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Leo season

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Nick’s meant to be giving up smoking. 

Scratch that, he is giving smoking. He’s told anyone who will listen it’s because of the health risks, not just for him but his loved ones as well – it’s because he cares. But very secretly, it’s actually because he knows that smoking ages your skin. Which, for someone who practically bankrolls his facialist’s yearly holiday, is frankly unacceptable. And it’s not easy, in fact it’s tremendously difficult, but Nick’s a veritable paragon of virtue; he’s basically already given it up. 

But it’s his birthday. He deserves this one last smoke outside the restaurant where he’s picking Harry up on their way to drinks. One last hurrah, innit? Although if he’s honest, he really did pick a terrible time to give it up. According to Rita, the mood for Leo season is carefree, confident and a little over the top, all play and no work because Saturn, the planet of responsibility since apparently that’s a thing, is at its weakest. Normally he’d take the piss but as he stubs out his cigarette, he thinks there might be something to all this astrology nonsense after all. 

Turning to the window to assess his reflection, he decides he can’t be bothered by who might see as he vamps and poses for himself. Carefree? Confident? Over the top? Check, check and check. He plucks off his large sunglasses and tucks them into the neck of the Gucci t-shirt he’d splurged on, leaning in close to examine his reflected wrinkles. The freezing treatments and facials and all manner of moisturizers and eye creams have been doing their job, he doesn’t look a day over 34. 

Which, quite coincidentally, he is precisely. 

He turns to the door, taking the handle to hold it open for someone leaving with a rather large piece of lighting equipment, and walks inside to find Harry. They’re just about to be running late, so Nick hopes he’s got his clothes racks in order and is ready to go. As he wanders around the edges of the photoshoot that’s not quite done by the looks of the harried assistants rushing to and fro, he wonders for the millionth time who exactly hires Harry Edward Styles for a job like this when all he wears are ugly cardigans, oversized pleated trousers and golf loafers, all more suited to Nick’s grandpa than a London fashion stylist.

The man in question is in the next room over from the entrance, biting his thumbnail as he paces outside the toilets. Nick shakes his head at both the garish Hawaiian dad shirt he’s got on and the waves of nervous energy radiating from him. 

“Oi, Haz,” he calls, making his way over to him. “Y’ready?”

“Grim,” Harry exhales, reaching his long arms out to ensnare Nick into a hug. He holds Nick as closely as he can, while Nick attempts to wriggle away. He’s just taking the piss until Harry starts sniffing him, then he really tries to fend him off until Harry finally releases him with a pout. “You smoked! You’re supposed to be quitting.”

“It’s not my fault,” Nick replies with as much dignity as he can muster, smoothing his hands over his shirt. “It’s Leo season.”

Harry nods seriously as though that’s a valid reason for backsliding before looking Nick up and down. “Did you go home and change for drinks? That’s not what you were wearing earlier on Instagram.”

“Creepy, Harold,” Nick laughs, looking down at his outfit. “I did, I had to. I was at the venue we’re setting up for that Vogue party, right? And this bloke – fit as fuck, he was – asks me what time it is. So I lift and turn my wrist like so–” Nick says, demonstrating, “–to look at my watch. But I was holding an iced coffee. Large. No lid. Spilled everywhere.”

Harry quirks an eyebrow. “But you’re not–”

“Wearing a watch?” Nick asks airily. “No. No, I don’t wear a watch. Don’t even own one. Haven’t for years.”   

A light and raspy laugh draws Nick’s eyes to the door of the gents, where a man has emerged to torment Nick with his tanned, topless form. He’s compact, a bit shorter than Nick, but somehow his presence fills the small hallway and Nick is immediately attuned to him, wants to see what he does next. Which turns out to be flicking the fringe of his silky, caramel-streaked brown hair out of his eyes. His blue, blue, blue eyes, just barely open enough to see what with the way he’s cackling at Nick’s misfortune, his eyes crinkling at the corners in apparent delight.

“Alright, mate?” Nick manages, inordinately proud of himself for stringing those two words together in front of this Adonis. This topless Adonis with a light dusting of chest hair, small pebbled nipples and a dead sexy chest piece. It is what it is. Well, at the moment, it is a miracle Nick remembers his own name, honestly.

“Yeah, yeah,” the man laughs, idly placing a hand just above his barely rounded tummy. “Was just about to grab a cuppa meself, but maybe I won’t now. Try to learn from your mistakes, yeah?”

“Except you’ve got nowt on to spill on, do you,” Nick remarks with a pointed look at the man’s chest. He registers somewhere in the back of his brain, the part not currently occupied with cataloguing the man’s features – curved eyebrows, snub nose, high cheekbones Nick could cut himself on – that Harry is silently watching them with baited breath, head swiveling like he’s at a tennis match or summat, but he blithely ignores him, on a shameless mission to flirt. He can’t be blamed. It’s Leo season.

“He’s got a point, doesn’t he,” the man says to Harry, the warmth in his tone cooling off considerably. “Got anything for me, then?”

“Yeah, um, I’ve got, right…” Harry looks from the clothes rack behind him to the man and back and then back again. “I’ll get you sorted once you’ve got your cuppa.”

“See that you do,” the man says, glancing over at Nick appraisingly before stalking off in search of tea.

“What was that?” Nick demands, watching the man saunter away. Christ, the bum on him. “No, who was that?” 

“That,” Harry says, shoulders sagging and voice filled with despair, “is Louis Tomlinson. He’s got an album coming out at the end of the year, his first, so this is the first big promo push. Cover of 1883.”

“Bit difficult, is he?” Nick sympathizes, tearing his eyes away from that glorious bum to turn back to his sartorially challenged friend.

“That’s the thing,” Harry exclaims, throwing up his large paws of hands. “’S been the easiest shoot I’ve ever worked, all day. He’s loved every look, he set aside a jumper to buy or nick, ’m not sure, and he’s the most down-to-earth client I’ve ever met. From the photog to the girl who makes tea, he’s been charming the pants off everyone–”

“Harold,” Nick interjects, mock scandalized, clutching his figurative pearls. 

“It was going so well,” Harry continues seamlessly, turning to rifle through his clothes rack. “So I thought for the last setup, maybe I could get him to go a little… out of the box.” 

“What did you do?” Nick laughs, the possibilities running through his mind. Even someone as fit as this Louis Tomlinson wouldn’t be able to pull off the floral suit that Harry’s currently pushing aside; anyone would look like their nan’s sofa kit out in that.

Harry mutters something to the Raf Simons t-shirt he’s considering, his back to Nick.

“Didn’t quite catch that,” Nick says, gently tugging Harry’s shoulder to get him to turn around. “Seriously, what did you do to him?”

“I tried to get him to wear braces,” Harry confesses, looking down to the hanger in his hands. As Nick cackles, Harry lets out a great sigh and looks up to the ceiling. “It was just an idea! How was I supposed to know he’d turn on me?”

Nick looks over Harry’s shoulder to clothes rack. “Where are they, then? The offending braces. I have to see them.”

“They’re probably still on the floor in the toilets where he threw them,” Harry says darkly, twisting the end of the hanger in his hand.

“Ah, cheer up, mate,” Nick says, knocking their shoulders together. “Go with that, then, bit of punk rock, innit? Good for someone who reacts so violently to the idea of braces. And that bit of red’ll match the sofa they’re lighting in there.”

“You should listen to your mate, there.”

They both jump at the sound of Louis’ voice, turning to see him standing a few paces away, sipping his tea. Still topless. Maybe Nick should have suggested forgoing the top altogether now that he thinks of it. If the readers of 1883 Magazine have any taste, they’ll appreciate this look more than anything Harry could come up with. 

“Having a diva moment, are we, darling?” Nick cocks a hip and attempts a sexy crooked grin. He’ll never admit it, but he’s spent hours trying to copy Harry’s in the mirror. As he waits for this Louis to react, hoping he’ll pick up on the fact that Nick is trying to pull rather than actually insult him, he’s rewarded instead with Harry’s sharp elbow in his side.

Harry closes the distance between himself and Louis, sputtering an apology as he holds out the t-shirt. “I’m so sorry, he’s an idiot, don’t listen to–”

“Doesn’t seem like he’s the idiot,” Louis muses, holding up the hanger to get a better look at the shirt. He glances back over at Nick. “He’s right about the shirt. Come on, then, what are we waiting for?”

He strides confidently past Nick and Harry trails after him to the gents, tail between his legs. He almost crashes into Louis when he stops after pulling the door open to look back at Nick, eyes flicking down Nick’s admittedly long legs.

“You sticking around?”

To his mild horror, Nick actually blushes.

“No! Oh no, no, no,” Harry exclaims, shaking his head and glaring bloody murder at Nick. “He was just stopping by–”

“Shame,” Louis says lightly, glancing back at Harry. “Could help us get through this last setup. Something tells me we’re going to need it.”

With that, he swans off through the doorway with his hanger, leaving Harry gaping after him. 

“Should I…” Nick trails off, jerking his thumb toward the door. He could suddenly care less about birthday drinks, much more interested to see how bossy this Louis can be with his flashing blue eyes and sharp cheekbones, but he can’t read Harry’s dumbstruck face.

“Nicholas,” he whisper screams, pointing a furious finger at him. “What the fuck, you can’t leave, stay right there!”

He hustles to follow Louis and do his job, Nick assumes, although why anyone would need assistance putting on a t-shirt is beyond him. Since he’s been instructed, nay ordered, to stay right there, Nick leans against the wall and pulls out his phone to text Rita.

Stuck at Harry’s photoshoot, he tried to put this fit popstar in braces and the lad went mental haha

Her reply comes through immediately: what fit popstar?????

Rolling his eyes at the number of question marks as though he’s never been guilty of a flair for the dramatic himself, Nick texts back: Louis Tomlinson? Never heard of him but would shag him in a heartbeat, he’s well sexy

A furious series of texts starts to ping through and Nick hastens to silence his phone before starting to skim them.



i bet you didnt even read the article i sent you on leo season did yuo??

dyou even know what today is babes?????

Nick pauses to roll his eyes again. He bloody well he supposes he does, it’s only his 35th birthday.

TODAY my dear grim is the VENUS STAR POINT!!!!!!!


wait for it

Nick sighs, wishing he were surprised that Rita had actually texted “wait for it,” but it’s not his first overexcited text thread with her.


The drawn out e’s are followed by about a thousand emojis by Nick’s conservative estimate, ranging from the expected aubergine and peach to the rather intriguing french horn and then a long line of waterdrops. Nick has to admit, he is thirsty. No, sweating that one is. Whatever, he’s both.

GET IN GRIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He replies a quick lolll before pocketing his phone, hoping she doesn’t share with the rest of their mates at drinks but knowing she probably already has. With his luck, they’ll have a hashtag going before he even gets there. He can see it now, a dozen pissed idiots trying to get #getingrimmy trending on twitter.

The door to the gents bangs open just then and Louis emerges, smoothing the hem of his t-shirt as he looks up from under his eyelashes at Nick. Good thing he’s leaned against the wall as that particular move has him a bit weak in the knees. A knowing smirk accompanies Louis as he approaches Nick, holding out a hand.

“Didn’t catch your name earlier?” he asks, tilting his head to go along with his lilting voice.

“Nnrg,” Nick replies smoothly, failing to meet Louis’ hand with his own as he realizes just how garbled his smooth reply actually was. He overcorrects and vaguely slaps Louis’ hand before managing to wring it in his own, much to Louis’ apparent amusement. 

Once Nick finally releases him, Louis shoves both of his hands into the pockets of his black jeans and rocks on his heels, giving him a cool onceover. “Care to try that again?”

Nick clears his throat, wishing the floor would open up and swallow him whole. “Nick. Nick Grimshaw. ’S actually Nicholas, that’s what I use on Instagram and my mates complain when they try to search for me in the bar, I don’t come up ’cause of the ‘h’ instead of the ‘k’ but I kinda like it. Full name’s Nicholas Peter Grimshaw, but you don’t need to know that, so I don’t know why I’m telling you–”

“Grimmy,” Harry hisses from the door to the gents, “fuck are you on about?”

“Oh, right, see,” Nick says, turning back to Louis, who’s biting back a smile. “My mates call me Grimmy. Funny story actually, I have an older brother, and when I say older, I do mean older–”

Harry claps a hand over his mouth, and for once Nick is grateful for it, there’s no telling how long he would have gone for. He shrugs at Louis, who finally eases off biting his lip to grin at Nick, like a proper, full-on grin, pink lips stretched wide and eyes crinkled at the corners.

“Louis! Jordan’s ready if you are!”

The assistant’s voice traveling down the hall grabs their attention, heads swiveling in her direction almost comically in unison. Louis looks back to Nick.

“Well, Nnrg,” he says, grinning and maintaining eye contact as he slowly walks backwards down the hall. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Horrified, Nick turns to Harry with wide eyes. He has to lick Harry’s palm to remind him to move his hand off Nick’s face and it takes not one but three tries before Harry unfurrows his brows and drops his hand.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mutters, wiping his hand on his ugly trousers. “Wait, what?”

“How did he know?” Nick whispers, frantically pulling out his phone. He holds up the screen to show Harry the conversation with Rita.

“Know what?” Harry asks slowly. “That you’re an idiot? Think you made that abundantly clear, mate.”

“No, you utter knob,” Nick says jabbing a finger at his screen. “Pleasure.”

Harry stares at him blankly, his big green eyes reminding Nick of a particularly obstinate cow. 

“Pleasure,” Nick repeats slowly. “How thick are you, Haz? Come on, how d’you think he knew Rita said today was the best day for pleasure?”

“He… didn’t?” Harry starts backing away from him slowly, like Nick is actually mental when his point couldn’t be more obvious.

“He said ‘Pleasure to make your acquaintance,’” Nick says triumphantly, satisfied that his closing argument is bulletproof like he’s on one of them American Law & Order shows Aimee is so fond of.

“That’s an expression,” Harry says patiently, creeping down the hall.

“Don’t you think,” Nick says more loudly than he intended as he stalks after Harry down the hall, dropping his voice as other people working the shoot come into view. “Don’t you think that’s a bit too coincidental?”

“I really don’t,” Harry replies, his stupidly deep voice brooking no argument. “When exactly would he have stolen your phone in this scenario?”

“Well…” Nick blusters for an answer as he follows Harry to the side of the room. “Shut up.”

“Oh, am I being too reasonable for you?” Harry asks with a shit-eating grin. Wanker.

“Quiet on set!”

Nick blushes even though it’s unlikely the woman with the clipboard shouted that because of him and catches sight of Louis, sitting on the red sofa in the middle of the room, all eyes on him but his blue eyes sparkling at Nick. If Nick had hoped for the blush to die down, he’d be sorely disappointed.

“Alright, Louis,” the photographer says, drawing his attention away from Nick. “Last setup of the day, whaddya say, let’s just have fun with it?”

From there, he has Louis try out different “fun” poses, from laying on the sofa like a French girl Nick would very much like to draw if he had that particular artistic talent to sitting sideways on the arm of the sofa, brooding at the camera.

“He looks so good in here, doesn’t he?” Nick whispers to Harry. “Almost regal or summat.”

Louis’ broody expression cracks for just a moment, a smile twitching at the corners of his lips, but Nick doesn’t think he can really hear them from over here so it must have been at something else.

“Yeah, looks great, doesn’t it?” Harry agrees. “They’ve been playing with the lighting, using pink and blue hues, most of the day, but he doesn’t really need anything like that, does he?”

“Lighting is so important,” Nick declares, forgetting to whisper. “Good lighting, that is. D’you remember when Ian got us in backstage that Frank Ocean gig?”

Harry giggles. “And you refused to meet him, even though you were dying to, ’cause the lighting in his dressing room was bad?”

Before Nick can protest that Harry’s not telling it right, a raspy peal of laughter draws his eyes to the middle of the room, where Louis is now standing on the red sofa, leaning a hand on the back of it for balance as he cracks up. 

“That’s it, lad!” the photographer shouts, hastening to position his camera. “That’s what we were missing!”

He snaps a few shots as Louis’ laughter dies down and throws a glance over his shoulder at Harry and Nick. “Oi, lads, can you make him laugh again? I almost got it.”

“What,” Nick whispers out of the side of his mouth to Harry, “just embarrassing stories about me?”

“You heard the man,” Harry nods, nudging Nick with his elbow. “Go on, the one about the paper knickers, then.”

“Paper knickers?” Louis calls, those lovely curved brows lifted. “What’s that about?”

Nick glares at Harry. There are only about a million other, less embarrassing stories to choose from and he goes straight to the paper bloody knickers? Some best mate. He’ll have to text Aimee that she’s been promoted in light of Harry’s lackluster performance.

“’S not on me, sister,” Harry declares with a smirk and a shrug, turning his attention back to an eager Louis as Nick buries his face in his hands. “So he went to get some beauty treatment, or maybe it was a full-body massage?”

“Tell it right if you’re going to tell it!” Nick practically shrieks, looking at his former best mate aghast. Has being friends with Nick taught Harry nothing? Giving up the last shreds of his dignity, he turns to the waiting crowd of technicians and assistants who are all listening in by this point. If he’s going to tell his most embarrassing story, best to do it with a flourish.

Carefree. Confident. Over the top. No one can deny the mood for Leo season suits him.

He has the room in stitches as he regales them with the tale of the paper knickers: how the treatment was a bit awkward, as he was essentially naked aside from the paper thong, but basically fine – until he couldn’t find a bin in the fancy spa in which to properly dispose of the paper thong after his treatment, so he had to stuff them in his jacket pocket. And then how he promptly forgot all about them – that is, until he left the jacket at his cleaner’s and they were acting strangely when he came in to pick “them” up when all he was after was the one jacket. And then how they gave him two hangers, one with the expected jacket and one with a perfectly dry-cleaned, ironed pair of paper knickers, explaining that they did their best, but couldn’t quite get the crease out of the front. 

“So not only do these poor people now think I’m the type to wear paper knickers,” Nick recounts to the room, “and wear the same pair of paper knickers more than once, but also that I would ask someone else to clean them? Needless to say, I never was able to make myself go back.”

Satisfied with his story-telling skills, Nick surveys the room: Harry is barking his maniacal laugh next to him, tears are streaming down the hair and makeup team’s faces, and a couple of lighting technicians are bent at the knees as they try to catch their breath. But they’re not the ones Nick really cares about. He turns to Louis, who’s sitting on the back of the red sofa as the photographer dashes over to the monitor to see how they did. He’s watching Nick, pursing his lips, maybe trying to suppress a smile that would go along with the warmth in his deep blue eyes.

“Got it!” the photographer announces. “Good job, everyone, let’s pack it in. First round’s on me!”

The offer spurs everyone into action, successfully drawing their attention away from Nick. Except for Louis, sitting still on his throne. The calm in the eye of the storm. Their eyes lock and Nick wouldn’t be able to move if he tried, and he certainly can’t be bothered to try. Not with Louis’ gaze fixed so intently on him. Normally this is when Nick would lift a calculated brow or toss out a lascivious wink, do something to try and draw the object of his affection to him. At the moment, though, he’s perfectly satisfied to wait and see what Louis’ next move will be.

Which turns out to be getting up slowly, eyes still on Nick, and making a beeline for him. Nick’s breath catches in his throat when Louis reaches him and grabs his hand, tugging him along to the next room over. He lets himself be tugged along, admiring both the dip in Louis’ waist and the way he takes charge as they wind their way through people and props. Their destination turns out to be the gents, just past where Harry is packing up his rack of clothes. Nick follows Louis through the door, stopping in his tracks when Louis lets go of his hand.

His eyes fall on a pair of black braces on the floor and he looks up with a grin.

Louis knits his eyebrows together before finally putting two and two together. “Oh, those. Still can’t believe your mate tried to put me in those, if I’m honest.”

“Why not?” Nick asks, swinging his hips as he walks over to pick them up. “Bet they’d look hot on you.”

“Well, yeah,” Louis scoffs, holding his ground as Nick sidles into his personal space. “Of course they’d look hot on me, but they’re all wrong for this shoot.”

“That why you had your diva moment?” Nick asks lowly, holding the suspenders up to Louis’ chest. He knows he’s right, Louis would look dead fucking sexy in them.

Louis rests his hands on Nick’s hips and does that looking up through his lashes move again as he smiles sheepishly. “I mean, I did throw them on the floor there in a moment of frustration. Only got the one chance at this shoot, you see? But Harry got so flustered, it was hilarious, so I kind of just… kept it up?”

Nick throws his head back and laughs. “You were taking the piss?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis confesses, rubbing circles on Nick’s hip with his thumb. “You saw him out there, right? I couldn’t stop myself.”

“Well done, you,” Nick murmurs, lifting a hand to lightly trace Louis’ jaw with his fingertip.

“Well done, you,” Louis counters, a grin tugging at his lips. “Never wouldn’t gotten that last shot if not for your paper knickers. You still have them ’round somewhere or…”

And of course Nick doesn’t, not even for the story was he going to hang onto those dry-cleaned, ironed paper knickers, but god is his witness he will find another pair if it means he gets to see this wolfish grin directed at him again. He parts his lips to say something, no idea what but hopefully something carefree or confident or–

“Whoopsie daisy!” Harry’s ridiculous deep voice and ridiculous expression startle them apart. “Sorry, sorry, just came to collect the t-shirt. And uh, the braces?”

Louis whips off the t-shirt and Nick has to clamp his lips together to stop himself from drooling.

“Here you go, mate,” Louis says kindly, holding the shirt out. “Sorry ’bout all that before. Think I might needing those braces, though, that a problem?”

Harry looks from Louis to Nick, who’s clutching the braces in question against his chest, and back to Louis again. A wicked grin slowly forms on his face.

“No, uh, no problem here, mate. Cheers,” he says, backing toward the door. “Nick, shall I, uh… wait for you?”

Nick glances over to Louis, who tilts his head and lifts his eyebrows.

“Um, d’you… I mean, would you – we’re uh…” Nick stumbles over each word, suddenly on rather unsure ground. Louis is no doubt about to be a world-famous popstar, there’s no way he’d want to come to Nick’s silly little birthday drinks.

“Drinks at Cock & Bottle?” Harry asks, his usual annoying confidence back in full force. “Come along if you like, Louis, we’d be happy to have you. I’ll just be in the hall, finishing up packing.”

He slips out the door and Nick sneaks a peek at Louis, who’s smiling broadly at him.

“Cock & Bottle?” he asks, a bubble of laughter in his lovely scratchy voice. “Tell me you chose it for the name.”

“I did,” Nick admits, toying with the braces in his hands and trying to stop the possibilities running through his mind so he can form words. “I’d really like for you to come along, it’s… we’re doing birthday drinks. For me. For my birthday. It’s my birthday.”

“Nick,” Louis murmurs, stepping back into his space. Nick is suddenly very aware that Louis hasn’t bothered to put a shirt on. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” Nick whispers, Louis now so close that anything louder would feel like shouting. “D’you think, um…” He pauses to muster courage. If there was ever a day to be forthright, it’s the Venus bloody Star Point. “Birthday kiss? Maybe?”

“Definitely,” Louis breathes, closing the small distance between them to brush his soft lips against Nick’s. It’s fleeting, barely lasts a moment, but the feel of it lingers of Nick’s lips, and warmth spreads through his chest. It’s far too intimate for the circumstances; he’s barely known Louis an hour, they’re in the gents of a Notting Hill restaurant and, for practical instead of sexy reasons, Louis has no top on. And yet everything feels just as it should be.

Louis steps away, his lips curled into a small smile, and pulls another shirt on before turning to the mirror to make sure his hair is in order. Nick has been struck a bit dumb by the events of the last hour, the last thirty seconds or so in particular, so he just stands and watches as Louis gathers the rest of his things, including a jumper that Nick is sure belongs on Harry’s rack in the hallway instead of in Louis’ backpack. He’s quite forgotten about the braces in his hands and it’s not until Louis walks over to him with his hand out for them that he remembers.

“So, birthday kiss, check,” Louis says, putting the braces in his bag before zipping it up and slinging it over his shoulders. “Next up, birthday drinks. Then, if you’re good–” he pauses, blue eyes flashing, “–actually maybe if you’re not good…”

Nick actually trembles as he realizes the obscure birthday tradition that Louis is about to put on offer. It had been a favorite of his aunties growing up, and he’d spent every birthday party of his youth dodging them at every turn to preserve his bum. He has no interest in dodging Louis if he’s right about what he’s going to say next.

Louis leans in and whispers, “Birthday spanking,” before tracing Nick’s earlobe. With his tongue. The best day of the year for pleasure in-fucking-deed.

“C’mon then, birthday boy,” Louis says, taking Nick’s hand and pulling him toward the door. “I’m excited to see this cock of yours.”

Nick chokes on his own spit, sputtering as he lets Louis pull him along.

“Cock and bottle, Nicholas,” Louis smirks, looking extremely proud of himself. “Birthday drinks, remember? Cock & Bottle? Any of this ringing a bell?”

Normally Nick’s the one doing the teasing and taking the piss, trying to suss how well a match his dates are for his sense of humor, his friend group, his life. As Louis’ eyes twinkle mischievously at him, Nick finds he quite likes being on the other end of it. 

“Did you actually shag in the toilets?” Harry asks, standing up straight from where he’d been leaning against the wall, scrolling on his phone. “Been waiting ages.”

“Cheeky,” Louis says reprovingly. He clucks his tongue. “I remember when you were afraid of me over a pair of braces. Think I liked you better that way.” 

“Can’t believe the shit you gave me when you’re bloody keeping them,” Harry mutters, shaking his head as he starts down the hallway. “Don’t even wanna know what you’re gonna use ’em for. Some kind of weird Leo season sex, I’m sure.”

“Leo season sex?” Louis asks, turning to Nick in bewilderment. “The fuck is that? Don’t make me regret coming to see your cock, Nicholas.”

“What’s the mood for Leo season, again, Grim?” Harry calls over his shoulder, leading them through the door out into the sunshine.

“Carefree, confident and a little over the top,” Nick recites, waggling his brows at Louis.

“Check, check and check,” Louis murmurs with a small, private smile just for Nick. He pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. “Sorry, sorry, trying to quit but it’s fucking hard, innit? Last one, I swear.”

And it might be ridiculous – a little over the top, at the very  least – but as they walk down the pavement, Louis and Harry chattering away now like old friends as the sunlight picks up the few silver strands in Louis’ hair, Nick remembers that Venus Star Point isn’t just the best day of the year for pleasure. 

It’s also the best day for love.