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Not a Bloody Thing

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Not a Bloody Thing

"I have tickets," says Harry lethargically.

Harry Styles is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a morning person. Turning down a work placement at Radio 1, especially on The Breakfast Show, would've been ridiculous, but the chance of a lifetime doesn't seem to have made Harry anymore motivated to bright eyes and perkiness at five-thirty in the morning. He's wrapped in a hoodie, jacket and scarf, and his curls are tucked messily under a beanie. He's talking even slower than usual.

Nick shrugs out of his own coat and hangs it up on its usual hook inside the studio. Harry's slumped in Finchy's chair.

"What I need, though, is tea," Nick tells him, waving at Dev on the other side of the glass.

"Liam and I are going to this little club show tonight, is what I'm saying. You should come."

Nick regards him coolly. "I have a date tonight, young Harold."

Harry's eyes light up immediately, precious little glowworm that he is, and he sits up straight, suddenly more awake. He might even actually go and do his job, soon, which would be nice; He makes excellent tea. "A date? You've found someone worthy of basking in your glow?"

"Possibly," Nick says. "He's well fit, in any case. He's called Michael. He's in advertising or something. We shared a taxi the other morning."

Harry wolf whistles, so Nick is forced to throw a box of paperclips at him. "What are you guys going to do?"

"I'm trying to think of somewhere to go for dinner, because I'd rather not take him to any of my usual places in case he's dreadful and I don't want to see him again."

"Classy," says Harry. He caught the box of paperclips, but upon trying to juggle them with an extra roll of Sellotape and a box of extra staples, managed to drop all three on the floor, so now he's picking them up. Nick makes no move to help, but watches because it's sort of fascinating.

"Mm."

"Oh, hey, you can take him to Basco's."

Nick blinks. Harry's cramming staples and paperclips into the same box. Nick has to look away it's so bothersome. "Basco's."

"It's a real place, I promise. It's a nice place, just opened, remember? There've been really good reviews. The chef is famous. My mate Louis works there, so I'd have a spy to tell me how your date is going."

Nick perks up curiously. "There's a waiting list for that place. Could he get me reservations on such short notice?"

Harry nods, a bit like a wobbly-headed doll. "I'll ask him. I mean not now, he'd kill me if I woke him up, but I'll ask later. He should be able to do it."

"You are a peach, Harry Styles." Harry preens under the praise. Nick lets him bask in it for a second before he points at him sharply. "Now go get me tea."

 

 

Advertising Michael looks fantastic, blond-haired and green eyed, taller than Nick and very in shape, broad shoulders and narrow hips and a nice, strong jaw line. He greets Nick with a handshake and a polite kiss on the cheek, which is sweet and sort of ridiculous.

"This is a nice place," he says, smiling. They met just outside the restaurant, which is crowded, to say the least, but the epitome of posh and elegance. It's trendy as hell, certainly, but every review Nick's read has been fantastic and every foodie friend of his would be supremely jealous, which is always fun.

"It is, yeah," Nick answers, leading him inside. He's glad he decided to dress up a bit. "Ironically it's because of a mate of my little intern's that I was able to swing this. My fame only goes so far on a six month wait list."

Advertising Michael laughs, pulling the door open so Nick can slide in. The hostess, a very pretty girl in a black dress, smiles at them. "Welcome to Basco's."

"Thanks," Nick drawls. "I have a reservation for two under Grimshaw, and was told to ask for a Louis."

The girl's eyes roll just barely before she catches herself, but her smile softens into something fond. She tucks her hair behind her ear and marks Nick's name off a list on the podium in front of her. Nick shares an amused look with his date, and the hostess leads them to an intimate little table in the back.

Considering how packed the restaurant truly is, the ambiance is very well done, and the noise level is well controlled. Nick shrugs out of his coat and watches curiously as Advertising Michael does the same. He's wearing a green shirt that makes his eyes stand out, and Nick has to fight not to like, wet his lips. Nick hasn't been laid in weeks and, quite honestly, he sure that Advertising Michael isn't looking for anything more than Nick is. This date is mostly a formality.

"I caught part of your show this morning," Advertising Michael says once they've sat down, smiling at the hostess, who pours them each a glass of water before returning to her post up front. Nick already has his menu open, but he grins up at his date coyly.

"Oh? What did you think?"

"I think that you're very charismatic and charming."

"Darling," says Nick. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

Advertising Michael laughs, opens his mouth to say something else, but before he can their waiter arrives. He's a very, very pretty boy with a sweet light brown fringe and a sharp little smile and blue eyes. He's on the short side, something a bit fey about him, his body slight-framed, small and curvy. He's eye-catching.

"Hello," he says, eying them both. "I'm Louis, I'll be taking care of you this evening."

Nick's talking before his brain engages. "You're Harry's friend?" It comes out far more judgmental than he intended. Louis quirks an eyebrow at him, smile turning just a bit sharper. Nick winces. "Sorry. You just don't look like someone Harry might be friends with."

The smile just drops altogether, and Nick almost knocks himself in the forehead.

"Sorry to disappoint," Louis says dryly.

"No, I didn't—"

"Can I get you something to drink?"

Nick sighs. Immature little brat won't even give him the chance to apologize, that's fine. "Vodka tonic."

Louis jots it down, and then turns a dazzling smile on Advertising Michael. "And you, love?"

Advertising Michael looks between them, lips curled into an amused grin, though it turns more sincere when he looks at Louis. "Gin martini, please."

Louis nods, smiles one more time like he'd like nothing better than to bring Nick's date a drink, and walks off toward the kitchen.
It would figure, of course, that he would have the best arse Nick's ever seen in his entire life.

An hour in, it becomes apparent that while Advertising Michael is very, very fit, he's about as far from Nick's type as it's possible to get. One would think that a man who is successful in marketing would be less dull, but this guy is so boring that Nick sort of wants to cry. His job sounds like it might be interesting if someone else were talking about it, and he's obviously trying, but he keeps doing this thing with his index finger on his knife when he's cutting his steak that's kept Nick more entertained than anything he's said. In fact, the vast majority of Nick's attention has been on Harry's little twink friend Louis, who's waiting a few other tables besides their own.

He bounces a bit when he walks, like he keeps a lot of pressure on the balls of his feet, and he has a few sweet nervous ticks, like pushing his fringe out of his eyes, adjusting the knot of his tie, and for some unfathomable reason thumbing at the underside of the hook of his jaw. He's charming, too. Not as charming as Harry, because Louis so obviously keeps a cautious distance whereas Harry walks around with his big bleeding heart held in the palm of his hand, but the other patrons he's waiting on seem quite taken with him. He makes them laugh, in any case. His eyes crinkle when he smiles, and he flirts shamelessly with every man at his tables. He's a little cold to Nick—which is probably deserved—but he shoots the shit a bit with Advertising Michael.

"You're Grimmy's intern's friend?" Advertising Michael asks curiously, swirling whatever pretentious wine he ordered with dinner.

Louis nods and looks at Nick, one eyebrow raised as though in challenge. Nick can't help the way his lips curl up at the corners. He toasts him inconspicuously with his vodka tonic and tries not to preen when Louis can't seem to fight a grin himself. "Harry was my roommate until he moved in with his boyfriend. One of my best mates."

"Well thank you," says Advertising Michael, "for getting us in tonight."

"Not a problem, mate," says Louis. He's been calling everyone else 'sir' or 'miss', and while Nick is already entertaining fantasies of Louis on his knees for him and calling him 'sir' for entirely different reasons, he's glad that the formalities have dropped. If nothing else he can thank Advertising Michael for that. Louis jerks his head toward the doors that lead into the kitchen. "I grew up with Lou…Teasdale, the chef. Only thing it cost me is a night to babysit her daughter."

"Look at you," Nick says, because he's being ignored and doesn't like it, "a jack of all trades."

Louis glances at him, pushes his fringe off his forehead, which would be utterly endearing if his tongue wasn't pressed firmly into his cheek. "I get around, yeah."

Nick snorts, charmed.

"Well it was really lovely of you to help us out," Advertising Michael says diplomatically. Nick stares at him in unflattering disbelief, but quickly schools his features before his date can see. This man will make someone a wonderful partner one day. He reaches across the table to take Nick's hand, squeezes it. It's territorial and possessive and he does it because of Louis, who looks at their linked hands, gives Advertising Michael and unimpressed look, and takes their empty plates after handing Nick a dessert menu to peruse.

Nick watches him walk off, and then takes his hand back and gives Advertising Michael an unamused look. "Not cute."

Advertising Michael grins sheepishly. "He likes you. You're making him think."

"Thank you, Dr. Freud."

"It's my job to read people," Advertising Michael shrugs. "Find out what they want, y'know?"

"Oh?" says Nick, curious as hell despite himself. "And what does he want?"

"I don't think he knows, yet, but you surprised him earlier with the comment about him being Harry's friend. All it takes is a little intrigue to hook them."

Nick pretends to read the dessert menu. "That's a bit fucked up, mate."

Advertising Michael laughs. "Oh come on. He's a boy. I'm not psychoanalyzing very much. I could sell him on just about anything. He's terribly responsive." He looks around when the kitchen door opens, and Louis walks out with another waiter, a skinny kid with jet black hair set in a truly admirable quiff and quite possibly the prettiest face that Nick's ever seen. "I could sell him on you, I bet."

Nick looks back at Advertising Michael, irritated, because this guy is too good looking and too aware of it to not be a twat, but Nick had sort of hoped he hadn't been part of that mold. "I'm not for fucking sale, mate."

"I didn't mean—"

"It's probably best if you stop talking now."

Advertising Michael frowns, but keeps his mouth shut, and when Louis wanders back over the tension is tangible, but he smiles politely anyway. "Have you decided on a dessert, then?"

"I think we'll just have the bill," Nick answers firmly.

He walks Advertising Michael outside once they've paid, and his date looks truly chagrined. "I didn't mean that."

"Not quite sure I like the way your mind works, though," Nick tells him bluntly. "Thanks for the meal."

Advertising Michael looks unhappy, but he's ever the stereotype of the gentleman, and he kisses Nick's cheek again before he leaves. Nick watches his car disappear around a corner and then goes back inside. Louis's behind the bar now, which is nearly empty as the restaurant is closing in ten minutes. Nick slides onto one of the empty stools and Louis sighs as though very put upon.

"You need something, Nicholas?"

"I'm sorry," Nick says, which isn't something he says often. "About the whole not expecting you to be Harry's friend, thing."

Louis shakes his head and makes a dismissive sound. "Harry warned me you've got a big mouth."

"Hey--"

"What'd your tall, dark and handsome do, then? Shouldn't you be enjoying the end of the date?"

Nick pushes his fingers through his hair, shakes his head. "Turns out he's got a big mouth too."

"Off-putting, isn't it?" Louis says wryly, and Nick winces.

"You don't pull your punches, love."

Louis laughs. It's a very, very good sound. "Well, don't judge a book by its cover and all that. Consider me your lesson learned for the evening. And maybe fuck off, yeah? We're closing."

He says it sort of kindly, mouth pulled into a pretty, tired smile, and Nick looks heavenward as he stands. "And you say I've got a big mouth."

"Never said I didn't, did I? Tell Hazza that he owes me drinks."

"Will do," Nick drawls, already turning away.

"Have a wonderful night alone, Mr. Grimshaw," Louis calls out behind him. Nick flips him off without turning around, hears Louis's pretty laugh behind him, and curses himself all the way to his car.

 

 

Harry is outright asleep at Nick's desk when Nick gets in the next morning, but there's Starbucks waiting on his desk, so Nick just tugs on Harry's hair instead of shoving him onto the floor to wake him up. Harry makes a sleepy kitten face at him, curls everywhere. It's so disgustingly adorable that Nick ends up nudging him out of his chair and onto the floor anyway. Harry just stretches out on his back, squeaks as he flexes his feet and pushes his fists up over his head, and then turns onto his side and goes boneless, half-curled. Nick sinks into his chair and sips his coffee pointedly. Harry grins up at him.

"Morning, Grimmy," he murmurs thickly.

"Harold."

"How's it?"

Nick laughs a bit. "Fine. You?"

"'m good. Tired."

"Maybe you should stop letting precious Liam fuck you so late into the night."

Harry doesn't even blush anymore, just smirks happily. "Just because you didn't get laid last night—"

"And how do you know I didn't get laid last night?" Nick says, affronted.

Harry looks up at him through his long bloody eyelashes. "Lou live-texted your date."

Nick chokes a bit, feels his nasal passage burn with scalding fucking coffee. He swears loudly and dabs uselessly at his nose, returning his drink to the coaster on his desk. "He what?

"Well, I asked him to keep an eye on you and to tell me what Advertising Michael looked like. He added his own commentary from there." He scrolls around on his phone and then tosses it to Nick, who reads it with caution.

theyve just got here

he has very nice eyes in person i mean Ive seen thm on stuff but theyre nicer in person

date is fit. looks like ryan reynolds a bit. Wearing a stupid scarf tho

okay they’ve been seated going over now will keep you updated

what a fucking twat, haz, srsly? U lik this guy?

wut did he do????!!

he shoved his giant foot in his mouth

o rite he does that be nice lou hes prob nervous

he doesn't look nervous, he looks a right pillock. Vodka tonic. Shit

they're just talking nick looks bored he's twisting straw wrappers into a chain

AM ordered steak. Nick got salmon. I want chicken

omg AM keeps tuching nicks hand on th table and nick is just like eating lol

does he know how bored he looks AM must be blind

just got a 20% tip on a thousand pound bill best night evs

AM went 2 loo nicks just looking around oh shit almost spotted me

im the best spy ever im like a fucking ninja. Like a fucking power ranger

ok watching out kitchen window AM got all jelly and took nick's hand all possessive like n now nick looks pissed

just wanted bill not dessert think date went bad would feel bad but ur mates an arsehole

ok he came back in without date and apologized i let him off the hook but just cuz his stupid eyes

you owe me drinks harry. Rounds and rounds of drinks

"Your friend is weird," Nick says flatly, tossing Harry his mobile back.

"He's amazing," Harry says. "What'd you say to him to make him mad?"

"Nothing," says Nick, and when Harry raises an eyebrow at him Nick sticks his tongue out, which just makes Harry laugh and sit up reluctantly. Nick clears his throat importantly. "He thinks I have nice eyes."

"Yeah, but looks only go so far with Lou."

"What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying I don't have a chance?"

Harry, who'd stood up and was making his way toward the door to go and actually start working, whirls around, eyes wide. "Are you saying you want a chance?"

"No," Nick says immediately.

"Oh my God you like him!" Harry crows.

"I do not!"

"You do! Oh my God!"

"He's just cute, is all!" Nick argues. "I don't even know him."

"I knew he was exactly your type, like, physically," says Harry, "but I never introduced you 'cause I thought you might kill each other. I can't believe you like him!"

"You're fired," Nick tells him.

Harry just hurries over to hug him, and then smacks a kiss to his cheek, and then leaves, sort of cackling.

"What the hell is wrong with Styles?" Finchy gripes when he walks in a few seconds later. "Didn't I tell you to stop feeding the interns Pro Plus?

Nick sighs. He will likely never hear the end of this.

 

 

Nick is very busy and important being semi-famous and hilariously charming on the Breakfast Show over the next few days, but as he has Harry on hand for working hours (and honestly quite a lot of non-working ones, since Harry has somehow situated himself into Nick's inner circle and become a vital part of it and also, quite out of nowhere, a very good friend), Nick takes the opportunity to subtly research Harry's pretty friend. For the sake of thorough journalism and also science.

"We're going to go to Vegas for a long weekend in February," says Harry on Wednesday. "Me and the lads, for my birthday. You should come. I'm giving you plenty of notice."

"None of you are even old enough to drink in America," Nick points out.

"Louis is," says Harry. "He'll be twenty-one on the twenty-fourth."

Nick blinks, feels his mouth tugging down hard at the corners and his chest kind of tight and it's ridiculous, really, how utterly endearing that is. "He was born on Christmas Eve?"

Harry narrows his eyes immediately at him, and his lazy smile is evil. Nick pretends that his salad is the most delicious thing he's ever eaten and moans obscenely until Harry laughs, instead. "You're just fishing for information on Lou, right?"

"No," says Nick indignantly.

"You are. You have a list, don't you? You love lists."

It's true; Nick does love lists, and it's only for that reason that he's possibly scrawled down a few things he'd like to learn about the boy he plans on pursuing and/or yearning for from afar. Either way is both poetic and romantic and speaks to his love of drama.

"He's just caught my attention," Nick tells Harry.

"And not many people do that, O Great One," Harry drawls, twirling a chip at Nick. Nick, very maturely, sticks his tongue out at him. Harry sticks his out too, and then they giggle like schoolgirls, kicking at each other under the table. "Look, look," says Harry, once truce has been called and he's hunched over to rub at his shin. "He just called you out on being a twat—"

"I wasn't being a twat!" Nick argues, exasperated. "It was just a bit jarring that he's your friend."

Harry frowns at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't really know," Nick admits. "I mean, he's just. He's all like. He's. Small."

Nick closes his eyes in self-loathing, because sounding like an idiot has never been something he likes to do, and Harry is laughing at him.

"He's small? It's jarring that I have small friends? What does that even mean?"

Nick opens his eyes again and waves a hand at Harry uselessly. "Christ, you're messing me up! He's just small and pretty and so cautious, y'know? Like the way he acts around people and the way he can just turn himself off and go ice cold. And then there's you and Niall and Liam and none of you could do that ever."

"So he's mysterious," says Harry. "And you like that."

"You're such a shit, Harry Styles."

Harry grins, and Nick moodily winds one of his own curls around his finger and lets it bounce back. Harry rests his chin on his hands. "Lots of people like that. They write novels about it."

"Look, he's cute and he caught me by surprise and I'm curious, all right?"

Harry's face softens, which makes Nick roll his eyes. "He works the bar at the restaurant Thursdays through Saturdays. We'll go tomorrow night and see him. Liam's been dying to try the macaroni and cheese there anyway."

"Of course he has. Liam is five years old."

Harry's face is disgusting, the way his eyes are so soft and the gooey smile he probably doesn't even know is there. "I love him. He's my favorite."

"Ugh."

"Anyway, we'll go see Lou. You like drinks, and I'm a fantastic match maker."

"This isn't matchmaking," Nick says seriously, glaring. "I don't even know him. He's just caught my attention and I lose interest quickly, remember?"

"I seem to remember a quote about a parade of Diesel models—"

Nick sniffs haughtily. "That was an exaggeration. Also, Henry is dead to me."

Harry chuckles, kicks Nick's shin lightly under the table, and jabs another chip in his direction. "Right, right. It's just a list and you're just curious and we're just going to a restaurant tomorrow night for macaroni and cheese."

"For Liam," Nick corrects. "We're going for Liam."

"Right," says Harry. Nick throws an olive at him, clears his throat, mumbles a quiet, "Thanks", and kicks Harry in the calf when Harry smirks at him.

 

 

Louis looks genuinely surprised and pleased to see them when they walk into the restaurant the next night. Nick is very casual, pretending that he didn't spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what to wear, but Harry and Liam both haul Louis nearly over the bar in order to hug him, and Louis laughs and kisses their cheeks. Once he's back on his feet he gives Nick a genuine grin.

"Hi Nick."

"Hey Louis," Nick says, grinning back. Harry snickers and Nick jabs him with his elbow discretely. Luckily, Louis is looking at Liam, who's settling himself into a barstool. "Nick?" Liam says, frowning thoughtfully. "Don't think I've heard anyone call you by your first name, mate."

"Grimmy," Harry coos, and pinches Nick's cheek. Nick bats him away and Harry trips over his own pigeon-toed feet. Liam catches him easily, smiling. Harry turns around to peck him on the lips and Nick looks around at Louis, who's looking uncertain.

"You don't go by Nick? I thought 'Grimmy' was just for the show."

"Not really. My parents even call me Grimmy." The idea of Louis doing it makes Nick want to frown, though. "But you can call me Nick.""

Louis quirks an eyebrow and Nick smirks, because it's the only thing he can think of to do. Harry is about to start cackling, Nick can just feel it, but he ignores him. Louis pushes his fringe off his forehead, shakes it out of his eyes when it falls right back into place. He's wearing contacts tonight instead of glasses. He's lovely to look at.

"Because I'm special?" He's flirting, is what he's doing, and Nick is just so pleased. He hefts himself up onto one of the bar stools and folds his hands on the bar.

"As a snowflake, Lou," Harry says. His chair is pushed so close to Liam's he's practically in Liam's lap. "Now stop flirting and give me drinks!"

Louis rolls his eyes, but the look he throws at Harry is unbearably fond, and the small grin he shoots Nick once all three of them have been given Jack and Coke's makes Nick belly kind of throb. Louis's so cute.

Louis's too busy to talk much, but they end up closing down the restaurant, locked inside with Lou—the chef and owner—and her husband, and Louis's friend Zayn, the other pretty waiter Nick saw the other night, who, it turns out, is the mystery boyfriend of Liam and Harry's mate Niall, who also shows up just before closing time. It's a good group of people, Nick thinks, and he may or may not be a bit drunk. They're sat at a couple of tables they've pushed together, Liam and Harry and Zayn and Niall all sort of piled on the booth side, while Lou and Tom are across the way from Zayn and Niall. Louis's sitting across from Liam, and Nick's on the corner next to him. No one is entirely sober, but it's a good buzz and everyone is loud and talkative and it gives Nick a chance and the lack of inhibitions to hit on Louis a little more obviously.

Louis is pink-cheeked, mouth a bit wet. He's been drinking mojitos all night. His glass is empty now, but he's prodding the ice with his straw to spear the mint leaves. Niall's laughing at something Liam said and Liam's blushing, so it must've been unintentionally dirty—Liam does that a lot. Harry's looking at him like there's no one else and the world, kissing his cheek. Zayn is mostly asleep, his head on Niall's shoulder, and Lou is loudly and drunkenly defending Liam for whatever he's said that has him so red, her blond hair swinging as she pumps a fist in the air. Nick's not paying much attention to anything but the boy next to him, and Louis's looking up at him curiously. The ball of his ankle is rubbing up and down Nick's calf under the table and Nick's got his hand on Louis's knee, fingers tapping gently.

"Don't read anything into this," Louis says, covering Nick's hand with his own and lacing their fingers together.

"I would never," Nick replies.

"I'm a handsy drunk."

Louis's hand is tiny and the fingertips are cold. Nick is startled to find himself wanting to lift Louis's knuckles to his mouth and kiss them like a Disney prince might do. It's not an urge Nick has ever felt before and frankly it's a bit sickening.

"You have nice eyes, is the thing," Louis tells him primly, and then gives Nick a look like an accusation, Nick furrows his brow importantly.

"How very dare you," he says. And then, "Harry says your birthday is on Christmas Eve."

Louis lights up like a bloody Christmas tree, fittingly enough, and Nick is so taken with that smile that it's upsetting. Louis tugs on his hand, pulls his chair in a little closer. "Harry and Liam are throwing me a party at their flat the week before, since we're all going home for Christmas. You should come!"

"Should I?" Nick asks, just because he wants to hear Louis say it again, but then Louis flushes and pulls back a bit.

"If you want, I mean. It doesn't matter. Just. I know you're busy being an unbearable hipster, but if you wanted to drop by it would probably make Harry happy."

"But it's not his birthday," says Nick "I would love to come."

Louis grins at him, this crooked little thing and Nick really would like to crowd him up against a wall and kiss him. Louis is funny and nice and witty and so sarcastic. He mixes drinks really well and the other lads look at him a bit like he's the center of the universe, clearly think he's the funniest thing in the world and it's a bit hard not to, sitting so close to him and Louis's ankle hooking around one of Nick's. Nick smiles back at him, can't not, and squeezes his fingers. Harry says something to Louis—Nick can't hear it past the sound of how awesome he is and also possibly the wine—and Louis turns to answer. Nick lets his gaze wander past them to Zayn, who's eyes are open now and staring. Nick frowns curiously, lifts his glass in a sort of toast and Zayn's mouth pulls into a tight line.

"I don't think he likes me," Nick whispers to Louis a minute later, and Louis just grins and, inexplicably, kisses Nick's cheek, which is drunken but very sweet.

"He likes you fine," says Louis. "I'm quite drunk. I'm going to ask you a lot of prying questions now."

Nick blinks, then laughs. "Okay."

The entire group ends up playing I Have Never, and Harry—who is too sober and sly and such a good friend—uses the opportunity to help Nick out a bit. He learns that Louis is a part time student, because he needs a full time job to pay for uni, and that he's studying to be a teacher. He learns that Louis hates tequila, and that he's from Doncaster and has four sisters. He also learns that all of Harry's friends have wanked in some rather weird places, but that is neither here nor there.

Later, when they've all called taxis because no one is up to driving, Louis has to rock up onto his toes in order to get his arms around Nick's neck, and when Nick hugs him back his hand spans the entire width of Louis's back and Louis is warm and small, small enough for Nick to wrap all around and he likes it. A lot. Louis looks up at him through the fan of his dark lashes, eyes glassy from drink, a little grin on his face. The others are around, laughing together, white noise against Louis's smile.

"Harry said you like my mystery," Louis whispers.

"Harry needs to learn to keep his mouth closed."

"I don't think Liam would like that much."

Nick rolls his eyes, squeezes Louis a little tighter. He's a head shorter, his hair brushing Nick's cheek. Nick unwinds one arm from around him to flick at his fringe. "I admit to nothing."

Louis tilts his head back, smile widening, baring his oddly sharp little teeth. His lips graze the underside of Nick's jaw and Nick inhales slowly, tugs carefully on Louis's hair. Louis hums. "You might like me."

"Your arse is to die for," is all Nick says.

Louis just looks at him as though he's particularly precious. "You think I'm pretty and mysterious."

"It's entirely possible I just want to learn all of your secrets then, isn't it? Then what?" It's teasing, the way Nick says it, but maybe part-warning. He can feel his heart pounding in his chest. Louis smells like cologne and clean boy and mint. He pulls back, teeth sunk into his bottom lip on a grin, coy look on his face and something challenging in his eyes. Nick slides his hand up Louis's side under his coat, digs his thumb into the soft of his belly, smirks when Louis jerks, ticklish.

"Oi, you two!" Zayn says suddenly, and Nick and Louis look up in sync. Zayn's got his arm around Niall and a cigarette dangling from his fingers. "'s a bit early for all this, innit? Not even a proper date."

"Zayn," Harry says, rolling his eyes.

"We have to protect Louis's virtue," says Zayn.

"What virtue?" Niall asks.

"Fuck you!" Louis says at once, scandalized, and bounds away from Nick and toward Niall, who he gets into a headlock immediately. While Niall's laughing and batting uselessly at Louis's arms, Louis looks around at Nick. "I've fucking full of virtue."

"I'm sure you are, darling," Nick agrees.

The taxis pull up to the curb before anything else can be said. Louis is riding with Lou and Tom and Niall and Zayn to their block of flats, and Nick's going with Harry and Liam back to Primrose Hill. Louis lets go of Niall and makes to walk back over to Nick, but Zayn is already pushing him into the taxi. He manages to flash Nick a bright, sunshine smile and call out, "See you?"

"See you," Nick agrees, shoving his hands into his jacket pocket. Zayn closes the door and Nick stares stupidly for a second before shaking himself out of it and climbing into the back of the other taxi with Harry and Liam. They're staring. Nick makes a show of buckling his seat belt and shoving his elbow a lot at Harry, who's stuck in the middle seat.

"Shut up," he tells them both.

"You really like him?" Liam asks earnestly, because Liam is the most earnest person in the world.

"He's tolerable."

"That's a high praise," Harry assures when Liam looks like he's about to protest. "Look, he can't even stop smiling."

Nick quickly schools his features, because Harry is a turd.

 

 

Nick isn't looking for a relationship. He likes sex and he likes options and he likes not being responsible for someone else's feelings and he likes not having to check in with someone all the time and he likes making his own decisions without having to consult another person.

He tells Harry as much Friday morning at work, when Harry grins dopily at him when he gets in and fetches him tea and tells him, pointedly, that Louis had fun last night.

"I'm not trying to like, imply anything," Harry says slowly. "I just mean that you'd make good friends. Lou needs more friends."

"I thought he had them in droves."

"Well, he does, yeah, but really only a few of us that he's close to."

"Hm," says Nick. 'Friends' isn't exactly what he's been entertaining ideas of in his head when it comes to Louis. He settles into his chair and turns on his computer, kicks a bit at the bar underneath that he's stubbed his toes on so many times it's probably bloodstained. "What was with that Zayn bloke, by the way?"

Harry stills and looks shifty. "What d'you mean?"

He is the single worst liar Nick has ever come across, and that includes Liam Payne, who is at least capable of small white lies for the sake of not hurting someone's feelings.

"He's Niall's boyfriend, isn't he? Is he Louis's ex or something? Because I don't want to step into the middle of that. He was looking at me like he wanted to kill me," Nick explains, calculating. Harry flounders a bit, hums thoughtfully and rubs at his chin, looking everywhere but at Nick.

"He and Lou've known each other since they were little. He's just a bit protective."

"It looked more than a bit protective," Nick presses.

Harry heaves a sigh, eyes a little distant when he finally looks at Nick again, and he's choosing his words very carefully. "Louis's last relationship was a bit shit. Zayn's just being a good mate. He'll warm up to you."

Nick is painfully, painfully curious, but not entirely sure that he actually wants to know, so he lets it go with a dismissive nod.

It's still another hour before the show is due to start. Not even Finchy is in yet. Nick queues up the playlist, knee bouncing. He's full of energy this morning, can't quite forget the feel of warm boy pressed all up against him from last night. He's smitten. He's been smitten before, but it's not something he's ever got used to, the kind of humiliation that makes him smile and want to duck his head and giggle.

"We're going to have lunch tomorrow," Harry announces brashly. Nick looks around to find him staring, which would be creepy if he didn't know Harry so well.

"You and Liam?"

"And Louis and Niall and Zayn," says Harry, "and I think I'm going to invite Greg and Fearne and Alexa, because I haven't seen them in ages. You want to come?"

"You're matchmaking," Nick accuses. Harry just smiles innocently, blinks huge doe eyes at him. Nick sighs. "Fine. But I'm bringing Pixie."

So the next day they all meet at this little brunch restaurant down the road from Harry and Liam's. It's about five minutes from Nick's house, so he's been there often, but never with this big of a crowd. By the time everyone's been introduced (Pixie takes to Zayn immediately, eying his quiff with something like love in her eyes, and Alexa is all but pinching Niall's cheek, and Greg is laughing with Louis like they've been friends forever) and sat down, they've had to push four little café tables together and are taking up most of the floor space. The upside is that Louis is squished in between Nick and Greg, and he smells nice and his thigh is presses alongside Nick's.

"I listened to that song you said I should," Louis tells him by way of greeting.

Nick quirks an eyebrow, hides a pleased smile. "And?"

"And you really are a pretentious hipster knob," says Louis.

"Oi!" Nick and Harry protest together, and Louis grins and takes a sip of his water haughtily.

"It was good, though. Not very catchy, but good."

Nick flicks at his curls, listens to Niall laughing raucously with Pixie. "You're one of those, are you?" he asks Louis.

Louis raises an eyebrow. "One of what?"

Nick twirls a finger in the air between them, as though that means something, "You know, one of those top forty listeners who likes songs that get stuck in your head."

Louis gapes at him. "You play top forty songs for a living!"

"Beside the point," says Nick.

"Judgmental dick," says Louis.

Nick winks at him, and Louis tries very hard to keep a straight face but in the end has to turn away as he grins, and Nick feels like he's won something.

 

 

Thursdays and Fridays at the bar become a sort of thing. It's not like Nick isn't busy, not like he doesn't have a few hundred invitations for things to do on Friday nights, and it's probably just the thrill of the chase that has him sliding into his usual bar stool at Bascos every week. He brings Aimee or Pixie or Greg or Henry or all of them along sometimes, and everything merges sort of seamlessly, two very different groups of people that fall right into each other. Harry insists that it's fate. Nick thinks it's probably more that his friends are tired of hearing him complain about not getting laid, so they're determined to make this thing with Louis work out.

But nothing has actually happened with Louis, even though they've been out a few times outside of the restaurant (always in a group). They flirt, and there's a lot of touching that's not quite platonic, but Nick can't read Louis as easily as he can almost everyone else in the world, and it's knocked him a bit off kilter. Louis likes to be contrary, likes to disagree with Nick for the sake of disagreeing with him and then argue until he's blue in the face. Nick likes to dig his way under Louis's skin and press all the buttons he can find, make Louis disgruntled and reluctantly impressed. He likes to make Louis laugh and smile and he can't bear the thought that he might be something forgettable to Louis. It's a challenge, seducing this kid, and Nick loves a challenge.

Liam and Harry's flat is swank, and Harry's put a lot of thought and his parents' money into Louis's birthday party. It's decked out in red, which is Louis's favorite color, and there are streamers and neon signs with Louis's name on them and dangly Christmas lights on the walls and a metric ton of food spread out on a few tables pushed against the back wall of the living room. It's a bit tacky, but that's sort of fitting. There's also more booze in one place than Nick's ever seen before, which is more than a little impressive.

It's already crowded when Nick and Greg get there. He can see Pixie chatting with Zayn ,and Harry and Aimee with their heads together nearby, laughing at God knows what. Liam lets them in and wraps them both in a quick, welcoming hug.

"You made it! Lou will be thrilled."

"We have presents!" Greg says, shaking the wrapped parcel he has in his hand. Nick has no idea what it is, but Greg and Louis hit it off quite well when they first met so it's probably something Louis will like. Nick's grip tightens a bit on his own carefully wrapped box—it's not much, an autograph from Britney Spears that he promised to get Louis when she stopped by the show the week before, and a pair of concert tickets to a sold out Ed Sheeran show. He wishes he could've thought of something else that he didn't have to swing connections to get, but it's not like they're dating or anything, and he thinks Louis will like it anyway.

"There's a pile," Liam tells them, leading them into the sitting room where a truly remarkable stack of gifts is piled on the floor. Nick and Greg add their presents in, and when Nick turns back around Harry is right there, already well on his way to hammered. He's smiling hugely as he curls into Liam's side. Liam slips an arm around his waist, turns his head to kiss Harry's curls.

"Grimmy!" Harry shouts, somewhat belatedly. Liam laughs, and Greg pats Harry kindly on the head and slips past him to join the party. Harry watches him go, and then swings his head back around lethargically to look at Nick. "How's it?!"

"S'good."

"Really good," Harry says. He talks slow as sin anyway, but with the slur it's even more glacial than usual and rather precious. He's wearing a Christmas jumper, for Christ's sake. It has a giant reindeer on it, and the pointed party hat on his head says "LOUIS'S 21st BIRTHDAY BASH" on it in gold and red glitter. He looks like a cartoon character next to Liam, who's in a relatively tight-fitting button-up shirt and jeans with his hair gelled neatly; he looks absolutely scorching hot, truth be told. Nick really shouldn't be as bloody fond of them as he is.

"Really good," Nick agrees.

"Let's go find our birthday boy, he'll be fucking stoked that you came," says Harry.

"I told him I would." Nick sounds exasperated, but he's pretty chuffed about it, really. He likes the little glimpses of Louis he gets through Harry, likes the idea of Louis wanting him to be here and worrying that maybe he wouldn't show.

"He'll still be happy," Liam says easily, and tugs at Harry's arm. Harry almost falls, so Liam tosses him over his shoulder. People cat call as the two of them part through the crowd that way. Nick follows along, much more dignified, until there's a sudden delighted squawk from somewhere to his right. He turns just in time to catch a drunken ball of sunshine that turns out to be Louis. Nick stumbles back just a bit, gets his arms up under Louis's bum to support his weight when Louis's legs wrap around his waist. It only lasts for a moment before Louis lets his feet drop back to the floor, but the full-body hug is nice. Louis grips Nick by the shoulders.

"You came!" Louis says ("That's what she said!" someone cries in the background).

"Only just," Nick says. Louis frowns and Nick smiles at him, pushes his glasses back up his nose where they've slipped down. "'Course I came," ("That's what he said!" someone else shouts).

Louis snickers, cheeks red and hair a bit messy. He's wearing a striped t-shirt and incredibly tight red trousers and a wan smile. Nick likes tipsy Louis, because tipsy Louis is handsy and soft and less guarded than he is sober. He's not even wearing shoes or socks.

"You need a drink," he says importantly, and takes Nick's hand to lead him through the crowd of people.

Harry's hired a bar—of course he has. Nick orders a martini and feels the pounding base of very, very good dance music that he's never heard before, which can only mean that Harry set up the playlist, too. He disentangles his hand from Louis's in order to take his drink, settles his other hand on the small of Louis's back instead. Louis looks up at him, eyebrow raised and tongue between his teeth. Nick bites his bottom lip and circles his thumb over the knobs of Louis's spine. He takes a sip of quality gin, hears someone say "Is that Nick Grimshaw?" He sees the flash of a camera phone and turns when Louis shifts them around, so they're pressed together chest to knees and Nick's back is to the room, Louis tucked between Nick and the bar.

"Hiding?" Nick asks.

Louis takes Nick's drink out of his hand, sips at it daintily and makes a face. "Don't like to have my picture taken."

Nick blinks at him, can't even help much when Louis takes his hand to wrap it back around the martini glass. He doesn't like to have his picture taken? Nick loves to have his picture taken. Publicity is just about his favorite thing in the world. Nick's vain as hell. It's one of his favorite things about himself.

"I don't understand," he tells Louis, frowning.

Louis snorts. "I know. I've seen your Twitter."

Nick clucks his tongue against the roof of his mouth, grinning. "Have you been looking me up, Tomlinson?"

Louis shoves at him, laughing. His shirt rides up a little bit and Nick's hand slides along his side as he takes a step back. Louis catches him by the lapels of his jacket and tugs him in again, gets up on his toes to kiss his cheek.

"Think both of us need to mingle a bit. Give the people what they want, Grimshaw."

It's Louis's party, and there are a group of his friends calling his name. Nick doesn't want to keep him from them, but he pushes Louis's hair off his forehead, takes one last moment. "See you later?"

Louis makes an affirmative sound. "Midnight kiss?"

"It's not New Year's Eve."

"You gonna let that stop you?"

Nick's mouth pulls, he can't stop the smile. "No."

Louis makes a face at him, crosses his eyes and sticks out his tongue and then disappears into a throng of his friends. Nick downs the rest of his drink and goes off to find his own friends, maybe make some new ones.

At a minute to midnight, Nick starts to look around for a tiny, bare-foot pixie, because Nick is drunk and Louis shines like stars and he's just so cute and Nick was promised a kiss.

Louis finds him first, up on Zayn's shoulders across the room so he can see. And the crowd, laughing, parts for Zayn to stumble through. Louis falls halfway, but Nick and Zayn and Liam are all there to catch him. Zayn is laughing and drunk, almost useless, and Nick is smiling so much his face hurts, but Liam, at least, makes sure Louis doesn't brain himself on the floor. Nick takes it from there.

They're in the middle of the room—of course they are—and Louis's friends are surrounding them, dancing and laughing and singing a loud, painfully off-key chorus of Happy Birthday. Louis beams up at Nick and Nick winds an arm around his waist, pulls him in close, hears the hundred people they've crammed into this apartment shout "Happy Birthday Dear Boo Bear!"

The clock on the wall says it's three seconds to midnight. Louis steps up onto Nick's feet and Nick dips his head, slants their mouths together and kisses him. It's soft, wet when Louis opens his mouth to it and Nick licks his way in, tastes mint and rum and beer all together—Louis's going to be miserable tomorrow. Louis's arms wrap around Nick's neck and fingers thread into Nick's hair and Nick slides his hand up the arch of Louis's spine and all in all it's probably the best kiss Nick's ever had.

Considering they're both drunken messes, that should say something about Nick's mental state.

When it breaks, there's cheering that has nothing to do with the filmesque kiss and everything to do with Harry and Liam carrying out a literal three-tiered cake with a tiny Louis figurine on top. Louis's still wrapped up in Nick's arms, standing on Nick's feet, looking up at him like he's something when Nick lookss around at him again.

"You know this doesn't mean anything," Nick says.

"Not a bloody thing," Louis agrees.

It's a fantastic fucking party.

 

 

He has to work the next morning, and when he stumbles in, hung over and desperate for coffee, it's not Harry that he finds lounging casually in his chair, but Louis's friend Zayn.

On one hand, Zayn looks at least as miserable as Nick feels. Worse, probably, because Zayn didn't get to snog Louis Tomlinson in a dark corner for an hour and a half last night and, well, Nick did. On the other hand, though, this kid has smolder down to an art form and while he's drop dead gorgeous and something Nick would normally quite enjoy looking at, right now he's fighting the urge to avert his eyes lest he turn to stone.

"Erm."

"I took Hazza's badge," Zayn says, and flips Harry's security ID that gives him access to the studio onto Nick's desk. Nick blinks down at Harry's handsome face grinning bewilderedly up at him from the badge and lifts an eyebrow.

"Does he know that?"

"I'll text him when I leave," Zayn shrugs.

Nick pulls his lips into his mouth to hide a smile and regards Zayn carefully. They spoke at the party, but only briefly and Nick was mostly talking to Niall, who is perfectly pleasant and hilarious and had his little hand linked with Zayn's. Zayn mostly studied Nick like he was a particularly interesting something on the bottom of his shoe.

"Are you here to give me an intentions speech?" Nick asks him, genuinely curious and about a tenth of a degree from laughing in Zayn's pretty face at just the idea.

Zayn scrunches his nose up—adorable—and shakes his head, standing up from Nick's chair to shove his hands into his pockets. "No. Lou's a grown up. He can do as he likes."

"So you just wanted to see the studio then?"

Zayn snorts. "Kinda, yeah."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Look, kid—"

"I'm not a kid. And he's not a kid. I just wanted to, like. Look, he's my best friend and you're like, famous and shit and he's been through enough and you're kind of an arsehole, mate."

"...So this is an intentions speech."

Zayn chucks Harry's badge at him. Nick catches it, smirking. Zayn sighs. "You obviously like him. Or at least want in his trousers. Whatever. Just like, know that if he gets hurt at all I will kick your arse and I fight dirty."

Nick nods. "Noted."

From somewhere outside the booth, Harry's voice carries through, "I'm going to fucking kill you, Malik!"

"Niall's a traitor," Zayn says grumpily, nd then he looks at Nick hopefully. "Can I stay and be on air?"

Harry bursts into the room, looking sleepy and rough from the party, disgruntled curls sticking out from under his beanie. Zayn looks at him, very unimpressed, and Nick smiles.

"You're late, Styles."

"He took my badge!"

"No whining. And get an extra chair in here, hm? Zayn's going to co-host with me today."

He's going to get shit for it later, and he really shouldn't considering how new he still is the to the Breakfast Show, but he snogged a pretty boy last night and well, he's feeling generous.

"Can I sit in?" Harry asks, all anger forgotten.

Nick shares a look with Zayn, and then they both turn back to Harry and say, "No."

 

 

Nick gets to see Louis one more time before they both head home for Christmas. They go ice skating. And Nick can only chalk it up to how fond he is of the little brat that he's participating, because he is horrible at—and far too posh for—ice skating.

"You weren't joking," say Louis, like he hasn't just spent the last half hour laughing his pretty little arse off at Nick. "You really are awful at this."

"I am perfectly wonderful at everything I try," Nick argues. He's kind of half-crouched, gripping both of Louis's hands tighter than is probably necessary and moving his feet as little as possible. Louis's been gliding around the ice showing off since they arrived. Nick's fallen on his arse eight times and is already sore.

But now Louis is right with him, smiling and amused, but sweeter now that he's actively trying to keep Nick off the ground. He's in his glasses again, in a pea coat and scarf and his cheeks and nose are red from the cold.

"You're gonna have to try to move," Louis murmurs.

"Fuck off," says Nick, but he obediently straightens up and clutches at Louis's hands a little tighter. "All right. Just. Don't like, let go."

"I'll never let go, Jack," Louis promises.

Nick fails, spectacularly, but as he's falling he grabs Louis's scarf and Louis comes down with him. Nick breaks his fall, cackling, and they slide several feet, people squealing and hurrying out of their way. Louis is laughing, gripping Nick's arms tight. When they crash into the barrier it makes an echoing whump.

Nick's head is sort of spinning, ears ringing, possibly concussed. Louis looks down at him, stretched out over him, his breath visible between them as he gasps for breath, his grin huge. "You giant fucking cock-up."

"I'm having a New Years Eve party," Nick replies.

"Bully."

Nick grins and cups Louis's cheek, still flat on his back on the ice. He thumbs Louis's bottom lip and feels his chest clench a bit when Louis leans into it. "I mean you should be there," he says. "Bring Niall and Zayn, anyone you want. Just be there, yeah?"

Louis leans pushes Nick's hand away so he can lean down and slant their mouths together. His lips are cold, perfect. "I'll be there."

 

 

Christmas is good.

New Year's Eve is better.

They're both drunk when they stumble into Nick's bedroom. Louis's already got his shoes and socks off and Nick's stepping out of his as fast as he can. It's twenty minutes after midnight, and Nick's party is still raging out in the rest of the house, but the door is closed and locked and he's peeling Louis's shirt off, feeling the vibration of Louis's moan against his lips when Nick kisses his neck. Louis's warm and soft and so fucking gorgeous, soft curves and hard muscle, flushing down to his chest when the backs of his knees hit the foot of Nick's bed and he lies back.

"Shirt off," Louis gasps, eyes a bit wide, mouth pulled up at the corners. He wets his lips when Nick unbuttons his shirt and shrugs it off his shoulders, tugs off his white undershirt. The lights are off, but Louis stops Nick when he goes to flip the bedside lamp on.

"Should I be insulted?" Nick asks, eyebrow raised for posterity.

Louis laughs and pulls Nick down on top of him, between his legs. He picks his head up to kiss Nick's mouth, tongue his way in. Nick slides his hands up Louis's sides, their stomachs touching, groins together and Nick's half-hard. Louis rocks his hips up into him, hooking a leg around Nick's waist. Their jeans are in the way. Louis kisses his way across Nick's cheek to murmur in his ear.

"More romantic this way, innit? Besides, I'm horribly insecure."

"Louis," Nick says, but Louis kisses him again.

"I'm joking. I'm just a little insecure."

"You're a lot of work, aren't you?"

Louis nips at his earlobe, at his jaw. Nick mouths along Louis's neck and slips his thumbs under the waistband of Louis's trousers, rubs just inside his hipbones. Louis clutches at Nick's shoulder blades and Nick unfastens Louis's trousers and slips a hand inside, cups him through his pants. Louis moans, the sound like sin, says Nick's name like a prayer and rolls his hips up into Nick's hand.

"Fuck," he breathes. "Fuck, Nick, c'mon--"

"So impatient," Nick teases. He kisses Louis's wet, open mouth quickly before he picks himself up and settles on his knees. He catches the back of Louis's knee to bend his leg, straighten it out so Nick's not in the way. Louis lifts his arse off the mattress when Nick pulls his trousers and pants off together, and even in the dark and weak light from the window Nick gets caught up in it, in the sight of Louis's thighs, his calves and ankles and his little feet and his pretty cock, hard and damp on Louis's belly. Nick folds over himself so he can mouth at Louis's navel, smear his lips over the head of Louis's cock.

Louis mewls, threads his fingers into Nick's hair and pulls. Nick looks up at him, all wanton and hot, wants him so bad his blood is thrumming with it, his dick aching in his jeans. It takes only a few seconds to unbutton the fly and shove them off, and before he can do anything Louis's surging up, knocking him backwards and crawling onto him. His little hand wraps around Nick's dick—"Jesus fucking Christ, Lou!"—and his mouth finds Nick's again.

The thing is that Nick's been waiting for this, waiting to have this mouthy, bratty, fantastic kid in his bed and in his arms and the fact that it's better than the fantasies he's been wanking to over the past few weeks is unfair.

"You're—fuck, you're like, really hung," Louis pants, straddling Nick's lap, pushing his thumb over the tip of Nick's cock again and again. Nick sits up, breath caught in his throat, licks into Louis's mouth and palms at his back, down to the bottom of his spine and the swell of his perfect bum to pull him in closer. He unwinds Louis's hand from his dick so their cocks touch, grind together when Louis groans low and guttural in his throat. Louis threads their fingers together, leans in to mouth at Nick's jaw. He smells like cologne and sweat and booze, and he feels so good.

"Louis," Nick breathes, squeezing his hand and tangling his fingers into Louis's wrecked hair. "Want. Can I—"

"Yeah," Louis answers, immediately. "Want you to fuck me."

Nick's breath hitches, and Louis kisses him again and again and one more time before he pulls away, sprawling loose-limbed and spread open, head on Nick's pillow. Nick takes a deep breath. It's been a while since he's been laid, and Louis looks. Good. Louis looks really fucking good.

"You've really, really got nothing to be insecure about, darling," Nick tells him, looming over him to get lube and a condom from the bedside drawer. Louis laughs a bit, pushes his hands up into Nick's stomach, tracing circles on his abs. Nick drops his supplies onto the blankets and lowers himself down, catches one of Louis's hands between them and wets his lips when the other grabs at Nick's arse, tugs him in closer.

"You tryin' to call me beautiful?" Louis teases.

Nick sighs, exasperated, but grins into the kiss Louis gives him. He breaks it after only a few seconds, too turned on for much teasing. He cups Louis's cheek, pushes his fingers back into his hair and nips lightly at his jaw. "Spread your legs, sweetheart."

"God," Louis moans, complies, bends his knees just a little to dig his heels into the mattress and opens his legs. Nick kisses down his chest, works bruises into the wing of Louis's hipbone with his mouth, feels Louis's hand tug at his hair. Louis murmurs his name when Nick takes his cock into his mouth, tongues at the underside and swallows him down when Louis's back arches and his hips shudder up to fuck Nick's mouth.

"Hey, hey," Nick warns, and Louis laughs breathlessly, apologizes but knees Nick in the side impatiently, too. Nick kisses down around the base of Louis's dick, over the heavy weight of his balls as he reaches for the lube.

"Nick," Louis's saying. "Nick, Nick."

"So bloody impatient," Nick gripes, but when he slides the first slick finger into Louis and Louis goes utterly silent, tense and needy and so fucking tight it's worth all the hair pulling and bitching. Louis's watching him, lips parted and swollen, eyes heavy-lidded, propped up on his elbows so he can see. Nick lets his cock slip from his mouth and bites at Louis's stomach, digs his finger in a little deeper, crooks his knuckle to rub over his prostate just as he gets to Louis's neck. Louis gasps, cries out so soft and sweet and lovely. Nick sucks a bruise over Louis's pulse point and eases another finger in, swallows Louis's quiet, choked moan.

"Feels..." Louis murmurs into Nick's mouth.

"You've done this before, right?" Nick asks, careful, strangely worried. Louis nods, both hands in Nick's hair, pulling him into a kiss and pushing his arse back onto Nick's fingers.

"Yeah, yeah," he pants. "You?"

Nick chuckles quietly, tongues at the corner of Louis's mouth. "Cheeky scamp. You're just awfully tight, is all."

"S'been a while," Louis shrugs, gasps when Nick curls his fingers again, rubs the pads of his fingers against his prostate again and again. Louis's hardly breathing, eyes just barely open, fingers tight in Nick's curls. "Fuck, Nick, just—want you fuckin' in me, yeah?"

And who the hell is Nick to argue with that?

He adds another finger, first, tastes Louis's grumbling groan and stretches him open, until Louis's all but sobbing for breath, fucking himself onto Nick's hand. He takes a few minutes, kissing the side of Louis's neck and stroking his side gently before he eases out, wipes his fingers unceremoniously on the duvet.

"I want to," Louis says, sitting up and swiping the condom before Nick can get to it. He looks a little wild, moonlight and shadow and blue eyes and there is something sort of romantic about this, Nick supposes. His eyes flutter closed when Louis gets a hand around him, rolling latex over him and smearing a slick hand over the length of Nick's dick. Nick can't get enough of the taste of him, of his tongue in Louis's mouth, and his lips chapping and bruising and how small he feels when Nick presses him back onto the bed, presses inside him.

Louis cries out his name (Nick's utterly unsurprised that he's loud in bed) and pulls his back into a bow, lets his head fall back and his fingernails dig into the meat of Nick's back as Nick presses in and in and in, until he's buried in the impossibly tight clutch of Louis's arse.

Nick stills, just to feel it, maybe savor it. He's bracing himself up with an elbow in the mattress next to Louis's head, and Louis's chest is heaving, his cheeks flushed. Nick reaches over and flips the lamp on anyway, just to see the color bloom in his cheeks. Louis blinks, rolls his eyes, smiles up at him. "Look at how smug you are."

It startles a laugh out of Nick, even though his cock is throbbing, every bit of blood in his body pulsing between his legs, inside Louis. He rolls his hips just a bit, bites his lip at the whine Louis looses. He kisses Louis's throat and jaw and earlobe, whispers, "You're something to be smug over, doll."

Louis's smiling, Nick can feel it against his neck, and Nick presses his face into the line of Louis's throat and pulls his hips back, grips Louis's hip when Louis wraps both legs around him and thrusts back in, does it again and again, harder when Louis demands it, tells Nick he won't break. Louis grips Nick's arms, his face, pulls him in and they're kissing and kissing and kissing, sloppy and wet and uncoordinated as Nick fucks into him over and over. Louis's cock is caught between them, pressed between their stomachs and Louis's moaning constantly into Nick's mouth.

Eventually, when Nick is seconds away from losing it and Louis is crying out with every shove, the angle just right, Nick wraps his hand around Louis's cock, swipes his thumb over the head once and Louis comes, hard and hot and wet between them, all over Nick's hand and both their bellies. He clenches down so tightly around Nick and Nick sinks his teeth into Louis's shoulder, fucks into him twice, three more times, pleasure coiling low and hot and intense inside him until it explodes in a rush.

After, panting, Louis clutches him close, heels on the backs of Nick's thighs, Nick sort of cradled into him. Nick's head is spinning and fuck, but he feels awesome.He slowly catches his breath, still up on a shaking arm until Louis tugs him down, panting into his ear. Nick groans, kisses his cheek and carefully pulls out.

Louis looks debauched in the aftermath, all stretched out and handsy, petting at Nick's arms and back, fingers sliding in sweat. He's all smooth, tan skin except for a gash of scar tissue on his left side that's visible now in the lamplight. Nick gets rid of the condom and hums, sated as hell. He drops onto his side next to Louis and cards his fingers through soft, sweat-damp hair when Louis turns to face him. Nick finds the scar on Louis's stomach, thumbs over it. Louis laughs a bit, either ticklish or exasperated, Nick's too sleepy to tell.

"This what you didn't want me to see?" he asks thickly.

"'s pretty ugly," Louis answers, voice raw. Nick presses his palm over it and smooths Louis's hair back with his other hand. Louis's blinking sleepily and something white-hot and fierce and protective surges up in Nick's chest at the sight of him all bare and fucked out and soft around the edges. He doesn't argue when Louis curls into him, just wraps an arm around him even though it's hot and they're sticky. Louis's so slight, fits into the curve of Nick's body easily. Nick tangles their legs together and Louis closes his eyes and kisses Nick's collarbone. "'member this doesn't mean anything."

Nick snorts. "I remember."

In the morning, Nick wakes up with Louis next to him, asleep on his stomach it his face turned toward Nick, and Nick strokes his palm down the curve of his spine and thinks that this probably means at least a little.

When Louis wakes up a few minutes later they smile at each other stupidly and fool around, snogging and rubbing against each other until Louis presses Nick onto his back and climbs on top of him, finds another condom in the drawer and sinks down onto him. It's tight and hot and sweet, the way Louis kisses him when Nick sits up to meet his lips, the flex of Louis's thighs under Nick's palms as he rides Nick's cock and the impossible tight heat of his arse and how hot Louis is when he comes, when Nick comes and Louis arches his back and clenches around him to milk him dry.

"Happy New Year, babe," Louis murmurs, coming down, shivery and sweaty and filthy in all the best ways. Nick nips his cheek.

"Happy New Year, Lou."

 

 

January is freezing and wet and would be miserable, but Nick quite literally doesn't go a day of it without seeing Louis.

They go to lunch, or shop around with Harry and Liam, or have dinner with Pixie or go out to a pub with Greg. They spend a few nights at Nick's alone together, watching movies and unable to keep their hands off each other. Nick starts getting comments about how he seems happier, which he puts down to having sex regularly for once, and queries into who the pretty boy he keeps being photographed with is, which at Louis's behest he doesn't answer even though he sort of wants to. Louis more often than not leaves Nick's house kind of a mess and he's a staunch cuddler in his sleep and he's the pickiest eater on the face of the planet and they argue a lot, usually about absolutely nothing, and the thing is that Nick likes it. He really likes it a lot.

"We're not boyfriends," they say at the same time, on the floor at Liam and Harry's with Louis sitting between Nick's legs.

Harry snorts derisively and Liam looks at them fondly. Nick pokes his tongue against Louis's cheek and Louis elbows him in the stomach.

"It doesn't mean anything!" Louis insists.

"We're just having a bit of fun," Nick adds.

"We're all four of us getting married in Vegas," Harry decides.

 

 

There's an alarming number of people willing to pay for a plane ticket and hotel room in Las Vegas to go and celebrate Harry's birthday weekend. The first two nights are fun, though, all the lights and noise and drama. Two of Harry's friends get into a fist fight over a girl around midnight the second night, right in the middle of the club. Nick kind of hauls Louis out of the way, because Louis's apparently a belligerent drunk and wants to join in on his mate's side (Nick has no idea which one, most of Louis's friends look exactly the same), and they end up pressed into a wall snogging instead while security hauls the boys outside.

Louis's so warm and his mouth is sweet with whatever fruity drink he's been downing and he's dressed to the nines, so utterly gorgeous, and Nick just wants to get him upstairs to their room and unwrap him like a gift.

"That sounds like a fucking phenomenal idea," says Louis when Nick tells him so, "I'm going to get another drink first."

Nick laughs and pinches Louis's pink cheeks. He falls back against the wall when Louis bats his hands away and dances off into the crowd, smiling all the way.

Nick closes his eyes for a moment, head throbbing with the music, body all tingly with energy. It's difficult to blink them open again. They haven't slept in two days, any of them. Harry's actual party was last night, but tonight, since the lot of them have gone to a club instead of a private room at the hotel, has topped it. Liam and Harry are for some reason on the platform with the DJ. Liam's more drunk than Nick's ever seen him and he's got Harry tossed over his shoulder and is smacking him soundly on the arse amid catcalls and cheers. He's going to be mortified tomorrow. Nick hopes he's there when Liam remembers. Liam trips as he's trying to put Harry back down, and the two of them tumble off the stage. It's so loud, and Nick is getting ready to point and laugh at them when a loud yelp in an all-too-familiar voice catches his attention.

He snaps his head around and finds Louis with Greg, and Greg, who apparently grabbed Louis by the wrist to get his attention, drops Louis's arm quickly and looks at Louis wide-eyed. Even in the flashing strobe lights Nick can see that Louis's expression is frightened, and he's holding a hand to his chest like his heart is racing. Nick straightens up off the wall, concerned. Past Greg and Louis he can make out Niall's bright blond hair, the look on Niall's face one Nick hasn't seen there before, something scared and worried and angry. He's pushing through the crowd to get to Louis, but stops when Greg leans down to talk to Louis, his lips form the words "Are you all right?" and Louis's mouth pulls into a smile and then he's laughing, and Greg smiles, still a bit bewildered. Nick catches Niall's gaze over Louis's head, but whatever that expression meant it's gone now. Niall looks relaxed and happy and serene and wasted again.

As soon as Louis's back, drink in hand, Nick cups the side of his neck. "Greg scare you?"

"Almost pissed myself, mate," Louis agrees, rolling his eyes at himself. "He was just wanting to know if I'd seen Ellie."

Nick grins at him and places a kiss primly on his forehead. "Don't like to be snuck up on?"

"Hate it," Louis says.

Nick wraps an arm around his waist. Louis beams up at him, all teeth, and then bites at the sleeve of Nick's jumper. It seems as good a time as any to get him into bed.

 

 

When he wakes up the next morning, Nick is hung over and sore from the amount of fucking he and Louis got up to last night and incredibly satisfied. Keeping up with him is, if nothing else, keeping Nick in shape.

The bed is empty save for him though, and vaguely he can hear voices out in the hall. He sits up, pushes his fingers back through his messy hair, and goes about finding his trousers. He needs a cigarette, and Louis's generally an early riser so he's probably already downstairs at breakfast anyway. Nick tugs on his t-shirt and shoves his feet into his Converse and grabs his jacket for his fags. When he opens the door, though, he freezes, feels dread solidify in his chest and drop like a rock into his stomach, drag it down to his feet.

Louis's standing at the end of the hallway, right outside another room, with another man. He's tall and classicly handsom (he looks astonishingly like the wank Nick was out with the night he met Louis, in fact), and they're hugging. Embracing. The guy is holding Louis. It looks intimate and familiar and Nick's eyes narrow. His blood goes ice cold.

They pull apart after a few moments, and the other man kisses Louis's cheek and grips his shoulder, and then wanders off. Louis looks relaxed and happy. Nick steps back inside the room and shuts the door silently. He doesn't even realize he's moving until the backs of his knees hit the bed. He sinks down onto the foot and watches the door.

Louis's face lights up in a smile when he walks in and sees him. Nick doesn't smile back.

"You're up early," he says, voice a bit cold.

Louis's smile falters a little. He looks a bit confused. "I'm always up early. Are you all right?"

"I'm great," Nick says. "Perfect." On inspiration, he picks up his phone and kind of dances it in front of Louis. "Just got off the phone with this bloke I met last night while you were dancing with Pix."

Louis frowns, eyebrows drawing together. "What?"

"Great, isn't it? I fucking love Las Vegas."

"You're joking," Louis says, voice hard, and Nick likes the way his eyes flash.

"What would I be joking about, darling?"

"You're not seeing anyone else."

Nick raises an eyebrow, challenging. "What d'you mean? Of course I am. Why would I lie about that?"

"Nick—"

"I mean it's not like we're in any sort of relationship, right? We both agreed that this doesn't mean anything."

"We both lied!" Louis says, kind of shouts, really. Nick can't even believe him, after he snuck out of bed in the early hours of the morning to go and snog someone else.

"It seems like only one of us lied," Nick shoots back, rather nastily.

Louis's mouth sort of trembles, his lips parted and his eyes wide. His face crumples for a moment and Nick's breath catches in his throat at the sight, but Louis schools his features quickly and just looks furious. He stares at Nick for a long time, and then makes an angry sound, tears the door open and storms back out of the room. Nick's left alone in a hotel room in Vegas, clutching his phone and having a hard time catching his breath and hurting.

He'd been stupid to think he was the only one, he supposed. He'd been stupid to ever fall into this in the first place.

 

 

He goes home, catches the next flight out. He lands in New York for a five hour layover and has about a hundred texts from Harry, all various forms of threats and demands for answers. He makes it into Heathrow around midnight and manages to get completely and utterly wasted with Henry by three in the morning, when Henry dumps him off at his house. He spends the next few hours throwing up everything he's eaten or drank in the last few days and hating everyone and everything.

When he wakes up the next day it's late in the evening, the sun already going down. He brushes his teeth and takes a shower and it's all very perfunctory. His chest aches. He feels wrung out and hollow and this is such fucking bullshit. This was never supposed to be something that could hurt him. He hates this feeling.

When he stumbles out of his room, blinking blearily, he smells coffee. Upon further inspection, he finds Louis sitting barefoot and cross legged on his living room floor, a laptop open in front of him, its cord stretched all across the carpet. Nick stares at him, speechless. Louis looks up at him. He looks dreadful, pale and exhausted, his eyes red-rimmed and his hair a ridiculous, soft tangle like he's been carding his hands through it.

"Hi," he says, voice a bit thick.

Nick opens his mouth to speak, closes it again, tilts his head like Louis is something strange and fascinating (which is true, he supposes), and finally finds words. "How did you get in here?"

Louis shrugs. "I asked Harry for his key."

"Harry has a key to my house?"

"Of coruse he does," says Louis. He waves a hand toward the kitchen. "I made coffee. And tea. I saw you left your shoes out here and figured you must've been drinking. I know you prefer coffee for that."

"Lou, what're you—"

"We should talk."

Nick's head is pounding. He's not even entirely sure that this isn't some alcohol-soaked dream. "I don't—"

"I told Harry what happened after I left you at the hotel, and then he asked, y'know, where I'd been that I was coming back from, and I said I'd gone to breakfast with Mark, and that I'd just said goodbye to him out in the hall. He figured you probably saw us and got jealous."

Nick narrows his eyes at him, and pointedly refuses to go and fill a cup of coffee mostly out of spite. "I wasn't jealous. You were all but dry humping him in the bloody—"

"I was not!" Louis argues, angry. He takes a deep breath, and then sighs loudly and wiggles backward on the floor. It's adorable, but Nick refuses to acknowledge that. Louis spreads his legs and pats the spot between them. Nick hesitates, and Louis says, "Please, Nick"

Nick doesn't stand a chance against the sadness in his voice. He shuffles over and takes a seat on the floor in front of the laptop, crossing his legs. Louis bends his knees so his feet are flat on the floor and brackets Nick's sides between them, resting his cheek between Nick's shoulder blades. "Just. Read, yeah?"

Nick hates himself for how much better he feels with Louis touching him, and reluctantly tugs the laptop in closer.

Louis's loaded a short article from a local Doncaster newspaper up on the screen. There are two pictures, one of Louis on an ambulance stretcher being carried from a block of flats, and one a police photo of a good looking guy probably in his early twenties with blood on his shirt. Nick's heart is already hammering in his chest. The headline reads:

Meyer Convicted

Adrian Meyer, 23, was convicted today of attempted murder and domestic assault. Three months ago, Meyer—who admitted openly during the proceedings to abusing his partner Louis Tomlinson, 19—fled the scene after stabbing Tomlinson with a kitchen knife. Tomlinson was found in their shared flat by a friend, and spent several weeks in hospital recovering. Meyer was pulled over for speeding only a few hours later and was taken into custody. This morning he pled no contest and, after a tearful apology, was escorted out of the courtroom.

Nick reads it three times, each time more horrifying than the last. He feels frozen and blank and horrible, and suddenly all the pieces are slotting into place. Why Louis doesn't like having his picture taken, and why he doesn't want his name up on the internet with Nick's. Why he nearly fainted when Greg accidentally scared him a few days ago, why he didn't want Nick to see the scar on his belly, why Zayn's so protective and why Harry's been so shifty anytime Nick's ever brought up Louis's mysterious ex.

It takes him a few minutes to compose himself to any degree. Louis's still just resting against him, his heart beat a little fast on Nick's back. Nick grips his knee to let him know he's finished reading and Louis slowly pulls back so Nick can turn a bit to face him. He has no idea what to say. He wishes that Louis'd just cheated on him instead. Louis smiles nervously.

"I know, right? You probably weren't expecting this kind of baggage."

Nick shakes his head, not in agreement but like maybe this won't have happened if he just denies it hard enough. He takes Louis's wrist gently, thumbs over his pulse. "Lou."

Louis lets out a slow breath and starts to ramble, something obviously practiced. "We met when I was in sixth form, moved in together just after my eighteenth birthday. He'd always had a temper but he loved me and I loved him and it wasn't so bad at first, but he went…I mean I guess he just got a bit more crazy than he already was. Zayn found out, and I didn't want to listen, pretty much shut him out of my life for almost a year. And it was a game by then, y'know? I was good at it. Don't let anyone know, make up stories, make it funny. I'm good at that."

"Yeah," Nick agrees, because Louis's looking at him like he needs the confirmation.

"Anyway, he broke my arm once, and after that I told him I was leaving to come to London for Uni and he…" he gestures to the laptop.

"Louis," Nick whispers.

Louis shakes his head, looking lost for only a second before taking both of Nick's big hands in his little ones. "I'm okay. Mark—the man you saw me with—he was my therapist after I got out of the hospital. He was in Vegas for a conference and when I saw that on his Twitter I called him to meet up. He became a good mate, y'know? To both me and Zayn. Zayn's the one that found me and called the ambulance, so he's a bit fucked up about it all. That's why he was so bitchy with you at the beginning."

"Lou, I'm so—"

"No, don't. I didn't tell you at all and I wouldn't let the other lads because I didn't want you to treat me differently. It was two years ago, and I'm good now, Nick, I swear. And you're an absolute fucking drama queen for reacting like you did when you saw me and Mark, but I probably would've done the same thing."

"Louis—"

Louis covers Nick's mouth with his hand, looking stern.

"For the record, I want to be just yours. Y'know, boyfriends, whatever. I really haven't been seeing anyone else, and I know you haven't either because we've spent everyday together since we met. I want to be with you, but it's only fair that I tell you everything, 'cause I come with a few rules."

Nick grips Louis's wrist again and kisses the palm of his hand. His heart is pounding and his body feels strange and helpless and hopeful all at once. Louis was hurt. Louis was really, really hurt, and God Nick could've guessed a thousand things about him but an abusive ex was never something he'd have come up with. Nick's never known anyone who's been through that before. He has no idea what to say or do and he's never really hated someone so thoroughly before, especially someone he's never met. And Nick isn't exactly a knight in shining armor. He's definitely got the flight end of the fight-or-flight reflex, and he's never felt particularly protective of anyone before.

He tugs Louis in carefully by his upper arms and Louis clambers into his lap and Nick just hugs him, hard, touches his lips to the line of Louis's throat and curls his fingers into Louis's sides to hear him giggle involuntarily. They stay like that for a long time, Louis's hands rubbing up and down Nick's back and Nick squeezing Louis in close, before Nick lets him go. Louis slides down off Nick's knees and looks up at him.

"What're your rules?" Nick asks, voice a bit gruff.

Louis takes Nick's hand again, pushes their palms together between them. "No sneaking up on me."

"Got that one."

"I don't like having my hair pulled." On instinct, Nick strokes his hand over Louis's hair, pushes it back of his forehead and rubs gently at his scalp. Louis smiles a bit. "I have nightmares sometimes. I don't like sex where I can't see your face."

Nick's heart clenches harshly at the implication and he leans in, rests his forehead against Louis's. Louis squeezes his hand and prods him sharply in the stomach and Nick offers only a small protest. "Okay."

"And Nick I can't…I can't handle the jealousy. I really…I spent three years of my life really, really fucking scared, and I can't. I mean it's not fair, I know you wouldn't react like he did, but just. Just talk to me if I do something or if you think something's going on or just. Just trust that I'm with you."

Nick nods, throat tight. "I promise."

Louis pulls back again to meet his eyes, a small smile on his face. "And when I say 'this doesn't mean anything', what I actually mean is 'this means a whole fucking lot and I've gone and fallen in love with your skinny hipster arse.' And when you answer with 'not a bloody thing', what you actually mean is 'Louis light of life fire in my loins you perfect wonderful sexy prince, I love you more than life itself forever and ever amen', okay?"

Nick smiles, a little weak because holy ton of information, Batman, but he smiles. "Okay."

"Nick?"

"Mm?"

Louis pushes him back enough to see him, grips his chin. "This doesn't mean anything."

Nick swallows hard and pulls him into his lap, kisses him thorough and wet and deep and maybe desperately. They're breathing hard when he pulls back. Louis's heart is racing against Nick's chest. Nick thinks that, eventually, they're going to have to talk about all this for real. He thinks that they need to sit down and like, feel their feelings and shit, because this is big huge insane scary and Louis might have come to terms with it but Nick's going to need to be careful with him for a while, he's going to need to get a grip on this himself.

But for right now, he cradles the back of Louis's head in his hand and kisses the tip of his nose and answers.

"Not a bloody thing."