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2011: Your Age

There are five minutes left in the year 2011, and Nick Grimshaw is spending them in self-imposed exile.

He locked himself in the bathroom a while ago, and if that wasn’t pathetic enough, it’s not even his bathroom. It’s the guest bathroom in Louis and Harry’s apartment, because Nick, in a fit of insanity, had accepted their (mostly Harry’s) invitation to what they promised would be an ‘absolutely banging’ New Year’s Eve party. He told Aimee he was only going so he could see how wild a party hosted by a couple of teenagers could possibly get, but he knows she probably saw right through that excuse to its self-destructive idiot center.

If Nick called her now to complain about his current predicament, he would be sacrificing his one remaining shred of dignity. She’s the only person he can call, though, because she’s the only person on Earth who knows he’s spent the last three months dodging the seduction attempts of a seventeen-year old popstar.


 

It started in late September, the first night that they met. Nick thought it was fucking hilarious, getting invited to the GQ dinner only to end up seated next to One bloody Direction. They were all obnoxious teenage boys, of course, but they’d clearly already had enough media training to behave themselves. Harry in particular proved himself a charming presence, so Nick decided to throw him a bone and take him to an exclusive afterparty that was kicking off once the awards dinner ended.

In retrospect, this was a capital-M Mistake. Harry clearly thought that Nick had ulterior motives, because the two of them hadn’t been at the party very long at all before Harry suggested they ‘find somewhere quiet for a bit’; his tomato-red face clued Nick in to just what he was actually suggesting.

Nick was so blind-sided by the proposition that he said the first thing that came to mind: “Maybe when you’re older, pop star." Between the words themselves and the overly airy tone that he delivered them with, he probably sounded far more flippant and condescending than Harry deserved.

Nick immediately wanted to hit himself around the head, but the naked hurt on Harry’s face served as enough of a suckerpunch. He recovered quickly, though, with the resilience of youth, and pretended that he’d just wanted to ask Nick some questions about his job at the Beeb. Nick indulged the claim, figuring he’d bruised the kid’s ego enough for one evening.

As it turned out, the two of them had a lot to talk about, being two Northern lads who couldn’t help feeling out of place in London’s posh club scene. Nick came away from the party with a massive hangover and a new friend, and he thought it would be easy for them to leave that awkward beginning behind.

He thought a lot of things, that first night.  

A month later, Nick had to find out through the effing tabs that Harry — one of Nick’s friends — was shagging Caroline Flack, who was another one of Nick’s friends. When he called Harry up to bitch at him for not giving Nick a heads-up, Harry was...strange about it.

“It’s just a casual thing,” Harry said, his voice equally bitchy for seemingly no reason. Then he followed it up by pronouncing, “Not everyone is hung up over dating people a bit younger than them,” and ah. There it was.

It was probably a bit fucked up that Nick’s first reaction was to be flattered. But honestly, it was gratifying that one of the world’s most sought-after boys was going to such lengths to make him jealous. Then again, Harry Styles was a sought-after boy : not a man by a long shot, especially if he was pulling stunts like this. Caroline might have been willing to overlook that, but Nick wasn't able to do the same.

“Well. Good for you two,” he said, as noncommittally as he could manage. “Modern romance and all that.”

Harry let out a huff of dissatisfaction, but changed the subject to their upcoming Christmas plans easily enough, so, again, Nick was willing to let it go, just like the awkwardness from the party. If he’d had any sense, he would have thought a little harder about what it would mean to have Harry over to his house for the holidays, considering Harry was nursing some kind of baby gay crush on him.

But crush or no, he was dating Cazza (or had a 'casual thing' with her, anyway), so Nick wasn't worried. Besides, if he disinvited Harry from Christmas dinner, Nick’s parents would disown him. His mom was already well on her way to liking Harry more than her own children, and his dad was much the same, Henri Stars gaffs aside.

Unfortunately, when the holidays actually rolled around, Harry was single again and back to being absolutely shameless. By the third time he and Harry had 'coincidentally' ended up under the mistletoe at the same time, Nick was ready to start tearing his hair out. He’d managed to keep things chaste thus far, only kissing Harry on the cheek each time. Surprisingly, Harry was yet to insist on a proper snog, and he hadn’t tried ‘accidentally’ turning his head so their lips connected, either. That had to mean he was gearing up to make an even more cliché maneuver.

Nick was half-convinced that maneuver was going to involve nudity, and so he spent all of Christmas Eve day on high alert, ready to dive behind a potted plant at the first sign of a naked teenager. Luckily, the rest of his family (and the general restraints of polite society) seemed to be enough of a deterrent, and Nick was finally able to relax when they settled down for dinner.

Harry was seated across from him, which didn’t immediately set any alarm bells off. Then, barely ten minutes after they’d started eating, he felt Harry bumping his foot under the table. Nick froze; his mother was literally less than a metre away from him. Harry wouldn’t actually —

Harry clearly would, because he was now running his foot up Nick’s leg. Nick raised his eyebrows at Harry incredulously. Harry politely furrowed his own back, feigning confusion even as his foot trailed higher and higher, until finally it brushed against the crotch of Nick’s trousers.

Nick muttered an excuse about forgetting to send an email for work and fled the dining room. Once he was actually in the relative safety of his bedroom, though, it was his phone he grabbed, not his laptop. He dialled Aimee's number frantically; when she finally picked up, Nick didn’t bother with greetings or seasonal well-wishes before he started explaining the direness of his current situation. She was less than impressed.

"So you’re trying to tell me that a gorgeous and famous pop star is throwing himself at you and this is somehow a problem?"

"Jesus Aimee," Nick said in exasperation, "Even if I was interested, which I'm not , he’s — he’s just too young, all right?"

"Well if you’re not interested, then why are you getting your knickers in a twist about it?" Aimee pointed out, still maddeningly calm. "Should be easy for you to ignore whatever a teenager's idea of a mating ritual is."

"It should be easy for me to ignore a footjob attempt?" Nick asked incredulously. "Or the mistletoe attacks? I'm being sexually harassed here, you know. You could stand to be more sympathetic."

"Sure Nick, I can do that," Aimee said, her voice now syrupy-sweet. "If you can tell me that all this attention isn't stroking your ego in the slightest."

Nick couldn't tell her that, of course. He hung up on her instead, and got a text featuring several middle-finger emojis a few moments later.

Regardless of his conflicted emotions, he made sure to strategically distance himself from Harry for the rest of the night. He was relieved once December 26th rolled around and there was no chance of him getting caught under the mistletoe with the little menace again.

In his relief, he'd managed to forget a certain other holiday kissing tradition was looming on the horizon.


And now Nick's here, on New Year's Eve, hiding in a sodding bathroom.

He's not certain Harry would actually try to kiss him when midnight comes; there are more than a few people who could whip out their phones and document an indiscretion at any moment.

It's still a possibility, though, which is why he ducked in here. One thing's for sure; Nick's not going to call Aimee again. He's done more than enough hand wringing over this. He'll just wait until it's midnight, and after that the coast will be clear and Harry won't be able to plant one on him while maintaining plausible deniability.

He gives it a few extra minutes, just to be safe. When his phone reads 0:05, Nick unlocks the door and steps out of the bathroom. A wall of sound hits him instantly. The previously muffled celebrations he could hear through the wall are now at full volume. As he makes his way back to the centre of the party, he peers cautiously around for Harry.

When Nick does manage to spot him, he's in a right state: clearly even more sloshed than he was when he welcomed Nick in earlier, giggling hysterically, and draped over someone's back.

It's Louis that he's pawing, Nick notices after a moment, squinting across the dark apartment. He starts walking over to them, but stops dead in the middle of the room, finally noticing the way Harry's pressing kiss after slobbery kiss all over Louis' face.

Nick watches Louis gently cupping the back of Harry's head, and sees Harry respond by nuzzling even closer, like he’s trying to become a permanent fixture on Louis’ body.

Well, problem solved, then. Get a few drinks in him and Harry's apparently more than happy to transfer his burgeoning crisis of sexuality onto a more willing victim. Nick ignores the little twist of emotion in his chest that is definitely not disappointment or jealousy, and goes off to find a drink of his own.

(If the lights in the apartment had suddenly flipped on, Nick would have seen that everyone else standing near Harry and Louis was pointing and laughing at them. If the music had suddenly been turned off, he would have heard Louis' disgusted voice telling Harry to shove off already and go find a girl to kiss. If he'd walked a little closer, instead of farther away, he would have been able to see Harry's face crumple.

None of those things happen. The story moves on.)


2012: Your Sexuality

"I can vote now," is the first thing Harry says when their Skype call connects. Nick blinks at him.

“Yes, that's definitely the most exciting part about a boy turning eighteen,” he says. “Being able to buy your own alcohol? Overrated. Exercising your democratic rights is much more important.”

“I know you said it as a joke, but voting is, technically, more important than buying alcohol,” Harry points out.

“Are you saying that for any ethical reason or just because you know you’ll never have to buy your own drinks for the rest of your life?” Nick asks, and watches as Harry grins mischievously.

“Tosser,” Nick says fondly, settling back in his desk chair. He’s temporarily nicked a BBC office to make this call, but it’s after midnight, so he’s not likely to get kicked out. Even though it means staying at work even later than normal, he’s glad that they were able to find time to connect. They’ve made tentative plans to see each other later this month, but they’re both way too busy to know whether they’ll be able to follow through on those plans.

Nick’s also pleased that Harry’s taking a break from his raucous birthday celebrations to talk with him. It’s clearly been wild so far; Harry’s hair is damp with sweat, his clothes look rumpled, and from what Nick can see behind him, his hotel room is trashed in proper rock star fashion. He considers saying something about how much he appreciates the call, but that would probably come off the wrong way (or the right way, but going down that path is dangerous).

So instead he just listens, a bit bemused, as Harry lists off all the other adult things he can now do, like enlist in the military, buy cigarettes, and get tattoos.  

He almost falls out of his chair when Harry says, “I would mention ‘having sex with a consenting adult’, but I’ve been legally allowed to do that for a year.”

Nick stares at him. Harry stares back, straight into the camera of his laptop. He could almost be looking into Nick’s eyes.

“You know, I sort of thought we'd moved past that,” Nick says weakly.

“Really? I seem to recall you never actually telling me you weren't interested,” Harry says, a mulish expression on his face. “You said when I was older —”

“I said maybe,” Nick clarifies, cutting Harry off.

He searches his mind for another excuse, now that his ‘you're a minor’ schtick has expired; he could say that a few months older isn't exactly a difference, but Nick's fucked too many barely legal models in his day for that to have any impact. He also can't give an outright "no" because well, it's Harry's birthday. That would be rude (and it would also, Nick thinks privately, be a lie).

“Considering all the girls you pull, I just don't think we'd be compatible,” is what Nick settles on, instantly regretting it when Harry pulls a face at him.

“What's that supposed to mean, exactly?"

“You know what I mean, Styles. It's all well and good for a young, open-minded lad like you to be curious about getting off with a guy. But that usually means only being up for anything that you could also do with a girl.” When Harry just looks at him, clearly unimpressed, Nick continues a little more pointedly: “That tactic isn't likely to work with me.”

Harry rolls his eyes and relaxes his posture. “You could just say you prefer to top, you know.”

Jesus, Nick thinks. This kid — no, not a kid anymore, even if he’s still a teenager — is going to be the death of him.

“I can't imagine what you think you know about my preferences, Harry Styles,” he says, trying for cattiness, but his tone does nothing to dim Harry's smug little smirk.

"Well, clearly you don't know anything about mine," Harry says, and then refuses to explain, changing the subject entirely to tell Nick all the craziest things that have happened on his tour thus far. Nick tries to follow the conversation instead of dissecting Harry's comment, and what it could mean. All he succeeds in doing is remembering the last (and so far, only) time he went down that particular thought spiral.


Two weeks ago, Nick jerked off while thinking about Harry. Two weeks ago, it was still January. Two weeks ago, Harry was still seventeen. And Nick still did it — still stuck his hand down his pants in the middle of the night, no specific wanking fantasy in mind, and an image of Harry burst into his mind completely unprompted. Nick took his hand off his dick so fast he almost scratched himself.

No. Absolutely not, Nick thought. He knew he was a pervert, but even he had his limits. Jerking off to a minor (even a legal one) was well past those limits. Even so, Harry was still there, hovering in the forefront of his mind. At least he wasn’t nude; apparently Nick’s self-conscious wasn’t quite that depraved. Instead, Harry was wearing the oversize, lumpy sweater he’d had on last month, during the holidays. As far as mental images went, a gangly teenager in an ugly holiday sweater wasn’t a particularly arousing one. Nick was almost willing to convince himself that it was just an intrusive thought, and then suddenly he was picturing Harry lifting the sweater to show Nick that he wasn’t wearing any pants under it.

Nick’s dick went from mostly uninterested to completely hard in record time. He stared down at his lap, almost astonished at the way his body had just betrayed him. Harry had worn that sweater while opening presents with Nick’s family . On Christmas morning. Surely, that thought was enough to make his dick wilt. Instead, he just imagined Harry sneaking into his bedroom while everyone else was busy — maybe even stripping down and spreading out on Nick’s bed, waiting for Nick to come looking for him. ‘Imagined’ was the key word, here; the actual Harry hadn’t gone that far.

But this was a fantasy, not reality. No one would ever know if Nick indulged in it. So he took one more moment to acknowledge that he was completely fucked, and then he finally gave in and wrapped a hand around himself again.

In his mind, the Nick of a month ago made his excuses to his family and went upstairs, knowing deep down what he would find when he opened his bedroom door. It was still a shock to the system to walk into the room from his childhood and see Harry lying on his stomach, face mashed into a pillow as he —

The real Nick gripped his cock guiltily, but he still pictured it: Harry whining pitifully as he screwed two fingers up his arse, not managing to get the angle right all by himself. It was only right — only a basic kindness — if Nick helped him out.

“Having trouble, Hazza?” Nick asked, and Harry’s head jerked up from the pillow. His face cycled through several expressions in the span of a few seconds: from panic at being caught, to relief it was Nick and not someone else who’d walked in, to a hungry kind of hope when he saw that Nick wasn’t walking away or freaking out.

“Please, Grimmy,” he said softly. It was the only thing he needed to say; Nick was already moving over to the bed. He loomed over Harry a moment, trying to figure out what to focus on first, before deciding to get that ridiculous sweater off him. Once he’d pulled it over Harry’s head, he took a second just to look.

He didn’t spend too long admiring, though. He had to get his greedy hands on Harry as soon as possible. Reaching down, Nick gently tugged Harry’s fingers out of his hole, hushing him gently when he squeaked a little at the sensation. Then he replaced Harry’s fingers with two of his own. He had a grandiose idea to time the strokes of his hand on his own cock with the imagined thrust of his fingers into Harry’s body; but just the thought of feeling how tightly Harry’s insides would clutch at him had Nick shooting into his hand before he’d even managed to work up a proper wanking rhythm.


Nick thinks about that night — about his one moment of weakness — as he watches his freshly eighteen best mate speak. He’s off on some excited tangent about falling on his arse onstage. Nick watches, and remembers, and promises himself that he won’t do it again. Harry is a (very young, very vulnerable) most likely straight boy who might be interested in experimenting with his older, experienced gay friend, but he’d probably run away if he knew what Nick was interested in doing to him. It’s better to let him stew until he finds a nice girlfriend of an appropriate age. Once he has, he’ll forget he ever thought he was interested in a man on the wrong side of twenty-five.

Nick’s decision is validated several months later, when he hears (from the tabs, again , because Harry doesn’t bloody tell him anything) that Harry’s started dating Taylor Swift, who’s about as different from Nick as humanly possible. It isn’t a particularly long-lasting relationship, but that’s okay. Harry’s settled into himself now, surely. He’ll have a string of skinny blonde girlfriends, and Nick won’t be jealous of any of them, because they’ll be change with the seasons, but Nick will stay right at Harry’s side. Maybe not quite in that way that he doesn’t let himself imagine anymore, but it’s enough.

(If Nick had asked Harry how his relationship with Taylor was going, Harry would have told him that it made him nervous, because he didn't feel like they wanted the same things. Nick would have asked him to clarify, and Harry would have admitted that he meant ‘in bed’. Then Nick would have asked him to clarify even further, and Harry would have said that whenever he jerked off, he liked to finger himself and imagine he was getting fucked or eaten out, and he didn't know if he'd ever find any girl, let alone Taylor specifically, who might like to do that to him. Then Nick would finally realise he had the wrong end of the stick about what exactly Harry Styles wanted.

Nick doesn't ask any questions. The story moves on.)


2013: Our Schedules

Nick has a Pavlovian reaction to the buzz of his phone nowadays: equal parts anxiety and arousal, with a little pinch of anger too, some of the time.

This definitely qualifies as one of those times, because he's in public , having a nice brunch with Aimee. They're taking advantage of the cafe's outdoor seating before the day gets too unbearably hot; summer is very brief in London, but it gets more and more intolerable with each passing year.

Nick tries to stamp down his reaction, even when his phone buzzes a few more times in a matter of minutes: a sure sign that the texts are from Harry, who couldn't send multiple sentences in a single text if his life depended on it. Luckily, his sunglasses can hide his face, but he’s still no match for Aimee’s eagle eye. She must spot the way he’s suddenly frozen in his seat. She puts down her teacup and gives him a certified Look.

“Would you like to check your phone, love?” Aimee asks. “I won’t even make a comment about a lack of manners.”

“You’re only saying that because you’re hoping I just received a bit of gossip and want me to share it with you,” Nick says.

Aimee shrugs. “Seems mutually beneficial to me.”

Nick rolls his eyes and tries to ignore his phone burning a hole in his pocket. He’ll check it once he’s alone. Part of him still obsesses over it, though: while he’s chatting with Aimee, he’s barely taking in what she’s saying. Five messages — that has to mean at least one picture, right? God, Nick remembers that Harry mentioned placing an order for a new toy recently. Maybe it’s a photo of that; maybe it’s a photo of Harry using his new purchase. Nick hopes it’s just a photo. He doesn’t think he could survive a video.

It’s not as if Nick’s actually bothered about the lifetime supply of wanking material he’s currently getting at odd hours of the day. But even if he wanted to complain, he knows he has no right to do so; this whole mess started because of his own foot-in-mouth syndrome.


It was the summer of 2013, and One Direction was the biggest band in the world.

Harry had spent most of the year thus far touring. It felt like he and Nick barely got the chance to talk, let alone meet up in person. Nick wasn’t fussed about it. Truly, he wasn’t. He was happy that Harry was off in America right now playing to sold out arenas and making millions of pounds every week. If Nick was in his place, he’d be too busy to answer texts from his friends too.

Okay, so Nick was a little bothered. He didn’t let it show, though. He liked to think he did a good job of keeping any resentment buried deep down, at least on the all-too rare occasions that he and Harry did get the chance to talk. That went out the window when, during one of those rare phone calls, he ended up saying “God, I bet you’re as relieved as I am that you stopped liking me ages ago.”

Harry paused, and Nick winced into the confused silence.

“What are you on about, Nick,” Harry said, and Nick pictured the way his brow would pinch in consternation as he said it. “I like you quite a lot. You’re one of my closest friends.”

"Oh, I'm aware," Nick said airily, not adding that the reminder was sorely appreciated. "I just mean that little bicurious thing you had going on the first few months we knew each other. Would’ve ended up being dead inconvenient if we’d actually tried to make anything work, what with you on another continent most of the time."

Nick was impressed with himself. He didn’t know if he’d ever dug his own grave quite so thoroughly before. There was silence again on Harry’s end of the phone, but it broke up into incredulous splutters soon enough.

"There are so many things wrong with that sentence," Harry said, his voice even slower than it usually was, like he was stunned by Nick's stupidity.

“You know what, forget I said anything,” Nick said, desperately trying to backpedal out of the mess he'd just dumped on both of them.

“I don't think I will, actually,” Harry replied. “There's just too much to address.” His voice was sunny now, but with a mean edge to it that Nick had never heard before.

“Firstly: bicurious? Really? We've known each other for two years, Nick, and as you just pointed out, I used to have a crush on you. How could you possibly not know I like guys as well as girls?”

“Well you never...told me that you did?” Nick tried weakly.

“I literally propositioned you the night we met, Nick,” Harry said, like he was talking to a particularly dim child.

Nick’s next defense was “Well, but then...your girlfriends?” That was eviscerated even faster.

“Again — I like guys as well as girls,” Harry said, sounding properly mad now. “Don't tell me you're about to say bisexuality doesn't exist."

“Of course not,” Nick said, but this gave him an opening and he was going to take advantage of it. “But you said before that you weren't bi. In an interview and everything.”

“Oh yeah, because I'm totally free to say whatever I want without any consequences falling back on the band.” Harry's voice was flat.

“Okay, okay, fair enough. Sorry,” Nick said, trying to appease him. Hopefully he wouldn't —

“And as for the other bit,” Harry continued, dashing Nick's hopes, “I'm more than capable of maintaining a relationship even when I'm tour. People do long distance all the time.”

“Well, you're not exactly doing the best job of maintaining ours,” Nick shot back, because apparently he was unable to help himself. “And we're just friends. God help any poor person who expects actual intimacy from you.”

Nick could practically hear Harry grinding his teeth.

“Okay, you know what? Fine. I'll prove it to you,” Harry declared, and then he hung up on Nick. His phone went straight to voicemail when Nick tried to call back. Well, all right then. Nick gave him a few days to cool off, waiting patiently for a sign of life. It wasn’t that different from the last two weeks; between the time zone difference and One Direction’s non-stop schedule, they’d hadn’t been able to talk anyway (again: Nick wasn’t that bothered. Honestly.).

When Nick finally did get a text from Harry, his feeling of vindication lasted only as long as it took him to open the message. A second later, his phone clattered to the floor. Nick wasn't even aware that he had dropped it; his whole body felt numb with shock. His cock had apparently got with the proceedings quicker than the rest of him, though, because he was more aroused than he'd been since — well, since that one furtive masturbation session about Harry, more than a year ago now.

Slowly, like it was a wild animal that might bite him, Nick bent down and picked up his phone. Even though he was alone at home, he still cast a furtive look around his living room to make sure there were no witnesses.

Then, he unlocked his phone again, and there it was. A photo of Harry's fingers, which were partially obscured because he was — well, because he was doing what Nick had once come all over himself imagining Harry doing.

Um wrong number lolllll is what Nick finally texted back, because playing it off as a joke or mistake was the only way to survive this interaction.

no, it's the right one, was Harry's reply, which was immediately followed by just feeling frustrated atm because it's hard to pull guys when i'm on tour - security risk, you know? A second later, he sent two more photos, each of which gave Nick a brand new angle of the way Harry's fingers were buried inside himself. Then, finally, another written text, with a sad face emoji attached: i miss getting fucked.

Nick stared at the messages as they arrived, and then he kept staring for a bit after that, as if he expected his phone to be inundated with deeply inappropriate messages from Harry Styles for the rest of time. When none more were forthcoming, even after several minutes of waiting, Nick exhaled in relief. Clearly Harry was waiting on him to respond. Nick nodded decisively, then deleted all six messages, locked his phone, and threw it across the room.  


Nick doesn't know why he expected Harry to be deterred by a lack of response. His sexting campaign has ruthlessly continued, and each message is sent at completely random times, so Nick is never prepared. Honestly, there's not that many time zones in America — Nick knows Harry's doing it on purpose.

Again, it’s not like Nick minds, per say. If he did, he would have said so; he knows Harry would have stopped instantly. Instead, here Nick is, clambering in the back of a cab after saying his goodbyes to Aimee, fingers twitching with the urge to get out his phone, even though he knows if he does, he’ll just end up with a tent in his trousers the whole ride home.

He breaks only a few minutes into the commute, and opens his phone. There aren’t any pictures this time; Nick is both relieved and a little disappointed. The messages, once he reads them, though, are maybe even more overwhelming than a photo would have been.

got my new plug in right now.

thinking about going onstage with it still in.

it’s not as nice as a dick would feel, but it’s still good.

wish it were your dick filling me up instead.

too much?

The last message is timestamped several minutes after the first four. Nick doesn’t notice that at first, because he’s too busy having a heart attack. Every message Harry’s sent so far this summer since their terse conversation has been shamelessly sexual, but until now he’s left Nick out of it. He’s gone on and on about how much he misses sucking dick and getting fucked, but he’s not once said anything about who it is he wants fucking him.

So far, Nick’s only been able to torture himself by imagining just when exactly over the last two years Harry started finding guys to shag, and how he somehow missed that development. He’s also been having to eat humble pie, with the way Harry’s been proving him wrong twice over with every text: the frequent arrival of the messages shows that he can be attentive, and the content of the messages ensure that Nick will never, for the rest of his life, forget that Harry’s interested in guys too.

Now, a whole new world of torment is open to him. Now, he knows that Harry wants to get fucked by Nick as much as Nick wants to fuck Harry. Nick knows he has to finally get over himself and reply to let Harry know that by no means is it ‘too much’.  

By the time he’s finished composing his response, he’s halfway back to his house.

Don’t worry, it wouldn’t be too much. I’m only a few centimetres bigger than the national average.

It’s both a joke, and a chance for Harry to save face if he’s regretting his messages. He could send some funny comment back about not being interested if Nick’s not well hung, and then return to sending more generic sexts that don’t mention other people at all.

What Harry actually sends is this:

it’d still be more than enough.

And then:

i’m so tight that it always takes me ages to open myself up enough, even for just a plug.

And then, to complete the trio:

you’d have to spend a long time fingering me before I’m ready for your cock.

Nick’s the biggest fool on the planet. It’s going to be at least a half hour before he’s back home, and can finally do something about his already-painful erection.

That’d be quite the hardship for us both, I’m sure , Nick writes back, fingers shaking as he types it out. But I’m sure we could manage it, if you want.

i do want that, Harry sends instantly. i want that more than anything.

Before Nick can freak out about that message and all it could mean, his phone buzzes again, just twice this time.

gotta go, have to be onstage in five mins, but seriously i’m so glad you responded, nick.

talk soon.

Nick spends the rest of the cab ride in crisis mode. When he gets back home, he paces around his bedroom for some time, erection forgotten. What, Nick wonders, could Harry have meant by saying he was glad? Obviously, Harry’s interested in him, but to what extent? Is he just desperate for sex and decided to go after someone he knows won’t out him? Even if Harry is serious — if he has feelings for Nick — he also just left Nick high and dry to go perform, and Harry’s constantly split attention was exactly the problem that started this mess.

Nick’s well aware that he’s spiraling, but he can still fix this situation. Before he can second-guess himself, he opens his chat history with Harry and finally replies.

I’m glad too. Some casual cyber sex sounds like a good distraction from our busy schedules. Easier than trying to bother with an actual boyfriend.

Needless to say, Harry doesn’t text him back.

(If Nick had waited until he got home to reply to Harry's first set of messages, then Harry would have already gone on stage, and thus been unable to answer for several hours. Nick would have spent those hours freaking out, thinking he’d finally scared off his best mate for good, and all because of a joke about his own dick size. So when Harry finally did respond, Nick would have been too relieved to go into crisis mode about Harry's admission of interest. Instead, he would have replied in kind, and then spent the next several months talking Harry through using his toys and his fingers to get off, until they could see each other in person and Nick could shag him properly.

Nick sends the first message when he’s still in the cab. The story moves on.)


2014: Your Closet

Nick watches Harry say the words “not that important” during an interview, and knows he has to call him.

Nick will have to be careful, considering the topic he wants to discuss. It wouldn’t do to break all the rules he's set for himself over the last year about How to Talk to His Best Mate Harry Styles Without Causing Drama. The rules have yielded good results thus far. Being 20% more friendly to Harry than he would be to other people has prevented any hurt feelings. Avoiding the subject of Harry’s sexuality at all costs (or at least deftly changing topics as soon as possible) has prevented a repeat of anything like what Nick refers to in his head as the Sexting Incident of 2013. Nick knows that he’s risking an awkward conversation, but he dials Harry’s number anyway.

The second Harry picks up, Nick just goes for it: “You’re in a world of shit right now, aren’t you, pop star?”

“Hello to you too, Nicholas. So good to hear from you,” Harry says, in a far more level tone of voice than Nick expected.

“You don’t sound like a man who’s had a PR team screaming at him for hours,” Nick says, which at least gets Harry to laugh.

“I’m guessing the Fourplay interview came out today?” Harry asks. “Yeah, I got reamed out about that when we filmed it. Guess I should be looking for a reminder email to not respond to any questions on Twitter about ‘what I meant.’”

Nick tries to think of something to say that’s appropriately sympathetic but also not verging into dangerous territory. But apparently Harry wasn’t finished, because a second later, all in one breath, he adds, “I’m staying pretty zen about it, though. It’s not like it’s going to matter for that much longer.”

Harry says it so quickly — for him, anyway — that Nick can’t parse his words right away. Once he does understand, he’s still confused.

“What do you mean by that, exactly?”

Nick can tell Harry’s trying to play it cool, but it doesn’t make what he says any less monumental: “I’ve talked with the lads, and we’ve agreed to go on hiatus at the end of next year. Nobody’s going to be telling me what to do after that, so I don’t really mind the fuss right now.”

Holy shit.

That would be the scoop of the century, if Nick were enough of an asshole to leak it. As it is, he’s only enough of any asshole to say, “Somehow I doubt that agreement was easily won.”

“Well, I’ve told them that’s what I’m going to do, anyway,” Harry tells him. And they know they’ll never make it as a band without you , Nick fills in silently, because Harry would never say it or probably even think it.

“So what,” Nick says, still trying to wrap his brain around this new information, “It’s just going to be all same-sex PDA all the time once you’re on hiatus? Are you going to get yourself an Instagram-official boyfriend?”

Too late, Nick remembers his rules. But Harry just whispers a soft “Maybe,” and then Nick’s fucked, because he’s remembering a lot of other things too.


 

Harry had a break from tour just when the fall fashion season was coming into full swing. He and Nick were so busy supporting their mutual friends’ various collections and attending fashion shows (sometimes together) that they hadn’t had time to really talk about Harry ghosting him for two months after spending just as long sending him sexts and naked photos. That was pretty daunting ground to cover, so Nick was grateful they were avoiding the subject.

But soon, Harry would be on the other side of the planet for the Australian leg of his tour. Nick knew things had to come to a head before then. He didn’t love the idea of asking Aimee for advice beforehand, but clearly Nick’s judgment was shit, and he wanted to avoid mucking things up even more than he already had.

Still, he had no idea if Harry was out to her, so he tried to keep things vague. Nick was sure she knew exactly who he was talking about, but she kept up the ruse for him, and didn’t ask who it was exactly that Nick had burned so badly. She also didn’t have any sage wisdom for him, because she thought he was being a tit.

“Nick. You either like this person, or you don’t. He either likes you back, or he doesn’t. If you’re actually friends like you claim, then you’ll survive a conversation about which of those possibilities is reality.”

When Nick actually managed to get Harry alone for long enough to apologise, it only turned into another argument, although at least it was Harry’s fault this time. He’d made some comment about getting shit from some of the people on his team about how much time he’d been spending with Nick, and while Harry didn’t care about rumours, he did care about whether he was hurting the band.

That got Nick’s hackles up instantly, and before he knew it, he was saying some absolute dog shit about how he, personally, was too old to waste time worrying about those kinds of issues, and, just generally speaking, of course, he’d never want to date someone still in the closet. Harry’s nostrils flared and his posture went as stiff as a board, but he was smarter than Nick, and knew to change the subject instead of going down that path.

After that argument, Nick came up with a set of rules for all his future interactions with Harry, and their friendship was on level ground once more.


Some part of Nick must be a secret romantic, because he’s wondering if that conversation has anything to do with Harry going so radically off-script during an interview, or even whether it impacted his decision to suggest the hiatus.

That part of Nick is also apparently a narcissist. There’s no way Harry would make such an important personal and professional decision just because of something Nick said ages ago.

So he sticks to his rules instead: over-correct with friendliness and veer the topic away from sexuality.

“Well, good on you, mate,” Nick says, injecting as much hearty cheer into his voice as he can. “Anyway, just wanted to give you a shout and see what could have gotten into you. Thanks for sharing.” He winces at how stilted he sounds, but at least it helps to wrap the conversation up quickly. Nick checks his phone after they say their goodbyes, and even though it had felt much longer, the whole call had only taken five minutes. The rules continue to serve him well.

(If the phone call had been six minutes long, there would have been time enough for Harry to say that it was for Nick: not just the blasé interview comments, but the hiatus, too. He would have confessed that any and every step he’s taken closer to being his true self has been for Nick. He would have asked Nick to please just wait for him, until the hiatus started, and then they could be as obnoxiously gay together as Nick wanted. Nick would have told him yes.

The phone call was only five minutes long. The story moves on.)


2015: Our Commitment Issues

Nick has no reason to hate Xander Ritz. He’s perfectly nice in an average, non-threatening way: very American without being obnoxious, very much an athlete without the hypermasculine posturing, and very in love with Harry Styles, without looking like a starfucker. In fact, Nick’s one of very few people who’s even picked up on the fact that Xander and Harry are dating. He doesn’t even think anyone else in Harry’s band knows, which says less about Nick’s detective skills and more about the rapidly disintegrating state of things over in Direction-land.

It’s funny, because Harry isn’t really hiding the fact that he has a boyfriend. He’s just not comfortable with being demonstrative in public, and so therefore it’s an impossible thought that Harry could be in a relationship with the man who’s constantly spending time with him, is allowed backstage at his concerts, and who goes on dates with him. Or, Nick supposes, outings that would and have been called dates in the past when Harry was with a girl, whether or not he was actually dating her.

Anyway, Harry has a boyfriend, said boyfriend seems like a nice guy, and neither of them are trying particularly hard to hide the fact that they’re dating.

If Nick hates Xander’s guts, it’s only because deep down, he hates himself even more for not realising how it would feel to see Harry in a stable relationship with a man — especially when he could have started preparing for it months ago.


 

Nick was drunk, and so he’d forgotten his Rules for Harry, but that was okay, because Harry was drunk too. The two of them were at a club, getting absolutely trashed like it was 2012 again. They were taking full advantage of the break in Harry's tour — which, Nick knew, was One Direction’s final tour. Privately, Nick also knew that Harry, despite being the one to suggest the hiatus, was having a bit of a crisis about the new phase of his life lurking around the corner.

It was Nick’s duty as a best friend to help Harry ignore any and all inconvenient feelings, and so he’d been chatting his ear off about increasingly random shit all evening. He couldn’t even remember how they got on the subject. Nick was currently mid-rant about an ex-boyfriend back in the day who couldn’t put up with his radio schedule. He trailed off when he noticed Harry laughing silently beside him.

“What?” Nick asked, pouting a bit about his story being interrupted.

“It’s just that —” Harry shook his head in disbelief. “Didn’t you say once that’s why you weren’t interested in me? Because of my schedule?”

Nick’s mouth opened and closed a few times, but no sound came out. After a second, he cleared his throat and tried again.

“Well. So what?” Ah, yes. That was a marked improvement over slack-jawed silence.

“That makes you a bit of a hypocrite then, doesn’t it? If you’re upset some guy dumped you over the same thing.”

Nick possibly hadn’t thought this through.  

"Well, that’s different," Nick said, trying a different, even more dickish approach. "You have a whole other set of issues."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, slurring his words, which hopefully meant he was drunk enough that he wouldn't remember in the morning that Nick was being an arsehole.

"Well, think about it. Obviously singers aren’t the only people in the world with a difficult schedule because of their career," Nick said, building up steam as the idea took shape in his mind. "It’s everything else that comes with it that’s so uniquely exhausting. Especially for any man who might want to date you."

Harry clearly heard the emphasis on ‘man’ but he just raised his eyebrows and waved his hand in a vague ‘do continue’ gesture. Well, if Harry was too pissed to get upset about Nick’s observations, then Nick was going to take full advantage of it.

"Millions of tabs speculate about you and every woman you're seen with — unless you already have a girlfriend, and then it’s limited to if you’re cheating on her or not. But if you’re dating a guy, well. Unless you make some official coming out announcement about it, the media will never report on it, and all of those tabs will be free to keep saying that you’ve got a bird in every time zone. Just saying, if I were dating you, that would sting.”

Nick really wished he hadn’t said that last bit, but luckily Harry didn’t try to pick it apart. What he did say was worse:

"Well, I actually am sort of seeing this guy right now?"

"What? You’re having a laugh, Harry Styles," Nick said, unexplained panic suddenly coursing through him.

"No, I really am. It’s not really serious yet, but we’ll see where it goes."

Nick felt a bit sick, but surely that was down to the alcohol, and not at all related to Harry’s words.

He didn’t think much of the whole conversation until he started seeing the same guy popping up everywhere Harry went. Nick may have done some stealth googling, like he was moonlighting as a crazy stalker, and discovered that the man was named Xander Ritz. It was seeing that Xander was in his early thirties that convinced Nick they were shagging; Harry was yet to date someone less than four years older than him, and Nick wasn’t sure if he ever would. He very determinedly avoided wondering if that had anything to do with him.


 

So Nick, as usual, has no one to blame but himself for his maudlin behavior. He resolves to be a proper friend when he sees Harry next: some gentle ribbing about his new beau, a general promise to break Xander’s kneecaps if he breaks Harry’s heart...albeit Nick would have a hard time making that promise sound like a joke.

As it turns out, he doesn’t have to figure out a neutral way to talk to Harry about his dating life, because Harry, in a shocking turn of events, actually brings it up first. He even calls Nick to talk about it, in fact.

“You know I’ve been dating Xander for almost half a year?” It’s the first thing Harry says when they’ve got the greetings out of the way.

“Am I supposed to know who Xander is?” Nick says. “You’ve never actually said his name to me, before.”

"You know exactly who he is, Nick, don’t mess around," Harry snaps, which is how Nick knows he’s genuinely upset about something.

“Are you two not going to be able to celebrate your six month anniversary, then?” Nick asks him. “Or are you bored of him already?”

“I — Huh?” From agitation to confusion: Nick’s off to a good start.

“Just figured I’d start guessing what the problem is, considering you apparently want to make dramatic pronouncements without explaining them.”

“Shut up, Nick,” Harry says, but he sounds reluctantly amused now, so Nick’s pleased with himself.

“It’s just —” Harry breathes heavily and sends a burst of static between their connection. “You were right, you know? That night in the club.”

Nick freezes. Luckily, Harry continues before Nick can ruin everything by playing dumb.

“It’s sort of a double-edged sword, isn’t it?” Harry says. “On the one hand, I’m relieved that I don’t have to put up with paps hounding me the way they always do when they think I’m dating a girl. On the other hand…”

“The fact that they don’t realise what’s right in front of their noses is really fucking annoying.” Nick finishes. “That’s straight people for you, babe. How far do you think you two could go before they figured it out? A spot of PDA would probably do it, right?”

“I’d just be helping him take a stand against homophobia in American sports,” Harry says, sounding resigned.  

“Ooh, yeah, I can imagine that headline exactly,” Nick says and suddenly they’re both laughing.

It’s not even that funny, but he just can’t stop; he’s even got tears in his eyes after a minute. Once they both finally calm down, there’s an oddly raw silence between them. Nick decides to be the bigger man for once and swallow his pride.

“I was wrong about what’s important, though,” he admits. “I thought you wouldn’t be able to find a guy who could put up with it. But that’s bullshit, because any guy with an ounce of sense would put up with a lot more for a chance at being with you.”

“Thanks, Nick,” Harry says softly, sounding genuinely touched.

And then: “Any guy?”

“What?” Nick asks, sensing danger but unsure how to defend against it.

“You said any guy with an ounce of sense.” Harry pauses. “Are you a guy with an ounce of sense?’”

How do they always end up back here? Nick swears that he did everything right this time. He followed all his self-imposed rules; he didn’t even think about being anything more than a friend. And Harry still found an opening.

Part of Nick knows Harry will always manage to do that, for as long as Nick isn’t able to tell him that he’s not interested.

Nick could do that now: could tell him that he’s never been accused of having common sense in his life, and he doesn’t plan to start now. Harry would take the rejection with grace, and he might take some time to lick his wounds, but their friendship would recover; it might even be stronger than ever, because they’ll no longer have the spectre of a potential relationship hanging over them.

Or Nick could finally ignore all the excuses he’s made for himself over the years and admit that yes — there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for a chance to do right by Harry, after all this time.

(If Nick tells Harry that he isn’t interested, the story moves on. Nick will have to keep making excuses, as the years wear on: Harry’s too busy shooting a movie, Harry’s too busy recording his album, Harry’s friendship is too precious at this point for Nick to risk, Nick has a boyfriend now. It could go on and on, for as long as Nick lets it.

If Nick tells Harry that he is interested, after all, the story ends.)

Nick takes a deep breath, and opens his mouth.