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He’s been home, in his new home, for all of ten minutes when he gets the first text.

‘I think I left m tool in your cavity mate’

It’s not a number Nick recognises and he’s certain it’s Henry messing around with him. Maybe Harry. Could be Liam from work but that’s unlikely. He’s almost positively certain it’s Henry going crazy from planning the summer collection and thinking he’s funny.

He ignores it to go in and inspect the sitting room.

The best decision Nick ever made was to buy a house, pick out paint colours and soft furnishings, employ a builder handyman type person to take down the half wall between the sitting and dining room (and build a bookcase and some other messy dusty things) and then go on his holidays for three weeks while that all got done. Fran had known someone (of course) who had recommended a moving service, and while Nick was away his flat had been packed up and then unpacked again in his new house.

So now he’s back, tanned, his books are all on his lovely custom made built-in bookcases and all he’s got to do is get a shop in and pick up the dogs from Pixie’s tomorrow after the show.

Right now he’s a single man in a pretty perfect four bedroom house in London. Alone.

His phone buzzes again.

‘OK if i pop round in the morning and knock a quick hole in it ?’

Nick looks at the message for a moment longer than it takes to read the words and then decidedly turns his screen off.  He’s a single man in a four-bedroom house in London, who’s not allowed any time in his schedule for jet-lag recovery before going back to work tomorrow, so he’s going to take a bath and Henry or maybe-Harry or maybe-Liam can wait for the morning.

 

It’s never good waking up. Never gets any easier. Thanks to jet lag though, Nick is awake an hour before the alarm. He spends that time wisely, doing a face mask and then going through Rihanna’s Instagram. And Diplo’s. And the feed of some random fan who has commented Niplo about twenty times on a very old picture Diplo had up of Nick and him topless on a yacht. He changes his shoes twice, sends three pictures of his various trainers he brought home from holiday with him to Elgar, and still somehow manages not to have eaten breakfast by the time that the car is due to come and pick him up.

He’s opening the front door and pulling his phone out of his pocket to message Fiona about porridge when a message pops up.

‘you up ? Lites are on !

This slightly-too-stalkerish-for-comfort text is followed by three hammer emojis. Which is also not comforting. In fact, it is ambiguously threatening.

What is going on?

Nick stops short in the half-open door and peers out onto the street. There is no way these texts are coming from Henry, he would never get up at four in the morning for the sake of a joke.

Then, in the dim pre-dawn light, there is a figure opening the gate and calling out a friendly sounding, “Oi Oi.”

At least if Nick is about to be hammered to death it’ll be by a friendly Northern-sounding, very bundled up figure; the guy must be wearing at least three hoodies and a beanie. And still, he looks slight, definitely smaller than Nick. Nick could probably-maybe push him over? It wouldn’t hurt him, he’s very padded what with the three hoodies. Yup, push past this small bundled figure, not get hammered to death and go and do the radio, that’s the plan for the morning.

Then the person steps onto the bottom step leading up to Nick’s door. The front light reaches to there and so Nick can see the person’s face properly.  Scruffy beard, blue eyes, messy fringe poking out from the beanie, very blue eyes, face all high cheekbones, a bit like an imp maybe . A sexy imp. That’s what he’d told Henry when they’d popped in to drop off the last of the made-up curtains for them to be hung while Nick was away.

 

The person is his builder. Nick had last seen him about four weeks ago, bum in the air and doing something to the skirting board. Nick had met him properly. They’d had a cup of tea. The person, the builder, had let his tea bag steep for quite a long time and had some interesting views on Nick’s curtain choices, which Nick had tolerated because he basically thought he was quite fit — in an ‘I’m never going to see you again’ sort of way.

Henry had noticed and teased Nick and, somehow, Henry’d then ended up telling Aimee and Pixie when they met at the pub that Nick fancied his builder to the point that he was calling him a sexy imp.

Why the sexy imp builder is here to hammer Nick to death he’s not sure. In a move that he regrets as soon as he’s done it, Nick pulls his front door shut firmly behind him. Now he’s out here with the hoodie-wearing possibly hammer-wielding sexy imp builder

 

“You're the builder,” Nick observes, quite glad he leaves off the sexy imp part.

“Yup,” the builder answers, but it sounds like a question.

“Have you been texting me?”

“Yes.” The builder messes with the bit of fringe poking out from under his beanie. “I know it’s a right pain mate, but I need to get that hammer back.”

“What?”

The builder looks up at him a little confused. Nick knows how he feels.

“I said, left me tool inside your wall, just got to open it up a moment, fish that out and then we’ve got a job to do in Hampstead but that won’t be long, Nialler’ll drop me off and I’ll have it patched back up tonight, tomorrow at the latest.”

“What?” Nick asks again.

“I left my hammer inside your drywall, I think.” The builder sounds mumble-mouthed at this at least.

“So.” Nick thinks he’s beginning to understand. “You’re going to cut a hole in the wall that you just built me?”

“Just a little one.”

“My wall that’s just been painted?”

“Nialler will patch that no worries.”

Nick’s not sure what a Nailler is or how it patches up paint, but it all seems like a lot of work for a very available-at-every-damn-B&Q-in-the land bit of builder’s kit. “For a hammer?” he asks.

“That’s right.” The builder smiles. It’s a nice smile. Not a proper one, but enough that Nick feels for a very brief moment vaguely pleased that he made a fit boy smile. Then he remembers fit boy is sexy imp builder who wants to cut holes in his cavity. Which. A cavity is a hole. It’s too early. Nick needs porridge.

“You’ll have to go to the B&Q mate, get another one. You’re not cutting my new wall open,” Nick says firmly. Not looking at the builder’s eyes. They seem the type to distract a person from saying no.

“Really?” The builder says, sounds disbelieving. “I know it’s annoying but it’s worse for me.”

Nick does look then. “Worse for you? You probably want to try and bill me again or something? All quite odd, hammers don’t go inside walls. I deliberately went on my holidays so I didn’t have to deal with this.” There is a beep from the street, Nick’s car has arrived. “Anyway, I have a show to do, I’m sorry builder-imp but no,” Nick blusters, as he moves past him.

The well-padded-with-hoodies builder steps to the side and lets him pass then follows him out the gate. “It’d take an hour at most maybe, bit longer for drying time but shit, typical posh Londoner that is, isn’t it?”

Nick stops while opening the car door and looks back at the builder, his hands where his hips might be under all those layers and his head cocked a little to the side.

“Okay,” Nick replies and gets in the car. He’s not a fancy Londoner. Well. He is a bit. He did just buy a big house and piss off away overseas and let lots of other people get it all sorted for him. Proper posh famous person thing to do really. Nick’s already dreading what his brother’s going to say next weekend when he goes home for a visit.

But also, he has a nice new - maybe fancy - house and he’d had quite a shit year and he’d wanted to ignore all this stuff, avoid it all. Come home and have a fresh start somewhere that was just his. His and the dogs and any of his friends who might want to come to stay or come over. In fact, Emily will be back tonight too. Emily the dogs and him.

As the car drives off up the street they go past a van, there’s a man in the front leaning out the window watching, maybe the builder's friend. Nick hopes they aren’t caging the place or something. Anyway, he’s had a fancy security system installed. And Emily will be back soon and then he’ll go get the dogs and that's it. All of them all moved into their nice new finished house with no random holes cut in the plasterboard.

 

⛏⛏⛏

 

When Nick gets home at about four o’clock it takes a moment to get them all in the door. The dogs go a bit wild to get off their leads and Nick’s carrying two large bags. Some pet food and wine and little bits he’s got in for Emily and his first dinner. And the first thing he sees isn’t his grateful new flatmate, or the glow cast from switching on his lovely new Tom Dixon pendant. Instead he sees a very nice bum. Clad in tracksuit bottoms, and proudly sticking up in the air, its owner crouched down and bent over while leaning into what appears to be a hole that’s been cut in Nick’s drywall.

“Emily!” Nick calls out. Calmly.

The person connected to the nice bum yelps, tips backwards and falls over, landing on said arse.

“Fuck. Calm down, Grimshaw,” says the sexy imp builder who Nick is refusing to believe is in his house, sprawled in front of what is definitely a hole in his brand-new wall.

“Em-ilyyy!” Nick calls again. Still very measured and calm - no matter what the builder might be implying. “What the fuck is going on!”

“Oh, she’s popped out, said to tell you she won’t be in for tea, then she said she’d just message you and that I could have Hob Knob and a cuppa.”

“That you could have a Hob Knob!” Nick exclaims. “You certainly cannot.” His eyes fall onto a little patch of crumbs and an empty mug, not on a coaster, sitting on the nearby sideboard.

“You need to leave, and um, I will have to sue you or something. I’m very upset,” Nick says, waving his hand and even as he speaks turning around and going down the hall to the kitchen. He hates even telling people who have cut holes in his wall that he’s upset.

“Sue me? What for?” The builder is following him.

“Breaking and entering and cutting holes in the wall you just built me and sending suggestive text messages and doing a very nice job on the built-in bookcase,” Nick lists. He’s at the kitchen sink pouring a glass of water.

“Suggestive whats? Oi, think that’ll stand up in court, good job on the built ins?” the builder jokes. “I could put court approved cabinetry on my van then, really hoping to get into doing joinery full time to be honest.”

Nick spins around. “I'm going to call Harry,” he threatens.

“Okay.” The builder nods and does not seem at all intimidated. “I might put the kettle on again,” he says, proving that he utterly isn't bothered.

Nick steps out of his way, letting his phone clatter on the countertop and calls Harry on speaker.

“Hiii Grim, I'm driving!” Harry announces when he picks up.

“Harry, you have a billion lawyers, who should I call? I need to sue a builder.”

“What? I thought your house was perfect, you sent me about eight pictures of that bookshelf ‘n said it was a revelation in woodwork.” The bloody builder makes a pleased noise over by the kettle. “Who's that?” Harry asks.

“Hi Harry ‘m Louis the builder who’s getting sued, you alright?”

“Yeah alright thanks, how are you?”

“Alright. Ta.”

Nick looks back and forth between his builder and his phone. “Stop it!” he orders them.

“Do you want a brew then?” Louis asks Nick, smirking.

“Ohh I'd love one,” Harry answers. “I'm near you actually, Grim, should I come over? Your builder has a nice voice.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Louis looks at Nick as if to say, ‘what is this one about?’ but also looks pleased. Nick remains stony faced. He’s not going to bond with his builder over Harry’s honestly bizarre range of opening lines. Louis narrows his eyes then and says sweetly while looking right at Nick, “You’ve got a nice voice too. Deep, innit?”

Harry, in the exact opposite of being all deep-voiced, giggles delightedly.

“Jesus Christ,” Nick moans.

“Nick, is Louis that same builder you said had the amazing ars—”

Nick snatches the phone up cancelling the speaker and marches out of the kitchen saying with a growl, “I’m going to sue you Harry.”

Harry doesn’t come over. Nick says that the builder isn’t actually going to be staying, and Harry is on his way to a date anyway. Which does make Nick feel a little something. Not jealous. He doesn’t think Harry and him do jealous. But it does make him feel a little like there’s a lot of things he’s missing.

When Nick gets off the phone from Harry and goes back in the kitchen he finds Louis crouched on the floor letting Stinky sniff his hand. Nick watches for a moment as Pig clacks over and sniffs at Louis’ mug of tea. Louis takes a slurp and then puts it down on the tiles for Pig to lap at while he pats Stinky on the head. Nick sighs, all of a sudden feeling very tired and jet lagged.

“I'm going to have a shower. If you could just - go - maybe,” he says disjointedly. “Come back and fix that when I’m at work.”

Louis stands up as Nick is speaking. He opens his mouth but he’s looking at Nick quite intently and his expression changes as Nick continues, his eyes getting a little softer. “Right. I’m sorry,” he says sounding genuinely apologetic. “We’ll get that patched up tomorrow and there’s only one or two other spots I have to check.”

Nick shakes his head. “What? No.”

“Well it wasn’t in that spot,” Louis explains. “So I’ll just need to check where I extended the wall after the electrician ran the—”

“No, Louis,” Nick interrupts.

“It’s my hammer that’s all...” Louis lips settle in a thin line. He has nice lips, thin but nicely shaped. Nick bites down on the instinct to stop Louis from looking like that. From looking pinched and upset. He’s not being manipulated by attractive men any more. He made a promise, a New Year’s drunken - not resolution - but some sort of new ethos, him and Gellz and Alexa by a white piano at New Years.

“I told you this morning go to the shop get a bloody new one. You did a very nice job, but it’s done. I want to enjoy it. Leave me and my walls alone, Louis,” Nick says with finality and steps backwards to indicate to Louis he should head past him out of the kitchen and towards the front door.

 

⛏⛏⛏

 

It’s a busy week. Nick’s kept back late at work every day, has a few less than inspiring phone interviews and some very tedious playlist discussions (how many songs do The Chainsmokers have to bloody inflict on the world?) and Nick feels tired and jetlagged.

“I don’t normally get jet lagged,” he complains to Collette over the phone on Thursday afternoon.

“So you always say darling. Now I was ringing you to see how you like your water feature?”

Nick fiddles with his ear bud a little. “My new what?”

“Oh, opps! Nothing!” Collette trills. “Ignore me, just a little something a few of us got as a house warming but I didn’t say anything alright? Oh! Must dash, they just called my number at the deli.”

“Are you in Waitrose?” Nick asks incredulously to the silence of a hung-up phone. He’s got to go anyhow. He’s meeting Harry for a lunch time SoulCycle class. It’s nice having Harry in town, Nick thinks, as he heads upstairs to the gym. They’ll probably make dinner together tonight. Nick feels like pasta. Harry makes a lovely pasta. He hopes Harry stays in town for a while this time.

“When the fuck do you go back to LA?” Nick yells at Harry two hours later as he follows him down Nick’s own front hall while just managing to carry a box full of overripe tomatoes under one arm and a Bag for Life holding three bottles of Campari, soda water, two oranges, two kilos of flour, and a huge can of olive oil in the other.

Harry’s stopped inconveniently just inside the kitchen door.

“Jesus move, you big giraffe!” Nick grunts.

“Who. Is. That?” Harry asks.

“I can only see your back, straining marvellously under the weight of that one carton of eggs and the whole two bloody bunches of basil you - are - carrying,” Nick huffs out. Maybe his little finger will fall off the way it’s tangled in the bag handle.

“That man holding a huge ball. He looks very,” Harry pauses as if pulling a description from his deep-and-full-of-meaningful-metaphors lyricist soul, “fit. Fit as fuck.”

“Move, you huge git,” Nick laughs desperately, and gently shoulders past Harry. He just manages to get the bloody box of overripe tomatoes onto the kitchen island before it slips out of his grasp.

“Heyyy, I didn’t want the basil to get bruised. You said you were fine with the box. I’m going to go say hello to the fit as fuck person with the ball,” Harry explains, never even looking towards Nick.

Nick has safely deposited the Bag for Life on the bench as well now and is stretching out his fingers, seeing if there is any permanent damage, does not need another bloody finger brace thing. He looks out to the garden where Harry has been staring and there, of course, is Louis the many hoodie wearing, sexy imp, random hole-in-wall cutting builder. Only he’s not bundled up at all. He’s topless. He’s still in trackies and a beanie, but it’s tops-off in the weak, early spring afternoon sun in Nick’s back garden apparently. Nick swallows. Louis the builder has tattoos and a soft swell of a tummy and he’s a bit slighter than Nick thought, maybe, but it works. Harry’s right. He is fit. Fit as fuck.

“Harry, no,” Nick starts. But Harry’s already heading outside. Nick sighs and follows.

“Hi, Emily!” Harry calls out, his head turned sharp to the left not looking at all in the direction of the sun-lounger Emily is perched on the edge of. Pig and Stinky had been lounging by her feet but they quickly get up, tails wagging, when Nick comes outside.

“Hiya, Harry. How are you?” Emily calls out.

In an unusual display of rudeness, Harry doesn’t look at her though. He’s still looking to the left, past Louis actually, which is odd seeing how he couldn’t look away from Louis less than thirty seconds ago. But then Nick comes down the steps into the garden proper and sees the other man. About the same build as Louis, maybe a little more toned, brown hair and a touch pink-cheeked from the sun. He’s holding two large pink, shiny metallic balls in his hands and looking at Harry with his mouth open a little.

“I like your balls,” says Harry, because of course he does.

Pig is jumping up on Nick’s leg, very excited and that's lovely. Nick's happy to see her too. Certainly, happier to see her than he is to see Louis and his topless mate with the balls

“You've got two, now. You had one before,” Harry tells the ball-holding man earnestly.

“I did. That's true. If you like these I've got about ten more actually,” the man confides to Harry in an Irish accent.

“I'd love to see any balls you wanted to show me.”

“Jesus,” says Louis lowly. Nick looks to his side in surprise. Louis is standing right next to him, holding in his hands a large metallic pink ball of his own.

“Why are you here?” Nick hisses.

“Installing your bloody balls,” Louis replies out of the corner of his mouth. “Why are you doing that thing with your stupid long fingers?”

Nick has been unconsciously wiggling his fingers, still working out the hurt from the bloody bag handle. He brings his hand up and looks at it. “I don’t want another finger pin because of Bag for Life damaging my bones and tendon bits. How are they stupid, anyway?”

“I love tuberoses,” Harry’s voice wafts over.

At the same time as Louis says, “Too much of them. Too long, aren’t they? Stupid.”

“Also, hang on,” Nick interrupts, “Installing my balls. What the fuck?” For some reason they are both still talking in low undertones, both still watching Harry and the other man. Harry dimpling all over the place and the other man laughing so hard Nick thinks he might drop the bloody balls. Harry is not that funny.

“I don't know, mate, it's your bloody water thingy.”

Harry has stepped closer to the two-ball holding man and is reaching out one of his paws and patting at the ball in the man's left hand.  Nick averts his eyes, looks down at Louis.

“I don't have a water thingy. Unless you mean my taps. In the kitchen or my bath. Are you putting balls in my bath as well as holes in my walls?”

“What? No?” Louis answers with a scoff and turning so he's looking up at Nick. He's squinting in the sun. He has three freckles on his cheeks, and words on his chest, and it makes Nick feel a little sick in his stomach to have him looking up at him. Very blue eyes. It’s butterflies in his stomach, he’s not sick, yup that’s it, butterflies because a fit man is looking at him.

“Grim!” Emily interrupts lazily, she's laying down now, proper stretched out. Pig trots back over to sniff her knee. “You’re home early and you've ruined their surprise.”

“Not my surprise,” Louis protests. He’s not looked away from Nick, his eyes are a little bit narrowed as if he’s trying to work something out.

“I don't want it,” Nick says automatically and continues to look down at Louis’ chest. He has little nipples. Nick wonders if they’d get puffy if they got played with. Wonders if Louis likes that, then looks up at Louis' eyes suddenly feeling very creepy, as if Louis will be able to tell what he's thinking.

Louis is smirking. “Your friends got you a nice pile of balls for a present,” he says.

“I don't want that,” Nick insists, but distractedly. It's hard to say that you don't want something while looking at another thing that you definitely do want.

“Blame Colette and Fran and I think maybe Kim Jones, or something? I don’t know, there were a lot of messages trying to arrange the installation, I got bored,” Emily calls out, she’s sipping Kombucha, looks very relaxed for someone who’s willingly invited over builders who cut rogue holes in walls.  “Think they are pretty fancy, though.”

“Probably.” Nick sighs.

Louis is smirking now. “So Emily booked me and Nialler to install your fancy balls.”

“What is a Nialler?” Nick asks out loud, ignoring how pleased Louis looks with himself.

“Niall.” Harry interjects sounding slightly offended. Nick looks over and holds his palms up in a gesture of non-comprehension.

“This is Niall,” Harry explains, he is now holding both the metallic balls while the other man waves at Nick. He's got Harry's phone in his hand. They are bloody swapping numbers.

“My god,” Nick says.

“Get in Nialler,” Louis says under his breath.

“So you got the builder who cut a hole in my wall to come and install my fancy Dior balls?” Nick finally looks over at Emily now.

“You should let him get his hammer back, Nick,” Harry says. And how does he even know about all that? Nick hadn’t ended up explaining it the other night on the phone.

“You should mate, always thought you were alright, but you are being a bit of a knob,” Niall adds on.

“Always thought I was alright? We just met?” Nick asks futilely. Niall is already listening to Harry who’s started muttering urgently to him. Probably making sure he can take him to dinner, asking if he likes his eggs scrambled or poached in the morning and what colour they should choose in china patterns for the wedding registry all at once. Harry is nothing but focused when he has a goal in mind.

“Don’t be obtuse, we know who you are you knob,” Louis says. “Know who you both are for that matter,” Louis adds, with a nod towards Harry and Niall.

“Why are you shirtless?” Nick asks, realising he's been staring at Louis’ naked torso again while he mentally planned Niall and Harry's wedding, and that Louis is looking at him with his eyebrows raised in what could possibly be disdain. Nick almost apologises but best not to draw attention to his perviness. Plus, Louis sent him texts that Nick maintains were highly suggestive. He can take some perhaps not surreptitious glances.

“Water feature got my top wet, plus Vit D is good for your mind or what ‘ave you, my doctor said,” Louis mumbles the last bit, as if he realised what he was saying only as he said it. He turns away and points at the brick wall at the back of Nick’s little garden. “We’re putting your pink balls up in that break in the shrubbery there at the back, that way you can see them from your dining table alright?”

“Sure, sounds fine,” Nick assents.

“Good ‘cos we already did the electric for the lights and the little pump thing while you were gone and that would have been a right pain.”

“— your favourite? Amazing. I’ll take you to see them, I think they have a gig in LA next month.” Harry’s voice drifts over again.

“Jesus,” Louis comments, again. “Get in Nialler.”

Nick sighs. “I'm going to go start on dinner. We’re making pasta from scratch, remember Harry? Your idea.”

“Roast the garlic first,” Niall calls out. “Makes it sweeter. I'll be in to help in a moment.”

Nick looks at Harry, who doesn't look sheepish whatsoever about inviting ball-holding builders to join them for dinner. Nick guesses it’s nothing compared to how he’s already offering to fly one of them to LA for some gig. Harry is smiling happily in a most annoying way. Nick is going to shove garlic in his dimples and roast him or something.

“I'm opening the Campari,” Nick mutters and stomps inside.

Louis is terrible at mixing things. Drinks are too strong, sauce is splashed over the edge of Nick’s big, heavy, fancy blue pot that Daisy gave him as housewarming present, clothes are a confusing mix of floppy joggers and, well, while not shirtless Louis has only put on some vest that has loose arm holes and very distracting glimpses of ribs when Louis moves. Which he does a lot. Nick gulps at his third Campari thirstily.

Emily is still outside, in the last of the evening sun and Harry and Niall are cutting the pasta. This is interesting. They both seem to have the same desire for very even lengths of the stuff. A large desire. Nick’s not sure that it does matter that much to Harry, who is always hungry and more likely to just shove food in his mouth then look at it first. But it seems to matter to Niall and so it matters to Harry. He's crouched down carefully hanging the long strands over a rung of Nick's clothes drying rack and sniping the end of any that are a little too long.

“Very precise, your mate is,” Louis comments, still sloshing the spoon around in the sauce as if he’s doing a science experiment to create a whirlpool within a Le Creuset.

Nick adds a pinch of salt to a pot of almost boiling water. “Mmm, think he’s out to impress.”

“Niall’s a big fan of his, he doesn’t need to try too hard,” Louis says and pauses in his strong-armed stirring. “Does this…” He doesn’t finish his sentence, eyes flicking back over to Harry and Niall and then down at the pot of sauce.

“Mm?” Nick prompts.

“He doesn’t need to lay it on with Niall if it’s just a one-off thing you know.”

“I don’t think Harry knows how not to lay it on,” Nick says and then realises how that sounds. Louis’ eyebrows are certainly raised high enough and he’s turned to face towards Nick. “Wait, hang on,” Nick instinctively puts a flat hand on Louis’ upper arm, “I just mean he’s very charming.”

“Right. Okay,” Louis says trying for offhand but he’s looking at Nick straight on. “Well, just he doesn’t need to be so full on. You know, mentioning LA and I heard him asking about how Niall likes his eggs in the morning, doesn’t need to if he’s just looking for a shag or whatever.”

“Ha! I knew he’d ask about eggs…”

“Regular M.O., innit?” Louis says a little louder now, eyes flashing.

“Ah, fuck. No that’s not it.” Nick darts a look over to Harry and Niall who seem to have caught on that things have got tense between Louis and Nick and have both looked up from their pasta quality control. Nick flashes a smile. “Louis’ going to help me pick a wine,” he announces loudly and lets his hand slip down Louis’ arm and pulls him after him around the kitchen island. “Watch the sauce, Harry,” Nick orders and sees Harry look up at them and then down at where Nick’s hand is caught around Louis’ wrist. He lets go.

Nick flips the light switch on and as soon as they start down the flight of stairs Louis says, in a petulant hiss, “I know where your bloody wine rack is, Grimshaw, I built it, you don’t need to manhandle me.”

“That was not manhandling. You’d bloody know if I manhandled you,” Nick tosses back and opens the door past the washing machine and dryer and stops still.

Louis whistles. He’s close enough against Nick that Nick can feel Louis’ breath on the back of his lower neck. “Impressive,” Louis adds, but he sounds as if he’s teasing, not seriously trying to get a dig in.

“It’s a start,” Nick replies ruefully and swipes at the neck of one of the two bottles that are lodged into the wine rack and spins around. Louis hasn’t stepped back and he’s really very close.

“Got to start somewhere. But no point overdoing it, is all,” Louis says.

“Harry, you mean?”

“Isn’t that why you manhandled me down here?” Louis raises an eyebrow, still stays all close. Nick’s a little tipsy and suddenly it all seems a little much. The back of his neck feels hot.

“He likes him. He’s trimming pasta. I don’t think it’s a hook-up. He’s not disingenuous, Harry. An oddity in the industry, really,” Nick tells the easy truth.

“That right, Grimshaw?” Louis asks, his eyes flicking up from Nick’s chest. “Big bunch of phonies are you all?”

“I’m not in the industry—”

“On the radio, proper posh house, won’t let a man find his cross-peen when he leaves it here,” Louis interrupts.

Nick’s watching Louis’ lips move. They are still nicely shaped, that hasn’t changed from the other night. And he smells like cigarettes and shampoo, and fuck. He’s very fit and very close. “I can help you look for your cross-peen,” Nick answers, dazed. Louis’ face lights up and far-too late Nick realises that can’t be a good thing.

“Fucking really? Get in, mate! Legend. Thank you. Niall said you’d come around. I shouldn’t have doubted. Well, no need tonight, of course, but I’ll come over tomorrow after ‘m job yeah?” and with that, Louis grabs the bottle and spins on his heel.

Nick’s not sure what just happened, or what he’s agreed to, but it’s a painfully good view to watch going up the stairs.

 

⛏⛏⛏

 

Nick is still not sure by the following Tuesday when he gets home from a run with the dogs and finds Louis on his front step. To be fair, he hasn’t given it that much thought, Louis hasn't rung despite saying he'd come over the day after the dinner. But he has come over now apparently and at first sight of Louis Nick is reaching into his pocket with the sudden realisation that he had meant to Google what a ‘cross-peen’ is.

Nick pauses at the gate, Louis is leant up against the door his head tipped to the side and eyelashes a smudge on his cheeks, jaw line and neck on display. He’s asleep. And Nick isn’t sure what’s going on or what to do, it seems a little bit intimate. London quiet round them, Nick a little sweaty from his jog and Louis peacefully asleep like a latchkey kid. Only not. Because he’s a fully grown man. A fully grown, very fit man.

Stinky barks and that decides the matter. Louis stirs, blinking in the light and smiling when he catches sight of all of them. Pig is nosing at the gate and Nick unlatches the clasp and lets them inside. Louis is jumped on before he has a chance to get up. He’s good with them though, tells Pig to sit and then rewards her with coos and head pats that have her bum wiggling her tail is wagging so much. Stinky is sniffing near the bins. The dog behavioural specialist was right, Nick thinks for the millionth time, as he watches Pig roll over so her belly is out for Louis to scratch, Pig is me in dog form.

“Hiya,” Nick says. Primarily as he needs to do something to move his face. He feels very endeared and it’s hard to have a neutral expression when a fit boy is playing with your muddy, sweaty dog and making her do the type of tail wagging that sounds like a slap on the pathway tiles.

“Alright. You?” Louis asks, squinting up in the sun.

“Yeah good me, thank you.”

“Yeah alright.”

Louis is absorbed in petting Pig, and Stinky having completed her inspection of the bins comes over to get her own scritches. Louis doesn’t seem concerned in explaining why he was taking a nap on Nick’s front step. He’s got a tool box beside him, Nick notices. That’s probably not good.

“Um,” Nick breaks the silence.

Louis blinks up at him, smiling and eyes pale blue in the sun.

“So,” Nick adds on. Gives it a head tilt for good measure.

“I’m here because of what you said the other night?” Louis says as if Nick should already know.

And shit. What exactly had Nick said the other night?

Both the bottles of wine from the wine rack, at least two of the three bottles of Campari, far too much of that very evenly lengthed pasta, and Nick had woken up feeling terrible and with only a patchy at best memory of the later parts of the evening. Just the word cross-peen echoing in his mind.

“I don’t remember, well I mean I do. Just every time I think of that night I keep seeing Harry doing that thing with his spoon. My god, pornographic it was.”

Louis makes a noise like a groan and laugh all in one. “I keep seeing Niall. Did you see – the lad was pinker than when he got back from Ko Pha-ngan and had sunburn so bad it blistered.” Louis looks back down to Stinky who’s nipping at his hand. “Stop that, good boy.” Then he continues in a slightly softer voice, still looking at the dogs, “but Niall wasn’t as pink when he was sunburnt as he was when he was sat at your Nick’s table for tea, was he?”

“I’ve disinfected the spoon. Harry Styles is a menace.”

“They’ve been out almost every night, you know? All Saturday they played golf. Golf!” Louis looks up at Nick with an accusatory glare, Nick holds his hands out in innocence. “Well, he came over and cleaned our kitchen on Sunday and made some massaged kale thing, so he’s got some good points,” Louis allows.

“Really? A good point is a massaged kale salad?”

Louis shakes his head smiling. “No, no. The cleaning was sick though.”

“For a pop star he’s good at wiping down a kitchen surface I will give him that,” Nick agrees.

Louis laughs and then, looking at the dogs, he mutters, “’nuff now, good girl,” to Pig and brushes his hand on his tracksuit clad thigh and then stands up in one smooth movement that does not at all make Nick a little dry-mouthed. “Not sure what massaged kale is,” Louis continues “I left them to it and ordered a McDonald's on UberEATS.”

“Do you do the apple pie trick?” Nick asks eagerly, heading to unlock the door now that Louis isn’t blocking the way.

Louis scoffs. “I invented the apple pie trick, Nicholas.” and he picks up his tool box.

“Not at all, Henry and I invented that trick,” Nick asserts.

“Well my name’s not Henry so no you didn’t. Anyway, you don’t eat McDonalds, look at you, all in your kit. Back from a run just now, aren’t you?”

Nick looks down at his trainer-clad feet and jogging shorts

“Got them runners’ calves or something,” Louis mutters.

“Do I?” Nick turns to face the front door and smiles. This is an interesting observation. He manages to get his key in the lock without blurting out ‘so do you think I’m fit too? ‘Cos I think you’re well fit lets go have a snog, how do you feel about handjobs in the shower?’

As soon as the door is open the dogs push past them both and go clacking down the hallway off to find their water. Nick stops to hang the lead up on one of his Muuto dot hooks and looks at Louis.

“By the way, why are you—”

“You said you’d help me find my cross-peen.”

“I did?” Nick bluffs.

“You did,” Louis confirms.

He slips past Nick then. Completely unnecessarily turns his body so they are chest to chest and maintains eye contact. Nick has been flirted enough with to know he’s being flirted with. Maybe. He hopes.

Louis pauses just the slightest moment, his eyes flick towards Nick’s mouth and then back up to his eyes. Another moment passes, and Nick’s breath catches in his throat.

“So, I’ve got to fill that hole in behind you there.”

Nick splutters. “What?”

“The cut I made the other day, I presume you just slid the sideboard over in front of it, you need to let me patch that and then Niall will be able to touch up the paint, then I just have two places to look, need to check the base of the cabinetry in the bookshelves and also in that little extension of the side wall I did in the sitting room.”

“Louis, I don’t want you taking apart my house.”

Louis’ face changes immediately and he steps back. “You said—”

“You think I know what a cross-peen bloody is? I thought you were maybe flir…” Nick fades away as Louis looks away from him quickly.

“Well, I wasn’t. You’re safe, posh pants,” he says, not looking at Nick, instead dropping his tool box to the ground and then fixing up his fringe with a nervously fluttering hand.

Nick doesn’t feel safe, even if he does have posh pants. He feels like he’s upsetting someone, and worse it’s someone he likes – thinks is fit. Fuck. Why is Louis under his skin? It’s more than just the fit factor isn’t it?

“I’m going to get started on fixing this patch,” Louis announces flatly and puts his back into sliding the little sideboard across to expose the very neat little hole that’s been cut just above the skirting board.

“I’ll make a brew,” Nick announces unnecessarily. Louis is very much paying him no attention, rifling through his tool box in a very pointedly busy way.

When he’s made his cup of tea Nick puts on some music, opens the French doors and sits at the dining table looking out to the garden. He opens his laptop, he’s got some stuff from Central Saint Martins to read and many many emails to reply to, but he ends up staring intermittently out at the water feature in the garden and clicking aimlessly through listings for upcoming auctions at Sotheby’s.

His water feature is lovely. He’d been up home at his Mum’s over the weekend to say hi to everyone after his holidays and they’d just finished Sunday roast when he’d got a text from Louis.

‘Your fancy pink balls are all wet and working’

‘Given up pretending you’re not doing that deliberately?’ Nick had replied.

‘Living up to m suggestive message reputation’

Nick had hovered his fingers over the keyboard for long enough that Liv, even in her post-lunch haze had remarked, “Nick’s flirting with someone.”

In the end Nick hadn’t replied. He hadn’t known what to say.

 

See, it’d been nice at dinner last Thursday with Harry and Niall and Louis, at least until Harry started performing fellatio on a spoonful of Tiramisu. When Louis and he had got back from their trip to the cellar, things between them had shifted. Nick had sat at the end of the table and Louis had taken the seat on Nick’s left. He’d spent the evening not eating his serving of the salad that Emily made and stealing Nick’s garlic bread

More than that though, Louis would lean over while one of the others was speaking and say something in an undertone just for Nick, and he laughed. Yup, all night Louis was sharp witted and loud, and he’d laughed a lot and he covered his mouth when he did. So, in a haze of Campari and Tempranillo Nick had set himself a silent goal to make Louis laugh when he wasn’t prepared and couldn’t get his sharp teeth hidden away behind his hand.

When the drink was all gone, and Harry had knocked a glass of water over while insisting on arranging a car service to both deliver Louis and Niall back to their flat in Streatham and back again to their van outside Nick’s the next day. Louis had grabbed Nick’s forearm where it was resting on the table and said, “Thanks, Grim— Nick. Sick night.”

And then he’d smiled properly. And his eyes had flicked down to Nick’s mouth and that was what Nick had been thinking of while he hesitated to reply to Louis while sat at Eileen’s table after Sunday roast, his Dad’s picture just there behind Jane’s shoulder and Nick’s mind blank for once. Unsure.

 

He can’t hear Louis. Whatever he’s doing out in the hall is very quiet. Certainly no hammering, in fact all Nick can hear is bloody fancy wet balls – as he can’t help thinking of his water feature now.

He’s very lucky he knows, with his lovely friends who got him something so beautiful. Shiny surfaces and spherical shapes mixed in with softer misshapen forms, all attached together by Louis and Niall in a climbing triangle shape that water cascades over. It’s very soothing. Some man from a very fancy, very small shop in Soho had called him to apologise for not being there for the ‘install’ and offered to come around and ‘check the work was as the artist envisaged.’

Nick had said no thank you. He probably should have let him, he would have if it’d been the artist, but as far as Nick can make out his is one of many fancy balls water sculptures that an artist in Spain designed and then have been made by an industrial design house.

Anyhow, Louis and Niall had done as fine a job on them as they seemed to on everything else and also, the dogs go and drink out of it pretty regularly and Nick doesn’t think a man from a fancy shop would approve of that.

Gillows?” Louis says behind him suddenly with a scoff.

Nick jumps in shock and twists in his chair. Louis has a smudge of something white in the scruff on his left cheek and is peering at Nick's laptop.

“It won’t be, they should put attributed to,” Louis adds.

Nick looks back at the screen, there is a picture of a kitchen dresser there, four shelves and cupboards either side at the bottom with a big shelf in-between them.

Louis bends over so he’s closer. Nick can smell his scent of cigarettes and something sweet today. Nick needs to stop sniffing people, it’s very Pig like.

“I like that moulded cornice on the inverted break,” Louis says as if he’s thinking out loud. It’s not a Gillows though, I’d swear it.”

“Are you into antiquing?” Nick asks incredulously. Louis head snaps up and he steps back away from Nick.

“Cabinetry and that. I like furniture. Furniture that stays.”

“That stays?”

“Not Ikea, although that’s fine, my bed's from IIkea. But you know.”

Nick doesn’t, but he doesn’t want to say anything to stop Louis from explaining.

“Furniture that my gran had, her mum had. Stuff that lasts. Stuff that even if you lose it, it still exists. That there,” he throws a hand out to the screen, “that’s not Gillows but it’s more than two hundred years old. Not much lasts like that that people own these days.”

“Oh,” Nick says.

Louis blinks at him, does that thing where he smooths his already perfectly in place fringe down again and then with a deep breath says, “I know you’re not going to let me look for the hammer, but I’ve fixed the patch and Niall will text you to sort out when he’s going to do the patch up paint, alright?” and with that he spins on his heel and goes back out to the hall.

Nick sits a little stunned. It was all very quietly said. Not angry, Louis had seemed more resigned. As if he was being accepting of something shit that he couldn’t change.

It’s a hammer. Why is it so fucking awful that Nick doesn’t want him cutting his walls open and dismantling his lovely built-ins, that Louis bloody made, just to see if by chance a missing hammer is stuck in some small cavity somewhere. He’s got other ones. Nick just saw about three when Louis opened his damn tool box before.

“Louis!” Nick calls out and finally gets up from the table. “Louis, wait!”

He’s half out the front door already, just a leg and his bum and his head as he twists back to look at Nick and says, “Yeah?”

“Why the hammer?” Nick asks, walking closer now, reaches his arm up and holds the edge of the door, opens it wider.

Louis presses his lips together, so they disappear and breathes in sharply through his nose. “Someone gave it to me and they,” he sniffs another sharp breath, “well. Well they weren’t able to stay. Not everything has the staying power of a Gillows attributed Welsh dresser,” he says bitterly.

“Lou—”

Louis’ looks up at him, his eyes are a terrible kind of sparkling. “It’s alright,” he cuts Nick off, “gotta go, need to be home for me tea.” Louis pulls the hood of his jumper up over his head and, all bundled up, goes down the little front path.

 

⛏⛏⛏

 

It’s Saturday afternoon and Harry is licking his tiramisu spoon extravagantly while Nick’s house is gradually flooded by a metallic pink coloured water that is flowing in from the garden. Nick’s compostable food scraps are floating in on the top of the water and Nick swears he can hear Louis laughing somewhere, but Nick can’t see him. He decides he’ll swim into the sitting room and check for Louis in there when the dogs start barking loudly. Much more loudly than Louis’ laughter. Almost as if the dogs are real and making a racket because someone is at the door.

“Having a nap?” Pixie says when he gets the door open. She’s got Buster in her arms and George behind her with ruddy Bag for Life in his hands. George has come to help Nick hang a mirror, Pixie has come to observe.

“You’ve got something crusty by your mouth and pillow creases on your cheeks,” is her first observation. Her keen eye continues as they go in to the sitting room, Nick rubbing at the side of his mouth. “Wow Grim,” she says, looking at the base of the bookcase.

The bookcase is built into the recesses beside the fire place, one either side. Lovely floating oak shelves that go right up taller than Nick, and big cupboard at the base for hiding mess behind. It’s much nicer somehow than Nick imagined. The cupboard doors have the wood inlayed in a diamond pattern so it’s all the same tone, but it’s got a subtle texture. Nick loves them. Louis did a marvellous job.

“I, um, I couldn’t find something,” Nick offers.

“So, you broke the base off the cupboard?” George asks.

“I had to take the doors off their hinges first, I watched a Youtube video.”

“And bought what, a tiny crowbar?”

“Mmm,” Nick confirms.

“It is a cute crowbar, as far as crowbars go,” Pixie comments.

“Mmm,” Nick feels uncomfortable prickles at the back of neck, hopes they don’t see the jagged mess he’s made of a hole he’s cut in the wall extension on the other side of the room. Nick’s pushed the big armchair over in front of it, but still. It’s not at all like the nice little hole Louis had made in the hallway. Nick hasn’t replied to Niall’s messages about painting the patch. Nick likes seeing it there.

“Nick, why did I see Harry Styles at Alexa’s sunglasses party the other night and not you, and why did I meet someone Harry is dating, and Harry tell me that you are avoiding his calls and then I come over here and you have cut holes in your wall and pulled apart your bookcase? It’s all quite troubling.”

Damn it, she did see the hole.

“Harry took Niall to Alexa’s?” Nick asks.

“They are going to LA next week to see the Eagles, I think maybe Harry’s in love?”

“Probably,” Nick says sullenly.

“Oh,” Pixie says with an understanding tone.

“No. No. No. Nooo. I like Niall, don’t like Harry,” Nick says a little rushed.

“You want to date Niall?” Pixie does not sound like she understands that at all.

“Who?” George asks.

“No. No. No. Nooo,” Nick repeats. “I like Niall and Harry together . I want to date the builder. And. Oh Fuck. I need a coffee. I’m going to go make us tea,” Nick tells them both and goes off to the kitchen.

“Who’s Niall?” George calls out.

"The sexy imp builder?" Pixie calls out.

⛏ 

George has a drill in the Bag for Life, and a hammer, amongst other things. But it’s the hammer that Nick is playing with - just tipping it back forth playing with the weight while George does something with a laser light thingy that Nick apparently is not allowed to turn on and off and yell out ‘whoop whoop’ while dancing round the living room with.

“You’ll get it in Buster’s eye and I will murder you,” Pixie had said coming back in the room from putting Buster out in the garden with Pig and Stinky, and interrupting Nick singing Rihanna.

“Big laser that to get outside to those three,” Nick had replied, but he’d passed it over to George and settled for the hammer.

“Are there fancy hammers?” he asks now.

“Hammer throwers?” Pixie says nonsensically

“Probably,” George manages through a nail in his mouth. He’s up the step ladder now and really looks like he knows what he’s doing. It’s quite comforting. Nick is lucky to have mates who know what they are doing. “I mean old hammers? Bits of flint? They’d be fancy now,” George says.

“Museum hammers.” Pixie nods wisely. “Oh! I have a rose quartz facial roller; do you think there are rose quartz hammers?”

“For spiritual healing via hammer?” Nick snorts. “Add them to your shop Pix, hammer away your bad aura.”

Pixie is already typing rapidly on her phone.

 

Nick had told her everything while he made tea for Pixie and George and a coffee for himself. All about how his sexy imp builder was Louis. And how Louis is fit and talented and very funny and fit and fit and fit. Also how he cut holes in Nick’s house even when he’d just finished building it, and how he went flinty at the edges sometimes. How he said odd things about ‘needing more sunshine’ and then pretended he didn’t, and that he probably would understand why Nick has two old suitcases that saw their best days in the 1980’s sitting in the other spare room untouched since Nick dragged them up there when he got home from his mum’s. ‘Some stuff of your dad’s I think you’ll want,’ she’d said when she got him to take them out to his car. He’d not wanted to put them into the boot. Not wanted to put them into his house.

Pixie had said he should call Louis, above all else because Nick needed to get him to come and fix up the damage Nick had done. But also, because Nick should ask him out. Nick had offered her a Hob Nob and not called anyone.

 

George picks that moment to drill a hole in the plaster above the fireplace. It’s okay at first. Just a loud noise and some dust. Then the drill jumps and a huge chunk of plaster just falls out of the wall, knocks over an empty vase that was sitting on the mantle.

“Fuck!” George yells.

“Turn it off!” Nick yells, because George hasn’t yet, and the drill has jumped and is now drilling another hole in the plaster next to the huge broken bit.

“Oh no,” Pixie says, quite calmly.

When the drill is off, and George is down the step-ladder, Nick stands next to him looking at the dusty damage and the brick of the chimney under the plaster.

“Sorry, Grim. I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest. Think maybe I had it on the wrong setting?”

“Mmm, it’s possible,” Nick says c and starts to laugh despite himself.

George looks mournful. “Grim, I’m so so sorry, really,” he continues

In fact, he’s not really upset. It feels out of his control. As if something dumb was always going happen that would make him have to say, with a sigh, “I’ll call Louis.”

“I told you to do that in the kitchen!” Pixie calls out from the couch. “This is what happens when you don’t do what I say.”

Nick ignores her.

 

Louis arrives about three hours later.

George and Pixie have left because they have actual Saturday night plans. Unlike Nick who doesn’t for some reason. No gig. No party. Most probably an event to go out to could have been rustled up, if he’d called around, but when Nick had rung Louis, he’d said he’d come over that evening. Less than a minute after hanging up, Louis had also sent Nick a message.

‘Don’t go poking around the edge of the hole’

Nick didn’t see it until after George and Pixie left. And when he did, he stared at it for all of five seconds before he started imagining things; Louis talking about Nick’s fingers, Louis’ arse walking up the stairs from the cellar.

Nick wonders if it's okay to have a wank while waiting for your fit builder to come over and see that you are literally a source of destruction and decide to never speak to you again, let alone fix your house that you’ve torn apart looking for a hammer that belongs to him.

Instead of having a wank while he waits for Louis, Nick changes his t-shirt twice, cuts up half a rock melon and puts it in the fridge, feeds the dogs, lights three candles and blows out two and finally sits himself down on the sofa in front of the telly with a beer. Cartoons, he’s watching cartoons on a Saturday evening. He feels like he’s waiting to be picked up for a date. But instead he’s watching a vampire (he thinks) sing about finding things, or losing them. Maybe. Nick missed a lot of the show looking at his phone.

 

Louis is wearing dungarees. He’s got a hoodie on under them, but he’s decidedly wearing dungarees.

“You're wearing dungarees,” Nick says, a second after opening the door.

“Hi?” Louis says by way of answer.

“I didn’t know builders actually wore those,” Nick explains.

“Okay.”

“Do you want to come in?” Nick remembers his manners.

“Do you want me to?”

Nick sighs. “Yes. But, um, I need to explain something.” He steps aside and follows Louis up the hallway. Louis turns his head and looks down at the little patch.

“Nialler said you’d not replied to him, you should let him come and paint that over — oh fuck!” Louis has reached the sitting room. He stops in the door for a moment and drops his tool box before going over and dropping to his knees in front of the bookshelf.

Nick takes his place, pausing in the doorway. His palms are a little sweaty, he feels like he does when someone isn’t answering any questions and it’s live on air and a long four minutes till the next song. He feels unbalanced and his stomach turns over.  

“I’m sorry I ruined your work Louis,” Nick says.

Louis spins back around and stands up. “Did you find it?” he asks. The corner of his lip shakes and he’s blinking a lot.

Nick steps inside the room and tries not to be sick. “No,” he tells him.

Louis’ shoulders drop, and he nods. Breathes in sharply. Then takes two steps right up into Nick’s space and clutches at the material of his t-shirt, pulling him in and using it for leverage as he kisses Nick hard on the mouth.

Their teeth clash. Which hurts. But kissing is something Nick can do. He can’t find hammers, but he can kiss. So, he does. He gets a hand on Louis’ face to hold him there and a hand on Louis' side to make him slow down a little. He's covered in his layer of thick denim and hooded jumper, but he's solid and alive and something Nick is touching.

 

They kiss for a long time. Louis gets an arm free and clutches at Nick’s shoulder. He licks into Nick’s mouth and bites at Nick’s bottom lip in the way Nick knew his pointy teeth would. He pulls away just a fraction to shudder a breath, before going back again, leaning against Nick as he does and making a noise that makes Nick want desperately to hear him make more.

The clutching and grabbing turns into something a bit heavier, with more defined purpose. Nick gets a leg in between Louis’ and that’s good. A bit of pressure for his dick by pressing into Louis’ hip. But Louis is covered in so many clothes and this isn’t just snogging. There is intent here.

Nick pulls away from the slickness of Louis’ mouth and opening his eyes finds Louis, his lips parted and pink and wet, eyes hooded, looking at him directly. Louis rolls his hips and Nick gasps and digs his fingers into Louis’ back where he’s holding him.

“Fu-ck Louis, I wanna—”

“Sofa, go to the sofa,” Louis orders.

Nick can do that. He starts to walk backwards, holding Louis by the shoulders and bends his neck to kiss him again. It’s messier now, more tongue and lips bouncing as they move. Louis is doing something with his hands that is not holding onto Nick – his dungarees, Louis has unclasped them and is pulling up his hoodie.

Nick doesn’t know if he should help or not. The urge to get to touch Louis is too much and he pulls at the hem of the jumper as well. “Bundled, you're always so bundled up,” Nick mutters.

“Gah ‘ger it off,” comes Louis’ voice is muffled inside the jumper. He emerges from underneath it, a shock of messy hair and his eyes dancing. Chest bare, he lets the dungarees slip from his hips as he steps forward.

“Get this off,” he demands with a grin and pulls at Nick’s t-shirt.

Nick does, slips it over his head and barely has time to worry about his stomach, because Louis is unbuckling Nick’s belt and using it to push Nick backwards.

“Get these down.” Louis mutters, his eyelashes against his cheek as he looks down at his busy fingers. Nick gets a hand in Louis hair and tilts his face upwards, kisses him again, all deep and in a way that has Louis’ fingers digging into Nick’s ribs.

“Fu-ck. Fu-ck.” Louis pants, when Nick kisses the side of his mouth and noses his chin up so he can try to bite at the skin of Louis’ neck.

With some odd wiggling, Nick’s jeans fall around his ankles and Louis gives him a push. Nick lets himself fall back onto the sofa and Louis follows immediately, climbing on top of Nick. His lovely warm thighs straddle Nick’s legs, his body up tight against Nick’s own. Nick’s hands go straight to Louis’ arse to pull him in even closer.

“Louis, what—”

“Kiss me more?” Louis asks and puts his hands flat on Nick’s chest. So they do. Nick kisses his mouth and lets his hands just go free, grabs at Louis’ arse and slides his other hand up his body and holds him just around his ribs. He can feel Louis' body move as he breathes.

Louis has the slightest height over Nick because of the way he’s perched and he uses it, grinding down on Nick’s dick, which is caught in his pants and horribly hard against Louis’ bum. Nick lets his thumb pass over Louis’ nipple as he finally gets to kiss down the line of throat to Louis’ collarbone.

“Do – any - of – these - tattoos - make - sense.” Nick asks in between kissing along the words on Louis’ chest and while running his hand over Louis’ tattooed forearm. Louis’ skin is smooth and warm, he’s so warm.

“Not really, what about yours?” Louis’ voice hitches as Nick kisses up under his ear.

“Some,” Nick gasps.

Louis is rubbing his dick against Nick’s stomach, undulating circles that are driving Nick crazy where he’s pressed against him. Nick wants to get his hand on him. So, he does. Rubs an awkwardly angled hand along the hard outline of Louis’ cock and loves the hiss that Louis makes in reaction. His pants are wet over the top of his dick and Nick drags his thumb in circles and swallows the needy noise Louis makes by kissing him.

He pulls the front of Louis’ pants down and licks a broad stripe down his right palm. Louis has a very nice dick. Thick and not too long, feels weighty in Nick’s hand. Louis is fucking brilliant when he’s being touched as well. His whole body shakes with it, twitches and jerks as Nick discovers what works best. Nick takes his time, twisting his hand and working him over, spreading the wetness down the length of Louis’ dick and toying with the head. Louis noses at his cheek and gasps when Nick does that, so Nick does it more. He plays with Louis’ foreskin drawing it up over the wet slit and rolling it back down.

Louis shudders and drops his head backwards, his neck exposed as he breathes in deeply, his chest getting sweaty. Nick looks down at where Louis is fucking into Nick’s fist. Louis’ dick is red and heavy and Nick wants so much more. He wonders if he got Louis in his mouth if he could just suckle on the top of Louis’ dick and how long Nick could get him to hold still without thrusting. Louis’ so reactive, it only makes Nick wants to play more.

Nick’s still got a hand on Louis’ arse, holding him in place, fingers pressing into the cleft between his cheeks. Nick doesn’t want to take that any further right now but fuck it’s a good thing to hold. To squeeze.

“Nick, I’m ‘gonna, I’m sorry,” Louis gasps, pulling at Nick’s chest hair and letting out almost a sob.

Nick steadies the pace and firmness of his hand and kisses Louis again. “Want you too, so much,” Nick tells him. “Want to make you feel good love.”

Louis hips move, he’s fucking up in to Nick’s hand and Nick thinks he’ll have fingerprint bruises on his shoulder where Louis is grabbing him. Louis kisses him quick and messy and when he pulls away, he rests his forehead on Nick’s. They swap panted breaths and Louis’ thigh twitches and he makes a strangled curse and arches his body as his dick pulses in Nick’s hand, making a mess of them both. Nick works him through the aftershocks, his eyes never leaving Louis’ face which is a picture, sweaty and fringe sticking to his forehead, lashes wet and lips kiss-swollen, a mark on his neck and on his collarbone.

“You’re a state Louis, fuck. You look so good. I want this - want you,” Nick babbles in wonder and plain fucking lost in a haze of the moment, with Louis’ come all over his hand and stomach and his own dick so fucking hard. Nick instinctively rolls his hips, seeking any sort of friction he can find for his own cock.

“Yeah?” Louis asks as he tries to catch his breath, sounds as if he’s really asking, not just playing along. “Want me?”

“Fuck yes,” Nick says as a promise, and stretches up to kiss the side of Louis mouth, the scruff on Louis cheek a soft bristle.

Louis leans back, and Nick slides his hand up from his arse to hold him safe at the waist, doesn’t stop looking at Louis pink flushed sweaty chest. He wants to lie him down and kiss the length of him, when suddenly Louis flings Nick’s own t-shirt into his face.

“Wipe your hand,” Louis says.

“On my shirt? Thanks.” Nick rolls his eyes but does it. Louis doesn’t settle back into place though, the heat of his body above Nick’s is gone as he shuffles back and drops to the floor between Nick’s legs.

“Oh fuck,” Nick says.

“Lift your hips up, get your pants off,” Louis orders, grinning.

“Bossy after you come, aren’t you?” Nick jokes, while doing exactly what Louis told him to.

With his pants off, Nick’s dick bounces free against his stomach and Nick has to squeeze at it, running his hand up over himself then holding his dick at the base with a loose hand as he watches Louis’ face.

“Shit,” Louis says wetting his lip just slightly with his tongue, his eyes wide.

And fuck that reaction is almost enough to make Nick come there and then.

With Nick’s pants in a pool at the bottom of his left ankle, Louis moves in between Nick’s legs. He runs his hands up Nick’s inner thighs, which tickles and makes Nick’s legs twitch in a very uncool way. Then without ceremony or pause Louis noses at Nick’s balls and licks a stripe up the length of Nick’s dick from below. He knocks Nick’s hand away from where he’s holding himself and replaces it with his own.

Nick wants to just lean back into the sofa, close his eyes and let the ten seconds or so it feels like he’s going to take to come just happen, but he can’t look away. Louis takes him in his mouth properly, a wet heat and pressure that tears a ragged sob from Nick that he’s not proud of, and his hips buck up, uncontrolled.

Louis’ eyes open and he pulls off. “Oi.”

“Sorry – sorry.” Nick’s already apologising, not able to think of anything but the head of his cock shiny with Louis’ spit being held so close to Louis’ equally shiny lips.

“Careful,” Louis orders, but his eyes are dark and wonderful, and his mouth is curved in a smile. He’s proud of himself, the shit.

By all rights he should be, he’s a sight to behold. His lips stretched around Nick’s dick and his cheeks hollowed. Nick has to touch. A careful finger laid against the hollow of Louis’ cheek and Nick’s thumb pressed against Louis’ lips where he’s swallowing Nick’s cock. Fuck, it’s too much.

Louis can’t or doesn’t seem inclined to take Nick far into his mouth, but his hand is warm and wet, and the perfect pressure and Nick is already mostly there. Louis drags his tongue up the vein on the underside of Nick’s dick and Nick tries for a warning.

“’Gonna - come,” Nick manages, and that is when Louis takes him further into his mouth. Not all the way, but works the length of Nick deeper into his mouth.

“Louis - Louis - fu-ck.” Nick grunts, and with his hips lifting up off the sofa - even as he tries to stays still - Nick comes. Louis swallows, but as Nick bucks upwards he pulls off and so Nick comes on Louis’ lips and fuck, that is a sight. Nick probably shouldn’t like it as much as he does but the sight of Louis’ lips and chin messy with Nick’s come is hot as fuck.

Nick’s chest is heaving, and Louis looks proper pleased with himself. Which he should. Nick stretches his hand out and rubs his thumb through the mess on Louis’ chin. He wants to push his thumb in between Louis’ lips, but maybe not now. Nick settles for the much less fun option of wiping the back of his hand over Louis’ chin and then letting it drop onto the t-shirt still beside him on the sofa.

“Fuck. That was amazing, you're amazing.”

“Yeah?” Louis smiles and slaps his hand on Nick’s poor t-shirt and wipes it off lazily, before climbing back on top of Nick. Which is lovely. Nick gets his hands under his arse again and Louis' warm body presses against him as he combs his hand through Nick's hair. It's sweet, even if it does smell like come. “Got the feeling you liked it.” Louis says.

Nick stretches up to kiss him. He can taste himself on Louis’ lips and tongue and it makes Nick feel something a bit primal, satisfied and hungry for more. But he tamps down on it, wraps his arms properly around Louis’ shoulders and takes the chance to kiss him again, in case he’s about to be told he can’t do this anymore. He lets himself be vulnerable to how much he wants to do it again.

 

Nick is scared to offer, because Louis might say no, he might just want to put his clothes back on and go. But, Nick asks Louis if he wants a shower, and Louis does. So they go upstairs and they wash together. Nick soaps Louis up and gets to touch his back where it curves into his bottom. He gets to cover his scruff with bubbles from a body wash that Louis insists probably costs more than Louis’ weekly rent.

In return Louis spends a long time massaging suds into Nick’s chest hair and in little circular motions into the hair that runs down over Nick’s stomach. And instead of making Nick feel worried and wishing that he could put a t-shirt on even under the water, it makes Nick feel good. Makes him feel like he has to pin Louis up against the tiles and slot his thigh in between Louis’ legs and kiss him because Nick doesn’t know how to say ‘thank you for answering that question I had on the front step about if you thought I was fit too that I never asked out loud.’

Nick also gets an answer to the unasked question about Louis’ feelings regarding hand-jobs in showers. In fact, Louis feels demonstrably positive.

 

After the shower Nick offers Louis a t-shirt that’s too big for him and some over sized pyjama trousers and they go downstairs. Nick orders pizza while Louis looks at all the damage to Nick's walls and writes little notes in a very scruffy notebook with a stub of a triangle shaped pencil. Nick flicks through his phone and pretends that he’s not ogling Louis’ arse as he bends down looking at the damage Nick caused to his cabinets.

“Alright, this is the quote,” Louis says holding the little notebook out for Nick to take, “no discounts even if you are fucking the builder.”

Nick takes the book and just looks at him for a moment. “Is that, are we fucking? Like an ongoing—”

“Maybe in the morning,” Louis interrupts. He climbs onto Nick's lap again. “Can’t believe you fucked your house up for me you knob,” Louis whispers, before he kisses him.

 

During tea and afterwards they watch some show on BBC 1 that Nick has never seen but Louis says everyone is into. By the end Nick wants to go back and watch the first two seasons on iPlayer there and then. Louis yawns and says ‘okay’ but doesn’t move, just looks at Nick steadily.

“It was my Mum who gave it to me,” Louis says.

“Oh,” Nick replies, and thinks of his untouched suitcases.

He squeezes Louis’ hand. “I’m happy to fuck up my whole house if you want.” Nick says.

Louis smiles. Tries to. “Nah. I’m trying to stop carpentry and odd jobs anyway, don’t need to be forever fixing up your gaff.”

“You want to do more furniture things, yeah?” Nick asks.

“Got an offer to work at a Joiners in Islington,” Louis smiles, tight lipped.

Nick knows that smile. The feeling of getting something you want and worked for, but not having the person you want to tell about it around to hear. “Furniture that lasts?”

Louis nods.

“My Dad,” Nick swallows.

“When?”

“Last December.”

Louis makes an odd bark of a bitter laugh. “December as well.”

Nick can’t think what to say. He pulls Louis in, wraps his arms around him and smells his hair.

“Let’s go have a fag and not cry alright? It’s not hot to cry in front of fit builders.”

Louis pulls back blinking, a smirk taking over his face. “I thought I was a sexy imp builder, wasn’t it?”

Nick goes pink. He can feel it, his whole face hot at once. “Who? What?”

But Louis is cackling and jumping off the sofa, Pig and Stinky shaking themselves up from their bed in the corner and following him out of the room. Nick can only trail after them all calling out, “Anything that Niall has said that Harry has told him that Pixie might have let slip the other night at Alexa’s party is a lie, Louis! All lies!”

 

⛏⛏⛏

 

It’s four am on Monday morning and Nick’s lying on his back, watching Louis as he comes back into the bedroom. Louis pauses and raises an eyebrow.

“Comfortable are you?” he puts his hands behind in his head in an imitation of the way Nick is lying.

“Very relaxed me. Just enjoying the view. Not often I get a lie in after—” he breaks off feeling like a dickhead.

“Is that right? Suppose you’re normally up first and out the door after a shag. Me too,” Louis admits ruefully. “Well, we spent all Sunday together too but." Louis looks a bit nervous and then seems to put a smirk on his face like a cover. "The early morning job is always a good excuse,” he says with Louis an attempt at a laugh.

“Does allow for a free afternoon,” Nick tries. Hopes.

“Well.” Louis looks at him, his smile still wavering. “I’m going to Notting Hill to meet Niall for a job, but I’ll be free by about three this afternoon…” he drifts off and scratches at his belly as if for something to do.

“Come back here?” Nick asks.

“I only have my dungarees, can’t go out anywhere or nawt.”

Nick grins wide, “You could. You could wear those out with nothing underneath. I could kiss your ribs all night long.”

“Do you have a dungarees kink?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous,” Nick answers, while nodding yes.

“I’ll only wear them if you help me fix that fucked up hole in the wall in the sitting room. I’m not fixing that on me own.”

“I’ll be your apprentice. Do I need to call you boss?” Nick asks.

Louis pauses, runs his eyes down the length of Nick's body and with a raise of an eyebrow he drops his towel. “Yes. Yes, you fucking well do,” he says lowly while climbing back on the bed.

 

⛏⛏⛏