry's too exhausted to remember it in when he wakes up, Nick's pretty sure. He could say anything right now.
"You're such a dickhead," Harry says, but he's smiling.
He reaches for Nick's hand, and leads him out of the kitchen, and towards the bedroom.
Cups of tea can wait.
In the bedroom, Nick tries to straighten the covers a bit as Harry dumps a pile of clothes onto the floor. Harry still looks really tired, but every time he catches Nick's eye, he just smiles, and Nick's heart leaps.
"Stop fussing and get in," Harry says, after a while of Nick trying to stuff at least some of his mess towards the washing basket. He's not normally this much of a pit-dweller, but since getting back from his mum and dad's, he's been nursing a broken heart through a diet of exclusively Toblerone and tea, so unpacking and doing the washing have kind of fallen by the wayside.
"In a minute, god." Nick says. "I know I'm like, the hottest person you've ever been to bed with but you can't rush perfection." He still can't quite get over the fact that Harry Styles is sitting up in his bed, knees up to his chest, Nick's stupid disco-patterned duvet pulled up over him.
Nick really should have changed the sheets this morning. What if they smell like moping and heartbreak? There are probably Toblerone Tinies secreted in the sheets. People have got to stop giving him chocolate for Christmas.
He takes off his shoes and his jeans, leaving them in a pool on the floor, then sits down on the edge of the bed to take off his socks. Behind him, Harry leans over and presses a kiss to the back of his neck.
"Stop messing and come to bed, Nick."
Nick shivers, unable to help himself. He's so tired, and it's been the longest, hardest Christmas, but Harry's back, and he's here, in Nick's bed. He's a bit scared that if they go to sleep, he'll wake up and it'll all have been a dream.
"Just got to turn the big light off, hang on." He'd left too early to open the curtains that morning, and even though it's only early afternoon now, the weather's shit enough that it's still pretty dark out. Once he switches the light off, the room's mostly in darkness.
"Get in," Harry says. "It's freezing."
Freezing's pushing it, because Nick likes to be warm and he runs cold, but okay, it's chilly. He slides under the covers in just his faded boxers and his t-shirt, and Harry reaches for him, yawning.
"Take your shirt off," he says. "Fuck, I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life. I feel like the walking dead."
"Look like it too." Nick pulls off his t-shirt and drops it off the edge of the bed. Harry's mostly naked and warm all over, and maybe they're both too tired and too much of a mess for this, but he can't bring himself to care. He pulls the covers up over them both, and lets Harry curl into him, arm wrapped around his chest, cheek pressed to Nick's shoulder.
"I'm completely in love with you," Harry says, his voice muffled. "Just so that you know."
"Jesus fucking Christ," Nick says, which is not how he imagined his response would go. Harry laughs, but doesn't move.
"It's just—I wasn't going to tell you, but, I don't know, it's not like I'm managing to keep it a secret."
"You've kept it a better secret than I have," Nick manages. "I'm pretty sure that like, aliens from space could land here, and they wouldn't be able to recognise humans, and they'd be talking to trees and lampposts, and they'd still know I was completely mad about you."
"How mad?" Harry sounds like he's already mostly-asleep, eyes closed. His words slur a little bit.
"Stop fishing for compliment, Styles." He shifts so that he can stroke Harry's hair away from his face. "A lot mad, okay? Like, totally fucking head over heels in love with you, all right?"
"Good," Harry says, now approximately ninety-four per cent asleep. "That's good."
Nick stays awake for a while, stroking Harry's hair, and wondering what the fuck happens now.
Harry sleeps for eight hours straight. Nick manages about four and a half hours, which is more than he expected to get, bearing in mind he's rubbish at sleeping during the day. He tries not to make much noise getting out of bed, but then he trips over his shoes and knocks over the washing basket. Harry is so out of it, he doesn't even stir.
Nick makes a series of very sensible, very adult decisions, and as a result hides his phone under a cushion in the living room without looking at it, doesn't open his laptop, and attempts the washing up instead of sneaking back into the bedroom to watch Harry sleep. He ends up in the living room when he's run out of things he can justifiably wash up, watching a box set of The OC because he'd accidentally switched the TV on and caught BBC3's 60 Second News and seen a still of him and Harry kissing at the airport.
He's never changed the AV to DVD quicker.
He manages two episodes before Harry wakes up.
Harry stands in the living room door in just his underwear, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "You weren't there when I woke up," he says sleepily, and he looks so out of it and fucked up that Nick just holds his arms out so that Harry can stumble into them, wrapping his arms around Nick's chest and rubbing his cheek against Nick's shirt.
"You slept for eight hours," Nick points out, and the feeling in his chest is part hopeless devotion and part terrifying fear.
"Didn't sleep much in LA," Harry says, and he tilts his chin up.
"Me neither," Nick starts, but then Harry's shifting a little, enough that he can meet Nick's mouth in a kiss. He tastes a little sleep sour, but Nick doesn't care. His hands tighten on Harry's wrists, and then Harry's climbing over him, kneeling up and cupping Nick's face in his hands.
"I wasn't lying," Harry says. "I love you."
Nick kisses him again, because he knows Harry wasn't lying. He knows he's not lying now. It's just whether that's enough.
"Don't ever leave me again," Nick says, before he's really thought it through.
"Not planning on it," Harry tells him, and leans in to press his mouth to Nick's. He nips at Nick's bottom lip with his teeth, licking his way into Nick's mouth. It's kind of revolting, in a seriously hot kind of a way. "Fuck, it's cold."
"That's because you're in your undies, and it's December." Nick slides his hands into the small of Harry's back, over bare, warm, sleep-drenched skin. Harry shivers and arches up.
"I'm not getting dressed just to get undressed again," Harry says. "Come back to bed."
Nick tries not to think about his ignored phone, or Harry's phone, or seeing their picture on the news. Instead, he strokes his thumb over Harry's ship tattoo. "You've got the worst fucking taste in the world," he says.
"Certainly got the worst taste in boyfriends," Harry agrees, leaning in to kiss Nick again.
"You know," Nick says, tipping his head back a bit as Harry mouths at his neck, "I don't remember being asked about being your boyfriend."
Harry knees him in the balls. Affectionately. "I kissed you in front of everyone, Nicholas. Which part of that did you miss?"
"The bit where you said, will you go out with me, I think." Nick likes being contrary, and he likes the way Harry's kneeling over him with his dick bumping into Nick's stomach. "Be my boyfriend, Nicholas. That part. I missed that part."
"You're like, the most annoying person in the world," Harry lies.
Nick beams. "Still waiting."
Harry rolls his eyes. "Fine. You're the fucking love of my life, Nicholas. I can't stop fucking thinking about you, and I would really like it quite a lot if you would be my boyfriend. That good enough?"
"Hmmm," Nick pretends. Inside, his heart is pounding. Everyone's the love of your life at eighteen. It doesn't mean he is. But—oh god. He wants it to be the truth. "I suppose it'll do."
Harry shivers, pressing closer. He rubs his cold nose against Nick's cheek. "If you don't say yes, I'll beat you up."
"I'd like to see you try. You're like spaghetti with arms." To demonstrate, he runs his hands down over Harry's biceps, down to his wrists. He wants to press his mouth to each of Harry's ugly tattoos in time, leave mark after mark on his skin.
"I could take you," Harry says. Neither of them are exactly built like a heavyweight boxer, so the chances are it'd be a dead heat. Nick can't really be bothered to fight, anyway.
"We were on the telly," he says, because there really is only so long they can ignore the outside world.
Harry waits a beat before replying. "Were we?"
Nick brushes Harry's hair away from his face. Harry still looks tired, but he's lost that pale, wan, slightly scary look that he'd had when he got off the plane. "Yep. BBC3. At some point we're going to have turn our phones on, you know. Take the entry phone off silent."
"Nobody watches BBC3. What time is it?" Harry asks. He's still kneeling over Nick, but he's sitting back on his heels.
Nick wants to remind him that BBC3 doesn't exactly get exclusives, either, so if they've got it, so have everyone else, but Harry knows that. Neither of them are stupid. They're just ignoring it for as long as they can. Concentrating on each other before dealing with everything else.
Harry slides his hands around Nick's wrists, thumbs stroking. He smiles, and Nick shivers in anticipation.
He just wants the freedom to touch him everywhere, each tattoo in turn, the inside of his thighs, the pale skin in the hollow of his throat. He wants to blow him. He can't quite make the jump from friends to more in his head, even though more is all he wants. Admitting he's scared of fucking them up is harder than he'd imagined. It's just—he's rubbish at relationships, and Harry's his best friend, and they went at this all backwards, and changing how they are with each other is more awkward than he'd imagined. He tries to concentrate on Harry's question. "About nine-thirty, I think. Why?"
Harry strokes his thumb down Nick's jaw. Nick tries not to shiver. "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse."
"Sexy," Nick says, which is all he can manage when Harry is touching him like this.
"What have you got in?"
"Shit my mum sent me down with. Sprouts, coleslaw, Christmas cake. Cheese. Stuff with my teeth marks in." He's not going to lie, he did spend a considerable amount of yesterday standing in front of the fridge with the door open, eating stuff.
"Sexy," Harry echoes, thumb to Nick's lip. He touches his mouth to Nick's.
It feels a lot like all of the air has suddenly been sucked out of the room.
"I want to take you to bed," Harry says softly, kissing him again.
There's no way that Harry should be this charming. It's ridiculous. Nick manages to say something that sounds a bit like a mrgle. It's not his finest moment.
"I'm going to take you to bed and blow you," Harry goes on, and all of Nick's resolve to deal with the whole coming out thing gets shifted to one side to think about later. "And it's going to be fucking amazing—" the arrogance of teenagers, Nick thinks—"but first of all we have to go to the shop and get something to eat."
"I hate you," Nick says, because Harry's sat back on his heels again. Nick's about seven-eighths of the way to being hard—he has been ever since Harry stood in the doorway looking sleepy and like he wanted him, but whatever—and now Harry's suggesting the shops.
"Love you too," Harry says, leaning in for another kiss. His stomach rumbles in a loudly obnoxious kind of a way, and Nick suddenly realises that he's starving too. He'd eaten a bag of Hula Hoops and the last two pieces of a bar of Toblerone when he'd woken up, but nothing else apart from the neon blueberry muffin since then. Harry hasn't eaten anything since before Nick met him at the airport, and Harry has the appetite of a starving elephant even at the best of times. "Fuck, come on. Let's go to the shop and get food, and then come back and eat it really quickly, and then we can just go to bed."
"We can go to bed now," Nick complains, even though he's ravenously hungry, now that he's come to think about it.
"I want it to be perfect," Harry tells him, which is something that precisely nobody has ever said to Nick. Like, ever. The last time he'd had sex, they'd had to rush the finish so that they could watch X Factor. Good times. Or not. It certainly hadn't leaned towards perfect, or even trying.
Harry climbs off him then, standing up and then leaning down to kiss his cheek. "I've been waiting long enough, I'm not rushing it now. Food, then sex."
"Your priorities are rubbish priorities," Nick feels like being sulky, but in a way, he just feels kind of special, in a stupid, ridiculous, in-love kind of way. He'd like it to be perfect too, not that he's as comfortable admitting that as Harry seems to be. He stands up and goes to the window to see if there's anyone waiting for them down below. He twitches the curtain just a little bit, just to see. There had been a proper group of photographers there earlier, but surely they'll have gone home by now. There's nothing to see outside his flat. There's nothing to see inside his flat either, since apparently him and Harry are the strictly U-rated boyfriends that are safe for all the family. "I want sex." He raises his voice, because Harry's scarpered when Nick wasn't looking. "Harry! I want to have sex."
"Go and have a wank," Harry calls back helpfully.
"I'll wank you," he says, under his breath. There are still a couple of photographers outside, clustered by the gate. This is going to be fun.
"Heard that," Harry calls. "Just think, if you'd got a pizza in, we wouldn't have to do this. Or stuff for breakfast. You've got no bread. You can't have sex without toast afterwards, it's like a crime."
Nick's been having sex wrong all these years, then. He grumbles under his breath as he tries to find a pair of shoes that aren't boat shoes. There's a pair of ankle boots somewhere around. If he's going to be photographed, he doesn't exactly want to look like a tramp. He knots his scarf around his neck in front of the mirror, and hoiks up his jeans so they're not hanging somewhere around his thighs. He should find a belt. Doesn't matter, he'll have his coat on. No one's going to get a picture of him with his pants showing. He's not Justin Bieber.
Harry's suitcase is on its side on the hall, open and spewing clothes all over Nick's carpet. "Oi, Styles. You've left all your shit on the floor."
"Get a life," Harry says, coming into the hall and pulling on a polo neck over skinny black jeans and scuffed boots.
That's him told, but Nick can't find it in himself to be annoyed. Not when Harry's crowding him back against the wall and sliding his hands under Nick's sweater.
"We've done this all backwards," he says, nudging Nick's nose with his own. "Let's just start from here, okay? We'll go and get something to eat, and then come back and take our clothes off, right?"
This is a plan that Nick can get behind. He's not that keen on running the gauntlet of photographers outside, but it's not like he hasn't done that before. Harry is always being photographed. They're always being followed out of clubs and restaurants and to the cashpoint and cafes and pubs and supermarkets and Harry's house. Harry lives his whole life with photographers following him around. The only thing that's different about today is that they've given them something concrete to go on.
Speaking of which, they really do have to turn on their phones at some point, if only because Nick's getting twitchy without being able to check his messages. His mum's probably having kittens too, and fuck knows how Harry's mum's reacting. If there's a poster of his face up in her kitchen with devil horns drawn on in marker pen, he wouldn't be surprised.
"Okay," Harry says, pulling on his coat. "Let's do this."
They end up having to drive to the big Morrisons, because it's got a car park and it's open after ten.
"Is this what going out with you's going to be like?" Nick asks, parking wonkily in the first free spot near the entrance that he can find.
"Endlessly exciting, you mean?" Harry says, undoing his seatbelt and climbing out of the car. He waits on the pavement for Nick to lock up, and then holds his hand out for Nick to take.
Nick does not look around proudly to see if anyone's watching them as he takes Harry's hand, firstly because he knows people are—they didn't get away from his place without being followed, for a start—and secondly because he's better than that. "I was thinking, people think you're dead exciting, but so far going out with you has just meant kipping during the day and going to Morrisons. It's not really rock n' roll, is it?"
"If you want, we could throw your TV out the window when we get home. That's a bit more rock n' roll."
"That telly's new." Well, new-ish. He bumps elbows with Harry, and Harry just grins at him, eyes bright.
"This is all right, innit?" Harry says, swinging their hands a bit.
Nick thinks, better than all right. He just—he can't actually stop smiling. He's smiling on the inside, too. He'd hate himself for being this stupidly happy when he likes to spend at least part of each day finding checks and moustaches deadly serious, but he just doesn't care anymore. "It's not the worst day I've ever had," he says, as they go inside and he grabs a basket on the way past.
The girl struggling to get her pound coin into the trolley lock drops her purse on the floor when she recognises them, and Harry—being Harry, and endlessly, beautifully charming—ends up on his hands and knees under the trollies picking up five pence pieces.
"Here you go," he says, dropping a handful of shrapnel into her purse. He flashes her a wide smile and the girl promptly forgets how to speak. Nick wants to pat her on the shoulder and tell her it's okay, he feels like that all the time too. Because he does. Because whilst he and Harry share a sense of humour, and half the time they find the same stuff endlessly amusing, and they can spend countless hours just hanging out and doing the same stuff over and over again, Harry is also stupidly, ridiculously, desperately hot, and Nick really fucking loves him.
"Stop being so nice to people," Nick tells him, as they wander through the fruit and veg section without stopping to pick anything up.
Harry grins at him. "Jealous?"
"Never," Nick says. He's told some lies in his time, but that isn't one of them. "I like it better when you're being a rotten human being and I can pretend I'm the better person."
Harry just laughs. "What are we buying, anyway?"
"I literally have no fucking idea. You're the one who dragged us here."
"Let's just get a multipack of condoms and hold them up for the cameras," Harry suggests.
As an idea, it does have some benefits, but unfortunately it does have the side-effect of reducing Nick's brain to actual mush. He tries to think of something to say, but can't think of a single thing that isn't, let's go home now. "Oh god."
Harry bumps his shoulder into Nick's. "You have no idea how long I've been thinking about this."
"Probably not as long as I've been thinking about it," Nick manages in a strangled sort-of a voice. "Fuck, let's just get a pizza and go."
Harry holds his hand out. "Pizza," he says, extending one finger. "Bread, tea, milk, biscuits, jam. Six things."
"Toothbrush," Nick suggests. "Cheese, if you want a cheese toastie for breakfast."
"No, let's get bacon," Harry says, eyes bright. "And brown sauce. Bacon sandwiches for breakfast." Someone by the potatoes is taking their picture on their phone. He leans in so that no one can overhear him. "How are we on the condom front, anyway?"
Nick doesn't blush, because he's twenty-eight, but it's a close thing. "I have nine million ones with the Radio1 logo on."
"Interesting," Harry says. "Where's the logo?"
Nick doesn't like to point out he's never actually used one for actual sex. They were supposed to be giving them away for some health promotion thing a couple of years ago that had never really panned out, and they'd all taken carrier bags full for a laugh. He hopes they're not out of date. The closest he'd got to using them was a water bomb fight last summer, but he'd been pretty wasted, so he's fucked if he can remember where the logo was. "On it? Somewhere?"
Harry chucks a block of cheese and two pints of milk into the basket on their way towards the bacon. "I hope it's got a giant number one that just goes the whole length of your cock."
Nick's finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on late night shopping.
"Smoked or unsmoked?" Harry stops in front of the bacon.
"I couldn't give a shit," Nick tells him, because he's thinking about Harry naked, and that's not conducive to picking bacon. Harry throws a pack in the basket. "Wait, what the fuck are you buying unsmoked for? Put that back."
Harry snorts. "I thought you couldn't give a shit?"
"Turns out I can. Put that back."
Harry holds out the pack of smoked bacon above his head. "What if I said we had to have unsmoked?"
"I'd have to break up with you. It's completely reasonable. Hey—" Harry leans in and kisses him. "Actually, come to think of it, I don't care. Smoked or unsmoked, I'm fine with either."
Harry dumps a multipack of smoked bacon in the basket, and drops the unsmoked back in the wrong place in the chiller cabinet. "I get to pick the biscuits, now. It's only fair. And the pizzas."
"Do it," Nick says. He isn't going to complain, because Harry's slipped his hand into his again, and that's all he can really focus on. Harry waves a couple of pizzas in front of him but Nick just nods at them, and holds out the basket. He says yes to some kind of spiced potato wedge too, and forgets to have an opinion about jam for the toast. Approximately ninety-two per cent of his brain is dedicated to the idea of Harry naked. The other eight per cent he needs just to stay standing, and to keep his hand in Harry's.
"Hey, look," Harry says, once they've wandered up and down more aisles than they've needed to and the shopping list has grown to include a multipack of Wotsits and a bottle of Amaretto. "Dental hygiene is on three for two."
"Do you want another toothbrush too?" Harry's holding out two matching toothbrushes.
"Is this a dream?" Nick asks. "Has this whole day been a dream? Did I make this up?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "What colour?"
"Blue. Green. No, blue."
Harry chucks a blue and a green one into the basket. "Toothpaste or mouthwash for your three-for-two?"
"I don't really care," Nick says, because apparently Harry has turned into the kind of shopper who likes to take advantage of special offers, and Nick's fairly sure that Harry doesn't need to do that.
"Toothpaste, then," Harry says, picking a tube at random and lobbing it at the basket, which is getting kind of heavy. "Are you sure we don't need condoms?"
The fear of the expiry date on the million condoms in the carrier bag under his bed is getting to him. The last thing he wants to do is send either one of them out on an emergency trip to the all-night garage in the middle of the night for condoms. "Get a box," he says. "Just in case."
"Which ones?" Harry asks, when they're in front of the shelf of condoms.
"If they don't glow in the dark, I'm not interested," Nick says.
"Well, who doesn't want a glow in the dark knob?"
"Exactly, who." Nick spies a brand at random as vaguely recognisable from the last time he had sex—a date he isn't going to go into with Harry—and nods at it. "That one, get that one."
Harry grins, and tosses a pack in the basket. "I'm bowing to your better judgement."
Nick rolls his eyes at that. He's not exactly a gay sex guru. Harry's the serial shagger. "You're the serial shagger, mate."
"A title I'm quite willing to give up," Harry says, still holding on to Nick's hand. There is a guy at the end of the aisle blatantly taking pictures of them. Coming out is one thing, being repeatedly snapped buying condoms is another thing entirely—especially when Harry's not exactly keeping his record company in the loop. "Unless I'm going to be serially shagging you. That title I want."
Nick blushes just a bit, and lets go of Harry's hand, reaching for a couple of boxes of ibuprofen and paracetamol. Take pictures of that instead. He takes Harry's hand again. At some point he's going to have to tell Harry he doesn't expect him to stop sleeping around, but probably the middle of Morrisons when they haven't even slept together yet isn't exactly the right place to bring that up.
"Do we want anything else?" Harry asks. "Because I kind of want to just—you know. Go home."
He means Nick's place by home, and Nick can't help the way that makes him feel. He shivers. "Let's get some bananas and then pay, okay?"
"They're good for potassium levels," Nick says, and Harry nods sagely and leads him back towards the fruit and veg.
They end up getting served by a girl who can't be that much older than Harry. She scans each of their items without taking her eyes off them, something which is more than a little disconcerting. They end up standing side by side, staring back at her because Nick can't think of anything to say that isn't, you're scanning our condoms. Which we're going to use to have sex. Next to him, Harry just smirks as she scans them.
"You're Harry Styles," she says finally, when she should be telling them how much they should be paying. She shoots an interested, brief look towards Nick before her attention shifts wholly back onto Harry again. Nick doesn't mind. He'd pay attention to Harry too.
"Yes," Harry says. "Last time I checked. What's your name?"
She blushes bright red. Nick sticks his card in the card machine in the vain hope they can leave at some point soon. There are a couple of professional photographers waiting by the exit; the security guards are stopping them from entering the store, but it's not stopping them taking pictures through the glass.
"Alison," she says, giggling, looking between the two of them. "I'm Alison."
"Hi," Nick says, and awkwardly waves. It's an attempt at getting her to press the button on the screen so he can pay.
"Hi, Alison," Harry says. Urgh, he needs to stop being so charming. Nick bungs the bacon in a carrier bag and passes an empty bag to Harry to pack.
"You don't have to do that," Alison says, "I can pack—"
"We can do that," Harry says. "Don't worry."
"Are you two—um, I saw the pictures."
This is the first of many times they're going to get asked this, Nick knows. He wonders if it'll ever actually stop, until he and Harry break up and Harry goes back to serially dating people who are infinitely cooler than Nick. But this is the first time, and it should feel intrusive, and rude, but it—it doesn't. Harry glances at him, and he's blushing. Nick can feel his own face grow warm. Harry bites his lip, and ducks his head a little, and reaches for Nick's hand even though they're supposed to be packing their shopping up.
"Yeah," Harry says.
"Oh," she says, at least twice as flame-red as either Harry or Nick. "That's good. You're cute together."
"Thanks," Harry says. He squeezes Nick's hand a little bashfully.
"Thanks," Nick echoes, because this is the first time, and they're going to get a lot of shit for being together—not that Nick's letting himself think about that that much, fuck—but it's good that this is the first comment. That she's smiling at them, even if they're all standing around like lemons by the till in the middle of the fucking night, and no one's packing the bloody bread.
"You have a good night, now," Harry says, and he's leaning over to shovel the rest of their shopping into a couple of bags. Even the back of his neck is flushed, and Nick has to stop himself from leaning in to stroke his fingertips over Harry's skin.
There'll be time enough for that when they get back to his.
"We're going to have to deal with this at some point, you know," Nick points out gently, standing outside the door to his flat and trying to find his key in his pocket. They'd been photographed downstairs, and had their names yelled out, and despite all of that, still neither of them have so much as looked at their phones again since the airport. Nick's must be out of charge by now, and he's pretty sure Harry hasn't even switched his on.
Harry sighs. "I know. It's too late to do anything tonight, though. Let's just leave it until the morning, and figure it out then. I can have twenty-four hours, can't I?"
Twenty-four hours to deal with coming out publicly seems pretty reasonable to Nick, but then he's not Harry's record company, or his band, or his publicist, or his family. He fumbles the key in the lock and pushes open the door. "You okay?"
"Shit scared," Harry says, with half a smile.
Nick steps over Harry's suitcase in the hall, and leans past Harry to close the door behind them. "I've a feeling," he says, stepping back over the suitcase so he can follow Harry into the kitchen with the bags, "that you're supposed to—maybe—tell me, if you're shit scared."
Harry leans back against the kitchen counter, and dumps his bag next to him by the microwave. He tugs at Nick's sleeve with his hand, and pulls him into a hug.
Nick goes easily, steadying himself with one hand to the counter, the other to Harry's beanie, sliding it off so that he can ruffle his hair. Harry smiles at him, hands to Nick's hips.
"I mean it," Nick says. "I'm shit at this, but you can tell me if you're worried, you know."
"I know," Harry says simply. He starts to unbutton Nick's coat. "I just don't want to think about it until tomorrow, that's all. I'm happy with you."
Nick unwinds the scarf from around Harry's neck. He still can't quite believe that he gets to do this, that he's allowed to touch Harry as much or as often as he might like to. He wonders if he'll ever be used to it. He throws the scarf behind him, in the direction of the kitchen table. "You've always made me happy," he tells Harry softly, and it's the closest he's come to a confession in a long time. "However this works out."
Harry swallows, and nods. He stops trying to take Nick's coat off, inspecting the collar with his finger and thumb instead. "I didn't know what to do without you, in LA. I tried not thinking about you. I tried everything."
Nick doesn't say anything to that. He and Harry are rarely completely serious with each other. The past few weeks have been different. "I love you," he says finally. "Whatever anyone says."
Harry reaches for him then, hands cupping Nick's face. "I won't let them talk shit about you, I promise. I'll protect you from it all. I'm so sorry for putting you through all of this crap."
And Nick—Nick hasn't even thought about any of that. He's never even considered that Harry would worry about it. It hasn't crossed his mind. "I don't care," he says, because he doesn't know what else to say. "I don't give a fuck about any of it."
"Don't say that, you'll get hassle everywhere you go, and it's my fault—"
Nick shakes his head to get Harry to stop talking. He strokes Harry's hair away from his face instead. "I don't care, Harry. I really, really don't care. You don't need to worry about me."
Harry tries to laugh at that. "I'm always going to fucking worry about you, Nicholas."
"You're the fucking best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm in this because I want to be, and I don't give a shit about any hassle we get, all right?" He makes a face. "Anyway, I'm well hard, I can take them all on."
"Yeah, yeah," Harry says, sliding his arms around Nick's neck. He rests his forehead against Nick's. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, too."
"And you've played Madison Square Garden," Nick says. "I hear that's up there with best things."
"That was great," Harry agrees, gaze flicking down to Nick's mouth and then back up to his eyes. "I mean, it's all right. I suppose."
Nick leans in and touches his mouth to Harry's. "You're all right too. I suppose."
Harry smiles at that, tilting his chin up so that he can kiss Nick back.
Love you, Nick thinks, and hopes it's loud enough for Harry to hear. He runs his hands through Harry's hair, thumbs to Harry's temples, and kisses him.
Harry grins into the kiss, and tries to shrug Nick's coat down his arms.
Nick pulls away to drop his coat on the floor. Harry follows, throwing his coat at the table and hooking his fingers into Nick's belt loops to draw him in again. Nick goes easily, rolling his hips so that his dick is pressed against Harry's. He's hard, and Harry's hard, and they just went all that way to the shop for something to eat. "The pizzas," he says, crook of his finger stroking Harry's jaw.
"Fuck them," Harry says succinctly. He pauses for a moment. "Um. Toast?"
Nick rolls his eyes. "Always thinking of your stomach, Styles," but he reaches behind him for the loaf, tearing the bag open and sticking four slices of bread into the toaster. This is why he owns such a big toaster; this moment, now. Harry dumps the rest of the shopping—without even unpacking the bags—right in the middle of the fridge, and shuts the door.
"That's that done," he says, and Nick can't help laugh at that, even as Harry's reaching for him and sliding his hands under Nick's jumper. Nick puts his hands in the air and lets Harry help him off with it. It goes on the floor next to his coat, and then it's time for Harry to lose his polo neck.
Nick unbuttons his flies, but doesn't push his trousers down. When he looks up, Harry's watching him, biting his lip. "What?"
"Do it," Harry says. "Take them off."
Nick drops his trousers, stepping out of them and pulling off his socks. He's just in his t-shirt and his pants, now. Harry's overdressed.
Behind him, the toast pops up.
"Do you want jam?" Nick asks, nodding towards the toaster.
"No," Harry says, and grabs all four slices. "Come on." He passes two pieces of toast to Nick and heads out of the kitchen to the bedroom; Nick can't help but follow.
"Dry toast, this is great."
"Shut up," Harry says, shooting a grin over his shoulder. "It's energy food."
The bedroom is decidedly warmer than the kitchen, although that's not hard because the kitchen had been freezing. Nick, half way through one piece of toast and holding his second in his other hand, resorts to holding one in his mouth so he can pull back the covers.
Harry undoes his jeans with one hand, and eats with the other.
"This is just how I imagined it," Nick says, with his mouth full. He points between the two of them. "Our first time. With dry toast."
"I'd imagined jam," Harry says, but he's laughing, and Nick feels a little like he's on the verge of hysteria too, anticipation and desire curling in his stomach. He just—he wants, and he's wanted for so long, and it's finally coming true.
"This is like—prison food." Nick tries to swallow a mouthful of toast but it sticks in his throat. Dry toast is not seduction food. There are too many crumbs and not enough lubrication. There's a joke in there somewhere, but he's too busy staring at the outline of Harry's dick through his jeans, and the Tommy Hilfiger waistband of his underwear showing above. Mostly his dick.
Okay, he's ninety-nine per cent staring at his dick.
Harry just snorts. "Fuck this shit," he says, and drops the remains of his toast onto Nick's bedside table. There are going to be crumbs everywhere. "Fuck the toast. Let's just do this." He's grinning, mouth wide, and Nick can't help himself. He drops the toast and reaches for Harry, hand curling around his wrist, pulling him close. He draws him into a kiss, his intent evident from the way he can rock his hips up and feel Harry's dick through his underwear. He's hard too, like Nick's hard. It's fucking amazing.
Nick groans, and licks his way into Harry's mouth, tasting toast crumbs and his smile and everything in between.
Harry deepens the kiss, sliding one hand down into the small of Nick's back, pulling him even closer, until they're pressed together from shoulder to hip.
"Fuck this," Harry says, stepping back and pulling off his t-shirt. Nick follows suit, dropping his on the floor as Harry goes for his jeans, and his socks, and then his underwear, until he's standing in front of Nick, naked. His dick is flushed and hard and also—annoyingly—a bit bigger than Nick's. It isn't like he hasn't seen Harry naked before—everyone's seen Harry naked before, it's seeing Harry with clothes on that's the fucking rarity—but he's never seen him naked and hard, and hard for him.
The difference is startling.
"Shit," Nick says succinctly, and drops his underwear. Well, it's less of a drop, and more of a fumble over his erection, but the end result is still the same. This is why he isn't up for any suave and sophisticated awards. He's too busy tripping over his own underwear, and laughing as Harry closes the distance between them and kisses him again, tugging him backwards with a hand to his hip until they're stumbling onto the bed with an oomph.
It's different now. Harry kneels up over him, pulling the covers up over the top of them because the room's cold and Nick hadn't thought to put the heating on when they were in the kitchen. His dick is so, so hard, and Nick doesn't think about it when he puts a hand down between them and takes Harry's dick in his hand.
"Jesus," Harry groans, holding himself up over Nick and tipping his head back. He's flushed and hot in Nick's hand, and Nick's momentarily surprised by how soft his skin is as he rocks his hips down and bends down to cover Nick's mouth with his own.
The angle's wrong to jerk him off, but then Nick doesn't want to anyway. He just wants to touch him everywhere, every tattoo, every patch of pale skin that's just theirs and nobody else's. He doesn't care about getting to come; he's waited so long to just have the freedom to do this that everything else finds its way into second place.
"Let me—" Harry says, breaking off from kissing him to reach down and cup Nick's balls in his palm.
That's unexpected, and Nick rolls his hips up to meet Harry's hand as he takes Nick's dick in his fist. Nick reaches for him, tugging him into a kiss, starting to get breathless as Harry's hand starts to move on his dick. This isn't how he imagined it going—he hadn't imagined how it was going to go, except to know that it wasn't like this, Harry kneeling over him, breathless and hot and kissing him over and over. He hooks his ankle over Harry's, kissing him again.
"What do you want to do?" Nick asks in between kisses, since apart from the blow job that Harry never bothered telling him about, he's assuming this is the first time Harry's gone with another guy.
"Want to blow you," Harry says immediately, without even having to think about it. That's something that Nick's not going to forget in a hurry, especially when he does himself proud and even manages a nod in agreement.
Harry just grins before shifting back on the sheets, covers going everywhere.
It's seriously easier to shag when it's not bollock-freezingly cold.
"Now?" he manages, breathless.
Harry looks up at him, obnoxious, familiar grin firmly in place. "Now," he agrees, and ducks his head.
"Jesus Christ," Nick gasps, hand clutching the duvet as Harry takes the head of Nick's dick in his mouth, and Nick's brain seriously slides right out of his ears. Harry keeps on watching him, even as he licks at his dick, and this—this¬—is why he's never going to be able to truly take this for granted, because Harry Styles is sucking him off. Harry Styles, who could literally have anybody in the whole wide fucking world, and who wants him. He reaches for him, hand out, and Harry covers his hand with his own, fingers twining.
Nick can't think any more, and he tips his head back, trying not to writhe on the sheets in a seriously non-cool kind of a way.
Harry's technique leans towards sloppy and wet, which coincidentally is Nick's favourite type of blow job technique, and he has no idea whether it's that, or just the interminable build up to this that has him so close to the edge so soon. Harry never lets go of his hand the whole time, and maybe it's just looking down and seeing Harry's mouth on his dick, or seeing his dick so slick, but whatever it is, it's too much. His orgasm starts to curl in his belly, and he's judging himself for getting so close to coming so soon, but Harry just squeezes his hand. He knows.
It must be one of the benefits of being king of the shaggers, magical orgasm foresight.
Seriously, Nick has to stop fucking thinking.
He's also forgotten to check whether Harry doesn't mind swallowing before he started going down on him, so now he's forced to breathlessly try to ask if it's okay as sweat's pearling on his brow and his hips are rocking up. It's not his finest moment, squeezing Harry's hand and saying, "Are you—I'm going to—going to come in your mouth."
Although, having said that, maybe it is his finest moment, because Harry's eyes just go hopelessly, amazingly dark and he kind of nods around Nick's dick, humming his yes into Nick's skin. It's all that Nick can do not to come right there and then, but he doesn't. Harry goes down even further on him, so that his dick bumps the back of Harry's throat, and Jesus Christ—fuck. He can't even think after that, not when Harry's just there, and everything feels so amazing, and so intense, and he's so in love he can't even see straight.
When he comes, it's with a desperate, bitten-off cry, and Harry doesn't pull off him, he stays right there, with Nick's dick in his mouth and swallowing his come.
Nick can't breathe.
Harry sits back on his heels, swallowing. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and smiles, bright-eyed and flushed. Nick's too fucked to move, but he manages to beckon Harry closer, and Harry comes easily, gracelessly, lying down next to him and covering Nick's mouth with his own.
He tastes like come, like Nick's come, and Nick licks into his mouth. He's seriously, seriously too fucked to move, but Harry just grins and strokes at Nick's cheek with his fingertip.
"How was that?" he asks, and his voice sounds gruff and a little throaty. If he sounded like that on the stage, girls would literally start to faint at his feet. They do that already, but if he sounded like he does right now, like he's had a dick in his mouth, they'd faint a lot more. And faster.
Oh god, he has to stop thinking. "Great," he says. "Well, passable. I suppose." He laughs at Harry's outraged face, curling his fingers around Harry's wrist. "You'll do," he goes on, tugging Harry closer.
"You're such a dick," Harry says, but he kisses Nick again, fingertips to Nick's throat. "You fucker."
Nick laughs. "I don't even know the name of your band. I definitely don't know your name. What was it? Harold Stars? Monty Styles?"
Harry rolls Nick over so that Nick's on top, keeping him there by hooking his legs around Nick's. When he tries to get away, Harry wraps his arms around his back and shakes his head. "You're mine now, so stop trying to run away."
Nick really likes the way mine sounds on Harry's tongue. Mine, mine, mine. "Wouldn't dream of it," he says, leaning in for a kiss. "Monty." Another kiss. "Montague Stars."
"Shut up and make me come."
Nick grins and kisses him again. "Your wish is my command. You want to give me some idea of what you want, or should I just guess?"
Harry's grin is slow, deliberate, and probably spells trouble. "Oh yeah," he says, arms around Nick's neck. "I've got some ideas."
"Starter for ten?"
"Blow me," Harry says. "And make it good."
Nick rolls his eyes. "Seriously, what did your last slave die of? I'll make it good, if I want to make it good, young man."
Harry laughs at that, tugging him down for another kiss. "Make it dirty, then," he says, kissing him open mouthed and slow.
"Oh, well, that I can do," Nick says. He stays where he is for a bit though, kissing Harry back, little spasms of joy shooting through him every time Harry rocks his hips up, his erection sliding over Nick's skin. He could stay here forever, potentially, trading increasingly filthy kisses with Harry, skin flushed and hot under the covers.
It's a while later when Harry pushes him back with the heel of his hand. "Blow me."
"Aye, aye, Captain." Nick rolls his eyes. He kisses him again, once, twice, and then moves down the bed so that he's kneeling over Harry's legs. Harry's a long expanse of pale skin, broken here and there by tattoo after tattoo. There's one on his hip that Nick hasn't seen before, low on the curve, usually hidden by his underwear. It says, who I am in tiny script, and it has that new, slightly scabby look of a recent addition. He runs his thumb over it, and Harry shivers. "New?"
"Got it in LA." His eyes are dark. "You like it?"
"I like what it means."
Harry nods. "That's why I got it."
Nick runs his thumb over it again. He likes both how it makes Harry shiver, and what it means. He ducks his head and presses his mouth to the unbroken spot next to it. Harry shudders and slides his hands into Nick's hair. He's going to do this to every tattoo on Harry's body at some point, each one in turn. He hopes they all make Harry react like this, trembling and breathless.
Harry's dick is hard, bumping up against his stomach. Nick runs his fingertips over his balls, just to see him shiver, and it turns out that making Harry react like that is his new favourite thing in the world. He wants to take him apart, piece by piece, and then put him together again. Normally he wants to fuck and come and then watch telly, but Harry's different. He wants to take his time.
He takes the head of Harry's dick in his mouth, and can't help but think that the difference is being in love. That, or actually liking the person he's sleeping with. He should have tried this years ago. He'd have missed some cracking telly, though. Swings and roundabouts.
Blowing Harry is like—well. He's not quiet, and he's not still. He catches his fingers in Nick's hair, keeping him close, and his breath comes in loud, harsh pants as he shifts on the sheets, hips rolling as Nick takes him down further. When Nick takes advantage of Harry's shift in position to slide his hand between Harry's legs and stroke his fingertip over Harry's hole, Harry cries out.
"Holy shit," Harry manages. "Fuck, do that again."
Nick slides the tip of his finger inside, and back out again. Harry tries to simultaneously push down on his finger and roll his hips up, and the result is Nick humming around his dick and trying to shift position to find his hole again.
He fingers him gentle and slow, in direct contrast to how Harry's reacting, writhing on the sheets. He begs Nick for more, for faster, for harder, but Nick goes his own speed, his jaw starting to ache a little as he stays slow on his dick, too. This is how to take Harry apart, he realises. This is how to make him beg. But he knows that Harry's close to the edge now, breathless and panting. Sweat sheens on his stomach, across his skin, his hands hot in Nick's hair. His hips rock up in a jagged, syncopated rhythm and Nick swallows him down as far as he can without gagging. Deep throating has never been a skill he's been all that good at, but he likes it when they're near the end. Harry cries out, pulling at Nick's hair, and Nick whimpers around his dick at the unexpected pain of that, and then Harry starts to come.
He comes long and hard, and Nick can't swallow all of it.
He swallows as much as he can, and then pulls off, Harry's dick still pulsing. Fucking teenagers.
Harry covers his face with his hands and breathes.
He's pink and flushed and sweaty and breathless, his dick slick and half-hard, come on his stomach and his thigh. He's so, so beautiful.
Nick crawls up the bed and carefully removes Harry's hands from his face.
Harry's eyes are the darkest Nick's ever seen them, and when he reaches for him, pulling him down into a breathless, desperate kiss, Nick goes easily.
It's a while before they pull apart for breath.
"Holy shit," Harry says.
Nick flops back onto the sheets, and pulls the duvet up over them. "I know, I know. I'm god."
Harry punches him in the arm. "Is that what being fingered's like? I should have tried it yonks ago."
Nick blinks. "Hazza, you've shagged half the known universe. Are you trying to tell me that not one of them's ever gone round the back?"
Harry shakes his head. "Nope. Strictly front half only."
"You've never done someone up the arse?"
"Well, Hazza. You're in for a treat." Nick's sex life history hasn't exactly been stellar, or even all that frequent, but at least he's had the pleasure of being fucked in his life, and he knows how good it feels. He's done the fucking too, because at least in this he's entirely equal opportunities, share and share alike, and that's almost as good too.
"Yep," Harry says, and he rubs his nose against Nick's shoulder, like he's getting rid of an itch.
Nick still can't quite believe he got to make Harry Styles come. He's just had sex with an international pop sensation. He'd put that on a t-shirt if it wasn't already fairly common knowledge that he and Harry have spent part of the last day in bed together. The fact that they've only really done it once is by the by. He curls his hand in Harry's hair, watching him grin up at him. "Stop smiling so much, you're making me uncomfortable."
"I can't help it," Harry says. Now he's laughing, and that's enough to make Nick's stomach twist in something resembling divine joy.
"Stop it," Nick says, poking him in the arm. "Honestly, people are never this happy when they've had sex with me, you'll give me a complex."
"Good," Harry says, curling his hand around Nick's bicep and pulling him close. He touches his nose to Nick's. "Let's have sex forever."
"Only if you stop looking so happy, I don't know how to deal with that. Couldn't you at least pretend to look like you've had a miserable time and like you'd rather be watching Neighbours?"
Harry fakes a frown. "I'd much rather be watching Neighbours, being in bed with my boyfriend's really rubbish. How's that?"
"Better," Nick says, trying not to light up from the inside out like a fucking neon beacon of gay happiness because of my boyfriend. "Maybe you could try looking bored?"
"Out of my brain," Harry says. "I'm so bored I might actually die. That better?"
"Much," Nick says. He shifts a little so that he can tuck his knee in between Harry's legs and wrap his arm around Harry's back. He's not just had bad sex in his life—some of the sex he's had has been very good, thank you—but he's not lying when he says that staying around afterwards is new. Even for the people he was supposed to be dating. He runs his palm over Harry's shoulder, and drops a kiss to the ship tattoo. "How many tattoos have you got, Styles? Or have you lost count?"
Harry shrugs, and shuffles closer. Their dicks are pressed together now, and Nick rolls his hips a bit, just enough to remind Harry's he's there. "Forty-ish? I did count, but that was before Christmas."
"Hmm, yes," Nick says, nodding as sagely as he can manage. "My tattoos multiply when I'm not looking, too."
"Shut up," Harry says, pushing him with the heel of his hand. The room smells warm and sexy and a lot like come. Underneath the covers, it's a mixture of too hot and not warm enough; Nick isn't used to sharing body heat with anyone, let alone with someone who raises Nick's body temperature just by being in close proximity, let alone being pressed together from nose to toe. "How many have you got, anyway?"
"Six," Nick says promptly. "Because I keep an eye on whether my tattoos are breeding behind my back."
"Get a seventh one, of my face."
"Where? In the middle of my chest, so whenever you take my shirt off it's like looking in a mirror?"
Harry kisses him then, and then pokes him in the cheek. "Here, on your face."
"Oh, yes," Nick says. "The perfect professional place to get a tattoo."
"I think it's perfect," Harry says.
"You would, you've got the worst taste in tattoos in the world." He pauses, then ducks his head to press his mouth to Harry's LDN tattoo.
Harry shivers, and presses closer. His dick jerks, and, well—yeah. That's something that Nick could get interested in.
"You always react like that?" he asks, turning his attention to Harry's LA ink. That, at least, is one he wants to claim ownership of.
"Only when it's you," Harry says, wrapping his arms around Nick's shoulders and attempting to roll them over so that Nick's on top. "Don't stop."
Nick has no intention of stopping. He wants to map Harry's skin with his mouth. "Forty, you say?"
"Ish." Harry tips his head back on the pillows then, baring his throat, and Nick isn't fourteen, he doesn't want to leave love bites all over Harry's skin just so that everyone knows he's been there.
One, though. One can't hurt.
Harry's hard again, and Nick can't say he's not close to it himself. He hasn't got the turnaround of Harry, but then Harry's made of magic and jizz, so he lives by a different set of rules anyway.
"17 Black?" Nick says, ducking his head to drag his tongue over the ink.
"A good bet." Harry's voice catches as Nick's teeth graze his skin. He doesn't bite—he likes to ask first, and he's never met anyone who'd come close to saying yes—but the way Harry is trembling beneath him suggests that maybe Harry might be the first.
Nick files that information away for a time that isn't now, and turns his attention to Harry's swallows, first one, then the other. Harry's hard again, his dick pressed against Nick's hip. Nick feels a bit like he's walking on fucking air: he's the one doing this to Harry. He's the one making Harry react like this, and yes, when he was eighteen, he was hard essentially eighty-seven per cent of the time, but somehow that doesn't detract from how good this feels, right here, right now. He runs his thumb over Might as well, and looks back up at Harry.
Harry's flushed pink and breathless, his lips bitten and red. Harry always looks so in control of himself, obnoxious and smirking half the fucking time, but always in control. Right now, with one hand in Nick's hair, he looks half a breath away from falling apart.
"Fuck me," he says, his voice ragged, and Nick did that to him. He is never, ever going to get over that. "Please. Fuck me, I want it."
Nick manages to nod, his mouth completely dry. "Okay," he says, and presses his fingertips against Might as well, and thinks, yes.
The mood somewhat leaks away when Nick can't find the bag of Radio 1 condoms and the only other option is the pack they've just bought, which Harry had helpfully stuffed in the fridge with the rest of the shopping.
Nick is not putting a freshly chilled condom on. "Nobody wants a chilled cock, Harry."
"I don't want a chilled arse, either. Can't we warm them up somehow?"
Nick stares down at the—frankly quite cold—packet of condoms in his hand. "What exactly do you suggest?"
"Microwave?" Harry suggests hopefully, sitting up on his elbows. "Just a few seconds, it's not like they're frozen or anything. Just cold."
Nick is halfway to saying yes when he remembers they come in foil packages. "Oh my god," he says. "If I listen to you, we're all going to die. I'm putting them on the heater, and I'm just going to give under the bed one last look—"
Seriously, if he screws up getting to fuck Harry because of condoms, he's going to jump off a building or something, this is ridiculous. He gets down on his knees and sticks his head under the bed.
"Fuck, can you imagine if we'd set the flat on fire microwaving condoms?" Harry leans over the edge of the bed and walks his fingertips down the curve of Nick's spine. "What if a fire engine had turned up?"
"I would have died," Nick says, which is close to what he's doing on the floor under his bed, which—it turns out—is somewhere he hasn't run the vac over since he moved in. If there's a spider under here, he's definitely making Harry get rid of it. He fucking hates spiders. He should get a cleaner, but he's not exactly sure he wants a cleaner sticking their head under his bed either. Under the bed's private.
"I would have laughed."
Yeah, ain't that the truth. That would have been one way to deal with them coming out.
"On a scale from one to ten, Hazza," he asks a minute later, once he's finally discovered the bag of condoms behind his sleeping bag, dusty and forgotten, and he's checked the expiry date (09-2013, still got time), "how nervous are you about the whole being fucked in the arse thing, anyway?"
Harry—who's now sprawled across the sheets like he's in the middle of a porn film—snorts. "A bit? Maybe?"
"It'll be great, I promise." Nick brushes the dust from his hair and gives himself a shake down. He's still hard, if slightly less so than he had been before the great condom and potential under the bed carpet burns debacle of 2012, but he's resolved to make Harry's first fucking an overall good experience. He brandishes a handful of Radio 1 branded condoms in his fist and drops down onto the mattress next to Harry. "This was the worst marketing ploy Radio 1 ever came up with," he confides, tearing the corner off one of the packets. "They had, like, ten thousand condoms made, and then realised they couldn't ever give them out. So all the DJs have about a thousand each, and everybody knows DJs don't actually get any sex."
"No way," Harry says. "I thought DJs got it all the time?"
Nick makes a face. "That's a lie," he stage-whispers, "put about by DJs. You've met us. Can you imagine shagging Westwood?"
Harry's nose wrinkles. It's adorable, really, not that Nick's planning on telling him that soon. "Do you think anyone ever has?"
"No," Nick says, shaking his head and scattering a handful of condoms on the pillow. "Nobody's ever had sex with Westwood. Ever. He'd just do the voice, you know, Tim Westwood in the house! and make you watch his Pimp My Ride videos. And let's face it, he's no X-to-the-Zee Xzibit. No one wants a souped up Ford Fiesta. No one ever wanted a souped up Ford Fiesta. You can't look cool with a hermetically sealed fish tank in your headrest when you've got a Nova and live in Milton Keynes."
Harry's making that face that suggests he has precisely no clue what Nick's talking about.
"Should I shut up about now?"
"A little bit, yeah," Harry says. He's laughing at him, the bastard.
"Hey, remember that time when you begged me to fuck you?"
Harry goes a really rather fetching shade of pink. "No. Never happened. I didn't beg."
Nick straddles him, sitting down on Harry's thighs. "Sounded like begging to me."
"I just asked," Harry says, hands curling around Nick's wrists. "That was asking."
Nick leans in and strokes at Harry's maybe I will tattoo with his thumb. "Pretty sure it was begging," he says. "Do you always react like this when people touch your tattoos?" Harry's quivering again, tiny shivers running over his skin as Nick touches him. He hadn't actually anticipated the way that Harry reacts to him, immediate and real. He's not sure he could have anticipated it.
"I'm ticklish," Harry shrugs, but his dick is hard again, flushed and slick at the tip. "It could happen to anyone."
"Uh-huh," Nick says. He rolls his hips against Harry's for a moment, before shifting position so that he's kneeling over him. "So if I do this—" he leans in and presses his tongue to one of Harry's swallow tattoos, holding still as Harry shivers beneath him, "that's just you being ticklish?"
"Totally," Harry lies.
Nick raises an eyebrow. "So you don't mind if I stop, then."
Harry clamps his hand tight around Nick's wrists, and Nick laughs.
"You're glorious, Harry Styles," he says, leaning in to kiss him.
Harry tilts his chin up and kisses him back.
So, the thing is, Nick's imagined having sex with Harry a lot, okay, but the reality of actually getting to be with him far outstrips anything he could have thought up. He can kiss Harry for ages, on and on, and Harry just kisses him back, hands pressed to Nick's skin, keeping him close. They've pulled the duvet up over them as they kiss, Harry getting progressively harder—if that's even possible, fuck—and Nick really had intended to get round to fucking him a little earlier than this. He had. It's just—this is their first real opportunity just to get off with each other. They've both already come, they've accidentally semi-frozen the condoms, they've had tea and a kip and been to the shops. It's not like what they're doing lacks urgency, but somehow, Nick just wants to keep on kissing him.
He hasn't kissed someone for this long in years. Fuck—he doesn't even remember the last time he'd spent half an hour just kissing someone. He's also really hard, but even that's not enough to move what they're doing up a gear.
He just kisses him again, slow and dirty, one hand to Harry's jaw.
He should stop. He should really stop, and reach for the lube or something. Start getting Harry ready at least. Surely Harry can't be happy just with kissing.
When he finally pulls away to fumble in the bedside table for the KY Jelly—well, okay, the Boots equivalent because who's going to judge the brand of your lube—Harry makes the kind of desperate, whining kind of a noise that suggests he really doesn't approve of the kissing coming to any kind of abrupt end. Which is nice, in a way.
Anyway, Nick has to agree, especially when he looks back and sees how flushed Harry is, eyes dark and lips red and well-kissed. Harry looks—he looks debauched, and that's not a word Nick's ever really had an opportunity to use before. He's going to use it all the time from here on. Like, every radio show. Forever. And then he's going to take a picture, buy a dictionary, open the dictionary to the definition of debauched, and then stick the picture of Harry from this moment right over it.
Although that might be a little like hard work when he could be having sex. He should really stop having ideas. They never end well.
"Come back here," Harry demands, reaching out to circle his fingers around Nick's wrist. "See how hard I am."
Nick can't help but look. "I can see from here," he says. Harry's dick is flushed from base to head, slick across the tip. He really actually kind of likes Harry's dick. He likes the way it sort of twitches under Nick's gaze.
"Nicholas," Harry whines.
Nick rolls his eyes. "It's always me, me, me, with you, Harold. Please fuck me, Nick. Please, please, please fuck me, I'm begging you, Nick."
"Fuck off," Harry says, but his fingers tighten on Nick's wrist. Some of the ways in which Harry reacts to him are definitely worthy of further investigation, at some point down the line. They're—interesting.
"Please fuck me, Nick," Nick imitates, shifting back on the sheets with the lube in his hand. He crawls over Harry again, arms either side of his head. "Say it."
Harry's hands curl around Nick's biceps—such as they are; he's in training for the spaghetti arm Olympics—and he tilts his chin up, eyes dark. "Fuck me, Nick. I'm begging you, fuck me."
Holy shitting hell. He hadn't actually considered just how hot it was going to be, getting Harry to say that.
"Please," Harry says, and there's the tiniest hint of a smirk there, Nick can just about catch it, if he concentrates hard enough.
Nick nods a little jerkily even so, rolling on to his side so that he's not kneeling over Harry anymore. "Roll over," he says.
Harry doesn't move for a moment, eyes locked on Nick's.
Harry rolls over on to his front, cheek pressed to the pillow so that he's still looking at Nick.
Nick shifts a little closer, lube in hand, and strokes his fingertips down from the back of Harry's neck, down his spine to the curve of his arse. Harry shivers.
"Ticklish there as well?" Nick asks, and he sounds a lot more breathless than he'd anticipated.
"A bit," Harry says, his voice rough.
Nick trails his fingertips over the hollow of Harry's back, kind of entranced by how easy it is to make him shiver. "How about this?" he asks, leaning in to blow across Harry's skin.
"Jesus fuck," Harry says succinctly. "Do that again."
"This?" Nick asks, mouth ghosting over the curve of his spine.
"Fuck, yes," Harry says. "Please, fuck."
Nick strokes his fingertips down into the cleft of Harry's bum, so slow he can feel the anticipation rolling off of Harry's skin in waves. When he runs his fingertip over his hole, Harry groans, stretching out.
"Feels good, right?" Nick says.
He leans in to kiss him, teeth nipping at Harry's bottom lip. "You like that?"
Harry grins then, amused. "What do you think?"
"I think you've missed out, if you haven't gone in the back way."
He laughs then, a belly laugh that Nick can feel in his fingertips. "You're such a romantic."
It's not something Nick's very good at. He's forgotten what it's like to be young and romantic, if he ever had been. The last few shags he's had, it had been a point of honour for each of the participants to appear to be as bored as possible at all times. "I'm romantic." He strokes his fingertip in a circle, and feels Harry shiver. "See, this is romantic. Everybody loves a good fingering."
Harry hides his face in his hands. "Oh god."
"Like you don't agree." He ducks his head to touch his tongue to the space between Harry's shoulder blades, and as Harry groans his appreciation into the pillow, he slips the tip of his finger inside.
"I agree," Harry says, his voice rough. "Do that again."
"I will, don't worry." Nick kisses his shoulder, fingering him as slowly as he can manage. He's not in any rush. They've got nowhere to be, and the hours stretch away from them, the night endless and theirs. After a while, he reaches for the lube, dribbling some onto his fingertips, the smell a little chemical-y but familiar. He likes to masturbate wet. Then he slides a second fingertip in alongside the first, and feels Harry whimper into the pillow.
He runs his tongue over Harry's shoulder, the curve of his neck. Harry reaches for him, and Nick shifts so that he can kiss Harry at the same time as fingering him open. There's a wet patch on the sheets where Harry's dick's been. Harry's kisses are ragged and breathless, and he breaks away to say, "More, I can take more," before leaning in to cover Nick's mouth with his.
Nick fights the urge to be contrary and stick with just a single finger—he really has got to temper that need to do the exact opposite of what he's asked for—but he rocks his dick up to press into Harry's hip and slides in the tip of a third finger. Harry pushes down onto his fingers, onto him, and it's Nick that whimpers this time, a breath lost to Harry's kiss.
"Fuck me," Harry says, rolling over. He slides his hand into the nape of Nick's neck, tilting his chin up to meet Nick's kiss. "I want it, please. Want your dick."
Nick nods, just one more kiss. And another. Another.
"Okay," Nick says, and he urges Harry up on to his hands and knees. That's how he'd been introduced to being fucked, back at university. He hadn't been well-prepped, but at least they'd both been enthusiastic. He reaches for a condom, sitting back on his heels to tear away the foil wrapper. Harry's watching him over his shoulder, leaning on his elbows. He already looks half-fucked.
He pinches the tip of the condom and rolls it down over his dick. The logo stretches out along his erection, and yes, there is no fucking way the station could have possibly got behind giving these out to listeners. It's like being fucked by Radio 1.
"This is going to be liked being fucked by Radio 1," he says, showing Harry his dick. The logo looks kind of obscene.
"Yeah, baby," Harry tells him, shifting his legs a little further apart.
"Pass me the lube," Nick points at the pillow, one hand curled around the base of his dick.
"Come get it yourself," Harry says, but when Nick goes for it, Harry makes a grab for him, drawing him in for another kiss.
"You'll never get fucked at this rate," Nick points out.
"Yeah, I will."
Harry knows him too well.
Afterwards, he steadies himself with a hand to Harry's hip, his dick lined up. "Ready?"
"Yeah," Harry says, and Nick pushes in, slow and true.
Nick had forgotten just how good it felt to be balls-deep inside of someone, and Harry's so tight around his dick. Part of him just wants to give it up and come right now, but he resists as best he can.
"Fucking move," Harry sounds totally fucking rough, his voice catching. "God, Nick."
"Tell me if it hurts," Nick tells him, which he hopes to fuck it doesn't. He starts to move, hips rocking up as he fucks into him, and it's just—he never thought this would happen. He'd never considered this as a possibility. Fuck, it feels so good. He feels so good.
He tries not to go too fast, but he can't help but speed up after a while. He can feel his orgasm starting to build in his stomach, the sweeping roll of desire and love that's twisting through him as he fucks him.
When Harry reaches down to touch himself, wrap his fist around his dick, it's almost too much.
"Harry—" he groans, fingers splayed across his hip.
"Feels so good," Harry tells him, and he's jacking himself off. "Want to know what it feels like to fuck you, too."
Nick's breath catches. "Yeah, fuck. Yeah."
"Want to come," Harry goes on. "So close."
He's near too, skin slick with sweat. His rhythm's gone; his hips rock staccato and tight, each one a breath closer to the edge. He wants to watch but he can't help it, his head falling back as he feels his orgasm just there, just—he comes with a cut-off cry, a whimper, a roll of his hips. His breath twists through him, ragged and desperate, and he doesn't want to pull out, even as he knows he's finished. He's done, and he's suddenly exhausted, his legs shaking with his orgasm.
He slides out slowly, not wanting to hurt Harry, too worn out to rush. He barely has the energy to tie off the condom and dump it in the bin by the side of the bed and collapse down onto the sheets next to Harry.
Harry, who's still wanking. "God, Nick," he says, and his face is flushed and red. His hand's moving so fast.
Nick reaches for him, shifting them both so that Harry's kneeling over him, still wanking himself off. He'd thought he was too exhausted, post-orgasm, to move—he is an old man, after all—but when it's this, he can't help himself. He leans up to kiss him, but Harry's breathless and desperate, whimpering against his mouth. He reaches down to cover Harry's hand with his own, wanting to feel just how hard he is—
Harry cries out at that, a bitten-off Nick.
If there's a sound that could break him, it's that one.
"Harry, come on, baby," he says, urgent, cajoling. He doesn't know which one he's going for. Both? What does it matter, he doesn't give a fuck.
Harry lets go of his dick at that, and it's just Nick, bringing him off.
"Love you," Harry tells him. It's important, Nick knows. They can't hide anything in this moment. There's just the two of them, laid as open and bare as they could ever be.
"Been in love with you for so long," he finds himself saying. Harry's lips are bitten-red and slick. He can't help but reach up and kiss him, even as Harry groans against his mouth. He's too breathless to kiss for long, so Nick presses his mouth to Harry's shoulder, to the ink there, his teeth grazing his skin.
Harry's dick pulses in Nick's fist, and he comes with a whimper, almost anti-climactic after so long.
He buries his face in Nick's shoulder, collapsing down on top of him without a thought to the slick streaks of come across Nick's stomach.
Nick wraps his arms around him, feeling him shudder his way through the comedown, breath still ragged against his skin.
He kisses Harry's shoulder again, and holds on.
Nick's not sure what time it is when he wakes up, but it's still pitch black outside. Harry's still plastered to him, legs tangled together and arms around Nick's back. Nick's pretty sure that at least fifty per cent of his limbs are asleep right now, but if he doesn't move anything at all, he doesn't have to wake them up and experience the pain of middle-of-the-night pins and needles. Nobody wants that.
"Hi," Harry says, rubbing his nose against Nick's.
Nick doesn't try to keep his eyes open. He's still mostly asleep, and Harry sounds like he is, too.
"Hey," he says, tilting his chin up just a little, just enough that he can find Harry's mouth and touch a kiss to his lips. This is maybe what perfection feels like, sleepily wrapped up in each other's arms. He's not sure he's ever done this before. He doesn't care that they're sticky, and a bit revolting, and hot, and that he'd probably sleep better alone. He cares that Harry's half hard against his hip, and the room's dark, and the only sound is the two of them breathing. He rolls over enough that he can slide his hand down between them, and run his knuckles along the length of Harry's dick.
"Oh," Harry murmurs, shifting his legs further apart. He cups Nick's jaw in his hand, mouth brushing his. "Yeah."
Nick curls his fingers around Harry's dick, feeling it harden in his fist. He kisses him, slow at first, letting Harry control the speed. He's still half-asleep. They both are. The room's dark and outside it's quiet, no cars on the road. In the distance, a siren blares. London at its quietest. Inside it's just them, and Harry's hard in his hand, his hips starting to rock up into Nick's fist. He kisses him again, catching Harry's groan on his tongue.
"Want to—" Harry's voice catches, and his fingers splay over Nick's throat, thumb pressed to his jaw. "Move over."
Nick doesn't know which way to go, but he lets Harry nudge him onto his back. Harry's erection slides out of his grip, and Harry rolls on top of him, rocking his dick down against Nick's.
"Yeah?" Nick says, hands to Harry's elbows.
"Yeah," Harry echoes, and leans down to kiss him, a little more urgent this time. His hips roll down against his, and Nick's hard. Really hard, already. "Could kiss you forever."
You'd get bored, Nick thinks, but he keeps it to himself. Right now, this is perfect. Harry's perfect. He slides his hands down over Harry's back to his arse, keeping him still, anchoring him there, their dicks pressed together.
Harry groans, and rocks his hips down, just as much as Nick's hands will let him. It's an infinitesimally small movement, all things considered, but that just makes Nick harder, and want it more. "Let me—move," Harry asks, and it's dark in Nick's bedroom so he can't see whether he's smiling or not, but it sounds like he is.
"No," Nick says. He tilts his chin up. "Like you just where you are."
"You're such a—" Harry kisses him, "—such a dick."
"Yeah, yeah, you want me," Nick kisses him back. "You want me so bad."
"So bad," Harry agrees, rubbing his nose against Nick's. "Like a fish wants chips."
"Like a digestive wants a cup of tea."
Harry snorts at that. "Like bacon wants a sandwich."
"What the fuck are we talking about?"
"I have no fucking idea, mate," Harry says, shifting a little to try and free himself from Nick's hands. His dick is rubbing up against Nick's hip, and Nick doesn't want to lose that. "Point is—" He leans in to kiss him again. "Point is, I do want you so bad."
"It's my irresistibly butch aroma."
Harry laughs, kissing Nick's jaw and tilting Nick's chin up so that he can run his tongue down Nick's throat. "It is," he says, not moving away. His tongue tickles against Nick's skin.
"Ha, I've found something you like." Harry trails his tongue over Nick's shoulder, fingers splayed across his throat. It's like—Nick wants to stay quiet, to not give in and whimper at the way Harry's touching him, but it's too hard. He's still half-asleep, and Harry's holding him still and ghosting his tongue over his skin, and it makes him shiver.
"Yeah, I'll get you a medal." He tries to joke, but it comes out flat. "Or a badge. I'll make you a badge."
"A Scout badge," Harry hums, shifting down far enough that he can tongue at Nick's nipple. "Oral fixation, level one."
"Congratulations, you've passed," Nick manages. Harry's teeth graze his skin, and he doesn't mean to buck up against him, but he does. He gives up trying to hold Harry still and slides his hands into Harry's hair instead. There's so much of it, and it's so soft. He never anticipates Harry's hair being this soft, but it always is. Distressingly, he's made up of quite a lot of things that Nick finds perfect. It's almost like he's in love with him or something.
"What do I get as a prize?" Harry's teeth close around his nipple, and he can't help but roll his hips up to meet Harry's. Their dicks are hot and hard, and it's not like rubbing one off like this isn't great, but Nick really likes things to be wetter. He likes lube. Lube is like his favourite thing. He's always having to go and buy more. He should buy it in bulk and get it delivered.
"Lube and orgasms," Nick tells him, stretching out on the sheets, one hand reaching behind him to grab onto the headboard as Harry continues to mouth at his skin. "All the lube and orgasms in the land."
"Perfect," Harry laughs, and he doesn't move away, and the way his laughter vibrates across Nick's skin is—it's glorious.
Nick makes a grab for the lube on the bedside table, but it's dark and he can't remember where he put it before falling asleep last night. Some stuff clatters to the floor but it really can't be all that important. He doesn't give a fuck even if it is. Everything's replaceable.
"Lube," he says proudly, coming back with his half-used tube.
"Well done," Harry says, reaching for it. "Hold out your hand."
Nick dutifully holds out his hand, and Harry squeezes about half the fucking tube out onto his palm. Seriously, some of it slides off his hand. He wants to roll his eyes, but he laughs instead, sliding his hand down between them both and wrapping his hand around both their dicks.
Harry shudders, leaning down to kiss him. "Holy shit."
"Call me that again," Harry says, in between kisses. He's kneeling up over him, rolling his hips down so that he can fuck Nick's lube-slick fist.
"Baby," Nick says. He tries to make it mocking and sarcastic, or however he's supposed to sound when he's calling Harry Styles baby, but it doesn't work. There's only so much attention he has to devote to any one thing at the best of the times, and at the moment it's all going on their dicks.
Harry's hand tangles in his hair, kissing him again. Nick could do this forever. It's so dark in his bedroom, and they're feeling their way, sleep-drenched and quiet, the only sound their ragged breathing. His rhythm on their dicks is uneven and messy, but he doesn't try and do better.
They're together, and it's amazing.
Harry's orgasm comes as a surprise; one moment he's breathless and kissing Nick, the next he's coming, all over Nick's hand and his dick and them.
"Oh god," Nick manages. Harry hides his face in the crook of Nick's shoulder, holding himself up with shaking arms as Nick shifts his attention from Harry's dick to his own.
"Christ," Harry sounds ragged and desperate. "I love you."
Nick's hips buck at that. He fists his dick. "Love you too," he says, and this is the most he's ever said I love you in his whole, entire life. Does Harry know that? He doesn't tell. He reaches for Harry instead, cupping his cheek in his hand, thumb stroking.
Then Harry rolls off him and onto his side, and pushes Nick's hand away from his dick, taking over. Nick tips his head back at that, hips rocking up, breath coming in one long, desperate exhale. He can't help but reach for him, catching Harry's mouth in a breathless kiss. He's so close to coming. Is Harry wanking him off with his own come?
Holy fuck. He bites at Harry's lip, not able to help himself, and Harry whimpers, but presses closer for more, and—oh god. This is—
He comes between one ragged breath and the next, dick pulsing in Harry's hand.
It's a while before he opens his eyes again, chin tilted up, dick going slowly soft. Harry's still touching him, thumb stroking at his hip.
"Hey," he says softly.
"Hey yourself." Harry presses himself to his side, and kisses him again, pulling the covers up over them again. It's pretty gross, their unwillingness to even wipe themselves down, but Nick's half-asleep already, and he doesn't want to get cleaned up. He wants the mess. He wants Harry, wants this, wants more.
He rolls over and slides his hand around Harry's waist, anchoring him close.
Harry kisses him.
They fall asleep between one breath and the next.
When Nick wakes up, it's morning, and they have to face the world.
Harry's awake already, watching him.
"How long have you been awake?" Nick asks, wiping his mouth in case of accidental drool. He likes to look his best, even when his hair is probably going in every direction and he's spent the best part of the last twelve hours either a) having sex or b) sleeping it off.
"Not long," Harry says, and tucks his feet in between Nick's. "Morning."
Nick grins sleepily, and shifts a little nearer, close enough that he can touch his nose to Harry's.
Harry laughs then, sleepy and a little sour-breathed, and presses a kiss to Nick's mouth. "You taste like dick."
"You taste like dick," Nick says.
"You ready to face the world?"
"No," Harry says. "You want a bacon sandwich before I switch my phone on?"
"Absolutely," Nick says. He wants to stay here for about another six hours too, naked in bed with Harry with the world firmly locked away, but he's not stupid. Hiding is never the long-term option. Plus his mum's going to have a right go at him for not answering his phone. "Fuck, okay, I'm going for a piss. Put the tea on, champ, we've got a world to face."
"Aye, aye," Harry says, and Nick stops to watch him get out of bed, naked and his. Maybe just for this one day, depending on how things turn out, but at least for now, he's his.
Nick reaches over and strokes his hand down Harry's thigh, and Harry turns around, one hand already in Nick's hair.
"Love you," Harry says, and yes, Harry is a demonstrative little bastard, but Nick can tell that he's scared. Coming out is bad enough when it's just to your friends.
"Right back at you, dickhead," Nick says. He's still sprawled across the sheets, whereas Harry's standing up, so he kisses the only part of Harry he can reach, the new who I am tattoo on his hip.
Harry's hands tighten in his hair. "Okay," he says. "Bacon, and then getting bollocked by everyone I've ever spoken to. Ace."
"You've got me, though. I'll hold your hand or whatever," Nick says, which he knows isn't exactly enough to counter a cumulative bollocking experience. He doesn't actually mean to say it, but he likes to fill silences with words. Sort of does it for a living.
Harry manages half a smile. "Makes it all worth it."
"You bet your arse it does," Nick tells him. "Now go and make me a bacon sarnie." He stands up, grabs a pair of pants from the drawer in the corner and a t-shirt from on top of the laundry basket. He's desperately in need of a shower but he can't be bothered just yet. Breakfast first, and then he needs to call his mum in a bit, and he can't do that naked. It would feel too weird. She can just tell when he's inappropriately dressed for a phone call.
He goes for a piss, and cleans his teeth whilst he's in there, gargling with mouthwash as well, because he might as well. Minty fresh, and all. By the time he gets to the kitchen, he's left it just long enough that Harry's been able to create chaos all over his surfaces.
"What the fuck," he says, because there is bread all over one counter, and tin foil and the remains of a pack of bacon over another, and there's already brown sauce everywhere and the bacon's only just gone in. There are teabags on the floor.
"Kettle's boiled," Harry says. "Lid came off the brown sauce."
"You don't say," Nick says, wrapping an arm around Harry's waist. "You're a small human being, sort of, and yet you can create the mess of about a hundred people. How is that even possible?"
Harry smiles beatifically. "If in doubt, spread out."
"Sage advice to live by, Harold," Nick agrees. "Did we buy eggs? I think I want a fried egg and bacon sandwich."
"Nope, don't think so."
"Bugger," Nick says. "Why didn't you make me buy eggs?"
"I was distracted," Harry says, using the end of a knife to fish out the teabags from the two mugs perched precariously on the edge of the counter, and dropping the teabags down on the edge of the stove. The bin is like, two steps away. He then goes on to use the knife to spread brown sauce on their sandwiches. The bacon smells distractingly good under the grill. "We should have got sausages too, and had a sausage, egg, and bacon butty."
"We are seriously the stupidest people in the world." Nick looks miserably down at their half-constructed sandwiches. "Think what we could have had."
"Get the milk out," Harry tells him, elbowing him in the side. "And stop looking like my bacon sandwich is the worst thing you're ever going to have to eat. Bacon's the breakfast of champions."
Nick would normally agree, but now all he can think about is sausage and eggs. That would have been a bang-on sandwich. "Where do you want to do this?" he asks, one eye on the bacon under the grill. "Bedroom or living room?"
"Breakfast and bollockings in bed, I think."
"You've had worse ideas." Nick gets the milk out of the shopping bag in the fridge, and peels the little tab off the top. He pours some into their mugs, and dumps it back in the door of the fridge. "I'll take these through. And I'll get the laptop and the phones. Do it properly."
Harry holds out his phone. "Got mine here. Just got to switch it on."
Nick kisses his temple. "It'll be over soon." He's not really all that sure about that, but whatever.
He switches his phone on as soon as he's got it plugged in, the laptop still closed in the centre of the bed. His phone stays silent for a merciful thirty seconds before the beeps start, incoming messages, incoming voicemail, incoming missed calls, incoming emails, incoming tweets. He knows Harry's is going to be much worse.
He goes to twitter first, and types, Bacon. Breakfast of champions and presses send. It's not a bad way of reconnecting with the outside world. In the kitchen, he can hear the relentless beep of Harry's phone as his messages start to arrive.
Nick takes a deep breath and calls his mum and dad.
His dad answers, and when Nick says hello, his dad immediately says, "I'll get your mum, hang on," and puts the receiver down. His dad has the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, so Nick's hardly surprised he scuttles off to get his mum—when Nick had actually come out, it was about three years before his dad said 'gay', instead settling for some form of um. Nick having a high profile boyfriend is going to take him at least two years to find the language he needs to talk about it, by which point Harry is going to be long gone.
"Hello, Nicholas," his mum says reprovingly, picking up the phone. "Back from the moon, are we?"
"Mum," he complains. "I've not been to the moon. It's been a day."
"That phone's been ringing off the hook, everyone wanting to know what's going on. You're on the front cover of all the papers! Your dad's been down the shop and bought one of each."
"Tell Dad thanks for that."
"I could make a scrapbook out of all those articles," his mum goes on.
"You'd better bloody not," Nick says. "That's a bit strange, Mum, come on."
"Well, if my youngest child can't be bothered to pick the phone up, I'm going to have to resort to something to keep tabs on him. All the newspapers, Nicholas. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't really thinking at all," he mumbles, going a bit pink-cheeked.
"You boys, always thinking with your willies."
"Mum." He's seriously never talking to her again. Christ.
"It's true! Anyway. The newspapers would have me believe that you and that young Harry are going out."
"Yes," Nick admits, face in his hands. This is why he's never brought anyone he's going out with home, not ever.
"Are you sure he's not a bit—"
"Don't say young. Everyone says young."
"All right. But are you sure he isn't?"
"Pretty sure, yes." He can hear Harry in the kitchen, moving plates around. "I'm sure, Mum."
"We just don't want you to get hurt, that's all. All those newspapers with you on the front cover."
"I won't get hurt." He will, but it's not going to stop him doing this. It's not like he could, even if he tried.
"There's a big age difference, son. People will talk. The neighbours are already talking."
"People talk anyway," he says. "Mum—we fit, all right? We work." He's not sure they've been going out long enough for him to say that, but he wants it to be true, and that's the same thing, right?
"I just want you to be careful, that's all. He's a nice boy, but I don't want people saying nasty things about you. That's all I'm thinking of."
Nick fiddles with the corner of the duvet. He can't think of anything to say.
"You were a bit of a wet weekend over Christmas, was this why?"
"Don't think we didn't notice how fast that sherry was going down, Nicholas."
"It's Christmas, everyone drinks at Christmas."
She hums her disapproval. He really, really doesn't want her to think badly of Harry. "So, where's Harry now?"
"In the kitchen, making me a bacon sandwich." That part's a lie, too. Harry's naked and in the bedroom doorway, carrying two plates of bacon butties and his phone. Nick's so hungry and so aware that he's on the phone with his mum that he can't quite figure out whether he's supposed to be looking at Harry's dick or the bacon. One of them's making his mouth water. Potentially both.
"You get him housetrained quick, love."
"I will." He pauses, reaching out to take the plates from Harry as he climbs back onto the bed. "You haven't been getting any hassle, have you?"
There's a beat before his mum speaks again. "What kind of hassle?"
"You know. Trouble."
"Nope, everything's fine. Few people knocking at the door. Someone claiming to be from the Daily Mail. As if. Why would they be turning up here? Your dad told them to sling their hook."
They probably really were from the Daily Mail, but Nick doesn't press it. He can hear from his mum's voice that the last day hasn't been trouble-free, but part of him doesn't want to know. Anyway, Harry's shifting so that he's leaning into Nick's side, scrolling through his messages. He has nineteen missed calls from someone called Nina Publicist. Nick suspects that isn't actually her surname.
"I've got to go, Mum. Breakfast's ready."
"All right. Give me a ring later on."
"Call me if you have any trouble."
"I will, love. Your dad says hello."
When Nick hangs up, Harry curls up and rubs his nose against Nick's ribs through his t-shirt, showing Nick a text on his phone. "Gem says she loves me."
"Well, she probably does, then."
Harry doesn't say anything to that, just pushes one of the plates towards Nick. Nick takes it, and squashes the sandwich down with the heel of his hand.
"Bang-on food this," he says helplessly, because Harry still hasn't finished scrolling through his messages, let alone reading all of them. He takes a bite.
"Not hungry," Harry says, and pushes his plate away. "Feel sick."
"Eat it," Nick persists. "Come on, you'll feel better." It's like his inner Grimshaw parentage is coming out of his mouth and he can't stop it. "Most important meal of the day, breakfast."
Harry rolls his eyes. "You try having to go back to all of these people and then see if you want breakfast."
Nick gets that. Even his mum's only managed a cautious approval. "Come on," he says anyway. "Eat it, and then I'll hold your hand whilst you ring them all back."
"Okay," Harry says, after a beat. "Give me a hug first, though."
Nick hugs him, and lets his bacon sandwich go cold.
Harry's phone call with his publicist lasts over half an hour. Nick stops paying full attention after a while, because there's only so much he can glean from ten minutes of Harry going yeah and I get that and next time, you're the first person I call, promise.
He ends up pulling the laptop open, and ignoring his emails in favour of Googling Harry's name. The picture results aren't that helpful, because they're way too broad to be specific, and too full of a million outdated pictures from before yesterday, so he does what he should have done in the first place, and clicks on the Tumblr link on his toolbar. He types Harry's name into the search box, hoping that Harry—who's peering over his shoulder at the same time as saying, yes, I understand, over and over—doesn't notice that the box auto fills pretty quickly. How does, yes, I was Tumblr-stalking you over Christmas go down with a new boyfriend anyway?
Pretty well, if Harry pressing his mouth to the curve of Nick's elbow is anything to go by.
The first post is a close up of his hand-made sign from the airport, HAROLD STARS in thick black marker. Underneath the picture it just says omggggggggggggggggggggggggggg. It's been re-posted three thousand times. It's the next two pictures on his dash, too, and then there's a phone picture of him and Harry hugging at Heathrow, Harry's back to the camera.
Nick swallows. He hadn't—he hadn't imagined that they would have looked so desperate, or so intense. They're clinging to each other, Nick's face hidden in the curve of Harry's neck, arms wrapped tightly around him. Harry's holding on just as hard. It's really, really weird seeing a moment that had simultaneously been the best and the scariest of his life, getting to see Harry again—it's incredibly strange to see that from the outside. He's not sure he likes this feeling. He likes publicity, he courts publicity, and he really fucking likes his life and the people in it, but this is the first time he's felt like this seeing a picture of him on the internet.
That hug was his, his and Harry's, and it didn't belong to any of the thousands of people who have reblogged it on Tumblr. He almost doesn't want to scroll down, but luckily the next post is a link to a round-up of Gryles: the Greatest Love Story of our time, so other than dying a little at the indignity of Gryles, it doesn't stop him clicking the link.2
It is, in fact, a step by step breakdown of the last twenty-four hours in Harry and Nick's lives, and it includes about a hundred and two pictures of him and Harry, from various angles, at various points during the last day, from the airport to his place to the supermarket last night.
Nick tilts his head to one side. He makes a really weird face when he's in the middle of a kiss. It's almost like he's looking at somebody else, another couple, even. People who aren't him and Harry. It's a bit like seeing a still from a film, if film stills were poor quality mobile pictures taken from a distance, and if film companies tended to release pictures where one of them looked like a complete muppet.
He still can't get over that it's an entire post written by someone on the internet—who's never met either of them, hopefully—who's over the moon because he and Harry are together. Who'd spent the whole of yesterday excitedly talking about him and Harry snogging. Who'd imagined the two of them having 'hot monkey sex'.
Well, he thinks, once he's finished reading it. That's something that just happened.
It's another fifteen minutes before Harry's finished on the phone, and by then Nick's bored of waiting. He had no idea being a pop star involved so many long phone calls. He still isn't entirely sure what a publicist actually does, even though he actually has one through work. The only times he's ever been tangentially involved with them outside of work is when one or other of his friends has got involved in some kind of scrape or other. And bands coming on the radio, obviously, but Nick doesn't actually do all that much interacting with them. He's more a meet and greet kind of a guy. He doesn't do the background details.
"So?" he says, when Harry hangs up and chucks his phone towards the end of the bed.
"It was a bollocking," Harry says, without meeting Nick's eyes, "but at least she didn't yell all that much."
Nick had overheard that much, at least. "What did she say?"
"That I'm a dickhead and that my first responsibility is to call her when I want to make some kind of life-changing, career-altering decision like snogging you in public."
"She actually called you a dickhead?"
"Kind of." He shrugs, and leans down to angle the laptop screen down a bit. "I quite like that one." He points at the pap shot of the two of them kissing. Nick keeps looking at it too, if only because it makes his heart pound. That really happened. Harry kissed him. Everyone knows.
"Apparently I look like a knob when I'm in the middle of kissing someone. Good to know."
"You always look like a knob," Harry tells him, pausing only to shove the laptop off to one side so that he can straddle Nick, hands going straight to Nick's face. "But you're mine, and my knob, and everyone knows it."
"Yeah," Nick says. "They do."
Harry shifts closer, so that his dick is rubbing up against Nick's t-shirt. He's obviously offended by the existence of clothing in general, because he pushes Nick's shirt out of the way.
"Pushy, aren't you?" Nick says, but it doesn't stop him pulling of his top and dropping it off the side of the bed.
"Only where you're concerned." He runs his hands down Nick's chest, thumbs grazing his nipples.
Nick tries and fails to stifle a groan. "What else did she say? What happens now?"
"Ehhhh," Harry tells him helpfully, leaning in to catch Nick's mouth in a kiss. Nick's not going to complain about that—getting to kiss Harry whenever the fuck he wants right now is just about the greatest thing in his life, but still, there are other, bigger things hanging over them.
"Seriously, are you in trouble? Am I in trouble? Is it like going to see the headteacher at school? Do I need to go wait outside his office? Get told off?"
"You're wearing pants." Harry snaps at his waistband with his fingertips. "Why would you do that? Do you hate me?"
"I hate talking to my mum when I'm naked, it feels wrong. Seriously. What did she say?"
"I have to go in for a meeting later. I've fucked up everyone's new year, because we have to present a united fucking front and all turn up somewhere together tomorrow so that everyone can take pictures of us still being a band, so fuck it if any of the others had plans at home tomorrow. Which they all fucking did, because it's New Year's fucking Eve. And I have to give Heat an interview, either today or tomorrow, so they can have the exclusive. And I have to decide whether I want the cover of Attitude or Gay Times next month. And in case that wasn't clear, whatever plans we have for tomorrow night are now cancelled, by the way. Nina's setting something up for us all."
"Oh," That doesn't sound that bad, all things considered. "They didn't—you don't have to—" Nick doesn't know how to say, do you have to break up with me to keep being in your band.
"What? We're not doing anything wrong, and I told them that. They wouldn't be talking about Attitude if they wanted me back in the closet, would they?"
Nick doesn't say, there's almost a ten year age difference and you're a teen heartthrob, and there's a difference between being out and being with me, because Harry's a lot more mature than most people give him credit for, and he probably knows that. There's certainly more to that thirty minute phone call than what Harry's telling him. "What are you going to do, if they do?"
"Tell them to fuck the fuck off." He leans in and presses his mouth to Nick's jaw, fingertips splayed over his throat. "Fuck, I love you."
That—inexplicably—makes Nick want to cry. He wraps his arms around Harry instead. "Do you want me to come with you this afternoon?"
Harry shakes his head. "No, you don't need to. Meet me afterwards, though? We can get some food or something. Get drunk."
"You have the best ideas," Nick tells him, running his hands over Harry's back. "What do you fancy?"
"For food, idiot."
"Okay." Nick says. "Food is always about a hundred times better when you can pick it off a conveyor belt, anyway." His legs are going to sleep, what with Harry sitting on them and everything. "Shift over, I'm getting pins and needles."
Harry obediently shifts over, but not before poking Nick in the stomach with a long finger. "Clothes," he says. "Off."
Nick rolls his eyes, but shrugs off his pants anyway, rolling onto his side and hooking his leg over Harry's. "In case I haven't made it all that clear recently, I'm really kind of stupidly in love with you." He manages to say it without quite meeting Harry's eyes, which has a lot to do with the fact that Nick really doesn't say I love you all that often. He suspects that they say it quite a lot in Harry's family. Harry has Gemma's name tattooed on his arm, for a start. Nick's not entirely sure his dad's ever said, I love you, and if he got Jane or Andy's name tattooed on his skin, they'd both think he was completely fucking batshit.
Horses for courses, and all that.
"Well," Harry says, leaning in to touch his forehead to Nick's. "Why wouldn't you be?"
"I have no idea." He curls his fingers into Harry's hair. "You okay?"
Harry shrugs. "Trying to avoid Twitter-searching for Harry's gay."
Well, that's a bad idea. "Don't do that." He relents. "There are always going to be stupid fucking dickheads that hate you just for liking dick. You can't change their minds. The people that count, though, they won't."
"Won't they?" Harry makes a face. "I should ring the others. Check they're still speaking to me. Fuck, I hope I haven't fucked this up for them."
"You haven't." He tries not to think about the people out there who hate them because they're together. There's a reason he hasn't checked his @-replies either. "Have you even checked your messages from them? They've all tweeted you. Somebody has made a post on the internet with them all on."
"I will in a bit," Harry says, shifting a bit so that he can touch his nose to Nick's. "I'm busy right now."
Nick grins at that, and lets himself be kissed.
Nick's early to meet Harry after his meeting with his publicist, so he contents himself with finding the nearest Starbucks and buying the stupidest Frappuccino he can find on the menu. Then he sits in the corner, still wearing his sunglasses and with his coat zipped up because it's freezing, and checks Twitter on his phone.
He has a million messages and emails that he needs to reply to, but he's kind of lazy about it. Lazy, and a little bit shy, because Harry's still with his publicist and there's still that part of him that worries that the last twenty-fours will be the be-all and end-all of him and Harry. He's resisting replying to his friends until he has something concrete to tell them, even if that just means telling them he's single again. He just texts Harry where he is instead.
So, Twitter it is, and it turns out the world is still turning without him and Harry taking an active part in it. He's vaguely pissed off about that, in a way. He likes being the centre of attention, and this feels like his time. He follows a link through to Harry's Twitter, and it just so happens he'd posted about their bacon sandwiches this morning too, posting a picture of their plates in the kitchen.
Look at them getting all public with their shared breakfasts. He taps reply and types, Lol jinx.
He checks his watch. Harry's late.
Where are you, he texts. If you don't turn up soon I'm going to start snogging random blokes because I'll have forgotten what you look like.
Still in meeting. Be there soon x
It turns out that getting an x in a text from Harry is still enough to make his heart pound. He's stupid over him, he knows that, and right now, he kind of wants to roll around in that feeling so he can remember it even after all of this is over.
The couple in the corner taking up the sofa are getting up to leave, so Nick does what any self-respecting sofa-hog would do in the same circumstances, and goes to hover by their table as they get their stuff. There's no greater seat in a coffee shop than a sofa, everyone knows that. And they've left their magazines behind them. Score.
He flops down onto the sofa with the remains of his Frappuccino and copies of Grazia and Heat.
Harry is really fucking late. Nick's finished with Heat and is half way through Grazia by the time Harry is followed through the door by three giggling teenage girls with camera phones.
Nick's gratified to see that Harry's face curves into the best, brightest smile when he spots him across the room.
"Hi," Harry says, coming over.
"Hi," Nick says, aware that he's probably sporting a smile that's equally stupid. He puts the magazine down on the arm and shifts over so that there's space for Harry next to him on the seat. Harry promptly ignores the space and drops down onto Nick's knee, kissing him hello.
"Hi," Nick says again, once Harry's pulled away. He's biting his lip to keep from grinning. "How was it?"
"Tell you later," Harry says, one arm around Nick's neck. "I'm thirsty. What do you want?"
Nick cranes his neck to get a look at the menu. "I'll try the chai Frappuccino thing. You want cash?"
Harry pats his pocket as he stands up. He peels off his coat and drops it on the sofa next to Nick. "I've got it."
"Thanks," Nick says, and he doesn't pretend to look anywhere but Harry's arse as he goes up to the counter. He just chews on his finger to keep from grinning too widely, because Harry has a frankly gorgeous arse, and Nick is actually allowed to look at it now. He's definitely going to take advantage of that whilst he can.
The girls in the corner are doing their best to look inconspicuous—they're failing miserably, but Nick appreciates the gesture—and Nick can't help but wonder if this is going to be a bigger part of his life now. He's used to being looked at and photographed when he's out with other people, but maybe he and Harry being together will make him photographable in his own right? He can't help but secretly wish that it doesn't.
"Here you go," Harry says, coming back over with two drinks. He dumps them down on the table and flops down onto the sofa, putting his feet in Nick's lap. Nick curls his hand around Harry's ankle as he reaches for their drinks, handing one to Harry and then getting his own.
"How was it?" Nick asks, since Harry doesn't look horribly browbeaten or terribly depressed, so he's half inclined to think the meeting with his publicist went okay—or not awfully, at least. He just looks tired, and it's not like they've had much sleep recently.
Harry bumps his foot against Nick's arm. "Okay," he says. "It wasn't, like, the worst meeting of my life or anything."
"That's good. I think?"
Harry shrugs. "I talked them out of making the lads ruin their plans for New Year's Eve, anyway. We're all having lunch tomorrow instead after I meet with Heat, and then they've got time to get back home in time for tomorrow night. They were talking about a press conference, can you believe that? It's just us that have to keep tomorrow night free. Nina's planning something for us."
Nick frowns at that, but tries not to make a big deal about it. He'd known that Harry was going to have to do something as a result of coming out, but all of this seems like a lot. "How's Niall going to get home in time for a party tomorrow night, if he's here for lunch?"
"Fly." Harry shrugs. "Apparently we're marketable commodities or something so it's worth it to get us all down here tomorrow. Some shit, anyway. Anyway, Liam's easy; he can get back to Wolverhampton, no problem. There'll be a car for him. Nina said something about a helicopter for Louis and Zayn."
Nick raises an eyebrow at that. "A helicopter, seriously? How famous are you? That's like, Elton John levels of famous, right? Are you going to have someone to wipe your arse next?"
Harry waves that away. "I can wipe my own arse." He looks a little baffled for a moment, though. "Can you believe that everyone's going to so much trouble just for me?"
Well, Nick would go to a lot more trouble for Harry than just this, but he gets what he means. "This is what you get for going out with me, I suppose. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Harry reaches for his hand at that, linking his fingers with Nick's. "Everything about this is shit, and not fair, apart from you. You're the bit of all of this I wouldn't change."
Nick leans in to press a kiss to Harry's knuckles. He's never done that before. "It'll get better, you know."
Harry laughs at that, but Nick isn't sure that it's funny. "Will it?" he asks, and he looks over Nick's shoulder towards the window. There are two photographers outside, huge cameras poised.
"Have they been there all along?" Nick asks, still looking at them. His hand is still in Harry's.
"They followed me here."
"Sorry," Nick says, and he means it. Harry's eighteen. Surely he deserves a fucking break from the press for five minutes.
"Doesn't matter," Harry tells him. "It's not like I'm not used to it." He manages half a smile. "I don't want to do this interview with Heat first thing in the morning, either. Bet they love that, having to turn up first thing in the morning on New Year's Eve. You think I'm ever going to do something that pleases anyone? Fuck, it's Sunday today, and everyone had to come into the office for this meeting, just because I fucked up and happened to be less than fucking straight."
"I don't actually think that's fucking up, Harold." His heart hurts. "I think the fact it's a big deal is the part that's fucked up."
Harry looks down at his lap. "Yeah, I know," he says. "I'm just pissed off it's a big deal, that's all. Thought it was the twenty first century, or whatever."
There's still more that Harry's not telling him, he knows. "There's nothing else, is there? What did they say about me?"
"Nothing," Harry says. He squeezes Nick's hand.
"Oh," Nick says. He can tell a lie when he hears one. So that's what your heart dropping like a stone feels like.
"I told them to go fuck themselves anyway, when they were talking about doing a press conference."
Nick swallows a couple of times before looking up again. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Harry says. "And then I called Louis and put him on speaker and asked them to tell him that they'd dragged me into a meeting for being bi, and that they wanted a press conference, and they told him, and he said they should go fuck themselves too."
"I love that guy."
"Me too. I called Liam and Niall and Zayn after that, and they all said the same thing." He swallows. "And in the end, Nina said okay. So tomorrow's just a photo op and then lunch. They can apparently spin us without the press conference."
Nick isn't sure that he likes what that sounds like. "Us, like you and me?"
Harry shrugs. "Yeah. Drink your drink."
"Yes, boss," Nick takes a long sip of his Frappuccino. It's—well, the chai Frappuccino is certainly different. He holds it out for Harry. "Taste that."
Harry makes a face after trying it. "You can keep that one."
"Maybe it'll grow on me."
"Did you get to talk to the others at all? Other than the go fuck themselves thing?"
"A bit." Harry's hand is still in his. He squeezes. "It'll be good to see them tomorrow."
"Yeah." Nick nods. "You hungry now?" They can't exactly sit here and talk this out when there are two paps outside the window and a table full of excited girls by the door. All they can do when they're being watched like this is try and be normal, and that doesn't include breaking down Harry's relationship with his publicist and his band in the middle of Starbucks. "You still want sushi?"
"Yes." Harry grins at that, and then he makes a face. "Is this—are we going on a date?"
Nick hasn't exactly thought this one out. "Apparently. You think I should have brought you flowers or something?"
"If you think I'm going to have sex with you when we get home if you haven't even bought me a flipping daffodil, you've got another think coming."
"How about chocolates? I saved you that popping candy Chocolate Orange. I haven't given you that yet. That's got to be worth a blow job at least. Or a cheeky finger." He drops his voice for that, but Harry still flushes.
"Buy me a bunch of daffodils and see where that gets you."
Nick laughs at that. "You're a cheap date, you know that."
"I'm easing you in gently," Harry confides, leaning in to press a kiss to Nick's cheek. His gaze flicks to the photographers outside, and then back to Nick again. "After today, it's going to be sex in exchange for really, really expensive shit. Like, designer."
"Not on a BBC salary, it isn't. I can barely keep me in the designer gear I've got accustomed to. To support you too, I'll have to moonlight on Sky or something. Do something crap for Channel 4. You done? You want to get going?"
"I'll walk and drink," Harry says, reaching for his coat. He pulls out a pair of sunglasses from his pocket just as Nick puts his back on. "Jinx."
Nick holds out his little finger for Harry to hook his around. "Jinx," he says softly, because he's about to go on a date with the guy he loves, and, well, that's a big deal.
They don't get to leave without Harry signing some autographs and posing for a few pictures. One of the girls wants both him and Harry together, either side of her, and Nick can't help but feel awkward at that. But he strikes a pose just like she asks him to, Harry echoing him, and then they're out in the street, both of them in stupid puffy winter coats and sunglasses, both holding Frappuccinos. In December.
Harry reaches for his hand.
"Bet you we look like fucking wankers," Nick says, wishing he had a free hand for a cigarette. He's not giving up either Harry or his drink though, so his nicotine fix will have to wait a while.
"Nah," Harry says. "Douchebags."
"Douchebag wankers." He laughs.
"Our mums will be really proud."
Nick isn't exactly sure about that. He's still not entirely sure that Harry's mum doesn't hate him, and he knows his mum has some reservations about the age difference. He hopes she'll get used to it, if the two of them stay together. "Have you spoken to your mum?"
"Yep." Harry squeezes his hand. "Did you know that she's going round to your mum's for tea tonight?"
Nick blinks. "What the shit?"
"Your mum and my mum? You're not making this up?"
Harry shrugs. "That's what she said."
"Wow." They cross the road, still hand in hand. Nick chucks the remains of his weird chai Frappuccino in the bin as they walk by. "You want the rest of yours?"
Harry shakes his head and passes him his drink to throw away. The Yo! Sushi they're supposed to be having lunch at is only down the road. It's not quite the upscale lunch he might have planned, if he'd realised he was taking Harry out for an actual, proper date, but then sometimes Nick can be a bit thick when it comes to catching on.
He really can't believe that their parents are hanging out. His mum and Anne are like two ends of any spectrum. Well, his dad and Anne are like two ends of any spectrum. His dad refers to Holmes Chapel as all fur coat and no knickers. Harry finds it funny. Nick suspects that Anne won't.
"What are they going to talk about? Your mum's the same age as Jane."
"Same age-ish," Harry says. "And my mum's quite nice, you know. I'm pretty sure she can get on with your mum for a bit without the world ending."
"I know." Nick's quick to admit it. It's just that Anne has always been impervious to his charms, and Nick doesn't like that. He can't imagine going to tea with the parents of someone he doesn't like.
Harry bumps his elbow into Nick's as they get to the restaurant. He reaches past Nick to get the door, and says in a low voice as he leans in, "I told her I loved you."
Nick's mouth goes suddenly dry, and not just at Harry actually holding the door open for him, like a proper gentleman and everything. He can't help but glance at the two photographers, who by now are standing by the doors and taking pictures. Photographers don't tend to get to come inside, thank fuck. He wonders if they heard Harry, and then he realises he doesn't give a shit. Everyone can know he's in love, he's sick of hiding it. What are they going to do, put it on the front cover of all the newspapers? Been there, done that. He slides his hand into Harry's again, and when the waitress comes over to seat them, he asks if they can have one of the booths at the back, as far away from the windows as possible. The booths come with their own little conveyor belt, and who doesn't like food they can grab as it sails by?
They don't talk again until they're both sitting down in their booth in the corner, and the waitress has left them with menus and the kind of smile that Nick knows means she knows just who they are.
"You told your mum that?" Nick asks, to go back to their conversation. He can't help but glance over at the windows, but the photographers are more concerned with having a cigarette than taking pictures of them right now, which he supposes is a good thing.
"Yeah," Harry says, hooking his foot around Nick's under the table. "I thought she was going to hang up for a minute, but then she stopped crying and told me she loved me."
"Jesus," Nick says, putting down his menu because apparently there's quite a lot that Harry's been keeping from him, and his mum crying down the phone is probably only one thing out of a list of many. "She cried?"
"A bit. She just—my mum wants me to be all right, you know? She hates the fucking photographers and all the lies and the gossip and all of that. And then you and me happened, and I switched my phone off, and she got worried. I don't know, she was probably worried before I switched my phone off. I missed Christmas. She didn't know if I was okay. Sometimes I think I'm always going to be ten years old to her."
The waitress comes back over to take their drinks orders, and Harry stops telling him about his mum. Nick hasn't even paid any attention to the drinks menu. "Do you want wine?" he asks, since this is supposed to be a date, and dates need a bit of posh to wash down the food, and Harry's mum cried. Fuck.
"Sure, why not."
"Red or white?" Nick's scanning the list. It's not like there's much to choose from. Under the table, he runs his foot down the inside of Harry's ankle. Is there a way to touch your boyfriend that means, I'm sorry everything's so shit, but I love you? He's not very good at this. Boyfriends should come with manuals. Or pictures. He reaches over the table and takes his hand instead. The waitress can fuck off with her smirk.
"Red," Harry says, his skin pinking a bit. He keeps looking down at the menu.
"A bottle of—" Nick picks one at random, which isn't exactly hard because there's only two types, and he doesn't drink Merlot because he's not posh. Harry's hand is hot in his. "—Los Romeros Malbec, please."
Harry waits until she's gone before looking up again. He's biting his lip, and it's oddly endearing. "Thought I told you I was a cheap date?"
"The cheapest," Nick agrees. He leans over to kiss Harry's cheek, and grabs a dish of edamame from the belt as he sits back down, taking the lid off and offering them to Harry. "I'm always going to be fifteen to my mum. She rings me just to make sure I've got a warm enough coat on, and I'm like, Mum, I'm twenty-mumble years old. And it's July. Well, not now, obviously. It's December." He trails off. It's possible he doesn't always sound like this much of a knob.
Harry laughs, so at least Nick's succeeded at one thing. He nudges the edamame across the table again. "Take some. That's way too many vegetables for one person."
Harry rolls his eyes, but dutifully takes some. "Anyway, to get back to my mum, I told her you were the second youngest person I'd slept with in forever—"
"Thanks for that," Nick says, grabbing a couple of dishes at random from the belt and hoping they're California rolls. The time he got eel by accident has stayed with him. "Hang on, did you actually say slept with?"
"I said gone out with. Think she probably realised it was code for shagging, though. Anyway, I said you were the second youngest person I'd slept with in forever, and that I wasn't ever going to go out with someone my own age, and that I loved you, and that you were the kindest person I knew. Then she cried a little bit more and said she loved me."
There's a part of him that kind of wants to cry at that too. He has to wait until the waitress has deposited a bottle and two glasses on the table, and made some kind of song and dance about pouring it out. Is there a polite way of saying, kindly fuck off, I'll drink it from the bottle? No? "The kindest? Really?" Kind isn't how he'd describe himself. No one's ever called him kind before. "Did you want to say, like, hottest? Or most attractive? Devilishly handsome would have done."
"Three things that mean that same thing," Harry says. He looks over at the photographers, who are blatantly taking pictures of them through the window. "And no, I didn't want to say that."
"You drove half way up the country to take my mum soup, Nick. Don't pretend you were already up there and it wasn't a giant ball-ache getting there, because I know it was. You take my phone calls in the middle of the fucking night even when you have to get up for work, and, like, you're always there when I need you. Always."
Nick can feel himself going red. He hadn't—it wasn't like he'd set out to do any of those things. He just doesn't like it when Harry sounds anything less than happy. "I was just—"
"Shut up," Harry cuts him off. "I mean it. Don't pretend like you're less than you are. You always do that."
"I don't, I'm brilliant—"
Harry lifts Nick's hands to his lips and touches a kiss to his fingertips. "Shut up, Nicholas. You're the best thing in my life. Let me tell you, for fuck's sake."
"I had to sit in a meeting this morning listening to people talk about us like we were a thing, and I hated it. I hated every single second of it, but I'd do it again every single day if it meant I got to keep you."
"You're a romantic," Nick finds himself saying, because people don't talk like Harry does. He just comes out and says stuff that nobody else does. He hadn't realised how much Harry hated all of this, either. Harry's so good at hiding that from him. From everyone.
"I'm honest," Harry says.
He's young, is what he is. Nick can't remember being this open—he suspects he never was, but eighteen was a lot of hangovers and late nights ago, so he might be wrong—but no one's hardened Harry up yet. No one's taught him to hide. The last few people Nick's slept with, it was almost a competition to see who was least into it. Harry just goes all out, fuck the haters. It makes Nick want to be just as brave. Harry makes him want to slay fucking dragons and climb mountains and ask for martinis shaken and not stirred. He makes Nick want to be a better person.
"Don't ever change," he says in the end, trying to hide the gruff catch to his voice. "I mean it, don't ever change."
"I won't," Harry says after a minute, and curls his fingers into Nick's.
They sneak out of Yo! Sushi by the back entrance in an effort to avoid the photographers, and then they end up running down the street so the paps can't suss the change in plans and come catch them. Maybe they should take up Harry's record company's offer of a minder for now, even though the idea of it makes both of them balk.
"This is ridiculous," Nick says, one hand to his stomach as they round the corner. "Eating then running is the worst idea in the world. No one should ever drink wine and then run. If I'm sick, you have to hold my hair back."
Harry just laughs at that, loud and happy. "Come on, in here." He comes to an abrupt stop, grabbing Nick's hand and dragging him into the first pub they see.
Nick crowds him into the bar, hands around his waist, chin on his shoulder. Harry tips his head back, and lets Nick kiss him underneath his ear.
"What do you want?" Harry asks.
"You," Nick tells him helpfully.
He can feel Harry rolls his eyes. He grins, and stops manhandling him, sliding his hand down to Harry's waist, pulling him a little closer. The pub isn't that full—it is the middle of the afternoon after all, even if it is a Sunday—but he might as well wait until they've at least got a drink in their hands. He tucks his hand into Harry's back pocket. "I'll get these. What do you want?"
"Cocktail," Harry says. "Don't care which."
Nick waves his hand in the air to get the barman's attention. He's just finishing up with someone else, so Nick lets Harry steal his focus for a moment, grinning at him.
"What can I get you?" the barman asks.
"Two mojitos," Nick says, without stopping to check if they serve them. It's Soho, of course they serve mojitos. "Please."
The barman raises an eyebrow. "Has he got ID?"
Nick grins, and cocks his head towards Harry. "Him?"
The barman is tall and wide and tattooed. He also doesn't seem to find this very funny, which is stupid, because it's the funniest thing Nick's heard all day, and that isn't just half a bottle of wine and a shit ton of sushi talking. "Yes, him. You got ID?"
Nick can't quite believe this. He's with Harry Styles. "Um," he says, wrinkling his nose up. "Don't you know who he is?"
Harry elbows him. "Shut up, Nicholas."
"No, seriously," Nick says. "This is great. Do you honestly not know who he is?"
"I don't give a fuck who he is," the barman says. "If he's got ID, he can have a drink."
"Show him your ID, Hazza."
"Um," Harry says, and makes a face that Nick is half-convinced is adorable, but also vaguely apologetic. "I left it at yours?"
"Wow," Nick says. "This is brilliant. I'm going to tell everyone on the radio."
"You're never telling anyone about this," Harry says, and he's blushing everywhere.
This is great. "Do you honestly not know who he is?" he asks the barman. "He's Harry Styles."
The barman doesn't look all that enlightened, and Nick realises he doesn't actually know who that is.
"Wow. Do you not read the papers? Heat?"
"Nick," Harry hisses, grabbing his sleeve. "Come on, let's go."
"He doesn't know who you are, Hazz. We should like, take his picture or something. He's like a rare breed."
"All right," the barman says, clapping his hands together. "You two have had your fun, but we're not serving you in here, so on your way."
"I'm going to come back with his ID and a newspaper with his face on it," Nick tells him as he heads for the door. Maybe that wine has gone to his head. It's a possibility, especially as Harry's holding on to him and actually trying to hide his face in Nick's shirt. Now that's cute. Oh god, they've gone and got drunk whilst he wasn't paying attention. "Let's high five." He holds his hand up as they go back out into the road, and Harry holds his hand up to high five him back.
"If you ever tell anyone about that," Harry says, linking his fingers into Nick's, "then we're breaking up." He's bright red.
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Nick says, miming zipping his lips shut. He's totally saving this story for a slow day.
"I'll blow you, if you keep it a secret," Harry offers.
Nick glances up and down the road. "Not here, Hazza. You'll stop traffic."
Harry just rolls his eyes and leans in to kiss the corner of Nick's mouth. "Later."
"I'm definitely keeping you to that." Nick spends a glorious couple of seconds contemplating Harry on his knees for him. "So, where are we going?"
"No idea," Harry says. "Somewhere with cocktails."
"And with barmen who know who you are so you can actually get served." Nick thinks for a moment. "Be at One?"
Be at One has been open about five seconds when they show up at the door, which at least gives them the choice of seats. The barman with the flock of seagulls hairstyle is actually singing a rude version of What Makes You Beautiful as he unlocks the door, which isn't in the least bit embarrassing when he stumbles to a halt mid-word.
"He sings that," Nick says, pointing at Harry.
"Shut up, Nicholas," Harry says, elbowing him.
The barman blinks. "What can I get you?"
Nick orders four different kinds of cocktails, because he doesn't plan on standing up for a while. He's not sure if he can bring himself to try the one called Spiced Poo, but the Undercover Squirrel is all his. Harry—a little bit drunk and a lot more relaxed than he had been after his meeting with his publicist team—bumps elbows with him, and smirks, and leans over the bar to watch what the barman's doing.
Nick just curls his fingers into Harry's belt loops and sneaks his hand underneath Harry's jumper. "Is that my jumper?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "You're a bit thick sometimes, Nick."
"I'm not thick, Harry Styles. It just looks different on you."
Harry just grins at that, wide and bright. He's definitely a different person to the Harry that emerged from his publicist meeting. Nick would pay to keep this Harry.
"Thick," Harry says, darting in to kiss him. He shoots a tiny, sidelong glance at the barman, and then flicks his attention back to Nick.
"If you think for like, one second, that the way to my heart is by calling me thick, Hazza, you've got another think coming."
Harry just waggles his eyebrows. "Yeah, yeah. You love me."
"Shut up," Nick complains. He flattens his hand in the small of Harry's back, underneath his stolen jumper. He likes the way that he can make Harry shiver just by touching him.
Harry slides his hand into Nick's back pocket.
Nick likes that they can't keep their hands off each other.
He hands over his card for all their drinks—a tray full, now that they've ordered four each, but moderation is for losers, and laziness for winners—and spends more time than he would deem acceptable trying to remember his pin. He blames Harry for that, because Harry is hanging off him, hand stroking Nick's arse, and essentially what's happening right now is that Harry Styles is feeling him up. He's surprised he can remember his own name, and he's had that for a lot longer than his debit card. "Stop stealing my pin, Styles."
"Going to go out and buy you the entire Cascada back catalogue now," Harry says, letting go of him to reach for the tray of drinks. "Or The Wanted. JLS. See how you like that."
"I don't know, first you steal my clothes, then you ruin my music collection. Going out with you is a rubbish idea."
Harry just laughs.
They end up with the seats in the corner, the squishy ones that aren't quite a sofa but are the closest approximation they can find. Harry pins Nick to the seat by stretching his legs out over Nick's lap, and then smirks when Nick tries to move.
"I'm being held against my will," Nick tells him, flicking Harry in the shin. "Help."
"Shut up," Harry grins. "I'm comfortable."
"Oh my god. Is this what going out with you is going to be like?"
"Absolutely. This, exactly."
Nick curves his hand over Harry's knee. He kind of wants to say something clever and/ or funny, but all of a sudden his mind is a complete blank. Harry makes him want to be honest, and it isn't like Nick spends the rest of his life telling lies or anything, but he's not exactly known for wearing his heart on his sleeve. In the end he goes for, "I'm really fucking stupid over you."
Harry sits up a little straighter, leaning in so that his shoulder is touching Nick's. He cups Nick's face in his hand, and smiles, chewing on his lip. "Kiss me, you dickhead."
"Romance really isn't dead," Nick says, touching his nose to Harry's. He really likes the way Harry smells, a mixture of familiar aftershave and alcohol and heat. He laughs, unable to help himself, then kisses him. Harry's laughing too, fingers splayed over Nick's cheek, cold and wet from holding his drink.
Afterwards, when they sit back, Nick rubs his thumb over the inside of Harry's knee.
Harry grins. "Stop thinking about sex for five seconds, Grimshaw."
"I wasn't!" Nick protests, but he was, and now he is, and all he can think about is Harry in his bed, naked and hard. And that this is a thing that's probably going to happen again. It would be his favourite thing about going out with Harry so far, if Harry himself wasn't battling it out for the top spot.
"Were," Harry says, reaching for his drink. "Here, taste that. Isn't that great?"
Nick takes a sip. It's good. There's—something spicy in there, Morgan's, maybe, and ginger. "Any idea what that is at all?"
"None," Harry says, grinning. Their eight drinks are all mixed up on the table in front of them, condensation sliding down and pooling gently around the bottoms of the glasses. Four drinks each was a stupid idea, because the ice will have melted long before they can get through them, but it's a gesture, and Nick likes gestures, even the stupid ones.
The music starts to play then, the sound system coming to life with a loud crackle. It immediately starts playing What Makes You Beautiful, before coming to an abrupt, desperate stop. The flock of seagulls barman sticks his head around from the bar. "Sorry," he says, but Nick's already laughing, hand smacking against his thigh in sheer joy.
Harry is bright red. "Oh god," he says, as the music starts up again, playing Sweet Child of Mine this time.
"That's amazing," Nick says. "Your face."
"Shut up," Harry shakes his head, covering his face with his hands.
"Make me," Nick says, and it comes out different to how he'd imagined it in his head. A little lower, a little rougher.
Harry looks up at that. "Nicholas," he says, still bright red.
"Yeah," Nick says.
Harry hands him his drink. "Stop thinking about sex for five seconds."
But he still slides his hand over Nick's thigh, a little too high to be strictly socially acceptable.
It's Nick's turn to go red, then.
They stumble into Nick's building at some point just after midnight, hopelessly drunk and responsible for scandalising a taxi driver. "We probably should have paid him off," Nick says, trying and failing to get his key in his front door. They've made it as far as the hall, at least. Nobody could blame them for just having sex here instead of waiting until they were inside.
Wine had turned into cocktails had turned into friends showing up for a drink, which had turned into Nick having a boyfriend in public for essentially the first time in his life. It wasn't a surprise he was veering somewhere between rat-arsed and off his tits. It was only the aren't you cute together faces of his friends that had finally made him get his arse in gear and drag Harry towards the nearest black cab, and the promise of sex as soon as they got home. They hadn't exactly managed to keep their hands off each other in the back of the taxi, and although drunk people pulling in the back of his taxi is hardly going to be a new experience for the taxi driver, it's possible they could have been more subtle. Or less loud. One of those things.
And he's fairly sure he lost a button off his shirt. Apart from the possibility of the pictures ending up in the papers, he literally couldn't give two fucks, though. Is this what being in love is like? It's overwhelming, and amazing, and perfect. He fucking loves being drunk. And Harry. He fucking loves him.
"Nah," Harry says, from where he's busy mouthing at Nick's neck. "Corruption is way worse than getting off together in the back of a cab."
"Bribery, isn't it? Not corruption." His key won't turn in the lock. Not surprising, that's the back door key. He tries to find the right key in his pocket, but it's hard when Harry's hands have found their way under his jumper, cold against his skin.
"Couldn't give a fuck," Harry tells him, leaning past him to turn the key in the Yale lock first time. Smug git. "Get inside so I can blow you, come on."
"Jesus fuck," Nick manages as they fall haphazardly through the door. "God, I love you."
"Everyone loves a blowjob," Harry says, kicking the door shut behind them and backing Nick up against the wall. He doesn't bother with the pleasantries, dropping straight to his knees and shrugging off his coat even as he's nosing at Nick's dick through his jeans.
Nick helps by dropping his coat on the floor and undoing his flies, pushing his jeans down in one awkward, drunken, super-hot-he's-sure movement. His dick does a little jump of something that closely resembles joy, and Harry's still laughing even as he's taking Nick in his mouth, a burst of vibration that hums over Nick's skin.
Harry's a quick learner, by all accounts, and he's already wrapping his fist around the base of Nick's erection, even as he's going down on him.
"Christ," Nick manages, since he's never been religious but this is something close to a revelatory experience.
Harry makes a grab for his wrist, guiding him towards his hair. Nick goes easily. He's never been with anyone who liked having his hair pulled before, but as his fingers tangle in Harry's unruly curls, he can feel Harry's breathless whimper right across his dick.
Yeah, he's going to do that again.
He's also not going to last very long, because kissing for the whole duration of the taxi ride was foreplay enough, what with the whole rubbing off against each other thing. Yeah, he is probably going to regret that taxi journey in the morning. The whole day's felt like build up though, so it's incredibly easy to just give in to it, and let Harry suck him off without worrying about how easy it is to make him come.
Harry's mouth is stretched around his dick, lips spit-slick red. He's looking up at him from under long, long lashes and god—Nick's so in love. He cups Harry's cheek in his other hand, thumb stroking as Harry blows him. He wants to hold him there, feel him whimper, breathless and desperate. Because Harry's as fucked as he is, and that's partly what feels so incredible.
In the end, he almost knocks himself out tipping his head back and hitting it off the wall, but he barely notices as he starts to come. Harry doesn't catch it all and it slides over his lip and down his chin. It's—well. Nick's dreamed of this. He runs his thumb over Harry's bottom lip in almost-wonder.
"You're so good at that," he says finally, when his dick's starting to get cold.
"Compliments will get you everywhere," Harry says, from where he's sitting on the floor. He tugs on Nick's jeans, still caught around his thighs. "Take these off."
"Take yours off too, then," Nick prods at him with the toe of his boot. "It's not like you to be dressed as long as this."
Harry grins at that, and pulls his jumper over his head, dropping it on the floor next to his coat. His boots are next, and his t-shirt, and then he climbs to his feet to peel off his skinny jeans with a lot more skill than Nick just demonstrated.
He's not wearing any pants.
Nick blinks. "You didn't think to mention this at any point today?"
Harry beams. "Surprise."
"Surprise dick," Nick says, because his mouth feels strangely dry looking at Harry naked like this.
"My dick is never a surprise," Harry tells him, poking him in the side. "How come you're still dressed?"
Nick obediently takes off the rest of his clothes, until he's naked in his hall and everything feels strangely airless all of a sudden. He's not altogether sure his dick is up for anything involving action at any point in the very near future, but so long as Harry doesn't mind waiting, there's probably other stuff they could get on with in the interim.
"I like it when you're naked," Harry says, sliding his hand around Nick's waist and deliberately rolling his hips up so that his dick bumps up against Nick's. "Clothes are rubbish."
"They are," Nick agrees, although he'd agree to anything right now if it means he gets to stay this close to Harry. He still can't believe Harry's been out all day with no pants on underneath his jeans, and he'd never thought to mention it. Bastard. "You thirsty?"
"Only for you, baby."
Nick snorts. "Alcohol?"
"Go on, then." Harry's not letting go of him, though, so they end up do a weird waltz into the kitchen, stopping to kiss up against the kitchen door, the tea towel over the door knob poking him right in the back.
The impetus for getting a drink seems to be slipping a bit. Harry's erection is poking him in the hip and it's cold in the flat with nothing on. In the end he grabs the bottle of Baileys he'd brought back from his mum and dad's after Christmas and waves it in the air. "Drinks are sorted."
Harry snorts. "Glasses?"
"Are for losers." He pops the lid with his thumb and holds the bottle out. "You want some?"
Harry tilts his chin up, opens his mouth, and very deliberately sticks his tongue out.
Nick wants to run his tongue over Harry's skin until he's mapped every single inch of it. He pours a large splash of Baileys into Harry's mouth, watching Harry's throat work as he swallows it down. There's a drip he's missed, sneaking its way down his chin. Nick leans in close and catches it on his tongue.
Harry shivers. "Come to bed," he says, after a moment. He holds out his hand, and Nick can't help but take it, quiet as Harry leads him down the hall to the bedroom.
In the bedroom, Harry lets go of him long enough to close the curtains and switch the lamps on; Nick turns out the light in the hall and closes the bedroom door behind them. He's still drunk enough that the room spins a little, but he focuses his attention on Harry, and the room stills around them.
"Nick," Harry says softly, and Nick swallows, putting the Baileys down on the bedside table. Harry shifts over so the he's lying in the middle of the bed, and Nick crawls over him, pulling the duvet up and over them as he leans down to kiss him.
"What do you want?" Nick asks, his mouth a breath away from Harry's.
Harry runs his hands up Nick's arms. "I want to fuck you." He tilts his chin up so that his mouth is touching Nick's. "Want to come on your face. Touch you everywhere. Do it all."
Nick's the one shivering now, unable to help himself. The last couple of days really have felt like the two of them against the world. "You say the sweetest things."
"I know," Harry says. He grins. "You ever done body shots?"
"Sophisticated body shots."
"Don't you need like, shot glasses for that? I'm not standing up again."
"Dickhead. I just want to lick it off you."
Nick swallows. Um. "Okay."
Harry really does have a wicked grin when he wants to, especially when he's nudging Nick onto his back and reaching for the bottle. Drink really is a terrible influence, because Nick's sure this is supposed to be sexy and he just can't stop laughing. But Harry's laughing too, darting in to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth as he fumbles with the lid of the bottle.
"This is going to go everywhere," Nick points out, because the (very small) sober part of his brain is trying to point out that he's not sure if you can get Baileys out of a mattress. The last time he and Harry had got drunk together—pre-boyfriend-era—they'd got in in the middle of the night and then tried to set fire to custard powder because Harry remembered it from his science GCSE. He'd woken up in the morning to custard powder all over the kitchen and scorch marks in the sink. Good fun, though, although he probably wasn't getting his deposit back when he eventually moved out.
"All the better," Harry says, kneeling over him and holding his thumb over the neck of the bottle to stem the flow. He runs his tongue down from Nick's throat to the bottom of his rib cage, and Nick can't help but shiver at that. "Imagine if we had ice."
There is half a bag of ice in the freezer, and no doubt more in one of the drawers, hidden underneath ice cream and microwave meals, but there is no way on earth that Nick's going to get up and find it right now. "Next time," he says, and then he groans, because Harry's poured a thin line of Baileys onto Nick's stomach, and darted in to lick it up.
"How's that?" Harry asks, not waiting to hear the answer before tipping a little bit more over his fingers and onto Nick's stomach. He licks his fingers slowly, not taking his eyes off Nick.
Nick finds he doesn't give a flying fuck how much Baileys they spill on the sheets. "It's good. Great."
"Good," Harry says, amused and obnoxiously slow in licking his way over Nick's skin. "You should try it on me."
"Nrgh," Nick manages, which is proper good English considering what Harry's doing to him right now, which mostly involves running his tongue slowly and stickily down Nick's dick. He's still not hard—he's not eighteen anymore, let's just face it—but his dick makes a half-hearted attempt at trying.
"You've got a really nice dick," Harry tells him, at the same time as licking over the tip.
Nick's forgotten how to form actual words, so he doesn't even try.
Harry, the git, looks up at him from where he's doing properly indecent stuff to Nick's dick, and smirks. "You want to do me?"
Nick actually does, so holds his hand out for the bottle that Harry's still holding, and they swap places, meeting in the middle to exchange kisses. Harry rolls his hips up so that his dick presses insistently against Nick's.
"Feels good," Harry says, in between kisses, his hands in Nick's hair. Nick would throw the bottle of Baileys across the room given good enough reason, but Harry stops him with a hand to his chest. "Want you to do me."
"All right," he says, as Harry positions himself in the middle of the bed. He downs about a shot and a half in preparation, leaning in to slide his tongue over Harry's lips. Everything tastes whisky-rich and sweet.
He presses his thumb to the open lip of the bottle and tips the bottle over, the Baileys sliding out around his thumb and down over the curve of Harry's nipple. It runs in a thick rivulet over his skin, and he ducks in to catch it on his tongue, Harry groaning as Nick turns his attention to his nipple, teeth closing around it. He really likes to bite, and Harry seems to like it, judging by the way his hands have found their way into Nick's hair, holding him there.
He nips at Harry with his teeth before sitting back on his heels to pour a little more over Harry's stomach. His skin is already sticky and hot, and Nick chases the taste over his skin, moving down to turn his attention to his dick. He leans over to put the bottle down by the side of the bed, bored of body shots. He wants to make Harry come. He's getting hard again, and he can feel how he's starting to get hot again, starting to feel that curl of desire roll in his stomach.
"How do you feel about fucking me?" he asks, wrapping his fist around Harry's dick.
Harry makes a strangled, bitten-off kind of a groan and nods. "Definitely want that."
"Good," Nick says, slowly fisting Harry's dick and making an attempt at doing the same to himself. His hands are sticky, and so is his skin, and Harry sits up then, reaching for him and pulling him into a kiss.
"Where do you want me?"
"Over me," Nick says. He likes being fucked on his back, so he can see. He's always hated being kept out of the loop. He reaches for the pillows, piling them in the middle of the bed so that he can kind of prop himself up. It's maybe not the easiest position for Harry's first time, but what the fuck ever. If they can't feel their way then they're not the men Nick thinks they are. He manoeuvres himself so that he's lying down, hips in the air, and Harry reaches for the lube and the condoms on the bedside table. "Good thing we didn't bother tidying up before."
"Never tidy up," Harry says, tearing off the corner of the condom with his teeth. "It's not worth it, you just go back to where you left it, anyway."
Nick doesn't agree with that, but he's not about to start arguing. He's too busy watching Harry roll the condom down over his erection and fist his dick a couple of times, anyway. Nick echoes him on that; his dick is totally hard again.
Harry doesn't seem to be making any kind of movement towards getting Nick ready, so Nick rolls his eyes and reaches for the lube, squeezing a gloop or so out onto his fingertips. It's not like fingering himself isn't something he does for fun, anyway.
"Holy shit," Harry says, when he realises that Nick's reaching down and sliding his own fingers into his arse. "Fuck, Nick."
"Well, you weren't getting around to it," he says, and he knows he sounds almost petulant. He can feel himself flushing. He can see that Harry's getting off on watching him, and okay, Nick's had sex in his life on quite a few occasions, but he's never had quite this reaction before.
Harry's eyes go really fucking dark when he's this turned on, glitter-bright and almost-black. He splays his hand over Nick's thigh, and says, "Do you do this to yourself?"
So what if I do? Nick thinks, before he can help himself. He slides a second finger alongside the first, arching his hips up to get a better angle. "Yeah. Sometimes."
"You should do it all the time," Harry says. "And let me watch, too."
"You're watching now." Just knowing that is doing strange, upside-down things to his insides. His dick rests against his stomach, hard again.
"Another time," Harry says, fingertips grazing Nick's hip, his dick, up to his nipple. He leans in and catches Nick's bottom lip in his teeth. "Just want to watch you. Start to finish. What you do when you're by yourself."
Nick's mostly sure that doesn't include the parts where he looks up pictures of Harry on Tumblr and jerks off over them. He's usually drunk for that, though. And alone. Mostly alone. He doesn't bring it up. "Only if I get to see you," he says, already a little breathless.
Harry rolls his hips down against Nick's, one hand down between them to keep the condom in place. "Deal." He kisses him again. "You ready? Or you want me to take over?"
"Take over," Nick manages, not because he's not ready, but because he's never going to get to a point where Harry offering to finger him is going to come with a no attached. He shifts on the pillows, letting Harry take over, and wipes his lube-slick fingers on his thigh.
"Never done this before," Harry says, and Nick can feel how cautious he's being as he slides two fingers in, careful and slow, but Nick doesn't want cautious. He just—he needs.
"It's not all that—Christ, do that again—not all that different to fingering a girl."
"Like you know how to finger a girl," Harry grins, still stroking him.
"I was pretty good at it, back in the day." Nick wriggles a little, trying to push down on Harry's fingers. He almost laughs at Harry's shocked face. "Oh, come on, like you assumed I've never even tried it the other way. Of course I did, shut up. I was young once, you know, and I like to try stuff. You didn't tell me about your gay blow job. Don't fucking stop, what the fuck are you doing?"
"I'm genuinely shocked," Harry says, and he's stopped fingering him. Nick is never telling him anything again. "Wow."
"Harry. Hazza. Fuck, please."
Harry grins. "You want more?"
"Yes, you horrible thing. Of course I want more. Unless you want me to take over—"
Harry presses Nick's wrist into the sheets with the flat of his palm. "You're not taking over," he says, and Nick is all of a sudden completely devoid of breath.
"Okay," he says roughly.
Harry swallows, and loosens his grip, letting go of Nick's arm entirely. "Nick—"
"I liked it. Don't look like that. I liked it."
"Yeah," Nick says. There have been a few things over the last couple of days that have flagged themselves up as worthy of further investigation. He just doesn't want to delve into them now. He just wants his boyfriend to fuck him. He's not asking for much. "Are you going to fuck me, or what?"
Harry's smirk is back. Nick likes that smirk, even if he doesn't like that it usually means he's going to have to beg for what he wants. It's not that different to all those times Harry's driven him insane over the last however long. "What if I said, or what?"
"I wouldn't let you come on my face later," Nick tells him, as nonchalantly as he can manage. "You mentioned that, right?"
"Oh god," Harry says. "Christ." He's not making any move towards putting his dick anywhere near Nick's arse, and Nick is starting to feel like it's personal.
"Harry," he begs. "Come on, please. I love you, you're great, I think you've got brilliant hair. Just fuck me before I die of old age, come on."
Harry grins. "How's my dress sense?"
"Perfect. Amazing. Hot."
"My complete inability to pick up after myself?"
"Not a pain in the arse at all," Nick replies as promptly as he can manage, because Harry's drawing circles over Nick's skin with his fingertips. It's making him shiver. "Just please fuck me."
Harry reaches for Nick's hand, lifting it to his lips. He kisses Nick's knuckles, and Nick is suddenly, desperately aware of how in love he is. He wants to say, wow, and melt into the sheets. The way that Harry can do that to him is incredible.
"Fuck me," he says softly, and Harry nods.
It takes a moment to arrange themselves, Nick saying—no, try this, move that, there, that's, that's—and groaning as he can feel the gentle pressure of Harry's dick up against his arse.
The slide in is just as great a feeling as it always has been for him. Nick really, really loves being fucked. He loves how full it makes him feel, and how intense and hot it always is. He's loved it from the very first time he had a dick in his arse and his world had turned upside down as he'd asked for more.
He slides his hands up Harry's arms, desperate to have some other link to him that isn't his dick. Harry's already breathless, groaning his appreciation out loud as he slides further inside of him, Nick bracing himself either side of Harry's thighs. He rolls his hips up to try and get a better angle, and yes, there's no way he's not going to have muscles he doesn't normally use complaining in the morning, but he fucking loves that. He really fucking loves that.
"God, you feel—" Harry's breath catches. "You feel so good."
It's hardly poetry, but Nick's brain has checked out for the duration too, and all he can think is, yes, yes, yes.
He tips his head back and lets himself be fucked.
It's a while before he remembers he's got a dick he can jerk off (seriously, he and his brain are going to be having words after this), and he slides his hand down between them both to wrap his fist around his dick. Harry is flushed and sweat-slick, fucking into him, his fingers leaving bruises on Nick's hip. He's desperate and breathless, and he's not looking anywhere but at Nick, and the way their gazes are locked is seriously the most intimate thing that Nick's ever done. His heart is somersaulting.
"I think I'm going to come," Harry tells him, his rhythm shifting sideways into something disjointed and out of time. "I'm close."
"Yeah," Nick says, fisting himself faster. He's not there yet, but he's near. "You're so fucking amazing."
Harry laughs at that, a choked-off breathless laugh that catches as he gasps, hips rocking up. He starts to come, and part of Nick wishes there wasn't a condom between them. He just wants to feel. And the noises that Harry's making as he tips his head back; breathless whimpers, tiny gasps as he slows down, his dick sliding out of Nick's arse.
Nick fists his dick and cups his balls with his other hand. He rolls his hips and wraps his legs around Harry's waist and just fucks up into his fist. He's so close he can taste his orgasm with every breath; he cries out Harry's name as he starts to come, dick pulsing.
Harry fumbles his way down onto the sheets next to him, and covers Nick's mouth with his own. Nick can barely breathe, chest heaving, and Harry doesn't move, one hand cupping Nick's cheek, eyes closed.
It's a while before he rolls away. Nick's sweaty and a mess and covered in come. He watches as Harry peels off his condom and ties it off in a knot before chucking it in the waste bin. He's already sleepy, but he's fucking disgusting. "I need to shower," he says, but he really can't be bothered to move. He makes a cursory attempt at wiping himself down with a tissue, dropping it over the side of the bed with a frown.
Harry grins at that, slow and sleepy. He rolls onto his side, his dick brushing Nick's thigh. "Showers are for losers," he says, pressing a kiss to Nick's cheek. "Let's just do it in the morning."
"You're the laziest fucking shit I've ever met," Nick tells him. He nuzzles his way into the curve of Harry's shoulder as they pull the covers up and over them both. He hooks his leg over Harry's to keep him close.
"Says you," Harry tells him, licking at Nick's throat. "You taste like booze."
Nick kisses him. "You taste like Irish cream."
"The temptation to make a Niall joke right now is pretty big, not going to lie," Harry says, pressing himself even closer. Nick wasn't even sure that was possible.
The lamp is still on, but Nick can't be bothered to roll away to turn it off. "Tell me it in the morning," he says softly, but Harry's already half asleep.
"Uh-huh," he mumbles, eyes closed, and Nick rubs his nose against his. "Love you."
Nick smiles at that, unable to help himself. "Shut up, you tosser." He snuggles down under the covers. "Although I might like you a little bit right back."
Harry just wraps an arm around him, and holds him there, pressed together under the covers. "Dickhead," he says softly, and Nick closes his eyes.
Where are you????
Nick's phone vibrates just as he's in the middle of checking out a fucking awesome t-shirt with Britney's face on it in a dingy little shop somewhere in the vicinity of Shoreditch High Street Overground. It's thirty-five quid though, and that's peanuts apart from how the shirt is already almost see-through. Wearing a Britney t-shirt semi-ironically is one thing, doing it with your nips on show is another. Regretfully he returns it to the hanger and taps out a text to Harry with his other hand.
Not buying a Britney t-shirt :( how was the interview?
Harry had left early that morning, ostensibly hungover and tired, to go meet the journalist from Heat for his coming out interview. Nick—also hungover and tired—had looked like he'd spent the night in a stable with straw for a blanket, whereas Harry's hangover was disguised by the fact that Harry looked perfect, as per fucking usual. Seriously, they'd had the same amount of alcohol yesterday, but Nick still looked like he'd slept in a doorway, even after a restorative shower that had lasted a good half hour, and a handful of Alka Seltzer. Harry had woken up looking bleary at worst. He'd wrapped himself in the duvet and sat at the kitchen table cocooned in blankets whilst Nick had made them both tea and groaned at the general existence of mornings after the nights before, but three quarters of a cup of tea and he was almost fully recovered.
Part of Nick savagely wishes for the day that Harry's hangovers turn up, and then he'll know just what it feels like to wake up and wish for death. However, until then, he's quite willing to ride out his hangover with a bacon sandwich from the caff by Aimee's place, and a wander round the shops. Aimee—whose night had apparently ended a long time after Nick and Harry's, judging by her inability to form sentences even now—had accepted his gift of a bacon sandwich when he'd turned up at her door, and then told him to fuck off until her hangover had stopped hammering nails into her skull.
Hence the wandering around the shops and almost-panic-buying Britney t-shirts.
His phone rings just as he's wandering out of the Britney shop in search of new ways to spend his cash. It's Harry.
"Hey," he says, answering it with a deliberately flamboyant swipe of his thumb. "How's tricks?"
"Nicholas," Harry says patiently. "Nicholas, where the fuck are you?"
"Shoreditch," he says. "Well, probably closer to Hoxton. Or Old Street. It's possible I'm a bit lost." He's not got the greatest sense of direction at the best of times, but he'd sort of lost concentration a bit earlier on and now he isn't exactly sure where he is. It wasn't his fault that thinking about having sex with Harry was distracting. "That's your fault, by the way."
"Baby," Harry says, and the slow way he says it makes Nick realise, all of a sudden, that he's in trouble. "You do realise that there are journalists from like, every newspaper and magazine turning up right now at the restaurant, so that you and me and the lads can nonchalantly turn up at the same place at the same time, and that we have to have lunch soon so that the lads can fuck off home to their friends before the fucking fireworks start? And you're not here?"
"Um," Nick says carefully. "Did you ever actually say I was invited to lunch? Because I'm fairly sure I would have remembered that. And I definitely would have worn a better t-shirt."
There's a short pause. "Oh god," Harry says. "Really?"
"Really," Nick says, eyeing up a checked shirt in the window of the next shop along and wondering if it's any better at covering up last night's hangover than the one he's actually wearing.
"Um," Harry says. "You're invited? And expected. And, um, everybody's on their way. So you should probably forget that I forgot to tell you I wanted you here, and um, get here."
Harry is very, very good at hiding how he's feeling under general circumstances, except for when he gets upset, and right now there's the hint of desperation in his voice.
"You okay?" Nick asks, pushing the door open to the shop and grabbing the checked shirt from the rail by the window. He gives the size a cursory glance and takes it over to the counter.
"No?" Harry says. Nick can hear the sound of a door opening and closing, and then the background noise gets quieter. "Have you any idea how much time and effort everyone's put into this? And how far everyone's had to travel? Niall's plane was delayed, and Louis and Zayn are stuck in traffic, and I forgot to fucking tell you, and Liam's going to be here in a minute, and I can't. Nick, I can't—"
Nick knows. "I'll get a taxi," he says, entering his pin number and grabbing his carrier bag without once making eye contact with the girl behind the counter. "Tell me where I'm supposed to be."
"I'm at Nina's office, and Liam's coming here. The others were supposed to be coming here too, but now we're all going to meet there instead. Meet us there? We were supposed to be going to this seafood restaurant that Nina fancied, but apparently the others all staged a revolution and we're going for burgers instead. There had better be fucking cocktails the size of my head, that's all I'm saying."
Nick doesn't want to think about alcohol for at least another hour. "Tell me where I'm supposed to be, I'll get a taxi."
"I'll get Nina to text it to you, hang on." A door opens, then closes, and then Nick can hear Harry asking someone to send the address.
"Thanks." He stands on the edge of the pavement and peers both ways looking for a taxi. Obviously there aren't any, because the universe is out to get him. He puts his arm in the air in a vague attempt at wishing a taxi into existence with the power of his brain. Bizarrely, it works, and a black cab pulls over.
He climbs in, and then has to suffer the indignity of not having a clue where he's supposed to be going. At least that makes Harry laugh at the end of the phone—an achievement that Nick likes to think of as his secret life plan—and then his message alert buzzes and he can hold the phone out for the cabbie to read.
He's not that great at judging distances, but he reckons he has about twenty minutes at least in the cab, so he doesn't rush into changing his shirt. He just stays on the phone with Harry instead, telling him about the Britney top until Harry doesn't sound like he's about to jump off the edge of a cliff. Harry's pretty good at taking things in his stride normally—much better than Nick, actually, because Nick is a secret stress-head if allowed to be—but Nick's watched the past few weeks turn Harry back to front and upside down. They really need a few days where there's nobody following them, nobody engineering how to spin their relationship, nobody writing about them in the press. A pipe dream, but whatever.
"Is Liam there yet?" Nick asks. He doesn't want to hang up and leave Harry to deal with this by himself. This might just be the kind of photo op that he's had to go through a thousand times—turn up, smile for the cameras, hug his band, have them hug him back—but today is New Year's Eve, and everyone had plans with their families and friends, and just because Harry and Nick want to be together, everyone's had to turn their plans upside down. It's crap for Nick, so he can only imagine how crap it is for everyone else.
"I think his car's just pulled up downstairs," Harry says. "I'm trying to see out of the window, but I can't. Yeah, hang on—" There's the sound of a door opening, and then a lot of noise that Nick doesn't recognise, and the phone gets all muffled. Liam's arrived, then.
"Hiya, mate," Liam says, grabbing the phone. "Happy New Year!"
"It's not the new year yet, Chick," Nick says. "Save it for tomorrow."
Liam just laughs. He sounds genuinely happy to be talking to Nick, and that's a weight Nick didn't know he was carrying lifting off his shoulders.
"Sorry to drag you all the way down here."
"Don't worry about it," Liam says. "You think I'm going to complain about getting to see my guys? And you, obviously."
Nick laughs at that. He likes all of Harry's band, but he's not going to pretend he's one of them. "Great. And thanks. For coming down." Not like it was a choice for any of them, but at least Liam sounds happy about it.
"Anytime, mate. Look, Harry wants the phone back, so we'll see you in a bit, yeah?"
"Yeah," Nick says, but Liam's already gone, and Harry's back.
"We're going now," Harry tells him. "How far away are you?"
"No idea. You know I've got the sense of direction of a teabag."
Harry just snorts at that. "What am I even doing with you?"
Nick really, really doesn't know the answer to that. "I have no idea."
"See you in a bit," Harry says, after a moment.
Nick nods, and Harry rings off.
The restaurant is an upmarket, trying to be cool version of TGI Friday's. Nick had heard about it from someone who was trying to assure him that they did the best burgers in London, but he hadn't paid that much attention. This was the same person who made him queue up for two hours to get into MEATLiquor though, and Nick only likes paying for people to be rude to him if he's buying clothes. He's not up for it if all he's getting out of it is bad lighting and a burger and chips. Anyway, he's not the hugest fan of places like TGI's, but then, he's not here for the food.
The road outside the restaurant is crowded with photographers; there's an actual roped off area where he suspects the restaurant usually has an outside seating area when the weather isn't cold enough to freeze your knackers off. Harry had told him that Nina's office had sent some of her team down to organise things at this end, and Nick can see them by the entrance to the restaurant, iPads in hand. He's sure people used to do things with actual clipboards. Anyway, they look freezing. Not quite as cold as Harry's band, who are all there, wrapped up in stupid, big coats and carrying Harry like he's fucking Cleopatra or something. The photographers are eating it up. How Harry always looks so easy even when he's been heaved about like a sack of spuds is beyond Nick.
"You sure this is where you want to be?" The cabbie asks, trying to find a place to pull in. They end up in a space further down the road. "Looks like there's something going on."
Nick glances over at the minders by the restaurant entrance, the PR and publicity team, the girls blocking up the pavement and being kept back from the boys by yet more minders. The mountain of photographers, and then in the middle of it all, Harry and the lads, mugging it up for the cameras to show they're still a band, and that Harry liking dick isn't the beginning of the end.
It's just a beginning.
"I'm in the right place," he says, grabbing his carrier bag with his t-shirt in, and checking his shirt is done up right. He hands over the fare and doesn't wait for change. Okay, he thinks, and opens the car door.
They don't notice him until he's right by them, on the pavement by the minders and the fans. It's a murmur at first, a whisper that turns into something louder: It's Nick. Nick gives them an awkward wave, hidden behind a fake smile, and then doesn't know whether to barge right into the photo op or not. He hovers a little anxiously just behind the minders, trying to make eye contact with someone in the publicity team.
It's all for nothing though, because when the boys see him, they all but drop Harry on the floor and then crowd around him, drawing him into a hug that's all boys and arms and probably mostly for the purposes of the cameras. Niall's all but climbing onto his back, and Liam's shaking his hand, and Louis's pressed against his side, Zayn trying to wrap an arm around his shoulders.
"Hands off, lads, I'm taken," he says, loud enough for the photographers to hear, because behind them he can see Harry. Harry, who's wearing a new beanie, grey and cable knit and floppy. He's in his long coat, belted like a fucking fashionista, a thick scarf around his neck. At least two of those items he wasn't wearing when he left the flat that morning. He's smiling at Nick like Nick's hung the fucking moon, and Nick is never, ever going to get over how amazing that makes him feel. "Hi," he says, holding his hand out.
"Hi," Harry says, and he takes Nick's hand. Nick isn't sure what he was expecting, or planning, but he's not sure that this is it. He bites his lip to keep from smiling, but he can't help it, it sneaks out anyway. Harry just laughs, but doesn't look away. His eyes are bright. Neither of them move.
"Aw," Liam says, interrupting their ridiculous staring competition and slinging his arm around Nick's shoulders, hugging him. "Aren't you two cute?"
"No," Harry says, as the lads make just enough room around Nick for Harry to engineer his way in, and then to lean in and press a kiss to Nick's cheek. "We're not cute."
Louis makes a face. "You are," he says, mugging for the camera. Nick had almost—almost—forgotten the cameras were there, even over the noise of the shutters and the relentless camera flashes. He pastes on the best smile he can. Smiling at Harry is one thing. Smiling for the cameras is another.
"Thanks for this," Harry says, in an undertone.
Nick just grins. "Love a photo op, me. All right, boys?" He waves at the cameras, trying not to show his nerves. He's just taken Harry Styles off the market, and even though he assumes Nina is extremely good at heading up the team she's got working on Harry and the boys, Nick's still not exactly sure what this all means. "And girls. Hello, girls."
"How about one of all of you?" one of the photographers asks, and Nina herself—who probably usually sends minions, Nick's pretty sure—waves them into a line. Somehow Nick ends up letting go of Harry's hand, and then he ends up at one end of the One Direction line, and Harry at the other. Niall's next to him, and he wraps an arm around Nick's waist and digs his fingers into Nick's side.
"Just so you know," Niall says in an undertone, plastering a grin on his face and winking at him. "If you screw this up, I'll break both your arms. And Liam will get your legs."
"I will not," Liam says from the other side of Niall, without looking away from the wall of cameras. The sound of the flashes is enough to drown what they're saying. Hopefully. "Louis will. Or Zayn. I'm rubbish at duffing people up."
Nick blinks. "Didn't you box?" He's picked stuff up. He knows shit.
"To defend myself," Liam tells him, still grinning at the cameras. "Beating you up isn't defence."
"No, that's fun." Niall has a really evil grin when he wants to. Nick's not going to like him anymore, because he's enjoying this too much, the git.
Harry breaks away then, forcing a change in their line-up. "Nobody is beating anyone up," he says as he grabs Nick's hand, engineering it so that the two of them are in the middle, the others around them. He's grinning wide, and even Nick isn't that sure how fake it is. When they put their arms around each other to line up, Harry slides a hand into the small of Nick's back, palm flat under his jacket. His hand's shaking.
The smile's at least partly fake, then. He's good at hiding that. Nick strokes his thumb over Harry's hip, hoping Harry can feel it through his winter layers. Harry bumps his knee against Nick's.
"How do you feel about Harry's new boyfriend?" One of the journalists asks. Two of Nina's team have appeared by the rope-line, clearly managing the questions. This is the sneakiest press conference that Nick's ever been involved in. Nina has a lot to answer for—Harry had told him yesterday that he'd deliberately said no to a press conference, and had settled for the photo op as an alternative. Nick fixes his hand more securely around Harry's waist, and tries to blink away the flashes from all the pictures. He bumps his shoulder into Harry's and hopes that accurately signals that he's there for him, even now, in a falsely-impromptu press conference that neither he nor Harry agreed to participate in.
"We're really happy for them both," Louis says loudly, from the other side of Niall. "We all are."
"Yeah," Niall agrees. "Harry's our best friend, and who he dates really shouldn't be a big deal."
"Did you know he was gay before this?" one of the other journalists butts in.
Everywhere he's touching him, Nick can feel the quivering tension that Harry's trying so desperately to hide.
"Bisexual," Harry blurts out, and then when everyone's attention turns to him, he shrugs awkwardly. "Bisexual, not gay. Not that there's anything wrong with being gay. My boyfriend—who is brilliant, by the way—is gay. I'm bisexual, though."
Nick tries to concentrate on something other than Harry calling him brilliant. Or his boyfriend. It's tough.
"Same thing, innit?" one of the photographers says.
Nick does a blindingly good job of not pointing out how stupid the photographer is.
"Well, no," Harry points out helpfully. The you're an idiot thankfully goes unsaid. Calling the press stupid isn't exactly the way to their hearts. Unfortunately.
"Well, did you know? Before?" The journalist from before, awkwardly wearing a t-shirt even though it's freeze your bollocks off cold, waves his notebook in the air at the rest of Harry's band.
"We all knew," Zayn says, shooting them both a grin. Nick has literally zero idea how true that is, because he'd got the texts over Christmas from a drunk Harry after he'd told them he was bi, but potentially Harry's as bad at hiding his feelings as the press thinks Nick is. That's probably closer to the truth. Maybe it really wasn't difficult to figure out that Harry liked boys as well as girls.
"We all knew," Louis echoes, "and none of us care. We're really happy for them both, and Nick's a great friend of ours, so we're doubly happy."
"And now," Liam says, and Nick can see him ignoring Nina's frown, "we want to say thank you for coming—especially as it's so cold, and it's New Year's Eve—but we have to get inside now, otherwise we'll be keeping everyone waiting."
"Give him a kiss, first, Harry," one of the photographers calls, and it's taken up by the rest of them, loud and insistent.
"Um," Nick says, and then Harry's turning to him, smile wide, and Nick still isn't entirely sure if that's fake or not, but Harry's touching his hand to Nick's cheek, and drawing him in, rubbing his nose against Nick's.
"Hi," Harry says, and Nick laughs at that, unable to help himself. He's the one who nudges that little bit closer, and kisses him.
It's not down there with the worst kisses of his life, but he can't help but be a bit shaken by the sheer number of camera flashes that are going off all around them, and the screams of the girls by the road, and the calls of the journalists. He grabs on to Harry's arms to steady himself, and holds on for dear life.
He tries, jolted, not to give himself away, but then Niall, Liam, Zayn, and Louis are all joining in and plastering kisses to his cheek, his hair, and—Liam—the top of his head.
"Gerroff!" he says, laughing because the boys are stupid, and even though Harry's holding on to him really hard, grip like steel, he's grinning too. "Thanks, nice journalists and photographers."
"Thank you, and Happy New Year," the lads chorus, and then they're trooping inside, past Nina's team of publicists and into the warm, dark embrace of the restaurant.
"Fuck, you'd better be worth it," Niall says, under his breath as they go inside. The fact that Niall appears to be pissed off at him is a jolt, because out of all of them after Harry, Nick had considered him and Niall to be the closest. "Look at how much shit he's going through for you."
Nick's confusion must show on his face, because Niall just rolls his eyes and takes his elbow, steering him inside.
The waiter shows them into the empty bar and Nina gestures the barman out of the room.
"For fuck's sake," Harry says, once the doors have finally closed behind them. Luckily the windows are tinted, so the sudden exhaustion that flashes across his face is hidden from the photographers' view.
"Did you know that was going to happen?" Louis asks Nina angrily. He does a very good impression of someone with sort of relaxed body language, even though he's clearly as angry as Nick's ever seen him. They have learnt something from being photographed so much, obviously. "Photo op, you said. Not a press conference. If Liam hadn't have stopped that, how long was it supposed to go on for?"
Nina doesn't flinch. "You think people are just going to stop thinking that the two of them sleeping together is weird? This takes work. You want the media on your side, if you want to stop the negative press, so if that means you answer a few questions about how normal you find all of this, then that's what I'll do. So you can stop being furious, all of you. My job is to bring attention to your band, but it has to be the right kind. I thought I made it clear to you, Harry, that you sleeping with a thirty year old man is not the easiest story to spin."
Nick freezes. He doesn't look at any of them, and he certainly doesn't look at Harry.
"If the two of you are going to get the press on your side, then we have to work with them, and yes, that's going to be a pain in the arse for a while. So stop pulling faces, because none of this is my fault." She smiles, and on Nina, who's totally fucking fierce, it's almost scarier than her frown. "It won't be forever, but keep it together now. And you did well, boys. Now, eat, drink and be merry, and don't do anything too rude as I'm going to let a couple of the photographers in to take pictures whilst you eat. You've got five minutes whilst I cherry pick my three favourite reporters and bring them in and get them sat down somewhere they can take pictures, so have a drink. I'll send the barman back in."
Nick doesn't exactly know what to do with his hands right now, or where to look. He can't look at Harry. He waits until the door has closed behind her before he looks at the others and grins. This one's definitely fake. "Everything's fine. What's everyone want to drink?"
"Nick—" Harry says, sliding his hand into Nick's.
"I'm not thirty," he finds himself saying. He really hates confrontation, and he hates fighting, but Harry had told him that he wasn't getting any extra shit for being with him, and that had been a lie.
"It doesn't matter, Hazza. It's fine. Who's drinking what? I'll get them." He's ignoring the fact the barman hasn't come back in yet. At this rate, he'll have to go behind the bar and serve them himself. He could do that. He's been in enough bars in his life. How hard can it be?
"They can get their own drinks," Harry says, as everyone else tries to look like they're not watching them sort-of maybe not really but possibly fight. Liam at least tries to divert attention by getting Zayn in a headlock for the sake of the people watching them through the window into the restaurant. Harry pulls Nick into the corner, which puts an entire extra three feet between them and the rest of Harry's band. Three feet makes all the difference, you know.
"Harry," Nick says. He's—he doesn't know what to do. Niall's frustration, and Louis' anger, and Harry shaking in front of the photographers—this isn't stuff he's equipped to deal with.
"I thought you said I wasn't going to be a problem for you. I asked you. I told you I didn't want to fuck things up for you. I told you I wasn't going to be that person for you." He doesn't know whether he did, actually, because he can't remember what he said and what he didn't say, but the point is, he doesn't want to be that person for Harry. He doesn't want to make Harry's life any more complicated than it already is.
"I didn't want you to worry," Harry tells him. "You don't deserve any of this. You haven't done anything wrong. I told you I'd protect you from all of this shit."
Nick lets out a long, careful breath. Harry had said that. Nick even remembers him doing it. He is, however, fucking rubbish at arguing with people. "You don't need to protect me," he says. "I can look after myself." He relents, because Harry looks exhausted. "And I can look after you too, you idiot. I could actually get quite on board with that."
Harry manages half a laugh at least. "Fuck," he says. "Fuck, I need to go to the loo."
Nick rolls his eyes. "Go on," he says. His anger, flared up and furious, has leaked away. It just leaves him in an empty bar with Harry's band.
"Don't break up with me whilst I'm gone," Harry tells him, and it sounds like a joke, but it isn't, and Nick knows that.
"Yeah, like that's going to happen." The barman's come back in now, which is probably good because Zayn and Liam are about three seconds from causing some kind of disaster. They're good at deferring attention away from Nick and Harry, at least. The way Liam's just winked at him suggests that it's on purpose. "I'll get you a drink."
Harry squeezes his hand, and disappears out of the door and into the restaurant.
Nick lets out a breath, and goes over to the bar to get the drinks in.
"Mine's a pint," Niall says, coming to stand by him.
"Gotcha," Nick says. "What's everyone else having?" The others shout their orders, and Nick adds a couple of Morgan's Spiced and Diet Cokes for him and Harry. This whole meal is probably going on expenses, but Nick hands over his card for the drinks anyway.
Niall bumps his hip against Nick's. "He'll try and look after all of this by himself if you'll let him," he says.
Nick nods. "I know."
"So, don't let him."
"Definitely not my intention." Nick puts his pin in to the card machine and hands it back to the barman, who's doing a good job of not looking all that interested in the fact One Direction are systematically destroying his bar. He relents, because Harry's band is more like family, and they have the stupid fucking tattoos to prove it. "I never wanted this to be a mess, you know."
"Yeah," Niall says. His drink arrives first, and he takes a long swallow before holding it up to clink against Nick's rum and coke. "Drinks are up, lads. Get 'em down you."
"Thanks, Nick," Louis says, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.
"Thanks, Nick," Liam says, reaching for his drink and patting Nick on the head, flattening his quiff.
"Thanks, Nick," Zayn says, ruffling his hair.
Little bastards, all of them. Niall just points and laughs. It's better than being warned to look after Harry. Like Nick's intentions are anything other than that, ever.
When Harry comes back in, Nick holds his arm out and Harry slips underneath it, wrapping an arm around his waist.
"You didn't break up with me, then?" he says lightly, reaching for his drink.
Nick presses a kiss to Harry's temple. They do actually have to talk about this; he's not stupid. He'll put it off as long as he can possibly can, because that's the kind of brave adult he is, but he's not going anywhere. "If you could just let people know that I'm not thirty, that would be great. I'm not sure my skin can take all of this abuse."
"Not thirty, got it," Harry says. "Hey, we could get t-shirts."
"Oh my god," Nick says. "A pair: I'm twenty-eight and he's not thirty. Nina would probably keel over."
Harry just grins, and puts his drink back down on the bar.
Nick wraps both of his arms around him, and ignores the whoops of Harry's band as Harry kisses him.
Lunch goes better than he imagined after that. They don't see hide nor hair of Nina once they've sat down, for a start. The boys are fun—just like they always are, but he'd sort of forgotten that in the pre-meal horror of the journalists and the tension in the bar—and they make Harry laugh, which endears them to him again immediately. The restaurant is busy and people keep staring at them for being too loud and for throwing chips at each other, but he can't bring himself to care. Harry's pressed against his side, nicking chips off his plate and hooking his ankle around Nick's under the table. Each of the boys in turn threatens Nick with dismemberment if he fucks Harry over, which is nice, if a little macabre. The boys are supposed to be sweet and fluffy, like puppies. Even taking that into consideration, they're still fairly good at listing ways in which they're going to make Nick hurt. It turns into a game of one-upmanship, which is only slightly terrifying once they start taking him apart limb by limb in increasingly ghoulish ways.
In the end, he holds his hands up and swears that he's not going to hurt Harry unless Harry asks him to, which makes Harry blush (another thing that's worthy of investigation, Nick realises, adding it to a mental list), and then Harry tells them all to shut up and tell him about their Christmases instead, which takes a good forty minutes as they all list the brilliant things they've bought for every member of each of their families.
Nick always forgets how generous Harry's band is. Nick's friends are great, and he loves them—fuck, he loves them—but Harry's band always seem caught up in what they can get for other people rather than what they can buy for themselves. His friends are used to their money, is probably the thing, whereas Harry's band are newly minted—Harry excepted, although Harry's generous to a fault too—and loving it.
It's nice, actually.
The record company is picking up the tab, so he gets three courses, even though it means he's going to have to be in the gym for the next thirty-six hours straight just to work off the burger alone. He gets it piled high with bacon and guacamole and cheese and a gherkin; his side of onion rings come on a spike that looks like the kind of thing that you keep a kitchen roll on. Either that or an oddly shaped dildo. Mindful of the reporters sitting somewhere in the restaurant and that Harry's still shaken by their run in with Nina, no matter how much he tries to hide it, Nick keeps that one to himself. He orders three jugs of cocktails instead, and Niall's obviously got the same idea, because he waves down the waiter for beers all round.
"What time's your flight?" Nick asks Niall, once he's left pushing the remains of his chips around his plate and eating the bacon out of the remains of his bap. Harry's still eating, bottomless pit that he is, but he obnoxiously shows Nick the contents of his mouth.
He's feeling better, then.
He kicks Harry under the table and goes back to ignoring him and talking to Niall instead.
"Couple of hours," Niall says, but he doesn't seem that bothered by the prospect of missing his flight. The responsibility for catching it doesn't lie with Niall, though, so Nick can understand not caring all that much. If he misses it, the record company will organise something else. Must be nice to have someone else run everything. "You want one of these beers?"
Nick's never been a beer drinker. "You have it," he says. "I'll have your cocktail instead."
"Deal," Niall says. "What are you two doing tonight?"
Nick shrugs. He had a couple of options for parties tonight. He always has a couple of options for parties, even though his closest friends are in Puerto Rico, living it up. It's New Year's Eve, though, and he's just turned Harry Styles gay. His phone is full of options. The only one he's actually going to be going to is the one Nina's got them tickets for, though.
"Nina's sending us to this charity event," Harry says, making a face. "I have to get on stage and auction something off."
"Better not be me, that's all I'm saying," Nick says, to cover up the fact he's pissed off. He's tired of being spun already, but as he can't be as tired of it as Harry, he shuts the fuck up. "I don't look good wrapped up like a present."
"I don't know," Harry says, sliding his hand over Nick's thigh. "I don't have a problem unwrapping you."
Louis, Zayn, Niall and Liam dissolve into laughter. Nick buries his face in his hands.
Harry just winks at him, and squeezes his thigh. "Hey, I've remembered something else great about this evening. We're going to be in Hello. They're covering the event."
"Life goal eighty-seven: realised." It's a lie, Nick's never wanted to be in Hello.
"And Katherine Jenkins is singing."
This evening is sounding better and better. It's going to be Nick's best New Year's Eve yet. Admittedly he gets to take Harry Styles home at the end of it, so maybe it actually will be. He's just not convinced by the charity shindig. But maybe he just hadn't considered how great it might be spending his New Year's Eve at some charity party being photographed by Hello. He'd sort of wanted to get off his tits on shit cocktails and bring the new year in snogging Harry's face off. His life aims were small and manageable. "Do I have to wear a suit?" He's absolutely presenting the Elle Style Awards in February; he can carry off a suit with aplomb. Usually he needs a bit of extra time to prepare, though. It's already the afternoon.
"Maybe it won't be as bad as we're imagining." Harry makes a face.
Nick leans in and kisses Harry's temple, hoping he's not giving away just how little he wants to go to anything Nina thinks is a good idea. "It'll be great," he says, because Harry hadn't exactly asked for this. Neither of them had. The others are all watching them sympathetically.
He wonders where it's all going to stop.
In the end, they end up doing a lot of hugging and terribly butch fist bumps in the restaurant entrance whilst a couple of photographers stand in front of them with aggressively loud camera shutters. The car Niall's taking to the airport is registering its distaste at cutting checking in so close to the bone; it's beeping its horn increasingly objectionably. The others all have to go too, their New Year's Eve plans all edging closer, but they wave Niall off and don't make any move to leave themselves, other than to move in for more hugs. Louis hangs off Nick's neck and when Harry's off having his picture taken whilst being hugged by Liam and Zayn, he leans in and says, "Do you think he's okay?"
Nick waves his hand in the air. "He's doing okay," he says quietly. "Don't know how long for if this carries on, though. Can you get Nina to lay off? Just a bit?"
"I'll try," Louis says.
Nina shepherds the photographers away then, leaving the rest of them to say good bye by themselves.
Nick catches Harry's eye over the top of Louis' head, before ruffling Louis' hair. "Thanks for coming, guys. I know it's been a right pain in the arse."
"Worth it to see you," Liam says loyally.
Harry wraps an arm around Nick's waist. "Sorry," he says. "This is a load of crap."
Zayn shakes his head. "Don't be sorry, dickhead. This isn't on you." He kisses Harry's forehead, and then Nick's, coming back to Harry and cupping his face in his hands. "When we said we didn't care, and that we're happy for you, we meant it. We love you. Dickhead."
"Dickhead," Louis echoes, and even Liam smiles, draping an arm over Louis and Zayn's shoulders.
When they finally go, Nick follows Harry into the cab that's taking them back to Nick's, and lets Harry curl into his side.
"So," Nick says, wrapping his arms around Harry and kissing the top of his head. "That went well."
Harry snorts, and presses closer. "Thanks," he says finally.
"Don't break up with me. I swear it'll get less crap, going out with me."
"It's not crap now," Nick tells him, even though it is, just a little bit. The bits where they're public property. He's not a huge fan of those bits. The bits where he's not doing Harry's public image any favours. Those bits aren't great either.
"Liar," Harry says, his voice muffled against Nick's shirt. "But seriously. I promise. Better."
Nick strokes at Harry's neck with his fingertips, just to feel Harry shiver. Harry tilts his chin up, and Nick ducks down to press a kiss to his mouth. "You're worth any amount of shit, Styles," he says, which is approximately the most romantic declaration he's ever made. He's fucking Shakespeare, that's what he is.
"You say the sweetest things," Harry says, and then he smiles. It almost meets his eyes.
For that smile—the real one, not the fake one—Nick thinks he'll go to any amount of rubbish New Year's Eve parties.
"So, um," Nick says, trying to straighten his tie in the bathroom mirror over Harry's shoulder. They have to leave soon, but obviously they're both running late. The fact that neither of them particularly want to go to this charity thing isn't exactly making them up their game.
"Yes, um?" Harry's shaving over the sink, already in his suit trousers, but barefoot. He tilts his chin up, throat bared, one last swipe of the razor, and something about it goes straight to Nick's dick. He doesn't lean in and run his fingers over Harry's skin, but it's a close run thing. Harry turns the tap on to run his razor under it.
"I've been meaning to say this, and, well." Nick leans back against the radiator, and tries not to notice that Harry's hand has stilled. The water's still running. He meets Nick's eyes in the mirror. "You don't have to be faithful to me, you know. I'm not going to stop you being who you are, or anything. I haven't said it before because it never seemed like the right time, but I wanted to say it, so that you knew, and, um, this seemed as good a time as ever."
Harry turns the tap off, and drops his razor into the sink. "What?" There's still shaving foam along his jaw, and instead of washing it off, he wipes it on Nick's towel, throwing it somewhere in the vicinity of the edge of the bath. It falls short, and lands on the floor. "What the fuck?"
"Oh, come on, Harold. I know you'll be away a lot, and the tour's coming up, and there's bound to be a million girls—and boys—who want into your pants, and all I'm saying is that I totally get that because I'm one of them. And it's like if you were put in a room full of chocolate bars and didn't think you could eat any of them, because you've got a Toblerone waiting at home. I can't expect you to not say yes to at least some of them. Once or twice. A chocolate bar isn't going to like, ruin your dinner, or whatever. A Milky Way is supposed to be a snack in between meals. The red car and the blue car had a race, right?"
It's an advert reference that goes over Harry's head, clearly. He's looking at Nick like he's suddenly grown an extra head, which would be weird in itself except that Harry's looking like Nick's gone crazy, and Nick had sort of assumed that Harry would be all for this chocolate-free-for-all plan. He should stop talking, but part of his great problem in life is a complete inability to stop talking when he really should tape his mouth shut and pretend conversations had never happened.
"All I'm saying is, if that happens, you don't have to keep it a secret from me. You can do that—eat the chocolate—and tell me, and I'll be okay with it." The level to which Nick is sure that he will be okay with it is pretty low, he knows, but Harry is eighteen, and gorgeous, and likes putting his penis places. Right now he likes putting it where Nick is, but Nick's not going to pretend that Harry's going to be willing to abstain the whole duration of a tour, or whatever. And Nick's always been a lousy pragmatist, but he's at least trying to stop himself being hurt when he opens a magazine in four months' time and sees Harry all over some girl in a club.
"Seriously," Harry says slowly, and the extent to which he's looking at Nick like he's grown an extra head hasn't lessened at all. "Have you gone insane? Is this you wanting to sleep with other people?"
"God, no." Nick makes a face. "I'm shit at relationships. If I manage to keep from screwing you and me up for two weeks then that'll be a new world record. I'm pretty sure if I manage to keep from screwing us up tonight then I should be in line for some kind of medal. I'm rubbish with guys, you know that. This is my way of keeping you, idiot. I know, like, you'll be off on tour soon, and you'll be surrounded by a million people who want to sleep with you, and they will all be really hot and know a hundred exciting ways to have sex that aren't just lying down and in bed, and I know that's going to be impossible to resist. I don't want you to be in a room full of chocolate you want to eat but feel guilty about because you're with me."
Harry is still looking at him strangely. "This is your way of keeping me?"
"Yes," Nick goes on. He hopes the duh is obvious. He might be pretty fabulous, but he's also semi-neurotic and almost thirty and way too in love with getting up stupidly early to play records on the radio to be Harry's idea of perfection. And Harry is eighteen. And hot. If Harry wants to go off and shag people, then he should be able to, so long as it means he might still come home to Nick.
It is a possibility, now that Nick thinks about it, that this may be more about his issues than it is about Harry. He hopes that isn't too obvious.
"Nobody can resist a hundred sexy, half-dressed Kit Kats, Harry." The metaphor may have slipped away from him at some point.
"Now I'm having sex with a hundred sexy Kit Kats? A hundred? One hundred."
Nick shrugs awkwardly. He doesn't particularly like the way Harry's looking at him. "No one can resist the lure of a sexy Kit Kat."
"But—what if I don't actually want a Kit Kat? Because I've got a—a Toblerone at home?"
"Is the Toblerone my penis?" Nick asks. This conversation has definitely got away from him. If he can at least make Harry laugh, maybe they can forget this conversation ever happened.
"I literally don't know whether to punch you, or punch you and kiss you," Harry says, shaking his head. "I'm leaning towards punching."
Nick rubs his eyes.
"Shut up," Harry tells him, before Nick's even said anything else. "I'm really pissed off at you. Do you want a cup of tea?" He marches into the kitchen and sticks the kettle on, Nick trailing him in. "You know that I can actually keep my dick in my pants, right?"
"I know that," Nick says. In his head, this conversation hadn't gone like this. In his head, Harry had found the chocolate metaphor funny, and he'd tweeted something like, just say no to sexy Kit Kats! and then agreed to tell Nick in advance of pictures turning up on the internet if he'd kissed someone else. That was how this conversation was supposed to have gone.
"I'm not actually completely unable to stop shagging around," Harry goes on, getting two mugs out of the cupboard and spilling tea bags across the counter. "And I can be away from you for five minutes without having to have sex with some random. Sex with randoms is shit anyway. I like having sex with you. Does it look like I'm ready to fuck that up? And what the fuck is wrong with liking sex, anyway? Sue me! I like having sex. I'm eighteen, for fuck's sake. But I'm with you; I get to have sex with you. I don't want to have sex with anyone else. Get the milk out."
Nick obediently gets the milk out of the fridge and passes it to Harry, who doesn't say thank you, but does reach for the packet of chocolate digestives from on top of the microwave.
"Don't think you're getting any of these," Harry says, pointing the packet at Nick. "If you think I'm going to shag around behind your back, you don't get a fucking biscuit."
Nick doesn't point out that they're his biscuits. "I didn't say you had to, just that you could."
Harry lets out a breath, and waits until the kettle's finished boiling before pouring water over the tea bags. "I've just fucking come out for you, so if that means something different for you then we probably need to talk."
"It doesn't, I'm sorry," If Nick could delete this conversation from existence, he really, really would. "It means the same to me. Like, more. You have no idea. I'm an idiot."
"Yes," Harry says. He picks the tea bag out of Nick's mug and drops it in the sink, splashing milk in to the cup. "And I've made that deliberately weak, because you're a dick. If you complain about it, I'm breaking up with you."
"You're fierce," Nick says, in an attempt at lightening the mood.
"I'm pissed off. If I've been through all this shit with Nina and Heat interviews and it's all rubbish and I hate it, and if it turns out you don't want the same as me then I'm going to, I don't know, be really fucking mad. Katherine fucking Jenkins, Nick. New Year's Eve and we're going to have to spend it at some event where everyone will be staring at us and we won't know anyone. You know how rubbish that is?"
Nick puts his tea down on the counter. It's like dishwater with milk. He'll drink it all, just because Harry made it, but it's going to be awful. "I know. I really know."
Harry sags back against the counter. "Do you really think I'd shag around behind your back?"
Harry won't be satisfied with him for the long term, is what he thinks. That he'll do whatever it is that he needs to do to keep Harry for as long as he possibly can, is what he thinks. That he loves him, more than anything. "I think you're the best person I know."
Harry laughs at that. "That's not the question I asked though, is it?"
Nick's never truly honest with anyone; it's not who he is. He's the king of saying what he thinks whoever he's talking to wants to hear. It's his one skill. But Harry disarms him in a way that no one else has ever managed to. "I think—" He clears his throat, and doesn't look at Harry. "I think that one day you're going to have had enough of me, and you're going to want more, and I wanted to keep hold of you as long as possible."
"Well," Harry says. "You're an idiot."
"Yeah, I know."
"I don't need to eat a room full of chocolate, because I've got you. It doesn't matter how many hot girls there are, or hot guys. I can actually just eat Kit Kats with you."
"Actual Kit Kats, or sexy girls? Because I might not be in to that—"
"If you make one more joke, Nicholas."
Nick nods at that, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Sorry. Just—look at you. You're gorgeous, and amazing, and you've picked me. Surely you're going to turn around at some point and realise you've made some ginormous mistake and you should really be dating Rihanna or something."
"I keep thinking you're going to turn around and realise what a pile of shit I've got you in. All the press and the articles and the crap on the internet. You'd be better off with someone easier."
"I don't care about the press."
"And I don't care about sleeping with people who aren't you."
Nick lets out a breath, and reaches for Harry's hand. Until Harry curls his fingers into his and squeezes, he isn't entirely sure that he hasn't just fucked things up for the two of them.
"I don't want Rihanna," Harry says. "I just want you."
"First and only time anyone's ever said that in the history of forever," Nick says. He doesn't let go of Harry's hand.
"First time for everything." Harry tugs Nick into a hug, wrapping his arms around Nick's back and squeezing.
"Sorry I was an idiot," Nick tells him, touching his mouth to Harry's neck. He tastes like soap.
"I know I'm hardly like, king of the sharers or whatever, but I'm fairly sure we should be talking about this stuff, and not, you know, keeping it to ourselves. Because the inside of your head is a scary place, Grimshaw."
"It's not that scary."
"Huh, I don't know. The chocolate bar thing? That was weird. And the whole Toblerone penis thing."
"The Toblerone really is my penis," Nick agrees. "Apart from the triangle thing. My dick isn't shaped like a pyramid."
"That's good, baby." Harry pats him on the back. "Do you want me to make you another cup of tea?"
"I'll make it," Nick says, one eye on the clock. "You go and finish getting dressed."
"Okay," Harry says.
When he's gone, Nick puts the kettle back on to boil and thinks, what the fuck.
"You took your time," Nick says, grinning for the sake of the photographers who seem to be bearing down on them for what seems like the hundredth time tonight. There are other people at this party, maybe they want their photos in Hello. Or the society pages of the Daily Mail, rich middle-aged people being photographed doing something good for charity. He's surprised the Mail photographers don't have actual devil horns and a tail. They certainly look evil and won't stop following Harry around.
"Everybody knows my name," Harry tells him, trying to balance two bright red shots of dubious origins and some kind of sunrise-like cocktail that Nick hopes contain a shit-load of vodka as he makes space for the tray on their table.
"That's because you're fabulous," Nick points out. Part of him does want to stand on his chair and tell everyone that Harry's amazing, and that he's his. Alcohol and love have done strange, unfixable things to his brain. However, he has behaved impeccably all evening, from the moment he and Harry showed up—in co-ordinating accessories, no less—through the charity auction that Harry had to do some onstage presenting for, and the numerous photographs for Hello, and for the official charity photographers, and for the society pages, and no doubt the tabloid photographers that Nina's smuggled in somehow. She isn't here herself, but Nick has absolutely no doubt that there is at least one member of Harry's publicity team somewhere around tonight, keeping an eye on things.
Harry grins at him, eyes flicking over Nick's shoulder to where there are probably photographers, and then back to him, holding out one of the shots. "Drink up," he says, over the noise of the Girls Aloud mega-mix shuffling awkwardly into Blue's All Rise. This DJ is amazing.
And by amazing, Nick means, terrible.
"What's in it?"
"Who the fuck cares," Harry tells him over the music, still grinning. "Knock it back and stop complaining, Grimshaw."
"Now who's getting bossy, Styles."
Harry laughs, and hooks his elbow around Nick's, still holding his shot. "You love it," he says. "Ready?"
"Always," Nick says, and they both down their shots at the same time. It's gone almost too quickly for him to taste it, but—"Shit, that's cinnamon."
"Aftershock, baby," Harry says, still laughing.
Nick fucking hates Aftershock, and he always has. He's left trying to wash the taste away with vodka. Probably not in the instruction book, but whatever. Harry's just laughing at him, and Nick can't help it, he stops necking the vodka in favour of leaning in to kiss the corner of Harry's mouth. "You're a dick, baby," he says, but he's grinning. The taste will go away eventually.
"You love me," Harry says, reaching for his cocktail. It's more ice than vodka, so it'll be gone in a moment. They stay where they are, close enough to kiss, both trying to down their cocktails through their straws.
"I don't," Nick lies, finishing his drink with an obnoxious sucking noise. Blue fades away, to be replaced with Olly Murs. It's almost midnight, and the night's been long and relatively formal, and Nick wants to give in and go home and fuck and mix their own drinks, and forget he ever mentioned that Harry could shag around behind his back. He really does not want that to happen. He has been a giant liar that lies.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Harry says to him, in time with Olly on the record. He dumps his drink on the table and holds his hand out. "We've got a special treat for you tonight." He grins, and stops singing along. "Dance with me?"
Nick's heart skips a beat. He takes Harry's hand. "Yeah," he says, and lets Harry lead him onto the dance floor. It's busy, and it turns out that neither of them want to push their way to the centre, because almost as soon as they hit the floor, Harry turns around and slides one hand around Nick's waist, pulling him close. He keeps his other hand in Nick's, like they're waltzing. People are looking at them, but Nick doesn't care. Let them look. He's with the best looking guy in the room. Fuck it, he's with the best guy in the fucking world. Just for this moment, just for this song, he's going to give in to it and go the whole cheesy, stupid, midnight on New Year's Eve hog, and dance with his boyfriend like there's just the two of them and nobody else.
"Look around, there's a whole lot of pretty ladies," Harry sings along, smile wide. Neither of them have a fucking clue how to dance—Harry shows that off on a pretty regular basis, and at least Nick doesn't have to do it on stage—but they're making their way around the floor in an enthusiastic if relatively faily kind of a way.
Nick knows the next line. "But none like you," he says, unable to keep from laughing. He makes a stupid face. "You shine so bright."
Harry's hand is an insistent pressure in the small of his back, holding him close. His eyes do indeed shine so bright. "This is so stupid," he says.
"The stupidest," Nick agrees. He can't seem to stop smiling. His heart's pounding, and his hand's hot in Harry's. "I—" he wants to say, I love you, but it isn't in his nature to say it as frequently as he's said it recently, and mean it.
Harry ducks his gaze for a moment, and when he looks up, he's biting his lip. "Next New Year, let's go away. Just you and me. Just the two of us."
Nick's mouth goes dry. Next year. Just you and me. He nods jerkily, unable to think of anything to say that isn't oh god, yes.
"Good," Harry says, still making an attempt at moving in time with the music, and then he leans in and covers Nick's mouth with his own.
Nick kisses him back, not giving a fuck who's watching.
Dance With Me Tonight turns into LMFAO's Sexy and I Know It turns into the Pussycat Dolls' When I Grow Up. They stay there on the dance floor, ignoring everyone else in favour of dancing with each other, and then Michael McIntyre—Michael McIntyre—comes on stage with a microphone to count them down into the New Year.
Harry's arm slides around his shoulders as the countdown starts. "Happy New Year, Nicholas."
"Happy New Year," Nick says—or he tries to say, but all around them people are shouting, three, two, one—and then Harry's too busy kissing him for Nick to get his words out. The room's singing Auld Lang Syne, people crossing hands as the ticker tape falls, and flash bulbs go off all around them. For once, Nick can't bring himself to care, and he kisses Harry until he's breathless and kissed out.
"Do you want to—" Nick says, one shoulder up, leaning a little towards the doorway.
"Do I ever," Harry says. "Let's get our coats."
They don't find an empty taxi, but they do find a bus stop full of very drunk people who inform them—very enthusiastically—that all public transport is free tonight.
"Excellent," Harry says. "Let's get the bus."
"You are insane," Nick tells him, as they pose for picture after picture with everyone at the bus stop. "Certifiably insane."
Harry just grins. He's trouble. The best kind.
Nick's hands are freezing, and it's been way too long since his last cigarette. He can't get drunk and not have a cigarette; it's like a law or something. "I'm not standing here just freezing my nads off." He tries to find his packet of cigarettes in the pocket of his overcoat. He gestures at the cigarette. "You mind?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "Like that's going to keep you warm."
"I've got you for that." Nick, however, is a fucking idiot. "I've brought fags," he says, patting his pockets, "but no lighter."
Harry smirks. "Suck it and see what happens."
"Advice to live by." He gestures to the rest of the bus stop. "Anyone got a light?"
He gets a light from a girl called Lucy, who bums a cigarette off him in return. She passes a Tesco receipt over for them both to sign as they all hang out behind the bus shelter, Harry trying to be as annoying as possible by playing football with Nick's foot.
"That's my foot," Nick says, kicking him back.
Harry just beams, and shows Nick his chewing gum. He's such a dick.
"Sign it," Lucy urges, and Nick stops making faces at Harry long enough to sign his name awkwardly—turns out a bog standard biro doesn't work very well when it's this cold—and grins as Harry leans over to add a row of kisses and a heart underneath Nick's signature on the Tesco receipt. "The bus is coming."
Nick drops his cigarette on the floor and stubs it out with his toe. "Come on, Hazza. Let's go adventuring."
Harry wraps an arm around Nick's waist, and hooks his chin over his shoulder. "Lead on."
The bus stops about a mile from the flat in the end, and Nick's got a bad enough sense of direction that they get lost about three times before they find somewhere he recognises.
"We're about ten minutes from your flat, how are you so fucking lost?"
"It's my special super power," Nick says, grabbing Harry's hand to twirl him around, dancing him off the kerb and into the deserted street.
"Super lost," Harry says, ducking under Nick's arm to spin around again. "Oh god, Super Loser. That's your superhero name."
"You are so dumped," Nick tells him.
Harry laughs, and slides his hand into the small of Nick's back, pulling him into dance hold. "Super Loser."
"Nick is...Super Loser," Nick says, in the style of Bananaman. Harry just looks confused. "Oh my god, you're so young."
"Not where it counts," Harry says, grinding his hips against Nick's. They're in the middle of the street, and doing some kind of weird, half-waltz right down the middle of the road. They're bad enough at dancing when there's actually music; right now they're awful. It's brilliant.
"Let's go home and get naked," Nick suggests, since he's pretty sure that in his head he's dancing to Enrique Iglesias' Tonight (I'm Fucking You). He has no idea what Harry's dancing to, but he suspects it's in an entirely different time signature.
"If you could remember where the fuck you lived," Harry points out, not entirely unreasonably.
"You live round here too," Nick protests.
"Yeah, but you actually spend time in your flat. I like to stay at yours."
"Good point. Do you want to go to the 24 hour garage for a Pot Noodle and more condoms?"
"Oh my god," Harry says. "This is why I love you."
"Pot Noodle, baby," Nick says. "Let's get down and dirty."
Harry slides his hands down over Nick's arse, pulling him close. He's half-hard. "You have the best ideas."
Nick laughs and kisses him, right there in the middle of the road. It's freezing fucking cold and the middle of the night. "Just so you know, in my head we're dancing to Tonight (I'm Fucking You)."
"Prophetic," Harry says, and kisses him again.
"You haven't brought me tea," Nick whines, coming into the kitchen and leaning against the doorframe, knotting the belt on his dressing gown closed. "What use are boyfriends, if they don't make tea on request?"
Harry is naked, and has his head in Nick's tea cupboard. "Stop complaining, the kettle's boiling. I was going to make you breakfast."
"It's the middle of the afternoon."
"We've only just got out of bed," Harry points out patiently, grabbing the PG Tips and letting the cupboard door close. "Therefore, breakfast—holy fuck, what the shit are you wearing?"
Nick strikes a Cara D pose, arm above his head, knee bent. "A silk smoking jacket. Sexy, right?"
"Fucking ridiculous," Harry says. "Where the hell did you get that? It's amazing."
"Christmas present from Henry. Designed especially for me. You can't resist me right now, can you?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "I never can. But definitely not, now."
"You know you want it, baby. I'm sexy and you know it." Nick affects his best, sexiest pose. He's totally nicked it off Kate. Harry laughs so much he has to actually sit down on Nick's kitchen floor. Nick wouldn't recommend that as a course of action normally, but he's busy flashing his dick at Harry in his most seductive manner yet, so if Harry's unable to stand just from the general hotness of Nick, he's counting it a win.
"I literally have no idea how I resisted you before this week," Harry says, his face in his hands. He holds his hand out for Nick to help him up off the floor.
"Me neither," Nick tells him. Harry wraps an arm around his waist, leaning in to kiss the corner of his mouth. At least Nick smells minty fresh—he'd stopped off in the bathroom for a quick brush and a gargle before hitting the kitchen—but he could really do with a shower. He'll manage that at some point. When he and Harry have made it out of bed for real. This just feels like a momentary break in proceedings for tea and sustenance.
"Pass us the milk," Harry says, dumping the tea bags out of the mugs and onto the corner of the sink. There really is a bin just there. Nick manfully resists the urge to point it out, reaching for the fridge door instead, and the remains of the milk.
"There you go. You want sugar?"
"Nah," Harry says. "I'm sweet enough as I am."
Nick snorts, and leans back against the sink with his cup of tea. Harry perches next to him, elbow bumping against Nick's. "Thought you were making me breakfast?"
"Bored of that idea now. Bung some toast in. Did we buy peanut butter?"
"There's jam. Or marmite."
"No way. I'm not eating that."
"Good thing I'm not forcing you, then." He lobs a couple of pieces of bread from the bag on the counter in the general direction of the toaster. He's partially successful, in that they don't end up on the floor.
"They're not going to toast like that."
"Shut up, Harold. Nobody asked you."
Nick goes over to rescue the bread from in front of the microwave, dumping it in the toaster and pressing the button down. He opens the fridge to have a peer around to see what he's got they can put on it when it's done. "You know what we should have got? Crumpets. I fucking love crumpets."
Harry doesn't answer.
"Hazza. Crumpets. We should be having crumpets right now. Nothing sexier than crumpets." He stops staring into the fridge, because that's a cold idea and his silk smoking jacket isn't exactly built for withstanding fridge temperatures. Or any temperatures. It's a smoking jacket best served warm. Maybe he needs to give it up until it's spring and resort to the fluffy one with hearts on that he and James picked out in BHS that one time, for a laugh. They got matching ones. "Hazza. Hazza."
Harry has the door to Nick's baking cupboard open. The cake tin that Harry had bought him all those weeks ago sits there, all by itself in the middle of the shelf.
Harry looks over his shoulder at him. "You fancy baking a cake after we've had toast?"
Nick can't bake. He can barely get bread in the toaster. He'd had a Pot Noodle last night and called it a meal. There's no way he's going to be able to manage a Bake Off-worthy cake of any description. It's New Year's Day, and everyone knows that should be spent in front of the telly with a hangover, eating cheese and making resolutions that don't make it past January 3rd.
Harry's naked and grinning at him. There's no choice to be made.
There never was, it turns out.
Harry laughs, eyes bright. "We're both in, then."
"Yeah," Nick says. "We are."
"Hey, so, we've got a caller on line one. It is line one, right, Finchy? Yep, line one, he's nodding. Okay, say hello to our mystery caller! Hello, Mystery Caller."
"Hello," Harry says, and he sounds sleep-drenched and rough, and if there's one thing that makes getting out of bed really fucking hard for Nick, it's leaving Harry behind when he does.
"It's Harry Styles, everyone. Hello, Harry Styles."
"Hello, Nicholas Grimshaw."
"Hello." Nick suddenly can't think of anything to say. He pushes Heat magazine under his script, and tries to ignore the fact that Harry's on the front cover, under a giant headline that says, I'm bisexual. "Um. So how are you, this fine January morning?"
Harry laughs. They've already had this conversation, albeit with Harry mostly asleep but trying to make Nick stay in bed with him, naked and half-hard. Leaving him was really, really tough—especially as Harry's flying out with Comic Relief at the end of the week and fucking leaving him behind. Nick's definitely not thinking about the upcoming tour. "I'm good, I'm good. How are you?"
"Well, excellent, Harry Styles. All the better for getting to talk to you." There's a pause then, and Nick can't help but know that this is really, really poor radio. Getting your boyfriend on just for a chat without at least having an idea of what to say is rubbish. Matt Fincham is definitely going to hate him after this. Matt Fincham is going to print out a picture of his face and then throw stuff at it.
Nick rolls his eyes. "So, we've got you on to talk about your new music video, which premiered yesterday afternoon—"
"You mean you didn't get me on just because you wanted to talk to me?"
"Whatever, Harry Styles, we don't care about you. We just want to talk about how hot Zayn Malik is."
"Oi," Harry snorts. "Take that back."
"Never, Zayn Malik is totally hot. Everyone in the studio agrees. Don't we, Fiona? LMC?"
"I protest," Harry says.
Nick grins. "I'm telling him you said that."
"He's probably listening."
"No, he's not, Harold. It's still morning. Zayn's still in bed asleep; everyone knows that."
Harry just laughs at that. Nick knew he wasn't wrong. "I still protest."
"Okay, okay, you're definitely the hottest. God, you're so self-involved."
"Yeah, yeah. Let's stop talking about you for like, two seconds so that you can tell everyone about your new video, for Kiss You."
"Alright," Harry says. Across the studio, LMC is making kissy-faces at him, and Fiona is holding up a picture of him and Harry that she's printed out and drawn a huge red heart around. He could swear there's glitter. Matt Fincham just has his head in his hands.
His friends are the worst, the absolute worst.
He keeps Harry on the line for another couple of songs and another link, where they mostly laugh at each other and totally fail to say anything of substance. This is not his greatest radio, he knows, but he can't bring himself to care, either. The texts coming in seem to suggest that the listeners like to hear them both on air together, anyway. Not that Nick cares all that much. He'd have Harry on the show every day, if he could. Maybe he will, just because. They say good bye, and Nick launches into a play of Kiss You before hanging up his headphones and disappearing into the hall to see if there are any almond croissants left, or if the gannets have devoured the lot. His team are crap.
"So," Matt Fincham says, handing over the last almond croissant. "That went well."
"Shut up," Nick says. "That was ace radio."
Matt makes a face that seems to suggest otherwise, but then Nick's phone buzzes with a message.
It's a picture, and it's from Harry. The second buzz is a tweet, with the same picture attached.
"Oh my god," Nick says, dumping the croissant back on the plate and marching back into the studio for his headphones. "He's so dumped." He doesn't even wait the thirty seconds for the song to finish, fading it down so he can talk over it. "So, that was One Direction, but we don't care. Matt Fincham, oh my god, get our caller back on the line. Have you seen this?" He holds his phone up, so that the studio can see the picture Harry's tweeted. "Our caller has just tweeted a picture of my sock drawer, and he's flipping emptied it and stolen them all. This is what going out with a pop star is like, listeners. It's not all cool parties and getting to meet Puff Daddy—P Diddy, whatever, he's still relevant somewhere, I'm sure—it's having your entire wardrobe ransacked because someone can't be bothered to go back home and pack his own clothes. Have you got him back yet? Caller!"
"Harry Styles, have you really emptied my entire sock drawer? Have you nicked them all? How long are you going to Africa for, anyway?"
"I left you one pair," Harry says. "Are we on the air?"
"Absolutely on the air. I'm outraged. This is my outraged face. You've nicked my socks!"
"And your t-shirts. I've taken most of them too."
"Oh my god. Have you taken my trousers, too? Like, what do you expect me to wear now you've emptied my wardrobe?"
Harry just laughs, and then Nick realises that the only answer available to him—and his entire listening population, if he thinks about it—is naked. He covers his face with his hands for a brief, desperate second. He can't think people being naked, even him, because it just leads to him thinking about Harry naked when he's on the air. And that can never end well for his actual career.
"Your mum's just tweeted me, Styles. She says to tell you to buy your own socks and stop stealing mine."
Harry is still laughing. He's the worst boyfriend in the entire world. "She didn't."
"She did. I hate you."
"No you don't," Harry says, still laughing, and Nick doesn't. He really, really doesn't.
"You love me," Harry says, live on air.
Nick freezes. On the screen in front of him he can see his email, and a new message from Harry pops up. It just has xxx in the subject line. "Yeah," he says softly, and he doesn't care who's listening, doesn't care who's recording. "I really do."
"Great," Harry says, after a pause. "I'm glad you've said that, because I've taken all your jumpers too."
"Oh my god," Nick says. "We're breaking up."
"Never," Harry says, and Nick laughs out loud.
Gryles: the Greatest Love Story of our TIME: an overview
So, yesterday was the greatest day of my existence, because HARRY STYLES CAME OUT. I literally don't know what to do with myself. When it happened, I was on the phone to Amanda (THANK GOD YOU WERE THERE, AMANDA) and I think we both hyperventilated all over each other and Twitter and Tumblr for about the next eight hours. Anyway, in case you live in a fandom hole—or like me, you want to preserve this day forever and ever SO YOU NEVER FORGET HOW GREAT IT WAS—here is a rundown of what happened:
10am: Nick Grimshaw is spotted at Heathrow, buying a muffin and a bottle of Ribena (picture 1, picture 2). Tumblr starts to wonder what Nick's doing at Heathrow, particularly since there had been unverified sightings of Harry at LAX the previous night. (picture 3) Come on, Californian directioners, do better than that!
10.45: @gingertally tweets to say that she's just been on a flight from LA with Harry Styles (screencap) and that he'd spent the whole flight watching films on his iPad (screencap). starstarjumpingjack (either @gingertally or someone else from the flight, not sure if they're the same person) posts to tumblr with a picture of the back of Harry's head at baggage reclaim.
TUMBLR REALISES THAT NICK IS THERE TO MEET HARRY OFF THE PLANE.
11.30 ish: THE HUG. THE SIGN. I feel like this should be preceded by a passage from the Princess Bride or something. Harry walks through the doors! He sees Nick waiting for him, and then HE DROPS HIS CASES AND HUGS HIM (picture 4, picture 5, picture 6, picture 7, picture 8, picture 9, picture 10, close-up of sign: picture 11)
Starstarjumpingjack posts two of these pictures to Tumblr. Gryles fans repost them like crazy. The rest turn up over the course of the day. This video (embedded video) turned up this morning. WATCH IT AND EMOTE. EMOTE LIKE THE WIND.
Just after that, but before 12: oh my god, I still can't write about this without having to flap my hands about in front of my face and hyperventilate for a minute. (AMANDA I LOVE YOU COME HOLD MY HAND)
Scene: the car park, by Nick's car. Harry and Nick talk for approximately one minute, and then HARRY KISSES NICK AND LUCKILY STARSTARJUMPINGJACK AND HER FRIEND GET VIDEOS AND PHOTOS AND THIS WAS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE.
These two photos go up on Tumblr straight away (picture 12, picture 13) and the place goes into MELTDOWN. Keyboard smash was invented for this moment. Look at how amazing those pictures are. MY BOYS ARE IN LOVE.
And then the video arrived (embedded video). It's not surprising this video has a MILLION VIEWS ALREADY. In a DAY. I've never been happier to be a fangirl.
More pictures show up during the day, including pap ones (picture 14, picture 15, picture 16, picture 17, picture 18, picture 19, picture 20). More at this tumblr (link). Look at how in love they are.
ANYWAY. Nick drives Harry back to his place (<3 <3 <3) and then when they get out of the car, THEY HOLD HANDS (picture 21, picture 22).
Then nothing. We can only assume that they immediately got down to an awful lot of hot monkey sex.
Spend a moment just thinking about that, friends. Yeah.
That's a good moment.
IT GETS BETTER, because last night, Harry and Nick were spotted in the supermarket, buying bacon and CONDOMS (picture 23, picture 24, picture 25).
The level of my joy right now is off the charts. OFF THE CHARTS.
And they held hands all round the supermarket (picture 26, picture 27).
What about the other 1D boys? Well, they've all tweeted, getting behind their boy.
@Louis_Tomlinson welcome back to the UK @Harry_Styles !! ! Love you brother !!
@zaynmalik love ya bro!!! @Harry_Styles
@Real_Liam_Payne never gonna forget this yearrr. Band best mates foreverrrrrrr
(ok, I just included that one because it was funny)
@NiallOfficial Wagas or nandos?
To close: my boys are boyfriends, and I am the happiest fangirl alive.
@NiallOfficial @Harry_Styles love you bro !! nandos and pints ??
End (again) (for real this time)