He'd texted Dan this time, because the last had been slightly embarrassing; thousands of replies going hey buddy until Nick handed control of his Twitter over to Cory for a while and immersed himself in a NeYo-collab melody he was working on.
He'd done his research, anyway; okay, so Googling Dan howell nick jonas was a bit embarrassing, but less than finding out the dude was, like, not interested at all would be. He opened an incognito tab and looked suspiciously around to see if anyone (Demi) was around, she had a talent for breaking into his house and springing up on him and cackling wildly in his face, like the cartoon witch she secretly was, when he was doing something embarrassing. She had a sixth sense for these things.
What he found out was Dan did know him, after all, and wasn’t pretending to for an award show, and there was something with masks, and Nick was kind of his celeb crush, and he lived with his best friend and radio show partner, and he had this accent that was all British-posh and went with a nice voice for storytelling, and he was silly and awkward and tall and quite ridiculously cute.
Nick subscribed on his fake fan Youtube (nickjon_ass95), and tried not to go on any Tumblrs dedicated to the guy, now that was an abyss if he ever knew one. Still, after the Japan anticlimax he'd managed to catch one or two liveshows, when Dan tweeted about being on YouNow, and Nick watched while he busied himself with dinner. Dan made inappropriate sexual references and talked a lot about his roommate - Phil's - houseplants and obviously felt a lot about music and fashion, and he banged the table a lot and shrieked a lot and Nick found himself sort of smiling at the screen on the rare times his Tuesday evenings were free enough that he could catch Dan live.
When Nick found out he was going to London in June, he acquired Dan's number from the BBC, who were quite happy about giving people their employees' private and personal information as long as said people were super famous and appealed to their teenage demographic and could squeeze in an interview with Nick Grimshaw the next time they were in town.
Dan took rough-ish 30 minutes to respond, not that Nick was counting or anything. Nick had said, hey, it's nick. Jonas, not grimshaw and this is Dan, right? and thrown his phone onto the sofa cushion and sort of tried to look anywhere else but at it.
He watched some Walking Dead and threw Lyle's terrier a biscuit and wondered why he was the responsible go-to person to dogsit for his friends, he had a life too thanks very much Lyle. Just because Lyle had caught him watching Youtube videos that one Friday night didn't mean he was a sad hermit with no life and was clearly available to dogsit always, as Lyle had sympathetically put to him prior to immediately fleeing before Nick could realise exactly what had been requested of him.
His phone chimed. Fuck. Nick squinted at it, feeling unreasonably nervous.
if this is wirrow pulling this shit again it wasn't even funny the first time and i'm going to tell phil on you this time and he'll scold you worse than he did that time you finished his funyuns i promise
Nick squinted more. No, that didn't sound right. Maybe he'd - yeah, he'd call. So much for a casual text.
"Wirrow," came Dan's voice - strangely familiar by now - in irritated tones, "I will serve you the non fucking alcoholic chocolates. Don't think I won't."
"No," Nick said, "no, uh, this is really Nick, actually."
There was a slight silence.
"Say that again, would you please?" Dan asked, fatalistically calm about it.
"Uh, Jonas?" Nick said. "We met at the, uh, Teen Choice Awards-"
"Buggery fucking crap down my shitting leg," Dan informed him, still quite casual-sounding about it.
Nick could hear another male voice asking why exactly Dan was swearing rudely to people on the phone. He presumed this was Phil.
"Would you hold on for just one moment," Dan said. "I'll call you right back." There was a slight moment where he hadn't quite managed to disconnect, and Nick heard faint screaming that went something like I told Nick Jonas I would not serve him the non fucking alcoholic chocolates Phil why is my life like th- before the line cut off entirely.
True to his word, Dan called him exactly two minutes later.
"Sorry about that," he said cheerfully.
"No problem," Nick returned. "Totally fine, don't worry about it."
He was usually much smoother than this.
"So, uh, ah," Dan said, "how is um, LA in the summer? Wow," he continued before Nick had a chance to answer, "that was horrible and awkward, please pretend I didn't say that. Oh god, I am a professional and I had a job which involved a lot of talking to famous people without dying. Why am I like this?"
Nick privately found this rambling mess of a monologue rather charming.
"LA is really hot in the summer," he said. "And so much noisier, people are hot and cranky and lean on their horns."
"Like Phil in the summer mornings," Dan said. "But worse, because he's also hungry."
"Phil can't be as bad as the southbound 101 freeway at peak hour," Nick said.
Dan laughed, and sounded a lot less hysterical when he informed Nick, "You clearly haven't met him before his morning coffee."
"I'm escaping from that for a bit, though," Nick said. "I'll be in London on, uh, Tuesday?"
"Don't underestimate London traffic," Dan warned. "It may not be as loud, but it creeps up on you and then it's three hours later on King’s Road and you're just as dead."
"I won't," Nick returned, and, "that's a morbid place to take things."
"I'm a morbid person, you know me," Dan said, and backtracked rapidly. "Or no, you don't, this is our first proper conversation, what am I saying, maybe I’ll stop talking before you actually get to know me."
Nick smiled at Lyle's terrier, who shot him a confused look and went back to gnawing on one of Nick's Louboutins. "You could help me avoid the worst of it," he suggested. "Wanna hang out? I'll be in the studio all morning, but then we can grab a bite, like, you can tell me the good places to go around there.”
“Hang out,” Dan repeated, slowly. “With me?”
“Mm, hah,” Nick said, “that is to say, yes.” He scrabbled to get his chill back. He was an international popstar, for goodness’ sake. He’d totally been on Billboard the other week. “If you’re down for it,” he added, and winced at how his chill sounded like Joe at his most obnoxious.
“Oh,” Dan said. “Me?”
He sounded doubtful, like Nick had somehow gotten the wrong number from his place of employment and had gotten the wrong Dan Howell and had gotten out what he wanted to ask wrong.
“You,” Nick assured him.
“Oh,” Dan repeated. “Oh, um. Tuesday? Tuesday, yeah, I- okay, yeah, why not?”
He gave a self-conscious little chuckle, which Nick would have found more adorable if he wasn’t busy feeling incredibly relieved about the lack of outright rejection. He gave Lyle’s terrier a thumbs up. Lyle’s terrier showed him its backside, and dragged his horribly expensive shoe out to the swimming pool.
“Um?” Dan said.
“No, no,” Nick said, “no, that’s great, you want to come to the studio because I don’t really trust myself not to get totally lost in London? Yeah? Cool, I’ll send you directions,” and hung up when Dan said bye, and went over to lift Lyle’s terrier into the air and dance with its little paws, ignoring its unimpressed glare.
His stomach was doing flippy-over things. God, he was thirteen. Demi was going to make so much fun of him. “She can’t ever know,” he said to Lyle’s terrier seriously, and it wriggled out of his arms and trotted determinedly off, like it was going to tell her right this second, that was how much it hated everything about Nick.
Tuesday came, and Nick had had an early flight the night before so the jetlag wasn’t hitting him as bad as it could have been. He reached the studio and hugged Daisy tight and fistbumped Aris, and settled into the flow to start going over things with them. He loved this part of it, the chords and words that eventually ended up being something with a beat and soul, the give and take that came together until it became the infectious delight around the room when everybody just knew this was something good. Nick liked this part best. Sometimes he felt like he could live without a lot of it, if he had this part to himself.
At noon there was a tentative knock on the door. Dan Howell gave a small sort-of salute, and then got a despairing expression on his face like he wasn’t quite sure why he’d done that.
“Hey!” Nick said. “Aris, dude, let him in, he’s a friend.”
“Oh, it’s twelve already,” Daisy said. “Gimme a kiss, babes, we have to go. I think this is going pretty well, we’ll work on Gloss tomorrow?” She gave Nick a long wet smacking kiss instead of waiting for his, and while he was wiping it off exaggeratedly Aris followed up with one even wetter, if possible, and Nick groaned and they both smiled at Dan on the way out.
Dan was wearing a soft-looking leather jacket and a worn-looking grey shirt underneath. He looked- very nice, long legs and fringed-up hair and zippy boots, and a bit uncertain. Nick put his guitar aside to give him a hug; he smelled like well-made cologne, and something fresh and clean, and he hugged Nick back, a moment, and there was that self-conscious little laugh again.
“You’re on time,” Nick said. “Didn’t have to face the worst of London traffic, then?”
“Oh, this is a rarity,” Dan told him. “Phil pushed me out the door, I could never have achieved this punctuality on my own.”
Nick picked up his guitar. “Just- I want to get this hook right,” he said, “it’s going to bug me- you don’t mind, do you? Just make yourself comfortable, that’s what the beanbags are for, and I’ll be done in a bit-”
“No, go ahead,” Dan assured him. “I’ll just stare avidly and creepily at you while you create music, if you don’t mind.”
He was joking, but Nick wouldn’t have minded, really. Dan’s eyes were brown and kind and crinkled at the corners when he smiled.
Nick tried to strum out something that he’d tried to hold onto in the sleepy hazy early moment of just-wakefulness, but kept losing now. He got slightly distracted with watching Dan instead; Dan who was wandering around the studio, peering at the instruments, the sheet music strewn on the stool. He held himself a bit like he had never quite gotten used to how tall he was, hunching slightly like he wanted to appear smaller than his very apparent six feet. As someone who’d never gotten used to how short he was, Nick found this terribly endearing.
Dan paused at the keyboard, and slid his fingers familiarly over it in a way that Nick recognised.
“You play?” he asked.
Dan drew his hand away quickly. “No. Very badly. Don’t- I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
“One day,” Nick said, smiling at him. “I’m very persistent.”
He settled back in his seat, and tried to remember what it’d been, Bm, Bm, was it, Bm G D A, shed some warmth before we/ overheat, that sounded- almost it. He bent over to scribble into his notebook, and got distracted again, as he looked up, looked over at Dan, who was reading off the sheet music on the stool.
“Do you play anything else?” he asked.
“The drums,” Dan said, “barely, oh. I know The Tourist, and that’s about it.”
“Oh,” Nick said, messing about with the guitar, Bm D G, for a minute there/ I lost myself, “Radiohead fan,” and Dan’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, yeah, who isn’t?”
He seemed to lose most of his embarrassment after that, and started on rating A Moon Shaped Pool six out of nine, consistent replayable songs, hardly a Kid A or an OK Computer but okay, what could ever be, Hail To The Thief was underrated, would Nick rate In Rainbows higher than Amnesiac? Phil would, the heathen, but Dan maintained: Dollars and Cents.
“I’m a Pablo Honey man myself,” Nick said. “Love the classics. My personal fave is The Gloaming.” He held out for about five seconds before spluttering at the look on Dan’s face. “Shut the fuck up, I thought you were serious,” Dan said.
And that set him off on Muse, Origin of Symmetry, the time he drove Phil around the bend trying to learn Survival, what did Nick think of Drones? And then it was easy to transition into Ingenue, Die Antwoord, FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, video game soundtracks. “We play the Sims one when we’re doing the dishes,” he explained. “It’s incredibly motivational.” He was a continuous flow of animated movements and rapid words, a self-deprecating thread through everything he said that was charming as all hell.
He was also, well, interesting and smart and genuinely funny, and Nick found himself a bit. Well.
Caught up, was how you could put it. Captivated was another. Just a bit.
“What are you working on?” Dan asked, peering over at his notes. “Oh, shit, sorry, I’m being rude,” he said, backing away. “Tell me when I’m being obnoxious, Phil usually keeps me in check.”
“No, it’s okay,” Nick said quickly. “It’s a- I had a dream, this morning, where I had the chorus just right, Bm G D A, see,” he plucked it out, “pads of fingertips/ the shark-point of teeth, shed some warmth before we/ overheat. It’s a song about, well. Wanting someone. That moment before anything really starts to happen.”
“It sounds really good,” Dan said, earnestly. Nick looked at him and thought about his hands, and his mouth, just a little.
“Let me treat you to lunch,” he said, as low and inviting as he knew how. Dan smiled back.
He said: “Same, I’m starving, Wait till you try this Thai place. Let me just tell Phil where we’re headed.”
The Thai place was excellent. Nick had khao na pet and Dan had khao khluk kapi, and they had mango juice. Dan was telling Nick about how he’d ripped his pants onstage, and Nick was laughing and wincing in secondhand embarrassment, jesus. It’d ruin his rep if that ever happened to him, he could just imagine the headlines and Cory’s face, but Dan assured him it was all part of his and his viewers’ special relationship: he continuously embarrassed himself, and they viciously mocked him and his pain. Nick squinted at this. It didn’t seem very nice.
It was at this point that a kid, hardly older than twelve or thirteen, came up to Nick and Dan and shyly asked for a picture. Nick smiled and posed and asked - Kara, their name was - promise not to post it until they’d left.
Dan was pocketing his phone when Nick turned back. “They’re very nice,” he said. “They’re all so very nice and excited and scared, and it’s the sweetest thing.”
Nick, most days, was ambivalent about it - he’d gone through the loving it phase, and the reveling in it phase, and the annoyed of it phase, and then the hating phase - fuck, he’d spent enough time in this industry to cycle through the phases half a dozen times already - but, perhaps it was Dan, or the way Dan said it, that made him resolve to get the kid’s family’s tab when they left the place.
“But anyway,” Dan said. “Enough about me-” Nick fought the urge to interrupt with no, actually, don’t stop talking, I want to know everything, “-how, um. What’s up with you?”
Nick was used to talking to himself, that was a big part of his job, but he opened his mouth and the polished stories for the press, the ones that made him look good and put his Best Foot Forward, as Cory liked to describe it, didn’t come out: instead he talked about Lyle’s dumb terrier who hated his guts, and nearly dropping Valentina on her tiny head and being scared to death of holding her for weeks after, and how Demi was dating some guy who kept crushing Nick’s hand in his muscly, vice-like grip every time they met, for some terrible Manly Posturing reason.
Dan listened, and giggled at the right moments, and said, “He’s got to feel inadequate, can’t blame him for that,” and Nick almost blushed. He had to hide it in his napkin. Feeling hunted, he almost looked around for Demi, who popped up unerringly at moments like this.
“Are you looking for the fan?” Dan asked. “Family’s in the back, but if you’re uncomfortable-”
“No, no,” Nick said, gulping his juice down. “But, yeah, you were going to take me to your place! I want to see it.”
“Oh, right,” Dan said. “Yeah, I just told Phil we’re headed there. Gotta make sure he isn’t walking around naked or anything.”
“Does he do that often?” Nick enquired.
Dan laughed. He pulled out his phone again, tapped at it. Nick stood up and said, “Bathroom.” On the way, he paid their tab and Kara’s family’s, too, and when he returned, Dan said, “You really didn’t have to pay for me.”
“I think I can afford it,” Nick said, very seriously. “It’s a stretch, but I think I can just about cover this month’s rent.”
Dan shook his head, and looked like he might argue more, but Nick said, “Hey, you can get it next time; c’mon, show me the candles that Phil got,” and he brightened again, and started getting ridiculously excited about them and their names that held no relation to their scents. “Foreclosure,” he was exclaiming, on the walk back. “Thanksgiving Dinner. Fantasy Football!”
At the door at the top of the first flight of stairs, Dan knocked, and knocked some more, and yelled, “Phil, I forgot the keys again.”
“Do that often?” Nick said. Dan made a face.
Phil Lester was wearing a sweatshirt and what appeared to be Cookie Monster pajama bottoms; his hair was pushed up, out of the fringe Nick was used to seeing online. He smiled a little distractedly at Nick and said “Hi!” and then turned to Dan, and informed him, “Fourth time this week.”
Dan made the same face at him, and then smiled, dimple pushed deep, and kept smiling, as he said, “Phil, Phil, we tried that Thai place, the one with the excellent tom yum goong? Their shrimp rice is just as good, Phil, we’ve got to go back, also Nick wants to see your large terrible candles which suffocate us, where’d you put them?”
And Nick realised something, like a ton of bricks aimed straight for his innards: with no job laid ahead for him, or professional cameras pointed at him: here, in their home, Dan looked at Phil as adoringly as Nick's parents looked at each other; as Icarus must have stared into the face of the sun even as his wings withered away; as Lyle looked at his stupid terrier.
"Oh," Nick said, feeling a bit foolish about it all and like he should have realised about the fifteenth time Dan had mentioned Phil throughout the afternoon.
Dan looked questioningly at him, oblivious, then when Nick played it off as a cough hiccup thing, pointed to the sofa and asked if Nick would like some chocolates or popcorn, sorry, some people had finished the crisps.
"Chocolates, please," Nick said, and Dan wandered off to rootle through his cupboards. This left Nick with Phil, who’d sat down opposite him; Nick darted him an awkward little glance, hoping he would be absorbed in his phone, or something.
But Phil looked steadily at him like he knew exactly what Nick had been up to all that afternoon.
"Uh," Nick said, suddenly feeling quite wrongfooted and thirteen again. Joe's voice rang in his head: just fake it till you make it, Nickerino. "Hi, man, hi. What were you up to today?"
"Editing videos, that's always time-consuming," Phil said. "That's why I look like I've just re-entered civilisation; there is no concept of space or time in that room.” He was very polite, and smiled at Nick, but Nick somehow suddenly felt like he owed the man an apology, even though he hadn’t known.
Really, he should have known. Dan’s eyes lit up when they talked about the things he loved: Radiohead, and videogames, and Phil.
“I think you look fine,” Nick said, mindlessly. Phil did look tired; he had circles under his eyes, he took his glasses off and rubbed uselessly at them when he caught Nick looking. But Dan came back and said he’d got some for everyone, even the ones that had finished up the crisps meant for guests, and he looked over at Phil like Phil was wondrous and beloved, and didn’t touch him, but peered at him rubbing his eyes and said, “I’ll get us all cups of tea,” and “Nick, you’re in Britain now, you don’t get a choice,” and bustled off.
“So,” Nick said. “How long have you two-”
Phil looked mildly startled, and then huffed out an approximation of a laugh. “Did Dan-”
“No,” Nick said. “No, I- I figured.”
“Most people either don’t, or don’t ask us outright,” Phil told him.
Nick realised that saying See I’m not the only one who didn’t know! would be mildly offensive, perhaps. “You don’t have to answer,” he said, instead.
Phil polished his glasses with the edge of his sweatshirt and put them back on, slow and considering, and said: “Seven years,” calmly.
“But that’s when you-”
He stopped when he realised Phil was watching him, thoughtful about it, and realised he’d just given away that he’d spent effort into researching this, them, him. And also that he’d been kind of a dumbass. As Joe would also say.
“-met,” he finished. “Since you met. That’s so long, that’s. Wow.”
At this, Phil smiled; properly, not the polite one he’d affixed when he’d met Nick at the door. “Yeah,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it.”
They lapsed into silence. In the kitchen, Dan hummed a happy tune that didn’t sound like anything, really. They heard the clink of metal against glass, a swear word, the cheerful sound again, doo-doo-doot-de-doo, E G C, E G C, slightly too-loud, sweet and unself-conscious, here in his home.
“You’re very lucky,” said Nick, and meant it.
Phil held his gaze again, unwavering. “I know,” he said, and Nick believed that.
Dan came in, and handed Nick a Tweety mug, and Phil a One Direction one. Phil’s face softened, that first relieved crease in a well-made bed; he quirked the corner of his mouth gratefully up at him and let his fingers brush Dan’s a bit as he accepted it. Nick wouldn’t have noticed, this morning: he made himself focus now. Dan sat next to Phil and they didn’t touch, a distance between them on the sofa, small and measured. There was something about the way they sat that made Nick think of the way Dan unconsciously made himself smaller, almost like he wanted to fit inside someone’s arms, perhaps. Perhaps.
Dan placed his mug on the table. He leaned forwards and asked Nick, “So how do you feel about Mario Kart?”
“I am a master at Mario Kart,” said Nick. Somewhere between battling nerves as he’d dialled the number Radio One had given him and the sharp-sour realisation of a few minutes ago, he had somehow decided, without realising it, that he would like to have this person in his life. In any capacity possible, and even if said capacity had narrowed to something less than he’d hoped for.
Dan said, “Phil! He says he is a master at Mario Kart.”
“I heard, Dan,” Phil told him, settling back into the cushions and not touching him, of course; just curling his fingers around his steaming 1D mug and smiling indulgently at him, warm as any kiss. “You’ve done it now,” he told Nick. “And if you beat him, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Dan, springing up from the sofa, informed Nick, “You’re not beating me,” highly offended and very certain about it. They both watched him as he grabbed the remote, the controllers; they couldn’t not watch him, really.
Afternoon light streamed through Nick’s doors, bringing with it Demi, obviously attuned to the fact that he’d embarrassed himself recently and clad in a magenta sundress and a totally unnecessary monstrosity of a straw hat, and bearing Lyle’s terrier in her arms.
“Oh, god,” Nick said, and turned back to his beer and his Two Towers.
“Day drinking, Nicholas?” Demi enquired, looking quite used to this frosty welcome. “What’s become of you now?”
“Please leave, Lovato,” Nick ordered without much hope. “And bring that awful mutt with you.”
“Don’t be mean to Terry,” Demi said. Terry the Terrier, of course. Jesus, Lyle. “And you did offer to babysit him; Lyle told me you had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon.”
Nick nodded. This seemed reasonable. Everybody hated him.
“Wanna tell me about it?” Demi said, dropping down on the carpet beside him. She let Terry free, and Terry immediately went for Nick’s other Louboutin.
But she set an elbow on the sofa and passed a comforting hand over his head, so Nick sighed and laid his face in the curve of her neck.
“Guy I liked wasn’t interested,” he muttered. “Had a boyfriend. A bit embarrassed.”
“Oh, Nicholas,” Demi said, very kindly. She pressed a comforting kiss to his temple, and continued: “Haven’t you realised that behind that dashing smile and killer physique, you have an absolutely awful, repellent personality?”
“You’re a mean and horrible witch, and I don’t know why you have fans,” Nick told her, but smiled reluctantly anyway. She had a knack for that, too.
“Good tune,” she said, and Nick remembered Overheat had come out today; he’d had a few texts about how it was topping the charts, been sent a few links to articles about how it was a husky, sweeping declaration of desire that might be one of his best yet. Or something. “Yeah,” he said, and hated that he sounded all mopey and shit.
“He’s missing out,” she told him, before she took a swig of his beer and unpaused Frodo and Sam hanging out and being generally homoerotic.
“I really wish,” Nick said, thinking of the way Dan looked at Phil, trusting and easy, ridiculously besotted and unashamed about it, “that I could agree.”