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and how many years I've missed you

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*

And I've been holding my breath
Are you holding your breath
For too many years to count?
Too many years to count

-Handwritten, The Gaslight Anthem

*

-now-

It’s half eleven on a Tuesday and Nick thinks that if he were paying even a little bit more attention he might have been able to avoid the whole thing.

He’d already gotten his tea in a takeaway cup and was headed out of the café but decided to pull his mobile out at the last minute and flick open a text from Aimee. (A completely pointless text, he would moan to Aimee later. My entire bloody life is turned upside down because you couldn’t decide whether to go with gold sparkle or neon green for your nails this week.) The point is he was looking down and paying too much attention to his mobile and his grip on the tea cup and bam, he walked right into somebody as they were passing through the door.

“Shit, sorry,” Nick says automatically. He shoves the mobile in his pocket as he looks up and hears, “Nick?” in a voice that’s painfully familiar seeing as how it’s been years since he heard it in person.

Nick blinks. “Harry?” Harry grins and Nick tries to reconcile the man in front of him with the image of Harry he’s got tucked away in the back of his brain, because this…my god, Nick’s never seen Harry look quite like this.

It’s not as if Nick’s been in hiding and hasn’t seen pictures of Harry or any kind of interviews on the telly because he has; of course he has. Nick’s still in radio and while he’s not doing as much on the presenting end of media Harry’s still news. He’ll probably always be news looking the way he does and living the kind of life he leads, because while Nick is quite happy being behind the scenes and some of the other lads from the band seem to have wandered off into slightly more off camera lifestyles, Harry is always out and about and doing something with someone worth noting.

He’s been writing and singing and performing and dating and Nick should have known he was back in London. He thinks he actually did know that but tucked it into the back of his brain where he wouldn’t have to think about it too much or what it would actually mean. Nick should have realized that Harry being back home would mean the possibility of running into him was likely. Maybe Nick did know but decided if he ignored it enough he’d never have to actually deal with it happening.

Nick should have thought about it though. He realizes that now. He just – he thinks that even if he had it wouldn’t have prepared him for seeing Harry up close.

Harry’s big now, even taller than Nick remembers and broader through the chest and shoulders. His face has a covering of short stubble and the lines around his eyes and mouth are more pronounced. His hair is pushed back under a grey beanie and it’s warm enough out that he’s not wearing a jacket. Even at a quick glance Nick can see more tattoos drawn over patches of his fair skin; curling up the insides of his arm and under the cuff of his shirt sleeve and even a small one on the curve between his thumb and forefinger and Nick is desperate all at once to know everything about him that’s different. Every single thing that he’s missed.

Harry smiles then, slow and lazy and it’s all the same; everything about him is exactly the same. Nick doesn’t know if he should be impressed or petrified when he realizes that. There’s no time to think about it though because Harry leans over and grabs Nick in a tight hug that nearly lifts him off his feet and up onto his toes. “Holy crap,” Harry says. He breathes into Nick’s hair and presses a firm kiss against Nick’s temple. “I can’t believe I just ran into you like this. Are you leaving? Don’t leave,” Harry pulls away but keeps his fingers curled into the sleeves of Nick’s jumper. “Come back in and get a table with me and we can talk. Can you do that? Do you have time?”

No, Nick thinks, because this... Nick’s not sure he can actually do this. He opens his mouth to tell Harry that he’s got plans: lunch with Aimee or Pix, a meeting for work, anything really, but what he winds up saying is, “Time to spend with a washed up popstar like yourself, Styles?” because he was always crap at saying no to Harry and it seems like time hasn’t changed much in that regard.

Harry laughs when he says it, like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard and it punches the breath out of Nick, the reminder of what it’s like to be the focus of Harry’s attention; to have Harry looking at you like he’s dazzled.

Nick sighs and rolls his eyes. “I could probably spare a few minutes,” he says around a forced smile. Harry grins and wanders off to get himself a cup of tea and Nick wonders what the hell he’s gotten himself into.

*

Nick finds them a small table at the back of the café far enough away from the door and any windows that face the street. He’s not had to worry about where to sit in a restaurant in so long he’d almost forgotten what to do, but the way the baristas are all tittering over Harry while he fixes his tea is a sharp reminder. When Harry finally makes his way to the table Nick’s tea’s gone cold but he sips it anyway just to have something to do with his hands.

“So my god, Nick,” Harry folds himself down into a chair, his long legs splaying out under the table. His foot knocks into Nick’s and Nick kicks him back reflexively, his body remembering how to act around Harry even after all this time. “This is bloody crazy,” Harry shakes his head. “It’s been ages, yeah? It’s got to be like, what, five years or something?”

Seven, Nick thinks to himself. You were just nineteen and I was twenty eight and it was seven years ago, not five.

“Something like that, yeah,” Nick says.

They talk for a while about what everybody’s been up to. Liam and Louis are together, finally, and keeping pretty far out of the public eye. Zayn is still performing; Niall’s producing and doing some guitar work with his friends. Nick fills Harry in on Aimee a bit because Harry’s kept in touch with Pix and Alexa but Aimee refused to talk to Harry after things went so spectacularly pear shaped. Nick had always told her she didn’t have to do that, didn’t have to choose sides so firmly but Aimee knows him better than that and probably always knew that when Nick said that what he actually meant was thank you.

They keep on chatting and after a bit more small talk Nick’s about to call it a day and get up when Harry asks, “And you, Nick? You’re back on nights, yeah?”

Nick nods. “Yeah, the morning show was great for a few years but nights are where I’d rather be, so.”

Harry nods. His tea is empty and he glances toward the counter as if thinking of getting another cup but Nick stands instead cutting that idea off before it gets fully realized.

“But you’re—“ Harry stops and looks up at him. He bites his bottom lip and Nick has to look away. “You’re happy, though, yeah? I mean, we haven’t spoken in so long and—“

“I’m great, Harry,” Nick interrupts. “Amazingly great and fine, really.” He grabs his jacket and shrugs it on because this – Nick can’t do this. He can’t talk about his life and Harry’s life and happiness or anything anymore. Nick is fine; he’s happy, he’s been happy. He’s not been lacking a damn thing since he last saw Harry and he’s getting cross to think that he’s starting to feel otherwise now. “So it was fantastic seeing you—“

Harry stands from his seat and blocks Nick’s path as he tries to escape. “Have dinner with me tonight,” he says and Nick stops. He just – he stops.

“What?”

“Dinner,” Harry says again. His lips curve in a slow smile and his eyes crinkle at the corners. Nick thinks again how Harry’s face has always been an unfair advantage. “It’s that funny meal after lunch but before you go to sleep for the night?”

“I have to work at ten,” Nick shakes his head.

“So we’ll go out early.”

“It’s already late in the day though and I didn’t plan on doing anything later except—“

“I didn’t plan on this either, Nick,” Harry says. His voice sounds shaky, finally, and he curls his hand around Nick’s wrist and tugs him closer. “I really want to see you again, though, and I know you: if you don’t say yes and meet me tonight you’ll find a way to avoid it forever and I don’t want that.” Nick looks up from where Harry’s hand is resting on his arm and into Harry’s eyes which is a mistake. Harry’s being serious about this and Nick was always a shell of a man in the face of Harry and his goddamn sincerity. “I miss you,” Harry adds softly enough Nick could pretend he didn’t hear him, but Nick did and that’s pretty much the end for his protests right there.

“Text me later where you want to meet,” Nick says quietly, pulling his arm back and Harry lets him go finally. “I need to be done by nine to get to work on time.”

“I’ll do that,” Harry says. He’s smiling a little as he pulls his mobile out and swipes it open. “Just give me your new number and I’ll text you a place later.”

Nick laughs softly and shakes his head a little. “It’s not a new number, Harry,” he says and he’s reminded just how much time has passed. Not just years but the amount of space and distance between them is shocking. “It’s the same number it’s always been.”

Harry goes still, fingers hovering over the screen uncertainly. “Oh. I.”

“You still have it?” Nick asks. “The old number that is.”

Harry nods. “I think I do, yeah.” He sounds unsure of himself. He clicks through his phone for a second and then bites his lip. “I do have it.”

“Good,” Nick says gently. “Text me in a bit and I’ll see you later then, all right?”

Harry’s biting his lip again but when he looks up his eyes are shining and he says, “Yeah. I’m definitely going to do that.”

*

-then-

Nick’s checking Twitter on his mobile one last time before he heads in for an early night’s sleep when the pictures pop up on one (ok, fine, one of three) of the One Direction blogs he follows.

He’s not surprised, really. Harry’s horrifically obvious when he fancies someone and he’s been “accidentally” dropping Taylor’s name into far too many of their conversations lately for it to be just a coincidence. Nick’s been waiting for weeks for something like this to happen; expecting to open Twitter or Sugarscape one night and find pictures of Harry and Taylor walking around, almost holding hands but not, two perfect popstars strolling around in their perfect lives.

It’s charming, and while Nick thinks Harry could have at least tried to do something with his hair instead of that god-awful beanie if he was going to be papped on a date with Taylor bloody Swift, he’s happy for him. He’s happy for both of them, really. Harry’s a fine lad and Taylor’s a sweet girl, and when Nick climbs into bed after shooting a text to Harry: next time you have a date with old swifty I expect the news to come from you and not some simpering pre-teens blog you tosser he feels great about the whole thing.

*

Nick wakes in the morning to his alarm buzzing and nine overnight texts from Harry:

hahaha

I was going to tell you!

It’s nothing really..just good friends

So far ; )

Anyway how are you? How’s the show? Tell finchy I’m sending him a pressie

Youre sleeping already aren’t you

NICK I PLAY MADISON SQUARE GARDEN TOMORROW!!!!!!

If you were a better mate you’d be here : (

Bah anyway goodnight text me tomorrow love you.. xx.

Nick feels himself smile as he reads through them all; a stupid grin that tugs up the corners of his mouth without him even realizing its happening. He pushes the duvet down and sits up in bed, rubbing a hand over his face and through his hair. It’s so bloody early. He loves the morning show but getting up at five nearly every day is for the birds. He quickly types out a text, then drops his mobile back onto the bedside table.

I have a VERY IMPORTANT job, love, but if I didn’t I would deffo be there to cheer you on xx

Nick’s phone buzzes back instantly.

very important job my arse..you took over for MOYLES. A monkey could do it xxx

“What in the bloody hell…” Nick murmurs and glances at the clock. He really does need to be showering soon but when he does the maths he realizes it’s not even midnight in New York so he texts Harry back right away.

shouldn’t you be sleeping??

Too nervous : (

How many places in ny have you puked in already??

Nick covers his mouth and laughs as he sends the last one because he can picture Harry’s face as he reads it. He’s probably getting that thin lipped frown, his big green eyes all droopy and sad. If Harry were here and Nick said that to him Harry would probably reply with a whiny little, Heyyy. A few seconds later Nick nearly falls over when Harry’s response comes in.

Heyyy : (

Nick glances at the clock and it’s nearly five. He’s forfeited all of his hair drying time already and if he keeps texting with Harry he’s going to lose out on showering time as well. Nick will sacrifice a lot of things for Harry Styles but showering before work definitely isn’t one of them.

you know I’m only joking. You’re going to smash it, rockstar..you’re amazing and you know it

Nick’s phone is quiet for long enough that he gets up and starts gathering his clothes and a towel for his shower before Harry texts back. When he does Nick reads the message and stops for a second to smile at it before thumbing his phone off and heading into the bathroom.

thx Nick. Love you too.xx

*

Wednesday morning Nick finds himself in the middle of a debate with Showbot and a caller as they all try and figure out what Harry was carrying with him in the pictures of him going back to Taylor’s hotel room after the party Monday night.

“So, all right then,” Nick says. He stares at the screen a little closer than he strictly needs to trying to somehow read Harry’s face because he’s a little surprised, is all. We’re just friends on Sunday has somehow turned into Harry not so secretly sneaking into Taylor’s hotel room Monday night and Nick’s just – well he’s a little confused.

“We have our poll going right now, and we’re wondering why he had…” Nick trails off and frowns at the pictures on the computer screen again. “Did you see these pictures? Why has he got a washbag like a clutch? Let’s spread a rumor that he carries a clutch,” Nick decides. “It’s not a washbag; it’s a clutch full of makeup.”

Ha, he thinks. That’ll show him. Nick will spread ridiculous rumors about Harry every day he’s out of the country and not telling Nick what’s going on and insisting on wandering around in the middle of the night getting papped with Taylor Swift.

The caller asks, “Did he really take one?”

“Yes,” Nick says firmly. “It’s a clutch. He’s got a little clutch. He’s got all his things, his mascara and his hair-do things. Not A, not the first one,” he tells Showbot firmly. “The clutch is small. He couldn’t fit an inflatable mattress in there anyway.”

Not that he would need to, Nick thinks sourly. He was in Taylor bloody Swift’s hotel room. Nick hardly believes the two of them were sleeping in separate beds.

The caller signs off and Nick finishes the rest of the show but he feels unsettled for some reason. He takes care of everything he needs to at the station and when he checks his mobile and sees a message from Aimee asking if he’s free for lunch Nick texts her back with a yes as quickly as he can.

He probably just needs to go out. Get some lunch with Aimee, maybe have a few cocktails. Possibly he’s not been getting enough sleep and that’s why he’s been having all these strange twisty feelings in his stomach.

Some food and a few drinks and then home to take a nap. That’s Nick’s plan for the day and he’s positive that everything will be back to normal as soon as he’s done.

*

By the time Nick gets to the restaurant Aimee’s already polished off half a bottle of Chardonnay and is munching on a plate of little squares of cheese and crackers. Nick kisses her hello then drops into the seat across from her, snagging the bottle and filling up his empty water glass with the rest of the wine.

Aimee freezes with a cracker halfway to her mouth to raise an eyebrow at him and narrow her eyes.

“Rough day, Grimmy?”

Nick shrugs. He sips his wine and looks at the menu and pretends not to notice the way Aimee’s staring at him.

“I listened to your show, you know,” she tells him.

“Well I’d hope so,” Nick answers. “You’d be a bit rubbish of a friend if you didn’t.”

“Hmm.” Aimee pops the cracker into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. “That’s interesting about Harry, yeah?”

Nick focuses on the menu. They have fried brussel sprouts here. He’s not sure he’s ever had a brussel sprout but if he’s ever going to try one deep friend would probably be the way to go. He’d have to make sure to moisturize when he gets home then, before the nap because the oil is terrible for his skin, so that’s always a factor too. Hmm.

Nick,” Aimee kicks his ankle hard. Nick yelps and drops his menu nearly upending his wine. He rescues it before it falls and glares at her.

“What!”

“I said isn’t that interesting about Harry,” she repeats darkly. Nick catches her eye and looks away. Maybe coming to lunch with Aimee wasn’t the best idea after all. “I didn’t know he and that girl were officially dating.”

Nick shrugs and tries to blow it off. “Oh, I don’t think it’s any big deal,” he says, trying for casual. He’s still got no idea why the whole thing is bugging him so much but apparently asking Aimee for help with the matter isn’t going to happen. Nick isn’t sure why but Aimee is terrifying today. “I spoke with him the other night and he said it’s not anything really serious. I’m sure it’s nothing; it’ll all blow over soon enough.”

Aimee looks like she’s about to say something else but thankfully the waiter chooses that moment to come over and take Nick’s order and Nick manages to steer the conversation away from himself and Harry and Taylor bloody Swift for the rest of lunch.

He doesn’t feel guilty about blowing Aimee off though because Nick is definitely sure there’s nothing to actually be talking about. So Harry and Taylor were spotted together one night; so what. It doesn’t mean that it means anything. Nick’s sure of it.

At least ninety-five percent sure. Maybe even closer to ninety-six.

*

Harry is spotted going into and coming out of Taylor’s hotel room for the next two days and then out with her to a dinner party on the third and Nick doesn’t hear from him until early Thursday morning which is late Wednesday in New York.

“Nicholas,” Harry’s voice is soft and thick and Nick instantly recognizes that he’s about to go to sleep. Its Harry’s tired voice and Nick has no idea why he knows that but he does. Apparently cataloguing the different timbres of Harry Styles’ voice has been a thing that’s been happening in Nick’s life lately. That’s good to know about himself.

“Harold,” Nick answers. It’s half-four again and Nick would think there was something poetic about the way they always seem to catch each other – one of them up for the day as the other is about to drop off for the night – but then he realizes it’s more geography than poetry; that maybe if he chose someone other than an internationally famous popstar to be best mates with this wouldn’t even be happening.

“I’m bored,” Harry says quietly. “Tell me things. Tell me what’s been going on with you.”

Nick is about to answer him back sharply; demand that Harry tell him what’s going on since he’s been the one parading around all of New York city with Old Swifty, but when Harry speaks again he sounds tired and sleepy and a little homesick and Nick can’t do it. “What have you been up to? How are Aimee and Pix? Did Finchy get the present I sent him?”

And maybe Nick wanted to ask Harry a million questions, but in the end he doesn’t because it’s not what Harry wants. It’s not what Nick wants either; not really. He just wants to talk to Harry and pretend he’s not got any weird questions stored up in his brain. That he’s not worried that there are things Harry’s not telling him for the first time ever since they’ve been friends.

So instead of the questions Nick talks. He talks and Harry laughs and he wanders around his bedroom gathering his clothes for the day talking to Harry until there’s nothing on the other end of the line except the sound of Harry’s drowsy snores.

*

It’s not until Harry gets back to the UK that Nick realizes he’s got a problem.

He’d been happy Harry was coming home, of course he was. He’s always happier when Harry is on their own side of the pond instead of jetsetting to wherever his ridiculous career takes him, but this time it’s different. Nick doesn’t want to admit it but it is, and he feels stupid and childish and petty and like he’s making too big of a deal about the whole thing, but—

“He’s just got back but he’s with Taylor again,” Nick says then immediately wants to stick his head in the blender in his kitchen because he sounds like a thirteen year old girl.

Aimee bangs the refrigerator closed with her hip and holds up two different bottles of white. “Do you have a preference?”

Nick rolls his eyes. “You take the one on the right and I’ll take the one on the left.”

“Fair enough,” she shrugs then grabs the bottle opener and pads into the living room.

Nick eyes up the blender on the counter. It’s a little small is the thing. He’s not sure his big stupid head would even fit. Maybe he should try drowning himself in the bath instead. Drowning is definitely an option.

“Are you coming out here or what?” Aimee shouts and Nick clears his head of all the different ways to potentially off himself and wanders over to the sofa. He flops across three quarters of the cushions and drops his head against Aimee’s thigh, the jogging bottoms she’s wearing soft under his cheek.

“I think,” Nick licks his lips. “I think I’m fucked.”

He thinks of Harry coming back home but bringing a girlfriend with him this time. He thinks of when Harry would come and sit in the studio with Nick at all hours of the night while he did the show. He thinks of the lunches Harry packed for him when he first switched over to mornings, and the bright and cheery way he would wake Nick up with a wet kiss to his cheek before puttering off to the kitchen to make Nick coffee and toast.

Nick thinks of late nights out drinking with Harry and lazy afternoons sitting in his flat watching cooking shows on the telly with Harry and mornings spent grocery shopping for dinners Harry would cook while Nick would mock him from his seat at the kitchen table.

He thinks of all the times he looked at Harry and wondered what if and how he never wanted to push anything and how sometimes he really thought that Harry felt the same but Nick was too stupid and stubborn to do anything about it and he just – he thinks of all the goddamned wasted opportunities he’s had over the past year and it makes Nick’s stomach twist in knots because he just.

He missed it. He fucking missed it and Harry is here now and they’re still mates and it’s fine but Harry’s got Taylor and Nick’s got a bottle of crappy Riesling and a blender that his head may or may not fit into and an entire flat full of regrets.

Aimee runs her fingers through Nick’s quiff and holds the open bottle of wine under his mouth. “Yeah, love, you kind of are,” she says. “Let’s have a drink.”

*

Taylor is around for a few days. Nick knows this not because he’s seen Harry but because Harry keeps bloody texting him asking him to meet up with them and Nick has to spend half his day thinking of new and creative ways to be too busy to meet them both for drinks. So far he’s had a meeting at the station, an appointment to bring his car in to be serviced and a trip to the vets for Thurston to check on his worms.

“My dog’s not got worms you bloody imbecile!” Aimee screeches and whaps him across the head with her bag. It’s early on a Saturday afternoon and Nick’s in the middle of a Nigella marathon. If Aimee keeps it up he’s going to miss how to properly braise a duck breast. Not that Nick has any intentions of having a duck breast around to braise but still, it’s a strong skill to have.

“If you’d just man the fuck up and talk to him—“

Nick makes obnoxious buzzing and whistling sounds and waves his hands in the air. “Nope. No talking. Talking is bad especially at this stage of the game.”

“What stage!” Aimee shouts. “What game! So far all you’ve done is barely admit to yourself and me that you fancy Harry but you’ve not done anything about it!”

“And I’m not going to,” Nick says. He’s just – he’s not. “He’s happy now, like proper happy and I’m not going to ruin that for him.”

“Nick,” Aimee shoves his legs off the sofa and sits next to him, curling her fingers around his wrist and waiting until Nick’s looking at her. “You’re not going to ruin anything. He doesn’t even know how you feel! How do you expect him to make a decision if—“

“I don’t,” Nick shakes his head. “There’s no decision for him to make. I just need to, to get over it. It’s not anything, it’s never been anything so it’ll be fine. I’ll forget all about it and it’ll be like I never thought it in the first place.” He forces a smile onto his face and breathes deeply. “I don’t fancy Harry at all. You’re crazy. You should really lay off the drugs so early in the day.”

Aimee watches him for a moment too long to be comfortable but then she finally lets it go, though she shakes her head and mumbles to herself the entire time. “Well I think you’re a right idiot.”

Nick shrugs and goes back to watching Nigella. “That’s nothing new there, love.”

*

Taylor goes back home and Nick wakes up on Sunday to a text from Harry: roast dinner tonight???

Sure, Nick thinks. Fuck it. No better way to test being over Harry than having him sat at Nick’s own dining room table having Sunday dinner with him and five of his closest friends. What could possibly go wrong?

“My god you’re stupid,” Aimee bangs the bags from Waitrose down on the counter and flaps her hands in the air. Nick tries to placate her with small back rubs and glasses of wine but she’s too busy cursing at him and throwing things around the kitchen to notice.

“Can you put little apples in the stuffing, Aim? Harry loves them. And can you maybe make those funny carrots that take three times as long to cook as the other carrots you make? Those carrots are Harry’s favorite. And, oh, can you definitely not mention my pathetically huge and stupid crush on Harry? Because that would make me look like a simpering thirteen year old girl and—oh, wait, that’s actually true! My bad!”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Ha, ha, ha. You’re hilarious. Why aren’t you a comedian again?”

“Because I’m too busy basting your bloody fucking carrots,” Aimee mutters. Nick thinks he could probably make a fantastic carrot joke right there but something tells him Aimee’s not in the mood. Instead he wraps his arms around her as tight as they can go and presses a kiss to the top of her head.

“Thank you,” Nick says quietly. “I love you best.”

Aimee shakes her head but when she bats his hands away he can see her smiling. “I love you too. Now go make yourself useful and set the table.”

*

Harry arrives first with a bottle of Merlot and a bakery box of cupcakes decorated to look like little Christmas wreaths. He hugs Aimee hello and kisses Nick right on the mouth and takes up more space with his smile and laugh than Nick remembers him taking up before. He just – it couldn’t have always been like this with Harry around, could it? Surely Nick would have noticed.

“God, I’ve missed you,” Harry says. He’s walking around the flat picking things up and putting them back down in the wrong places. Nick’s wine ends up halfway across the room. His keys wind up in the middle of the kitchen counter. Nick barely notices because he can’t seem to stop staring. “You’re tree is great,” Harry says, touching the edges of the pine needles with his fingers. He’s dressed in a black shirt and skinny jeans and his hair keeps falling across his eyes until he scoops it back up and away from his face. “So tell me everything. How’s the station and Finchy? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I got you the sickest present when I was in New York.”

“Things are good,” Nick says slowly. Harry grins and they’re standing there smiling at each other stupidly when there’s a loud crash from the kitchen at the same time as the door opens and Pix and Gels come strolling in.

“Nick!” Aimee screeches. Nick grimaces.

“I should go see what’s going on.”

“Yeah, no, go,” Harry pushes the fringe back from his eyes and heads to the door to say hello to the others. “I’ll catch up with you in a bit.”

Dinner that night is amazing – one of the top five Sunday roast dinners ever – and if Nick has to physically cover Aimee’s mouth with his hand every time she croons that it was the best ever because Haaaaaaarry was there then that’ll just be their secret.

*

Harry goes back to the states after that but it’s fine because Nick is insanely busy anyway. The studio is moving and they have their Christmas party and then Nick is packing up Aimee and Thurston and himself and heading to Oldham for Christmas. Harry surprises Nick late Christmas night with a bandage on his chin and a bottle of merlot under his arm and they make sandwiches from leftovers at two am and fall asleep on the sofa after passing the bottle back and forth, Harry curled in close to Nick’s side and Nick trying not to think about how happy he is when Harry’s around.

Nick’s away when Harry and Taylor split after the new year. He’s enjoying his last day in Puerto Rico and gets a text from Harry which says: drinking cristal in a hot tub on r bransons private island. Hahaha how jelous are you???

old swifty is ok with that? She doesn’t seem the hot tub w billionaires type

It takes a second for Harry to respond and when he does Nick frowns.

she left yesterday. I think that’s about it for us

“Aimee!” Nick shouts. Aimee sticks her head out of the bathroom, hair dripping wet and hanging around her face.

“What?”

“Harry and Taylor split,” Nick tells her while texting Harry back as quickly as he can. you all right? Are you ever ever ever going to get back together? Or were you too much trouble. She had to know that when you walked in though.

“Is he all right?” Aimee’s rubbing her head vigorously with a towel. “I’m meeting Alexa and Pix down at the bar in fifteen. You want to join?”

“Duh,” Nick answers as his mobile buzzes in his hand.

hahaha you are so funny bc I haven’t already heard every one of those jokes from the lads a billion times

And I’m fine anyway so piss off and be jealous of me in the hottub xxx

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Nick grabs his wallet and room key and shoves his feet into a pair of trainers. “I’m sure the popstar will bounce right back. Now come on; I want to get so pissed today I won’t mind leaving tomorrow.”

Aimee twists her hair into a bun and laughs and Nick texts Harry pictures of everyone pulling ridiculous faces for the rest of the day, just in case.

*

The thing is Nick knows that they’re on borrowed time. Every lunch date or night out or day sitting around making spinach pie and watching cookery shows on the telly are just counting down until Harry has to leave; jetsetting out into his popstar life touring the world and not coming home for months and months at a time.

And Nick is fine with it, of course he is. He knew what he was getting into with Harry when he signed up. It’s no one’s fault that Nick feels the way he feels; that sometimes he watches Harry when Harry’s not looking and wonders about the possibilities. He has Harry for now and Harry will always be his friend and if that’s all Nick ever has with him it will be more than enough. Harry will go on tour and come home and things will be the way they always were. Nothing is going to change; Nick’s sure of it.

Harry leaves for the UK tour in the middle of the night in March. He pads over to Nick’s bed and leans down pushing Nick’s hair back and kissing the top of his head.

“I’ll ring you when we land, yeah?”

Nick grunts. He has to be up for work in less than two hours. This is precious sleeping time here.

“Help, I’m being attacked by a popstar in my bed,” Nick waves his hand around and bats Harry away.

“Twat,” Harry curses fondly. Nick feels Harry’s fingers trail over his forehead down the side of his cheek and over the shell of his ear. “I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

Nick kicks at him through the covers. “Yeah, fine. Now go and be famous. Bring me back a present.”

He hears Harry laugh and then the rustle of bags as he pads into the hallway and out the front door. Nick falls back to sleep quickly and when his alarm goes off he wakes up to the smell of Harry still lingering in his room, a piece of paper stuck to the pillow next to his head with a badly drawn airplane, complete with puffy clouds around it and a smiling face sticking out from one of the windows with curly hair and a hand lifted in a wave.

See you soon!! Xxx is scrawled on the bottom of the paper and Nick laughs and folds it into a square that he can stick inside his wallet. He figures he’ll keep it there until he sees Harry and then he can properly mock him for his poor artistry skills and they can have a nice laugh over some pints or wine or cocktails.

Nick doesn’t see Harry again for seven years.

*

-now-

Nick avoids Aimee’s calls for the rest of the afternoon, first claiming a stomach virus is keeping him in bed and then pretending to have to head into the station early for a meeting with Ian. Aimee doesn’t suspect anything because why would she? The truth is so amazingly ridiculous Nick wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t actually happening to himself. He’s got half a mind to not believe it and it is happening to himself.

He goes back to his flat after leaving Harry at the café and putters around basically wasting time until Harry texts him around three.

have you been to that new sandwich place down the road from the station yet? I’ve been wanting to try it out.

Nick hates the new sandwich place. They always use the wrong kind of bread no matter what he orders and too much mayo on everything. They’ve actually boycotted getting food from there at the station.

yep. They make a strong sandwich

Nick hopes they put avocado on everything.

excellent I’ll meet you there half seven?

Nick rubs a hand over his face and tosses his mobile onto the counter. He could still say no – he knows he can – but this. Maybe this has gone on long enough. He and Harry were friends once, the best of, and if nothing else Nick wants to remember that more than anything.

see you then he texts back and then he pulls the blinds and naps for the rest of the afternoon.

*

The sandwich place is as empty as one would expect a not very good sandwich shop to be at half seven on a Tuesday. Nick looks around and spots Harry at a small table in the back corner of the shop frowning down at the food on his plate and picking at it with a fork. Nick ducks his chin inside the collar of his jumper to hide his smile.

He orders a turkey club on a wheat roll and then has the girl behind the counter repeat it three times to make sure she’s got it right. Harry’s looked up and spotted him, smiling brightly and waving his hand over his head like a lunatic; as if Nick couldn’t spot all nine feet of him folded into a small chair behind a tiny table and scowling at his sandwich. Nick’s sandwich is ready and he adds a bottle of water and pays, already knowing without even opening the paper wrapped around it that it’s a rye roll, not wheat.

“This place is terrible,” Harry accuses. “Why is there avocado on tuna? Why would you ever put that together?”

Nick shakes his head. “I’ve been here a billion times and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the right kind of bread.”

Harry blinks up at him and Nick takes a minute to take in Harry’s dark grey polo, the sleeves pushed up to his forearms. His hair is loose and hanging over his face and while it’s a bit shorter than it used to be it’s still the same, still the same damn Harry and Nick wants to lean over and hug him so badly it hurts.

“Why did you say we should come here if the food is such crap?”

Nick shrugs and sits. He unwraps his sandwich and yep, the wrong roll again. He glares murderously at the girl behind the counter but she’s too busy texting on her mobile to notice. “It’s fine,” Nick picks his sandwich up and takes a bite. “Close to the station and, whatever. It’s fine.”

“Next time we’ll go somewhere else,” Harry shakes his head and pushes his food away.

Nick quirks an eyebrow. “Next time, yeah? Feeling pretty confident there, popstar.”

Harry laughs but it sounds forced. He stretches his legs out under the table and kicks Nick’s ankle. He’s looking down and fiddling with a straw wrapper on the table; rolling it up and then unrolling it over and over again. Nick eats quietly and sips his water. He’d nearly forgotten how to wait for Harry to collect his thoughts, but it all comes back to him and suddenly the years between them seem to shrink. Nick can remember being out to a hundred different meals with Harry in a hundred different places. It’s the same but not. Nick has no idea how to feel about it all.

“I just.” Harry looks up and bites his lip. His eyes are wide and sad and so very green. “I don’t understand what happened, why we fell out of touch. I just – did I do something? Because I never thought I did but I don’t know. I figured you would have told me.”

The food in Nick’s belly feels like it turns to stone. He tries his hardest to hold Harry’s gaze but he can’t, not with the way Harry’s watching him, like Nick really hurt him, and that was never what Nick intended to do. Keeping his distance and keeping his feelings in check were never supposed to be the things to drive Harry away but maybe they were. Maybe all this time Nick’s just been stupid.

“Starting with the big guns I see,” Nick pushes his sandwich away and takes a long swallow of his water. Harry goes to interrupt, wave Nick off, but Nick shakes his head. Harry has a right to know. “You didn’t do anything, Harry; it was just rough for a while. You had the tour and then when you came back I was moving flats. Then you went away again and it was just hard to pin you down. It seemed like you were always off somewhere else and then you were staying away longer and longer.”

“Oh.” Harry breathes out, quick and sharp. “Ok. Yeah, I wasn’t really sure what happened and then things went so…” Harry twists his hands in the air into a shape that Nick takes to mean: massively fucked up. “But that was it, yeah? Just me being away all the time?”

Nick doesn’t know what to say because yes, that had something to do with it but no, not all. He feels like maybe he should stop lying to himself and Harry and everyone involved on what the real reason was that he was glad for Harry’s distance but he’s spent so many years convincing himself that it wasn’t true Nick doesn’t know where to start.

“For the most part,” Nick says. Harry looks sad, everything around him seems to deflate but he forces a smile that never reaches his eyes.

“All right, then. I guess that’s fine. Better than—“ He bites his lip and looks away. “Nevermind, I’m just happy to see you now.”

It sounds terrible now, putting it in words, the fact that Nick just stopped trying, that it was easier to let Harry go than work harder for the two of them to stay friends. Part of him wants to go back in time and punch himself in the face for not trying harder; the other part wants to hit Harry just because. Because if Nick knew something was wrong then Harry had to know too. Harry could have done something.

“I think we were just a bit stupid is all,” Nick finally says. “I mean, unless you have any other ideas.”

Harry laughs at that, quick and loud. “No. I. I mean, definitely not. I just thought—“

“What?” Nick is curious now. Now that he has Harry so close he wants to know everything he’s not known for all these years. Why Harry stopped calling him too; why he was so quick to let Nick go. Nick knows his own reasons but Harry’s have always been a mystery. “What did you think?”

“It’s stupid, really.” The tips of Harry’s ears and the tops of his cheeks flush hot pink. He looks down at the table and twists his fingers together, awkward like Nick’s never seen. “I just. No, you know what? It’s nothing. You want to go for a fast drink before your show?”

“No,” Nick says slowly. He’s never wanted to leave a conversation and have a drink less. He leans forward like Harry’s about to tell him a secret and says quietly, “Tell me what you think is so stupid; I want to know.”

Harry huffs. “It’s dumb.” He blows out a breath, the fringe lifting up from his brow. When he looks up his eyes are steady and Nick remembers how brave Harry can be especially with the things that matter the most. “I just – I figured you knew. That you figured it out or something somehow and that’s why you started acting so weird.”

The words hang heavy in the air. Nick has no idea what Harry’s talking about. “Figured what out?”

Harry huffs and rolls his eyes. “Don’t play stupid, Grimmy; you had to know.”

“I don’t,” Nick holds his hands palms out when Harry frowns at him. “Harry, I swear.”

“Oh, come off it.” Harry bangs his fist against the table, not hard but hard enough to shake the little salt and pepper shaker and Nick blinks. He has no idea what’s going on. “My crush on you,” Harry says and Nick loses his breath. “I just – I thought you figured it out and didn’t know how to let me down easy so that’s why you started acting so weird and avoiding me all the time. I figured you wanted your space from me so I gave you it. Don’t look at me like that; I told you it was stupid.”

Nick’s ears are ringing; he can hear the blood rushing through his body. His heart bangs painfully in his chest. “What?”

Harry blinks at him. He looks confused. “Nick, I just. You had to know,” Harry shakes his head but his eyes are wide and he worriedly bites his lip. “I was so gone over you, Nick, for years. I’d all but figured out that I was in love with you right before we went on that last tour. I just assumed you knew and that’s how everything got so fucked up. You had to know.”

“Oh my god, Harry,” Nick drops his head into the palm of his hand. This is actually unbelievable. “I can assure you I didn’t.”

It’s too much, Nick thinks; too much all at once. He hears Harry’s small, “Oh,” and that’s it, that’s all Nick can actually take. He stands up and grabs his jacket, manages to get it on and step away from the table before Harry can jump up and stop him.

“Nick, wait—“

“So, anyway, I’ve actually got to get to work, all right?” Nick lifts his arm to check his watch but the numbers blur together. He couldn’t tell someone the time if they paid him. “But this was great. It was great seeing you and I’m sure I’ll run into you again one day and—“

“That’s it?” Harry jumps from his chair so quickly it tips back then bangs down hard on the floor. The girl behind the counter even looks up from her texting to glare in their direction. Nick pulls a face and she looks away. “I tell you that I was in love with you and you say you have to go to work?”

Nick pinches the bridge of his nose. “Harry, please.”

“No, Nick, we have to talk about this,” Harry curls his arms around Nick’s biceps and squeezes. “Don’t you think it’s gone on long enough? My god, it’s been like five years—“ and it’s like that’s the last possible straw Nick can deal with. The one that breaks the camel’s back if you will.

“Seven years,” Nick looks Harry dead in the eye. “It’s been seven years, Harry, not five and yes, I have to go to work.” He shakes his head and Harry drops his hands from Nick like he’s been burned. “I’m not – I’m not angry and you’re right, this has all been stupid and pointless but the point is it happened and we will talk about it, just – just not right now.”

When Nick goes to walk away this time Harry lets him.

*

Nick sleeps until noon the next day. It was hard at first with the way his mobile was blowing up with missed calls and texts from Harry and Finchy and Aimee and Pix, but Nick solved that problem easily. Apparently turning the mobile off and locking himself inside his flat will do wonders in getting the message across that he wants to be left alone.

Nick should have known it wouldn’t last, though, and by the time he hears a key jiggling in the lock of his front door at half noon he resigns himself to the fact that eventually he’s going to have to talk to someone. Aimee sticks her head into the kitchen where Nick is making a cup of tea and Nick figures if he has to see anyone at least it’s her.

“Hey,” Aimee drops her bag onto the table and crosses the room to rub Nick’s shoulder. Nick closes his eyes and leans back when her arms curl around his waist. “I’m not going to ask how you’re doing.”

Nick snorts and shakes his head. “Thanks.”

Aimee hugs him then steps away to grab a mug and teabag from the counter. Nick fills both their cups and goes to sit at the table while she pokes around in his fridge for something to eat. “My god, Grimmy, do you have anything in here except chardonnay and diet coke?”

“I think there might be some leftover Chinese in there from…” Nick thinks. Chinese takeaway night was actually a really long time ago. “Actually, skip that maybe.”

“Good idea.” Aimee meets him at the table with half a packet of chocolate biscuits she found in one of the cupboards and shoves it at him. “Eat something. I know you, you’ve probably not eaten since you first ran into him yesterday and the last thing I need to try and deal with is picking your dumb arse up from the floor when you faint.”

Nick huffs. Sometimes having friends who know you this well is damn inconvenient.

“So all right, why don’t you tell me what happened and start from the beginning,” Aimee folds her hands together and sits back in her chair. Nick knows he could ignore her and deflect somehow and get her off the entire topic if he tried – Aimee loves him enough to let Nick get out of talking about things if that’s what he really wants – but Nick’s tired, maybe. Tired of not telling her things and keeping everything to himself. “I know you bumped into him yesterday, yeah? Getting tea or summat?”

“Yeah,” Nick feels his eyebrows lift. “How did you—“

“Pix told me.” Aimee takes one of the napkins from the table and starts tearing it into strips. She’s looking down at her hands and won’t look at Nick when she says, “Apparently Harry texted after he ran into you to tell her he saw you and that you and he were going out last night. She called me after to see what you had to say about it but…” she shrugs. “I told her I guessed you didn’t want to talk about it since you told me you had a stomach virus and a meeting at the station.”

And shit. Nick drops his face into his hands and groans. “Fuck, Aimee, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to not tell you—“

“Oh, Nick, please,” Aimee smacks his hands away and huffs. “Quit giving me the same mopey I’m sorry bullshit you’ve been pulling for years. I don’t care that you didn’t tell me, all right? I get it. You like to keep all your misery and manly feelings to yourself. It’s fine, it’s just – you know you can’t just keep hiding from him forever, right? You two were best friends and you loved him and that doesn’t just go away. You can’t just—“

“He told me he was in love with me last night,” Nick interrupts quietly. Aimee gasps and sits back, her eyes bulging.

“What?”

“Back then at least,” Nick takes a sip of his tea and realizes that this is it. He should possibly tell Aimee what’s going on and what’s been going on. It’s long past due.

Aimee reaches over and takes Nick’s hand, their fingers twisting together tightly. Nick loves her so much he can’t breathe. “I never really told you what was happening when we stopped talking back then because it was stupid and I knew it was stupid when it was actually happening, but even though I knew it I couldn’t make myself stop if that makes sense.”

Aimee laughs quietly. “Nick Grimshaw unable to stop himself from being an idiot? I’m shocked.”

Nick kicks her under the table but instead of kicking back Aimee rubs her thumb over the back of his hand gently. “It was just hard when he got back from tour trying to remember how to just be his friend when I’d realized how I felt about him, so whenever he was away I stayed close to home and then when he was coming home I would disappear for a while to try and give myself some space and I don’t know, it seems like it just spiraled from there. He started staying away longer and longer; he bought those places in New York and LA and I was moving and then switching back over to nights and he was texting me and calling me all the time but it just got so easy to avoid him and once I started I couldn’t stop.”

Nick doesn’t tell her how Harry’s messages went from happy and light to short and tense. How Nick was able to tell from the tone of Harry’s voice that he knew Nick was trying to distance himself from Harry; how hurt Harry had sounded. Harry asked him over and over again, is everything all right?? where are you? why aren’t you texting me back?? but it was like a horrible spiral where the longer it went without Nick calling him back the harder it got to do it so he didn’t until it got longer and longer and longer until finally Harry gave up.

Nick didn’t blame him - he’s never blamed him - but he’s always wished it had been different. He wishes he’d been different or maybe hadn’t taken the distance Harry had inadvertently given him and used it to his advantage so terribly.

“I bumped into him yesterday and he wanted to go to dinner and I didn’t say no,” Nick pulls his hand back and pushes the hair off his forehead. Aimee is biting her lip and watching him with sad eyes and Nick knows how it all sounds; apparently he’s the master of gloom and doom lately. “I forgot that him and Pix still talk or I would have told you sooner, don’t be angry.”

“Oh fuck off,” Aimee swats him on the head. She rolls her eyes and stands up to put their mugs in the sink. “You know I don’t care about that; I was just worried about you. And anyway, that’s not the important thing. The important thing is what you do now that you know how he feels.”

“Felt,” Nick corrects.

Aimee sighs dramatically at the ceiling. “Right. Because your feelings about him have changed so much in seven years.”

The worst thing is that Aimee’s right; Nick’s feelings haven’t changed at all but still, seven years is a long time. “I’m sure it’s not the same; it’s been way too long.” Aimee folds her arms over her chest and frowns. “What! Seriously, Aims, he’s Harry bloody Styles. He’s been out with models and popstars and he’s been papped with that bloke from those stupid movies for years now.”

“As opposed to you who’ve sat home and pined for him all by your lonesome,” Aimee says flatly. “You’ve had no sex at all the whole time he’s been gone. Went the way of a monk did you?”

“For god’s sake you know that’s not what I’m saying—“

“But that’s my point,” Aimee interrupts and honestly, Nick’s going to have to talk to her about this cutting him off when he’s speaking business. It’s bloody rude is what it is. “You’ve managed to go out and shag your face off and live a fairly normal life all while still being in love with Harry so why do you think it would be any different for him?”

Nick huffs. This is stupid. “It just is.”

“Oh yes, that’s right,” Aimee purses her lips and pushes off from the counter. “You’re Nick Grimshaw, you know everything.”

“I’m not saying that,” Nick says quietly. “I’m just—“

“You’re being a daft idiot,” Aimee plucks Nick’s mobile up from the counter and holds the power button until it buzzes to life. “So, you know, no news on that front.”

She hands Nick his mobile and it vibrates in his hand for a full two minutes with about fifteen texts from Harry and a hundred missed calls from nearly everyone he knows. He doesn’t read them all but the first one catches his eye and when he sees it he can’t look away.

I’m really sorry I really thought you knew how I felt. I never would have told you in the middle of a shit café if I thought you didn’t know. Please don’t do this again, nick, I hate it I miss you so much. Please text me back xxx

And there he is, typical Harry just flinging his bleeding heart around for all the world to see. Nick would have liked to think time or experience would have shown him different by now but apparently not; apparently Nick’s going to be forced to deal with Harry and his genuine goddamn earnestness and feelings all over again.

He puts his mobile down and drops his forehead into his hand. Aimee comes over and rubs the back of his neck and when she asks, “So what are you going to do?” Nick shrugs because he honestly has no idea.

*

After Aimee leaves Nick pours himself a glass of wine and sits on the sofa with his feet tucked under him and his mobile resting in his lap. It’s on now, Aimee made him promise to leave it on and she swore that if she tried to call and it went right into voicemail she was going to come straight back to his flat and bodily drag him to wherever Harry was and force Nick to talk to him that way. Aimee might be small but Nick knows firsthand she can be frighteningly fierce and scary when she sets her mind to it.

He takes a long sip of wine and clicks open the text box, a small coil of surprise rolling through him at seeing Harry’s name at the top of the list again for the first time in so very long.

I really think we should talk about this

I’m calling you now

All right, I guess you’re not answering : (

Nick, really, hasn’t this gone on long enough??? We were friends, why can’t we be friends again at least?? I promise I’ll forget everything I told you it doesn’t matter I get that that’s why you were avoiding me

Why wont you answer your phone???

Im calling pix and talking to her now since you wont call me back

All right listen. I’ll leave you alone for now but nick I’m not going away. Were going to talk about this I’m not going to let you ignore me this time

For what it’s worth I’m sorry : ( xxx

Nick deletes the voicemails without listening to them. He sees Harry’s name shuffled in with Aimee and Pix and Henry and Finchy but he can’t listen to five people all telling him the same thing. He opens a reply to the most recent text from Harry, fingers hovering over the keypad because he has no earthly idea what to say.

I’m not sure what your schedule is but you should come to the station tonight when I’m doing my show. I’m sure finchy would love to see you

He hits send before he has enough time to sit around and second guess himself, then opens another text and adds, and I’d love to see you again too. You’re not the only one who missed someone, Harold.

*

Harry shows up ten minutes into Nick’s show. Nick sees him from the corner of his eye but he’s in the middle of a link and can’t stop just because Harry Styles has decided to grace the station with his presence once more. Plus it looks like Matt’s doing a good enough job fawning over Harry for the both of them.

“Nick!” Finchy yells just as Nick cuts to an advert. “Look who’s here!”

“I do see him,” Nick pushes the microphone away and leans back in his chair smiling a little at how awkward and nervous Harry looks standing there in front of him. “I’ve got working eyes, you know. Two of them even, but thanks for the help.” He tilts his head to look at Harry and smiles. “Hey, Harry, You all right?”

“Yeah,” Harry’s face is pink, his cheeks flushing high up into his hairline. He bites his lip and watches Nick with a smile and it’s as if every minute of every year they’ve been apart falls away from just that look. “I’m great, Nick, yeah.”

“You want to get your washed up popstar arse in here and help me with the news then?” Nick fiddles with his headphones and looks away. It feels like Harry’s staring inside his brain the way he’s watching Nick; as if everything Nick’s doing is somehow interesting and important. “Or do you not remember how it’s done?”

“Oh, I remember,” Harry slides into the booth and folds himself into the seat next to Nick. He’s close enough that their knees bump and Nick absolutely does not freeze and clench the desk just from feeling Harry’s leg when it knocks against his. That would be insane.

Harry glances up at Nick from under his fringe, a dimple poking hard into his cheek and his lips curved in a slow smile. “I – thanks,” he says quietly. “For having me here tonight; it means a lot.”

Nick has to look away. “Well don’t let it get to your head; we’re having a slow news week,” Nick flicks the switches to put them back on air and that’s how they lead in, with Harry laughing bright and happy in the background.

*

“God, that was great – so great!” Harry’s bouncing along in the car park, his voice booming loudly through the nighttime quiet. Nick’s walking behind him a little slower, hands shoved deep in his pockets to keep himself from reaching out to touch. He’d settle for anything really; his hand on Harry’s shoulder or an arm around his waist. It feels almost like they should be able to do that. Nick never expected falling in again with Harry to be as easy as it was tonight after so many years, but there Harry goes surprising him once more and making everything feel right and normal and calm for the first time in longer than Nick can remember.

It’s disconcerting to say the least.

“So hey, you want to go somewhere for a drink maybe?” Harry’s turned to face him and is walking backward, hands slicing through the air as he talks. “We can go out or you can come back to mine or—“

“I’ve actually got to head home,” Nick lies. Harry goes quiet and bites his lip as he looks off to the side.

“Right,” Harry says quietly. “I mean, sure, I get it.”

Nick feels like a twat. “God, Harry, don’t pull that sad ‘you’ve just eaten my last biscuit and run off with my wife and kicked my puppy’ all at once face on me. I’m not saying we’re never going to go out, just – it’s late, and I’m old and tired and need some sleep is all.”

They’re at Nick’s car and Nick fiddles with the keys to disengage the alarm and toss his bag into the back seat. Harry leans against the side of the car, his long arm stretched out over the roof and Nick can’t focus when Harry’s staring at him the way he is.

“Can I ask you something?” Harry’s voice is quiet and slow.

Nick shrugs. “I don’t really see a way to stop you.”

Harry bites his lip and looks off to the side. He’s quiet for long enough that Nick thinks maybe he’s gotten away with it, maybe Harry’s decided not to ask him anything after all, but then Harry looks back and when he does his eyes are narrowed and calculating. Nick’s seen him have this look before; nothing good ever comes from it.

“So you never knew how I felt about you until I told you last night, is that right?”

Nick senses a trap. “Yes?”

“So that means you stopped talking to me all on your own,” Harry looks down at his hands and fiddles with the bottom sleeve of his jacket. “I always thought you knew and that’s why you started acting weird but you’re saying you didn’t so it doesn’t make any sense to me, why you just stopped.”

And god, Nick is nowhere near ready to have this conversation now but it looks like that doesn’t matter. It looks like they’re having this conversation regardless. “Harry—“

“I talked to Pixie yesterday after I saw you and then again last night after you left and she said some stuff and it got me thinking,” Harry interrupts, and dammit, Nick knew this was going to happen sooner or later. He never wanted to stop his friends from being Harry’s friends if they wanted but he always knew there was a risk involved in having someone who knew so much still talking to Harry, being Harry’s friend as well. Pixie had a good run, Nick thinks. Seven years is a strong amount of time to keep a secret.

Nick licks his lips and looks up. He meets Harry’s eyes because he knows what’s coming and frankly he’s tired of being scared of it. “And what did she say?”

“She didn’t say anything, really,” Harry tells him. He’s moving his hands around as he talks and the glimpse of something catches Nick’s eye.

“Wait,” Nick takes Harry’s hand and right there, in the middle of the car park of the Broadcasting House Nick’s entire world stops. “Harry when did you get this?”

He pulls Harry closer and lifts his left hand up to look at and right there, etched in black ink on the pale skin between his thumb and forefinger is a faded, black anchor.

Harry is so quiet Nick can hear him breathing. “How long has it been since I’ve seen you?”

“Seven years,” Nick says softly.

“Then that’s how long,” Harry’s fingers curl around Nick’s but Nick can’t look up. He can’t swallow past the lump in his throat and his heart is pounding fast and hard in his chest. “I got it seven years ago.”

Harry shifts closer and Nick is startled when he realizes how they’re standing. He didn’t even notice Harry sliding into his space until he’s already there, his foot between both of Nick’s on the ground, his shoulder bumping into Nick’s chest. Nick thinks it’s fitting; he never noticed the way Harry slid into his life last time until he was already there so why wouldn’t it be the same this time?

“I loved you too,” Nick says trying to be brave for possibly the first time in his life. Harry gasps and curls his fingers around Nick’s even tighter, as if Nick is the only thing keeping him on the ground. Who knows, maybe he is. “I’m pretty sure that’s what Pixie hinted at but you deserve to hear it.” When he looks up Harry’s eyes are shining and wet, crinkled at the corners.

“My god, Nick Grimshaw,” Harry shakes his head. “You are truly an idiot.”

“Yeah, well,” Nick shrugs. “We all need something we’re good at I guess.”

Harry laughs then, sharp and bright before he covers his mouth to muffle the sound. He pulls Nick in for a hug and Nick goes, he slides his arms around Harry’s waist and holds on like he’s wanted to do for years. Harry buries his face in Nick’s neck and sighs. “We’re going to do this right this time, all right? No more fucking it up.”

“I don’t know, Harry,” Nick shakes his head. “It’s been so long and—“

“No.” Harry pulls back and frowns. “It’s not been that long and even if it was I don’t care. I know how I feel about you and you loved me once, you said it yourself,” Harry says quickly, before Nick can even think to protest. “We’re going to…I don’t know. Go out. Date. Whatever. I’m not giving up so easy this time, I swear it,” Harry says but he’s smiling now and his face is so happy, his laughter so infectious Nick has no choice but to smile back. “We’re going to get it right this time.”

Nick shakes his head. The scary thing is Nick’s never really known Harry to not get things he’s gone after; it’s not Harry’s style. Nick used to admire it, now he’s a little worried if he’s being honest.

“Well bring it on, popstar,” Nick says, and Harry smiles.

*

Nick wakes in the morning to a text from Harry:

give me your new address I’ll be over by noon and we’re going out xxx

Nick smiles. He feels something bright and happy bubble up in his chest and he realizes he’s nervous and excited and anxious all at once. Never in a million years did Nick think anything like this would happen. It had taken a while but he’d finally come to terms with the idea that what he and Harry had had was great while it lasted but it was over and Nick was just going to have to live with that. To get Harry back now and know how he feels and have him know how Nick feels, well, it’s nothing Nick had ever expected, nothing he ever let himself even hope for.

going out, eh? Nick laughs quietly. you trying to woo me styles?

I am. You’ll have to let me know how its working ; ) xxx

Nick physically can’t stop himself from smiling; he texts Harry his new address and hops out of bed to find clothes and get into the shower.

I’ll be there soon xxx

Nick grins the entire time he’s getting dressed.

*

“I’ve got to say, Grimmy, this is a right posh flat.”

Harry’s wandering around Nick’s sitting room, touching all of his books and statues and knickknacks, picking things up and putting them down in random places and Nick knows once Harry leaves Nick will have to walk around and find everything and put it back where it belongs. Nick used to huff and sigh dramatically and tease Harry about it when he did it before; now he only grins. He’ll be more than happy hunting for his things later on if it means he got to have Harry around to mess them up in the first place.

Harry pokes his head into the loo and nods. “Nice. Really great place, Nick.”

“Thanks,” Nick fusses with his jacket and goes to get a drink in the kitchen. “You want anything to drink or eat before we go? I’ve got water or tea or…” Nick frowns into the refrigerator. “Nothing else, actually.”

“Oh, so basically the same things you had in your old flat then?”

Nick rolls his eyes and kicks Harry a bit when he turns around. Harry’s followed him into the kitchen and everything about him seems to fill the room. He’s dressed in a dark green shirt and a pair of black jeans but his smile is so wide and his laughter so bright Nick can barely see anything else. Harry’s face goes serious as Nick watches him and he’s about to ask if everything’s all right when Harry crowds him against the counter, resting his hands on the edge of the work surface and blocking Nick in.

Nick licks his lips and Harry’s eyes drop down to look at his mouth. Everything around them falls quiet; all Nick can hear are their quiet breaths and the thud of his heart beating in his chest.

“Can I help you with something, Harold?”

Harry moves his hands from the counter and curls them around Nick’s hips instead. He presses in tight and yanks Nick closer. Nick has to tip his head back an inch to look up at Harry’s eyes.

“I want to try something, all right?” Harry waits for Nick to nod and then leans in, stopping when their mouths are close enough to feel the breath puffing against each other’s lips. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to kiss you,” he says quietly. Nick wants to shout at Harry and tell him how much he’s wanted it too. How he thought about it for years; how every dark dream and fantasy he’s had has been about the feel of Harry’s lips, what he would taste like, how badly Nick wanted to ruin him if he ever got the chance.

Nick doesn’t say any of that because he’s too busy reaching up and twisting his fingers in Harry’s hair, dragging him in that last breath and sealing their mouths together, kissing him hot and desperate and with every ache and dream he’s had for the past seven years. Harry tastes sweet, like sugar and tea, his mouth is wide and soft and everything about him is hot: his hands as they slide up under Nick’s jumper and scratch against his skin, his tongue as it touches Nick’s, desperate and wanting. Harry whines and moans into the kiss, clutches at Nick so hard Nick thinks he might bruise and Nick kisses him back with everything he’s got, wanting Harry to know how much he missed him, how happy he is that Harry’s back from just a kiss.

“We could skip the date you know,” Nick pants. Harry bites the corner of his mouth, the edge of his jaw and Nick’s about three seconds from yanking their clothes off and laying Harry out on his kitchen table, the rest of the day be damned. “Dates are for tossers.”

“You’re terrible,” Harry leans his forehead against Nick’s. He takes a deep breath and tries to even out his breathing, his mouth quirking up at the corners in a small smile. “And no,” he drops a quick kiss to Nick’s mouth and pulls away. “We’re going out. Dates. Wooing. We’re doing things the right way this time.”

“God, Styles,” Nick complains. “You’re such a bore.” He shrugs his jacket on and stuffs his keys and wallet in his pocket. If he’s a little overheated from the kiss still the world will just have to deal with it.

Harry frowns and it’s so familiar - from the crinkle between his eyebrows to the small, “Heyyy,” he whines at him – that Nick’s chest aches. “We’re going to have fun, I swear.”

Nick tangles their fingers together and pulls Harry close because he can. The toes of Harry’s Converse drag across the floor with a familiar shuffle and Nick kisses Harry’s smile and says, “Then let’s go.”

*

They do have fun. They have a great time, actually, not that Nick is surprised. One thing he and Harry always knew how to do was talk about everything and laugh like idiots and not ever take anything too seriously. Now that they’re past all the ridiculousness and misunderstandings of the past few years they fall back into their familiar rhythm as easy as breathing.

They split two dishes of pasta at a small café Harry likes and drink a bottle of merlot. By the end of the meal Harry is loose limbed and happy, sprawled out in his chair with his legs stretched out under the table so their feet knock together. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes crinkle as he smiles at Nick. Nick wants to kiss the stain of wine from his lips; wants to lick into his mouth until Harry is gasping for air under his hands.

Harry’s eyes narrow and he cocks his head to the side. “What are you thinking about?”

“Your mouth,” Nick says truthfully. Harry’s cheeks go even pinker; Nick didn’t think it was possible.

“I never thought this would happen,” Harry’s voice is soft. “I wanted you for so long. Nick, I’ve loved you for so long.”

Nick’s throat goes tight at how badly they almost fucked this up, how badly they did fuck this up. He wants to drag Harry up from his seat and tangle his fingers in Harry’s hair. He wants to kiss his skin and curl his arms around him and hold him tight enough the actual air has to fight for space between them.

“Harry, this date is amazing and I really am having a great time, but do you think we can—“

“I’ll get the check,” Harry waves over his head and laughs breathlessly. “We’ll go back to yours, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Nick breathes. Harry’s foot rubs against his under the table and he smiles at Nick wickedly.

*

do me a favor I love you but lose my key for the day and most likely for tomorrow as well : )

Nick shoots off his text to Aimee and laughs when Harry speeds under a light to cut three seconds off their drive back to his flat. “A bit anxious, Styles?”

“Well let’s see,” Harry ticks off. “We’ve not seen each other for seven years, plus the two we were friends before that, plus the, I don’t know, three or four that I fancied you before we met makes…” he counts quietly, “at least twelve years – possibly thirteen – that I’ve thought about shagging you. So yes, a bit anxious is one way to put it.”

Nick is saved from having to answer (because honestly, what does Harry expect him to say when he keeps saying things like that?) by his phone buzzing shrilly in the quiet of the car. Harry rolls his eyes good naturedly and says, “Saved by the bell, yeah?” Nick laughs and ducks his head trying to hide the hideously embarrassing flush that he can feel coloring his cheeks.

“Yes, Miss Aimee,” he answers after glancing at the mobile and seeing her picture lighting up the screen.

“What’s this nonsense about me not coming to yours for the day?” Aimee’s tone is light but Nick can hear the thread of seriousness laced underneath. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine,” Nick glances up and sees Harry watching him, his lips curved in a soft smile. Harry looks back at the road and Nick feels himself go warm and stupid from the fond look on Harry’s face. My god, he seriously needs an intervention. “Everything’s pretty great actually.”

Aimee knew Nick was going out with Harry for the day, of course. Nick made sure to text her every detail of what happened from the minute he and Harry left in their separate cars in the carpark the night before until Harry walked into the front door of Nick’s flat earlier in the day. Nick told her about Harry being at the station and the tattoo and Nick spilling every one of his heavily guarded secrets and Aimee gasped and oohed and aahed in all the appropriate places but Nick knows her. He knows Aimee is still worried that Nick’s getting in over his head. To be fair, Nick’s half worried about that himself.

Aimee sighs. “I’m happy for you, Grimmy, I really am. Just—“ she breaks off but Nick can see her in his head; the way she’s most likely biting her bottom lip, the dip in her eyebrows as she frowns. “Just make sure you talk to him this time, yeah? Don’t be stupid; don’t fuck this up again.”

“I’ll make sure we do.”

“Say it,” she demands, and what?

“Excuse me?” Nick can feel his eyebrows hit his hairline. Harry glances at him curiously from the driver’s seat.

“Say, I, Nick Grimshaw am going to talk to Harry this time and not act like a stupid twat.”

Nick yanks the phone down and hisses a Ssh! into it but from the way Harry’s turning pink and trying not to laugh Nick’s pretty sure he overheard anyway. “I’m not going to say that.”

“SAY IT.”

Nick glares. “NO.”

“I’m not ringing off until you do you know,” Aimee sounds bored now, her voice going flat and dull. “And if you try and hang up on me I’ll just keep calling back. And,” she says when Nick makes a sound to interrupt, “if you turn your mobile off then I might forget this whole conversation happened and just pop on over to your flat and see how you’re doing. You know, let myself in with my key, sit down on the couch and see what’s playing on the telly.”

“You wouldn’t,” Nick warns.

“Oh, I would,” Aimee says and the worst part is Nick knows she’s not lying. “I will come over and plop my arse down right between you and Harry and talk about nail polish and Thurston’s worms and—“

“My god, Nick, can you please just say what she wants you to say?” Harry looks petrified and Nick realizes they’re driving down his road already. His time is apparently running out.

“Fine,” Nick mutters. “I don’t know why I’m the only one who’s got to say something. Apparently Harold’s been harboring a thirteen year long crush but I don’t see you bossing him around.”

“Twelve,” Harry’s lips are curved into a frown. “I’m pretty sure I said twelve years.”

“Just say it!” Aimee screeches. “You and Harry both! Say, We were both stupid twats and we will talk to each other this time so we don’t mess it up because Aimee’s a fucking fantastic friend but she’s not going to put up with another seven years of mopey bullshit.”

Nick shakes his head. “I’m hanging up on you love.”

“Nick—“

“What? What’s that? I think we have a bad connection—“ Nick’s laughing as Harry pulls the car to a stop and he disconnects the call. It’s not even a minute before Aimee sends him a text:

just make sure you talk to him. I love you xxx

I love you back Nick sends off and then Harry’s killing the ignition and pocketing the keys and they’re heading inside.

*

For all of her joking Nick knows Aimee’s right. He and Harry most definitely do need to talk. Nick never thought it was a problem between the two of them – he was always so proud of the fact that they were able to be so open and honest about so many things in their lives to each other – but each of them thinking they couldn’t talk to the other about their feelings cost them seven years already. Nick’s not going to let something like that happen again.

Later, though. Talking will be good for later.

Now Nick is perfectly happy not to talk at all. He’d never talk again if it meant he would keep Harry where he is now, the long line of his body pressed to Nick’s, holding Nick in place against the wall outside of the bedroom where they stopped because the walk from the front door was too long to go without touching each other.

Harry kisses like Nick always imagined he would; focused and demanding and just a little rough. He uses the extra span he has in his shoulders to shove Nick where he wants him, uses the few extra pounds of muscle to hold him there just hard enough that Nick can’t push back. Nick never thought Harry would be quite this bossy and he never thought he’d like it if he was, but here he is, twisting his fingers in Harry’s hair and dragging his mouth down to kiss him harder, Nick’s fingers pressing into the hot skin of Harry’s throat.

“I want to do everything to you,” Harry’s voice is slow and thick as honey. Nick tries to focus on the green of his eyes but Harry drops his head to suck a bruise into Nick’s throat and Nick can’t keep his own eyes open. He tries to remember any of the hundred fantasies he’s had about Harry in his life because they were all good, he’s damn sure of that, but none of them can even compare to the feel of Harry’s hands curled tight around Nick’s hips, yanking him close and pushing him through the bedroom door and onto the bed.

Nick laughs; he never thought he’d be here let alone laughing while getting ready to have sex with Harry, but even when he’s being strong and sexy and seductive Harry is ridiculous. His feet trip over the carpet and his hair is falling loose and tangled over his eyes. He yanks his shirt off over his head and Nick’s eyes dart around trying to see all of his new tattoos but Harry smiles and shakes his head. “Later,” he pops the button on his jeans and knees his way up onto the mattress. “Later you can see them all and I’ll tell you about each one, but if I don’t get to fuck you soon I swear to god I might pass out.”

“A bit presumptuous there, Harold,” Nick tries for nonchalant but thinks he sounds choked and desperate. If the way Harry’s smirking at him is anything to go by he missed nonchalant by a clear mile. “What makes you think you’re going to be the one doing the fucking?”

Harry laughs breathlessly but Nick’s already yanking off his shirt and trousers and digging around in the bedside table for lube and a condom. He tosses the bottle at Harry’s head and the little square bounces off Harry’s chest and lands next to Harry’s thigh. Nick bites his lip at the way Harry’s watching him, like Nick is somehow everything Harry’s wanted and now he’s allowed to have him. Nick’s seen Harry look at him like that before but he never knew what it meant, he never in a million years would have thought it meant this. Harry leans over and kisses him then, slow and long, their bodies pressed against each other skin on skin.

“I’ve been thinking about fucking you for as long as I’ve known you, Grimmy,” Harry pulls back and bites his bottom lip. Nick didn’t even see him move but then Harry’s sliding his hand over Nick’s thigh, skating across the back of his leg and up to the swell of his arse. Nick feels Harry’s finger press against him, slick and firm. “I’ve got this,” Harry breathes against his mouth and presses in.

Harry takes Nick apart slowly and carefully, bringing him to the edge over and over again so many times Nick wants to shout and scream and cry from frustration. Harry’s fingers are wicked; he presses into Nick relentlessly, sucking bruises into his hips and chest and thighs and whispering filth into the sweat damp patches of skin he marks with his teeth. Nick scratches at Harry’s back, bites at his shoulder and yanks his head down to kiss his mouth, trying to tell Harry how amazing Nick thinks he is without ever saying the words. He kisses Harry and it means I’m sorry and I missed you and I’m so glad you’re back and Harry just holds him tighter, slides his fingers out and rolls on a condom and pushes into Nick with a slow and steady glide.

He bottoms out and Nick’s eyes are wide open locked with Harry’s. Harry’s mouth parts, he breathes wet and desperate and curls his arm around Nick’s back to pull him closer, twisting their bodies together until every bit of Harry’s skin is touching Nick’s somewhere. Nick can feel Harry from the top of his head all the way down to the bottoms of his feet and with every molecule of air in between. He pulls Harry closer, licks into his mouth and bites his jaw and when Harry gasps and moans and fucks into him harder and harder Nick takes it; he wants to take every piece of Harry that Harry is willing to give him and tuck it inside his chest to there’s no way for Harry to get out.

“I can’t – I’ve gotta come,” Harry whines. His forehead is damp and he bites Nick’s shoulder. Nick scratches his nails up Harry’s back and Harry shivers.

“Then do it.”

“But you—“

“Don’t worry about me,” Nick slides a hand between them and curls it around his prick to prove his point. “Just come on. We’ve got plenty of time to do it again.”

Nick,” Harry grunts and stills and Nick can feel it when he comes, the dull pulse of him where he’s shoved inside. Harry’s dead weight on his chest, kissing Nick’s shoulder softly and Nick figures he’ll forgive him this time and strokes himself off while Harry mouths at his skin, the soft brush of his eyelashes and the tickle of Harry’s hair sending him quickly over the edge.

Harry waits a minute before pulling out and Nick reaches back for the box of tissues he keeps on the bedside table, handing Harry a handful to clean up with before wiping himself up. Harry ties off the condom and tosses it into the bin and then he’s shoving Nick around again to get the sheets and duvet up over them, Nick’s arm around Harry’s shoulders and Harry’s head tucked in close to Nick’s chest.

“Give me ten minutes and I’ll be ready again,” Harry says sleepily and Nick laughs.

“You sound like you’re ready to pass out,” Nick cranes his neck and looks at his alarm clock. “Harry, it’s only half four!”

“Right,” Harry agrees. “Like I said, give me a few minutes and then we can do it again.” Nick’s about to protest but Harry says, “You top next time, yeah?”

And, oh. Hmm.

“Yeah, all right, popstar,” Nick settles in closer and kisses the top of Harry’s head. “It’s a deal.”

*

The next morning Nick wakes to the sound of someone making food in his kitchen.

The sunlight is bright and streaming through the windows and Nick is happy for a nice Sunday with no real plans and possibly getting to spend the rest of the day with Harry. Nick knows they have to talk about things and they’re definitely going to do that, but for just a minute Nick’s going to lie in bed and enjoy the sounds of pans banging and the kettle whistling and the knowledge that it’s Harry making all the noise out there. That Harry’s really actually back.

Nick grabs a pair of jogging bottoms and a t-shirt and pads into the kitchen after a quick stop in the loo. When he gets to the kitchen doorway he stops and leans against it for a minute, because the sight of Harry drinking a cup of tea shirtless and barefoot in nothing but a pair of Nick’s worn out track pants while eggs cook on the stove is something Nick would happily look at for the rest of his life.

“Morning,” Nick clears his throat. Harry startles and turns around quickly, his face smoothing out into a wide open grin.

“Morning.”

“I had eggs?” Nick feels his forehead wrinkle in confusion.

Harry frowns. “Eggs were the only actual food in your fridge and I’m not even sure they’re good.” He pokes the food in the pan with a spatula. “I mean, they seem all right.”

“Can we maybe not experiment with possible food poisoning today?” Nick wanders over and kills the heat on the hob. Harry shrugs and Nick leans in close and kisses him quickly. “I don’t get many days off a week, Harold. I’d like to not spend one of them in A&E because of wonky eggs.”

“Yeah, all right.” Harry puts his tea down and wraps his arms around Nick pulling him into a hug. Nick never let himself think about how much he missed this, missed being around Harry and being able to touch him and Harry’s arms and smile and voice and hugs but now that he’s back Nick never really wants him to leave. He thinks this is possibly what Aimee was speaking of when she said they had to talk.

“So listen,” Harry says hesitantly. Nick’s expecting Harry to want to talk about them and their relationship maybe, so he’s surprised when what he comes out with is, “Do you have plans today?”

“No,” Nick shakes his head.

Harry disentangles them and slides his hands down until his fingers are slotted in with Nick’s. He’s smiling a little but he’s also biting his lip and the worry lines around his eyes and mouth go deeper. “Because I forgot I have this thing,” Harry says. He blows out a breath and pulls one hand from Nick to scoop his fringe out of his eyes and shove it back from his face. “And you can totally come with me but I’m sure you have better things to do on your day off but I forgot I have to be there around noon so, I don’t know. I can head home and get changed and then come back after? I mean, if you want.”

“Well, I mean, what kind of thing is it?” Nick can’t understand why Harry is acting so strange all of a sudden. He’s fairly sure that Harry’s not running off to go out on a date with someone else but he’s definitely acting strange and weirdly uncomfortable.

“With the lads,” Harry says. “Liam and Louis invited me and the others over to kind of celebrate, I don’t know, all of us being back in London and getting to hang out again more and stuff. It’s totally stupid and I’m sure you have better things to do and—“

“Well, I mean, do you not want me to come?” Because that’s different. If Harry wants to see his mates without Nick around Nick completely understands that and while sure, he was kind of looking forward to having Harry to himself for the day, he’ll be fine seeing Harry later after he gets back from Liam and Louis’ if that’s what he wants.

If Harry’s horrified expression is anything to go by that’s most definitely not what Harry wants.

“No! I mean, yes, of course I want you to come, I’d love it if you came.” His eyes are wide and blinking and so very green. Nick feels himself grin and thinks he’s possibly smiled more in the past few days than he has in years. “I wasn’t sure if you’d want to go is all.”

“This may come as a surprise to you Harry, but I pretty much want to be wherever you are,” Nick says quietly.

“Nick,” Harry whispers. He curls forward and rests their foreheads together. “I really love you. And I really missed you. And I’m just – I’m really happy I’m here.”

Nick swallows hard, his throat aching and tight. “I’m happy you’re here too.” He kisses the corner of Harry’s mouth and steps back because if they’re going to shower and get dressed and pass by Harry’s for him to grab a change of clothes they’d probably better get moving and stop making goofy faces at each other in the kitchen.

*

Liam and Louis’ house at a quick glance is as posh and sprawling as Nick had expected it would be, and then you look a little closer and realize it’s actually being inhabited by two overgrown puppies. The house is huge and wide and sprawling, all beautiful stone and brickwork, but as he and Harry walk up the path to the front door Nick spies a few footballs lying abandoned on the grass and two bicycles leaned against the side of the house.

Harry knocks once on the door and then lets himself in with a key and as the door swings open Nick is assaulted by loud music and the beeps and chimes of a video game shouting over a sound system and Niall’s voice screeching, “Stop cheating you bloody fucking wanker!”

Harry turns to Nick and grins. “Well I guess everyone’s here.”

“Seems like,” Nick agrees. Harry looks at him a little hesitantly and then slips his hand into Nick’s, fingers curling around his tight and sure. Nick looks down at their hands then up at Harry’s flushed face. “Hey,” Nick says quietly. “I love you too, you know.”

Harry’s cheeks go even pinker and he looks away.

“Did I hear the door open?” Louis shouts from somewhere down the hall. Harry laughs brightly and tugs Nick forward. “Has young Harold finally decided to grace us with his amazing presence?”

“Piss off, Louis.” Harry shakes his head and his hair goes flying around his face. Louis turns a corner and Nick wishes he’d thought to have his camera ready because Louis’ expression at finding Nick standing next to Harry in his hall is amazing.

Louis pulls up to a complete dead stop. His mouth opens a little and he looks back and forth between Nick and Harry with his eyes as wide as a cartoon character. Harry laughs quietly and squeezes Nick’s hand a little and Nick smiles.

“Hey, Louis,” Nick waves his free hand. “You all right?”

“I’m, erm, yeah, I’m great, Nick. You?”

“Really good,” Nick grins.

“Hey, what’s taking so long? Where’s Haz?” Nick hears Liam call out. He turns the same corner and walks straight into Louis’ back where he’s still stopped dead. Liam’s face is as shocked as Louis’. Nick sees Liam curls his hands around Louis’ hips to steady himself and Louis reaches back to pat at Liam’s arm.

“Nick, hey,” Liam says. Nick is having entirely too much fun with this. He waves jauntily at Liam now and Harry shakes beside him with laughter.

“What the hell is taking you all so long?” Zayn grumbles from deeper into the house.

“Oi! Where are the crisps Lou was getting for me too, yeah?” Niall calls after. “Tell Haz to get them and then come back here.”

“You lads want to head back in?” Harry asks Louis and Liam. They both nod and Harry and Nick follow them through the house into the game room where Zayn is lying on the floor and Niall is sprawled on one of the big puffy leather sofas fiddling with a game controller.

Zayn sees Nick and Harry first and he sits straight up, his hair flopping over the front of his face as he does. “Uhm…”

“What the hell is keeping everyone?” Niall complains. He turns his head then to look over his shoulder and god bless Niall Horan he doesn’t even blink. “Oh, hey, Nick. What’s up, Haz?” he looks at Louis and frowns. “I thought you said you were bringing me more crisps, fucker.”

*

After the initial shock everyone is thrilled for Harry and Nick both to be there. It’s a really laid back day with nothing but beers and pizza and some music and video games. Nick sits on the sofa and catches up with all the lads because while he’s seen them sporadically over the years he’s not had the chance to really talk with any of them. Harry sits next to him, leaning into Nick’s side and holding his hand and stealing quick kisses from Nick when no one is looking and everything is fine except for the death glares Louis is throwing in Nick’s direction whenever he thinks no one’s looking.

It doesn’t take Louis long to corner Nick in the kitchen as Nick’s getting new drinks for Harry and him.

“So,” Louis leans against the doorway and folds his arms across his chest. “You and Harry.”

Nick bites down on his smile. He actually loves Louis’ mama bear routine; it’s amazing. “Apparently.”

“And you two are already all fine, holding hands, snogging on my sofa,” Louis accuses.

“Erm, are you forgetting I’ve met you, Louis?” Nick scratches his head. “I’m fairly sure this isn’t the first bit of snogging your sofa has been exposed to.”

Louis’ cheeks go pink and he looks away. “That’s not the point,” he says, “the point is I want to know what’s going on and I want you to tell me.”

In any other situation Nick would most likely get a bit huffy at a washed up popstar harassing him in his kitchen about his intentions toward one of his mates, but this is Harry so Nick understands.

“We’re working on it,” Nick tells him seriously. “Apparently we had a bit of miscommunication over the past few years but we both want to give it a shot.”

Louis bites his lip and stares at Nick accusingly. Nick’s ready to defend himself because honestly, there were two of them involved in wrecking what he and Harry had before, but when Louis opens his mouth it’s not to accuse. “He was a right prick when you two fell out,” Louis rubs his hand over his jaw and shakes his head. “Everyone gave him the space he wanted when he asked for it except me.”

“Shocking,” Nick drones. Louis glares.

“And since I didn’t give him his space I know exactly how crushed he was when you decided to fuck off and pretend like you were never seeing the hundreds of text messages and voicemails he was leaving you.” Louis voice is tight and clipped. Nick knew intellectually how much he must have hurt Harry, but hearing it like this, having Louis lay it out for him so plainly is breaking Nick’s heart.

“I’m not going to do it again,” Louis says quietly. Nick forces himself to meet Louis gaze. “I like you a lot, Grimshaw, but you decide to pull this shit again and I won’t let you get away with it. You may have Harry in nearly every way possible but he’s my best mate and I love him and I won’t let you get away with it a second time.”

Part of Nick wants to tell Louis that that’s not the case this time. That he and Harry are going to figure this out, that they know what they did wrong and they’re going to fix it. He has a feeling, though, that Louis doesn’t want to hear it; that he’s not going to actually believe Nick until he sees it himself. Nick is fine with that. He’d rather prove it to Louis first hand anyway.

“Got it,” Nick reaches for two beers from the fridge. Louis finally pushes off from the doorway and comes into the kitchen grabbing the beers from Nick’s hand.

“Let me bring those in for you, yeah? Liam would never let me hear the end of it if I let our guests fetch their own drinks.”

Nick grins and pats Louis’ back a little and Louis doesn’t even try and chop his hand off, just gives him a tight smile and leads the way back into the game room. Nick’s going to count it as a win.

*

“It wasn’t totally awful, right?” They’re back sat on Nick’s sofa Harry curled up under Nick’s arm lazily sipping a glass of chardonnay. Nick stretches his legs out and kisses the top of Harry’s head.

“Nah. I even managed to have a bit of fun after Louis was done defending your honor and threatening my life in his kitchen.”

“Oh god,” Harry groans. “I’m sorry about that. Louis can just be—“

“He loves you and he doesn’t want you to get hurt again, Harry,” Nick puts Harry’s glass on the table and moves so Harry’s sat next to him and they’re facing each other. “I can’t fault him for that.”

Harry tilts his head back so he’s looking up into Nick’s eyes. His cheeks are smooth and pink and his bottom lip is bitten red and wet. Nick wants to kiss him and instead of just thinking about it he remembers that now he can, and so he does.

“That’s all right because I’m not going to let you do it again anyway,” Harry presses one last kiss to Nick’s mouth and leans back.

“Really,” Nick tries for casual but his heart it tripping and thudding in his chest. “And what exactly are you going to do, Harold?”

Harry lifts his shoulder in a shrug and grins playfully. “I don’t know, kind of figured I’d keep you this time.”

“Oh, is that what you thought.”

“Yeah,” Harry slides closer, tucking his foot under Nick’s thigh and wiggling his toes around. Nick puts his hand on Harry’s knee and squeezes. “Until you don’t want me anymore at least.”

Nick knows Harry is joking but there’s still a thread of uncertainty laced through his voice. He touches Harry’s chin and tilts his head up. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

“Yeah?” Harry bites his lip and shuffles even closer. “Because I don’t see myself going anywhere for a while; you ready for that, Grimshaw?”

Nick thinks about Harry and how he was his best friend and how Nick loved him and how he lost him. He thinks about how much his heart broke every time he realized he was going to have to live the rest of his life without Harry in it, and then he thinks about now and how against all kinds of odds he’s got Harry back again. Harry loves him and he loves Harry and if the tight clench in his chest is anything to go by Nick doesn’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, if ever.

“More than ready, popstar,” Nick smiles at Harry and takes his hand and holds on.

 

-end-