Though he didn't know it yet, this was the moment that started it all - blagging their way into a party for the third time that year, even though it was only February.
"I am the Duchess Penelope of New West Sussex, and these are my guests, Lord and Lady Soham," Aimee said imperiously with a wave in Nick and Alexa's general direction, Brooklyn twang switched out for a more upstate accent.
"Good evening," Nick said solemnly, unsure if he should bow or what and settling for a slow nod.
The doorman gave him a weird look but let it slide. "Welcome your grace, my lord, my lady, may I ask...?" He held both gloved hands flat and aimed towards Ian, unsure if he should be respectful or not.
"Oh, yes, that's just my manservant, er... Bodlington." Aimee smoothed over her hesitation, smiling warmly at the guard, who blushed.
"Of course, sorry to delay you, madam," he bowed deeply, stepping aside to let them in to the party, his fox dæmon marking his ankles. They just about made it around the corner before bursting into silent fits of giggles.
"We fucking did it!" Alexa wheezed.
"Bodlington," Aimee said, choking on the word.
"Bodlington!" Ian repeated, doubled over, his back convulsing with repressed laughter.
Nick couldn't breathe, clutching his stomach and containing his laughter so tightly that he thought he might have broken a rib. At their feet, their dæmons were in similar states of disarray, Pig flopped on her side with Aimee's capuchin, Viggo, collapsed on top of her.
After a minute, they had all calmed down a bit, and Alexa wiped away a tear. "I thought that was going to be so much harder! This is the biggest event of the month, they didn't even check the list!"
"Suppose General Payne wants everyone to see his new trophy husband," her dæmon butterfly, Estene, said gloatingly from his perch in Alexa's hair.
"Apparently he's gorgeous," Ian said conversationally, picking up his cat dæmon, Mira, who chimed in, "like ridiculously good looking!"
"Fortune like General Payne, he'd better be, or we'll steal his place," Pig grinned.
"My thoughts exactly," Alexa agreed, and clapped her hand against Nick's in a loud high five. They all flinched at the noise then laughed again, sheepish, and continued along the corridor into the party.
The main room was filled with guests, mostly idiots who were too rich to know what good taste was and had dressed accordingly in garish suits and lavish dresses. There was also a fair few people in army greys, suits crisp and clean and generally unflattering, and a couple of priests and bishops in full church regalia.
Aimee let out a low whistle. "Influential bunch," she murmured to Nick as she took his arm, "they really should have had better security."
"Thank god they didn't," Nick replied as they both swiped glasses of free champagne from a passing waiter.
"I'll say," Viggo replied from Aimee's shoulder, "but damn, rich people are so weird..." They watched as a woman with hair at least a foot and a half tall led her husband onto the dance floor. They made it about three steps before the ornate blonde braids collapsed. Aimee caught his eye, blank bewilderment on her face.
Nick turned, laughing, but it died in his throat as he spotted what was probably the sexiest thing he'd ever seen in his many sexy years of seeing many sexy things, and that included a threesome with two Gucci muses. A clearing had appeared in the middle of the room around someone's dæmon, people stepping away as if they couldn't allow themselves to exist in the same space as such a creature. The dæmon was a large black panther, darkest fur reflecting the light with a silver gleam like the most expensive silk in the world. She had a strength to her, a lithe kind of bulk paired with the laziest of movements, as if she was perfectly at home here in plain view of London's wealthiest and most famous, and with all of this power, this priceless beauty, she was wearing a collar. It was diamond encrusted, sparkling in the light coldly, fit exactly perfectly to the panther's strong neck. It was a small tease, a someone-owns-this-and-it's-not-you, and it set Nick on fire.
"Holy shit," Pig muttered.
"Just a bit," Nick agreed, feeling light headed. He couldn't take his eyes off her.
"Whose is she?" Pig asked, jittery at his feet. "Nick, we got to- we have to..."
"I know," Nick said, and as he spoke, the panther looked at him. Her eyes were clear, unreadable in the way that made you ache to know more, and she blinked at him once, slow. Him and Pig and this unknown dæmon were the only people in the world, until Nick's peripherals caught movement and he looked just behind the panther as someone turned. It was a man, dressed in bottle green velvet cut perfectly to his tall form, showing off his not inconsiderable assets. In a room full of starchy military suits and stuffy church robes, it was like water to Nick, the drowning man.
His gaze was an echo of the panther's, heavy lidded, calm but deliberate, and his skin caught the light in a similar way. It was too good to be true, had to be makeup, but it looked so natural on him. He wasn't classically beautiful, his mouth too big and something uneven about his eyes, but he was somehow the most attractive person Nick had ever seen, with long dark curls framing his face, falling gracefully to his shoulders.
"Pig..." Nick was breathless, pinned in place by this man's gaze.
"I know, Nick, I know," she whined and he felt her shudder, "just look who he's with, Nick..."
Nick noticed, for the first time, the hand placed possessively on the small of the man's back and followed the military grey sleeve up to strong shoulders and a closely shaved head, familiar from photos. Sure enough, Liam Payne turned slightly and Nick recognised his profile from the papers reporting on the runup to this party. Meaning that the beautiful man in green...
"That's Harry Styles, then," Pig whispered, "the newlywed. Fuck."
"Well said," Nick said, and turned to find a drink.
"Better make it a strong one," Pig said rather desperately, and they both felt the panther watching them as they left.
Some time later, Nick was enjoying a smoke on the balcony, well past buzzed from the free alcohol and giggling as he watched Alexa get off with a nervous-looking rich idiot in the bushes below. She didn't know he was watching, but he really couldn't wait for her to finish and come back upstairs so he could tell her. He tapped his cigarette over the edge, trying to get the ash to fall on her head, but it blew away in the wind.
"Buggering bastard," Pig sighed sorrowfully, then yelped.
"Huh?" Nick said eloquently, turning to see what the fuss was. The fuss was, as it happened, the panther, and Nick sobered up immediately. "Shit."
"Hello," purred the dæmon, tail flicking lazily back and forth, eyes and collar glinting in the relative darkness.
"Erm, hiya," Nick said nervously, "I'm Nick, this is Pig."
"That's an off-brand suit," she said with the same slow calmness, her attention turning to Pig, who was trying not to hide behind Nick's legs. "Are you someone's manservant?"
"No," said Nick, at the same time Pig said, "yes," and they both winced.
"I mean, uh..." Nick racked his brains for whatever he'd decided his cover story was, and came up blank.
"We snuck in," Pig said resignedly, and Nick braced for the guards to be called. Fuck, getting thrown out was always embarrassing.
Instead, the panther laughed a little, delighted in the way that didn't feel like you were being excluded from the joke. "You're charming," she said, and Nick wondered if that counted as hypocrisy.
"Anteros?" A voice came from inside, low and just shy of hoarse, an unexpected northern softness to it.
"Harry," Anteros called back calmly, and the man who must be Harry stepped onto the balcony, the curtain's movement bathing him in a halo of gold as he appeared.
"Oh, hello," Harry said, smiling as his eyes adjusted, "it's you, from earlier."
"It's me," Nick said, voice teasing to hide the nerves, "what exactly did I do earlier?"
"Dunno, I just..." Harry's eyes raked down his body and up again, goosebumps left in their wake, fixing back on Nick's with a warm amusement. "Noticed you."
"Likewise," Nick managed to croak out around his dry throat, hoping he sounded husky and sexy rather than weird and ill. From the look Pig gave him, it wasn't successful. He was starting to feel all the wine he'd drunk again, but not in a good way. Fuck, this was definitely not good. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I have to go, got, er... Things to be, places to do, that kind of thing."
"That's a pity," Harry said, and it would have been politely friendly if it weren't so enticing. "We haven't had a chance to get to know each other yet," and wow, okay, that was definitely not polite.
"Congrats on the marriage," Nick said loudly, "nice to meet you!"
Harry nodded his thanks, a smirk playing at his mouth, and he held the door open for Nick, meaning Nick had to brush right past him on the way back inside. He smelled of expensive perfume and just slightly of sex; Nick's eyes found Liam, rumpled and more than a little dazed, on the other side of the room and suppressed a shiver.
"See you round, Nick, Pig," Anteros said lightly.
"See you!" Pig squeaked, and they all but ran to find Aimee and the others and somewhere to throw up.
It was three days later, hangover finally clearing, that Nick saw Harry again. He was working a shift at Henry's shop, something he hadn't done in years, but Henry was away on business in Norroway and didn't trust the new kid yet to lock up alone; it had been a relatively quiet day, with only one tricky customer, an old lady who'd insisted on seeing every hat in the store while choosing a present for her grandson, who'd looked like he probably wanted to melt into the floor after hat number three. So when the bell over the door jingled, Nick looked up with a fixed smile, ready to roll out the customer service charm and froze.
"Hello, Nick," Harry smiled, holding the door open as Anteros padded into the shop, languid and smooth.
"Harry, hi!" Nick tried not to trip over his feet as he rounded the desk, coming to a halt in front of it, unsure why he'd moved. Outside the window, Harry's bodyguard waited by the anbaric car, deceptively idle. Nick watched as Anteros reached out her nose to butt it against Pig's, the tiny connection sending a thrill down Nick's spine, and he noticed that she was wearing another collar, black leather that blended into her fur but somehow looked no cheaper than the diamonds. Nick gulped and looked back up at Harry, a no less enticing sight in his sculptural coat and sheer shirt. "What can we help you with?"
"Oh, nothing, just browsing," Harry smiled, and he turned to thumb through a rack of fabrics, display samples for the bespoke suits. Over his shoulder, he said, "this is your shop?"
"No, err, I'm only minding it for my flatma- my friend," Nick said, suddenly not wanting Harry to know he couldn't afford rent on his own. "Henry Holland, he's the master tailor, I just work the till when no one else is available." Great, that makes you sound rich, good job. "I'm a broadcaster by trade."
"We know," Anteros said, settling herself on the chaise longue, "Liam listens to your show sometimes."
"Oh, blimey, really?" Nick said, sharing a perplexed look with Pig, "that's, err... Flattering."
"Military general who listens to underground radio," Pig laughed, and she sounded easy and calm, "sounds like quite a man." Maybe Nick should just let her do the talking.
Harry hummed an acknowledgement, not an agreement. "He's certainly something."
"Bet he's not half bad in the sack, either," Nick said faux nonchalantly, not quite sure what gave him the balls to say it when he was practically quaking in his boots.
Harry turned back to him, amused, and his grin transformed his features, making him less unattainably beautiful, more real. Fuck everything, but he was somehow more attractive. "Like I said," Harry said, a laugh bubbling just below his voice, "he's certainly something."
Nick couldn't help but smile back now that he had some kind of control over the situation. Flirty banter he knew, he could do. He leaned back against the counter. "You bagged the one we were all gunning for, you know that? Me and all my friends."
"Sorry to jump in at the eleventh hour, I guess," Harry said, pulling off his gloves as he spoke and dropping them on the end of the counter, "couldn't help myself."
"Husband number four, the papers say," Pig said boldly, and Nick almost flinched but Anteros snorted out a laugh.
"Hoping this one'll stick," Harry replied, sauntering slowly towards Nick as if Nick might somehow not notice, all senses trained on Harry as they were.
"The sex is that good?" Nick asked, hyperaware of his body as Harry came to a stop next to him, leaning back on his elbows too, mirroring Nick's pose.
"Good boys never kiss and tell," Harry said in a posh accent, bumping his shoulder against Nick's, then he leant in, all quick, and whispered, "could be better."
A shiver ran down Nick's spine, set off by the puff of Harry's breath against his ear. Oh god, this was so bad. "Reckon I could be, yeah," he whispered back.
Harry's eyes met his with narrowed intensity, flicking for a split second to his lips, and back up. Vaguely, Nick was aware of Pig talking to Anteros, but most of his attention was focused on the way Harry's fingers were stroking, ever so softly, against his arm, tracing patterns no one else could see. Nick gulped, and in the silent room, all of them could hear it.
"I'll take this one," Harry said suddenly, stepping back and pulling a silvery fabric off the counter at what seemed like random.
"What, like a meter of it?" Nick said weakly, head spinning, caught off-guard.
Harry smiled widely. "Yes, a square of fabric, sure. Course not, you dunce, a coat in it! I'll be back for a fitting when Henry's available." He picked his gloves up off the counter and went to the door.
"What style?" Pig called, and Nick wouldn't have even remembered to ask.
"Whatever you think would suit me best," Harry replied.
"With a matching collar, please," Anteros said, and with a flick of her tail, they were gone, slipping out the door and into the waiting car with one smooth motion.
There was a moment of silence.
"What," said Pig, with feeling, "the fuck?"
"Seconded," Nick said dizzily, sinking to the floor, "what did Anteros say to you?"
"We're, uh, invited to dinner," Pig said, similarly dazed, "but I don't think it's the food they're interested in."
"To be fair, neither are we," said Nick, still clutching the fabric sample tight enough to tear. "Pig, what the fuck? What do we do? He's married, bloody hell!"
"Bloody hell," Pig agreed, and hesitated. Then, "we'll go, won't we?"
There was a sinking dread in Nick's stomach that she was right. "What coat do we want to make for him?"
"Fuck knows," Pig sighed, and she came to climb into his lap. As he scratched at her fur, he wondered what he possibly had to wear.
As it turned out, he had nothing, absolutely nada, so a week later found him in an anbaric car being chauffeur driven to a surprise location, wondering if there was still a pin left in this new shirt because something was definitely poking his back.
"Sit still," Pig hissed, watching the divider closely, as if the driver might pull it down and start yelling at them for fidgeting. "The shirt's fine!"
"Easy for you to say, you're not the one being stabbed!" Nick replied petulantly, but he knew he was imagining it anyway so he consciously stilled himself.
Five minutes passed in tense silence, then, "arriving now, sir," announced the disembodied voice of the chauffeur and the car hummed to a stop. Nick steeled his nerves as he waited for the driver to come and open the door, then climbed out with what he hoped counted as a modicum of grace. He found himself standing in front of a Nipponese restaurant, the kind where one bowl of rice cost more than Nick earned in a year probably. He gulped.
"Are you sure this is..." He turned to the driver, but he was already stepping back into the car.
"Can I help you, sir?" Nick turned back to see the maître d' smiling calmly at him.
"Yeah, uh, thanks, I'm... Here to meet a friend?" He hadn't meant to say that as a question, and Pig stamped on his toes. "The name is Payne, maybe, or Styles?"
At the second name, the maître d' nodded. "Of course, we've been expecting you," he bowed slightly, "if you would follow me." He led Nick through the classy tables of the first floor, busy if not loud, and up a short flight of stairs to a more private room, at which he knocked on the door.
"Come in," called a voice from within, and it thrilled Nick to recognise it as Harry's.
The maître d' nodded once again, and left Nick to go in alone, which he probably should have been expecting, but really he'd counted on having a human shield just in case Liam was hiding in there too, a set-up just to get Nick killed.
"Liam listens to our show," Pig said to him quickly, "he wouldn't kill us."
"I'd kill us if Harry was my husband," Nick shot back, and pushed the door open. Happily, it was only Harry and Anteros inside, reclining lazily at a low table. The candlelight glittered off heavy silver rings on Harry's fingers and a thick chrome collar around Anteros's neck, and Harry's skin had a golden kind of glow to it, contrasting with his dark tattoos and white blouse, open almost to his waist. Nick was getting bored of the omnipresent tingle of arousal in his stomach at this point.
"Evening," Pig said quietly, going over to but noses with Anteros as Nick stepped out of his shoes, leaving them next to Harry's red boots at the door.
"Good evening," Harry said, smiling up at Nick. He gestured to the array of starters and bottles on the table, "we've ordered already, hope that's okay. It's all vegetarian."
"No problem," Nick replied smoothly, focusing on sitting down gracefully and mostly managing it. When he gathered the guts to look up at Harry, he was holding a glass of tokay out towards him, eyes dark and intense. Nick didn't usually drink tokay, but he figured he needed all the help he could get tonight, so he took it gratefully.
"There's no hurry," Anteros said, almost laughing as Nick necked half the glass straight away.
"There really isn't," Pig agreed, glaring at Nick. Harry just laughed, a delighted thing that reminded Nick of his young cousins up in Manchester.
"Just catching up," Nick said haughtily, with a nod at the empty glasses Harry had accrued, "you must be riding a pretty good buzz right now."
"Always am," Harry said, then picked up his chopsticks. "Shall we eat?"
Three hours later found Nick and Harry, stomachs hurting from too much good food and laughter, being thrown out by the Maître d', some ridiculous excuse like "closing time" tossed in their wake.
"Preposterous," Harry said indignantly, then grinned at the shriek of laughter that elicited from Nick. "What?"
"How are you not too pissed to say that?" Nick choked out, clutching Harry's arm for support as they stumbled down the lamplit street, tripping on cobblestones.
"Diction lessons," Harry said honestly, and then they were both bent double, laughing so hard they couldn't speak.
"Diction," Nick repeated as soon as he could get the sound out, tears streaming down his cheeks where he knelt on the street, unable to stay upright in the face of such hysterics. "Harold, are you kidding?!"
Harry still couldn't reply, shaking his head as soundless laughter wracked his whole body, leaning heavily against the railings of some rich tosser's front garden. Anteros was similarly undignified, howling with laughter as she leant against Pig, whose legs were shaking with the effort of supporting her.
"Fuck me, I haven't laughed this hard in years," Nick grinned as he pulled himself upright, leaning back against the fence next to Harry, "this is bloody ridic- mmph!" He was cut off as Harry swung round and kissed him, hard and fast, grinning through it.
"Me neither," Harry whispered against his lips, voice muffled but maybe he did sound more northern, and Nick couldn't help but kiss back. He surged forward, Harry twisting them so Nick was pressing him against the railings, and Nick took full advantage of that by bracketing Harry's shoulders with his arms and pressing in close, chasing Harry's lips with his teeth and tongue and body. Harry pulled at Nick's coat collar and neck, elbows tucked in to fit, and moaned low into his mouth. Next to them, Anteros was writhing restlessly, and Nick could feel Pig shaking with the overwhelming feedback of their bond.
Nick swore he was about to black out as Harry grabbed his hips, pulling him in close so he could rub himself, heavy and unashamed, against Nick's thigh. "Fuck," he choked out, legs almost collapsing beneath him as the movement pressed his own erection tight against Harry's hip.
"Love to," Harry said smugly, "but not here," and he spun them once more, one hand pushing Nick a few steps down a side passage and back against the wall. Nick's eyes took a second to adjust to the lighting change, but when they did, he almost came on the spot at the sight of Harry, kneeling in front of him, palming himself through his trousers.
"Is this okay?" He asked, looking up at Nick through his long eyelashes, and okay wasn't exactly the word he would use.
"What about your bodyguard? Anyone could see us," Nick said, really not wanting to deny this but also really not wanting to be killed by Liam Payne's private militia.
"Jeff's fine," Harry said dismissively, starting to pull at Nick's flies, "besides, Ant and Pig are looking out, right?"
"Right," said Anteros, dazed and obviously watching Harry's hands on Nick's trousers and nothing else.
"Not even a little distracted," Pig agreed dryly, eyes fixed on the same.
"Sounds good," Nick said quickly, not really caring anymore. Death would be worth this, and very well might be as Harry groaned a thank you and practically fell forward to mouth against the outline of Nick's dick in his boxers.
"Gods, Nick..." Harry said, low and dirty and appreciative as he pulled Nick out of his pants, stroking a featherlight touch down the length of him, teasing.
"Harry," Nick gasped, trying not to whine as he canted his hips forward inadvertently. Usually, he prized himself on his good sextimes etiquette, but he felt too out of control tonight; maybe from the alcohol, maybe from the threat of discovery, maybe just from Harry. As Harry licked a stripe up the underside of his dick, he gripped Harry's hair way too tight, messing up the soft curls. "Sorry," he choked out, letting go as fast as he had grabbed on.
"Do it again," Harry said, voice like gravel as he gave Nick's dick a perfunctory tug, more a promise of things to come than any action on its own, and wasn't that interesting. Slowly, watching Harry's expression closely, Nick threaded his fingers back into the roots of Harry's hair and twisted his grip sharply; Harry's mouth fell open with a groan, eyelids fluttering, and he swallowed Nick down in one go.
Over the next month, Nick saw Harry more and more, always finding excuses to run into each other at galas - Harry invited, Nick sneaking in - and the radio house - the opposite - and the zeppelin docks, and every encounter ended in orgasms, usually mutual and sometimes multiple too; Nick had never been so well fucked without ever getting fucked in all his life. Aimee was starting to notice that something was up, Ian reporting back to her after every longer-than-usual loo break at work, but she hadn't asked him quite yet. Nick, who knew she wouldn't like his answer when she did, was fine with that, but he knew she would ask one day and had been trying to prepare accordingly.
"Where's Liam?" He had asked as Harry had pressed him against the wall in Henry's fitting room, dicks finding friction on each other.
"Conference in Muscovy," Harry had replied and kissed him deeply, ending that conversation quite effectively.
When Harry had dragged him through the kitchen and into a back alley behind a restaurant, Nick had tried covering his seriousness with a laugh. "Do this often, huh?"
"We really should," Harry had grinned and pulled him close.
Almost a week later, he tried again as he pressed open mouthed kisses to Harry's dick backstage at the opera house. "What if we get discovered?" At that, Anteros had keened and Harry had gone quiet, shooting cum into Nick's hair as his dick pulsed.
"We're done for," Pig had said resignedly after that last encounter, butting her head against Nick's leg sadly.
"Yeah," Nick replied, watching as Harry had walked away down the corridor.
But, as husband to a political figure, Harry was sometimes called upon to entertain various partners and guests of visiting dignitaries, taking them to see a show or around the sights of London, which gave Nick some much-needed respite to clear his head. This was one of those days, so the last thing Nick had expected to see, as he sat with Pixie in Regent's Park, was Jeff and his stocky badger dæmon surreptitiously standing guard outside a small walled garden.
Immediately, Nick grabbed Pixie's arm and yanked her into the bushes, hoping against hope that Jeff hadn't spotted them yet.
"Nick, you div, ouch!" Pixie exclaimed, "what the fuck?"
"Shut up," Nick hissed, pressing a hand over her mouth, and Pig trapped her gecko dæmon under his paw, "shut up, that's the guy I've been getting with, that's his bodyguard!"
Pixie looked impressed. "You've been getting with someone who has a bodyguard?" She whispered, "who?"
Nick felt himself blush. "Harry Payne, but don't-" he grabbed Pixie's other arm as her eyes widened, "don't tell Aimee, you have to promise, don't tell anyone."
"Nick, you..." She was at a loss for words.
"Let's get closer," Nick said firmly, and didn't wait for an answer before breaking into a run around the back of the garden, finding a spot hidden in a tree, Pixie looking torn as she followed him.
"Is this the best idea?" She asked, but then someone spoke from within the garden.
"Fuck, Harry..." It was a woman's voice, breathy and high, saccharine with its west coast New Denmark accent. She sounded wrecked in a way that was gut-clenchingly familiar to Nick.
"Was that good?" Nick knew that voice so well now, it had said those exact words to him, and hearing it in this context made him feel a bit sick. There was a pause filled with the wet sound of kissing.
"Seems we both enjoyed it," the woman said, "so, yeah, I'd say so. I won't tell your husband if you don't tell my mother?"
Harry laughed, low and easy, the way he got only after a particularly good orgasm. "Deal."
Pixie was still staring at him, wide-eyed, and Nick shook his head at her tightly, doing his best to keep silent as they both stood and tiptoed away gingerly. He had almost relaxed, when -
"Nick?" Harry's voice called from behind them, and Nick turned. Harry had a hand raised, waving, and on his arm was the girl, long dark hair, skin tanned and lips overdrawn, her shining beetle dæmon clinging to her dress like a brooch.
"Harry, hi," Nicked replied, walking reluctantly back towards them, Pixie following uncertainly. He didn't know if he could see the remnants of the girl's slick on Harry's chin or if he was imagining it.
"This is my friend, Nick Grimshaw, and Pig," Harry said to the girl, then smiled at Nick. "This is Kendall, she's the New Danish ambassador's sister, and Parasonus."
"Pleased to meet you," Kendall said brightly, holding out a hand.
Nick shook it, trying not to wince at her surprisingly strong grip. "Charmed," he said dryly, unable to break eye contact with Harry, who was smiling hazily.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure, miss...?" Harry turned to Pixie, laying on the charisma.
Despite herself, Pixie looked a bit flustered, "This is Cadmius, I'm Pixie Geldof, I'm a model?"
"Oh great, Kendall is a model too!" Harry said as if this was the luckiest thing that had ever happened to him.
"Where can I find your stuff?" Kendall asked, sounding interested, reaching out to shake Pixie's hand too. "Maybe I've seen you somewhere?" Her eyes were too-wide with something.
"Oh, I doubt it, it's all pretty new," Pixie said with a nervous laugh.
"Well, then I look forward to seeing it in the future!" Kendall's charm had nothing on Harry's, Nick thought spitefully, with none of the genuine warmth or the spark behind the eyes. She turned back to Harry, smile becoming sharper. "Anyway, we should get back, right?"
"Yeah," Harry said in a voice that Nick's mother might, after a glass of wine or two, call cuntstruck.
"See you around, then," Nick said miserably, winding a hand into the crook of Pixie's arm.
"I'll see you tomorrow Nick," Harry said, with a fleeting glance.
"Nice to meet you both," Kendall said gushingly, and then they turned and left, walking much closer than Nick and Harry ever did. As they walked away, Anteros looked back, unreadable as ever, but then they rounded the corner and were gone.
Nick blinked rapidly, berating himself for his tears before they even fell.
"Oh babe," Pixie said despairingly, wrapping him in a hug, "is this really so unexpected?"
Nick didn't answer, knowing his voice would crack and humiliate him.
"What were your plans tomorrow?" She sounded a bit hollow, and Nick could relate.
"Tate Brytain," he croaked, "new exhibition."
"And you're really going to go?"
Nick didn't know what to say until Pig sighed a heavy 'yes' and that was that decision made. He really was fucked.
He had been sure, turning up the next day, that it was going to be weird and awkward and horrible, so when Harry had greeted him with the usual big grin and lingering hug, he'd only been annoyed by it. But as the day wore on, he'd still been susceptible to Harry's ineffable good mood, reluctant answers turning to genuine chuckles turning to fond indulgence as always. By the time they left the gallery at 6, it was as though yesterday hadn't happened. He had no reason to be surprised, let alone hurt by Harry getting off with pretty models, Nick reasoned, and in the end, Harry was still here with him. So, as Harry wondered aloud where to go for dinner, Nick felt emboldened.
"How about back to mine?" He said, and Harry looked at him immediately. "I'm a terrible cook, but we could try together?"
"Yeah, alright," Harry said, and there was something under his light tone that Nick couldn't discern.
"Great," Nick said, "it's, uh... A bit of a trek, really, half an hours walk if that's okay?" What he was really doing was asking Harry to call Jeff for a lift.
"I don't mind," Harry said, oblivious and happy.
Damn. "Great! We're hanging a left, then," Nick said, sharing a glance with Pig as they tried to remember whether there was anything in the fridge vaguely resembling food, maybe even something you'd actively want to eat. When they arrived at the flat, half an hour of good conversation later, they found it empty of both housemates and most food, so a mixed bag really.
"What about... Omelette?" Harry said, head stuck deep in the fridge as he rifled through the contents, "we have eggs, half a pepper, some cheddar..."
"Ooh, yeah, and red onion and potatoes?" Nick said, pulling open a cupboard.
"Perfect," Harry smiled, and they set about making dinner, moving easily around each other as Harry cooked and Nick fetched ingredients. After eating, Nick gave Harry a quick apartment tour, glossing over Henry and Emily's rooms, and they found themselves curled opposite each other on the sofa.
"I had a really nice day today," Harry hummed, eyes glittering in the low light.
"Me too," Nick said, smiling back.
Anteros spoke up from her position curled at Harry's feet, "I loved Phyllida Barlowe's stuff at the Tate."
"We know someone who had an internship with her, helped make those sculptures," Nick said.
"She's dead nice, apparently," Pig chimed in.
"You can tell from her work," Harry mumbled, "punky but nice."
"Exactly," Pig said, satisfied because she had said exactly that to Nick before.
"Nice walk, too," Anteros said around a yawn.
"It's a nice area," Nick conceded, "nothing like Chelsea, though, your digs are well posh."
"Yeah," said Harry, pulling a face, "I never get used to it, no matter how many big houses we live in, never. Always feel like some little squit from Holmes Chapel, not that that was much in the stix either."
"We're Oldham," Nick confided, "so I'm used to middle class, but London's something else. Really bonkers. Everyone hears the northern accent and assumes you're a miner."
"Right! It's weird," Harry sighed, sliding down until his head was in Nick's lap. Without thinking about it, Nick's hands came to rest on his head, threading his fingers through Harry's hair, gently pulling out the few knots he found.
"It's nice to talk to someone who understands," Anteros said quietly, and Nick noticed her tail curling tight around Harry's ankle, trembling a little. Harry himself was shaking, in fact, minutely.
"Harry?" Nick asked slowly, "is everything okay?"
"Yeah," Harry said, turning to smile up at Nick, and there was a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead, "all good, why?"
"You look a bit, err, clammy," Nick said.
"I'm fine," Harry turned back, hair falling to obscure his face, "just a bit tired. Might call Jeff, actually."
"Sounds good," Nick said, unsettled, "want me to ring him?"
"That'd be great, tha-" Harry cut himself off with a huge yawn, settling deeper onto Nick's lap, "thanks."
"Okay," Nick said, and Pig fetched him the phone. As they waited the ten minutes it took Jeff to arrive, Harry fell asleep, breathing deeply against Nick's thigh, and Jeff had to come and carry him out to the car.
"I think he might be getting ill," Nick said, as he held the door for them, "he's got a bit of a fever."
Jeff nodded. "I'll let his staff know," he said, not unkindly. "Have a good night, Nick."
"You too, J-dawg, sleep well," Nick said, saluting sarcastically the way Harry always did. "See you later."
There was radio silence from Harry for a week after that, sleeping off his illness Nick assumed, so they didn't see each other for a while. Nick took that free time to catch up on all the stuff he'd been neglecting for the past few months, like visiting his mum and helping Emily redecorate her room.
"It's nice to have you around again," Emily had said, tone deliberately casual, as they'd covered her bed in a dust sheet in order to paint the ceiling.
"We haven't been gone, have we?" Nick had asked, confused.
"A little bit," she had said, smiling vaguely.
The only significant thing that happened during Harry's week off was Nick walking in to Henry's shop to ask for the spare key, having locked himself out of the flat, to find Liam Payne there, closely examining a gauzy red shirt. He turned at the sound of the bell over the door and smiled vaguely at Nick.
"Morning," he said politely, and turned back to the shirt.
"Morning," Nick replied, legs suddenly shaking, seriously contemplating just running, but that would only be more suspicious. He steeled himself, Pig staying close to his heels, and walked to the counter to ring the bell. Please let Henry get here fast, he prayed to whatever was listening.
"Sorry, excuse me, I, uh," came Liam's voice from behind him and Nick tried not to wince as he turned, "I believe we've met?"
"Yeah, I think we run in the same gala circles," Nick said, smiling brightly as he held out his hand, "I'm Nick, this is Pig."
"Nick Grimshaw, right? You do the radio, right?" Liam's eyes crinkled up when he smiled and fuck, Nick had really wanted to hate this man. "I'm Liam Payne, this is Andraste," he said, shaking Nick's hand as his brown bear dæmon bowed her head.
"Yeah, I know," Nick said with a nervous laugh, "you're a bit famous." Pig trod on his toe soundly, and Nick wanted to tell her, believe me, I know.
Liam only laughed politely. "Suppose I am," he said.
"Nice shirt," Nick said, searching for a topic change wildly, "a bold choice for someone who wears grey pretty exclusively."
"Oh, yeah, it's not for me," Liam said, holding it up for them both to see. "It's for my husband, I thought he might like it, he buys a lot from this shop. What d'you think?"
I think your husband could make a dish cloth look like a McQueen gown, Nick thought sourly. "It's lovely, gorgeous colour."
Liam hummed thoughtfully. "You've met my husband, maybe, at one of the galas," he said, "Harry Payne, he's got long brown hair, has probably an inch or two on you? Panther dæmon?"
"Yeah, we've met," Nick said, staunchly not engaging with the inches comment. "I bet he would look lovely in this colour."
Henry chose that moment to appear from the depths of the fabric store under the shop, blinking in surprise at the sight that met him. "Hello, General Payne, how can I help? Be with you in a sec, Nick."
"Sure, I'll wait outside," Nick said, and turned to more or less run out the door.
"So nice to meet you finally, sir, I've heard so much about you from Harry," Henry said, gushing customer service voice hoisted into place.
"Please, call me Liam, and don't believe a word he says," Liam said fondly, "he is taken to exaggeration, our Harry."
The door clicked shut, closing off the sounds from within the shop but Nick couldn't stop Liam's voice replaying in his head. He sounded so, so in love. He really loved Harry. Harry was cheating on him, and Nick was helping him, and he didn't know. Nick wanted to die.
Disappointingly, but maybe not surprisingly, this didn't stop Nick from jumping at the chance to meet with Harry again a few days later, and the next day, and the day after that, at a garden party then a luncheon then a gallery, and finding increasingly vague excuses to get time alone together. When Harry gave him a blowjob in a Harrod's supply corridor and he came so hard he practically collapsed, Nick could almost forget the sight of Liam's happy smile at the mention of his husband. Almost. More and more often, he was bringing Harry back to his flat during the days he knew Henry and Emily were out at work, or the evenings they were staying at their respective boyfriends' places, and he was staunchly not acknowledging this development in their relationship. It was one such evening when the witch's dæmon arrived.
They were lying on Nick's bed, slowly mustering the energy for round two, Nick naked and Harry in only a silk robe Aimee had left behind once, the pink of it sensuous against his golden skin. They had been kissing lazily, in no rush, when there had been a sharp tap on the window.
"Shit," Nick had squawked, almost falling out of bed as he looked up and saw the looming white shape of a swan in the darkness.
"Shit," Harry had echoed, voice hollow and yet somehow full of dread. There had been a moment of stillness, then the swan tapped its beak on the window again, insistent.
"What does it want?" Nick stage-whispered.
Harry didn't answer, only looked away as he got up and let the bird in.
"Mahevera," Anteros said, voice tightly contained, from her spot on the bed, sat up bolt straight like an Egyptian cat statue.
"Anteros, Harry," the dæmon said, and his voice was reserved but obviously relieved, "hard to pin down, as ever."
"Didn't want to be pinned down," Harry muttered petulantly as he sat back on the bed, subconsciously bracing himself against the headboard.
Mahevera continued like Harry hadn't spoken. "How have you been? It's been a while since we last met."
"Yes, it has," Anteros said pointedly, glaring at the swan as Harry studied the floor.
"Zayn did send word that I was coming, didn't he?"
"No," Harry snorted derisively, "course not."
"Ah," Mahevera nodded, "probably worried you'd try and run."
"Think a lot of yourselves, do you?" Harry asked, sharp tone somewhat marred by his refusal to look up, "not everything in our lives revolve around you, you know, we have a husband and a life and stuff and everything."
"And how's marriage working out for you this time around?" Mahevera said drily.
"Fuck off, that's how," Anteros snarled.
"So this is Liam, then?" His eyes flicked to Nick for a second, appraising him and finding him lacking.
"None of your business," Harry said after a telling pause.
"Thought not," the swan said, flat and unsurprised.
"Listen, just fuck off, okay?" Harry said, a tinge of desperation in his voice.
"You got not right checking up on us like this," Anteros hissed, but she was curled up against the headboard next to Harry now, like a kitten avoiding the paws of an angry dog. "Coming here and judging us, when it's your fault anyway!"
Mahevera rolled his eyes and turned to leave, gracefully manoeuvring his large wings in the cramped room. "Zayn was worried about you, not that he'd ever tell you that much."
"Well, Zayn can go fuck himself," Anteros said harshly, at the same time as Harry said, "not worried enough to come himself, though."
"Would you expect him to?" Mahevera asked bluntly. Harry didn't answer. Slow and considered, as if afraid of frightening him, Mahevera extended a wing towards Harry and held it there for a long moment. It was baffling, as if he was inviting Harry to touch, and Nick looked between the two of them like he was watching a tennis match and wasn't sure who might win. Eventually, Mahavera dropped his wing, something sad in the action, and left without another word, flying out the window in one smooth motion.
"What," Nick said into the silence, "the fuck?"
No answer came, and he turned to see Harry holding himself in a tight ball, Anteros curled close around him.
"Harry? Are you okay?"
A sob ripped itself out of Harry's lungs as he flung himself across the bed at Nick, arms latching tight around his neck, and Nick felt his heart break.
"Oh, love," he said, shocked, "it's okay, you're okay, we're here..." At Anteros's head, Pig did her best to lick at her ears and neck, treating her like an injured puppy, comforting her with soft words and snuffly kisses. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Harry shook his head, short and sharp, and sat back, scrubbing a hand across his eyes and gasping for control of his breathing. "No, no, I'm- I'm fine, sorry."
"Don't apologise," Nick said quietly, feeling useless. One shoulder of Harry's robe had fallen off his wiry frame, and Nick pulled it back into place gently.
"Thanks," Harry sniffed, and aimed a watery smile at Nick.
"Anyway," Harry made a valiant effort at his usual come-hither eyes, "where were we?" He leant across the bed and pulled Nick into a kiss, deep and mostly tongue.
"Harry, no, come on, let's just-" Nick pulled away, "let's just, I dunno, let's not, yeah? You look like someone killed your puppy, which is, believe it or not, not a massive kink of mine, sleeping with miserable boys."
Harry sat back with a snotty laugh, looking a bit relieved. "Yeah, fair point. Sorry."
Nick groaned, flopping onto his side and pulling Harry down with him. "Stop apologising!" He pressed a kiss to the space under Harry's ear, something that would usually make him squirm.
"Sorry," Harry said again, and now his grin was closer to shit-eating than tearful so Nick counted it as a victory. He twisted in Nick's arms and pouted until Nick rolled his eyes and pecked another kiss on his lips. "Can I sleep here tonight?"
"Course," Nick said, crossing the line almost without a thought, "whenever you want."
"Thanks," Harry said, and kissed Nick's eyebrow, "I love you, you know that?"
"Yeah," Nick said, and though he'd heard it before, it was the first time he believed it. "You... Yeah. I love you, too." There was a pause. "Sure you don't wanna talk about it?"
"Yes," Harry said obstinately, burying his head in Nick's chest, but he continued anyway, "ex-boyfriend, Zayn, a witch, annoyingly. Sends his dæmon to spy on me every few months. Dead creepy, really, I haven't seen Zayn himself in years."
"I thought all witches were women?" Nick asked, frowning.
"No," Harry said, voice muffled, "it's rare, though."
"Dick move by this Zayn," Nick said sympathetically, rubbing a hand up Harry's back, "not letting you move on or nothing."
"Yeah," Harry said, quiet and miserable, "fucked off to the other side of the world and still won't leave me alone." Nick pressed a kiss to the top of his head.
"Poor Harry," Pig said, rubbing herself against Anteros's back in an approximation of a stroke, "too desirable for his own good."
"Get fucked, you two," and Nick could hear the smile in Harry's voice.
"Too gorgeous, too beautiful, too lovely," Nick joined in the teasing, rolling them so Harry was squirming beneath him, reluctantly giggling, "even witches can't resist him, no one can!"
"Piss off!" Harry said loudly, trying not to give Nick the satisfaction of a laugh.
"Never," Nick promised, and kissed him soundly. "Never, ever, ever."
A week later saw Nick getting a telegram in the post on official Payne stationary, the bottom stamped with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY - OFFICIAL BUSINESS - DESTROY UPON MEMORISATION. Nick snorted a laugh at that and tucked it into his draw for safekeeping, irrational nerves building in his stomach from the message Harry had sent.
L ON BUSINESS THIS WEEKEND J WILL PICK YOU UP FRIDAY ALL THE LOVE H
Okay, so maybe the nerves weren't entirely irrational; he'd not been to the Payne residence since that first party, never even walked Harry back to it for fear of being caught, and this seemed just a bit closer to the fire than they'd ever been before. But Nick knew what risk did to Harry's libido and he was pretty sure his own Pavlovian response had been trained in by that. Still, when the car had arrived an hour before he would have expected, Nick had to almost force himself up the steps on the way to the door.
It was open when he got there, no note or anything, but Nick pushed it carefully and padded in on silent feet. Pig stepped gingerly to avoid letting her claws click on the marble and Nick closed the door so slowly that the movement was hardly visible. They looked back into the house, all hardwood walls and shining marble floors and oversized chandeliers.
"Harry?" Nick hissed, hesitating between climbing the large staircase and following the corridor to what looked like a glass conservatory. Pig sniffed at the air, and explored a metre or two down the corridor.
"Boo," came a voice from the shadows, deep and unamused, and Pig yelped as Nick swore loudly. From a doorway Nick hadn't noticed, on the left down the corridor, the large heft of a bear unfurled itself. "Welcome to the mansion," she said, carefully neutral.
"Andraste," Pig said, voice as terrified as Nick felt.
"Why, who were you expecting?" Andraste laughed low and menacing. "This way, please."
Nick followed, helpless, picking up Pig as he passed her. His mind was turning at a million miles per hour, trying to find some excuse or alibi and coming up blank. In his arms, Pig whimpered slightly.
"Shh, Pig," he said, voice shaking through his attempt at a soothing tone, "we'll be okay, he can't kill us, it's illegal, yeah?" Pig didn't answer, burying her nose in his shirt.
The door Andraste had come from led into a large sitting room, all velvet and dark wood, lit by a central hearth even though it wasn't yet dusk outside. The imposing form of the dæmon had settled next to one of the armchairs, in which Liam was sat, watching Nick impassively. Nick came to a stop about 5 feet in front of it, unsure what to do.
"Take a seat," Liam said, voice devoid of emotion, unmoving. Nick quickly contemplated whether being murdered would be less painful on a sofa or an armchair, then chose the former.
There was a silence, long and unbearable, for what had to be at least a minute, even accounting for Nick's adrenaline-driven state making time stretch.
"So, it's you," Liam sighed, something like resignation in his eyes as he finally looked away. "Should have seen that one coming, I guess. I would have put money on you being his drug dealer, honestly."
Nick's brain short-circuited. Drug dealer, what? He'd been expecting anger, interrogation, maybe even tears. Liam didn't even sound surprised.
Liam took his silence as something else. "Oh, no offence! Sorry, I don't mean to call you, well, a drug dealer, except I suppose I just did, I just mean to... You know what I mean."
Silently, Nick nodded, absolutely baffled. His body didn't know whether to continue its fight-or-flight terror or chill out, and it was going to give Nick hiccups if it held this tense much longer.
"Sorry for all the secrecy, by the way, I just wanted to get a look at whoever it was before I left," Liam smiled now, tone as light as though this were a chat over cucumber sandwiches at a dinner party, "Harry will be back in about an hour, he's just meeting someone. You're welcome to wait here."
"But you knew he was cheating on you," Nick said, shocked, finally finding his voice, "doesn't that bother you?"
Liam shrugged, looking down at his hands as they carded through his dæmon's fur. "He loves me, I think he does," he said, "the man he was with before me was rich and old, about to die apparently. I'm the same age as him. I just... Just because he loves me doesn't mean he'll stop loving other people, right?"
Pig glanced up at him and Nick felt her misery through their bond, pulling at him like a fishing line with its hook stuck deep, dragging his long neglected heart to the surface. He blinked sharply against the tears welling in his eyes.
"Word to the wise, Nick," Liam said, leaning forward to clap a hand on his shoulder, "don't try and hold onto Harry - take what he gives you and be grateful, but never expect more. He'll only break your heart."
"He loves me," Nick said defiantly, petulantly, desperately, "what more is there?"
Liam leaned back into the plush sofa cushions, exhausted in the way that only comes from acceptance. "He learned how to love from a witch," he said, "everything is transient to him. Of course he loves you, while you're in the room."
"Liam," warned Andraste in a low voice.
"Yeah, of course," Liam nodded, clenching his jaw and standing, "we have to get going." He walked across the room quietly, his shoulders not held stiff and proud for once so the seams of his jacket fell wrong; he looked normal, tired, young. At the door, he looked back at Nick for a second. "Harry thinks it's exciting that I don't know about his affairs. Let's keep it that way, yeah? We've got the rest of our lives to get through. Have a nice weekend, Nick." Without waiting for an answer, he was gone.
Later that night, as Harry ground his hips down, fucking himself on Nick's dick, Nick couldn't help it.
"Do you love me?" He asked desperately, hands gripping Harry's thighs.
"Love you," Harry agreed breathlessly, head tipping back as he bounced in Nick's lap.
Nick couldn't see his face anymore. "No one else?" He pressed his hips up, jolting Harry forward, who groaned with it, low and dirty.
"No one else," Harry repeated, burying his forehead in his arms, which were shaking as they gripped the headboard above Nick.
Harry was still now, just taking it as Nick's hips snapped upwards in sharp thrusts. "Only me?" Nick said, hissing through clenched teeth.
Harry cried out as Nick hit his prostate, and, before he could catch his breath, again, and again. "Oh, fuck, Nick-" he was cut off as Nick kissed him harshly, biting his lip, drawing blood. Harry gasped something, his voice breaking, one hand falling to grab Anteros' neck as he came, hard and fast, his whole body held taut above Nick's. Nick didn't stop, fucking him mercilessly through his orgasm, even after he fell, boneless and shaking. Nick pulled himself vertical against the headboard, dragging Harry with him, eyes screwed shut as he rutted his hips, embarrassing and inexpert, hearing Harry hiss as he found his prostate again.
Hands came up to cup his face, soft but clammy with both of their sweat, and Nick's eyes flew open to watch as Harry let himself be used. Harry's whole body was jolted with each of Nick's thrusts and, as Harry kissed him, it broke their kiss every time. "Nick," he said against his lips, more an exhalation of air than an actual word, thin and reedy, reverent and wrecked.
Pig keened from her spot on the rug as Nick's whole body seized up, burying him entirely in Harry, holding tight enough to bruise, pumping cum hot and thick into the condom. He couldn't breathe for he didn't know how long; 30 seconds maybe, or forever.
Leave him, Nick thought loudly, as he and Harry panted together, come with me, be with me instead.
"Nick..." Pig said, "just-"
"Don't," Nick said harshly, head lolling forward to hide against Harry's neck. If arguing with his dæmon seemed unusual, Harry didn't let on, and they sat quiet until they disentangled to go clean up.
The next morning, Nick woke before Harry and managed to disentangle without waking him, a rarity, and borrowed the first dressing gown he pulled out of the closet to go for a smoke on the balcony. As he looked over the misty early morning skyline, Pig sat herself down heavily on his feet.
"We have to end it, don't we," she said, just as reluctant as Nick to broach this topic, but he loved her so fiercely for her bravery anyway.
"Yeah," he said, hoping that saying it aloud would take away some of the power of the decision, "yeah, I reckon we do."
"They can't love us, not the way we need," she continued, ever the voice of logic, "and what about having kids? Can't do that with a married man, wouldn't work on an adoption certificate."
"I know, Pig," Nick said softly, far past being embarrassed about the tears building in his eyes.
She butted her head against his leg. "The sex was good, though."
"The best," Nick said, smiling as he wiped at his eyes.
"Well worth the fuss."
"The love too," Nick said, maybe torturing himself but he couldn't let that go uncredited.
"Yeah," Pig said sadly. "I guess we'll work that out when we get to it."
A horn blared from one of the steamboats on the Thames, clear and loud in the cold air, and Nick considered this city that he loved, which loved him back. This was the place that made him into a person, where Pig had finally settled, years after everyone else's dæmons had, where he'd found Aimee and Pixie and Henry and his first boyfriend and, now, his first love. Behind him, the door clicked open.
"Nick?" Harry's voice was croaky with sleep.
"We're moving to New Denmark," Nick said, and the instant he said it, he knew they would.
"What?" Harry came up behind him, leaning heavily against him and pulling him into a hug so they were pressed back to chest.
"I'm moving away, I'm leaving, I've got to-" he choked off a sob. "Harry, we have to go."
"Leaving?" Harry repeated, and he was waking up now. "Why?"
"We can't stay here," Nick said simply, and pulled himself out of Harry's arms. He turned to see Harry giving him the same baffled look that Anteros was fixing Pig with.
"Why not?" Harry whispered.
"Why did Liam think we were your drug dealer?" Pig countered.
"What?" Harry said, yet again, even more confused. "Nick, you gotta come back a couple steps, I'm not following."
Anteros then spoke up, looking up at Nick. "You think we didn't know that Liam suspected? He's not dumb."
"And neither are we," Pig said firmly, "so why does Liam think you have a drug dealer?"
"Because I do," Harry shrugged, pulling up the sleeve of his shirt, still draped on him since his arrival last night. His upper forearm, peppered with small red puncture marks, made Nick realise he'd never actually seen Harry without a top on.
"Heroin," Nick said, lungs falling out, finally connecting the dots between the feverish illnesses and the manic libido. "Harry, you fucking idiot..."
Anteros laughed harshly. "What else are we meant to do with our time? Trophy husband who hates being in a glass cabinet?"
Nick barely heard her, brain ticking over faster than he could follow. "But Liam works for the government, how is he...?"
"Got me off my first drug charge," Harry said, chin held stubbornly, "and all the ones since."
"So you married him?" Pig asked incredulously.
"We married him 'cause we love him!"
"Then what am I for?" Nick yelled, almost so angry he was laughing.
"For fun," Harry said in a cruel voice that wasn't his own, eyes going steely and cold.
"No, Kendall was for fun," Pig said harshly, "Niall and Hailee were for fun, Camille was for fun, Alexander was for fun."
Harry blinked, caught off-guard. "How did you know-"
"We love each other," Nick interrupted, "so what's the fucking point of that, Harry?"
Anteros was glaring at the floor and Harry was focussed on some point on the horizon, far over Nick's shoulder, jaw set. Nick stubbed out his forgotten cigarette, leaving it smouldering on the stone, and went back into the bedroom, tearing off the dressing gown and leaving it in a pile on the floor. Blinking through his blurry vision, he pulled on his trousers and did his shirt inside out, too frustrated to start again once he'd noticed, and he left.
The next three weeks were such a frenzy of preparation that he almost didn't have a chance to think of Harry and Anteros; he was far too busy with quitting his job, packing up his stuff, arranging passage across the Atlantic, to wonder what Anteros and Harry were doing up in their mansion. He was definitely too busy to keep an ear out for news and find out that neither Harry nor Liam had been seen in public since that weekend, and if he had found that out, he obviously wouldn't have had time to imagine how they would entertain themselves alone for that long. In the name of keeping himself busy, he worked so hard that he was actually fully prepared and ready to go when he got to the airship dock on a drizzly Thursday morning.
"You're only going out for a year, yeah?" Aimee asked.
"Promise?" Piped up Viggo, sat astride Pig like a knight on his horse.
"We've planned a year," Pig said, obviously promising nothing.
"We'll miss you, though," Nick said, avoiding Viggo's eyes.
"And you're sure this isn't because of that boy?" Aimee asked, pulling him into a hug. Nick had gone straight to Aimee on that Saturday morning and told her everything, blurting out every minute detail to her and Ian as they still lay in their pyjamas in bed. At the end, she had cried with him.
"I think we both know it is," Nick said, laughing because the alternative was worse, "but that's okay."
"We promise to write," Pig offered.
"You fucking better," Aimee said with a valiant attempt at a smile, stepping back and handing him his other bag and his ticket.
"As soon as we get there." Nick pressed a final kiss to her cheek. "See you around, Aims."
"Can't come soon enough," she said, and she turned away as Nick pretended to not notice her tears. He took a deep breath and a final look up at London bridge, imposing against the grey sky, and walked onto the zeppelin.
The ticket collector, her budgie dæmon perched on her shoulder, gave him a warm smile which Nick tried to return. "Welcome aboard, sir, we will be setting off in five minutes." She pointed down the corridor to the right. "Your cabin will be the fourth one along, another passenger should be joining you shortly."
"I thought I had a private room?" Nick asked, frowning.
"Apologies, sir," she said with a determined smile, "we were overbooked, unfortunately, so we couldn't afford the space. A partial refund will be made to you upon arrival."
"Okay," Nick sighed, resigning himself to a long trip of awkward silences and/or bad small talk; at least he'd get some badly-needed money back. He followed Pig as she padded down the corridor and propped the door open for them with her nose.
The cabin itself was pretty plush; it would have been excessive for one, but at the price Nick had paid, he was expecting that. He dumped his bags on the floor by the left bunk, landing unceremoniously on the seat by the window to look out at Aimee as she walked back down the gangplank to Ian. Behind him, there was a knock on the door that he realised he'd left open.
"Come in," he said, and he turned and almost fell off his seat.
"We can go, if you want," Anteros said nervously, and neither her nor Harry had come within a foot of the doorway. Nick didn't know why his brain thought the key thing to focus on was that they were blocking up the whole hallway with their cowering.
"What are you doing?" Pig asked, and she had jumped up into his lap without him noticing.
"We're, uh, I mean, if you'll have us, we..." Harry looked truly scared. "We want to follow you to New Denmark."
"Why?" Nick asked, his voice a mockery of Harry's from what he struggled to think of as less than a week ago.
"Because we love each other," Harry whispered.
"What about Liam?" Nick couldn't look away, but he didn't know if this was a car crash or the sun breaking through the clouds.
"He knows, he knows we know, we're..." Harry looked lost for words.
"We love him, we do, but it's not the same." Anteros's voice was quiet. "We're still legally married, for now, for his public image, but-"
"That's going to change," Harry finished firmly.
There were so many more questions Nick had to ask, like what Harry would do in New Denmark, whether he had made this decision high, why he had bought no suitcases. He decided they could wait. "Okay," he said.
"Okay?" Anteros repeated, enough hope in her voice to win a war.
"Yeah," Pig nodded.
Harry was across the room in seconds and in Nick's arms in less. They kissed quickly and it wasn't their best, not searing like when they were gagging for it, or smouldering like during their post-orgasmic bliss, but it was good enough.
The actual flight across the Atlantic took 4 days, during which time Harry made friends with some of the staff on-board, and on their last evening, he dragged Nick out of their cabin without an explanation.
"Put this on," Harry had said, handing him a thick parka as they walked, "it'll be cold out there."
"Out where?" Nick had asked, not expecting an answer, and he let himself be pulled along, down the long circular corridor and through a door marked 'STAFF ONLY'. At the end of that corridor, decidedly less plush, there was another door through which Harry was now pushing him, preceded by Anteros and Pig.
Nick flinched at the rush of cold air as they stepped out onto a narrow deck. "Bloody hell, Haz, give a girl some warning!"
"Sorry, sorry, just come on," Harry said impatiently, tugging on Nick's arm, "I have a surprise." Nick looked away to hide his fond smile, over the silvery-black ocean, sparkling as it reflected the bluish light of the stars. The moon cut a white line through it all, bright in the sky and on the water, and it was breathtaking.
"Rosa, Henri," a voice called from somewhere ahead, and a large man with balding black hair and a fat snake dæmon on his shoulders waddled towards them, arms outstretched. "Salut, salut, ça va? Et c'est ton mari, non?"
"Bien sûr," Harry grinned, shouldering past Nick to pull the man into a hug as Anteros caught the snake who fell from the his shoulders. "Capitaine, c'est trop gentil, vraiment."
"Pas du tout, pas du tout, Henri," he replied, smiling down at Harry like he was some long-lost son, "la gentillisse est pour les gens qui la méritant."
They had talked for a minute longer, gestures increasingly animated and words coming quicker, Anteros and the snake occasionally joining in, but Nick was sure he heard his and Pig's names in there at least once. As they talked, the man lead them along the zeppelin to a wider space on the deck, where a small cart was set up with what looked like a heater for mulled wine and two large mugs.
"La chocolatl chaud est prêt, comme tu as requis," he said, "et la crème et les marchepains sont sous les tasses."
"Merci, vraiment, capitaine," Harey said, kissing each of the man's cheeks, "nous ne predrons pas longtemps."
"Prendre tous les temps que vous voulez," the man smiled at Harry, then winked at Nick and continued in thickly accented English, "'ave a nice night, please?"
"You too," Nick said lamely, and the man left, going back into the ship through a service door. Nick turned to look wide-eyed at Harry.
"What?" Harry asked, fluttering his eyelashes as if butter wouldn't melt.
"You speak French?" Nick said, slightly strangled.
"Yep," Harry chirped, beaming.
"Say something else," Pig said intensely.
Harry smiled down at her. "Vous etes le pire putain qui je prefere, mon coeur."
"And why have you not been doing this, in bed, the whole time?" Nick asked, totally casually, no doubt.
"Didn't know you were into that." Harry shrugged, but Nick could tell that he was interested in that last preposition.
"When did you learn?" Pig asked, as Nick asked, "how did you learn?"
"From our ex-wife, kind of," Anteros said.
"Wife?!" Nick did a double take. "Four husbands, and now a wife too?"
"Ex-wife," Harry corrected, something tight around his eyes, "and actually, Liam's the only husband we've ever had. Don't know how people expect us to have had enough time for three weddings before him."
"Don't know how people think you have it in you for three divorces before him," Nick muttered, and Harry glanced up, something too strong in his eyes.
"Yeah, well," he said, blinking rapidly and grabbing one of the biscuits off the counter, snapping it in half, "she was the Duchess of Nashborough, still is actually, and she had a kind of, err, mansion thing near Bordeaux? Yeah, she sent me there for, like, 3 months one summer before she turned up with the divorce papers." He held half of the biscuit out to Nick. "I learnt French from the staff, I guess, and practised a bit since then with, er..."
"Lovers?" Nick finished his sentence without any heat, and took the biscuit and bit the top off, crunching on it thoughtfully. "Were you sad that she wanted a divorce?"
Harry was silent for a long moment, then spoke abruptly. "Kind of, I dunno. We didn't see it coming is all." He looked up at the stars. "Haven't been back to New Denmark since. She had a residence in New York, too."
"Maybe we should pay her a visit," Nick suggested, mostly joking.
"Maybe," Harry hummed, then shook himself and looked back at Nick. "You gotta confess something now, even the scales. Come on, I'll make us the hot chocolatl."
"Okay, uh..." He cast his mind around as Harry opened the barrel Nick had assumed was for mulled wine and started ladling out creamy-looking chocolatl into the mugs.
"I'm not actually called Pig," Pig offered.
"Yeah," Nick grinned, "and that's one only Aimee and my family know."
"No fuckin' way," Harry said, wondrously, "do tell."
Nick and Pig shared a glance, then she said, "it's Diomedea."
"What!" Harry said, delighted, "that's so nice!"
"Diomedea," Anteros repeated dreamily, pulling Pig towards her in a hug. "Why'd you change it?"
Nick shrugged. "My mum used to call pit bull terriers pig dogs, so when Pig settled, we couldn't pass up on that nickname. Guess it just stuck."
"Your name is Diomedea, and you go by Pig," Harry marveled, and he put down the two mugs to pull Nick into a fierce kiss. "I really fucking love you two."
Nick kissed back, then couldn't stop grinning once Harry pulled away. Together, they sprinkled marchpane cubes and flakes of chocolatl on their drinks, smiling together every time they caught eyes or grazed hands.
"Cheers," Harry said once they had loaded as many sugar treats onto their cups as they could, and held his cup up to clink against Nick's.
"Cheers," Nick echoed, and they both took sips together. It was almost too hot, and delicious in the cool air, shot through with cream and melting almond paste. As they huddled together, the wind eased up a little and Nick had a brainwave. He put his mug down, taking Harry's off him too, and picked the little pot of marchpane cubes back up. "10 points for catching it in your mouth, 15 for nothing but net," Nick announced.
"You're fucking on, Grimshaw," Harry laughed, backing up a couple feet and taking a solid stance, "have at it!"
He caught the first one perfectly, of course he did, and their cheers soared through the night, their voices mingling into one.