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and I'll steal us a car, and we'll drive to the stars

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*

Nick’s dead asleep when he hears something hit his bedroom window.

It’s not terribly loud but it’s enough to jerk him fully awake, sitting straight up and having his heart thumping quickly. He blinks into the darkness, hand pressed against his chest like Nana and has already convinced himself that he’s hearing things and should lie back down and go to sleep when he hears it again. It’s a quiet little thunk, then a few seconds later another comes, this time a bit harder. It sounds almost like—

Nick climbs out of bed and goes to the window and yep, there’s Harry standing on the grass outside of Nick’s window with a handful of rocks.

Nick blinks and pushes the window open. “Harry.”

“Hi, Nick,” Harry beams.

“Harry, are you throwing rocks at my window?”

Harry jiggles the rocks in his palm and tosses the hair back from his face. “Yep.”

Nick sighs and bangs his head against the window frame. “Is there a reason why you’re throwing rocks at my window?”

“Yep,” Harry beams.

Nick has been friends with Harry for years now, so he knows how circular conversations with him tend to go. He’d never quite imagined having one of them while Harry is stood outside in the middle of the night and Nick inside in his pyjama bottoms, but if Nick’s learned one thing he’s learned to expect anything where Harry is concerned.

Nick narrows his eyes at Harry who’s still grinning at him widely. It’s chilly out and Harry’s tucked into his black wool coat, the collar flipped up high around the back of his neck. “Well you might as well come in then and tell me what this is all about, I suppose,” Nick says and closes the window, blocking out the low sound of Harry’s laughter along with it.

*

By the time Harry’s shuffling through the front door Nick’s got the kettle on and is puttering around the kitchen for mugs and spoons. Harry smiles easily and drops a kiss on Nick’s cheek, his skin and the air surrounding him still holding the chill from the outside. Neither of them say anything while Nick gets the milk out and then he’s splashing water over the teabags and bringing everything to the table where Harry’s already sitting. He’s shrugged off his coat and tossed it on the floor. Nick steps over it and rolls his eyes.

“It’s so nice to see you taking care of your things, Harold.”

Harry glances at the coat and shrugs, taking the mug from Nick and curling his hands around it. Harry’s face is tipped pink from the cold and he’s still shivering slightly. Nick shakes his head and says, “Is there any particular reason you were standing outside my flat in the middle of the night instead of just ringing me or knocking on the door like any sane person might?”

“There is, yes,” Harry nods seriously. He splashes milk into his mug and blows across the top one more time before taking a small sip, sighing quietly as he swallows. “Good cuppa.”

“Well worth coming all the way over to mine for I’m sure,” Nick says dryly. Harry wiggles his eyebrows but keeps quiet. Nick is ready to burst if he doesn’t get some answers soon. When another minute passes with Harry just grinning at him stupidly and not saying anything Nick huffs and waves his hand in the air. “All right, Hazza, this has been fun and all but you might want to tell me why you’re here right now because—“

“We’re going away,” Harry interrupts, and what?

“What?”

“We’re going away,” Harry repeats. Nick stares at him blankly. “You and me, that is. I know you’ve got the time off because you were supposed to go away with Henry but then he got that show at the last minute so your plans got cancelled.”

Nick blinks. He hadn’t told anyone that. “How did you—“

“Doesn’t matter how I found out,” Harry flaps his hand dismissively. “All that matters is that I did and I’ve packed up the car and we’re going on a roadtrip.”

Nick feels like he can’t process anything. All he knows is he was lying in bed dead asleep twenty minutes ago and now he’s sat in his kitchen with Harry who’s telling him they’re going on a roadtrip together. Nick rubs a hand over his face and glances at the kitchen counter. He doesn’t think he’s drunk – he definitely doesn’t see the evidence of empty wine bottles lying around which would indicate that he somehow got so drunk he actually forgot about drinking - but this whole thing is insane. Maybe that’s it, actually. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Maybe tonight is actually Nick’s breaking point.

There’s one thing though, that Nick keeps coming back to. “But why were you throwing rocks at my window?”

“Because it was fun,” Harry beams. His smile goes a bit dim then and he bites his lip. “And, well, I maybe didn’t tell the lads that I was going anywhere for a few days so, you know. People might be looking for me soon.” Nick stares at him blankly and Harry adds, “What I’m saying is that you kind of need to get dressed and in the car quick if we’re going to do this.”

Nick blinks. Sometimes he actually can’t believe this is his life. “So we’re what; escaping the vicinity under the cloak of darkness? Is that a thing that’s actually happening?”

Harry’s smile is blinding. “Yes. Exactly. It’s better this way, yeah? Makes it a bit more of an adventure.”

This is…insane. It might be the most insane thing Harry’s ever done, and Nick’s been friends with him forever. He’s seen Harry do a lot of insane things.

“Nick,” Harry’s voice has gone soft. Nick looks up and Harry’s watching him carefully and there’s the concerned look Nick’s been waiting for. Harry might be here in the middle of the night surrounded by all of his bluster and bravado, but deep down Nick knows why Harry’s really here. Harry reaches out and covers Nick’s hand with his and Nick has to look away, his chest gone suddenly tight.

“Nick, come on,” Harry says quietly. He squeezes Nick’s hand and Nick focuses on the grain in the wood of the kitchen table. He traces the lines that travel under the varnish and wishes there was somewhere for him to hide. He forgets, sometimes, how much more of a curse than a blessing it is to have friends who know you so well. He’s told Harry for weeks that he’s fine, that he’s been doing great. Of course Harry wouldn’t actually believe him.

“Throwing rocks at my window in the middle of the night,” Nick’s voice is soft and thick. He clears his throat and looks up at Harry, the back of his throat burning. “You are truly a lemon, Harry Styles.”

Harry stands up and pulls Nick from his chair, sliding his arms around Nick’s waist and pulling him into a hug. He laughs quietly against Nick’s neck and kicks him on the ankle. “Heyyy, don’t be mean. Now go pack some crap and let’s go.”

*

Harry brought the Jag, because of course he did. Nick whistles softly and tosses his bag in the boot while Harry unlocks the doors and slides into the driver’s seat.

“Fancy ride, Styles,” Nick slides his hands over the gleaming dash.

Harry shrugs. “What’s a roadtrip if you’re not in a convertible, yeah?”

Nick shivers in his coat and thinks that it’s so cold out they’re probably not going to do too much driving with the top down anyway, but who knows. Last night he was watching the Great British Bake Off in bed and planning on going to sleep and eating nothing but pie and nutella for the next five days and now he’s sitting in Harry’s Jaguar, heading off on a roadtrip to who knows where.

There’s a map lying in between them on the seat. Nick picks it up and unfolds it so it’s covering his face and half his body. He can hear Harry laugh, the radio playing quietly as Harry navigates the empty streets out of Primrose Hill.

“So where were you planning on taking me?” Nick scans the map for any kind of markings or outlined route or cities circled in pen. He doesn’t see anything at all. The map looks brand new in fact; the corners still sharp and the lines in perfect creases as if it had just been opened.

“Not sure,” Harry shrugs. He glances at the map while they’re stopped at a light and Nick tries to see what Harry’s focusing on but he can’t figure it out. “I was trying to look and see if I could make us a plan or something, but I don’t really know. Actually, now that I think about it,” Harry grabs the map from Nick’s hands and tosses it in the backseat. The light turns green and Harry steps on the gas pulling away quick enough that Nick can’t reach the map even if he tried.

“Harry!”

“Fuck it,” Harry says firmly. “You’ve got a few days off; I’m taking a few days off. We haven’t hung out in forever and you need some time to get away. I don’t care where we go, let’s just…I don’t know, Nick, let’s just drive and figure it out or something. Let’s just go.”

Nick can feel his mouth hanging open. This is – they can’t do this. They’re responsible adults who have people they need to answer to. And sure, maybe Nick’s been having a bit of a shit time lately but that’s no reason to just pick up and run off, even if it is with Harry. That’s just – it’s nuts, is what it is.

“What do you think, we’re some kind of Bonnie and Clyde or summat?” Is what Nick manages to say, because he’s apparently lost all brain function and is somehow going along with Harry’s hare brained scheme. He consoles himself with the fact that it’s not the first time it’s happened and it most certainly won’t be the last.

“Well I wasn’t planning on robbing any banks, so no,” Harry says flatly. He brightens quickly, though, and adds, “More like Thelma and Louise, I think.”

“I am not driving off any cliffs with you, Hazza,” Nick settles back into his seat though and kicks his trainers off. It’s still dark but the sky is starting to lighten with a soft glow. It’s probably close to morning now and Nick trusts Harry to figure out where they’re going while he takes a nap. With Harry’s music playing quietly in the background and the soft sounds of the road slipping under the tires of Harry’s car maybe Nick will manage to even get a little sleep.

“Though I would shag the hell out of a 1990’s Brad Pitt,” Nick tells Harry sleepily. He hears Harry chuckling and then feels his fingers push the hair back from Nick’s forehead as he closes his eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry says, but Nick’s already falling asleep.

*

Nick wakes when the car stops and he sits up quickly, confused and disoriented. It takes a second for him to remember the night before and when he does he digs his mobile from his pocket and thumbs it on to text Aimee.

getting away for a few days with Harry

Harry’s not in the car and Nick uses the moment of privacy to peer around curiously, craning his neck to try and see out the window and figure out where they are. He sees a tiny shingled cottage up the path from the road with the blurry name of a bed and breakfast painted lightly on the sign stuck in the lawn. It looks cozy enough though, and the sun is shining brightly outside the car windows. Nick cracks his neck and stretches his back and realizes that for the first time in weeks he didn’t wake up and immediately want to roll over and go back to sleep so maybe Harry was right; maybe this is a good thing.

good Aimee texts back. I’m glad…he’s a good friend xxx

Nick smiles then thumbs off his mobile when he sees Harry coming from the front door, a wide grin on his face and a set of keys swinging around his index finger.

“You all right?” Harry leans his head into the window and smiles.

“I’m great, yeah,” Nick nods at the keys. “We staying here?”

“For the day and then tonight at least if that’s ok?”

“It’s great,” Nick tells him. Harry climbs into the car and drives them around to the parking area and then they’re grabbing their bags from the boot and walking up the rocky path to front door and down the quiet hall.

Their room is small; two tiny beds piled high with lacy duvets and pillows. The furniture is all dark wood and the wallpaper is beige with a pattern of miniature flower baskets repeating all over it. There’s a bureau and a table between the beds and a door that Nick assumes is to the bathroom and that’s it. No telly, no stereo system. Harry’s watching him nervously and Nick grins because it’s great. It’s perfect.

“It’s the perfect roadtrip room,” he says and Harry laughs.

“I thought so too. Figured if we’re going to do this we’re going to do it right, yeah?” Harry tosses his bag on the bed closest to the window then flops down on his back, arms and legs flung out wide. “I think there’s some shops close to here; maybe we can drive into the town later and do some antiquing, get some lunch or dinner or something.”

Harry’s pushed himself up on his elbows and is watching Nick with wide eyes. Nick smiles – it’s even slightly genuine this time because it’s Harry and Harry always brings out the best in Nick even when he’s had a hard time finding the best of himself for weeks – and fiddles with the clothes he shoved into his bag to keep from meeting Harry’s eyes. He’s glad he has Harry as a friend. Harry still manages to treat him normally even when he’s concerned; everyone else has just been giving Nick their pity.

“That sounds great. I think I’ll head into town now and see if I can find us some coffee and breakfast,” Nick grabs a thick jumper and pulls is on over his t-shirt. Harry’s still watching him, a deep crinkle between his eyebrows and a frown set to his mouth but Nick ignores it. They’ll be plenty of time for him and Harry to talk about Nick’s bloody feelings later he’s sure. “D’you think it’s close enough that I can walk it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Harry scoffs and tosses his car keys at Nick’s head. Nick catches them and blinks.

“You’re letting me drive your car?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods.

“The Jag,” Nick clarifies. “That’s the car you brought, you do remember that, yeah?”

“Yes, Nick,” Harry sighs.

Nick bites his lip and narrows his eyes. “You do realize that like, no one died, right? I just. It was a breakup, it wasn’t any big deal. People break up every day.”

That was what Michael had told him when he was doing it, after all. It’s nothing personal, Grimmy. It’s not you, it’s just a little of everything. It’s no big deal; people break up every day. Nick had believed him because why wouldn’t he have? It was the truth after all. People do break up every day. It was just – for maybe just this one time Nick didn’t think he was going to be one of them. He thought that maybe what he and Michael had was special.

Then again maybe not, seeing as how that was nearly six weeks ago and Nick’s been hiding away to the point that his best friend felt it necessary to essentially kidnap him in the middle of the night. Nick might not be an expert or anything but even he knows that’s not really how special relationships work.

“I know,” Harry says quietly. Nick shakes his head and tries to clear his brain from all the lingering Michael in it. He’s been getting good at that lately, the ignoring thing. Now that he’s an expert on. “I just also know that you’re a lazy arse and you’ll start walking and then realize how far the café is and you’ll change your mind and I kind of really want a cup of coffee now. It’s all in my own best interests really,” he finishes with a wide grin.

“Oh, piss off, Styles,” Nick laughs. He pockets the keys and checks to make sure he’s got his wallet. “Take a nap while I’m gone. When I get back I expect there to be some hardcore antiquing happening.”

Harry snorts flops back on the bed. “Hardcore antiquing,” Harry scoffs. “Who’s the lemon now?” Nick tosses a shoe at Harry’s head and heads out to the car to find them some food.

*

Nick brings them back cardboard cups of hot coffee and a bag of pastries so heavy and greasy they nearly fall through the bottom of the bag. He and Harry eat them all and drink coffee while sitting cross legged on their own beds and then they take turns showering and wander out into the town to poke along into all the shops.

Harry manages to find a porcelain unicorn statue, an old metal petrol sign and a black silk top hat with a red ribbon around the middle. Nick gets a framed, autographed Take That poster and they disagree the entire way back to the car on which room Nick is going to hang it in.

“I still vote for the bathroom,” Harry’s arguing. He backs the car out of the spot and drives down the road in the opposite direction of their room. Nick looks out the window and notices the sun is already starting to set. He has no idea when it got so late or where the rest of the day actually went. That seems to happen a lot with Harry.

“Not the bathroom,” Nick shakes his head. “The living room; I told you, if it’s in the bathroom Kate will never forgive me.”

“Kate Moss will be angry because she won’t be the only famous person hanging in the room where you take a piss anymore,” Harry says flatly. “Do you even listen to yourself when you talk or do things just come out of your mouth?”

Nick shrugs. “Little bit of both, I guess.”

They wind up having dinner in a small Italian restaurant Harry spots hidden around the corner from the main road. The inside is dimly lit and the air smells thick with spices and garlic. They split a bottle of merlot and a basket of bread and share two pasta dishes and when they get back to the room feeling fat and happy, Nick stops Harry with a hand on his shoulder when Harry’s on his way into the bathroom.

“Harry,” Nick says softly then stops. Nick’s not good at talking about his feelings, he never has been. He wants to thank Harry for all of this but he doesn’t know whether to thank Harry for taking him out for the day or for not making him talk about Michael or for coming to Nick’s flat the night before and making him come out and do this whole roadtrip in the first place. He squeezes Harry’s shoulder instead and hopes Harry gets that Nick means all of those things and more.

“Anytime,” Harry tells him quietly, and Nick knows that he doesn’t have to tell Harry what he means at all. That somehow Harry will just know.

*

They wake up early in the morning and head back onto the road, chasing the sun to the east. Harry had mentioned the night before about going toward the shore and seeing if there was anyplace open in that direction and since Nick is apparently only along for the ride he saw no reason to disagree.

Nick’s mobile buzzes with a text from Aimee as Harry’s driving them somewhere for coffee and breakfast.

have you actually run away with harry styles? the papers are going mad

“Shit,” Nick curses softly. He can feel Harry staring at him from the driver’s seat and he rolls his eyes a bit. “Might want to check your mobile soon; apparently the natives are getting restless that you’ve run off without them.”

“What?” Harry digs the mobile from his pocket, thumbs it on and grimaces. “Oh. Um.”

Nick feels like crap. The last thing he needs on top of all the shit his life has become is to be the one responsible in causing some sort of rift in the world’s biggest boyband. “Listem, Harry, this is great and all but if you need to head back—“ But Harry’s already flapping his hand in the air to get Nick to stop talking.

“Lou, yeah, it’s me,” Harry’s saying into the mobile. He shakes his head sharply and takes his eyes off the road long enough to glare at Nick mutinously when he tries to interrupt. “Listen, I need you to run some interference for me, I have to be away for a few days and – yeah, yeah, everything’s fine, do you just think you can--? - perfect. My god, you’re the actual best,” Harry’s actually grinning a bit now, his eyes crinkled in a huge smile. “I appreciate it so much. Thanks, pal.”

He thumbs his mobile off and tosses it over his shoulder and into the backseat. “So that’s taken care of.”

Nick feels his eyes go wide. “What did you just do?”

“Just talked to Louis for a bit,” Harry says, shrugging carelessly. His mouth is curved in a smirk though and he looks about five seconds away from losing it. “He said he’s about to go out and adopt some sort of extinct breed of puppy with El or something so it’ll take the heat off me for a bit.”

“A puppy?” Nick shrieks. “Can’t he just start a fight with The Wanted again? Does he have to drag a defenseless animal into this? My god, Harry, just turn the car around and take me back to—“

“No,” Harry’s pulled the car to the side of the road and turns in his seat so he’s facing Nick. He’s in one of Nick’s old grey jumpers and has his hair shoved back into a bright blue beanie and his skin is scrubbed clean and pink from his shower. He reaches out and takes Nick’s hand, twining their fingers together and squeezing.

“Just listen: you’re my best friend and you’re having a shit time right now. I don’t always get the chance to be around and be a good friend so if I can now, and I want to, then let me do it. I’m always the one everyone’s watching, Nick,” Harry shrugs and looks out the window onto the road. His jaw tightens and Nick squeezes his hand back. “Let Louis take the fucking heat again, yeah? He loves that shit anyway. I just – let me do this. I want to do this.”

Nick’s not used to this. He’s used to being the one taking care of all of his friends, not the other way around. He’s never been the one people had to worry about or rescue and now that he’s in that position he’s not all that fond of the reality of it, to be honest. But maybe – maybe if it means this much to Harry and Harry wants to do it – then maybe it’ll be ok. Maybe Nick should just learn to accept it for once. Harry’s trying to give Nick something that Nick actually needs. Maybe it’s about time for Nick to start being a little greedy and just bloody say yes.

“All right,” Nick says quietly after a moment. Harry smiles and Nick ignores the buzzing his mobile is doing from the floor of the backseat in favor of opening the text from Aimee and sending back, haven’t run away with him, no, but definitely on a little holiday…love you loads see you soon xxx

*

It’s cold enough that most of the hotels by the water are closed for the season, but Harry manages to find a small one tucked back from the main road that’s open with rooms available. The room is small and sparse, the decorations on the walls fading prints of fish and vases filled with dusty seashells lining the top of the dresser.

“Christ, I’m knackered,” Harry’s dropped his bag at the foot of the bed nearest the door and is rubbing his eyes sleepily. Nick feels a quick pang of guilt that Harry’s finally got some time off and he’s spending it all with him but then he reminds himself that Harry chose this, chose to be with Nick and Nick’s got to stop second guessing him about it. It feels good to be so absolutely certain about someone. Nick had almost forgotten.

“I know it’s still early in the day but do you mind if I had a kip here for a bit?” Harry’s already toeing off his trainers and stripping off down to nothing but his pants.

“Not at all; I think I’ll head down to the water, walk around a little.” Nick wraps a scarf around his neck and zips his jacket up higher. Some fresh air will probably do him good plus he can check out to see if there’s any place around for them to eat at later. Nick knows Harry; he’s been friends with him long enough to know that he wakes up like an angry bear when he falls asleep in the middle of the day and immediately needs food. Nick wants to make sure he’s prepared.

Harry smirks as he curls himself under the covers. “Don’t get lost,” he says sarcastically. Nick could punch him. “You’re terrible with directions when you don’t know where you are. Should I strap a GPS to your chest?”

“Oh, fuck off, Styles,” Nick laughs and rolls his eyes as pulls the door closed behind him.

*

Of course, Nick gets lost.

Well, not entirely. He manages to find his way back to the hotel without having to call Harry to come and rescue him so that in itself counts as a victory as far as Nick’s concerned. He was definitely gone long enough though that his cheeks and nose and fingers have gone numb from the cold and Harry’s already up from his nap and freshly showered, sitting cross legged on his bed and scrolling through his mobile when Nick gets back.

“On a scale of one to ten, how lost were you?” Harry asks.

Nick unwinds the scarf from his neck and rubs his hands together. “About a seven. I could always see the hotel, I just couldn’t manage to find my way back to it.”

“Oh, Nick,” Harry slides from the bed and pads over, taking Nick’s hands between his own to warm them up. Harry’s hands are huge and his skin feels burning hot compared to Nick’s. The blood rushes to the surface of his fingers with sharp tingles and he curls them in the cocoon of Harry’s palms. “You should have called me to come get you.”

“And admit that you were right? I’d rather die.”

Harry rolls his eyes and drops Nick’s hands to punch him on the shoulder. Nick glances at the bed and spots a pile of takeaway menus spread out across the duvet. It’s almost dark. Nick didn’t realize how long he’d been out wandering around by the water. Christ, he’s turning into one of those people; the kind that mopes around moodily to the sounds of the sea after a breakup. He’s turning into such a cliché he’s actually starting to make himself ill.

“We eating in?” Nick asks.

“Maybe,” Harry shrugs. “I called the front desk and they sent these up. Thought it might be fun to get some food delivered and watch the telly for a bit. There’s a Die Hard marathon on ITV 2.”

Harry looks so sweet and kind and hopeful Nick’s heart thumps a little crazily in his chest. He just – he loves Harry. He really does. Nick doesn’t think he’s ever had a friend as good as Harry is to him. He doesn’t think he’s ever even had anyone come close.

“Yeah, ok,” Nick says. “Lemme just grab a fast shower and we’ll order some stuff.”

“Yeah, definitely shower,” Harry wrinkles his nose.

Nick pretends to pout and sighs up at the ceiling. “And here I was, thinking all nice things about you and you have to go and ruin it, Styles,”

“You were thinking nice things about me?” Harry asks happily. “Like what?”

“Doesn’t matter now, you’ve ruined it,” Nick tuts. “Nice job, Harry. Real nice.”

Nick almost moves fast enough to duck the pillow Harry tosses at his face, but not quite.

*

Nick wakes up in the middle of the night, chest tight and choking back a hitching breath. It takes a second for him to remember where he is, the bed unfamiliar and the shapes of the furniture around him ominous and looming in the dark, but then he hears Harry snuffling in the bed next to him, spots the tied up bag of rubbish from their takeaway curry earlier in the night and he remembers.

He remembers sitting curled next to Harry on one of the beds eating curry from plastic takeaway containers and drinking whatever shoddy wine the hotel was able to send up for them. He remembers driving with Harry all day and walking around on the beach looking at the water and thinking about how him and Michael were planning on taking a holiday to a place exactly like this when the weather started looking up. They had talked about it and everything.

And that’s just it. That’s the thing that kills Nick the most. It’s just – they had plans, him and Michael. Nick had never let himself really plan things with people before and this was why, this horrible feeling, this hollow, gaping hole in his chest. This is bloody fucking why.

He must have been dreaming about him, that’s the only reason why he’s waking up feeling like this. Nick knows this by now, it’s happened enough in the past few weeks for him to recognize it when it happens. Even if he doesn’t remember what he was dreaming about, exactly, he knows it was about Michael and how they were and how now they’re not and it just – it just sucks.

“Nick.”

Harry’s voice is soft. Nick can hear him moving around in the other bed but he keeps his back turned so he can’t see him yet. Nick’s not sure what look he’s got on his face; doesn’t know if it’s one that should be shared.

“Nick,” Harry whispers again. “I heard you having a bad dream. I heard you last night too.” He pauses for a second and then says, “If you want I can…You don’t have to stay there by yourself, I mean, if you don’t want to.”

Nick squeezes his eyes shut. He’s just – he’s fine. He’s getting through this. He doesn’t need Harry or anyone else to do anything for him. He doesn’t.

It’s just that maybe he’s a little tired. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to let someone else take care of him, even for a little while. Maybe that would be all right.

“Yeah,” Nick says quietly and shifts over to the far side of his bed. “Yeah, all right.”

Harry crawls in behind him, pressing his chest along Nick’s back, the tip of his nose cold when it brushes over Nick’s shoulder. He wraps his arm over Nick’s chest and pulls him close, tangling their legs together and breathing softly.

“You know, it’s ok to be sad,” Harry’s voice is rough. His breath is damp and warm on Nick’s skin. “It’s ok to not be ok.”

The room is so quiet Nick can hear everything: the soft crash of the waves outside the window and the dull buzz of Harrys mobile every time a new text alert comes in. He can feel the heat of Harry’s skin and the palm of his hand on Nick’s chest and for the first time after waking up from dreaming about Michael Nick doesn’t feel completely alone.

He doesn’t answer Harry but it doesn’t seem to matter; Harry’s asleep in minutes and it doesn’t take long after that for Nick to follow.

*

Nick wakes up to a pair of Harry’s dirty socks on his face and any worries that Harry would be acting weird around him firmly squashed. Nick didn’t know if Harry was going to want to do anything truly awful like talk about Nick’s feelings when they got up, but thank Christ he seems to be acting like his regular, twatty self.

“Nick. Nick. Nick.” Harry chants and throws a pair of what Nick suspects are dirty pants at him. He’s so foul. “Nick. Nick. Nick. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up—“

“Argh, what,” Nick sits up and shakes Harry’s laundry from his face and head. Harry is quite possibly the grossest person Nick’s ever known.

“You need to get up,” Harry beams. It’s only then that Nick notices that the bathroom door is open and the mirrors are all fogged up from Harry’s shower. Harry’s completely dressed in a green jumper and black jeans and his thick black coat and there are already two cups of coffee sitting on the top of the bureau. It even looks like Harry’s packed their bags up minus for the laundry he’s methodically throwing at Nick’s face. Nick frowns and tries to figure out what’s going on.

“Why?”

“Because we have shit to do,” Harry rolls his eyes. “I pulled out some clothes for you but we’ve got to move. I mapped out a ton of shops I thought you’d want to go to and then found an amazing looking wine bar a few towns over but we don’t have all day.”

Nick glances at the clock on the bureau. “Harry, it’s half nine.”

Exactly,” Harry sighs. “So come on; time’s a wasting.”

Nick blinks. He wonders if Harry will stop surprising him at all on this trip. He’s fairly sure the answer is no.

“Do I at least have time to shower?”

“I guess,” Harry huffs. “If you do it quickly. We don’t have time for your lollygagging.”

“Am I actually away with my granddad?” Nick wonders out loud. He ducks another dirty sock as he gets out of bed. “Time’s a wasting? Lollygagging? Who says that?”

“Ten minutes,” Harry says and points at him, ignoring Nick’s complaining. “If you’re not ready by then I’m leaving without you.”

“No, really, I’m confused. Is there an actual sixty five year old man trapped inside your body? Is that what all the bananas are for? Did your doctor tell you it’s good for your osteoporosis?”

“You’re using up your minutes,” Harry grabs his keys and heads for the door then stops and turns around. He goes back to the bureau and grabs both cups of coffee and grins. “No coffee until you get to the car.”

“Hey!” Nick shouts. This is insane. “That’s not fair!”

“Shower faster and you won’t even miss it,” Harry calls out then lets the door bang closed behind him.

Nick shakes his head and rolls his eyes and gets ready with a minute to spare.

*

It is entirely possible that Nick has had a bit too much to drink.

He swirls the last of the wine in his glass and peers across the table at Harry who is flushed and happy and talking to their waiter with increasingly overzealous hand gestures. The wine bar is small and quiet and stocked with one of the nicest selections Nick’s ever seen, especially for a small town he’s already forgotten the name of in relatively the middle of nowhere. Nick’s got no idea how Harry even found this place but he was right when he mentioned it this morning: it’s amazing.

“Nick, what do you say?” Harry says slowly. His voice is thicker than usual and he blinks his eyes wide. Nick grins. At least he’s not the only one who’s had a bit too much to drink.

“What?”

“I was just saying we might want to do another bottle, that’s good, yeah?”

“Yes,” Nick nods. “Definitely.”

“Did you want to stay with the same one,” the waiter asks, “or try another?”

“Oh, I’m not sure,” Harry squints at the bottle. He’s concentrating on it so deeply Nick has to force himself not to laugh. In the end Harry looks up and shrugs happily. “Mate, I’ve got no fucking clue what that is that we’re drinking but we’ll take another bottle of it.”

“Two,” Nick interrupts.

“Two?” Harry’s eyebrows are raised, the smile curling slowly across his face. “You reckon we should just go for it; get balls out pissed and deal with it in the morning?”

Nick finishes what’s in his glass and nods. “Yes. That’s what I reckon, Harold.”

Harry lifts a shoulder and waves at the waiter. “Then by all means, we’ll take two.”

*

They manage to eat a little after that, a few plates of tiny appetizers, little pastries and crackers and cheese. Nick teases Harry about the cracker advert he’d done and Harry kicks him a lot from under the table. The restaurant is slowly emptying around them and their waiter’s already left, telling them to stay as long as they liked until the kitchen was clean and everyone else was ready to go and kicking them out.

Nick feels fat and happy and warm and tipsy. Harry’s sprawled out in his chair with his legs splayed wide and hands resting on his belly, a quiet smile on his face.

“Today was good, yeah?” he asks.

Nick nods. “Definitely.”

“Good,” Harry bites his lip. He fiddles with the button on his shirt. “I’m glad you liked the shops. That blue jumper you picked up was sick.”

Nick thinks of the bags of clothes he bought that are currently sitting in the boot of Harry’s car at the hotel down the road. Today was the first time he’d been out buying new things for himself since everything went to shit with Michael. Nick didn’t realize just how bad he’d gotten, how much he’d been holing himself up in his flat managing to do just the bare minimum amount of things to keep himself going, but that’s all it’s been, he can see that now. He’d get up and go to work, maybe do some food shopping or run errands but that had been it. He hasn’t been out with friends or done anything for himself for weeks. He just – he didn’t realize how much he needed this.

“Thank you,” he finally says, feeling for the first time like he’s not crushing under the weight of all the terrible things that have happened. He feels good. He needed this day, needed this trip. This is maybe the first step in getting Nick back to being Nick, and if Harry hadn’t come and dragged him out of his flat that night it never would have happened. Nick’s not going to take that lightly.

“You’re welcome,” Harry says sincerely. He smiles softly and looks away. “You look good today, Nick. Happy, even.”

“I actually think I am,” Nick laughs quietly. “I finally feel like…” he takes a deep breath, “Like fuck him you know?”

Harry’s eyes go wide and his mouth drops open a little. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Nick says, getting more and more pumped the more he thinks about it. “Yeah. Like, Christ, I don’t know. I just finally feel like good that he fucking left, you know? Like fuck him. I don’t need him, not if he’s going to pull something like that. Better off without him is what I’m saying now.”

“Yeah,” Harry’s eyes sparkle. He bites his lip and scoops the hair back from his face. “Yeah, fuck him is right. Christ, I fucking hated that guy.”

And what?

“What?”

“Oh please,” Harry sits up straight in his chair and leans forward. There’s still a good chance that he’s drunk and Nick knows he’s far from sober himself, but he didn’t know – he had no idea Harry felt this way. He was never anything other than friendly and polite to Michael. They went out together a few times with Aimee and Pixie and the others. Nick just – he feels like he would have known that Harry didn’t like him, that he somehow should have known.

Michael with his stupid fucking blond quiff and his stupid fucking pressed trousers and his stupid fucking suspenders. Argh,” he presses the palms of his hands into his eyes. “And he was always so fucking smarmy. Always all, oh, Nick and I did this and Nick and I did that. Yeah, well, fuck you, you fucking knob. I’ve known you loads longer than fucking Michael did and all I ever wanted to do was tell him how much better you were than he was. How he never fucking deserved you and how he wasn’t fit to be sharing the same space you were half the time.”

Nick is actually speechless. He feels his mouth open and close a few times but no sound is coming out at all. He’s just – he’s never actually heard Harry swear that much in his life, in the entire time Nick’s known him. Harry’s cheeks are flushed and he’s chewing on his bottom lip like he’s worried now at everything he’s said. Nick can’t stop staring at him.

“Well, I mean, of course he’s fit,” Harry’s scrabbling, trying to backtrack because he probably thinks that Nick being so quiet means that he’s cross with what Harry just said. “I’m not saying he wasn’t good looking. He was definitely attractive in that, you know, blond quiffed pressed trouser sort of way,” Harry mumbles. He blinks at Nick guiltily. Nick still can’t speak, his eyes locked on Harry’s flushed cheeks, his red mouth.

“Shit,” Harry curses softly. “Fuck, I’m sorry. Don’t be mad, I’m just being a twat. I’m sure he was perfectly nice and—“

“Come on,” Nick stands up and grabs Harry’s wrist pulling him up from his seat. Harry stumbles a bit getting to his feet and falls forward into Nick’s chest.

“I’m sorry, Nick, are you mad? Please don’t—“ and Nick has no idea what possesses him to do it, but right there in a dimly lit wine bar in the middle of who knows where, Nick puts his hands on Harry’s cheeks and tilts his mouth up and kisses him.

Harry’s arms flap for a second before settling at Nick’s waist. His mouth is warm and dry where it’s pressed to Nick’s and he makes a quiet sound in the back of his throat that Nick can feel under the tips of his fingers.

After a second Harry pulls back and blinks. Nick’s been close to Harry before but not like this, never once. He feels something huge and warm fill up his chest. His hands start to shake and Harry curls his fingers around Nick’s wrists and smiles, kissing the corner of Nick’s mouth.

“Come on, let’s go back to the room,” Harry says. Nick nods his head and follows him out the door.

*

It’s raining when they leave the bar and they’d left the car at the hotel so it’s a damp walk back in the middle of the night. By the time they get to the room they’re both chilly and wet. Nick’s hands are cold from the night air and the rain and he takes a second to grab towels for him and Harry from the bathroom before he even gets his jacket off.

“Thanks,” Harry grins and shakes out his head, rubbing it with a towel and flapping his wet hair around like a puppy. Nick rolls his eyes and dries himself off a bit slower. He just – he doesn’t know why he did that before. Why he kissed Harry. It had seemed like the thing to do at the time but maybe he should have thought about it more. Maybe he’s being stupid.

Not that it really matters. It was a short kiss, nothing crazy. There weren’t even any tongues involved for Christ’s sake. Nick really just needs to stop worrying so bloody much and—

“Nick.”

Nick looks up and Harry’s right there, right in front of him, his eyes bright green and pupils wide and dark. He’s clenching and unclenching his hands and he looks nervous which is stupid. It’s just them, just Nick and Harry.

“Hey,” Nick reaches out and touches Harry’s chest. He traces the tip of the bird wing poking out from the neck of his white t-shirt and Harry stumbles a step closer; fitting his hands on Nick’s hips and pulling him in.

“I,” Harry’s looking from Nick’s eyes to his mouth and back again. He bites his own lip and ducks his head pulling Nick closer by the belt loops. “Can I—“

“Yeah, Harry, I think—“ Nick stops and tilts his head down the tiniest bit to meet Harry’s, their mouths bumping awkwardly. Nick chuckles into the space between them. “Maybe we can just—“

And then Nick moves and Harry shifts and oh - oh.

Nick remembers seeing Harry for the first time when Harry was sixteen, fresh faced and wide eyed. They met when Harry was seventeen, all soft cheeks and baby fat and even then Nick knew Harry was someone special. He was loud and silly and quirky and funny and every odd thing about him matched something odd Nick knew about himself. They fit in a way no one had ever fit with Nick before, and Nick was completely charmed.

By the time Harry was eighteen and then nineteen he was taller and broader and covered in tattoos. Some of his curls had grown out and Nick had to look really hard to find the wide eyed kid that he’d met under Harry’s new look and he thought about it sometimes. Harry was everything Nick ever looked for in a person he wanted to shag or date. He was exactly Nick’s type.

The problem was they were already too late. By eighteen Harry was pretty firmly holding the place of Nick’s best mate and Nick didn’t want to mess with that. He could never risk losing what he had with Harry for something that might or might not work out. It was never worth the risk.

That’s what Nick had always thought, at least, but Harry doesn’t seem like he’s having very many thoughts like that himself right now.

Right now Harry’s not kissing Nick like Nick’s a friend, he’s kissing Nick like he wants him, like he wants to be with him and that sets Nick’s head reeling. He wonders why he was so stupid and how they managed to never do this before and then Harry makes a choked off, desperate sound in his throat and Nick doesn’t wonder much about anything else. It makes him aching and crazy, has him pressing his fingers into Harry’s back and dragging him in, Harry’s mouth wide and wet and slanting over Nick’s.

Harry kisses like he does everything else; with deadly focus and blinding determination and Nick just gives up, let’s Harry tilt his head to the side and lick into his mouth and kiss Nick until he’s trembling and breathless, backed against the hotel room door.

“We have to stop,” Harry breathes into his mouth, and no, no, why? He leans in and kisses Harry harder, licking the inside of Harry’s mouth and twisting his fingers in Harry’s damp hair. This is a great idea, the actual best. Why does Harry want to stop?

“No, Nick, I—“ Harry pulls away with one last kiss, pecking Nick’s mouth lightly, over and over again until Nick finally gives up and laughs like a bloody idiot. Harry giggles too and the moment’s gone from super-heated to silly in a split second. Nick doesn’t know why he’s even surprised. If he ever let himself think about Harry like this, this is exactly what he imagined Harry would be like. From sexy to ridiculous in three seconds flat.

“We should go to sleep,” Harry finally says when they’ve both quieted down. Nick’s standing in the circle of Harry’s arms and he leans their foreheads together, smiling when Harry crosses his eyes stupidly and sticks his tongue out to the side. Harry gives him one last peck on the lips and steps away, grabbing his bag where he dropped it before when they checked in and heading into the bathroom.

“I won’t be long,” Harry calls and Nick nods and flops down on the bed. He’s got every intention of staying awake until Harry’s done but the soft sound of the water running and Harry singing off key behind the bathroom door lulls Nick to sleep before he’s even taken his shoes off.

*

Nick wakes in the morning to bright light streaming through the window. His head is pounding a bit, and his mouth tastes like something’s died in it, but overall he’s felt worse.

He glances down and finds that he’s tucked under the covers, still in his clothes but with his socks and shoes off. He props himself up on his elbows and watches Harry folding clothes on the other bed with his bag open, hair pushed back in a head band and Nick’s Dr. Dre t-shirt on.

“Morning,” Nick croaks.

Harry turns to look at him and beams brightly. “Hey. How you feeling?”

“I’ve been worse,” Nick says and shrugs.

Harry’s smiling at him easily, and it eases Nick again that Harry’s not going to make anything that happened the night before into any kind of big deal. He just – he loves that about Harry. That Harry knows exactly what to do for Nick, how to act with him and what to say and what to do and when to push and when to let things go.

Harry’s always been good at that, now that Nick thinks about it; even this whole trip. Harry knew that Nick should get away but that Nick would never actually agree to it so he just went ahead and did something about it. He showed up and took Nick away and brought him to every kind of place that Nick loves. Antique shops and tiny hotels and wine bars. They ordered takeaway and listened to Nick’s music and drank the wine Nick likes and when Nick was too tired to put himself to bed Harry took his shoes off and tucked him in and…

Nick sits up. His face and cheeks feel hot, and all the air in the room feels like it’s stuck in one big ball lodged inside his chest. He stares at Harry who’s not even looking at him, still smiling to himself as he folds both of their bags of clothes and it’s like a beacon, like a sign has lit up inside the room and is flashing at Nick’s head in neon letters and blinking arrows: YOU FUCKING DUMBASS.

“Oh my god,” Nick says quietly. “You’re in love with me.”

He expects Harry to stop. To be shocked with his Nick’s said enough to drop his hands and look at him, face white and eyes bulging. He expects the world to stop bloody turning because Nick’s done it: he’s cracked the code, figured out the secret and this is big, it’s huge.

Instead Harry looks at him fondly and shrugs a little, his mouth curved in a soft grin. “Well yeah but that’s not news. I’ve always been in love with you.”

Nick blinks. It feels like every single thing in the room has stopped. “What?”

Harry’s face is a little flushed now but he just keeps folding clothes, sniffing the insides of t-shirts and dividing them into two piles and Nick doesn’t know how he’s doing it. How this is not completely paralyzing him. “I’ve always loved you, Nick. I’ve been in love with you longer than I can remember.”

Nick can’t move. He literally feels like he’s stuck in the bed, limbs gone frozen and heavy. Harry must finally realize Nick’s freaking out because he finally stops folding the bloody shirts and comes over, sitting on the edge of his bed so he can face Nick.

“Nick, don’t freak out,” Harry says. He rubs his hands over his face and sighs. “This doesn’t – just don’t freak out.”

“Harry,” Nick feels slightly hysterical. Like someone’s told him everything he’s ever known is wrong: the earth is flat and the sky is green and Fun. were a true musical talent. “Harry you’re in love with me.”

“Well yeah but you don’t have to act like such a twat about it,” Harry huffs.

Nick shoves the covers back and grabs his trainers from the floor (laid out next to the bed, perfectly lined up where Harry left them out for Nick the night before and oh god, Harry is in love with him) and sticks them on his feet. He gets up and shoves his jacket on and palms his wallet and room key.

“You’re leaving?”

“No,” Nick says, though he’s fairly certain the jacket and trainers and keys beg to differ. “I’m just – I need to take a walk. I need some air.”

“You need to stop acting like a twat,” Harry repeats. If this is his way if showing Nick how much he loves him Harry’s got a lot of work to do. “Nick, don’t go.”

Nick opens his mouth a few times but whenever he does he doesn’t know what to say so in the end he does what he does best and runs away for a bit to hide.

*

He doesn’t stay out forever, just long enough to find a coffee shop and get them both drinks and pastries to deal with the rest of the morning. Nick thought he needed space but it turns out that space kind of sucks when you spend the entire time worrying about the person you left back at the room so he goes back quick enough. He actually has a split second of panic that Harry got so fed up with him and the way he reacted that he packed up his stuff and left Nick there so the sight of the Jag in the car park sets Nick’s pounding heart at ease.

Harry’s sat at the small table by the window when Nick lets himself in the room. He’s scrolling through his phone but looks up quickly when he hears the door open.

“Hey,” Harry says quietly.

“Hi,” Nick says, “all right?”

Harry shrugs and bites his lip. “I’ve had better mornings.”

Nick shuts the door behind him and puts the coffees and pastries down. He gets halfway across the room before Harry’s standing up, hands twitching nervously at his sides.

“So listen, I’ve been thinking,” Harry says, “And we can forget any of this ever happened, yeah? You can pretend you never figured it out and I never told you anything and—“

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” That’s the part Nick’s confused about. He knows why he never did anything but for this to be true, for Harry to have always been in love with him, Nick just needs to know.

“I don’t know,” Harry says softly. He’s chewing on his lip and his cheeks are flushed hot and pink. “It was just never the right time and I never wanted to risk it and then there was always someone else and it just, I don’t know. And then you had Michael and you seemed so happy with him and that’s all I want, really. I just want you to be happy. It was always just too much of a risk; I love you too much to lose you.” He meets Nick’s eyes dead on and Nick feels his heart thump crazily in his chest. “I won’t lose you, Nick. I’ll do anything.”

“You won’t,” Nick tells him. He closes the space between them and wraps Harry in a hug. Harry shudders in Nick’s arms, falling against him and Nick kisses his cheek and head and hair. “You could never.”

Harry’s quiet, resting in Nick’s arms for a second, and then Nick hears him take in a shaky breath. “I hated watching you with him,” he says thickly. Nick closes his eyes and kisses Harry’s temple. “I just kept thinking that I would be so good to you and he was such shit and I just. I couldn’t – it killed me to see you so upset when he left. I swear I didn’t plan any of this, this wasn’t like a trick or anything to get you to be with me, I just—“

“Christ, Harry, I know, I would never think that.” Nick pushes Harry back so he can look at his eyes and see his face. Harry’s cheeks are blotchy, his breath rough and wet. “I’m just such crap at this and I don’t want to mess this up.”

“You’re not crap at this,” Harry says fiercely. He kisses Nick then, harsh and demanding and Nick kisses him back. He thinks maybe he wants to be kissing Harry for a long, long time. “I love you so much. I would be so good to you, I promise.”

Nick squeezes his eyes shut. He’s never been so scared in his life. He feels like it should be easier because it’s Harry, but that’s making it harder for some reason, making it mean more. If they screw this up it’s Harry.

“I love you too,” Nick says quietly. “I’m just shit scared. Who’s going to be the one to take me away to get over you if we screw this all up? This is a big deal, Harry.”

Harry brushes the hair back from Nick’s face. He touches his thumbs to the corner of Nick’s eyes. His smile is so perfect Nick wants to cry. “How about we just don’t mess it up and then we won’t have to find out.”

Nick doesn’t know if he can do that. He’s not sure it’s possible. But he does know he wants to try. Harry’s always made him braver than he thought he could be. Maybe it’s time to believe in it for once.

“Ok,” Nick says quietly. Harry’s smile is blinding. “Yeah, all right.”

*

They leave the hotel shortly after, filling the boot with the rest of their bags and sunglasses on their faces to block the blinding sun.

“You want to drive?” Harry asks and twirls the keys around on his finger.

Nick pulls him in by his belt loops and kisses him hotly. He can’t wait to get Harry home to his own flat, his own bed and sheets and pillows and touch every inch if Harry’s skin with his mouth. Nick’s got a few years of ideas of things he’d like to do to Harry stored up in his brain and apparently Harry does too.

“Yeah,” Nick says, and catches the keys when Harry tosses them. “Maybe I’ll take the wheel for a while.”

Harry laughs and gets in the passenger seat, rolling down the window and leaning his arm out into the breeze when Nick gets behind the wheel. “You need me to get you the map?”

“Nah,” Nick says, and starts the car, pulling away with one hand on the wheel and the other curled over Harry’s thigh. “I think I can find the way.”

 

-end-