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It’s almost a nothing-thing.

It almost doesn’t happen at all, because Willy almost doesn’t run out of gum, because Mitch almost doesn’t try and blow an obnoxiously large bubble out of pure boredom, because their flight is almost not delayed because of fucked up weather on the east coast, because a butterfly flapped a wing somewhere far away, or whatever.

But all that happens, and Willy has to rush to buy more gum, and on his way to do just that, he ends up walking face-first into another person.

It hurts, and Willy’s phone goes flying to the ground, and for a second, he is very, very annoyed.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” says the man into whom Willy just walked. His accent reminds Willy of his and Kappy’s most recent Hugh Grant marathon, and when he looks up, he finds that he has, without a doubt, the most beautiful face Willy has ever seen.

“It’s okay, shit happens,” Willy says, giving the man his most charming smile, because he’s a lemonade-from-lemons kind of guy. “I’m Willy, by the way.” He cocks his head a little and holds out his hand, and the guy blinks at that.

And it’s then that Willy realizes the guy is, like. Harry Styles.

Like, straight-up, the real, actual Harry Styles. Or maybe Harry Styles’ secret twin brother, or his clone, or something, but— that’s the same face that Harry Styles has, is the point.

“I’m Harry,” the guy says, like Willy doesn’t know, but Willy’s already got the fuck-me eyes going, and that’s got Harry fucking Styles smiling at him.

Jesus christ, Willy’s good.

“Pleasure,” he says, as he’s shaking Harry Styles’ hand. He’s pretty sure the guy should be, like, surrounded by security guards or something, and he’s half-convinced that someone’s gonna jump out and tackle him for daring to touch Harry Styles, but he figures that’s more a thing with, like, presidents, not pop stars.

But still, he feels like he shouldn’t just be allowed to bump into Harry Styles and move on with his life.

“So, what’s got you trapped in an airport?” Harry says.

Willy’s probably dreaming right now. He’s not gonna pinch himself, but that’s— that’s gotta be what’s happening. “Trying to get home.”

“Not local, then?”

“No,” Willy says. “I’m from— well, Sweden, kind of, but heading back to Canada.”

“What’s in Canada?” Harry asks. “Got some maple syrup investments to check up on?”

Willy has to be dreaming right now. There is no way any version of Harry Styles has nothing better to do with his time than make strange small talk with a random stranger he bumped into at the airport. “No, the other one.”

“The other one?” Harry says. He’s got this sly smile and a glint in his eye, and Willy has no idea how the fuck he’s even having this conversation.

“Hockey,” Willy says.

“Ah, of course,” Harry says. “The other one, indeed. You play for a uni team, or something?”

Willy blinks at him. “No,” he says. “I play hockey. Like, for a living.”

“Like, professionally?” Harry’s eyebrows shoot up, surprised and maybe impressed, if Willy is feeling particularly optimistic.

“Yep,” Willy says awkwardly. “I’ve actually gotta go find my team—”

“Right, yeah, of course,” Harry says. “Nice meeting you, then.”

“You too,” Willy says, and he turns around, not bothering with the gum.

……  

If they gave out awards for being in denial, Willy would have… a lot more awards.

Not that he needs an award, because being in denial is a reward in and of itself, but he’s just saying, he met Harry Styles in an airport a week ago and has already managed to convince himself that the whole thing was made up.

Then, all of a sudden, he’s trending on Twitter, and it’s, like, international. Really international. Not just Canada and Sweden, but, like, Willy waking up one morning to a phone that’s already hot, and almost vibrating off the nightstand.

There’s an audio clip at the top of his Twitter feed, which he’s not really supposed to be looking at during the season, but whatever. Willy listens to it before checking anything else.

“Hello hello hello, Harry Styles,” the host—whose name is Grimmy, apparently—is saying. “How are you this morning?”

“I’m well, thanks,” Harry says, in that same low, slow voice Willy had heard with his own two ears in person, except now it's on the radio, a little muffled but still recognizable.

“So, you were in LA last week, right?” the host continues, with no regard for Willy's ongoing personal crisis.

“Right.”

“And normally, when normal people go to LA, people will ask, ‘oh, did you see anyone famous?’ But since you’re the famous person, people probably don’t tend to ask that as much.”

“Sure.”

“But earlier, you were telling me a story how you ran into someone famous and ended up making a bit of a fool of yourself.”

There’s a chuckle. “Uh, yeah, sort of,” Harry says. “I was in the airport, and bumped into this guy and knocked his phone out of his hands, and then when we were talking afterwards, he told me he played ice hockey.”

“And what did you say to him, then?”

“Well, I asked if he played for his uni team,” Harry says. “Because he looked like he was about uni age.”

“And did he?” He sounds like he’s laughing.

“No.”

“What team did he play for then, Harold?”

“Well, I don’t know which team, but— he said he played for a living, for a team in Canada.”

“So you know the team’s in Canada, but you don’t know which team it was?”

“It didn’t come up,” Harry says.

“You see, to me, that’s not embarrassing, because I don’t know a thing about ice hockey,” Grimmy says. “So if I didn’t know who an ice hockey player was, I’d just be like, ‘yeah, makes sense,’ and move on, unless he was particularly fit, or something.”

“Well, I mean,” Harry says. “He was pretty good looking.”

“Was he, now?” Grimmy says.

“Little bit.”

“Then in that case," Grimmy says. "If you’re an ice hockey player listening to this show who happened to bump into Harry Styles in an airport, please know he’s interested and can be contacted at—”

“Shut up,” Harry says, laughing. “I hate you.”

“What? I’m helping you,” Grimmy says. “It’s like if Cinderella forgot to leave a glass slipper, and was a Canadian ice hockey player.”

“Hate you,” Harry repeats. “The team's Canadian. He's Swedish, apparently.”

Grimmy laughs. “How do you know he was Swedish?”

“It came up.”

“So the fact that he was Swedish came up, but what team he played for didn’t?”

A pause, and then, “Yes.”

“So the guy we’re looking for is Swedish, but plays in Canada, is about uni age, and fit,” Grimmy says.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Blonde, too.”

“Well, if you fit that description, please know that Harry’s looking for you, and also that he’s about to introduce our next song.”

The clip cuts off there, and Willy stares blankly at his phone, wondering if that really just happened.

As he’s dragging the clip back to the beginning, there’s a knock on his door.

“Hey, did you seduce Harry Styles and not tell me?” Kappy says, poking his head into the room without waiting for Willy to tell him to come in.

“Uh, maybe?” Willy says. “Not on purpose?”

“Cool,” Kappy says, and then he closes the door behind him.

……

So the internet had tracked Willy down, because apparently the pool of Harry Styles die-hards overlaps more with people who follow hockey more than Willy had thought.

Mostly, Willy’s just in shock and doesn’t want to think about it right now, but unfortunately he plays a team sport, and he’s hit with a fine the second he steps into the locker room.

“For what?” Willy says, incredulous. “What rule? What clause? What bylaw?”

“You go viral, you get fined,” Leo says, unwavering, and Willy groans, then makes his way to his locker as everyone claps him on the back, whooping and cheering as he tries to get dressed.

They’re not too obnoxious about it, really, just a normal amount of teasing, and they seem to back off when Willy shrugs it off, doesn’t act funny-annoyed or embarrassed, and Willy’s not sure why he’s not reveling in this. He usually loves attention, and it’s not like people are saying rude or mean things to him, but it’s still— it’s weird, having it all of a sudden be a thing. A real thing.

When he gets asked about it in post-practice, he’s not all that surprised, and he manages to brush it off easily enough with a standard, “Yeah, y’know, I woke up this morning and saw it, I guess it’s pretty funny.” He talks around the questions about whether or not it’s true and if he’s planning on reaching out to Harry Styles, and he thinks the answer should be an obvious ‘no,’ because he doesn’t even know how he would do it. It’s not like he can just look him up in the phone book, or ask around for his number. He’s hockey-famous, but Harry is famous. He’s inaccessible by design.

So, Willy figures that if Harry’s serious, he can reach out, and he really doubts that Harry’s serious. He hasn’t followed Willy on any sort of social media, and he’s got to be seeing at least a sliver of this, so.

It’s nothing.

That’s that.

……

Harry doesn’t reach out, so Willy puts it out of his mind. His face appears more on the internet than usual, and his jersey sales spike, but even as loads of One Direction fan accounts and a fair number of British pop culture reporters flood his followers, Harry Styles himself stays quiet.

It will blow over soon, Willy tells himself, and he even tries to believe it.

……

Harry doesn’t reach out directly, but sometimes, the world is small.

“So, you know Shawn Mendes?” Mitch says.

“Uh, yeah,” Willy says. “Everyone does.”

“Well, he texted me about you."

Willy doesn’t know how Mitch Marner became friends with Shawn Mendes, but then again, Mitch is friends with literally everyone, so he probably shouldn’t be surprised.

“What did he say about me?” Willy asks.

“Well, the whole Harry Styles situation,” Mitch says. “He has some intel into the whole thing.”

“There's no Harry Styles situation,” Willy says. "There's no thing." 

“He thinks there is, according to Mendsy,” Mitch says. “He’s friends with Niall. Like, Horan.”

“Okay?”

“So apparently, Harry told Niall that he wants to say sorry for the whole thing blowing up on Twitter, but he doesn’t know how to do it privately, so I gave Shawn your number to give Niall to give Harry.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah,” Mitch says, like it’s just a normal thing for him to circulate his friend’s number among people whose faces grace the bedroom walls of thousands of adolescent girls. “Anyway, Shawn wants to make sure it’s cool with you before he gives it to Niall.”

“Um. I guess?" 

"Sweet," Mitch says, and then he sends off a quick text to Shawn Mendes, because life is strange and full of strange surprises.

……

When a text comes in from an unknown number with a +44 country code, Willy is only about 30% convinced that it’s actually Harry Styles.

hey there. sorry it got so big. thought keeping your name off the air would help. didn’t mean to create a hassle.

Willy stares at it for a second before typing out, r u harry styles.

haha yeah, says the reply, a few seconds later.

proof?

Willy’s not sure what he’s expecting in terms of a response, but it’s certainly not the thing he gets, which is a FaceTime call. It's so unexpected and so loud that he nearly drops his phone.

He answers without really thinking too much.

“Oh,” Willy says, blinking at the face on his phone screen. “You really are Harry Styles.”

The same Harry Styles who is super famous, and who Willy saw in an airport.

That guy.

“Afraid so,” he says with a crooked smile. He’s in a living room, or something, and Willy idly wonders what time it is for him. “Sorry again if it’s been a hassle, dealing with stuff.”

“Eh.” Willy shrugs. “It’s not like there are paparazzi camped outside my place, and I’m used to cameras, anyway.”

“Saw a reporter ask about it the other day,” Harry says. “You’ve got a gift for not answering questions, by the way. I’m impressed, I always try to talk around things like that.”

“It’s a hockey thing. I was pretty much born not answering questions.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, for sure,” Willy says. “My first words were probably something about it being a team effort, or needing to get pucks deep, or whatever.”

“Get pucks deep,” Harry echoes. “What a turn of phrase.”

“Yeah, it’s a thing,” Willy says, waving his hand. “The goal of any interview is to give them as little information as possible, then leave as soon as you can.”

“That’s brilliant,” Harry says, and his eyes are delighted and shiny and kind of really fucking beautiful. “Maybe I should’ve been a hockey player.”

“Have you ever played?”

“Nope,” Harry says cheerfully. “I don’t suppose you’d want to teach me.”

“Next time you’re in Toronto, I could,” Willy says. “Or Sweden, if it’s the summer.”

“So we’ll keep in touch, then?” Harry says. “About hockey?”

“Definitely about hockey,” Willy says, grinning.

Harry gives him a wary look. “Are you really trying to give me fuck-me eyes across the ocean?”

“I’m not trying to do anything,” Willy says. “They just happen sometimes.”

“So it’s totally random, then,” Harry says.

“Well, no,” Willy says. “Only when it’s someone who I’d fuck.”

“I’m so flattered,” Harry says, and Willy’s pretty sure he’s dreaming again, but it’s a pretty good dream, so he sort of just goes with it.

……

The Harry Styles thing starts to blow over around the time that Harry starts to become, like, an actual thing.

They text, kind of a lot, and even though they don’t agree on everything—Harry likes weirdly pointy shoes, and thinks Willy’s gameday suits are far too boring—they have a lot in common.

Harry’s funny, and he makes Willy laugh, and it’s nice, to get a text from him after a rough game or talk to someone who doesn’t care all that much about hockey but does seem to care about him.

He makes Willy smile uncontrollably, and occasionally just falls into comfortable silence, keeps Willy on the line as he goes about his fabulous superfamous pop star life and talks about people and flirts. They don’t follow each other on social media, because according to Harry, that would probably blow up in their faces, but Willy checks his twitter every day anyway, which is mostly just boring pictures of each tour and the same generic tweets after every concert.

He learns about One Direction, and how Harry genuinely misses some of the guys, even though he’s not working with them; he learns about Harry’s friends from England, including the radio host who had given Harry shit for bumping into Willy and blown up his notifications for a few weeks, and whose show is honestly hilarious.

“Please,” Willy says. “ Please get me for this Call or Delete thing.”

“It’s not like I can control it, that’s the whole point of the game.”

“At least put my number in your phone a bunch of times to increase the odds,” Willy says. “You can use fake names.”

“I can just add your number to everyone else’s contact,” Harry muses. “He’ll think I’m calling my mum or something, but then you’ll pick up.”

“I could pretend to be your mom,” Willy says. “Or just say I’m hanging out with her.”

“I think she’d be confused if word got back to her.”

“Exactly.”

“I like the way you think, Nylander,” Harry says. “You’re devious.”

"Devious," Willy echoes. "That's a new one. Usually you go with brilliant.” Willy likes it when Harry calls him brilliant. He knows it’s just a word Harry uses more than he’s used to, but it’s a nice word, one that sounds kind of like sparkles.

Or maybe it’s just that Harry’s eyes are usually sparkling when he calls Willy brilliant.

One of the two.

Possibly both.

“You're also brilliant,” Harry says, and Willy’s thinking about sparkles when he adds, “I like you a lot, you know.”

“I like you a lot too,” Willy says, kind of automatically, because his brain-to-mouth filter tends to turn into a sieve when Harry is smiling like this.

“It’s good we bumped into each other, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Willy agrees. “Really good.”

They just smile at each other for a few minutes, and it feels a little less like glitter, and a little more like fireworks.

……  

Eventually, Harry ends up in Toronto.

Willy doesn’t mark the date on his calendar, because that would require him to have a calendar, but he does mark the date on Zach’s calendar, and then draws weird shapes on every other day of that month, because he doesn’t want anyone to make the connection. It’s not that Harry’s a secret, but he’s just— he’s famous, and he’s Willy’s friend, and whatever’s going on between them is nobody’s business but Willy’s.

So maybe Harry shows up at Willy’s game, and maybe he’s wearing Willy’s jersey, and maybe Willy thinks about that when the puck finds the back of the net a few times, and when he gets first star, and he almost texts Harry after the game until he catches the interview Harry did at one of the intermissions.

“He and I talk, from time to time,” Harry says.

“Would you say you’re close?”

Harry shrugs. “He’s a nice lad,” he says. “Let's say we’re mates, yeah.”

He doesn’t sound super sure, and if Willy’s being honest, it doesn’t feel super great.

 ……

It feels much better, though, later that night.

Willy’s sitting in his apartment, pretending he’s not moping as he shamelessly mopes, and it’s going pretty well, honestly—Ben and Jerry’s had been buy one, get one 50% off, and they’d even had Kappy’s favorite flavor, which Willy had used to distract him from noticing said moping which had successfully spared him some serious judgment—when there’s a knock on the door.

“Who is it?” Kappy yells.

“Victoria Beckham, you may know me as Posh Spice?” the voice says through the door. It’s low, and male, and it’s definitely not Posh Spice’s voice, because Willy’s had ‘Wannabe’ as his alarm for the last four years, he knows Posh Spice’s voice better than he knows himself, sometimes.

Also, it’s very clearly Harry.

“I’ll get it,” Willy says to Kappy.

“Who is it?” Kappy trails behind Willy as he peels himself off the couch. “Is Brownie doing an accent again?”

Willy doesn’t respond, just opens the door to find Harry on the other side, grinning.

He’s got his hands stuffed in his pockets, and he’s wearing a flannel over black jeans that are ripped at the knee and those dumb pointy boots he seems to love more than life itself, and his hair is long and messy and Willy really wants to run his hands through it.

“What, not wearing my jersey anymore?” Willy says.

“Nah, packed it up after the game,” Harry says, running a hand through his hair, and then he looks over Willy’s shoulder. “Uh, hi there.”

“Hi,” Kappy says, and Willy almost startles, because he’d totally forgotten Kappy was there.

In his defense, Harry Styles has very distracting eyes.

“Uh, Kappy, this is Harry, and Harry, this is my roommate Kappy,” Willy says, stepping aside so that the two of them can shake hands.

“You’re totally Harry Styles,” Kappy says.

“And you had a…” Harry squints, like he’s trying to remember. “A powerplay goal? Or a reverse powerplay goal? Something like that.”

“Shorthanded is what you’re looking for,” Willy offers.

“Right,” Harry says, throwing Willy a grateful smile. “Sorry, I’m fairly new to hockey.”

“And that’s cool and all, but, like— like, no offense, but how did you get our address?” Kappy says.

Harry cocks his head. “One of your teammates told me where Willy’s flat is, I think it was… Marns? Is that his name? The other speedy one, who’s friends with Niall’s boy.”

It takes Willy a second to realize that Harry’s talking about Shawn Mendes, because he hadn’t known that Shawn and Niall were apparently a thing; he should probably tell Auston, actually, if only so they can start listening to Shawn’s music in the locker room again without Auston glare-moping at the speakers.

“Call him Mitchy Mouse,” Willy says.

“Will do,” Harry says. “He’s good help for a romantic gesture.”

“This is a romantic gesture?” Willy’s smiling way too wide.

“I would’ve played a boombox outside your window, but you live very high up,” Harry says. “I don’t think you’d have heard it.”

“You’re a singer, can’t you serenade me?” Willy bats his eyelashes, because he knows he can pull it off. “I think a serenade is way more romantic than a mixtape.”

“Bit narcissistic, though,” Harry says. “Also, figured I’d invite you to the concert tomorrow, so you can hear me sing then.”

“That was smooth,” Wlily says. “I’m impressed.”

“Okay, then” Kappy says. “I’m still here, but I’m gonna go to my room, please don’t do anything gross on the couch.”

“Nice meeting you, mate,” Harry says cheerfully. “We’ll leave your living room unscathed.”

“Speak for yourself, I can do what I want in my apartment,” Willy says. “You want a tour?”

“Say no, don’t make out in the kitchen,” Kappy calls from the hallway, and then Willy hears the sound of his door closing.

Willy makes a face in the direction of Kappy’s room, then turns back to Harry. “He’s no fun.”

“Oh well,” Harry says, stepping closer to Willy. “Guess we’ll have to make our own fun, then.”

“What’d you have in mind,” Willy says, his eyes flickering down to Harry’s lips as Harry cups his cheek.

“We could watch a movie,” Harry says, and Willy can feel his breath against his lips, they’re so close.

“What movie?”

“I’m quite a big fan of The Notebook.”

“I’ve heard that about you,” Willy says. “I don’t know if I’m in the mood for a movie, though.”

“What are you in the mood for, then?”

Willy considers saying something, except Harry’s here, and they’re touching each other for the first time in ages, and he’s never been known for his patience, so—

Harry’s giggling against his mouth, the first time they kiss.

It’s a pretty great thing.