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The screams from the concert are still ringing in Harry’s ears as he pulls into the late-night traffic of Birmingham city centre. It’ll take him an hour, if the lights are with him and he doesn’t get lost.

It had been relatively sane tonight, considering it was a Saturday. Only a couple of faintings at the front, and the average amount of underwear chucked onstage. It’s only been about a month and what, twenty concerts? But they’re already beginning to blur together. At first he could tell them apart, he could remember that Glasgow was when he fell off the stage, that Newcastle was when Zayn hit that amazing note for ages and everyone went nuts. But now it’s like they’ve been playing one long gig with some breaks to eat and sleep.

‘In two point five miles, keep left.’

It’s the sat-nav, and he has to pay attention – rearview, indicator – to get in the right lane. There’s a bit of a jam at the top of the sliproad and he drums the steering wheel with his thumbs. He can see the motorway from here and he can’t wait to put his foot down. It’s taking all his patience not to ram the car in front of him and he realises the adrenaline from the gig must still be in his system. The music coming from his phone in the dock is probably not helping either. He can hear his mum telling him not to drive too fast, knowing he will anyway, and right now he feels like he could fly, he’s so wired. At last he’s through and onto the motorway and bombing it, The Vaccines on full blast. They make him think of Nick shouting ‘Ladssss! Oi-oi-oiiiiiii!’ and he grins to himself. Not long now.

He hasn’t seen Nick for thirty-six hours but it feels like weeks. It’s frightening how the ache in his chest starts almost as soon as Nick’s out of sight now. It used to take at least a couple of days; now being in the same room isn’t even enough. He knows it’s partly the tour. He knows it’s the forced separation and the fact that they’re both contrary bastards and immediately want to do anything they’re told not to. But it’s not just that either. He knows it’s the beginning of a longer separation – his fingers being pried away from a toy he knows will be taken away eventually.

He manages to slow down for the speed-cameras when he spots them, and turns the music down when the sat-nav warns him the turning off the M5 is coming up. He’ll still be on a main road, but once he gets off that, he’ll need to concentrate. Nick had told him that April and Dan’s house is essentially the middle of nowhere – it didn’t have a postcode until a couple of years back – and one wrong turn could add an hour onto his journey. It’s not an hour he wants to be faffing with now.

Soon he’s driving carefully down a narrow lane, headlights making a tunnel through the darkness, hedges looming then falling away as he peers through the windscreen. He’s looking for the turning the satnav had assured him was coming up ten minutes ago, when his phone lights up with a message. He reaches over to take it out of the dock, managing to keep the car on the road one-handed. It’s Nick.

Traffic insane on the A40. Be a bit late. Sorry babes x

‘Bollocks,’ Harry says quietly to the empty car.

There’s a break in the hedge and he follows the road to the right, which is not actually a road but a rutted track, no tarmac, and Harry thanks god he’s a London wanker with a four-wheel-drive he doesn’t usually need. Then the track opens out into the front yard of a big old farmhouse, windows on the lower floor warm with light. He can see movement at the front door. He brings the car to a stop and turns off the engine, the music dying away. The silence is total.

He’s used to it, being a country boy, and to the blackout darkness you never really get in the city. But things have been full-on recently, sometimes two concerts a day and back to London to grab what time he can with Nick. Now only a few people know where he is – the boys, Lou, Paul – and he feels like he’s left the world behind, feels like he can breathe. He hooks his bag out of the back seat and turns towards the house. The front door is opening and there’s April, with baby Lottie on her hip.

‘Hey Harry,’ says April. ‘Good to see you.’

‘You too.’ Harry kisses her on the cheek, and strokes Lottie’s warm head. ‘Nick’s gonna be a bit late.’

‘I know. Half an hour, right?’

Nick hadn’t said. Harry’s disappointment must show because even though they’ve only met a couple of times in London, April obviously knows how to distract him. She immediately holds out her free hand towards his bag and says, ‘Swap you.’ He hands over his bag and takes Lottie off her and bounces her carefully – she’s still pretty tiny.

‘Hey you,’ he says. ‘You’re up past your bedtime.’

‘Fah!’ says Lottie, grabbing for his hair as he gets her settled in the crook of his arm. He steps into the warm house.

‘She slept loads this afternoon,’ April calls back over her shoulder, leading him into a big warm sitting room. ‘I should have woken her really.’

‘Yeah, not exactly Gina Ford, are we?’

It’s Dan, appearing from the kitchen with a tea-towel over his shoulder. He and Harry shake hands.

‘Hiya, mate. Can I get you a drink? Beer? Wine?’

‘Beer’d be brilliant, thanks.’

‘I’ll bring it through,’ says Dan nodding towards the living room, and Harry goes through. There’s sofas layered with rugs, and an open fire burning with a guard in front of it. April’s sinking down into the sofa and picking up a glass of red from the coffee table. There are some toys and cloth books scattered on the floor and Harry places Lottie carefully amongst them, straightening to shrug his jacket off and toe his boots off, before going back over to sit with her. Dan brings in his beer.

‘Right, that’s me,’ he says. ‘I’m knackered. I’ll leave you two to wait up for Nick. See you in the morning, Harry, yeah?’

‘Sure,’ says Harry. When Dan’s gone he says to April, ‘You don’t have to stay up. Go to bed if you’re tired.’

‘Don’t worry. Lottie’ll be up for a while yet. I don’t mind keeping you company. How was the gig tonight?’

Harry tells her and they chat about the concert for while. Then Harry listens happily as she reminisces about her own gigging days.

‘The Dublin Castle,’ he breathes at one point, a bit awestruck. ‘Maybe White Eskimo might’ve played there. That would've been sick.’

‘Mate, it’s not all that. A ton of beery, sweaty punters right in front of your face.’

‘Sounds brilliant,’ Harry says wistfully and April laughs. Harry smiles with her but carries on. ‘I mean, sometimes I wish we’d got to do things the normal way. You know. Gradually work our way up. Still does my head in singing to twenty thousand people. I was slinging Eccles cakes at Mandeville’s last month, it feels like.’

‘Oh Haz, I know it seems cool. But there’s nothing glamorous about getting changed in filthy toilets and sleeping in the backseat of a van.’

‘I know. We’ve got tour buses and dressing rooms. It’s all right. Still though.’

Lottie, cradled in his lap, presents him with a yellow frog and he takes it from her, saying, ‘So kind, thank you.’ He’s aware of how nice this is, Lottie in his lap, showing him her toys, talking to April, and drinking his beer. But there’s a corner of his mind that’s waiting for Nick, listening for a car in the yard, counting off the minutes as less time spent with him. As if on cue, he hears a car engine and looks up sharply. April catches his glance.

‘It’s on the road below,’ she says. ‘You’ll know when a car’s coming up to the house,’ she adds gently.

Harry tries not to feel too disappointed. Lottie starts crawling off his lap and he catches her and tugs her back.

‘Thanks for this,’ he says, settling her in his lap. ‘It must be a bit mad for you guys. Like hiding prisoners or something.’

‘Not that bad,’ April laughs. ‘It’s ok. I’ve known Nick for years. He’d do the same for me.’

The invite had come during lunch in London a while back, when he and Nick were trying to be stoic about the tour, but at the same time whining a bit. Meeting in London was a bugger because it was so busy they were almost always spotted, which really didn’t help the whole keeping-it-under-the-radar thing. And then Nick had mentioned Harry’s trip to LA (and Harry had been a bit surprised that Nick had remembered, to be honest), and Harry said something about Birmingham and that’s when Dan had sat up.

‘We’re only an hour from Birmingham,’ he’d said and turned to Nick. ‘Why don’t you come for a visit that weekend?’ nodding discreetly over at Harry at the same time. ‘Get away from it all.’

‘Yeah,’ April put in. ‘Then Harry can drive down after his gig.’

‘Ooh, a secret rendezvous,’ Nick had said, and here Harry is, being dribbled on by a happy eighteen-month-old, a fire warming his back and having a pleasant, quiet conversation.

‘What time do you have to leave tomorrow?’ April asks.

‘Plane’s at twelve. Maybe ten? Don’t have to check in till last minute.’

‘First class,’ says April rolling her eyes and smiling. ‘Jet-setter.’

He grins and looks down, feeling a little embarrassed.

When Cal had seen the band’s tour schedule, and that their week off fell on Passover, he’d asked Harry to sing for him and his family at their seder in LA. Harry couldn’t turn it down, even though he’d been looking forward to cramming as much Nick-time in as possible during the week off. But what was he going to say? ‘Thanks for offering me the privilege of taking part in the most meaningful, important festival in the Jewish calendar, and the opportunity to spend time with you and your wonderful family in LA, but no thanks.’ Sometimes he feels ungrateful. He’s getting asked to sing halfway around the world, he’s getting to see new places and meet interesting new people, and all he wants to do is hole up in a basement flat in North London and fuck his boyfriend stupid.

He has a mini tug-of-war with Lottie over the yellow frog and hears a car engine again and congratulates himself on ignoring it. Then a minute or so later he hears it again, much louder. He’s pretty sure it’s coming up to the house but he looks at April for confirmation. She’s putting her wine down and holding out her hands for Lottie.

‘Go on,’ she says. ‘I’ll take her. Bedtime now anyway.’

Harry hands her over, knots jumping in his stomach, and Lottie catches at his hair and lets out a grizzle.

‘Back to Mummy, baby girl,’ he says, disentangling himself carefully. It’s all he can do not to just shove her at April and not bother to check whether she’s safe in her mum’s arms before he sprints towards the front door. He manages to walk like a normal human being though, hearing April dealing with a slightly put-out Lottie behind him. He opens the door, and gets a blast of cold air.

‘Jesus,’ he hisses. In the cosy warmth of the sitting room he’d forgotten how cold it was. He bounces from foot to foot, pulling his sleeves down over his hands, and watches as Nick’s car pulls slowly into the front yard. He glimpses Nick’s face through the windscreen and sees him raising his hand in a little wave over the wheel. The car comes to a stop and Harry’s about to run across the yard before he remembers he’s got no shoes on and the ground’s a bit soggy. Nick gets out, pulling a hand through his hair. Harry gets a little shock again – he keeps forgetting about the pink.

‘All right, popstar,’ Nick calls over the chirrup of the doors locking, and pocketing the keys.

‘Yes thanks, radio DJ,’ Harry replies. ‘What time d’you call this?’

Nick makes a show of looking at his watch as he walks towards Harry.

‘’Bout half-eleven.’

Then he’s there, mouth hot against Harry’s, and Harry’s got his sleeved hands either side of Nick’s face and they cling tight for a long minute.

‘Fuck,’ whispers Nick against Harry’s mouth, breath clouding in the cold air, when they eventually pull apart.

‘I know,’ murmurs Harry in reply. They don’t need to say anything else. Things have been getting like this for a while now.

Then Lottie’s gurgle sounds behind them and Nick smiles over Harry’s shoulder.

‘Hiya, Apes. Y’all right?’

‘I’d be a lot better if you didn’t call me Apes,’ she says as Nick leans up from the step to kiss her hello.

‘How’s Lottie?’ he says, dropping a kiss onto her head. Lottie’s got her fist in her mouth and is butting April’s neck. Nick ruffles her curls. ‘Late night baby. We’ll have you down Fabric soon.’

‘She wanted to stay up for her Uncle Nick,’ April says.

‘She slept too much this afternoon, more like.’

‘You people,’ April sighs. ‘Anyone would think I’m the world’s worst mother.’

Harry hops up and down behind Nick, spidering both hands on Nick’s shoulder blades and shoving him gently.

‘Come on, it’s freezing out here.’

‘All right, bossy,’ Nick says, reaching behind him to squeeze Harry’s hip, and they all go inside. Harry shuts the door behind them and sees April going up the stairs with Lottie. Nick’s shed his coat and bag and is on the threshold of the sitting room, his eyes just sliding away from Harry.

‘Help yourself to whatever,’ April calls down. ‘And don’t forget to bank the fire when you go to bed.’

‘We won’t,’ calls Nick.

‘Ner-night, Lottie,’ calls Harry softly, feeling bad for his haste to get rid of her. April smiles and lifts Lottie’s hand and waves it at them.

‘Ner-night, Harry,’ she answers for Lottie, who’s visibly drooping now. Then April turns away and disappears into the darkness at the top of the stairs.

When Harry looks back at Nick, Nick’s watching him with a weird expression, witchy and knowing. He starts backing into the living room, his eyes fixed on Harry’s and holds one hand out to Harry while the other goes to the top of his jeans, slim fingers pushing the fly-button free of its hole. Harry’s mouth floods with saliva and he follows Nick automatically.

There’s nothing else in the room. Nothing except Nick, his eyes drawing Harry like fire in darkness. Harry walks towards him in a trance, and their mouths meet in a crash, Harry taking over from Nick undoing his fly, and Nick going for Harry’s. When Nick’s hand shoves roughly inside his pants, catching the fabric so it pinches against his skin a bit before closing around his cock, Harry whines into Nick’s mouth and shoves dumbly into his hand. He’s gone from concert high, to domestic quiet, to sex frenzy so fast he’s dizzy, and he licks breathlessly into Nick’s mouth, uncaring. Then he finally manages to get through Nick’s fly to his cock, and at last it’s filling his hand, the feeling of hot skin vivid in his palm, Nick’s gasp against his lips making him harder. They stumble a little, and find themselves with Nick’s arse resting against the dining-room table, which gives them some leverage.

At this point, they’re just trying to get the right angle, the right rhythm, bursts of breath on their lips, barely kissing, holding their mouths together as they jerk each other frantically. They don’t even know if everyone in the house is safely asleep. All Harry can think of is that his wrist is contorted slightly and struggling to keep up a rhythm, but he’s making a go of it, and it seems to be enough for Nick. Meanwhile, Nick’s thumb is swiping over the head of Harry’s cock and sending electric bolts of pleasure straight to the centre of his brain and he’s practically whiting out on every stroke. He’s vaguely aware that they’re having standing-up sex in someone else’s living room because neither of them can be bothered with the few seconds it would take to get to the sofa or even the floor (and the bedroom might as well be in another galaxy), but in the end his thoughts are elsewhere and it’s not long before they’re both coming into each other’s palms. They don’t catch all of it, some splattering on Nick’s t-shirt and some Harry’s chin (his chin? Harry has no idea, but that’s orgasms for you), muffling their cries on whatever body parts are handy (a shoulder, an ear) and Jesus, if someone had been standing by with a stopwatch Harry doesn’t know whether they’d have reached the minute mark.

They pant and Nick giggles and they hang on to each other for a little bit while they get their breath back.

‘Fuck, we’re ridiculous,’ says Nick and Harry puffs out agreement against his shoulder. After a bit, they detach themselves and start trying to tidy up, tucking themselves away, Harry swiping at the come on his chin.

‘Got any tissues?’ he says.

‘In my bag somewhere,’ Nick answers as he starts dragging off his come-y t-shirt. They get themselves sorted – Harry chucking a clean t-shirt at Nick from his bag – and Nick goes through to the kitchen, murmuring, ‘I need a drink,’ as he goes.

Harry shoves Lottie’s toys out of the way under the coffee table and slumps on the floor against the sofa. He picks up his beer from before. His limbs feel like they’re made of hollow rubber tubing.

We’re ridiculous all right, he thinks, taking a swig from the bottle. Other people hug and kiss. He and Nick stick their hands down each other’s pants, because apparently they need to give each other an orgasm before they can function normally around each other. He can hear Nick coming back, a tell-tale chiming coming with him.

‘Look what I found,’ he says. He’s got two-thirds of a bottle of red in one hand and two wine glasses crossed between the fingers of the other. He steps onto the sofa and sinks down onto it cross-legged by Harry’s shoulder.

‘Just in time,’ Harry says, waggling his beer-bottle, nearly empty now.

‘See, that’s why you need me, Styles,’ Nick says, pouring out two glasses, his bracelets glinting in the firelight. ‘To ply you with alcohol and have my way with you.’

Harry snorts. ‘Bit late for that.’

‘You think that was it?’ says Nick darkly, handing Harry one of the glasses. Harry takes it and nestles against whichever bit of Nick’s body he can find.

‘Ooh, promises, promises,’ he mumbles half-heartedly against Nick’s knee. He holds the glass by its base against his thigh without drinking it. He’s not the biggest wine fan, but he can’t be arsed getting up to get himself another beer. He feels Nick’s hand combing through his hair, then he hears movement and Nick’s mouth is close to his ear.

‘Y’all right, my darling?’ he says quietly into Harry’s hair, all teasing gone.

‘Yeah,’ replies Harry, making himself comfy. ‘Tell me about David Bowie.’

‘I wish you could have come,’ he says, and Harry can sense him leaning back in the sofa, his hand staying in Harry’s hair. ‘We’ll go another time. Maybe the V and A can arrange a special exhibition time just for you and me, so you don’t get mobbed while you’re there.’

‘That’d be cool,’ Harry says.

Then Nick tells him about the exhibition and Harry listens. He drinks some of the wine. It’s actually quite nice – smooth, syrupy-feeling in his mouth, strong. Nick plays with Harry’s hair as he talks and he can feel his eyes going. It’s hypnotic, and eventually Harry lets his eyelids slide shut. But then Nick asks about the concerts and they talk for a bit: about Harry’s tour, about the radio show. Neither of them mentions LA. Tomorrow’ll come soon enough, he can hear his mum say.

At some point Nick gets up to go to the loo, and Harry puts his wine down and drags his jumper over his head – he’s warm from the fire and the wine and Nick. Then he climbs onto the sofa, stretching himself out, deliberately taking up the whole thing. When Nick comes back, he pauses in the doorway for a moment and they look at each other silently. Nick’s shirt is open one button too many, and the low light glances off his necklace and up to his eyes. His pink hair looks darker and he’s like some strange elfin creature, all cocked hips and pointy elbows. Suddenly it feels like he’s too far away over there and Harry stretches, almost like he’s trying to get closer, bracing his feet against one arm of the sofa, and feeling the other arm dig into the back of his neck, and cool air touching his skin where his t-shirt rides up. He lets his eyes sink to half-mast as Nick watches him. He loves being looked at, but by Nick most of all.

‘Jesus,’ whispers Nick. Harry reaches out a hand towards him.


Nick pushes himself off the door jamb and holds Harry’s gaze all the way over. He sinks one knee onto the sofa and Harry grabs his belt loops as Nick lowers himself down against him, sliding a thigh between Harry’s, and they kiss, open and soft, grinding against each other. Harry slides his hands up the back of Nick’s shirt, warm smooth skin against his palm, and Nick hums and presses down harder against Harry, pushing a little groan out of him. They can do this for ages, kiss and grind and push each other further, pull back, breathe, then do it all again. Harry’s had quite a lot of sex in his short life, but he’s never loved to just kiss someone like he loves to kiss Nick. It was how they started.


It had been one of those accidentally-stayed-too-late times, before they were anything, before the madness, before everything, when Harry was still dithering, didn’t know what the hell he was doing. The crappy late-night TV they were watching had got boring and they’d started edging their way towards each other on the sofa, like they usually did, knowing what they were doing but not saying, until they were sprawled out a lot nearer, heads touching, and Harry tipped his head to the side and Nick did the same, and their mouths were right there.

‘Go on,’ Harry had whispered.

‘Go on what?’ Nick had whispered back.

‘You know.’

‘Why are you whispering?’

‘You’re whispering too.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Make me.’

And Nick had tipped his face and their noses touched, squashing a bit, and then he could feel the cool of Nick’s mouth against his, hardly a kiss, just a brushing touch, but Harry had tipped his head to the side, and it felt too obliging, made him feel incredibly obvious and easy, but it didn’t matter because Nick was fitting his mouth properly against Harry’s, and it was awkwardly angled and perfect. And because they were pretending it wasn’t happening, it took a while for them to work their way from awkwardly-angled-heads-together, to hands-pulling-at-t-shirts, to Nick-tipping-Harry-backwards-onto-the-sofa, to totally entangled in each other, but they got there eventually, and Harry suspected the slow, teasing pace made it hotter anyway.

They kissed and kissed and kissed. Harry felt his jaw overstretch a little as they held their mouths open, still. Then they pushed against each other, tongues swirling, before slowing down to closed lips and small pecks, gentle bites. Then Nick caught Harry’s lower lip gently in his teeth, and Harry felt it stretch like cartoon gum, before they met back in the middle, and Harry would leave a series of kissing bites down Nick’s jaw. It went on, a dance they taught each other as they went along, some moves becoming familiar, and new ones appearing all the time. They slid their hands up shirts, into each other’s hair, and their faces got wet and raw, and their crotches were hard.

And normally Nick would throw a spare blanket at Harry and go to his bedroom and shut the door, then they’d get up in the morning and make tea and listen to the radio like nothing had happened. But that night it didn’t stop. The telly got switched off at some point (prompted by one of their elbows on the volume control, the loud blare startling them into awareness and self-conscious giggles) and the night passed around them, the only soundtrack their hot breaths, and Harry felt fourteen again and it was amazing.

He didn’t know when he’d heard birds singing. At first he wasn’t sure he’d heard right, then one trill sang out above the others, loud enough to make Harry pull away and sit up a bit, dazed. He’d squeezed his eyes open and shut. It was summer so it wasn’t morning morning, but still. They must have been snogging for hours.

‘Issat birds?’ His voice was wrecked. ‘Fuck, what time is it?’

‘Dunno,’ Nick said, lying below him, his voice equally fucked. ‘Four-ish?’ Harry looked down at him. He was a mess.

He’d seen Nick in a mess a million times before: in a dress, clown lipstick smeared down one cheek; one trainer off, laughing wildly; falling out of cabs, babbling, drunk. But for all his silliness, Nick was a pretty put-together bloke. He was almost always sarcastic, and sometimes kind, but you never really got to see what he was feeling. The only thing he got genuinely passionate about in public was music.

Harry sat propped up on the sofa, his legs still entangled with Nick’s, listening to the sporadic peeps of the birds waking up outside, and becoming aware of grey light seeping around the edges of the blinds, and looked down at Nick. He wasn’t a mess because his shirt was half open (though it was), or because his face was completely flushed, or his mouth loose, or his hair sticking out in nine different directions (though yes to all of that), but because his face was stripped of all laughing pretence. He was looking back at Harry, simply, openly. Hello, come here, his face said. And Harry had thought, This is what you really look like. This is what you’re feeling.

He’d kissed Nick again, one final goodbye kiss, pushing him easily into the sofa, feeling Nick’s fingers fold around his hips, then he’d got up, gone home, showered, done promo, and around lunchtime, he’d sent Nick a text saying, I want to take you out to dinner. And he knew that Nick would get it, because up until then, they’d never really been out properly, just the two of them, on purpose. It’d just been them going out with Pixie and Gels and whoever, or Harry accidentally staying over after watching telly or DVDs too late, like what they’d just done. They’d snogged like teenagers because Nick didn’t push for anything else and because Harry didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. He’d mucked about with boys before, had crushes (one of them so big and so public the entire world had been able to see it), but not anything like this. Nick scared him a little.

So Harry knew that Nick would know that Harry was asking him out on a date. That Harry was saying, I want you.


‘You don’t have to woo me Harry,’ Nick had said when they were sitting opposite each other in a restaurant a couple of nights later (thick tablecloths, low lighting, glasses that practically made musical notes when you clinked them).


‘You don’t have to impress me with your moves, and your ability to hold a knife and fork and talk about world politics at the same time. I’m easy for you.’

‘I know you are,’ he said seriously. ‘But I want to do things properly. ’Cept maybe the world politics bit,’ he added.

‘You’re a good boy, aren’t you,’ said Nick, grinning over his glass of wine at Harry.

‘Fuckin’ right I am,’ Harry said, beaming back. ‘Brung up proper I was.’


‘Harder. I’m not made of glass.’

It was a couple of weeks later. A couple of weeks of handjobs, head, and frantically rubbing one out against each other’s hips. And more snogging than you could shake a stick at, of course.

‘No, you’re not. But you’ve never done this before, and I’ve never done this to you before so neither of us knows how far I can push it.’

‘Bloody sight harder than this I can tell you.’

Nick sighed. ‘Just shut up and let me fuck you gently.’

‘Ooh. So masterful.’

‘Don’t worry, you sarcastic little shit,’ Nick whispered lovingly into his ear, shoving in a little harder. ‘I’ll be slamming you against the wall to your heart’s content soon enough.’

He was true to his word.


And now they’re in the middle of nowhere with one night together, the last for they-don’t-know-how-long, and six months ago it wouldn’t have mattered. But things have changed. Harry slides the sole of his foot down against Nick’s calf, and feels how perfectly all their curves and angles fit together. He arches against Nick, making Nick hum into his mouth.

‘Are we gonna have sex on the couch?’

‘Mm, probably best not,’ says Nick. ‘Wanna go upstairs? Find our room?’

‘’S’nice here.’ Harry says nestling back further into the cushions and tugging Nick with him. ‘What’s it like? Have we got a four-poster?’

‘No,’ Nick laughs softly. ‘And no central heating, ’member? It’ll be fucking freezing.’

‘We’ll have to cuddle up then.’

‘Yeah, we will,’ says Nick, pushing himself against Harry, and Harry can feel the stretch in his inner thighs. He bites Nick’s lower lip.

‘Actually I’ve changed my mind. Let’s go up.’

Nick presses in again, a half-smile glinting across his face.

‘Why? Why should we go upstairs, Harry Styles?’

‘Because I want you to fuck me, Nick Grimshaw.’ Nick raises his eyebrows at this, and Harry knows it’s because he usually flirts right back. He thinks Nick is going to tease, but he doesn’t and after a long minute, he just says, ‘All right,’ and kneels up between Harry’s thighs, pushing himself off the sofa to land lightly on his feet. He goes over to the fire and carefully removes the fireguard, using the poker to scrape ashes over the glowing coals. Maybe he can feel tomorrow morning pressing in on them too, maybe as much as Harry.

‘Ooh, look at you and your mad country skills,’ Harry says from the sofa, not sure how well he hides the quaver in his voice. ‘You gonna be up to milk the cows in the morning as well?’

‘My nana had an open fire, cheeky.’ Nick leans the poker down carefully against the hearth and comes back to stand over Harry. ‘What about this fucking then? Do you want it or not?’

‘Yeah,’ Harry says. ‘Yeah, I do.’ And Nick holds out his hand for Harry.

They drag their bags up the creaky wooden stairs with as little puffing and giggling as possible, though Harry’s not sure how well they succeed. The room is the same as downstairs – bare floorboards, with rugs – but there’s a big wrought-iron bed covered in a fluffy white duvet and a candlewick bedspread. There’s a sink in the corner, and a toilet behind a curtain-type thing. And Nick’s right, it’s fucking freezing, even with his jumper back on.

‘Jesus,’ he says, hugging himself and tottering over to Nick, who’s dumping their bags at the end of the bed. Harry drapes himself over Nick’s back, sliding his sleeve-covered hands around his waist. ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to get undressed in this temperature. Look.’ He exhales, open-mouthed. ‘I swear I can see my breath.’

‘Don’t exaggerate, Styles. And the sooner you shed, the sooner you bed.’

Harry has never heard this expression in his life before. He’s pretty sure Nick’s made it up.

‘The sooner … what? Oh my god, have you actually turned into your nana?’ Harry pulls away from Nick. ‘Is this like some wrong-way-round Red Riding Hood? Like, I think you’re the hot wolf, then you take your face off and you’re all wrinkles and no teeth? Is that what this is?’

Nick turns round, wash bag in hand, his lips covering his teeth, and says in a little-old-lady voice, ‘All the better to munch on you, boy.’

‘Fuck off,’ says Harry on a laugh and Nick throws his toothbrush at Harry’s head. As Harry ducks and deflects it he suddenly thinks, Christ, I’m in love with you and watches the toothbrush go skidding off under the sink in the corner. His brain goes staticky. It’s not like he’s never had the thought before, but it comes out of nowhere, comes at him like a dodgem, it always does – bang and gone – and stuns him for a second.


He was always waiting for Nick to throw in the towel. He was always waiting for a time when the hassle of going out with Harry would outweigh the fun. Nick was comfortably out and could date anyone he liked; he didn't have to stay chained to a closeted teenage popstar. But time went on, and he never did. Harry was expecting it after the first round of promo for the new album – away for two weeks on and off, the longest they’d not seen each other since the whole thing had started – but all he got was thrown against the wall and his brains fucked out of him the minute he got back. He was definitely expecting it when their PRs started making unhappy noises about the galloping number of ‘bromance’ pieces in the glossies. It just couldn’t be worth it for Nick, Harry thought. But Nick just raised an eyebrow and said ‘never a dull moment with you around, is there, Styles?’

Then Nick got hauled in to a meeting at Radio 1. Seems like the Harry-mentions had tipped over from ‘useful synergy with the biggest teen idol band in the country (if not the world)’ to ‘possibly alienating non-1D listeners’. He had to tone it down, they said. And the newspaper stories. What he did on his own time was his business, but only up to a point. Nobody had to mention Chris Evans for Nick to get the message. Harry felt awful. If Nick seemed like he took nothing seriously sometimes, his job was sacred, absolutely off-limits.

So Harry felt he was a liability now, not a help, and when they met up that evening (‘Mine, not out,’ Nick had said, and Harry wasn’t to pick him up from the station either) Harry was expecting a Serious Talk. He was prepared but dreading it.

They’d got Thai and chatted about their respective days, and after they’d put their plates in the washer and flopped on the sofa, and Nick picked up the remote and started flipping through the channels, and he still hadn’t said anything, Harry realised that maybe there wasn’t going to be a Serious Talk. And instead of feeling like he’d got away with something, he felt like he’d have to take matters into his own hands.

‘Look,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry about today.’

‘’S’not your fault,’ Nick said, flipping between Channel 4 and some cable channel. ‘Grand Designs or Kardashians?’

This was screamingly obvious code for ‘We are not talking about this’, but apparently Harry didn’t care.

‘Nick,’ he said, in a let’s-be-sensible voice he didn't recognise in himself. It was so unrecognisable it made Nick look at him. ‘Maybe we should think about cooling it a bit. I mean. I don’t get... You don’t have to stay with me. Not if your job...’

It was incoherent, and every cell in his body had rebelled at saying it, but he did, and it was out there now. There was a long stretch of Nick just staring at Harry. Then:

‘What telly do you want to watch?’ he said. ‘Houses or celebs?’

The words made him think Nick should be jokey and loud, but he was still and quiet and there was something deeply familiar about his expression. It took another second or two for Harry to nail it, then he remembered. It was exactly like the one he’d seen that morning a few months back (fuck, nearly a year ago) with the birds. Nick wasn’t as dishevelled and he wasn’t smiling, but it was the same: naked, open. Harry also remembered that Nick wasn’t really one for Big Chats. He swallowed.

‘Houses,’ he said, his voice a bit rough. He cleared his throat. ‘Houses,’ he said again, more certainly. ‘That’d be nice.’

‘Cool,’ said Nick softly, and let go of the remote.

Around halfway through Kevin McCloud gushing earnestly about some asymmetrical pile of glass and concrete in the middle of a forest, Harry had stretched out and poked a toe into Nick’s thigh and said ‘hey’, lifting an arm and jerking his head in the universal gesture for ‘come here’, and Nick had crawled up the sofa and into his arms.

And that night, when they went to bed, they folded themselves up into each other, Harry covering Nick with his body as much as he could, shielding him from some imagined threat from the outside world and had wanted to say ‘What the fuck are you doing with me? I’m ruining your life,’ but he didn’t, and that was that.


‘Get undressed, Styles,’ he hears Nick say. Harry looks up and sees Nick standing by the sink holding the toothbrush he’s retrieved, smiling like Harry hasn’t just drifted off.

Harry gets himself together. He’s given up worrying over things he can’t do anything about, like how stupid Nick is, or how keeping Harry was one of the worst decisions he ever made. Things have got very simple: he just wants Nick, and will do anything to have him, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Clothes, he thinks. Getting them off, he decides, is best approached like a cold swimming pool: all at once. His jeans are the trickiest, tight as they are, so he goes for them first, undoing them and shoving them down around his knees, and dragging off both t-shirt and jumper at the same time as he treads the jeans the rest of the way off. And jesus fuck, it’s colder than he thought it’d be, the air around his knackers might as well be whistling straight through an open window. Harry’s shivering under the covers when Nick hops over and gets in, fully clothed.

‘Hey, not fair. What about your nana’s “red sky at night” bollocks?’

‘Changed my mind,’ says Nick, teeth chattering slightly. ‘Come here. Give me your body heat.’

He pulls Harry towards him, cool fingers nipping at Harry’s flesh, making him squeak. Nick’s just wearing a shirt and jeans and socks, but it feels like armour against Harry’s bare skin.

‘Brrr,’ says Nick, wiggling his hands flat together between Harry’s thighs. ‘Warm me up.’

‘Bastard, your hands are freezing,’ Harry says, yelping a bit and trying to curve his body away from Nick.

‘You can’t hate it that much,’ Nick teases, and yeah, Harry’s hard from Nick’s hands on him, and if he’s honest he loves the rough scrape of denim against his thighs, and the tickle of Nick’s cotton shirt against his chest. He growls and drags Nick over with him onto his back and Nick has to whip his hands out from between Harry’s thighs to land with them either side of Harry’s head.

‘Frisky,’ he says, a little breathless.

‘Yeah,’ says Harry, squeezing his thighs around Nick. ‘This is weirdly hot. Maybe you could fuck me with your clothes on.’

For a split-second, Harry sees the smile fall off Nick’s face and his mouth freezing half-open, but then he’s dropping his voice to ad-voiceover pitch and saying ‘But I want to feel your skin against mine, baby,’ and as Nick presses in, Harry is aware of Nick’s jeans brushing his balls, a cold flash of metal (a zip? a button?) that makes him tense up, like teeth during a blow-job.

‘Mmm,’ he says. ‘Yeah, clothes off, actually.’

Nick leans down to brush his lips over Harry’s, and murmurs, ‘You should take them off me then.’ And even though it’s another cheesy line, Nick means it now and Harry reaches up to catch Nick’s mouth with his and they kiss intently, Harry sliding his hands under Nick’s t-shirt, dragging it up, both of them whining as they separate to haul the shirt over Nick’s head. When they come back together, Harry runs his hands down Nick’s bare back and under the waistband of his jeans, the feeling of Nick’s skin against his making him sigh. It always gets him, Nick’s body against his. They get Nick’s jeans open, but before Harry can slip his hand inside, Nick’s disappeared out of his grip, sliding down the bed.

‘Nooo,’ Harry complains. ‘Where are you going?’

Even as he says this, he knows. Harry feels his hips being lifted and Nick’s breath over his balls and the underside of his cock, and he hears Nick murmur, ‘When did you last shower?’ Harry’s stomach muscles tense and flutter in anticipation.

‘Um,’ he says, looking absently at the ceiling. ‘I had one after the gig tonight.’ Then Nick lifts his hips up higher, shouldering his way under Harry’s thighs, and he can feel Nick’s mouth further down, ghosting over his perineum and then Nick’s tongue is inside him, hot, deep, and strong. His whole body narrows down to one point, Nick’s tongue driving into him, forcing his breath out of his lungs on a wordless cry, Nick pushing his hips up, which makes Harry grab onto Nick’s hair, not knowing if it’s for something to hold onto because he feels like he’s falling off the face of the earth, or if it’s to stop Nick, pull him away, because this is too much, too much sensation, making him hard like a steel rod, making his eyes sting. Being licked out always makes him lose his mind a bit. He doesn’t know why it should be so different to being fucked, but it is. But then he feels Nick’s fingers thread gently through his, taking hold, and he relaxes into it, Nick’s tongue moving inside him slowly now, circling, dipping, soothing – no sudden movements. He holds onto Nick and his breathing calms. It’s never enough, though. He wants Nick properly inside him, above him, covering him, taking him over with his whole body.

‘Come up,’ he whispers, tugging on Nick’s hand and he feels Nick pause, then cool air against his balls as Nick takes himself away, then kisses against his inner thighs. Then Nick’s moving up and Harry’s cock is suddenly inside Nick’s mouth, lavish, enveloping, and he nearly comes right there and then.

‘Jesus christ,’ he blurts, sounding like he’s just been charged twenty quid for a pint. ‘Are you actually trying to kill me?’ He feels Nick chuckle around him before pulling off to crawl up him. Harry lets his fingers trail down Nick’s body as he moves until Nick settles between Harry’s legs, face above him, flushed, a bit loose-lipped and messy. He’s lost his jeans somewhere along the way, and Harry feels their erections slide together.

‘Mmmmm,’ he says as Nick nuzzles into his neck and kisses along his shoulder and they thrust lazily against each other. Harry ruffles his fingers through Nick’s hair.

‘Kiss me,’ he says.

‘I’ve just licked you out,’ says Nick, his lips moving against Harry’s collarbone. ‘That’s disgusting.’

Harry sighs. ‘God, you’re so boring. All the kids are doing it these days.’

Nick shakes his head a little and lifts himself up over Harry. ‘All right, you skanky git. Here you go,’ and he lowers his mouth to Harry’s grinning one and they kiss, open, wet, filthy, all at once, Harry surging up against Nick, and all he can smell is a bit of musk, no big deal, he doesn’t know what Nick gets his knickers in a twist about. Harry is greedy, his jaw clicking as it opens as wide as it will go, taking Nick in, tongues slipping and twining together and spreads his legs wider and Nick presses in harder and they fall into the rhythm of sex.

When he can’t take it anymore, Harry says, ‘Let’s fuck,’ against Nick’s mouth. Nick makes one last, deep thrust against him before he replies, ‘Yeah,’ and draws away.

‘Yeah,’ he says again as he climbs over Harry and out the bed. Harry lets out a little cheep as cold air billows in briefly, and Nick exclaims ‘Jesus fuck,’ and does cartoon-tiptoes across the floor to his bag. Harry had forgotten about the cold. He watches Nick rummage, lamplight highlighting the contours of his back, the bumps of his spine. Harry can see the ‘GO’ on his ankle in black ink. His face is in quarter profile, hardly visible, but Harry can see his intent expression, his eyelashes cast down as he looks through the bag. After a minute, Nick utters a quiet ‘yay’ and turns, holding what Harry presumes are condoms and lube in a triumphant fist. Nick flinches slightly when he sees Harry, putting his palm to his chest.

‘God, you weirdo,’ he says. ‘Were you staring at me?’ He starts back towards the bed.

‘Yeah,’ says Harry, scooting back to make room and, when Nick’s near enough, lifting the duvet an inch. ‘Get in, quick.’

Nick climbs in, pulling the duvet back over them, and they wriggle towards each other again. Harry feels the scratchy corner of the condom packet against his shoulder blade as they burrow against each other. ‘Why?’ says Nick, muffled, quiet into Harry’s neck. Harry closes his eyes and breathes in and tugs Nick closer, and Nick lets him.

‘Because you’re lovely, idiot,’ Harry says into the top of Nick’s head.

They both go still for a minute, barely breathing. Sometimes Nick does this, goes small and quiet against Harry, and it’s probably the cold and Nick’s probably just heat-seeking, but it’s one of those moments when Harry’s breath stops in his throat and he gets this sudden feeling of responsibility for someone nearly ten years older than him and all he can do is hold Nick and hope it’ll be enough.

Then they pull apart and look at each other sheepishly and go about getting themselves ready. Harry takes the condom out of Nick’s hand, and Nick lies back while Harry opens it and carefully rolls it down over him. Nick’s hands hover over Harry’s as he does it, then they both make sure it’s on properly, their fingers doing a little dance at the base as they push it down snugly.

Harry’s not totally sure why they do this. He knows they’re both clean (Nick gets tested every few months – he’d said so once, during a conversation about sex, other people there, and Harry had tucked the info away). But giving condoms up isn’t just a practical thing; it means something.

Nick ferrets out the lube from where it’s slipped underneath him and Harry lies on his side and watches as Nick smears it generously over his cock. Apart from a few functional words – ‘Is that it?’ ‘Yeah, I think so’ ‘Budge up a bit’ – they’ve both gone completely quiet, and it’s weird but Harry’s never known Nick not to break a silence with a stupid joke, and even though it should be awkward, somehow it’s ok.

Then Nick holds up his still-lubey hand and Harry leans across and wipes off whatever’s left with his, then reaches down to smear and prod it inside himself. It’s probably ok without, he’s relaxed from Nick’s seeing-to earlier, but waste not want not, can’t be too careful, and all that. God, maybe he’s turning into Nick’s nana. Nick’s leaning over him now, and saying ‘Come on, knees up,’ but Harry stops him with a palm flat against his shoulder.

‘No,’ he says. ‘You on your back.’

Nick looks a little surprised, but he just says ‘all right’, and lies back, watching Harry. Harry wriggles up on top of Nick, careful to hold the duvet around them, letting in as little cold air as possible. He settles over Nick, feeling Nick’s cock pressing against his arse, and Nick pushes up against him and they grin, and Harry says ‘All right, bossy,’ then he reaches down to take hold of the base of it and raises himself until the tip is lodged against his hole. They’re holding each other’s gaze, their mouths fallen open in concentration, and then Harry begins to edge down, pulling himself up then sinking down a little further. It’s tight and he breathes carefully and watches Nick’s face because he loves this, how Nick looks when he’s first sliding inside Harry. His eyes sink shut and he exhales slowly and he looks like... like he’s sinking into a hot bath, a ginger pleasure, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth, and before Harry can think about what he’s doing he bends down to press his mouth to Nick’s gently smiling one. Nick has his eyes closed so he’s not expecting it and he gasps and reaches up to chase Harry’s mouth, pressing up further inside Harry as he does. It forces a groan from them both and Harry drives down onto Nick, gripping the pillow above Nick’s head and Nick holds onto Harry’s hips as he pushes up. Nick’s cock hard is inside him, and they slam against each other, once, twice, three times, breathing hard, already in sync despite their frantic movements, both trying to get Nick as far inside Harry as possible, as hard as possible. Harry whisper-chants ‘ah, ah, ah,’ and Nick spits out a ‘fuck’ as Harry comes down particularly hard on one stroke, and he’s holding onto the head-rail like he’s holding on to the mast of a ship in a storm, buffeted by Nick’s thrusts but sending them back with twice the force.

The duvet’s slipped off but neither of them seem to care anymore – Harry’s body is flooding with god-knows-what natural chemicals that’d probably be illegal if they came in pill-form, he’s so high on this. And even though his brain is a mess of red light and Nick and love and fuck, he knows they won’t come from this, not like they used to. He’s glad. When they started they used to be on a hair-trigger (Harry more than Nick, if he’s honest) but now he gets to fuck Nick for longer, and after a bit they slow down to a lazy grind, panting, and Harry sits back on his heels and just enjoys the feeling of Nick inside him, Nick’s hands on his hips, anchoring him, always pulling him back down. He knows Nick’s going to flip them at some point soon.

‘Christ, you’re gorgeous,’ he hears and he opens his eyes to see Nick looking up at him through heavy-lidded eyes. He presses into Harry, slow, hard and Harry feels it through his whole body, from his arse to his chest to his throat. He rocks forward onto his hands, letting them fall either side of Nick’s head and Nick trails his fingertips over Harry’s forearms as he fucks up into him. Harry lets himself be pushed forward by Nick’s thrusts. ‘Mmmmmnnngg,’ he says contentedly. He’s beginning to feel heavy, drugged, and before long Nick’s hands are at his hips again.

‘Come on, you,’ he murmurs and Harry feels Nick shift under him, burrowing in a little further so they’re properly joined. Then slowly he begins to tip them both to one side and Harry keeping his hips positioned so Nick’s cock doesn’t slip out and they finally end up with Harry on his back and Nick still inside him. It had taken a bit of practice to be able to do it, but they’ve got it down now. And as much as Harry wanted to stay on top, he loves this, being able to wrap his legs round Nick’s waist, let his heels bounce on the small of Nick’s back, and feel the pressure of Nick bearing down on him, inside him, working up to an unstoppable rhythm.

‘God,’ he says.

‘Yeah,’ replies Nick, working hard.

‘Fuck,’ Harry adds.

He’s holding Nick’s biceps and watching his face as he fucks deeply, methodically, into Harry. There’s a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his hair’s falling into his eyes, and he’s holding Harry’s gaze, and Harry never sees him as utterly focused as this and the difference between normal-Nick and sex-Nick always devastates Harry a little, because they are so different, and he gets to see both of them. He takes one hand off Nick’s arm and brushes Nick’s hair away from his forehead, and Nick nudges into his touch like a cat.

‘I don’t want this to stop,’ Harry murmurs. ‘I could fuck you forever.’

A helpless, breathy laugh falls out of Nick.

‘Me too, babes,’ he puffs. ‘But I’m not the Duracell bunny.’

‘Aw, sad smiley,’ says Harry, making a face.

Nick leans down and Harry wraps his arms around his shoulders and feels a little cold-air gap open up between their bodies as Nick pulls out and thrusts back in again.

‘Are we going to come soon then, my darling?’ Nick murmurs into Harry’s neck, and Harry pushes his hips up, making a huffing noise of effort through his nose. ‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ Nick concludes, and starts to speed up.

‘Mmm,’ says Harry, tucking his hand down between them to take hold of his cock and starting to stroke himself. He always leaves it as late as possible to touch himself because he loves it nearly as much as Nick does. Nick says something happens to his face when he does it. He has no idea, but he loves feeling Nick inside him at the same time as wanking himself off. It’s a memory he keeps and takes with him wherever he goes. Nick’s staring at him, transfixed, and he raises his hand to Nick’s face, thumb slipping inside his mouth, feeling Nick suck on it, and his orgasm is there, spreading up from his thighs, crashing up into him and he clutches Nick’s shoulder and lets out a sob as he comes, pulsing hot and thick over Nick’s hand, and feels a tear slide warm from the corner of his eye down his temple and into his hair. And even as Nick leans forward to catch it with his mouth, Harry knows he’s not going to get away with this.

‘Oh my god, Styles,’ says Nick wonderingly. ‘Are you actually crying?’

‘Shut up,’ he says snuffling, and pulls Nick down against him. Nick’s slowed down and is pushing into him gently, almost gingerly. ‘Go on then,’ Harry urges. ‘You’re never gonna come at this rate.’

‘I don’t know, Haz,’ Nick says looking forlornly down at Harry. ‘I might... break you or summat.’

Harry rolls his eyes.

‘Or is it me?’ Nick goes on. ‘Can I reduce grown men to tears with the power of my cock? Do you think that’s it?’

‘Wow, you are really not as funny as you think you are.’ Harry rolls his hips. ‘Come. On. Or I’ll go to sleep.’

‘Better get a move on then hadn’t I?’ says Nick and pushes in hard, using one hand on the bed frame to pull himself above Harry, and pressing Harry’s knee up to his shoulder with the other. ‘Legs up, baby.’

Harry brings both knees up to let Nick in and he feels his hole open up. Nick sighs out, ‘God fuck,’ as he slides in to the hilt and his breaths become rhythmic cries. Harry’s sore and super-sensitive and he can feel the stretch in his hamstrings but it’s worth it for Nick’s forehead creasing, his eyes closed but the eyelids fluttering. Harry knows he’s close, and after a few more thrusts, Nick is gasping out his last sigh. He jerks short and quick at first, then Harry can feel the pressure as he pushes back inside to draw out the aftershocks.

He hangs over Harry, breathing deeply for a second or two before carefully sliding out. He drops the condom on the floor beside the bed somewhere and they lie there for a while staring at the ceiling before they become aware of the cold in the room again and start to tug the covers up and over themselves, tucking each other in.

Nick’s half asleep. Harry’s drifting off himself.

‘Night,’ he says.

‘Yeah,’ Nick manages before they’re both out cold.


The light leaking around the heavy curtains is soft and grey. It wakes Harry slowly and it takes a little while for him to come to properly. At first he does the usual mental pat-down – is he on the bus or in a hotel? Which city are they in? What day is it? – and realises he’s not in a bus or a hotel and that he’s with Nick, and he sinks back happily in the bed until he finds Nick’s body, an elbow and a knee he thinks, he’s not sure. Then as he nestles back against whichever pointy bits of Nick he can find, he remembers that he’s got to leave in a couple of hours and his stomach drops. They won’t even have the whole morning.

He reaches for his phone on the bedside table. Big white numbers say ‘7:13’. Less than three hours. He turns his face into the pillow and takes a deep breath through the cotton. It’s ok. He’s used to this. He can do it. He knows the deal. He turns his face on the pillow so he’s on his belly, looking at Nick, or where he thinks Nick might be. There’s a tuft of pink hair emerging from under the duvet, but that’s all Harry can see at the moment. He reaches out and tugs it down a bit, and Nick makes a snuffling noise and turns towards him. His eyes are closed but Harry knows he’s awake.

‘Hey,’ Nick says roughly without opening his eyes.

Harry knows it’ll take Nick ages to actually open them, and for a few seconds he hates that he knows this. He wishes he didn’t. He wishes Nick had just been a fling or a one-night stand that Harry didn’t think about anymore, just bumped into when they were doing UK promo and had fond memories of. Certainly not someone he knows so well he can predict when they’ll open their fucking eyes in the morning.

‘I hate you,’ he whispers without thinking.

Nick nestles into the pillow and opens his eyes slowly, blinking at Harry.

‘Morning,’ he says. There’s a rustling under the duvet then Nick’s hand emerges and reaches out to brush Harry’s hair away from his forehead. ‘I hate you too,’ he says. He sounds like he’s saying sorry.

Harry closes his eyes and lets himself lean into Nick’s touch for a minute, then he pushes himself away, climbing out of the bed. He grabs the spread from the foot of the bed and wraps it round himself to go for a piss.

He almost feels like leaving now. What’s the point in soaking up as much Nick as possible when it only makes it harder to leave? He could just go now with a sleepy kiss when Nick’s barely awake and get on the road.

When he’s finished Nick looks like he’s gone back to sleep and Harry goes over to the window. He tugs the heavy curtain aside and looks out at the view. Everybody keeps talking about how this winter’s gone on forever, and you can still see some patches of snow on the fields. Everything else is brown or sage-coloured, the trees splaying their gnarly bare fingers against the white sky. Harry tips his forehead against the glass and feels the cold seep into his skin. He looks down at the muddy yard, their cars parked there. His flash city Rover, its gleaming chrome spattered with mud; April and Dan’s proper country one, khaki coloured, serious-looking clay encrusted on the chunky tyres; Nick’s Merc, pristine as usual. Harry swears there’s some supernatural force-field around it. Fuck knows how he keeps it so clean.

Harry squeezes his eyes tight shut. He hears a slight movement in the room behind him and before he can turn around he feels Nick against his back, his arms coming around Harry, bringing the duvet with them, enveloping them both in Nick’s warmth. He rests his chin on Harry’s shoulder.

‘Hey, grumpy,’ he says. ‘Come back to bed.’

Harry worms his hand through his own blanket and the duvet to find Nick’s, lacing their fingers together.

‘I wish I didn’t have to go,’ he says, knowing it’s childish and whiny, but not caring because he knows Nick’s going to be sensible, be the grown-up, tell him he’ll have a great time and not to be such a moany popstar. It’s what he needs right now.

But Nick pulls Harry against him, tucking his arm close around his middle, sinks his mouth into the curve of Harry’s neck, and says, ‘I don’t want you to go either.’ He feels Nick rest his forehead against his shoulder. ‘I wish we could just stay here, annoying April and Dan, playing with Lottie, going for walks and fucking all week. Screw the press, screw the radio show, screw everything.’

It is so not what Harry needed to hear, but Nick’s words make something bloom in his chest. He squeezes their fingers till their knuckles roll painfully against each other.

‘Fuck, I’m sorry,’ Nick says on a shaky exhale. ‘Pretend I didn’t say that. You’re gonna go, and you’re gonna sing, and you’ll have an amazing time. It’ll be better weather for a start. Get some actual Vitamin D in you. Might keep off those rickets for another couple of months.’

Harry turns round in Nick’s arms, dislodging their coverings. Nick’s eyes are glassy.

‘Come with me,’ he says urgently, stupidly. ‘Come and get some vitamins in California with me.’

‘And who’ll do my show?’ says Nick laughing and smashing away the wetness with the heel of his hand. ‘I’ll just ring Dev, shall I? Oh by the way, can you cover me? Just an extra three-and-a-half hours of the highest-pressure radio slot in the country, every day for the next week. Ta, love.’ Nick looks at Harry softly, tugging the blanket and duvet back up around them. ‘I know I said I’d love to, Haz, but it doesn’t mean we can.’

Harry knows he’s being ridiculous. He needs to pull himself together.

‘All right. I know.’

‘Come on.’ Nick starts walking backwards and pulling Harry with him. ‘Let’s make sweet luuurve while we can.’

Harry grins at Nick’s terrible American accent.

‘Only if we can do it to Barry White.’

Nick looks sad.

‘But I left all my Bazza at home.’

‘No nooky for you then.’ The backs of Nick’s knees are pressed up against the side of it now, as he resists Harry leaning over him.

‘Ah, shame,’ Nick says in a quavery voice, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. ‘Never mind. You’re not all that in bed anyway, Harry Styles.’

‘Really?’ he says, tipping Nick easily onto his back and crawling over him. ‘Not what I heard last time I had your cock in my mouth.’

Nick laughs his dirtiest laugh and pulls Harry down.


They get up in time for breakfast with April and Dan and Lottie. Harry helps Dan make poached eggs on toast for everyone, and Nick feeds Lottie in her high chair, his bare toes hooked onto the bottom rung. He’s getting most of the mashed apple and banana in his hair or Lottie’s ear and only about a third of it actually into her mouth. She’s shrieking with laughter though, and April sits back with a mug of tea clasped to her chest.

‘Do you guys come through an agency? Like, Slaves-Are-Us or something? Are there more like you?’

‘Yeah,’ says Nick. ‘I’m the boss and the whole band’s moonlighting. One D Childcare, it’s called.’

April snorts into her tea. ‘Jesus, that’s sort of terrifying.’

‘You’re not wrong,’ Dan says. He’s at the cooker, stirring the water for the next egg. ‘The kids’d probably be in a semi-hysterical state by the end of the day.’

‘It’s our standard working practice actually,’ says Harry, buttering toast. ‘Get them wound up into total hysteria, then twenty minutes before the parents are due, we bring them down again. They’re putty in our hands.’

‘The kids or the parents?’ says April wonderingly. ‘Wow, Harry Styles. You are actually evil. Good job hiding that one.’

‘Thanks,’ Harry says brightly. As he looks over his shoulder, Nick looks up from his baby-apple apocalypse and grins at him. There’s a smear of mashed fruit on one lens of his glasses. Harry grins back.

Eventually, they’re all settled round the table, Dan taking over with Lottie so Nick can eat his breakfast in peace. Dan’s a tour manager and gets Harry into an in-depth chat about the tour, asking lots of logistical questions so he can’t earwig Nick and April’s conversation. They’re probably just catching up and talking about old times. There is part of him wants to drag Nick back upstairs so they can spend their last little while alone, but he knows it’s easier this way. Other people around, Lottie grabbing at his knife and chuckling when he makes a ‘no, bad girl!’ face, Dan asking him something weird about the buses.

Then they’ve finished eating, and there’s no putting it off any longer and he goes upstairs to put his few things into his bag, and comes downstairs to say bye. He hugs April and Dan, kisses Lottie’s head, and turns round to see Nick stuffing his bare feet into his unlaced trainers.

‘You don’t have to. It’s disgusting out there.’

‘Shut up, Styles.’

Harry rolls his eyes, and turns to April and Dan. ‘Thanks again for everything. If you ever need a refuge from a frenzied media circus, well, I’d say call me, but… Maybe in ten years or something?’

‘We will, mate,’ laughs Dan. ‘Drive safely.’

He goes down the steps into the yard, and hears Nick following. He opens the side-door of the car and slings his bag into the footwell of the back seat. He turns round and looks at Nick standing there, arms folded against the cold in the ugliest jumper and trackie bottoms the world has ever seen, his old trainers all squashy and shapeless and their laces trailing in the mud. Harry doesn’t understand how much he adores him.

‘You look fucking ridiculous,’ he says.

‘What you on about?’ Nick says indignantly. ‘I’m a style icon, me.’

Then he shuffles forward with his arms held out to Harry and they kiss, warm and close against the cold. And then they kiss some more, because every time Harry thinks of pulling away, he doesn’t know what he’ll say. He can’t say ‘see you soon,’ because they won’t; he can’t say ‘I love you,’ because, well; ‘I’ll call you’ sounds like the lie after a one-night stand; he can’t say anything at all. So best to just keep kissing. Eventually he feels Nick nudging him back, towards the car, until he pulls away altogether and says, ‘Get in the fucking car, will you?’

‘Yeah,’ says Harry, and leans in for another kiss. But Nick puts his hands on Harry’s chest and pushes him gently.

‘Go on,’ he says softly. ‘You’ll miss your flight.’

Harry manages to stop himself saying, ‘I don’t care’. He turns reluctantly, opens the car door and slides in. Nick closes it on him and steps back carefully on the muddy ground. Harry lowers the window.

‘Have a great time, babes,’ Nick says. ‘Say hey to Cal from me. Try not to bump into Swifty.’

Harry snorts out a laugh as he turns the key in the ignition and the engine rumbles into life.

‘Yeah. Will do.’

He looks over at Nick. He has the sudden urge to ask, ‘Will we be all right?’ but he squashes it down. In the end, neither of them say anything much more, and Harry puts the car in first and manoeuvres it carefully out of the yard and onto the track. He takes a last glance in the rearview and sees April come out onto the front step, a cup in her hand that looks like it’s for Nick. Nick hasn’t noticed her, though, he’s just standing there, arms shoved inside his sleeves, watching Harry leave.


He decides not to stop. It’s not a long drive, he can get coffee at the airport, and he’s really not up for random fan encounters this morning. The traffic’s not too bad. Hopefully he’ll have a clear run to Heathrow.

He deliberately thinks about the week to come. He spent last Passover with Ben in London and had been expecting it to be all po-faced and serious and if he’s honest, boring. And there had been quite a lot of reading and ceremonial things to do, but there was also a lot of drinking and eating and singing, and all the kids were involved as well, not just told to sit there and shut up, and Harry had loved it. So yeah. He hopes Cal’s will be the same. It dawns on him that he’s actually looking forward to it. He passes a car with a family inside: mum, dad, kids in the back, and they catch Harry’s eye because they all look like they’re singing along to something on the radio or a CD.

He thinks about Nick with Lottie at the breakfast table this morning, making truck and aeroplane noises for her, and he has a split-second, blink-and-you-miss-it vision of the future, and all this stuff now – the trip to LA, the press stuff, all his obligations to everyone, the endless tour – suddenly seems completely temporary. It will end and he knows that whatever happens, he and Nick will outlast it all.

A slow grin begins to grow on his face. It’s a shitty day, grey, with patches of rain all the way to Heathrow, but nothing can touch Harry. California here we come, he says to himself.