When Nick gets up for work, he's already running late and Harry's stretched out mid-yoga pose on the floor in the front room, lit only by a small lamp and the beginning of daylight outside. Nick pauses in the doorway, blinks twice and tips his head to his shoulder and straight again before turning into the kitchen. On the counter there's a steaming mug. Nick presses the back of his hand against it and smiles down at Pig who's shuffled out and is nosing at his feet.
"Looks like we've a house guest, love."
She just stares up at him, of course, and not for the first time, Nick wishes she could talk back. It'd be nice to have someone to confirm he's not still asleep. Although, a talking dog would definitely be more a sign that he was dreaming than not. She taps against his foot again so he moves to let her out into the garden.
While she's outside, Nick adds Soya to his coffee. Leaning against the door frame, half in the flat and half out, he checks to see if he missed any messages from Harry letting him know he was coming. There's nothing, his last message a picture of Harry draped in three vintage silk scarves and Nick's response of The red one. Nick is pretty sure Harry was in L.A. yesterday.
He shrugs and sends a good morning message to Fiona and Vic. He hesitates and then checks his missed calls, his voice mails. They haven't talked in months, all communication via text. Friendly texts, funny and pleasant, generally sweet, pretty frequent even with the long gaps representing their misaligned time zones, but still just texts. There are no missed calls either, so Nick thumbs off the phone, whistles Pig inside, and heads to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, the coffee's gone, Pig's curled back on her bed, and Nick's paused in the doorway of the lounge again. Harry's still faced away but standing now, his body twisted at the waist, one long leg pulled up with his foot unreasonably high against his inner thigh. Nick hesitates, waits to see if he'll say anything, wonders if he should interrupt. Harry's foot presses higher and Nick can hear his slow, even breaths. Nick doesn't remember him being this flexible. He shakes his head and turns to leave before he's late to work chasing that train of thought to all its inappropriate conclusions.
He mutters, "Bloody L.A." and he's not sure if he's imagining the ghost of a laugh he hears as the door closes behind him.
The car ride to work is thankfully quick and he's only a few minutes late to the meeting. Fiona slides a coffee across the table and rolls her eyes.
They're into the second song of the morning when she leans towards him, phone turned so he can see, The Daily Mail with a slightly blurry photo of Harry at Heathrow arrivals. "Your long-lost popstar best mate's actually in town? Mail says he's practically a full American resident now, hasn't been here in ages."
"Forget the bloody Mail, Fi - here at Radio 1, I've got the exclusive that actual Harry Styles was doing some awkward bird pose in my lounge at half-five like a full-on yogi." Nick says it casual, like it's three years ago and Harry being at Nick's is as routine as monthly team nights out or take-away curry and Bake Off on Saturdays. Fiona considers for a second, slight frown at the corner of her mouth as if she's trying to remember the last time Nick mentioned Harry being over and before she can do the math, he smirks and asks, "Who gets up that early, anyway?"
He checks the time, reaches for the fader as Fiona laughs and then they're back on the air, talking about plans for the weekend and the new Frank Ocean and by the time the link is over, Fiona's on to a message from the handler of one guest or another, so there's no follow-up on Nick's visit.
The dog-sitter is out of town for the weekend starting today, so Nick pops home between production meeting and something at his agent's to walk Pig, but when he gets there, the flat is quiet and Pig doesn't come to greet him. He pulls her lead off the hook by the door and shakes it a little, the metallic clang hanging in the air, but still nothing. In the lounge, Harry's yoga mat is rolled up and leaning against the far wall. Nick finally finds Pig on his bed, snuggled against Harry's calf where it's poking out under the duvet. Neither she nor Harry stir when Nick steps into the room.
Nick gapes at Harry in his bed. There's no part of him that thought he'd see this again outside of idle fantasies he tries not to indulge and it feels a bit like something inside his brain is splintering into pieces at the sight. Harry's face is shoved into the pillow, only the top of his head visible and he's not starfished across the whole mattress like Nick would expect, but tucked tightly into the side that isn't Nick's, the side that Nick finally managed to stop thinking of as Harry's about six months ago.
The last time Harry slept here was longer ago than that, Nick's birthday. Because Harry showed up when he hadn't really been invited and refused to leave when Nick asked him to, eventually drunkenly collapsing into bed alone. Nick didn't sleep, he had an early flight and he would have been asleep hours before and up again if he hadn't spent the night trying to explain to too-drunk, pouting Harry why Nick could, in fact, think they shouldn't fuck anymore and also not be angry with him. After checking everything was packed, Nick just sat on the edge of the bed and listened to Harry's wheezy breathing, knowing that there was no point in always letting Harry come back when Harry wasn't ever coming back to stay even if it felt like an impossible thing to decide. Nick pressed a light kiss to Harry's temple before leaving and Harry clutched at his wrist, murmured, "Nick, please."
But Nick was the one to get on a plane that time, and two days into his holiday, the internet told him that after being in London just for "long-time BFF Nick Grimshaw's party" Harry had left- for New York apparently- and Nick sighed, felt terrible in a way he assumed came with doing the good-for-you thing, like drinking green smoothies or running every morning. He didn't cry when he got a text that said I understand. Sorry I was a brat. and then weirdly did cry at I left a jumper, grey one. you can keep it. or whatever, but only a little.
Nick glances around the room, thinks the jumper is still there, folded on one of the built-ins across the room, wonders if Harry will want to take it with him when he leaves this time. Nick considers trying to wake Harry, imagines asking how long he's planning to be here, but his chest clutches a little, so he sinks to the floor by the bed, wincing when his knee cracks. Maybe Harry will wake up and just explain, but only Pig moves, just a little wag of her tail. Nick presses against the bed, head tipped back to rest just beyond where he assumes Harry's hand is under the covers, and pulls out his phone. He checks his email, confirms a few meetings for Monday, shoots a message to Aimee about Sunday roast, and watches some snaps without the sound. Behind him, Harry shifts a little, a soft murmur, and the brush of fingers against Nick's hair before Harry settles and the room is quiet again.
Nick takes a selfie, Pig in the background but not Harry, writes lazy bones and posts it. Harry still refuses to use Snapchat, so he won't see it unless Nick sends him a screenshot, but Nick feels satisfied with the teasing anyway. Nick thinks about jet lag, wonders what time Harry got in instead of why he came, and stands to return Pig's lead to its place.
In the kitchen, he sends a message if you're stealing my dog's affection, you have to walk her when you wake up. with a puppy emoji and a heart-eye smiley face.
The mug from this morning is on the drainboard next to another and Nick checks they're dry before putting them away. He reaches into the fridge for a juice to take on his way back out, but there aren't any and he sighs, closes the door to jot it down on the notepad on the counter. There's already a list, though, a few lines, bananas, coconut oil, quinoa, yoghurt scrawled in blue. Nick rolls his eyes, adds vodka in black below so he has something to do other than try to work out how long someone would be staying based on those groceries. He's about to drop the pen when he pauses, shrugs, and adds dog food too. His phone buzzes against his leg and his cab's here, so he rushes out, only realizing he never added juice to the list when he's almost to the attorney's office.
Nick's home again before dinner and this time Pig is there at the door, snuffling at his ankles. She curls over for a belly rub as soon as he leans down to pet her. "Thought you might've abandoned me, Pig. All this sleeping with popstars made you too good for me." Pig just rolls over and licks at his fingers. "It's been known to happen."
Harry sent pictures from their walk - Pig investigating someone's shoes in black and white, Pig with the lead twisted around Harry's skinny leg, and the last of Pig scrambling down the steps with the message Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Nick only missed one probably-not-that-important detail about the contract his lawyer was explaining while Nick tried not to imagine that Harry meant himself and not just Pig.
Home or not, apparently they're living out a Missed Connection, because Harry's not here now, just his suitcase open on the chair in Nick's bedroom. Nick closes it rather than calculating how extensive a wardrobe Harry brought. He planned to take a nap so he would be able to stay out tonight, but he stops at the edge of the bed and stares down. The duvet's pulled up, the pillows re-arranged, better than he would have done, but Nick knows that Harry was there and he can't quite bring himself to pull the sheets back. He thinks about trying the sofa, but he hates naps anyway and he knows already he won't be able to sleep, so he gives up the idea, wanders around the flat for a bit, tidies, goes out with Pig and sits in the garden, carefully not thinking about Harry despite the little hints of his presence that Nick can already see in the flat - a hair tie on the table by the door, a jacket hanging in the hall, a book on the nightstand.
Finally he gives up and texts Pixie to say they should have drinks before dinner and he goes to the bathroom. But in the shower there are bottles of Harry's shampoo and conditioner - full size, not travel. Nick uses it, carefully squeezing it into his palm and trying to convince himself that it doesn't matter how much shampoo Harry's insanely long hair requires a day, because he can take a partially full bottle back to L.A. anyway. Or leave it behind. Or buy more if he runs out, a hopeful, traitorous part of him considers before Nick can stop it because he knows that way lies madness. Nick distracts himself thinking about how he always runs out of shampoo before conditioner and if that's everyone or just him and then as he rinses the conditioner out he wonders if this is even the right formula or if it'll leave his hair greasily strung out or frizzy or some other awful thing. Nick can't remember what Harry's hair looked like in the photos he'd seen and this morning it was tied up or hidden.
Eventually, he finishes showering and gets his hair dry. It seems to be as alright as it ever is, so he moisturizes and then reaches for the regular hair product. Before he can start on his quiff, though, a lock of hair falls into his face and the soapy, pineapple-y scent of it fills his nose and in some sort of obnoxiously romantic Proustian way, he's reminded sharply of a late morning, over a year ago, Harry back in town for a week or so after the Brits.
They were sprawled on the couch, Harry pressed against Nick's shoulder, curls wet on Nick's skin. Nick lifted one, wrapping it loosely around his finger, pulling lightly, and Harry's head pushed up a little, following, settling.
"It'll dry funny," Nick said, still twisting. "Flat, like."
Harry shrugged, the slide of his shoulders pulling at Nick's t-shirt. They stayed like that a few hours, the afternoon sun fading to winter's early darkness, the telly a soothing run of lazy weekend programming, Harry's weight quiet and warm against Nick, his lips occasionally searching out Nick's neck or collarbone with no real intent. When they finally had to get up, go out, meet friends, be people outside of the bubble they still managed to build when they were only them (even if by then Nick already knew they'd never be more than best friends with benefits and unexamined feelings), Harry just shoved his flattened curls into a beanie, eyebrows raised over a smile.
Nick rolls his eyes, reminds himself he can't shove anything into a beanie, and gets to work on his hair. Still, he's careful not to inhale too deeply until the scent of product has overwritten the shampoo.
Hair sorted, Nick opens his closet and pulls out a few shirts. He stares at them and then finds his mobile to ring Pixie.
What he plans to ask is if she wants to meet at the restaurant or if he should pick her up, but when her voice comes on the line, he says, "Harry's here."
"Yes, but no, I mean in my flat." Nick puts one of the shirts back, phone tucked to his shoulder while he holds up the remaining two.
"Tell him hi." Pixie's voice sounds tinny; he's probably on speaker.
"No, he's not here now." Nick sighs, put upon even though he's the one being confusing. "He was here when I got up. Stretching in my lounge like a proper L.A. transplant."
"You didn't know he was coming?"
It's not really a question because Pixie knows that if Nick knew Harry was coming, she would know too, so Nick doesn't answer, just, "How long do you suppose a one-suitcase visit is?"
Pixie's turn to sigh. "Nick-"
"Oh, and groceries? Like, only four things. But I actually have some other food in, so. How long do bananas last?"
Nick imagines Harry eating one banana a day until they're gone and then jetting back to L.A. Which is maybe a bit mad, especially because bananas are probably better in L.A., but then so is showing up unannounced after long enough that everyone assumed he wasn't coming back. Or, Nick assumed, everyone else kept saying he would, but Nick thinks they were trying to keep him from going through his well-practiced lecture on "All the Things My Just-Best-Friend Harry Styles Loves About Los Angeles, California, America, Not-England". No one appreciated his lecturing talent.
"Just ask him how long he's here Nick. Don't be--" She doesn't finish, but Nick knows what she means. Mad, daft, melodramatic. Afraid. But Nick is absolutely all of those things, so he hums lightly against the phone and holds the two shirts up again. The silence lasts another few seconds and Pixie's sigh this time is heavier, but all she says is, "I've ordered a car, so I'll meet you there, alright?"
"'Kay." Nick says, squinting at one of the shirts, pressing it against his chest and turning to the mirror on the closet door. "You know that McQueen shirt, with the gold bits, the--"
"The one from last year?"
Nick frowns at his reflection. "It's too much, yeah? I'm too old for it?" Nick pulls it away from him, holds it up and he can see the light through the gauzy fabric.
"You're not too old," Pixie says, and Nick gets that she doesn't mean the shirt. One of the things in Nick's lecture is that even the old people in L.A. are beautiful.
"Hmm... Unbecoming for a man of 35 to be wearing sparkles. I should give it up now, to be ready." His birthday's not for a few months, but he hangs the shirt on a hook and closes the door.
Pixie says, "See you soon, Grim," in a long-suffering tone and rings off. Nick can't say he blames her.
Dinner is nice, wine and maybe not enough food, but it's good. Pixie doesn't ask about Harry, which Nick appreciates, just tells a series of increasingly insane stories from her holiday in Africa and manages to keep Nick focused on appearing like he's listening and letting himself be amused and not like he's secretly thinking about whether Harry thought he would be home for dinner. Nick couldn't tell from the message Harry sent earlier, just a photo of a Waitrose advert for frozen peas with a terrible pun. Pixie keeps talking and Nick keeps trying to smile, until he really is amused, laughing hysterically every time Pixie says the word "hyena" for reasons that will likely make no sense later. Dinner winds on to the point where it's maybe rude to still be taking up a table if they're only drinking, so they stand, head outside, check their messages. Nick yawns, remembers the nap he missed out on and starts thinking about begging off to go home.
Pixie watches him over her phone and says, "You haven't seen him since your birthday?"
Nick shakes his head, puts his own phone back in his pocket. "You know I haven't. We barely talk, just text." He shrugs. "It's okay, though. Still friends." Pixie drops her hand, phone resting against her chest, she frowns. "I decided. He kissed me, I said no, we argued, I left, he apologized, agreed. You know this story. It's okay." Nick hopes it isn't childish to believe that if he says something enough it'll start to be real.
"Do you know why he's here?"
"Didn't know he was coming, did I, so how would I know the why." He twists some hair between two fingers. "Probs something for work, maybe see his mum. Could be gone already for all I know."
Pixie inhales, makes a face like she's trying to choose the right exit off a roundabout and then nods. "Right, okay." She lifts her phone again. "Daize is on about a new place 'cross town. Up for it?"
Nick isn't sure he is, but after a flurry of calls and messages, Daisy coaxes them out, along with Jack and George. The new bar is kind of shit, so they try another, and a third and Nick is pleasantly drunk enough not to care much when George knocks against Nick's outstretched hand while he's telling a very important anecdote and splashes red wine on Nick's shirtfront. He doesn't care, but he does switch to gin after that, just in case. They consider calling it when they lose Jack, but Nick remembers that he wants to stop off at the pub where Gillian is on a date to meet-slash-harass her new boyfriend, which everyone is up for, except Gellz herself. To get rid of them, she reminds them about a fashion party Henry is supposed to be at and they all give in and head out, trading George for FiFi. Henry isn't there after all (if he ever was, Gillian can be sneaky), but they agree to grab another round of gin and tonics, ogle models, and dance a bit while trying to decide if there's anywhere else they want to go. Ultimately there isn't, so they pour out and split into cabs, the girls only teetering a little, maybe more their shoes than the gin, but it could go either way. Nick is the last one alone on the kerb, smoking before looking for a taxi. He inhales, realizes he hasn't thought about the expiration date on Harry's visit in at least three hours.
While he's finishing the last drag of his cigarette, his phone buzzes with a message. Drink? It's Luke, a music writer from The Guardian or something Nick can't quite be arsed to remember, but he's not a model and he's almost Nick's age and Nick's seen him a few times over the last month. Certainly enough times to know that late night "drinks" means "drinks and."
Yesterday, Nick would have sent an immediate yes and the fact that he's now staring at the phone and hesitating has his unexpected house guest's name all over it. Which in turn causes a low, swishing panic in his chest, blood crashing against his ears because Harry is just sort-of visiting and letting his unexplained, no-one-has-the-heart-to-tell-him-he's-not-Stevie-Nicks, free-spirit behavior dictate what Nick does with his time is a path Nick has traveled before with less-than-stellar outcomes and has very officially closed the door on now. Besides, he hasn't actually seen Harry, there were no plans made, nothing to send him rushing home. It's possible he's not even there, that he's going to stay at his own place. And maybe the grocery list, settled-in shampoo, and visiting yoga mat all suggest otherwise, but there's also the possibility he'll be staying elsewhere at least for the night and that makes the decision, because Nick doesn't really want to know that.
So, Brilliant and then at yours, okay? just in case.
It is okay, so Nick gets the taxi and heads off to Soho. He's determined that what he'll find there will still the slight shaking of his hand that starts when he scrolls through Instagram to find that Gemma's posted a picture of Harry out somewhere tonight, the McQueen shirt that Nick dismissed earlier hanging half-buttoned off Harry's shoulders. It certainly looks better on him anyway, Nick thinks as he taps the photo twice to like, closing his eyes to the after-image of the heart icon flashing on his eyelids. He clenches his hand around his phone and leans back, listening to an old Flaming Lips song segue into something new by a band he thinks he talked to yesterday morning but can't quite be sure, glad for an inconsequential puzzle to work on. He only opens his eyes when the car stops, remembers the lead singer's raspy morning voice and sharp laugh, but gives up on the name as he rings the bell and Luke pulls him in, grin broad and blond hair straight and flat against his forehead.
Nick planned to stay at Luke's, blames his decision to get out of bed and rush off around half-four instead on his "radio schedule" and "the pup" rather than on how completely unable he is to sleep pressed against Luke's distinctly not-tattooed, not-tanned skin when there's a possibility that something else is on offer at home. Luke just shrugs even though two weekends ago they'd slept in at Nick's until 11, radio schedule notwithstanding, and Pig mostly doing the same. Given Nick's inability to focus on much of what Luke attempted to say before pressing Nick to the sofa and snaking a hand into his pants and the rather cursory blow job Nick gave in return, Luke probably can't be bothered whether Nick stays or not anyway. Nick tells him to stay in bed, makes his way out and leans back against the front door for a second breathing in the damp spring air. He rests his eyes and he knows it would be insane but there's a split second until his car pulls up where he thinks about dropping to sleep right there on the front steps.
The late night/early morning cab ride is quick and he's home again before he's really had time to think about what he's doing. Which he guesses is walk-of-shaming home to his probably-still-best-friend who he didn't know was coming and who might not even be there and who he is 100-percent not supposed to be waiting around for after nine months of literally not seeing each other and almost a year of not seeing each other and a larger number of years still of packed up emotions he has about everything they are and aren't. Inside, he shuts the door carefully and quickly to muffle any street noise even though he knows if Harry is here he'll be in the bedroom and it won't be loud enough to wake him. Nick slips his wallet on the entry table and toes off his boots. There's a pair of beat-up taffy-colored ones already there and Nick sighs, scrubbing his hand through his messy hair. He doesn't peek to see if Pig is in her bed because Harry always lets her sleep on the 'people bed.' Nick thinks about joining them, thinks about the spicy scent of Luke's cologne, and heads to the kitchen.
The items from Harry's list are clustered on the counter, boxes and bottles including the vodka he didn't really need, arranged neatly next to a bunch of six bananas. There's a new bag of dog food tucked behind the nearly empty one across the room and Nick presses his fingers against his lips, flinching at a small scrape from Luke's beard. Being emotional about dog food before sunrise on a Saturday morning is not a good look on a grown adult, but Nick feels like he can't catch his breath as he imagines Harry taking note of the right brand and checking to see if it was chicken or beef flavor Pig prefers before leaving for the shops. Nick stares, breathes in and out for a minute or two until it doesn't feel so hard to fill his lungs. He considers the vodka, but he's not that guy, so he opens the fridge before remembering again that there's no juice and he'll have to settle for water.
Except, there is juice. Six bottles of the kind Nick prefers but didn't put on the list. It's lined up in two neat rows along the edge of the shelf, cucumber-kale in one and apple-spinach in another next to Harry's yoghurt. Nick blinks twice, reaches in and it's real, not an overtired hallucination, so he takes a bottle and goes to sit in the lounge, drinking it down in a few long pulls, the fresh cucumber taste lingering on his lips and the thick bitterness of the kale erasing what's left of Luke on his tongue. He stares blankly at the black screen of the telly. He needs to go to bed- it's actually insane that he's still up. He doesn't want to fall asleep on the sofa because it feels like that would mean something he isn't trying to say again and he can't quite make himself go and perfectly platonically curl up next to Harry either, so he just sits, eyes going sandpaper scratchy, picking at the juice label, until his back hurts and the sun is spreading pink across the sky outside the window.
The sound of Pig's nails on the floor pulls him out of his vague half-doze and he sits up a little straighter.
"Come on, this way. You have to go outside to wee, you can't ruin Grimmy's rug again." Harry's voice is loud in the quiet room, the words slow and sleep-rough. "No, where are-" Nick doesn't turn around, licks at his lips, waits. Harry's "Oh" is almost inaudible and when she reaches the sofa, Pig rubs the top of her head against Nick's ankle, whining a little when he doesn't move to pet her.
"Hiya," he says and his voice sounds painfully hoarse, drinks and smoke, club shouting, sucking cock and no sleep. He can see Harry sort of but not quite reflected in the telly. Seems fitting, he thinks, yawning again and rolling his eyes.
Harry is stood a few feet away, body still mostly turned to go to the garden. He doesn't say hi, but he slowly changes direction, comes around to stand in front of Nick. Nick realizes he hasn't actually seen Harry's face yet, just his back and his clothes and his grocery list and his boots and then his semi-reflection. He looks good, of course, a bit tired, only one or two spots at his hairline. Nick looks up at him and he smiles without meaning to at Harry's curls pressed into a flat mass on the side of his head where it was against the pillow.
"You're here," Harry says, pulls at his lower lip with his thumb and finger. He looks surprised.
A shot of hurt that Nick is calling irritation flashes in his gut. "I could say the same about you." Even annoyed, though, Nick raises an eyebrow and keeps a ghost of the smile to take the sting out of it. His throat hurts and he coughs a little.
Harry has the grace to wince, nod his head. "Uh, yeah. That." He pitches his weight forward a little, not quite a step, but Nick realizes how close he is to the sofa. Harry must too because he stops, resets himself. "I meant, I didn't think you were coming back. Uh, tonight."
Nick shrugs, "Didn't feel like staying out. I was coming to bed, I just got-" Nick waves the hand holding the juice bottle to imply distracted or something like. Harry nods. Nick fights through the sleep-deprived fuzz in his head to try to frame one of the questions he's been working to figure out the answer to all day, but he notices the juice bottle again and so instead says, "Thanks for this, by the way."
Harry smiles, soft, and there are pillow creases etched into his cheek. "It wasn't on the list, but you always have it in." Harry's smile falters and he blinks a few times. "Or, you did last year, or. Got Diet Coke, too, but it's in the back." Harry doesn't really approve of Diet Coke anymore.
The tiny part of Nick that wants to fight about anything disappears, folding into fondness and exhaustion. He closes his eyes and realizes he's been up for most of a day at this point.
"Did you really need the vodka?"
Nick startles, eyes opening wide and laughs, louder and shriller than makes sense. Hyena, he thinks. "Nope." He pops the 'p' and laughs more as Harry's face goes from confused to exasperated to something soft that Nick can't name. Or isn't willing to, anyway. "Did need the dog food, though."
Which must remind Harry of why he got up in the first place and he glances around the room, frowning when he sees Pig tucked into a corner next to the bureau. "Piiiiiiig, no!" He moves towards her.
Nick starts laughing again and he can't stop, curling in on himself, the juice bottle falling from his hand and making a soft noise as it falls to the floor. He needs to brush his teeth and to sleep for at least five hours and he really needs to touch Harry who is here and Nick can't believe he's waited this long, whatever isn't between them anymore, because it's still Harry. Harry has stopped half way across the room to Pig, who's already finished ruining Nick's rug and is moving back towards her bed. He's staring at Nick.
"Harry," Nick manages to gasp out as he stops laughing and catches his breath.
"Are you okay?" Harry is starting to laugh a little now too, more worried than amused. "You've lost it."
"Harry," Nick says again, standing up and turning towards him, arms opening. "Harry, you're here."
Harry closes the space between them in two long, slightly awkward steps. "Yeah."
Nick falls into Harry's arms and hugs him, presses his face into Harry's skin, breathing in citrus from his hair and Nick's washing soap, left behind from the sheets. Harry's arms are tight around him, fingers massaging lightly where Nick's back hurts from the sofa. It feels amazing and Nick is so tired. "I'm so tired, Harry."
"Yeah, okay, sure." The way he says it is flatter than it used to be, American. Nick can feel Harry lift his head from where it was resting against Nick's. He opens his eyes and sees where Harry is glancing at the corner. "Do you have, like--"
"Ugh. Yeah, um. Under the sink. Just put down paper towel and spray the disinfectant - we can clean it proper in the morning." Nick pulls away, but Harry clings to him, so he only gets far enough to breathe air that isn't Harry's.
Harry smiles. "It is morning."
"Like, real morning." Nick pokes Harry's chest, just below the swallow. "I need to sleep. I haven't slept in, a day? And I know that's probably normal for you, but I'm old and I'm knackered and I--" Nick wrinkles his nose and tips his head to rest his forehead on Harry's collarbone. "I need to brush my teeth."
Harry pulls away for real this time and Nick frowns at the loss, both because he misses him immediately and because he's not quite ready to be standing on his own. Harry catches him with a hand to his shoulder. "You go do that, I'll do this." Nick doesn't move. "Go, I'll be there." And Harry says it like he knows Nick is worried he wouldn't be even though that makes no sense at all, so Nick nods and goes. He's asleep before Harry returns.
Nick wakes up and he's sure it's late, but the blackout shades are down and he has no idea where his phone is, so he can't prove it. He blinks, takes in a deep breath. He feels like a human again, which is good, but there's a sharp ache in his stomach that could be about mixing red wine and gin, but is probably about the warm presence of Harry next to him in the bed. He runs a hand through his hair and bites his lip, rolls to his back, sits up, and looks over at the other side of the bed all at once. Ripping off the plaster and all. Pig is stretched over one of Harry's legs and he has the other one pulled up, notebook resting on the duvet over his knee. His pen stills when Nick sits.
"If you're writing a hit song in my bed, I get a cut." Taking the piss is a just-friends approved behavior and Harry laughs, lips pulled wide, dimple popping. "I'm not joking."
"I didn't want to wake you - you really seemed to need the sleep." Harry shrugs, "It's so dark, I'm not even sure what I've written."
Nick sits up all the way, swings his legs out of bed. He starts to stand up, pauses, glances back and then away again. "If I go piss and take a shower will you still be here or are we starting on day two of missed connections?"
"I don't have--" A sound that Nick thinks is Harry's pen scratching against the paper lightly. "I'll be here."
Nick smells terrible, a night of no sleep and drinking and touching too many people and the stale sweat of sleep all stuck in his hair and on his skin and the shower feels amazing. He uses Harry's shampoo again, resists the childish impulse to pour it down the drain just to see what happens when it's gone because there's something about sleeping away the morning and showering away the night before that makes him feel like the proper emotionally stable adult he keeps saying he is and he thinks he's ready to just ask Harry how long he's visiting.
When he comes out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist and hair flopping wet on his forehead, there's the scent of coffee and Harry back in bed with the lamp on, Pig gone off somewhere. The stability is still there but it's a bit buried under the slightly terrifying thrumming satisfaction he feels at the entire picture. And stability is one thing, but he has years of conditioning to work through, so he gulps down some coffee and nods at the McQueen shirt folded across the arm of a chair. "You can keep that if you like. I was getting rid of it."
Harry looks at him over his own mug and frowns, but his eyes are smiling, Tyra-style. "You're not too old for it."
Nick shrugs and takes another sip before putting the mug down to scrub at his hair with a second towel.
"I didn't mean to miss you all day. Yesterday," Harry says.
Nick stays under the towel as he says, "Didn't know you were coming. Had work, plans."
There's a small pause, Harry's waiting for Nick to look at him, but he's not ready yet. Stability feels even better under the towel. Which is probably not very stable at all.
Harry sighs. "Yeah." Nothing else though, so Nick finishes with his hair and tosses the towel back towards the bathroom. Harry's tapping his pen against one of his rings. "You went to dinner last night?"
Nick nods, "With Pix. Then out and about. You?"
"I waite-" They both frown at the same time. "Hung out here for a bit, then decided to go out with Gem." Harry is watching the pen move as if someone else is tapping it and he needs to figure out the rhythm. "Fun night?"
Nick rolls his eyes because this is absurd. "Parts of it. Harry, how lo-"
"That guy from, um. The music writer? Hated Liam's album?"
Nick laughs, he can't help himself. "He hated Liam's album?"
Harry nods, pulling at his curls. "Ugh, yeah. When you went out with him the first time, you mentioned his name? And I looked him up and he wrote an awful review. Called it like, low-rent Drake or summat." Harry frowns. "It was a good album."
"Yeah, yeah. It was." Harry's pouting and Nick tries not to read anything into either the fact that Harry looked up some guy he dated or that the only thing he seemed to note about him is his opinions. "Anyway, that wasn't really the fun part." Harry raises his eyebrows and Nick shrugs, turning to looks for pants in the top drawer. "I came home, didn't I?"
Harry scoffs. "Doesn't mean it wasn't fun."
Nick inhales, holds it for a count of five while looking at rows of black boxer-briefs, then turns around and lets it all out at once. "Harry, come on. Just like-" Nick looks over at the suitcase, open again. "How long until you're back to L.A.?" That's what he wants to know, what he spent 24 hours trying to figure out, and maybe if he gets it sorted they can leave the whys out of it and just have a visit, just be friends, one step closer to moving on from all the qualifiers he keeps putting around the idea.
Harry blinks, probably sure that Nick wasn't going to actually ask. All this and still no one expects any sort of emotional stability from Nick. Maybe after his birthday.
Harry chews his lip, stares at Nick until Nick feels like he needs to sit down. "Depends," he finally says.
"Nope. Not an answer."
Harry puts his pen on the nightstand. "Ask a better question."
"I spent all day yesterday asking questions, Harry. I thought they were all pretty great - why don't you take your pick?" Harry looks down at his lap, pulling invisible fluff from Nick's sheets. Nick holds up a hand, ticks each question off on his fingers. "How long does a bottle of that shampoo last? How many days' worth of clothes fit in your suitcase? Why didn't you tell me you were coming? How many bananas do you eat in one day? Are bananas better in L.A.?" He's out of fingers. "Why wouldn't you just stay and eat bananas in L.A.?" That's the one, of course, and Harry looks up at him again.
"Nine months of possibly better bananas hasn't felt worth missing you." Harry squints and frowns immediately. "That sounded bloody stupid." Nick gapes at him, not sure if he can laugh. It definitely did, though, so he nods. "Your questions are mental."
"You make me mental." Harry closes his eyes, re-opens them. "What do you actually mean - banana preferences aside? You said." Harry shakes his head. Nick knows that's not right. "We decided-." Harry inhales sharply. Also not right. Nick said, Nick decided, so he says now, "I can't keep--"
"I know. You said in August - you want to be a grown up and I got it. I left. I get it." Harry tips his head to the side. "But you're a grown up who accidentally went like, 22 hours without sleeping, got drunk on something you spilled all down your shirt, shagged someone who has terrible opinions about music and apparently isn't even fun, and topped it off with an exhausted laughing fit at your best-friend-formerly-with-benefits when your dog pissed on the rug." He doesn't say any of that like it's a character flaw, which is probably why Harry always feels like he would be perfect for Nick if Nick could only have him.
But he can't, so he stares for a second and then says, "At least I wasn't also wearing a shirt with sparkly bits that's too young for me."
"Well, 'cause you gave it to me." Nick can tell Harry's trying not to smile. "Nick."
"Harry, it's not that I'm old and responsible. I get that I'm not, I know my adult behavior is lacking. It's just that I'm too old to pine anymore." Harry covers his lips over what is definitely a smile at the way Nick says "pine" like he's quoting from a romance novel. But he can't help it because that's how it feels, that's always how it's felt. Nick searches for that sense of adult emotional stability he had only a few minutes ago. "It's just. I have to try to grow up. Because I'm almost 35. And because I want to have something. Someone. Who's here. I want to settle. I'm not good at it yet, but."
Harry pulls his hand away from his mouth. "Nick, that's the thing. Turns out I am good at it." He holds up a hand to stop Nick from speaking. "No, do you know what I do in L.A.? I buy groceries at farmers' markets on Tuesdays and I make stupid salads off of Jamie Oliver on Wednesdays. I have sushi with Jeff to talk business at the same place every few days in this weird mall and-" Nick isn't sure what the point is and he knows Harry can tell because he waves his hand a little to indicate he's getting somewhere. "Days I don't have meetings or recording, I have scheduled play dates with Louis's kid and I do yoga every morning. I set my own work schedule now so I can fit all those things in. Two weeks ago, I was going on the hike I do Sunday mornings before watching football or playing golf with Cal and I looked at all these things, everything I just listed and I realized that have a routine, have just been there for nine months without even noticing. And it didn't freak me out. At all. I waited to be sure, to see if I really wasn't bothered and then I booked a flight."
"Haz, that's g-"
Harry doesn't let Nick interrupt, pushes on. "I couldn't settle. Before, I had to like, run if I realized I was in the same place for too long, seeing the same things. I know and it was never you I was running from, but." Harry's been looking at Nick through this whole typically slow rambling speech, but he looks down at that, bites his lip. "So I had to be sure before I came, I couldn't unless I was sure. And once I was, I didn't want to wait. That's why I didn't tell you I was coming." He looks up again, eyes wide, pleading a bit.
Nick remembers another late morning, maybe two years ago, during the break between Harry's first and second albums when Harry had been in London for months, when things had felt almost real. A Sunday and Nick had commented that they'd gone to brunch with the same people at the same place three weeks in a row, people with kids even, joked that they were practically in the grave and it was a stupid joke, barely a thing, so he didn't notice until too late how Harry's face went closed off and thoughtful. The next day Harry wanted to take off for Thailand, go on an adventure. He wanted Nick to go, eyes pleading then too, and he wasn't trying to leave Nick, but he had to go and Nick had to work, had to babysit Arlo, and take care of Pig. He said Harry was overreacting, suggested they wait and just plan a holiday when Nick could take time off, before the next tour. But Harry shook his head and went, with Jeff or maybe Niall, Nick doesn't remember. But Harry went. And Nick stayed. And that was the end of whatever they hadn't even really started to be. Or it felt like the end, even if in actual reality there were more random visits, a few more long weekends holed up in Nick's flat, but all of them with the end always there in Nick's mind, waiting for him to turn a switch or close a door.
Nick thinks about Harry's new comfortable day-to-day routine, imagines him cooking in his perfect kitchen and eating salads on the patio with the perfect California views and the achy red wine and gin feeling comes back in Nick's stomach.
"You settling in L.A. doesn't make anything different." Nick says, slumping back against the bureau. "If I'm honest, it makes it worse."
"Yeah." Harry says it like he does when Nick gives the punchline to one of his stupid jokes before Harry can tell it - sort of proud and sort of annoyed at once. "That's what I'm saying. Because the other thing I do in L.A.? I send you stupid messages with pointless questions and wait for you to write back and I get stroppy if you don't do it fast enough. We never talk, so I listen to the Breakfast Show at night to hear your voice instead. I Google assholes you're dating. I miss you. I sit in L.A. and I have a routine and part of that routine is 'pining.' " Harry's mimicking him. Nick raises an eyebrow, but Harry keeps going, brushes his hair back from his face. "And I don't know what the age cut off is, but it feels like I'm too old for it, too. So if all you wanted is someone who can settle and I can settle now, and all I wanted is you and you're still here, then why are we pining over each other across the fucking ocean?"
"Because you left." Nick feels his eyes go wet and he knows why they weren't together, remembers what it felt like when Harry left over and over again, kept doing it once he didn't need to. "Not like, on tour, for work. But to L.A., and to St. Barth's, to New York, and to bloody Thailand, and L.A. again. Always California. You always just went."
Nick looks at him, holds his gaze and Harry doesn't look away. He means it and it feels different than before, maybe because Harry doesn't say that Nick told him to go, even though that would be the technical truth after the last time. He's just sorry for all the times before. And so Nick can admit that it's also the truth that he is too, even if he shouldn't be. He's sorry for making Harry go, sorry for not knowing he could change, sorry for not just telling him he'd wait since Nick apparently couldn't help it anyway.
"Nick, I know. I know. But I'm not leaving anymore. For real. I want it too. To have something. Not someone- you. And I can be here." Harry looks worried or maybe nervous, eyes slightly soft around the edges, mouth tense. "But like, I don't know if you." He doesn't finish, just stops and pulls at his lip.
Nick tries to imagine what it could be like. Remembers when Harry was here and it felt like he might stay. Thinks about someone else always on the other side of his bed, their products in the bathroom, their groceries in the fridge, and someone else to deal with Pig in the mornings when he's running late. Whenever he tries to fill that space in his head, tries to imagine what he means when he says he wants someone, it's always Harry. Even when he didn't believe he could have that. He imagines it with Harry sat against his headboard and as it comes into focus, it feels stable, feels real.
"So the length of your visit, what's it depend on, then?"
Harry shakes his head. "Not, like, how long my shampoo lasts."
Harry still looks nervous, which doesn't look right on his face. Nick hates it, actually, thinks Harry should pretty much always be on the edge of conceited, overly pleased with himself, even if it makes him insufferable. He deserves it because all of this is just talk, its just running in circles because Nick knows the truth is that if Harry wants to stay, really wants to try to stay like he never has before, there's nothing Nick can do to resist. He was resisting because Harry only wanted what they had, not more. If more is being offered, it's possibly slightly pathetic, but that's all it takes, really. So he lets go, exhales, and nods.
Nick nods again and Harry stands up, duvet slipping off. He's naked, of course, and Nick's face heats up as he stares, tan skin, new tattoos, muscles slightly different than the last time he saw this, the last night of a Bank Holiday weekend just about two months before Nick's birthday when Harry stopped for a night after visiting Anne and Nick picked a fight in the morning over something stupid just to make him leave. Nick feels impossibly stupid and Harry's nervousness is fading, a smirk sliding into place as he looks down at the towel damp on Nick's hips.
"Yeah," Nick mutters as Harry leans in to kiss him, soft lips just slightly chapped and dented where he's always biting them.
Harry sighs into the kiss, very romantic really, but Nick is impatient and he pushes forward immediately, opens his mouth against Harry's and goes after the taste of him under the tea he was drinking and the vague lingering toothpaste from before Nick woke up. Harry laughs, snaps his head back for just a second until Nick winds fingers into his curls, pulling a little, and then Harry's kissing him again, fierce and determined to prove his point. And it's like nine months ago or two years ago or the first time, in the bathroom of a club that Nick has never been able to really go into again without feeling a rush of adrenaline and a queasy pull of heartache. Which is pathetic, yes, but of no matter right now with Harry here in his room, offering more than he has before, a solid weight crushing Nick against the wood of his dresser.
So Nick takes it, along with the idea of Harry here in London, here with him. Nick takes Harry's urgent kisses and the way his hands scrabble along Nick's sides and back, scratching and then pressing and then moving on like Harry can't decide what he most wants to do. It could be embarrassing how quickly Nick gets hard from kissing and aimless touches and the press of Harry against him, but embarrassment isn't his style and Harry's at least half hard against Nick, too, so he just thrusts forward, the cotton of the towel rough against his cock and Harry makes a low noise in the back of his throat, somewhere between a moan and a laugh, and Nick can feel it echo all down his throat.
Harry pulls back enough to swipe his tongue over Nick's lower lip, muttering "Alright?" but not waiting for an answer before he presses back in and kisses Nick again.
This time, though, his hands have as much focus and purpose as his mouth, sliding to Nick's hip where he releases the towel with a quick flick of his fingers. Then he's pulling away from Nick's face, lower lip caught between Harry's teeth lightly, being pulled as if he can't quite let go. Nick doesn't know why he's even trying to, reaches one hand between them to palm Harry's cock, chest clutching at the feeling, and the other other around to Harry's back to press him closer, to get him back to kissing. But Harry keeps pulling back, hissing as Nick wraps his hand around him and pulls one lazy stroke.
"Wait, Nick." He drops to the floor, managing to rest his knees perfectly against the discarded towel instead of the hard floor and Nick rolls his eyes at how he can be occasionally graceful.
But Harry wastes no time, just one light lick to the head before taking Nick into his mouth and then Nick's eyes are rolling again, but not mockingly, the joke he was going to make lost. Harry looks up at him, curls a mess from sleep and Nick's hands and slightly damp with sweat. His lips are red and stretched around Nick, face flushed, and eyes fluttering closed as he sucks. He swirls his tongue quickly around, once, then again, and Nick grabs at his hair. Harry hums approvingly, Nick vibrating with it and using his other hand on the bureau as support. Harry adds his hand, jerks in time to his sucking, as he pulls off a little before coming back wetter and with a cool gust of breath. Nick shivers and his legs are shaking a little and he's not going to last very long. He pulls and Harry opens his eyes and then his mouth somehow impossibly wider and draws Nick all the way in, the soft slide of his lips and the flexing of his throat against Nick causing him to tense. Harry moves his now free hand to cup Nick's balls, teasing, and changes the angle of his neck just a little and Nick's coming, the movements of Harry's throat as he swallows prolonging the pulses of his orgasm until Nick pulls back, out with a small popping sound, and slumps again, the wood a bit cold on his ass.
Harry smiles up at him, sweet and filthy as he wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. He unbends his knees, gets his arms awkwardly around Nick's thighs as he stands, and lifts just a little, only a few centimeters, to get him seated on the edge of the furniture.
"Show off," Nick says and he's not sure if he means the blow job or the display of manly strength.
"Yeah," Harry says and pushes Nicks' thighs apart so he can press in and kiss him again, tea and toothpaste long gone, only the mingled tastes of Nick and Harry on his tongue.
Nick feels less rushed, less needy now that he's come and even though Harry's fully hard and leaking pre-come at the crease of Nick's thigh, he doesn't seem bothered, as if now that they've dispensed with Nick, Harry could wait all day. And he probably could, Nick's seen it, Harry called away to an unexpected or forgotten teleconference about perfume or tour schedules, naked and hard, sprawled across one of Nick's dining chairs, somehow fully listening while also staring at Nick from across the room and trailing his fingers over his abs, patient until he can get back to where they left off. So maybe that's it, maybe Nick always knew Harry was going to be ready if he waited. But he doesn't have to wait anymore, so he slides a bit, gets himself angled until Harry can properly rub off on him, slotted below his stomach and above his thigh.
"Not a teenager anymore, Nick." Harry laughs, the words mumbled and slow.
"For old time's sake," Nick urges and he wraps his hand around Harry's waist, traces his hand over the curve of Harry's ass, then ghosts a finger along the crack. Harry shudders, stills for a second before rutting more urgently against Nick. Nick smiles into what is barely a kiss anymore, Harry too distracted to do more than brush their mouths together as he clutches at Nick's hips. Nick pushes his fingers forward, circling one lightly around Harry's hole, dipping almost in, teasing up and down and around until Harry whimpers and shifts back to force Nick's fingertip inside for a second and then thrusting forward on Nick's leg, shaking and whispering something Nick can't make out against his mouth as he comes, wet and messy on Nick's leg and probably his bureau, too.
Harry drops his head to Nick's chest, breathing hard. "Love you," he says. Repeats, Nick realizes, can feel the shape of the words against his chest the same as they were against his mouth.
"Love you." That was never the problem, really, and now there is no problem and Nick laughs a little, giddy with the idea of getting to keep this. "You're staying."
"You said I could," Harry bites a little at Nick's neck and then kisses over it softly.
Nick nods and they stay like that for a minute until the mess on Nick's leg is too much to ignore. "Harry, this is gross. We have to clean it."
Harry doesn't move, then laughs. "Have to clean in the living room, too. After Pig."
"Me first. Then the dresser. Then Pig's mess."
Harry sighs and stands straight, taking Nick's hand to drag him to the bathroom. "I wanted you to fuck me, not to spend the afternoon cleaning fluids out of your furniture."
"Well, boring adult things are all you have to look forward to now, Harold." Nick pauses in the door to the bathroom, can't help the slight frown as he looks at Harry.
Harry doesn't roll his eyes, just nods, as serious as he can look while also looking fucked out and completely amused. "Exactly. That's what I'm signing up for- boring adult things like proper fucking in a bed with nice clean sheets and the good lube. You're the one who had me get off on your leg like a bloody virgin."
Nick laughs, relaxes fully. "Looks like I'm still rubbish at being an adult. Good thing I've got boring, settled Harry Styles to help me out." He doesn't let Harry agree, just leans in and kisses him until neither of them can breathe, knows they'll have time to get to the cleaning after.