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‘No fucking way,’ is what Louis thinks to himself as soon as he catches sight of Nick Grimshaw, irritation growing by the second.

“No fucking way,” is what Harry yells elatedly, eyes filled with glee as he spots his other best mate.

Of course this would be Louis' luck. He really should've known better than to go along with Harry's plans. They've only started legitimately being best friends again after Harry’s recent return to London from LA. Not that he’d changed all that much – but it’s just different all of a sudden. He has made other friends, has completely grown into the part of a famous yet down to earth celebrity. Louis feels awful, but he'd kind of looked forward to going to a party with just Harry. The way things used to be.

He wonders whether he is supposed to follow Harry or if he shall instead go and greet Pixie, or maybe Ed who he'd spotted earlier over at the makeshift bar area.

Louis doesn't get much of a choice though, when Harry is already bounding back over with Nick in tow.

“I didn't know you'd be here Grim!” Harry says happily. Nick looks equally peeved as he catches sight of Louis right there, wearing the exact same shirt as he is. Louis really should’ve gone over to Ed – he could’ve spared both of them this traumatic experience.

‘Didn’t know you would be here either.’

It’s clear Nick mostly means Louis.

It’s not like there’s some sort of rule about the host of Capital’s morning show and the host of Radio 1’s breakfast show not being at the same events, but – they kind of pretend there is anyways.

Of course, that rule doesn’t apply to private parties, which is how they usually still end up seeing each other. Weirdly enough, they happen to have some friends in common. Well, mostly Harry. Apart from that, there’s more differences between the two of them than similarities.

Nick is tall, Louis is perfectly normal-sized. Louis is the eldest of 7, from a blended family. Nick is the youngest and only has 2 siblings - zero half-sisters that he doesn’t talk to. He’s also not from Doncaster, but from Oldham. Maybe that’s both up North, but as far as Louis is concerned, it’s miles apart.

Nick doesn’t like football either - not the way Louis does, anyways. And he definitely doesn’t have the same sense of fashion that Louis does, even though they’re currently wearing the exact same top.

None of that means anything, though. Because Nick’s most annoying traits are that he works for the Beeb and that he’s Harry’s other best friend.

It’s just that instinctually, Louis has this feeling that him and Nick aren’t destined to be friends, even though on paper perhaps they should, or could be mates. Still, they’ve long gone and settled in this weird banter-filled tentative approach to their exchanges that feels awkward and sometimes entirely too complex and fragile. The comments leave Louis either exhilarated, or they seem to just spin right out of control and become downright bitter instead of funny.

It’s not that he actually believes any of it. He’s pretty sure Nick doesn’t mean anything of it either, but it just kind of happens whenever they’re around each other. Things turn sour very quickly, and they end up hurling insult after insult at one another.

All in all, Louis isn’t sure how this exchange is going to go, though he is definitely feeling some type of way after spotting Nick in the exact same shirt, sipping from a long island iced tea. Guess that’s another thing they don’t have in common - Louis absolutely hates those things.  

Harry seems entirely oblivious to the tension, though he’s also perfected the art of ignoring the constant jibes. He only ever interferes if someone’s crossed a line, which hardly ever happens these days. Plus – it’s been a while since they’ve all seen each other, so for now Harry’s mostly elated.

And very, very gleeful. “This is going to be fun! I knew deep down you’d find something to agree on – even if it’s striped shirts from Topman!”

‘I only threw this on because I forgot to do laundry,’ Louis protests, then realizes he’s just set himself up for one of Nick’s sneers on how he’s still a child.

Surprisingly, though, it doesn’t actually come. Nick looks him up and down, then promptly turns his head the other way.

“I get that, ’s why I have them take my stuff to the dry cleaner’s,” Harry supplies instead. Which is exactly the kind of comment that makes Louis want to roll his eyes and drown himself in liquor.

Nick lets out a huff, then turns back to Harry. ‘Well we can’t all be popstars with our personal dry cleaning service, now can we?’

It makes Louis snort in surprise, as he definitely didn’t expect Nick to tune back into the conversation only to side with Louis. It’s a little unsettling.

“You know I didn’t mean it like that,” Harry backtracks, and Louis decides to put him out of his misery by patting his arm in acknowledgment.

He chances a glance over at Grimshaw, who quickly averts his eyes from Louis and mumbles something about wanting to go catch up with Alexa.

Harry perks up at the mention of his friend’s name and immediately follows after Nick, leaving Louis to fend for himself. He sighs, as this was exactly what he’d expected from the moment they ran into Nick. It’s how things usually go.

Louis isn’t the jealous type, he really isn’t – but it irks him that the one time he and Harry get to hang out, he chooses to run with Nick’s crowd instead. He knows it isn’t fair to blame Nick, because at the end of the day, it’s Harry’s decision. Besides, he’s very well aware of the fact that even Nick hasn’t seen much of Harry lately.

But it still hurts. Harry’s friendship had been extremely important to Louis during his teenage years and losing it for a while there had felt a bit like missing a limb. They probably just need some time to transition, and figure out how they work as friends now.

“Tommo!” Annie waves at him, curls flopping all over the place as she bounces over to greet him with a proper hug.

‘Lovely to see you, Mac, ’s been a while.’

Louis feels kind of bad that they nowadays only seem to hang out at work functions, when he’d actually gotten his first proper experience with national radio through an internship with her show. Besides, Annie’s got a busy life and Louis has been quite busy as well himself.

Plus, of course, there is Nick and their unofficial rule. So it’s nice to have a moment in which they can catch up.

Louis’ just giving Annie his phone number with a promise to hang out soon, when he suddenly feels an arm being lightly draped around his shoulders.

‘I guess it’s only fair you’d try and steal Annie after I’ve stolen Harry away, hm ?’

Louis rolls his eyes and makes a half-hearted attempt to shrug off Nick’s arm. The arm stays firmly in place.

“’m not trying to steal anybody. Besides, seems like Harry’s left us both in favour of schmoozing with Alexa,” he points out instead as he nods his head towards where the two of them are sitting on the sofa.

Nick gives him a terse smile. ‘Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Tomlinson.’

“You’re welcome, Grimshaw.”

‘God I can’t handle this weird sexual tension, I’m going to go – I’ll text you later, Tommo,’ Annie exclaims as she winks at a protesting Louis.

An offended huff leaves Louis lips. “ Psh . That’s bullshit. There is absolutely no sexual tension between the two of us whatsoever. Period.”

First of all, there are all the things they do not have in common. Second of all, Nick might be tall and have nice eyes and freckles and a funny smile – he’s definitely not Louis’ type.

He needs more alcohol for this. Way more alcohol. He blindly grabs the nearest source of it – Nick’s long island iced tea, and sucks on the straw.

“Jesus,” he can hear Nick mutter, as Louis works on draining the glass from the very last drop before handing it back to Nick.

He seems a little stunned by Louis’ actions, given that he actually accepts the glass from him. Then he blinks and the moment’s gone as he wrinkles his nose. “What if I’d had any diseases?”

Louis waves the comment off. ‘Pretty sure you wouldn’t be here if you were even the slightest bit worried of spreading germs.’

He isn’t sure whether he means it as a compliment or an insult, and Nick clearly doesn’t know how to answer that either.

“Well, you still owe me a cocktail,” Nick settles on eventually, before turning away. Louis really wonders what the fuck was in that cocktail exactly because their entire conversation is odd to say the least.

Still, there’s one thing that Louis won’t accept – and that’s Nick getting to have the last word. ‘The difference between you and me is that I don’t mind sharing, at least!’

The way in which Nick’s shoulders stiffen as if he’s trying to keep himself from responding brings a satisfied little smile to Louis’ face.

The world is right again.

 


 

Louis was wrong - the world is very, very much off its axis.

He realises as much when he finds himself stumbling out into the yard with Pixie Geldof, having a laugh over Harry almost burning his non-existing facial hair off while trying to lick a cigar – inexplicably so.

Niall Horan bounces over from somewhere and Louis cheers. ‘You’re the only celebrity I can stand!’

His elated yell makes Niall devolve in giggles, as he hands over another beer to Louis. He’s already had quite a few cocktails, but one more Corona won’t hurt.

Pixie makes an offended noise, but he shushes her before apologising. ‘Of course I don’t mean you, Pix. You’re alright, aren’t ya? ’s more the ones who don’t even know the price of milk, yeah?’

Another wave of laughter escapes Niall, which in turn has Louis smiling even wider, pleased with himself that at least someone at the party is appreciating his humorous thoughts. “Got it, Tommo. Will keep an eye out on my grocery receipts, just for you.”

‘Thank you very much, Nialler.’ 

He notices his words are starting to slur a little, but he can’t really find it in himself to care much. It’s when he’s getting up to go to the loo and he almost stumbles right back down again, that he resolves to sober up a little bit.

Louis rolls his eyes when he finds Nick waiting outside the bathroom. ‘Please don’t tell me there’s a line – I need to take a piss, mate.’

“Well, so do I. But I imagine your preference for sharing doesn’t extend to toilets,” Nick retorts.

Louis makes a face, but refuses to be outdone by him. ‘Yours does, then? Hadn’t pegged you as the watersports type, to be honest.’

The bathroom opens then and Nick eyes him warily. “I was going to let you go first, given the way you’re fidgeting, but just for that comment you’ll have to wait for me instead.”

Louis wants to protest, but he would’ve definitely done the same thing if he were Nick, so he just grumbles in silence. At least Nick isn’t as petty as Louis would be, and doesn’t occupy the bathroom any longer than necessary.

‘Hope you washed your hands, at least!’ Louis yells over his shoulder before skirting into the bathroom himself and finally relieving himself.

He takes his time to wash up, before cupping them and splashing some water in his face in an attempt to get sober a tiny bit faster. He leans forward to take a couple sips from the cold water as well, then exits.

Louis is kind of surprised that he almost immediately runs into Nick, who apparently hasn’t moved at all in the time it took for Louis to do his thing. ‘Did you – did you wait for me to finish?’

Nick shrugs, and Louis wonders if he’s just as unsure as to why exactly he’s still standing there.

“You seemed a little drunk. Wanted to make sure you didn’t do something embarrassing like fall asleep on the toilet, or pass out in your own puke.”  

You’re a little drunk,’ Louis immediately defends, though he doesn’t even know against what. It’s kind of … nice. Knowing Nick would’ve looked out for him. So he tacks on a belated ‘thank you’, that makes one corner of Nick’s lips curl up ever so lightly.

“Well. I just wouldn’t want Harry to miss you too much.”

Louis nods seriously, but can’t help himself as he starts talking. ‘And all my loyal listeners. There are quite a lot of them, after all.’

It’s meant to make Nick roll his eyes in good humor, but instead Louis sees the quirk to Nick’s lips quickly fade away completely. Just like that, Louis feels sober.

He’d ask him about it, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re not that type of … well. Acquaintances. Louis wouldn’t want to force him to talk about something that Louis has no business knowing.

So Louis resolves to needle Harry a bit tomorrow, make sure he checks in with his friend. Because it’s just not Louis’ place.

And for the first time since he’s known Nick, that thought makes him a little wistful.

‘God you really are wearing the same shirt, I thought Harry was having me on,’ someone cackles from up close.

Louis doesn’t even care to check which celebrity has decided to attempt to befriend him for the duration of this party, instead just rolls his eyes and pushes himself away from the door.

“And that’s my cue to go home and change,” he cheers sarcastically, as he pulls up Uber on his phone. “Gotta get up early anyways.”

It’s the only part about doing radio that he hates – the ungodly hours. He’s not a morning person and he’d almost refused the offer based off of the fact he’d have to get up at 4 AM. But – he loves his job enough to bear it. Besides, he knows full well this isn’t going to last forever. He’ll be lucky if he gets to do it for another two years.

Louis can feel Nick’s eyes on him as he orders an Uber before pocketing his phone again. ‘You’re right, you really do need your beauty sleep.’

For a split second he wonders why he’s even still standing in the hallway right next to the bathroom, stuck in a seemingly redundant conversation with Nick Grimshaw. But then there’s this strange sense of calm, because he at least knows this side of Nick.

Being snarky is easy – it’s safe.

“As if you’re one to speak. It’s not like you magically wake up with that quiff every morning either, Grimshaw.”

Nick raises one eyebrow and smirks. ‘Ah, so you at least admit that this quiff is a work of art?’ 

“It definitely is… something,” Louis banters, but he’s interrupted by his phone vibrating.

His Uber’s there. He looks back up at Nick. “Tell Harry I went home, and to have fun, yeah?”

Nick nods, then lifts his hand in a wave. ‘See you, Tomlinson.’

“Bye Grimshaw.”

 


                                   

Louis links to the next song before switching off his mic, then reaches for his bottle of water. He’s definitely glad he went home when he did, and managed to drink some water before falling asleep. There’s still a hangover headache knocking on his brain’s door, but it’s a lot less insistent than it could’ve been.

At least he made it into work okay, and so far he doubts anyone has noticed. Of course there’s his co-host Zayn, who keeps shooting him these knowing glances.

There’s nothing to tell, though. No matter the amount of tweets about him and Nick Grimshaw wearing the same shirt to a private party (which is exactly the reason why Louis hates hanging out with that crowd of people), he’s not going to spend time talking about it on air.

He checks his phone for the umpteenth time, but he’s got no new texts. It stings a bit. Though maybe Louis should’ve learned by now to expect a little less.

Someone hands him another cup of coffee, then motions that it’s time to go live once more. He takes a look at his sheet, and frowns as he sees what song he’s supposed to link to now. Contrary to what most people think, Louis doesn’t automatically know all new releases. Actually, if he’s being honest, he’s had way less time to listen to music on his own now that he’s on the radio.

It’s usually what the program director wants, what he’s told to play, or he makes playlists for events based off of that events’ particular wishes. It’s rare these days that he fully gets to immerse himself into the indie circuit and find those diamonds in the rough he likes so much. At least he gets to discover them whenever he’s sent to festivals, he supposes.

“And that was a little throwback there with “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan. Up next, it’s a new release by Lauv and Troye Sivan. Now, Z – I don’t know about you, but I definitely am very tired of love songs.”

Zayn grimaces. ‘Yes! It’s always about falling in love, being in love, or love disappointing you.’  

“Why do they always write about romantic love, anyways? What about friendship for example?” Louis offers, then chances a look at their producer Liam before speaking up again. “If you know of any non-romantic songs please text, call or tweet your request and we might play it later on in the show! For now, here’s “I’m So Tired” by Lauv & Troye Sivan.”

Liam shakes his head at Louis, probably slightly peeved by Louis’ impulsive decision to introduce this new element to the show. The headshake is accompanied by a thumbs up, so he reckons Liam can’t be too upset about it. After all, it’ll probably lead to more engagement – and that’s what they want. Active listeners.

It’s almost 9, which means Louis can catch a bit of a break as the news and traffic updates are announced on air. The queasiness has returned to his stomach. He’s definitely going to need to eat something greasy.

He’s in the middle of taking a bite from a bacon sandwich when Zayn excitedly bounces over with his phone in hand.

“Have you read it yet? Nick wasn’t able to host the show – too hungover, apparently. Or no voice. Either way, Scott had to take over.”

Louis swallows down his bacon. Strangely, he doesn’t feel excited about that at all. He’s just a little confused. As much as Nick likes a good party, he also loves radio. He wouldn’t jeopardize his stint on radio, just for a nice sleep in. Or at least, Louis doesn’t think he would.

‘Please don’t tell me you follow Nick online.’ He pauses as he raises an eyebrow, then motions for him to hand over the phone. ‘I’ll let it slide if you tell me it’s just so you can keep an eye on the competition.’

He just rolls his eyes at him and points at the tweets instead. “Just read these, grumpy.”

Sure enough, there’s a tweet from the BBC that explains Nick’s absence is due to illness. Only there’s also some pictures of Nick in a club, clearly not ill at all.

Irritation bubbles up as he also catches sight of Harry in the background in one of the pictures. It does explain why Harry never replied to him – probably too caught up in having a good time.

And it’s not like he’s jealous of that, he’s happy that Harry’s having a good time. He just wishes that he’d also maybe sent Louis a text back when he said he was leaving. There’s still the lingering distance between them where there used to be none, and it sucks.

Maybe it’s naïve of Louis anyways to think that just because Harry’s returned to London, that their friendship also would’ve returned to how it used to be. The two of them against the world.

But it’s not like that anymore. And as much Louis doesn’t want to be that person – it hurts.

And so, because Louis is one to wear his heart very much on his sleeve, he ends up mentioning the situation on air.

“So, if you’re only just tuning in – we were discussing the song “I’m So Tired..” just before the hour, and how we, too, are tired of love songs. Tina from Hull says ‘absolutely agreed! I wish there were more songs about friendship!’ Me too, Tina, me too. Friendships can cause just as much heartbreak as relationships can – maybe even more so. If I were a songwriter, I’d write about that .”

‘Good point. Maybe we should celebrate our long-lasting friendships a bit more. Just like Ariana Grande is doing on the next song, “7 Rings”,’ Zayn adds.

Liam motions that they need to wrap things up, so instead of commenting on how “7 Rings” always reminds him of that one time he performed The Sound of Music in high school, he just puts the song on play and leans back in his chair.

Louis needs a break. Maybe he should call in sick tomorrow too. If Nick can do it, so can he.

(He doesn’t.)

 


 

Harry calls him in the middle of Louis’ midday nap, apologising for leaving him to his own devices at the party and offers to bring him dinner. Obviously Louis isn’t going to decline such a wonderful offer. He tells Harry there’s no need to apologise, and that he can come over whenever.

It’s fine, and they have fun – yet Louis can’t help but feel like maybe Harry is still his best friend, but maybe he no longer is Harry’s. There are a lot of stories where he keeps asking Louis if he’s already told him that story – and the answer is unpleasantly often that Louis hasn’t heard anything about it, nor does he know any of the people involved.

There’s another party that Harry invites him to go to on Friday. At least that means Louis  won’t have to be the wet blanket for tapping out early, since he’ll be able to sleep in the day after. Still, he’s not convinced that it’s going to be much different from last time. Harry guarantees him there'll be other people Louis knows as well, so he ends up accepting.

It’s obvious that Harry is trying to make him feel welcome at the party, though. He takes him from person to person, introducing Louis to everyone he knows. It’s also a little awkward, because he’s not exactly a wallflower and being presented as some odd koala clinger to his friend isn’t his usual style. However, he knows Harry is just trying to be a good friend right now and include him in whatever conversation he is having. All it does is emphasize to Louis that there is an entire world out there belonging to Harry that he doesn't really know.

Nevertheless, he actually feels relief wash over him as soon as he catches sight of where Harry is steering them next – Nick Grimshaw.

“Grimmy! Look who I brought!” Harry cheers, pointing at Louis. “Your t-shirt twin!”

He kind of wants to groan, but Nick beats him to it as he lets out an exasperated sigh. ‘You wear the same shirt one time.’ 

“Still,” Harry insists stubbornly. “It’s nice to know that there are things you can bond over.”

‘Plenty of things to bond over, just no willingness to act on it,’ Nick supplies succinctly and Louis can’t help but nod in agreement.

“I think we can bond just fine over the fact we aren’t friends for a reason.”

Harry glares at him in response, but Louis just shrugs. “It’s the truth. We tolerate each other for you, because we love you. You should feel very special, Harold.”

He can feel Nick’s eyes on him as he speaks. It doesn’t bug him half as much as it probably should. Maybe it's the alcohol that’s already rushing through his veins, or maybe it’s the familiarity in a sea of unknowns that’s making him more tolerable to Louis.

A harrumph escapes Harry, but then he looks down and suddenly starts grinning. That’s never a good sign.

“Did you know,” Harry drawls out, then lifts up his head as he looks from Nick, to Louis, back to Nick, “that you’re both wearing the same sneakers?”

Horrified, Louis immediately looks down at his own feet and then at Nick’s.

“For fuck’s sake, Harry – you told me to wear these Adidas sneakers you wanker!” Harry giggles at Nick’s outburst, then sprints away to the other side of the room.

Once again, Nick and Louis are left to their own devices. Together, wearing matching shoes instead of shirts this time.

Nick breaks Louis out of his mood. “I don’t think staring at Harry is going to bring him back here any sooner, not with that mutinous look on your face.”

As if Louis doesn’t know that – of course it won’t change anything. Instead of responding, he just lifts his middle finger, making Nick cackle.

“No need to be rude, Tomlinson. I hate it just as much as you do that we’re being left behind. Again.”

‘Weren’t you just partying with him last week? To the point where you missed your own breakfast show?’

It comes out much snarkier than intended, but Louis truly doubts Nick understands his situation. Nick doesn’t take the bait, instead just purses his lips.

“Not the proudest moment of my career, that, I admit.” He looks away. “Though it's funny. I'd not have pegged you as someone who believes the gossip rags.”

He’s right. Louis isn’t really the type for that at all. But then again, it’s not like Nick has given him any reason to think otherwise about his absence from the Breakfast Show. Besides, he just can’t let Nick win the argument. 

‘To be fair, the only rumour I’ve ever seen about me was that I’m gay and well, that’s obviously correct. So who knows, Nicholas.’

Nick seems frozen for a second, then shifts his weight from one leg to another. “Are you just arguing for the sake of it? Because all you're proving is that you keep tabs on me. Very cute.”

He tries to fight off the embarrassment as he vigorously shakes his head. There is no way the heat creeping up his back and onto his cheeks has anything to do with Nick Grimshaw.

‘Oh sod off, just interested on how my competition’s faring ‘s all.’

Nick just hums, stupid smirk still on his face. “You still owe me a cocktail, you know?”

Louis appreciates that Nick is trying to change the subject, essentially letting him off easy, and nods at the thought of letting alcohol smooth things over – numb his mind a bit. ‘I guess I do. What would you like? I’ve no clue what they have here.’

“Dunno. I’ll walk with you – we’ll figure it out at the bar.”

It’s not all that busy, but there’s still plenty of people milling about. Some look their way and do a double take, not used to seeing them in each other’s company. Louis tries not to pay too much attention to it, and instead pushes his way to the front of the drinking station.

He’s already reaching for some hard liquor to mix when Nick’s hand stops him and instead motions for a couple of beers. It’s not what Louis would’ve expected from him, but he’s starting to understand that he actually has no idea what to expect from Nick at all.

Louis finds himself following Nick as he motions for them to move somewhere else. They end up leaning against a wall as they observe a couple going at it on a sofa. The upholstery will probably need to be disinfected come morning.

“I really don’t understand why you’d want to stick your tongue that far in someone’s mouth at a public place,” Louis comments, making a face at Nick.

‘You’ve never been that couple before? Never wanted to be so close all the time?’ Nick questions him curiously. It almost makes Louis’ cheeks heat up, a strange form of shyness taking over as he shakes his head.

“I like – I like PDA, don’t get me wrong. Holding my partner’s hand, stuff like that. But no one needs to be able to see my tonsils and strings of saliva.” He scrunches up his nose in distaste as he says it, making Nick laugh.

It’s a full belly laugh, leaving Louis weirdly satisfied at having been the one to cause it. “What about you then? Not sure I’ve ever seen you with a boyfriend like that either,” he challenges.

It’s Nick’s turn to get flustered, as he focuses on his beer rather than Louis. It just makes Louis want to tease him even more. “Oh come on – what is it? D’you have some weird exhibitionist kink then? That it?”

That makes Nick narrow his eyes at him, tutting out a “cheeky” under his breath. He’s saved from more pestering when Louis spots Harry entering the room. He’s surrounded by a bunch of people that Louis doesn’t know, smiling at whatever they’re telling him. Nick follows his gaze, and sighs.

‘I know you think I don’t get it, but I really do. He’s the same, but also he’s not. Partying together’s not the same as actually hanging out. But it’s better than nothing. It’s just — he’s less – available.’

Louis finally turns his head so he can look at Nick. “Did I ask for your unnecessary psychological commentary?”

Nick pretends to think it over, and Louis quite possibly wants to wring his neck. ‘Well – you didn’t not ask me.’

“Oh fuck off.”

It’s not a very strong comeback – he knows it, and Nick knows it too.

Louis is grateful that he doesn’t call him out on it.

Instead, the silence between them returns, until Nick suddenly perks up.

‘Could you hold my drink for a sec?’ Nick asks, before pulling out his phone and angling it towards their feet.

Louis frowns. “What are you doing?”

‘Don’t worry – I won’t tag you or anything. Just putting it up on my story.’

Sometimes Louis wonders if he’s really missing out by not being all that active on Instagram. He just doesn’t get the hype. Curiously, he scoots closer to Nick so he can see what he’s doing. The only thing Louis does post semi-regularly on his Instagram feed are photos of his own sneakers, so he feels like he can definitely assist. He makes sure to tell Nick exactly what filter he should use.

Nick tells him to shut up, and promptly chooses a different one just to annoy him. In turn, Louis whips out his own phone as he shifts one of the two beer bottles so he can hold it in his mouth.

“That one was mine!” Nick exclaims, but Louis just shrugs and quickly moves to open Instagram and searches for Nick’s profile.

There’s only a slight hint of hesitation, knowing that Zayn is most definitely going to call him out on his hypocrisy, before he hits the follow button. Then he moves to Nick’s stories and shares the photo on his own story – this time with the appropriate filter.

“Don’t worry Nick – we’ve gone over this. I don’t have any diseases, neither do you,” he pats him on the back as he hands him back his bottle.

Nick makes a face, then shrugs before chugging the whole thing in one go.

Louis wants to pretend his eyes aren’t drawn to the way his neck’s elongated like this, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with every gulp.

He really tries, but it seems he can’t really fool himself.

 

 


 

 

He also can’t fool Zayn.

As it turns out, his out-of-the-ordinary use of Instagram Stories definitely did not go unnoticed. There are about 7 texts waiting for him, as well as one from Liam asking what’s made him suddenly take a liking to Nick.

Which. He hasn’t. He’s just figuring out that maybe he’s not so bad. And maybe he’s one of the only people who knows what it’s like being friends with Harry, and what it feels like to lose that for a little bit.

Luckily, there’s a lot of work to do what with the Summertime Ball coming up, so his friends and co-workers don’t get to pester him about it all that much. Zayn still throws him those broody glances once every while that get on Louis’ nerves like no other, but he doesn’t ask.

He does text Harry on and off, and for a while it's just like old times. Until they meet up for lunch and Harry tells him he’s decided to permanently move to the States, and he will only be in London until the end of the month. It feels a little like losing a limb, even though he kind of knew this was coming anyways.

They grew up together, had their monumental gay crisis together, moved to London together – even lived together for a year as they both tried to make it in their respective careers. And he’s proud of Harry for chasing his dreams, he is. It's just made him realise that friendships evolve and change, and maybe it’s time to let go of his idealized version of their friendship that no longer exists. They have their own lives. And Harry flits in and out, because it's just what he does. It doesn't make him a bad friend – it’s just different from the HarryandLouis they used to be.

He goes to Annie's dinner party that Saturday to distract himself, only to completely destroy his own carefully crafted plan of ignoring his newfound confusion with regards to Nick.

Because of course Nick is also in attendance, and perhaps there’s some part of Louis that knew exactly what he was doing when he agreed to Annie’s invitation. He does chat with Annie and her partner for a while, even holds light conversation with some other attendees, but he can’t help himself from searching out Nick. It’s the first time he’s seen him in person since their matching shoes debacle, and Louis would be lying if he said he didn’t spend an hour perfecting his quiff – just to be able to compete with Nick’s.

Once he spots Nick across the room, he excuses himself from the conversation he’s having and marches over to him. He makes sure to rub all the compliments he’s been getting about his hairstyle in Nick’s face, who just moans and says that he’s having a bad hair day because of the humidifier that Annie uses in her house. Louis calls bullshit, and Nick promptly messes up Louis’ carefully styled hairdo. The side-effect is a perfect James Dean look, which leaves Nick to groan as Louis preens with each new, additional positive comment thrown his way.

It’s not like there aren’t other people there to talk to – it’s just that he’s never spent time with Nick like this, separate from Harry. And it’s nice, weirdly familiar in a way that puts Louis’ always racing mind a little bit at ease. They end up talking about their dogs, showing each other photos to insist their pooch is the cutest one. Clearly neither one is going to be convinced by the other, so they ask Pixie to come over and judge.

“It’s tough, but I guess I’m going to have to pick Grimmy – if only because he has more dogs and the only thing better than a dog is two dogs,” she decides in the end.

Louis gasps dramatically, feeling surprisingly close to stamping his foot at the injustice of it all. It’s probably the liberal amount of alcohol coursing through his veins that’s gotten him this close to a temper tantrum. He’s glad they’re standing in a somewhat secluded hallway to keep away from the crowd, so no one can witness his moment of weakness. Besides, there’s also still something strange about hanging out with Nick like this, makes Louis feel a little off kilter – vulnerable.

‘What?! This is a mockery! You – you are clearly on Nick’s side! God, I knew we should’ve done a 3 judges panel, excluding anyone who’s obviously compromised!’

Pixie just laughs and kisses his cheek, before leaving them to it. Louis is still fuming, arms crossed as he looks back at Nick.

“I hate you.” 

Nick just grins, then inches infinitesimally closer, and Louis feels like he can't breathe – bracketed in by the wall and Nick's looming figure.

“We both know that you don't hate me half as much as you pretend to do, so why don't you just drop the act for once, hm?”

Louis swallows, louder than he'd intended do, then juts out his chin in defiance and says the first thing that comes to mind. ‘Now why would I do that and spoil all the fun? Besides, Nick—'

He can't help but enjoy the way Nick's breath hitches in his throat when he says his name. ‘I might not hate you, it doesn't mean I like you either.’

It’s flirting. Louis realises with a jolt that that is what they’re doing. But he doesn’t quite understand how their conversation about dogs suddenly spiralled into actual physical flirting. Flirting that he encouraged, engaged in, and enjoyed. With Nicholas Grimshaw.  

In an attempt to stop things from spiralling even further, Louis dashes out of there, ignoring the way his heart is beating out of his chest. He’s not even sure whether it’s from the adrenalin rush, or a sign that he needs to improve his stamina, or something else he does not want to think about too much.

The only thing he’s sure of, is that he cannot tell anyone about this – not until he’s figured it all out himself.

When he gets back to his own place, he quickly shoots Annie a text and apologises for leaving so abruptly. He follows it up with a picture of Clifford who’s fast asleep on Louis’ bed already, because he knows it’ll distract her long enough to inquire into why exactly he had to leave all of a sudden.

Clifford just sniffles, then releases a big breath that makes him sound very much like a deflating tyre. Louis chuckles at the noise, rubs Clifford’s belly as he turns, before making his way into the bathroom.

He starts brushing his teeth, smiling as Clifford suddenly appears in the door opening and cocks his head as if asking why Louis isn’t already sleeping. When he looks back up, he catches sight of himself in the mirror.

There are circles under his eyes, and his face is still a little flushed from the cold air outside as well as the alcohol. But he can’t deny the almost giddy look that’s lingering around the edges. It’s so odd that he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself.

‘Just go to sleep, Tomlinson,’ he mutters under his breath as he spits in the sink. Clifford follows him as he makes his way back to his bedroom.

‘You wouldn’t ever judge me, would you? If it turns out I maybe have grown fond of his big mouth and that godawful hairdo?’ he mumbles into Clifford’s fur as he cuddles up to him.

There’s no reply, but Louis doesn’t need one. Something’s changed between him and Nick. He’s just not sure he’s ready to fully admit to it yet.

 


 

Avoidance is the next best strategy, and Louis manages to limit his interactions to just his co-workers for the following week. The only problem is that his co-workers are also his friends, and they keep giving him these looks.

They’re not actually asking him anything yet, which he’s grateful for, because he’s still not figured it all out himself. He even went on Tinder for a hot minute to see if maybe he was just in need of a hook-up or anything. It didn’t work – none of the men seemed to interest Louis all that much.

They don’t have nice curly lashes, they aren’t tall enough, their haircuts look stupid, they’ve included dick pics, or they hate dogs.

He ends up taking a nap as he listens back to Nick’s breakfast show. It’s just for research purposes – scoping out the competition and all that. Nobody needs to know that Nick’s voice is kind of soothing and that his accent reminds him a little bit of home.

The less he tries to think about the one who shall not be named, the more he finds himself actively thinking about it.

Because, so what? Maybe they both went to university in Manchester. And maybe Nick doesn’t hate football at all. Maybe Louis knows that Nick still goes to catch a game, because it makes him feel closer to his dad. Louis understands it. He does things he knows his mum would’ve liked all the time. Maybe they both get that all-encompassing feeling of grief, of constant and forever heartache over the loss of a parent.

Maybe they share the same family-oriented lifestyle. Maybe Nick’s also good with babies, despite having been the baby in his own family. He’s a godparent to a whole slew of kids, much like Louis always took care of his little siblings and how he’s still incredibly clucky with his friends’ kids.

Maybe they both love music, underground and indie artists – and maybe they both love radio and got into the business around the same time. Maybe they both enjoy Topman shirts, and wear Adidas sneakers. Maybe…

Maybe Louis is okay with that.

Or well, he is trying to be.

 


 

He’s at work recording a special podcast when his phone rings – vibrates, more like. Zayn wiggles his eyebrows at him, since the vibration is definitely coming from underneath Louis’ butt. Which, he just happens to always shove his phone in his back pocket. There’s nothing raunchy about it at all. Not that he’s ever going to convince Zayn of that after the one incident they shall never speak of again.

He’s a little unsure as to who’d be calling him anyways, and that feeling only grows once he sees it’s an unrecognised number. Still, Louis wouldn’t be Louis if he’d ignore the private call.

‘Hello?’

“Hiya, this is Grim- Nick.” There’s a pause then. “From the radio. And Harry.”

Louis can’t help but snort at the addition, as if Louis wouldn’t recognise his voice all on its own.

‘Oh, that Grimnick. I was getting a tad confused there. It does sound a lot like Gremlin, you know? I don’t think you should introduce yourself like that.’

Zayn is smirking now as he motions for Liam to come over. Louis absolutely hates it when they conspire against him, so he flips them off then promptly leaves the studio.

“I don’t, that was – ugh, whatever. I uh- I hope you don’t mind that Harry gave me your number,” Nick trails off, sounding slightly flustered.

It’s a different side to him, one that Louis isn’t used to, but one he finds that he very much enjoys. To be fair, he can feel the blood rush to his own cheeks at the idea of Nick asking for Louis’ number.

‘No, no. That’s, yeah, that’s fine.’

“Good, because, well – Harry wants a surprise party for himself, and he wants us to organise it for him. Together.”

Louis’ not sure why he feels slightly disappointed at that. Maybe it’s still the sting that accompanies the idea of Harry moving away and leaving him behind, or maybe it’s turned into something else over time.

Clearly the prolonged silence leads to awkwardness to settle into the air. Nick makes a noise that sounds caught somewhere between coughing and wheezing, which reminds Louis that he still needs to reply.

‘Right. Uhm. Yeah, of course. For Harry, and all that. Did you – has he told you any specifics of what he wants?’

He leans back against the wall and cocks his hip, lifting his hand up to support the arm that’s holding up his phone.

“The only specific request was that we do it together, so…” Nick trails off.

Louis rolls his eyes, but reigns in a snarky response as he sees Liam peeking his head out of the recording studio and waving at him. Clearly there’s no time for fun banter on the phone.

‘Oh. Okay. Well. You have my number now, so just text me later, I suppose. I’m doing a podcast at the moment so uh, I have to go. Liam’s waving at me, you know how it is.’

He can hear Nick huff out a laugh. “Yeah, I do know. Podcast, quite posh, that. I guess I’ll just text you?”

‘Yes, Nicholas. I just said that, didn’t I?’

“I – yeah, you did.”

Louis can’t help but smile to himself at the tiny sigh of defeat he detects in Nick’s voice. ‘See you later, yeah?’

“Alright, bye.”

He hangs up, then takes a deep breath before marching back towards the studio. Louis knows that Zayn and Liam both are very much aware of the fact he was just talking to his competitor – Nick Grimshaw.

As he walks back into the studio, he doesn’t even register the snickers coming from Zayn and Liam. Louis has got Nick’s number. Nick has got Louis’ number. He’s going to text him.

Even though it didn’t exactly come about as Louis would’ve wanted, he’s pretty sure he can get Nick to make a move if he puts some effort in. He’s seen him stare at him, heard his breath hitch, or noticed his speech falter in his company one too many times.

It’s exciting, and part of him wants to tell whoever is interested in listening. On the other hand, while Louis absolutely loves and thrives off of telling compelling stories, he usually steers the conversations away from touching upon his emotions. When it becomes actually personal, Louis tends to be much more private and closed-off – he’s careful with his feelings, especially ones that feel fragile and new and precious.  

So he’s not all that keen to have an in-depth conversation with his friends about what just happened, especially if they’re prone to being nosy and getting involved in things that don’t concern them.

“Sorry about that. Let’s get back to it.”

His attempt at being blasé about the whole thing — treating it as an inconvenience, almost — clearly doesn’t go over well with Zayn who’s giving him an unimpressed look.

‘While I’d love to witness Zayn interrogating you on that interesting phone call, I have to be the responsible one here and say that we’re on a schedule and need to clear out of the studio in about 20 minutes. So it’ll have to wait, Z,’ Liam interrupts the intense stare down Louis and Zayn are having, sounding almost apologetic about it.

“Oh thanks, lad – really. There’s nothing to interrogate me on? It’s just a phone call. Why are you so obsessed with me?” Louis scoffs, then moves to sit back down as he demonstratively puts his headphones back on.

Zayn lets out an affronted gasp. ‘Excuse you! You’re such a drama queen. We’re your friends, of course we’re invested in your happiness.’

“My happiness does not rely on whether or not I’m dating someone.” Louis frowns.

There’s another defeated sigh from Liam’s direction, as he mutters something about how he might as well just give up on their meticulous planning.

Zayn rolls his eyes. ‘Bro, don’t be stupid – you know that’s not what I meant. You deserve to have someone who makes you even happier, though. And you’ve been moping a lot about how your friendship with Harry’s changing.’

Louis squawks at that, but Zayn just barrels on without even entertaining Louis’ protests for even a second.

‘Which I know you’ll pretend isn’t true, but you’re one my best mates and I know you and I know how much friendships and loyalty mean to you. Lately you have seemed… less down about it. You’re giddy. So whatever is causing that – I’m just glad.’

It’s heartfelt, and much more blunt than Zayn would usually be without actually having had a blunt  - unless it concerns Liam of course. Still, it’s very nice and it makes Louis feel a little bit bad that he’s been so absent and unapproachable lately.

He’s quiet for a second, then nods as he gets up to give Zayn a hug. “C’mon Lima, get in – I love you both.”  

‘We’ve just been trying to respect your space – it’s up to you whether or not you want to share anything with us. Just – don’t forget we’re here, yeah?’

Liam emphasises his words with a quick squeeze of Louis’ shoulders, then he lets go to wrap his arm around Zayn’s waist.  It’s sweet, and it always reminds Louis of how nice it would be to have something similar – someone to lean on, depend on. Someone who challenges him, but also just gets him and his life.

“Even if it’s about Harry,” Zayn adds while making a face, eliciting a chuckle from Louis.

‘Alright lads, the message is clear. I just – I haven’t figured it out myself yet. But, I’ll let you know when I do.’

It’s good enough for now.

‘’S alright Tommo, as long as you’re happy,” Liam repeats. “Now, do you want to make the best of the… five minutes we’ve got in this studio still?”

He gives Louis a knowing glance, before shaking his head. “We’re going to have to finish this at home again, aren’t we?”

Louis grins at Zayn, then nods.

‘Yup.’

 


 

Nick doesn’t actually text Louis until the following day. The unread message is a little daunting to Louis, until he actually opens the message and sees that Nick only wrote out hi .

He snorts to himself, spins round in his chair once before typing hi back. Clifford comes up to paw at his leg, and Louis feels positively chastised.

“I thought you wouldn’t judge me, God,” he complains, then leans forward to scratch him behind his ears.

He glances back at his phone, but decides to leave it behind when he goes on his walk with Clifford. Louis doesn’t want to be that person that walks into a lamppost because he was so focused on his phone. He should practice self-control anyways. He can wait. It’s fine. Louis is fine.

It’s liberating to only think about Clifford for a bit, and smile as he darts across the park to play with other dogs or fetch a toy that Louis has brought along. Still, the moment he gets back to his apartment, he can’t help but want to race towards his phone and check if he’s gotten any messages.

There are two new texts waiting for him. One is from his sister, just checking in on things, which Louis quickly replies to with a small update on work.

The other one is from Nick.

“I was thinking it might be best if we meet up over dinner to discuss Harry’s party – dunno if you’re free tomorrow?”

For a minute, Louis wonders if he should play a little hard to get, but he’s not really sure it’d help his position. There’s a fine line between flirty banter and coming off as uninterested, and given their history Louis decides he shouldn’t take the risk.

Yeah – do you want me to bring anything?

He crosses his fingers that Nick will only ask for a bottle of wine, rather than an actual dish. His cooking repertoire is woefully limited and rather unimpressive – it’s mostly just variations of pasta and gratin. Good pasta and gratin, but still not really anything mind-blowing.  

Nope, just need to know if you have any allergies – don’t want to poison you right off the bat!

There’s a couple of emojis that Nick sends right after, including the one of a sick person, a hand making the ok symbol, and a rocket. Louis’ not sure what the rocket means, but he replies to the text nonetheless and adds a couple of utensil emojis and a penguin because why not? Louis likes penguins enough to have one tattooed on his bum, after all. He hopes Nick never asks about that one.

Nick sends back a prawn emoji and a lobster, and for a second Louis wonders if that means they’re eating seafood. He hopes it’s not sushi.

 


 

It doesn’t seem to be sushi, Louis concludes, as he can hear something sizzling when he rings the doorbell. Nick shouts that the door is open, so Louis tentatively gives the front door a push, then step inside. Which seems a little unsafe, if you were to ask Louis, to leave it unlocked. Nick lives in a lovely, probably very pricey place in Primrose Hill after all. It’s not exactly Louis’ neighbourhood. A bit too posh, almost pretentious perhaps, but Nick’s house seems cosy and inviting nonetheless.

‘You can take your shoes off but you don’t have to, the dogs run around the house anyways. They’re quite friendly so you might have to discourage them a bit from jumping on you – living room is straight ahead, I’ll be out in a second!’

He can’t help but snicker at the way Nick is shouting instructions to him from the kitchen. Clearly he’s a little frazzled at the fact Louis had in fact turned up early. Still, Louis is a little thrown off by the fact he hadn’t even gotten to say as much as ‘hi’. He’s distracted from that thought when he sees two dogs wagging their tails at him. They seem torn between coming over to Louis and staying with Nick.

Instead of following Nick’s instructions, Louis takes off his jacket only then makes his way over to the dogs and crouches down in front of them. He sticks out a hand for them to sniff, then moves it downwards to scratch the black pug’s chin.

“Oh you’re just an adorable little boy, aren’t you? A sweet baby,” Louis coos, then giggles as the bigger bull terrier mix pushes his head into Louis’ side, making him lose his balance.

“Don’t worry, I was gonna cuddle you next, you’re a bit pushy huh?”

He’s surrounded by dog, as the pug climbs into his lap and settles contently against Louis’ stomach while the bigger one keeps headbutting Louis’ arms the moment he stops petting.

Nick’s amused voice is what breaks him out of his dog loving bubble. ‘I’ve lost you to the dogs, haven’t I?’

He looks up, and is met by the funniest sight he’s seen in ages. Nick’s wearing a frilly apron, holding a stirring spoon that seems to be sneakily dripping red sauce onto the shirt he’s wearing underneath.

“They’re very cute, s all. Can’t be helped – they demanded cuddles. I’d almost think you don’t spoil them enough, when they clearly deserve it.”

Louis pauses and smiles, then focuses back on the pup in his lap. “Also there’s sauce on your shirt.”

‘Wha- oh fuck, this is YSL – fuck ’ Nick exclaims, and Louis would laugh if it weren’t for the flack of sauce that he suddenly feels hitting his face.

“Nick! Stop waving your cooking utensils around! You’re gonna get sauce all over your hallway, and more importantly – me!

Louis sits up and wipes the sauce from his face, then looks over at Nick who seems frozen in place as he stares at him.

Then he blinks and the moment’s over, Nick quickly scurrying back into the kitchen – swearing loudly as he goes – and Louis is left sitting in the hallway all by himself, dogs following after their owner.

He’s been here only once before at a party with Harry, but it’s been years and Louis was also fairly drunk at the time. So he takes his time looking around the hall, now that Nick has left him to his own devices once again. There’s ridiculous art everywhere, and normally Louis would hate it. However, he’s pretty sure Nick bought some of the pieces exactly because they are simply an atrocious explosion of color, or feature explicit words in neon.

He snickers at something that resembles a penis and takes a photo of it, before making his way into the kitchen.

Louis knows Nick said he should head for the living, but clearly he isn't going to listen to that.  Besides, he’s brought wine, because he’s not as uncultured as Nick might think, and he’d like to show it off. His mum always made sure he'd bring something upon first visiting someone’s home.

The kitchen is not what Louis expects. It's chaos – almost looks like Louis' own kitchen on any given day of the week.

There is used pots and pans everywhere, and Nick’s left in the middle of it, furiously trying to scrub the sauce off his sweater.

“I don’t think that’s going to work, mate. You could try some soda maybe? Let it soak everything up. ’S what I do with red wine,” Louis comments.

Nick twists around and groans. ‘Why can’t you ever do what I ask of you? Bloody hell.’

“You should know better, really. Never have been one to follow the rules,” Louis points out as he moves to sit on a part of the kitchen counter that seems to be untouched by Nick’s cooking explosion.

Louis looks around and continues before he regrets asking it. “Is there anything I can help with? I brought a bottle of wine.”

‘You’re not supposed to bring gifts to the host until the second time you come round, so you know what they do or do not like,’ Nick says as he leaves his sweater to dry, before moving on to grab some plates.

Louis huffs, cheeks starting to feel a little warm at how easily Nick dismisses his gesture – doesn’t even answer his question. His earlier courage deflates a bit, taken over instead by insecurity and shame. But Louis is stubborn, and he will stick to what his mother has taught him, and stand by the bottle of wine he spent hours finding in the liquor shop.

“Well that’s just stupid, and awfully presumptive. What if you never visit someone again?”

‘It’s called etiquette, darling. Though this is a nice bottle, thank you.’

He can see the surprised smile take over Nick’s face as he finally clocks the bottle of wine. Louis knows it’s Nick’s favorite. He’d asked Harry just to be sure. Still, he can’t help but feel pleased over his expression.

“Tell me your dogs’ names. One of them keeps licking my toes and that feels pretty intimate for someone I don’t even know the name of,” Louis demands, choosing to look away when he finds Nick staring back at him, instead focusing on the bull terrier mix that keeps lapping at him.

‘Black one’s Stinky Blob, big one’s Pig. If you could watch them for a second, I’ll run up real quick to change,’ Nick comments as he finally turns off the stove.

Louis wants to sputter that those names are absolutely ridiculous, but Nick’s already disappeared from view. Besides, there’s still a dog slobbering all over his feet.

“Your human is completely insane – you’re not stinky at all, and you’re definitely not a pig, are you? No, you’re not – you’re adorable. You could be Robin, and you could be- okay, fine, you are a little bit of a blob, aren’t you little lady?”

He grins to himself and takes a quick snapshot of the two dogs as they stare up at him, clearly fascinated by his phone.

Louis gets off the counter then to go search for two wine glasses. Thankfully, he finds the right cabinet quite quickly and reaches up to grab a hold of them. Wine bottle and glasses in tow, he makes his way to the dining room.

He’s not sure what he was expecting, but it definitely isn’t the tablecloth covered dining table with candles in the middle.

“Oh God. I was – I was going to clean that up before you showed up, but you were early . You're never early,  Jesus.”

Louis frowns and turns to face Nick. His hair is all frazzled and his cheeks are flushed, as he rubs his hands against his jeans. His nice, tight black jeans. Louis recognizes pulling jeans when he sees them.

‘Why would you clean that up? I quite enjoy being wined and dined.’

In for a penny, in for a pound – Louis thinks to himself as he speaks up. He did bring a bottle of wine, after all. Clearly he has intentions here as well.

Nick’s eyebrows rise, as if he’s genuinely surprised and that makes Louis falter. He takes a step back and tries to casually put down the glasses and the bottle of wine that he’s still holding.

‘Unless I really misread the situation here. Which is fine, ‘m just being a bit dumb. I mean – we can go back to how things were before.’  

Probably not, though. Louis isn’t really in the habit of staying friends with his exes. Then again, they never really reached a stage of dating if Nick is already rejecting him. Still. It'd feel like Nick would be his ex. Ex crush at least, and he couldn't deal with that. Not with Nick.

He’s not like Harry in that sense, who remains friendly with almost everyone he has ever slept with. But it doesn’t matter. What he should focus on, is that he’s here for Harry and it’s fine if Nick actually isn’t interested in him the way Louis suddenly is. Because let’s be real, Louis is probably a little late in realizing that Nick’s funny and fascinating and witty and tall and proper Northern.

Nick reaches out as if he’s going to grab onto Louis’ elbow, but then aborts the movement halfway through. “No, I – I’m not sure,” Nick gets out eventually.

“I kind of had convinced myself you weren’t serious, so I was going to remove the evidence, so to speak,” he continues with a half-hearted shrug. There’s this look on his face that doesn’t belong there – questioning and unsure, and so unlike the self-assured, confident Nick that Louis’ used to.

‘But I brought a bottle of wine,’ Louis protests. He wants to add he spent an hour facetiming his sisters to decide whether he liked his outfit, but decides against it in the end. Nick doesn’t need to know that.

Nick rolls his eyes. “You just said it was something akin to a hosting gift.”

‘I would’ve gotten you a cheap bottle from Tesco if it was just a shitty hosting gift, you idiot.’

“Well, how am I supposed to know that? Last time I checked we weren’t even friends.”

‘Last time I checked you invited me over for an unnecessary private dinner to discuss a party, and I said yes because I thought it’d be a date.’

Nick opens his mouth, then closes it again.

Because Louis has no filter apparently and clearly is ready to be completely rejected after being so blunt about his own expectations, he continues speaking.

‘For someone who gets paid to speak you don’t have an awful lot to say right now.’

At least it seems to trigger a response from Nick, as his lips curl up in a smirk. “For someone who wants to go on a date with me, you sure do have a lot of complaints. I can’t believe we’ve managed to transform this moment into an argument, when we could’ve been eating and drinking.”

‘Wining and dining,’ Louis can’t help but correct him with a matching smirk of his own.

He can feel his nerves settle a bit with each tentative smile that Nick throws his way. Louis thinks he could get drunk on the idea that he affects Nick like this – makes him lost for words, stumble and falter and flail all over the place. But also makes him smile. Nick has a weird smile, a little big and skewed, but it’s charming.

Louis finds him charming.

Dinner is actually really good. They banter about Nick’s only slightly burnt sauce, and talk about their family and their newest band obsessions. There’s a lull in conversation after they’ve just tried to establish who’s the bigger artist – Beyoncé or Lady Gaga – just for the sake of having a good and entertaining argument. But for the first time in ages, the silence doesn’t make Louis antsy or fidgety.

It’s then that it dawns on Louis they haven’t even discussed Harry’s going away party once. He doesn’t mention it.

“I reckon this was actually quite nice. Wouldn’t mind doing it again,” Nick says casually after they clear the table. Louis smiles and accepts another clean plate, focusing on drying it.

‘I’d like that. You can come wash my dishes too.’ He succeeds in making Nick look up, affronted expression on his face as he hip checks Louis.

“Oi – I’ll come to see you wash your own dishes.”

Louis can’t help but crack a smile as he answers Nick, ‘not many dishes when all I do is order take-out. Just gotta sort out my plastic.’

“Ah. A man who cares about our planet is a man after my own heart.”

They’re face to face now, Louis not even looking as he expertly dries off the final plate in his hands. Nick reaches out to still his movements, hands lingering on his wrist before he moves to take the plate from him.

“S clean enough,” he says, and Louis can feel his breath hitting his skin. He looks up from where Nick’s holding the plate, eyeing up his facial expression from underneath his lashes.

Louis knows what he’s doing when he leans forward just a fraction and feels Nick’s lips touch his. It’s a bit of an odd angle, what with Nick still holding a plate between them. Still, Louis can’t help but lean into it more, standing on his tiptoes to make sure he can reach properly. Nick’s lips are soft and a little bit spicy from the sauce, and Louis feels him smile into the kiss a little.

Maybe it’s unexpected, and yet it’s not at all. It feels right . So he pulls back just enough to allow Nick to put the plate away, then leans right back in. He reaches up with his arm to pull Nick just a little bit closer, hand splayed out against his neck. Then their mouths meet again and the kiss turns from soft and gentle to something a little more urgent. He flicks his tongue against Nick’s lips, nudging them apart before licking his way inside. It’s hot and wet and passionate and so new , and quite probably the best kiss Louis’ had in ages. True to their relationship up until that point, they keep trying to one up each other, and Louis can’t help but pull away in laughter after their tongues have been rubbing against each other for a solid minute in an attempt to get the upper hand.

Nick immediately leans into Louis’ movement, a sound resembling a whine escaping his throat. He brings one hand up to cover his giggle as he looks up at Nick. His pupils are dilated, and his hair’s all ruffled. His lips are shiny with spit, and he’s got rosy cheeks that shouldn’t make Louis want to kiss them all over – but they do. He’s never looked sexier to him.

God. Louis can’t even believe that he’s thinking of Nick Grimshaw as sexy.

That he wants to kiss him. Again. That he can – if only he’d reach out. Instead, he swipes his thumb against Nick’s lips, wiping away some of the sheen.

Nick flicks out his tongue, licking up Louis’ finger. “Stop! I’m trying to make you look presentable and less like you just slobbered all over me.”

He fixes Louis with a look then and grabs onto Louis’ wrist, hand still firmly in place against Nick’s cheek. ‘I quite enjoyed slobbering all over you. Would like to slobber a bit more if you’ll let me.’

Louis can feel heat pool in his stomach, and he wants to give in – he would , if this was anyone other than Nick. There are too many conflicting feelings, too much he needs to process before he’d fall into bed with him. Before he lets Nick take him apart.

And he doesn’t want to ruin this, whatever it is, by going too quick too soon. But that doesn’t make the offer any less tempting.

“Maybe, but right now I’ve gotta go home. I’ve got – I’ve got Clifford, you know?”

It’s a flimsy excuse, and he can see by the way in which Nick stiffens and pulls away that he doesn’t take it well. Louis wishes he was better at explaining all the things that are currently swirling through his head.

‘Oh, yeah. Alright,’ Nick states, taking a step back as he busies his hand with smoothing out non-existing wrinkles on his shirt.

“It’s not – that’s not, I’m not, like, trying to reject you,” Louis stammers out, and he truly wonders how the switch has suddenly flipped like that. Just seconds ago they were kissing, with Louis being the one initiating things. And now, things are awkward and uncomfortable and Louis hates it a little.

Nick gives him a wry smile. ‘If you’re sure.’

“Yes,” Louis huffs out, quickly growing frustrated with the conversation. “I am sure, God. Stop being such a baby. I literally just kissed you, didn’t I?”

‘Well maybe my kissing skills were subpar and you’ve changed your mind since then,’ Nick says mulishly, and Louis knows he’s only doing it to be difficult, because he doesn’t want to give in.

He knows it, because he’d do the exact same thing if the tables were turned.

“Or maybe you’re wrong,” Louis points out. He isn’t going to give in to his tactics of silently begging for compliments. “Maybe I just am a proper lady, and you’re very lucky I kissed you at all. You just wined and dined me. One kiss is all you’re getting.”

That seems to elicit an easy, mollified smile from Nick. ‘Alright.’

“Alright,” Louis echoes. “Well. Guess I better get going. Thanks for dinner. Maybe – only because we still have to plan Harry’s party of course – we could meet again tomorrow? After work?”

‘I suppose I can make that work,’ Nick replies after pretending to check his agenda. ‘Anything for Harry, of course.’

“Lunch at the Resident Cafe?”

He knows it’s probably not entirely Nick’s usual go-to, but it’s a great little hole in the wall café where they can sit without being bothered. Also, they serve the best greasy food – he’s sat out many hangovers there.

Nick nods, surprised smile on his face. ‘That's one of my favourite places.’

“Mine too, they've got great–’

‘Bacon sarnies,’ Nick lamely finishes Louis’ sentence.

They both stand there for a second, just smiling over the coincidence. Louis wonders if maybe Harry was onto something all those years ago when he said the two of them actually were more similar than they seemed.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Louis confirms as he walks backwards, eyes still firmly pinning Nick in place. It feels strange, saying it out loud. Makes it much more real, this idea of Nick and him having actual plans to voluntarily meet up because maybe, just maybe he kind of fancies him.

‘See you, Lou.’

“See you, Nicholas,” he echoes as he waves one final time at the dogs that are peeking through Nick’s legs. Then he turns around and marches down the steps towards the street.

It’s then that Louis realises he’s forgotten to call an Uber. He feels too embarrassed to go back and ask Nick if he can wait inside, so he settles for waiting around as he opens the app.

Of course, when Louis needs one to show up as quickly as possible, the app decides to tell him that he’s going to have to wait about 15 minutes instead. Mortified, he can’t help but furtively glance back in the direction of Nick’s house to check whether he’s noticed.

He’s deliberately walked slightly up the street to avoid looking like a loitering creep, but then he hears a bark and Nick comes stumbling out of his house with both of his dogs.

At first he doesn’t even notice Louis, and he prays Nick’s going to go the other way, but then Pig and Stinky start pulling him along in Louis’ direction and he knows it’s a lost cause.

Nick’s still talking to his dogs, berating them for pulling on the leash like that, until they come to a stop right in front of Louis.

‘Oh, you’re still here,’ he can hear Nick breathe out. He wonders if he was meant to hear it, or if Nick’s just talking to himself out loud. In either case,  Louis desperately wants to know whether it's meant to be positive surprise.

Suddenly it dawns on him that they’re very much in public, and can be spotted by every unassuming passer-by. And for as much as Louis is a self-assured person on radio who likes to be heard – he does not like being the centre of attention outside. Especially not when it comes to his private life.

Of course, realistically speaking chances are small there’d be someone lurking in a somewhat posh gated community. Except he’s outside of the gated part, because he was such a coward about waiting for his Uber outside Nick’s house. And that part’s exactly the area he’d usually avoid loitering around. The posh part might attract celeb spotters. His nerves win the battle with reality, so he tries to keep a straight face.

“Yeah. My Uber’s coming, though. Forgot to order one. You can uhm – you can walk your dogs, ‘s fine,” Louis rushes out as he tries his hardest not to look at Nick.

‘Right,’ Nick says. It sounds a bit stilted, and Louis would love to seek out his eyes but he keeps his gaze firmly on his sneakers. ‘Well, then. Come on Pig.’

Stinky follows Pig and Nick, though she looks back a couple of times in curiosity as to why they’re leaving Louis behind.

He hopes Nick won’t take it personally, because it doesn’t really have to do with him.

Louis’ just nervous.

He’s anxious about being in public on a normal day, let alone in the company of Nick and his very recognisable dogs. He knows it’s irrational, but it’s there, like a heavy weight sitting on his sternum that he just can’t seem to shake.

Louis only feels like he can breathe again once Nick’s yellow sneakers have disappeared from view and he can no longer hear the pitter patter of the dogs’ feet.

“Hey – you Lewis?”

Surprised, Louis looks up to see a car with the window rolled down. He rolls his eyes internally, but smiles brightly at the Uber driver. ‘Hi, sorry – yeah. It's Louis, by the way.’

 


 

They’re supposed to meet for lunch. Or well – were supposed to meet for lunch. The idea being that because of their similar schedules, they could just go out to eat right after work and crash later in their own respective homes.

However, Nick isn’t there. Louis may have made the initial mistake to show up early, which he hardly ever does, but it’s already been half an hour and Nick’s still nowhere in sight.

There’s a very unpleasant feeling slowly creeping up on him as he considers if Nick’s just ghosted him, that maybe this was all an elaborate joke.

He wouldn’t do that, though. Of that Louis is sure – they may banter and it might escalate, but it’s never been cruel.

Nick isn’t cruel.

He checks his phone for the umpteenth time and smiles apologetically at someone who passes him by as he stands in front of the café’s entrance. “Sorry,” he breathes out, then sighs and decides to follow the other person in.

He settles at a table in the back and orders himself a latte. He’s going to need a little boost of caffeine before calling Nick out on his shit. Louis still isn’t even sure whether he’s angry, disappointed, embarrassed, or hurt. Or maybe he’s just a mix of all of those emotions – it’s all a bit unclear at the moment. There’s also a part of him that hopes there’s been some sort of mix up and Nick’s just running very late, or maybe he forgot about their date – meeting, whatever it is altogether.

Louis opens his phone, then presses the off button again. No messages from Nick, but a new text from Zayn asking him if he wants to have breakfast for dinner later that night. He writes back if he instead wants to play FIFA after lunch. Clearly Nick’s not planning on showing up or on explaining why he’s a no show.

It’s fine, Louis reasons. He’ll just treat himself to a great lunch here like he usually does. Even though he hates being alone. He’s here now and he’ll fucking enjoy it.  

His phone vibrates on the table when he's halfway through his tuna melt, and Louis' eyes immediately zero in on the text notification.

It's Nick. Of course it’s Nick. He quickly wipes his hands down with a napkin, then reaches out to open the message. It’s moments like these where he wishes he did have text message display toggled on, so he didn’t have to hold his breath in suspense for an additional number of seconds.

The air leaves his lungs in one disappointing sigh as he opens it, though. All it reads is “sorry” and Louis wants to throw a major tantrum right then and there.

Sorry isn’t enough. Louis deserves a reason, at the very least. Especially given the fact that Harry’s got a party he’s expecting them to plan for next week. Leaving whatever it is that happened between him and Nick aside, they still need to figure stuff out for their mutual friend.

Louis will have to be an adult about things.

He sends Nick the middle finger emoji.

 


 

“So, how’s my party coming along?” Harry asks excitedly as he settles in across from Louis. They’re sitting at his dining table, which Louis only really uses when his entire family stops by. But Harry’s insisted on using the proper dishes that would otherwise collect dust in Louis’ cabinets – he’s even folded the napkins.

Right now, the napkin’s a great way for him to channel his constant need to move in, as he fiddles with the fabric – folding then refolding all the lines that make it a swan.

Embarrassed, he ducks his head down a little bit. ‘Uh, well. Nicholas and I were supposed to meet up to sort it out, but then he didn’t show. Sent me a one-worded apology an hour into the meeting, so he wasted my entire afternoon.’

Harry’s face falls. ‘He didn’t tell me.’

Louis frowns at the implication that Nick and Harry normally discuss all of their interactions.

‘Honestly, I’m furious,’ Louis rants as he stabs at a piece of falafel. ‘Who stands up their best friend’s best friend?’

“The falafel doesn’t need to die, Louis,” Harry points out, to which Louis rolls his eyes. “It’s unlike Grim to ditch someone.”

He shrugs, trying to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling coursing through his veins. Louis isn’t even sure if it’s being caused by the fact Nick stood him up, or because he hasn’t told Harry the entire truth, or if it’s just because Harry is leaving in a week.

‘Maybe I’m just an exception to that rule. We both know Nick and I aren’t friendly.’

Harry snorts and shakes his head. “I’m not sure if I would describe it like that. And even then – he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to banter with you. Right?”  

His voice goes up, as if Harry can’t even believe it himself that he’s asking Louis such a question. Still, there’s a hint of doubt in there, and Louis wants nothing more than to erase that from existence.

But here they are. ‘Maybe he had a good reason. You could ask him if he was busy this afternoon, if you’re so interested,’ Louis suggests, feeling slightly uneasily.

He picks up the coaster that he’s deliberately not used for his beer bottle, and taps it on the table. ‘I don’t know. I can also just organise your party by myself – it’s fine. There isn’t time to wait around for Nick, so.’

Harry pointedly puts down his own bottle of beer on the coaster and grabs a towel to dab at the watermark ring Louis’ left on his own table. He thinks it gives the wooden table character. Harry says it’s a waste of his perfectly premium quality wooden tabletop. Given that it's Louis' house, his opinion trumps Harry's, yet whenever Harry sees an opportunity to “limit the damage”, he always takes it.

“No, I wanted you guys to do it together. It'll be fun! I'll have my best friends and the best DJs. I just would've thought it'd be easier for you to get along. Like, you shared some clothing the other day right?”

Louis gives him a look. They did not share clothes and he is very sure that at least one of those times was entirely orchestrated by Harry himself.

“Okay, fine, you didn't. I just – I don't want to leave my two best friends here all alone.”

And there it is. Harry's ulterior motive is very noble of him, if not a tad offensive. ‘Honestly,  Harry – I do have other friends and surely so does Nick. It's not like we will end up completely isolated just because you’ve gone off to the US. You're not the center of my universe, no matter how much you'd like to think so.”

Harry sighs, a red tinge of embarrassment on his cheeks at being caught out. ‘You’re right, you’re right. I just – I guess I feel like I’m abandoning you and I need to, like, atone for that.’

Louis barks out a laugh at that. “Mate, you’re atoning enough by permanently moving to Trumpland. Besides, forcing a friendship between me and your beloved Grimmy might make you feel better, but I doubt it’d do the same for us.”

Louis winces internally at his own words, but he truly doesn’t want to give Harry any reason to further stick his nose in places it doesn’t belong – meaning Louis’ personal business. Besides, even though there’s a part of him that feels guilty for not telling Harry about what’s going on, he also doesn’t want to influence Harry’s friendship with Nick. He knows how important it is to Harry, and he’s always done well in keeping the two things separated so as to not impact that. He doesn’t want to change that now out of pure pettiness.

 ‘Fine. Just – do me a favour. Answer when Grimmy calls, yeah?’

There’s something in Harry’s expression that makes Louis relent and nod his head. Harry offers him a small, yet grateful smile at that.

“I promise that your party won't suffer because of this.”

For a second, something akin to confusion glides across Harry’s face but it's gone almost as soon as it appeared. ‘Right, of course. Don't tell me anything! I want it to be a surprise!’

Louis just smiles to himself as he reassures Harry that everything will happen in top secret. Or at least, in as far as that is possible given that Harry’s the one who asked for his own surprise party at a specific time and date.

But, he supposes Nick and him have enough to work out still. They don’t have a location yet, nor do they have a guest list, or any ideas on theme and decoration or alcohol – god forbid the playlist.

He tries to forget all of that, though, and focuses instead on the fact he’s getting some one on one time with his best mate before he leaves.

 


 

Apparently he’s pretty effective – or maybe it’s just the copious amounts of alcohol they’ve consumed throughout the night – because Louis has forgotten all about the Nick situation when he finally falls asleep.

That is, until he gets woken up by a rather annoying and very insistent buzz coming from underneath his pillow the following morning.

He doesn’t even bother looking at caller ID, just rejects the call and stuffs his phone back. The buzzing starts up again immediately, and Louis cries out in agony, huffs, then reaches for his phone again and swipes the other way.

‘Whoever you are, know that you’ve already offended me greatly by calling so bloody early,’ he croaks out. God, he sounds rough even to his own ears. Mixing beer with gin was a really bad idea and he is definitely going to talk to Harry about that.

“Uh, is this – I’ll hang up, sorry.” Louis shoots up in bed at hearing Nick's voice echo through the phone. He also can feel the same surge of anger he was trying to suppress yesterday make it’s way back up.

‘No you don't. If anyone gets to hang up it's going to be me.”

There’s a short pause on the line. ‘Harry texted me and said I should probably call. That you'd probably answer.’

It’s a little disappointing to hear that Nick is only doing this because Harry has told him to, and not because he wanted to. Then again, if it had been Louis – maybe he would’ve needed a little external push too.

Apparently Nick takes Louis' silence as permission to keep talking, because just like that he launches into a ramble that is very hard to follow for Louis’ sleep and water-deprived brain.

‘I just – what are we even doing? I can’t – this isn’t going to work. It's a bad idea just like it’s always been. I’m much older and you’re in a different phase of your life, and when it comes to our careers we’re competition for fuck’s sake.’

Since there is no sign Nick's going to stop saying things that make Louis’ stomach turn anytime soon, he decides to interrupt him before he ends up vomiting in his own bed.

‘Whatever it is you’ve gotten into your head, you better go and talk to me about it in person because I’m going to hang up now.’

He hits the end call button and promptly falls back asleep.

It's only when he wakes up an hour later or so that he truly realises what has just happened. Clifford is staring at him from where he’s perched on the bed, clearly waiting for Louis to come serve him breakfast.

His loud bark doesn’t help Louis’ headache, but it does serve to wake him up properly as he stumbles out of bed and towards his kitchen. He lets Clifford out into the yard, then fills his bowl.

‘Every dog trainer’s gonna be pissed at me for feeding you first, but fuck it. I’m gonna need a full fucking English to get rid of the yucky,’ Louis mutters to himself as he watches Clifford gobble down his dry food.

Before he can get to making anything for himself – and subsequently worry about not having anything edible in his fridge most likely – his bell rings. Which is odd. Louis never has guests over that early. Not that he knows how early it actually is, but it’s morning time and that’s not Louis’ best moment – at least not when he’s off air.

For a second he considers just ignoring the doorbell and pretending he’s not home, but then it rings again and Clifford barks excitedly at their visitor. Which technically doesn’t prove Louis’ home as well, but he knows Clifford won’t stop barking unless the person leaves or Louis moves to go open the door.

And given the person’s insistence, he resigns himself to opening the door looking like he’s just woken up – which he has – wearing the fluffy bathrobe his sister had given him as a gag gift for Christmas but that Louis had taken very seriously.

The moment he sees who’s on the other side, he immediately closes the door again.

“You've got a perfectly functioning peephole in your front door.” Nick chides from outside. He sounds a little shrill,  but maybe that's just because Louis is leaning against his front door instead of opening it for him.

Louis doesn’t respond, just chances another look through the sodding peephole and gets confronted with Nick looking extremely flustered but daringly staring straight at him. ‘I’m not home,’ he eventually says – closing his eyes as his forehead bumps against the door.

‘Very fucking funny. Are you going to let me in or leave me out here to humiliate myself even further?’ There’s annoyance creeping into Nick’s tone. ‘I only did what you wanted me to do – showed up so we can talk about this in person.’

Slightly confused, Louis furrows his brows until he suddenly recalls his fever-dream like phone call earlier that morning.

‘Oh no,’ he moans out. Clifford’s scratching at the door separating the hall from the living room, whining pitifully at being separated from his human.

‘Still here,’ Nick continues, apparently having gotten over his embarrassment from earlier on judging by the loudness of his voice. ‘And I can definitely hear you through this door, it’s not quite soundproof, you know?’

Groaning, Louis takes a step back and opens his front door once more. He knows he looks terrible, but to his own surprise he doesn’t quite feel so intimidated by Nick’s slightly more dressed up appearance. In fact, it’s somewhat pleasing Nick had apparently felt the need to not look like a slob when he was going to visit Louis.

‘Right. Thanks.’ Nick stares at him, then quietly shuffles past Louis and into the hallway.

Louis just nods and motions at where he keeps his shoes when he sees Nick hesitate. It’s a bit of a mess, but he likes a house that looks lived in. ‘Clifford can be a bit enthusiastic, so feel free to push him off if you don’t want him to jump up.’

Nick’s in the process of stepping on the back of his trainers to kick them off, but almost falls over as he stumbles over his own shoelaces. Louis reaches out to steady him, grabbing a hold of his arm to pull him upright again.

His fingers tingle right where he’s touching Nick, but Louis can’t help but see that as a treacherous thought to have. Dangerous and unwanted, so he files it away in the back of his mind and lets go the moment Nick’s eyes find his.

‘Uh, sorry. A bit clumsy, me,’ Nick apologises hastily. Louis waves it off, choosing instead to focus on the plastic Waitrose bag in his other hand.

Nick follows Louis’ gaze and promptly makes a face. ‘Right. I brought breakfast. Well. Bought. Both.’

Frowning, Louis turns away and finally opens the door to let Clifford come and investigate as they enter the living room. ‘I’m perfectly capable of making my own breakfast. I know it’s a running joke that I can’t cook, but I make a mean scrambled egg.’

When Nick doesn’t respond, he turns back around to see Nick sitting on the floor as Clifford attacks his face with kisses. Something akin to annoyance and envy bubble up at the scene, paired with a strange sense of longing that Louis doesn’t want to dwell on. ‘Clifford, you traitor. He’s the enemy. We don’t like him, and you do not get to give him kisses.’

Nick smirks. ‘Think your dog’s got different ideas about that. Excellent taste in men, he’s got.’

Louis grits his teeth as he cannot disagree with that, which is incredibly irritating to realise. Fuming, he steps closer and makes a grab for Nick’s bag. ‘Let’s see what you brought then, eh?’

‘Thought you’d like bacon sarnies. And coffee.’

Louis raises his eyebrows. ‘I don’t drink coffee, everyone knows I drink Yorkshire tea.’ He points at the box of personalized Yorkshire on his counter.

‘So you say,’ Nick retorts. ‘I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you drink lattes at Harry’s.’

It’s not that Nick’s wrong, because Louis does love a good latte, and he's definitely abused the  expensive coffee machine over at Harry's to get his fix. It's just that no one aside from Harry's ever really noticed. A milky tea looks just like a milky coffee, after all. And, well, the Yorkshire thing is what he's known for. Since it's part of his public identity, people usually don't bother to look beyond that.

He huffs. ‘Fine,’ Louis takes a sip, then can’t hold back the moan at the taste of his favourite coffee hitting his tongue.

‘Fuck, this is some good coffee.’

Nick seems unfairly pleased, smug smile spreading across his face.

‘How’d you know this is my favourite?’ Louis asks as he considers the brand on the paper cup. Almost immediately, Nick’s smile morphs into something akin to embarrassment instead.

‘I, well – eh – I asked Harry.’

Louis stiffens, and he can feel panic rise up as he considers Harry knowing about them – whatever they are – before he’s even figured it out himself. Apparently he’s not great at hiding his anxiety, because Nick rushes to get up from the ground, hands raised in an attempt to placate him.  

‘I didn’t tell him anything, don’t worry. Just – Harry called me to say that I’m an idiot. And so then I asked how I could best apologise. He said that getting you good coffee would probably help after last night,’ Nick trails off.

So it wasn’t his own idea. Louis’ not sure why he’s disappointed after hearing that. Suddenly the traces of coffee in his mouth feel a little bland.

‘I just – I panicked. And then I was a coward about it, I get that, but it’s not like you were all that enthusiastic to be seen with me either,’ Nick rambles on once it’s clear Louis isn’t going to say anything in return.

That makes Louis frown. ‘What are you even talking about? You do talk some shit, I can see why you and Harry are friends.’

‘Are you – did you just insult Harry?’ Nick asks him incredulously, blinking in confusion.

Louis shrugs. ‘It’s the truth, though. He talks shit too most of the time. Charming shit, but it’s still shit.’

Nick lets out an exasperated sigh, before dropping down in the nearest chair. ‘For years I’ve been sure of the fact that you didn’t like me. I guess I just needed an extra second to like, convince myself that what happened the other day wasn’t just a spur of the moment thing.’

He can feel his face heating up. It’s not like he hasn’t been struggling with the same thing. But he knows what he feels, and he knows what he wants this time around. Apparently, Nick isn’t so sure. ‘We can treat it like that if you prefer.’

‘Is that what you want?’

Louis rolls his eyes, feeling terribly close to pulling his own hair out. ‘I asked first. Is it what you want?’

Nick looks genuinely distraught at that. ‘I don’t know. Maybe,’ he sighs. ‘Maybe it’s best to press pause on this right now. At least until we’ve gotten Harry’s party organized.’

Until he’s gone, are the words Nick doesn’t say, but Louis knows it’s what he actually means. Dread seeps into his bones. Because if Louis’ being honest, that’s not what he wants to hear. Because he’s used to falling hard, fast – he doesn’t really do slow and soft all that well. He’d be lying if he said it doesn’t hurt a little to hear Nick say that he’s that unsure, and it plants a seed of doubt in his own mind. The relief on Nick’s face as Louis nods doesn’t really brighten his mood.

‘Fine. Now can you leave me be, then? Because I don’t have people over ever on Saturdays. I’m hungover, I’m tired, and I don’t want to have to be nice to you right now,’ he bites out.

Nick just gives him a small smile, ‘Ah. There’s the Louis I know. I’ll get out of your hair, and then I’ll email you a list of guests. Let’s start from there.’

Clifford makes a noise of protest as Nick heads for the door, but otherwise stays seated at Louis’ feet. Louis presses a kiss to the top of his head, grateful for his dog’s loyalty when it matters.

He sighs loudly as soon as he hears the door fall into the lock again, signalling Nick’s left.

‘Fuck,’ he exclaims, burying his face in his own hands. He can feel Clifford’s wet nose pushing against him, but it’s not enough to distract Louis from reality. A reality in which he’s somehow ended up developing feelings for Nick Grimshaw, whilst in the process of losing Harry to the USA. Impeccable timing, truly.

Normally he’d talk to Harry about these type of things, but there’s no way he’s going to bring him into the mess they’ve already made so far. Besides, it’s too late now – and Louis wouldn’t want to upset him right before he’s set to leave.

So he’s just going to have to suck it up, and maybe have another bit of that coffee Nick brought him – if only to settle the queasiness in his stomach.

 

 


 

 

‘That was another hit by the lovely Niall Horan, up next is Lauv featuring Anne-Marie,’ Louis switches off his mic after linking the songs and leans back in his chair. He pinches the bridge of his nose and blinks a couple of times.

Just another hour, and then he can hand over the reigns to Molly, and he can go back to bed. He’s spent the entire weekend obsessing over everything that’s happened, but unsurprisingly that hadn’t helped either. It all just feels way too … familiar. And he doesn’t want things to end in the same way. Not this time around. Not with Nick.

A pencil hits his head. ’Oi! What’s up with you? I know Mondays can be sluggish for all of us, but you’re not yourself this morning. You look like you’ve been hit by a truck.’ Zayn shoots him a concerned glance that Louis tries to avoid by looking over at Liam instead. It doesn’t work, since he’s giving him even worse puppy eyes than usual.

He tries to fake a grin, but he’s fairly sure it comes out as more of an unconvincing grimace. ‘I’m fine – just, busy setting up Harold’s going away fanfare. You’re both invited, you know that right?’

Zayn purses his lips, signalling that he isn’t buying what Louis is selling at all, but refrains from commenting further. It’s enough to make Louis relent, because he knows he will have to talk about things with someone anyways. May as well be his mates who seem to understand him better than he does himself sometimes.

Liam starts motioning for them to get back to their mics, so Louis quickly whispers “later” before getting back to the show.

‘Well, considering one of my friends is leaving me soon, what song would be more suitable than “I’m Lonely by Lauv & Anne-Marie?’  

‘As if we’re not right here,’ Zayn retorts. Louis shrugs, before promptly telling all their listeners about how they’re rolling their eyes at him. He grins triumphantly at his co-host – as if he’s not going to fight dirty.

‘Anyways, as soon as Zayn stops glaring at me for telling on his rude behaviour, I can announce to you guys that we’ve got a really nice surprise coming up tomorrow,’ he starts, winking at Zayn in the process.

‘As soon as Louis stops lying about whether or not I’m being rude, I can tell you guys that we will have Anne-Marie herself joining us for breakfast – so best get your questions in right now! Tweet us or the show, and we’ll try to include some. For now, here’s “I’m Lonely,”’ Zayn retorts.

And for another hour, Louis gets to pretend everything’s fine, like nothing’s out of the ordinary. As if he isn’t going to confess to his friends that he’s been secretly harbouring feelings for his nemesis.

Or well. Nick’s never really been a nemesis. More a nuisance, maybe. And only because they both didn’t know how to act around each other, Louis supposes.

‘So, meeting room? Soundproof?’ Liam checks as Louis gets out of the studio, waving at Molly as he goes.

He nods once, telling himself he could use the advice and that he should trust his friends not to judge him.

 


 

It’s a little difficult though, when Zayn is just staring at him slack-jawed as he explains how he might have feelings for Nick.

There’s a snarky, rude retort just hovering at the tip of his tongue when his friend seems to shake himself out of it – just in time.

‘Sorry, sorry – it’s just,’ he starts off a little unsure, exchanging a glance with Liam who’s stayed remarkably quiet so far, ‘I thought – sometimes we just weren’t sure, you know? Whether you ever, felt that way about Harry ?’

Louis frowns, a little offended but also surprised at his friends’ response. ‘Why? Don’t you think I would’ve told you if I had been pining after him?’

It’s not like Louis hasn’t ever wondered about it himself. Sometimes he thinks it might’ve made things easier to explain to people – their co-dependency, the way it’s so difficult to accept they’ve both changed and grown up. Not apart, just up. They’re different people now.

But the truth is, that no matter how much Louis tries to consider it, there’s just zero attraction there. He loves Harry, but not in that way. Never in that way.

‘I don’t know, Lou. We’ve been working together for three years and in those three years, I think you’ve only told us things about your siblings when they came up. You’ve never voluntarily opened up, least of all about your romantic relationships.’

Surely that’s not true, Louis thinks to himself as he considers their exchanges in the past.

‘It’s true,’ Liam supplies, almost as if he can hear Louis thinking from where he’s seated. ‘You’re quite the closed book, actually.’

Louis hums at that. If both his friends say so, there must be an inkling of truth in there, no matter how odd it sounds to Louis’ own ears. ‘It’s not on purpose, I don’t think. I just – for the longest of times there was truly nothing to tell.’  

Which is true. He hasn’t really done anything aside from working for the longest time, which is slightly pathetic in and of itself. But Louis has put his all into this gig of getting to host the morning show, and it’s really only after a year and half that he’s starting to feel like he knows what he’s doing. Like he actually deserves to be there.

So he doesn’t really do anything aside from work, except – well. He likes to watch Bake Off on the weekends. Which he’s not ashamed off or anything, because he’s even talked about it on the show, but it’s also not something he’s going to spend entire hours of discussion on with his friends.

Besides, their lives were much more interesting. And Louis loves giving advice, reckons he’s quite good at it even. He’s a good listener, which he supposes is also part of the job description.

Zayn gives him an empathetic smile. ‘It’s okay, Lou. You don’t owe us any type of explanation. I just – I wanted to explain why I was so surprised. Just, I never saw it coming, I suppose,’ he pauses. ‘Though maybe I could’ve. Should’ve.’

Louis wants to protest and tell Zayn that he shouldn’t blame himself, but then Liam suddenly breaks out into a smile and starts laughing. ‘This is why you were so peeved when Nick called during the podcast recording the other day! We thought it had to do with you planning something for Harry and you were all coy about it, but it was actually Nick himself! Oh my god, it all makes sense now!’  

Zayn elbows him hard in the stomach, to Louis’ delight and Liam’s great surprise. ‘Ow! What was that for?!’

He shrugs, before motioning for Louis to continue talking. ‘Tell us what the issue is, then.’

Right, Louis thinks – he hadn’t even gotten to explaining that yet. They’d been too caught up in the fact that he mentioned Nick, rather than Harry. He’d love to actually tell Harry about their assumption to have a laugh, but he knows he can’t. He’s not about to fuck up any of his friendships.

‘Well. I guess the issue is that Nick doesn’t want me back,’ he states matter-of-factly. As he says it out loud, it hits him how pathetic that sounds. Still, it’s the truth. He’d made it pretty clear where he stood on his relationship with Louis, and it was most certainly not very hopeful.

He taps out a rhythm on the table top, then lets out an empty laugh. ‘It’s not even really an issue, is it? Just something I need to be mature about and should accept, honestly. I shouldn’t even have bothered you with this, anyways,’ he starts to say, but Zayn immediately shakes his head.

‘Don’t be fucking ridiculous. First of all, what’s wrong with Nick? Why the hell would he not want you back? Second of all, I think we just established that we’d rather you get things off your chest with us. We’re your friends . Remember when Liam and I were both complaining to you at the same time? That was fine with you too, wasn’t it?’

Louis wants to argue, wants to tell them that their situation was different from his. He knew, after all, that they both liked each other – that they had nothing to worry about. He was matchmaking , doing them a favour. There’s no guarantees here. In fact, there’s the opposite of guarantees.

‘You’re not my counsellor, though.’

Liam shoots him a look. ‘The only thing you should discuss with a counsellor, perhaps, is your unwillingness to share things with your friends. You’re not a burden, you know? It’s absolutely fine if you want to vent.’

And of course, intellectually Louis knows that. He’s aware of that, and he’s never actively gone out of his way to hide something. It’s more so that he’s just – used to not sharing. He’s used to listening, advising others on what to do. He’s used to making a show out of things, being the centre of attention when it comes to funny stories. And perhaps he’s used to people leaving when they get serious. Perhaps it’s also why he’s clung onto Harry’s friendship so much, why he’d been somewhat annoyed by the close friendship Harry and Nick had. Because that was supposed to be something Harry only shared with him, which meant he’d always be Louis’ friend.

He takes a deep breath, then steels himself as he starts talking. ‘Alright. Well. I guess – I guess I don’t really know what’s going on in Nick’s head.’

‘You know how we were supposed to plan this party together, yeah?’ Louis continues. ‘A going away thing for Harry. And we do run in the same circles, and I just – what with Harry going away, he’s the most familiar person to me in those circles. And at least he gets it, being Harry’s friend and yet feeling like you don’t have his friendship at all? I guess I thought it’d be the next best thing. But then I thought, maybe you are just the best thing.’

Louis doesn’t stop, just steamrolls ahead. ‘So we flirted a little, and he invited me over to his place to plan Harry’s party. Except we just had a really nice dinner together, and then I kissed him.’

He looks over at his friends from where he’d been staring at the ceiling instead, and can’t help but feel relieved that they’re both seemingly fully engrossed in what he’s telling them.

‘So far so good, yeah?’ Zayn says encouragingly, to which Louis nods hesitantly. He’d thought so too.

‘Yes. Except…’ Another sigh escapes him. ‘Except the part where we set up an actual lunch date and he ghosted me. And told me that he doesn’t want to date me.’

Frowning, Liam leans forward in his chair. ‘What do you mean he doesn’t want to date you? He kissed you back, didn’t he?’

If only it were that simple, though. ‘He did. But he also said he doesn’t really see us going anywhere. So he bailed and then told me he wanted to press pause.’

He knows what his friends are going to say even before they actually say it out loud. ‘Fuck, I’m sorry mate. That’s shit.’

There’s not much else to say, he reckons. Still, he feels a little bit better now that he’s gotten it off his chest. They pull him in for a cuddle, and it’s nice. It’s warm and safe and even though he feels like shit – embarrassed, sad and anxious all at the same time – there’s also some new lightness to his heart, thanks to his friends.

‘Did he actually explain why he wanted to press pause? Why he agreed to a date and then never showed up? Because regardless of the fact that maybe he changed his mind, it’s not on to leave you hanging like that,’ Zayn asks.

It’s a legitimate question, and one that Louis can’t fully answer. “You’d have to ask him. He was unsure, I guess. Anxious. Didn’t know what to do, so ended up paralyzed by doing nothing. Came over the next day to tell me it was done before it’d even begun.” 

Zayn doesn’t look too convinced, but Louis doesn’t want his friends to give him any false hope. It’s probably best if he and Nick just set aside their differences – be it for better or for worse – and make sure that Harry gets the party he deserves. A party that’s not being weighed down by the dumb decisions made by Harry’s two best friends, making him feel like he’d have to interfere, or worse, matchmake.

Liam frowns. ‘So what now? Are you still doing Harry’s birthday party together?’

He shrugs. Getting rejected hardly seems like a good enough reason to flake on Harry, so he’ll just have to suck it up.

“Guess so. Haven’t heard from Nick at all, though, so we’ll see.”

His friends give each other a look that Louis can’t decipher, and honestly doesn’t want to either. ‘Okay, well. Just know we’re here. DJ Malik is ready to jump in, if necessary.’

Louis snorts at that and shakes his head. Hell would have to freeze over before Louis or Nick would ever let anyone else be in charge of the playlist.

“Nice offer, but no thanks mate. I’m sure Nick will pull through. He’s got quite the reputation when it comes to parties, and I truly doubt he'd let the opportunity of planning an epic party for Harry slip away.”

 


 

Nick’s a terrible party planner. Louis had quietly been convinced that out of the two of them, he’d be the worst – but it turns out Nick takes chaos to a whole new level.

For one, there’s the shared Spotify playlist, which is absolutely terrible and Louis is half convinced he’s only made it to fuck with him. Nick knows that ‘You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is Louis’ favourite song, not Harry’s.

Then there’s the guest list. He was supposed to send it to Louis, which has snowballed into a shared Google list that he keeps adding then removing names from. Each update is sent directly to Louis’ phone as a push notification and he’s not entirely sure how to turn it off, which is incredibly frustrating to say the least.

At this point, he’s fairly certain that Nick’s everchanging RSVP overview is just one big prank. Which is annoying, because he kind of needs to have an idea of how much he should order when it comes to their food or their drinks. However, every time Louis texts him with the request to please stop changing the guest list, he’s ignored.

Thankfully, even though it’s a bit last minute, Louis has managed to at least secure a venue with catering included. The pub down the road was pleasantly surprised when they heard the special event they’re going to host is a going away party for none other than Harry Styles and his mates. (He’s having them all sign a NDA – or well, his legal advisor Nadia is.)

He’s ordered a bunch of decorated cupcakes because he knows Harry likes that kind of thing, and he’s had them printed with pictures of Harry and his friends. Nick hadn’t responded to his texts or lovely photo collage of the various cupcakes he’d shortlisted, so he’s had to organise it by himself. If that means Nick’s picture printed on the cupcake isn’t the most flattering one, Louis swears it’s not on purpose.

He’s pretty sure he’s descending into madness when he figures the only way to get Nick to respond to him is to go through their shared friends – excluding Harry of course.

So, he texts Annie to tell Nick that he should text him. Annie just sends him back a no, and that he should solve his problems like adults do. Which Louis thinks is a little unfair, since he’s not the one being an absolute child and not responding to texts.

There aren’t many other friends he shares with Nick that he feels comfortable asking for a favour, so he pulls his trump card – Niall Horan.

He is one of very few big celebrities Louis finds himself enjoying the company of, and he also happens to be friendly with pretty much everyone in the industry. And normally that’d put Louis right off, but Niall’s just so damn genuine, that it’s hard not to succumb to his Irish goodness. He melts his heart, is what Niall does.

When Niall picks up, he immediately informs Louis that he’s doing an Instagram Live at the same time and will call him back later. “Fair enough, no rush though,” Louis adds before hanging up.

Curious, he goes over to Instagram and is just in time to hear Niall talk about him with some of his fans. A little weirded out, he decides that he shouldn’t spend too much time listening in. Instead, he finds himself going over to Nick’s Instagram profile.

He sighs at his own weakness, then clicks on the most recent photo. Louis knows that it’s dumb, and yet he can’t help himself as he scrolls even further down. He takes in Nick’s appearance on each picture, before reading the descriptions. They’re funny, and usually quite in line with Louis’ humour.

He’s just clicked on a picture of Nick and Pig, when his phone rings, startling him into tapping the screen again in an attempt to pick up and get the incessant beeping to stop. He really should change his ringtone to something slightly less jarring.

‘So, what’s up Lou,’ Niall starts off, immediately launching into an apology over his Instagram Live.

“You don’t have to apologize, it’s fine – was just calling to see how you were doing. Suppose I should follow your IG for that, though” Louis jokes.

“You can get the real updates, though,” Niall promises him, then laughs. “Not that I mind you calling me, don’t get me wrong, but what’s the matter? We haven’t spoken on the phone in ages.”

Louis feels a bit caught out at that. “Have I been that bad of a friend to you?” he wonders out loud, grimacing to himself as he tries to remember how often he and Niall have hung out over the past year. Granted, it’s not much.

“Not at all! Just not the calling type of friend. And I’ve been away, touring. Don’t worry Lou – I can hear you thinking even from here. You’re a good friend, don’t blame it on yourself. I can pick up the phone and call ya too, and I know you’d answer. That’s what counts.”

It settles Louis slightly, although he makes a mental note to have a pint with Niall later that week.

“Alright then.. But for the record, you mean a lot to me, mate.”

Niall coos through the phone, “You mean a lot to me too, Lou. Now, tell me what I can do for ya.”

“I kinda need you to reach out to someone for me,” he starts.

“Say no more. It's Grimmy, isn't it? That man can be a right git sometimes.”

Somehow, that comment actually makes Louis feel instantly defensive of Nick – even though he is, admittedly, being a confusing dick right now.

“I just – we are supposed to organize something together, and I feel like he’s actively trying to avoid it. Which I’d be fine with,” lie , “if we weren’t organizing something for my – his – our best mate,” he corrects himself with just a hint of frustration in his voice. It’s a small victory on Louis’ part.

Niall’s quiet for a second, as if he’s expecting Louis to expand a bit more on the situation. It’s just that Louis isn’t sure what he has to offer, wants to offer in terms of information. He loves Niall, and he trusts him – he’s just not willing yet to talk about whatever it is that went down with Nick, and most definitely not over the phone.

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do for you. I think I’ve got just the solution that’ll make Grim give in sooner rather than later. Leave it with me, Lou.”

Relieved, Louis thanks Niall and reminds him of the fact they should hang out soon. It’s only when the conversation’s over that he realises two very distressing things.

One – he has no idea what Niall is actually planning to do.

Two – he has apparently liked a picture of Nick from about fourteen months ago on Instagram.

“Oh no, oh fucking fuck – shit,” Louis mutters as he taps to remove the like, dread and embarrassment settling in.

He’s in the process of texting his social media savvy sister about what this means and if Nick will see it, when he gets another Instagram notification. He groans, when he sees what Niall’s grand plan entailed.

He’s tagged both Nick and him on his Instagram story. “oii @grimmers tantrums aren’t a good look on ya - ring @louist91 please”

It is exactly the type of thing Louis would've much rather avoided. Publicly shaming Nick into contacting him isn’t really how he’d envisioned Niall interfering. Also, what is he supposed to do now? Wait pathetically for Nick to call him while the rest of the world eagerly looks on?

Not what I meant Niall!!!

He knows texting that is useless, since it’s already happened now, but it makes him feel slightly better if only for a little bit.

It seems Niall isn’t impressed whatsoever, instead is just smug: Did it work though?

Unfortunately, Niall has every right to be smug. Because it does elicit a response.

Not one that’s very useful, or one that Louis was hoping for, but at least Nick is texting him back now.

Was that really necessary?

There’s a screenshot there of Nick’s notifications that are at 999+ already. It kind of makes him want to throw his phone against the wall out of sheer frustration. Because if he’s texting Louis, he’s definitely seen the string of text messages Louis has already sent him – and yet he’s still not answering any of those. And he doesn’t do what Niall’s asked; what Louis has asked him to do so many times now.

As much as it sucks that Nick doesn’t want to be with him, he’d hoped they’d at least be able to act like normal and polite grown-ups for Harry’s sake. And while Louis enjoys a bit of banter, this strange version of the cold shoulder technique definitely isn’t part of his preferred repertoire.

When Lottie calls him, laughing and demanding answers from Louis about whose picture he “deep liked”, he feels even worse. She assures him that Nick would have definitely seen it, and yet. He hadn’t said anything about it. At first he thinks he should be relieved, but in the face of Nick just ignoring whatever it is that was going on between the two of them, it just deepens the cracks in Louis’ chest.

He wonders if he should address it himself – explain himself, say that it was an accident, that he didn’t mean to, and that he definitely isn’t stalking Nick when he knows to keep his distance.

On the other hand, what with the radio silence coming from Nick, he reckons it's probably best to just leave it be for now and save himself from further embarrassment.

Still. It doesn’t stop his anxiety and discomfort over the whole situation from growing. Nick’s lack of response is now a public event, and a wider audience is getting involved. There are headlines speculating why they are feuding, or wondering why they were talking at all, which is a sobering message to see displayed in the papers that makes him feel even more on edge.

It’s in line with what he used to believe, but it goes against what he’s secretly found to be true over the past few weeks. It’s confusing, and distressing, and adding to that he can’t even talk to his best friend about any of it, because said best friend is leaving and he deserves the best goodbye party there is. And Louis needs Nick on board for that, so he’s been trying really hard to put all of his personal turmoil aside and just focus on the organization. But even that doesn’t seem to be enough, given Nick’s lack of an actual useful response, and so Louis decides to just accept defeat and plans to try and get the party together by himself.

The problem is – when he goes to call James, the pub’s owner, to discuss how they’ll handle security at the party, it turns out Nick’s already been by to drop off the guest list as well as a finalized playlist.

Louis would be lying if he said he’s not impressed, in a weirdly hurt yet oddly proud way. Clearly, Nick knows exactly what he’s doing and how to avoid actual confrontation with Louis in the process, without letting Harry down. By extension, that means Louis can’t even be too mad.  

Zayn and Liam give him encouraging smiles at work on Friday, and wave him off with saying they’ll make sure to be there a bit early to help out. Just in case Nick doesn’t show up for the preparations. He’s meant to lead Harry to the venue with a ruse, but he hasn’t shared the details with Louis, so he doesn’t quite know what to expect.

It’s with bated breath that he sees Nick for the first time since he stopped by to drop off coffee and break up with him before they started dating, already at the actual venue, talking to James. They’ve got about an hour to finish up decorating before guests will start arriving. In an attempt to maintain his reputation as ‘the least disorganized one’ out of the two of them, Louis had shown up early.

Apparently, Nick’s keen on salvaging his reputation as well.

“Hi,” he breathes out as soon as Nick’s eyes fall on him. “Long time no see.”

At least he’s got the decency to look slightly chastised at the bite in Louis’ tone. He quickly looks away, turning back to James.

“Ah, have you met Louis yet? He’s the other half of the organizing committee.”

“Yes, of course – we’ve spoke on the phone,” James supplies, coming forward to shake Louis’ hand.

He shoots an apologetic look back at Nick, then adds quietly, “I always listen to you in the morning.”

It makes Louis laugh and temporarily distracts him from the weird tension that’s hanging in the air. When he looks over, he can see that Nick forces a smile onto his face, Louis can tell by the way the corner of his mouth pulls down just ever so slightly.

“Thanks so much, I appreciate it.” He flounders for a bit, not quite sure what to say or do. The place clearly needs to be decorated still, but the turntables and food is already all set up.

“So, it seems like all that’s left to do is decorate the place, hm?”

“Yup. Your friend Nick here already put everything he brought in the back, so all that’s left is for you two to figure out how you want this place to look,” James replies, smiling as he nods over at where Nick is standing.

It feels odd, somehow, to have someone else say Nick’s name. Usually, surrounded by friends, Louis is the only one to call him that.

“Great. And all the paperwork?” Louis asks, to which he can hear Nick huff in the background. He can’t help but frown. It’s a good thing he’s taken the precautionary measures he has, to protect everyone’s privacy. Harry alone is enough to create mayhem, but what with the swanky RSVP list – of which Louis has no idea what is and isn’t real anymore – he’s happy to ensure nothing from the party will leak to the press.

“Figures you’d focus on that,” Nick mutters as soon as James has handed him all the NDAs as signed by him and all the staff. There’ll be more for the people attending the party, but he figures that to be less of a hassle. Famous people have a tendency to protect each other anyways.

Disturbed, Louis stares back up at Nick from where he’s sitting at the bar, looking over the paperwork. “What do you mean?”

It seems to take Nick by surprise that he even heard him, eyes wide as he stares back. “Nothing, nothing.”

He gets up to put the paperwork away and makes his way to where Nick’s standing. “Look, I know – I know that you don’t really want to be here, but you don’t have to act this,” he gestures with his hands, looking for the right words, “ hostile . We’ve got an hour to get this place looking amazing, surely we can just get it together for an hour?”

For a second, Nick looks angry and like he wants to argue, but then his eyes skit towards the back of the pub and he just lets out a sigh. He pulls a hand through his hair, pulling Louis’ gaze up with the movement.

“I need to pick up Harry in thirty minutes, so just tell me what you want from me.”

For you to not be a dick to me out of self-defence, and for you to give me a fair chance instead, Louis thinks to himself. But he doesn’t say it out loud. He just nods, and turns to the many decorations. They work silently, in tandem. Surprisingly – or perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised at all – they don’t even need to talk in order to put all the right decorations in place. It stings they’re able to work so well together, even now. It almost makes him wish that Nick was doing something terribly wrong, so he could pick a fight and call him out on it. 

“Right, I need to go. I will send you a warning text when we’re near,” Nick states, before grabbing his coat and leaving the pub behind. Louis doesn’t even get to nod his head in acquiescence.

“Fine, whatever,” he mutters to himself, continuing with placing the streamers along the ceiling. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to be alone for that long. His friends arrive soon after Nick leaves, and they manage to fix everything up together just before the first guests start coming in.

As he does work on radio, it’s not like he’s starstruck all that often – not when he’s met most of these people while in function. Still, he can’t help but feel slightly out of place as he stands next to Alberto, their security, at the entrance to greet the likes of Adele and David Beckham and hand them NDAs.

He wonders why Harry’s never told him about his friendships with them, but he abandons that trail of thought almost immediately. Either Harry didn’t feel like telling him, or he did tell him but Louis never paid enough attention to notice, or Nick’s just invited people randomly and they actually showed up. None of those options are very appealing to Louis, so instead he focuses on smiling at Dua Lipa as she greets him with a hug.

There are some old friends of Harry that Louis knows from way back when, and he’s eager to catch up with them too, but then he gets pulled aside by Pixie.

“Louis! Just wanted to tell you that you did such a good job on short notice! And thanks for letting Grimmy do so much, it was a really great distraction for him,” she praises.

His eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Distraction?”

Pixie gives him a rueful smile and shakes her head. “Yeah, you know – from the morning show news? It was nice to see him so focused on something other than that, to lift his spirits a bit. Even though, focusing on Harry leaving isn’t great either. But I’m sure he liked spending some time with you, anyways.”

Louis nods slowly, not wanting her to pick up on the fact that he has no idea what she’s talking about. What morning show news? Why would Nick lie and say he was spending time with Louis, when he hadn’t seen him since that stupid coffee drop-off he did?

“Yeah, absolutely.”

“I knew you’d click, if only you’d give yourself the chance. Everyone was getting quite tired of you two just being so hellbent on ignoring the chemistry,” she continues blithely.

Louis’ phone vibrates, and he relishes in the fact he can legitimately send her away to hide. He doesn’t want to discuss Nick with her, not when she seems so utterly unaware of the fact that Nick had taken great measures to actually not hang out with Louis whatsoever. It’s embarrassing.

“It’s Nick – they’re almost here,” he cuts her off, then turns to the crowd at large. “Everyone, find a place to hide, they’re on their way here, Harry’s got no clue!”

People scramble to find a hiding spot, and somehow Louis finds himself being squeezed in by both Liam and David Beckham, who he’s only now realizing look eerily alike. It’s not the time or place to comment on it, though he’s sure to tease Liam with this newfound knowledge later on.

Minutes later, there’s footsteps and they hear the front bell jingling as Harry and Nick make their way inside. Louis can hear Harry rattling on in his familiar slow drawl that he’s going to miss so much.

“I can’t believe we’ve never been to this pub, it’s super close to Louis’ house too and——” 

“SURPRISE!”

Harry looks elated and genuinely surprised, even though Louis can tell by the way his dimples are exaggeratedly present that he’s faking the whole thing. Of course he knew where they were going, or maybe Nick spilled the beans.

Either way, he can’t help but smirk at the way Harry’s playing the part of the surprised centre of attention so wonderfully. There’s a bunch of people that immediately swarm him, so Louis stays back and checks on the cupcakes again, before making his way to the music setup.

“Think it’s time to say hi to Harry, rather than fix everything around Harry,” Nick suddenly pipes up from behind him.

He’s too close and yet not close enough, and Louis’ not sure what to do with that useless assessment.

So he shrugs and continues to press a few buttons. Two can play at the cold shoulder thing.

“You just want to steal my spot, and make sure we’ll use your awful playlist,” he retorts, although there’s no real heat behind it.  

“It’s not awful! I made sure to include Harry’s favourites,” Nick objects.

Louis turns around then and glares at him. They both know that the songs on that playlist are not all Harry’s favourites.

“‘You Look Good On the Dancefloor’ is not Harry’s favourite and you know that too.”

Nick’s jaw twitches, but he says nothing. He just lets out a frustrated huff, then pushes another button, letting music blast from the speakers.

“I promise to stick to Harry’s favourites only, now shoo.”

Louis decides to just take a breath and do as Nick says. He can’t quite wrap his head around the fact that this is the last weekend of Harry being here. He’s been over at his place the last couple of days quite often to help him pack, but still – it’s a little surreal.

There’s still a bunch of people surrounding Harry, but as soon as he spots Louis, he excuses himself and jogs over to where he’s standing with a goofy smile on his face.

“I can’t believe you and Grim managed to pull this off so splendidly,” he sighs happily, then wraps Louis up in a warm hug.

“You know I could totally tell you weren’t actually surprised?” Louis mutters in Harry’s ear as they’re hugging, before pulling away with a knowing grin on his face.

Harry pouts. “I tried really hard to act the part, think I fooled almost everyone.”

Triumphantly, Louis shakes his head. “Not me.”

“Of course not, you’re my best mate,” Harry says in agreement. He regards Louis for a second, then nods in Nick’s direction. “Did he behave well? I’m really happy that you guys tried to organise this together for me.”

Louis doesn’t have the heart to tell him the truth – not that Nick didn’t behave well, but about the weird developments in their now non-existing relationship. So he just gulps and nods, smiling in what he hopes is incredibly convincing to Harry.

“Yeah. He made the guestlist and compiled a playlist - he did a lot of the work.”

Harry hums, narrowing his eyes, and for a second Louis is worried he’s going to interrogate him – but he just clasps his hands together and his entire face relaxes into a happy smile. “He told me the same thing, that you did most of the work. How lovely!”

“Very lovely,” Louis echoes, wondering why Nick is now playing a song by the Courteeners. Someone shuffles up to them and taps Harry on the shoulder, and Louis can’t help the wave of disappointment pool in his stomach – even as Harry waves them away and tells them to give him a minute.

“You know, you’re still my best friend, right? Even if I move away?” Harry implores, a serious look on his face. Louis tries really hard not to get emotional over that, but he didn’t realise himself how much he needed Harry to say that.

Of course he knows that, but it’s still been a bit of an odd whirlwind, and he doesn’t really feel at home in the same crowds that Harry does. He’s great at faking it, and acting like he does – but the reality is far from it.

“I – yeah, shit, sorry mate. I told myself I wouldn’t cry until much later, with much more alcohol in my system to blame,” Louis says with teary eyes and a wet smile, then hugs Harry again. “I’d organise a thousand parties with my worst enemy for you – you know that, too, right?”

He leaves it unsaid that he no longer considers Nick Grimshaw his worst enemy, but rather his biggest weakness.

“I know, Lou. You’re the most loyal person I know. I’m grateful that I get to have you as my friend, and that I get to be yours. Thank you,” Harry emphasises before turning away and letting himself be pulled into a conversation with Ed Sheeran.

Louis nods to himself and moves to the bar. He chances another glance at Nick as he plays “I’m so tired” by Lauv, then lets out another sigh. Time to get smashed.

 


 

It’s a terrible idea to get smashed, and he knows it. And yet, here he is – sitting on Zayn’s lap, smiling goofily at Liam who’s trying to twist off a non-twist off beer cap. Louis might be tactile by nature, he’s tenfold as affectionate when buzzed. And right now, he’s definitely buzzed.

“It’s not going to work, Leemo – you can’t just force it to twist off,” he exclaims with a grin, shaking his head as he looks on.

Zayn shushes him by tightening his arms around his waist and pulling him closer to his chest. “Stop it, that’s my boyfriend and he’s trying very hard to impress me, don’t ruin the mood,” he urges in Louis’ ear.

Louis just raises his eyebrows, then wiggles out of Zayn’s hold as soon as he realizes his own tequila sunrise is long gone. “I’ll let you two finish your mating dance in peace, I’m off to find some alcohol.”

But before he gets to the bar, his eyes fall on Nick and Harry. They’re standing quite close together, and Nick’s giggling over something Harry’s just whispered in his ear. In that moment, Louis doesn’t know whether he’s jealous of Nick for spending time with Harry, or of Harry for making Nick giggle like that.

He doesn’t appreciate his stomach being all up in knots either way, and so he decides to aid the problem by ordering himself a shot of vodka. It’s disgusting, and he still feels queasy – except now he can’t quite pinpoint why he feels that way, which is an improvement nonetheless.

Louis ends up spending some time dancing with a guy he can’t remember the name of, before stumbling off to the nearest bathroom. All the alcohol’s made him woozy, so it takes him much longer than necessary to simply piss, but he manages in the end. It’s clear he should sober up a little if he wants to end the night with some of his dignity intact, so he makes his way over to the door so he can go outside for a bit. He needs some fresh air, and ideally a cigarette too.

Of course, it’s his luck that he finds Nick there. Frustrated, he tries to kick a lone beer cap away, but he ends up missing and almost tumbles over.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he mutters as he bumps into Nick in his attempt to right himself.

“Jesus, Lewis – watch out, will ya? Could’ve made me light my own hair on fire just now,” Nick almost snarls, lifting the lighter up for Louis to see.

Frowning, Louis steadies himself. “I tripped, not my fault. Can I borrow your lighter?”

Nick exhales and hands the neon green lighter off without even looking in Louis’ direction. It feels a lot like a dismissal.

Suddenly, Louis can’t take it anymore. Later, he’ll blame the alcohol for his outburst, but Louis’ always been the type to wear his heart on his sleeve anyways.

“You know, I really don’t get you, Nick Grimshaw,” he starts off, eyes pinning Nick in place. “You’re so – so frustrating ! We were supposed to not even like each other, and then you made me like you and now you’re just shutting me out. Why?”

“I’m frustrating?! How about yourself, huh? Spending so much time on this party, whining how Harry’s leaving, only for you to fuck off to the bathroom with some random bloke!” Nick spits back in his face, making Louis freeze.

“What the fuck are you even on about? I didn’t do that, and even if I did – who are you to judge me for it?!” he snaps defiantly.

His mind’s still reeling from what Nick’s just told him, the hurtful things he’s said out loud.

For his part, Nick seems a little shellshocked as well – though Louis can’t tell if it’s from his own words or Louis’.

“I – you didn’t? But I just saw you, and then he followed, and then you didn’t come back for a long while,” Nick stutters out, accusingly still.

“Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but I was just taking a leak and the room needed to stop spinning so I could aim properly. Dickhead.”

In all his angry gesticulations, he manages to drop his cigarette. He groans. “Great, fuck.”

For a single moment, Louis considers getting on his knees and trying to find the cigarette and relight it, but then he realises how utterly absurd that is. “Have mine, then,” Nick offers – and it’s not good enough of a peace offer, but it’s not like Louis is going to say no to a free cigarette.

“I’m – I’m sorry for what I said, I’m pissed, I shouldn’t have assumed like that.”

Louis scoffs, as something ugly unfurls in his chest. “No, you shouldn’t have. And don’t talk about my friendship with Harry like that either. You know , out of everyone , what it’s like to be his friend. How magical and wonderful and special it is to have him as your best friend. And for as long as we grew up, Harry was the one person that truly got me, and that I didn’t have to share with anyone. My friendship with him was sacred for so long – the one thing that was just mine . So yes, I’m sad about him leaving. You don’t get to throw that in my face as if you aren’t always bringing him up every chance you see fit on radio, just for the listeners.”

Nick looks stricken, as if Louis’ just poured a bucket of ice water over him. He hardly registers it, before he barrels on. In for a penny, in for a pound.

“You’re just so – so annoying, with your stupid hair and your stupid eyes and those hands of yours. And I wasn’t supposed to like you, I was so happy and set on just disliking you forever – but then it turns out that actually everyone else was right. And I don’t want them to be right, but they were and you just – it’s like you see right through me and it’s unnerving, and scary – but,” he trails off.

He waves his hand in the air, trying to find the right words. In the end Louis just slumps defeatedly and whispers, “but I like it.”

Nick seems conflicted, but in the end sighs and flicks his own cigarette on the ground before carefully stepping on it – manoeuvring himself closer to Louis in the process.

“You’re drunk, Louis. I’m drunk, too, and I don’t think I see you right through you at all. In fact, you’re one of the most stubborn, most frustrating and closed off people I’ve ever met. I don’t get you either. I like you too, but what you said about Harry? That’s who I am. I talk about things that happen in my life, I talk about the people in it, and I share that with the public. I’m not afraid of that.”

He motions between the two of them as he speaks.

“So this? A terrible idea.”

Louis juts out his chin and is about to respond when suddenly the door swings open once more, and out comes Zayn. He startles as soon as he catches sight of them, and it suddenly makes Louis very much aware of how close he and Nick had been standing, despite their arguing.

“I wish you’d let me change your mind,” is all he mutters, then swiftly turns and walks back inside.

Zayn finds him as soon as he’s back inside. He’s curled up against Harry, sulking a little bit, even though he’s trying not to let it show. Louis is still drunk, although the combination of air, ash and Nick’s acid tone with him have done a great job of sobering him up somewhat.

“Hey, sorry if I interrupted anything, back there.”

Motioning for him to cut it off, Louis quickly glances up in Harry’s direction. He seems to be talking animatedly to Niall, who’s the only other remaining guest.  

Louis shrugs. “Didn’t interrupt anything. Just talking, ‘s all it was.”

His friend shoots him a look, but doesn't ask. He knows Louis won't tell anything he doesn't want to share anyways. Perhaps he’s also picked up on the fact that clearly Louis has kept Harry out of the loop so far and is hoping to keep it that way. Especially now that it’s ended before it began, there’s no need to mention it.

Besides, Harry’s leaving. He’s not going to see them interacting with each other anyways. It’s fine.

“What’s fine, babe?” Harry pipes up, and oh, apparently Louis had been talking out loud.

“That Zayn said he wanted to leave and was asking if I needed help cleaning up, but it’s fine,” he blurts out, widening his eyes at Zayn.

Frowning, Zayn slowly nods his head. “Yeah, I was going to leave – with Liam. Liam?”

A muffled ‘hmph’ can be heard as Liam resurfaces from behind the bar. “I was trying to find some lemon wedges here – was gonna make you a nice cocktail.”

Zayn’s lips twitch, as if he’s trying his very best not to smile. “Well, apparently we’re leaving now. We can have a different type of cocktail at home.”

Louis groans and sinks deeper into the cushions and Harry’s side. “Please tell them to stop,” he whines, even though he’s happy they’re so happy together. It took them a while to get there, especially because they share a workspace. Louis cannot confirm nor deny his own interference in their dating process.

“Nope, we both know you quite like this display of affection, Lou. Don’t lie,” Harry states with a smug grin, nudging Louis upright again.

He juts out his bottom lip in a feigned pout, before shrugging. “Maybe so.”

Louis gets up to hug Zayn and Liam, nodding into Liam’s neck as he tells Louis to text either of them when he’s heading out and has arrived home safely.

The door slams, and Harry laughs as Nick stumbles back inside, clearly having startled himself by the loud noise of the door falling closed. Somewhat surprised, he seems to survey the room – eyes skirting past Louis.

“Has everyone gone off, then?” he questions.

Niall nods, and stands up to give Harry a hug. “Yeah, ‘s about time to head out. Next time I’m touring in the States, we’re hanging out, Styles. Alright?”

Louis moves in for a friendly hug as well, teasing Niall for coming on the show with him next. He turns when Niall bounces over to Nick, clearing up glasses as he goes instead.

It’s fine. Everything’s fine. They just need to pretend for as long as cleaning takes that there’s no animosity whatsoever between them. Louis can do it, he swears.

He’s just not sure if Nick can. He’s staring at him constantly, even though Harry’s so close nearby, humming to himself as he takes down some of the streamers.

“You know you could use these in your house, Lou,” Harry says as he points at the Keith Haring coasters he'd had specifically made for Harry.

“Just because I've got one piece of his art doesn't mean I need all of it,” Louis retorts, but Harry shakes his head. 

“No, but I do think that you might actually use coasters if there's penis related art on them.”

He tries to act affronted, but ends up giggling as Harry starts stuffing his pockets with all the coasters he can find. 

“Harry, darling, I think it's time for you to go home. Louis and I will finish up here,” Nick suddenly interrupts.

Annoyed, Louis glares in his direction but finds maybe Nick has a point when Harry stumbles and almost falls flat on his face. Nick rushes over and assists him with walking in a straight line towards the pile of gifts that had steadily grown over the night.

“I need to bring all these. How am I gonna bring all these to America?” Harry questions out loud, and Louis sighs.

“Load them into a private jet, I reckon,” Nick retorts dryly, but grabs a hold of Harry’s arm as he tries to wrestle him into his jacket.

Harry rolls his eyes at Louis, a lopsided smile on his face. “What I mean, is that you should come with me to carry some of this stuff home.”

Nick stiffens and lets go of the jacket he’d been holding. “Harry. We’re not coming with you to LA.”

It’s not what Harry means apparently, as he shakes his head in an exaggerated manner, shoulders slumped. Louis wonders how it’s possible that Harry went from semi-functioning to full-on ranting drunk in just a matter of minutes.

“I know – I just mean – my house! I’m still keeping my house here. You’ve been so good these past few weeks, making an effort for me. Just, can you please both come and help me get everything home?”

He looks so hopeful, and Louis would love nothing more than to give in. He’s just not so sure that Nick’s going to appreciate it. Silently, he watches on as Nick seems to have an internal debate with himself.

Then, his eyes suddenly shift towards Louis, pinning him in place. Louis doesn’t dare look away.

“Fine. We can – we can do that,” Nick speaks tersely, nodding almost imperceptibly at Louis. He lets go of the breath he didn't realise he was holding.

They work in silence, and it’s much more awkward than it needs to be. All Louis hopes for is that Harry’s drunk enough to not remember this in the morning, as he silently sits in the passenger seat of Nick’s car, while Harry’s splayed out across the backseats, snoring away.

He’s afraid to break the tension, scared that whatever he says is going to just push Nick away even further. But he’s also annoyed, because he doesn’t really get what it is he did wrong . Because Nick not wanting to date him is one thing, but for him to go back to ignoring Louis altogether – he doesn’t deserve that. Or at least, he doesn’t think he does.

But the more he thinks about what Nick has said, the more he starts to wonder where Nick got the impression that they’re “a terrible idea”. He chances another glance at Harry. He feels a strange sense of melancholy at the sight. It might be one of the last times he sees Harry like that – so vulnerable and content, sleeping off the rush of adrenalin and alcohol in the back of someone else’s car. It’s lovely but sad at the same time, and it’s odd that he’s sharing that moment with Nick.

“Alright, we’re here,” Nick says suddenly. Louis hadn’t even realized they’d arrived, but jolts upwards when Nick presses the horn.

“Jesus fuck, was that necessary to wake him up?!” Louis wonders out loud, groaning right alongside Harry.

Nick just primly nods his head, and for some reason, Louis can’t help but laugh at the absurdity. They’re in a posh area of town, and Nick’s just gone and probably woken up everyone in the near vicinity – just to be a twat. It’s almost impressive.

Harry yawns as he stretches, before asking them where his gifts have gone. “They’re in the back, love. We’ll get them out,” Louis soothes as Harry nods sleepily.  

Nick clears his throat and fiddles with his keys. “I’ll get them out and you can help Mr Drunk over here into bed.”

His words are laced with fondness that gives Louis pause. It’s familiar, that tone. It’s what Louis sounds like whenever he talks about his siblings, or his best friend. And it’s weirdly comforting to hear it coming from Nick, when he’s referencing a very drunk Harry.

Not that it should surprise him, after everything Harry has told him and all he’s come to know about Nick in the past weeks. Still, he’s somewhat disappointed in himself for never listening closely enough to hear it.

Louis is just helping Harry get out of his ridiculously high waisted pants, when Nick appears in the doorway of the bedroom.

“Oh, how many would kill to be in your position right now,” he remarks dryly. Louis just huffs as he struggles to prevent a flailing Harry from faceplanting onto his expensive wooden floors.

“This is why you buy carpets, Harold,” he mutters, “for fuck’s sake.”

Harry just lolls his head backwards and lets himself fall backwards onto his bed. He’s still wearing his socks and boxers, which isn’t his normal sleeping attire. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem very much inclined to do anything about it, much too tired and tipsy to move.

“Did you bring my gifts, Grimmy?” Harry drawls out, face already smushed into his pillow. Louis can’t help but smile to himself at the way he smacks his lips, before throwing a blanket over Harry.

“‘Course I did, though I did take a bottle of tequila as payment.” Nick lifts his arm and shows off a fancy bottle of Casamigos. Louis’ pretty sure it tastes just as bad as any other normal brand of tequila, but maybe he’s just not posh enough to understand it.

“‘s fine – real gift was you two, mhm, throwin’ me a party, love you,” Harry murmurs, eyes drifting close.

They both stand there for a second, staring at a vulnerable, sleeping Harry Styles who’s going to leave them in two days. It’s almost anti-climactic to have it end like that – even though it’s not really the end of anything, and the night wasn’t going to end in any other way than this.

Louis sighs and looks back at Nick, only to find him staring at him already. He averts his gaze to the bottle of liquor, and hums. “You going to offer me some of that as well? You may have brought his gifts inside, but I had to lug a full human being up the stairs.”

Nick snorts, and shrugs. “I wasn’t going to drink it now. Was going to go home and drink it while Stinky and Pig try to destroy yet another entirely too expensive throw pillow.”

It’s not exactly a no, but it’s also not an overt invitation. Louis isn’t sure what makes him say it – if it’s the way Nick’s looking at him now, the exhaustion and lack of sleep, or the lingering alcohol in his system that’s emboldened him.

“I quite like your dogs.”

Nick makes a noise Louis can’t quite place, but then Nick’s walking down the stairs and asking if Louis is coming along. He takes it as a silent yes.

They’re quiet all the way back to Nick’s place, as if neither of them is quite sure what they’re doing or what’s going to happen.

Louis doesn’t want to break the precarious peace between them, though, so he sits quietly and tries not to fidget too much.

Nick parks the car and leads Louis inside, shuffling past the over-excited dogs ready to greet him. With Nick temporarily ignoring them in order to take off his coat, Louis is their next target – and he’s more than happy to oblige. Crouching down, he grins at the dogs that are trying to climb into his lap.

“Hello, have you been so lonely tonight? I’m sorry – I wish you could’ve gone to the party too,” Louis greets them, throwing his head back to laugh properly as Stinky starts nuzzling his neck and licking his face.

Nick huffs. “Can you believe this? Been gone the entire day, had Liv come in to dogsit, and this is what I get in return – the cold shoulder.”

“It’s cause you named them Stinky and Pig when they should’ve been called Robin and Winston,” Louis retorts, squinting his eyes as he looks over at Nick. Stinky grunts, to Louis’ great joy, seemingly agreeing with his assessment of the situation. Still, both dogs choose that moment to run back to their human and attack him with snuggles and kisses as well.

“Seem to do just fine being called Stinky and Pig, I reckon,” Nick gives him a triumphant smile, motioning for Louis to walk on towards the kitchen. There’s the bottle of tequila, and two shot glasses perched on top of the kitchen countertop.

He doesn’t try to think too hard about the fact he’s kissed Nick in this same space just weeks ago. It feels like a completely different lifetime. And yet, way too close for comfort. Louis knows he wouldn’t mind doing it again, but before that happens he needs to figure out what it is that’s bothering Nick.

“What should we drink to, then?” Nick clears his throat awkwardly as Louis doesn’t respond right away. “How about our shared friend Harry?”

Louis snorts, then clinks his shot glass against Nick’s, before downing the tequila. He immediately pours them another one each. “To London, the city we both know how to appreciate.”

It’s Louis’ turn to contribute a reason. “To the world of radio, whether it’s the God-awful Beeb or Capital – I s’pose you’re not too bad at it.”

Nick’s smile fades a bit, as if the sparkle in his eyes has been dimmed just a tad – but he recovers so fast that Louis isn’t quite sure whether he’d imagined it. “To the radio,” Nick repeats, before pouring the both of them another shot.

Louis almost feels bad about his earlier suggestion, and offers Nick’s dogs instead as a reason to toast – a guaranteed mood lifter. Pig and Stinky choose that moment to shuffle on into the kitchen, just to be closer to Nick. It's cute how much they love him, and how much Nick loves them in return.

It takes him by surprise when Nick immediately pours them a fifth. It's a terrible idea, and yet Louis finds himself accepting.

“To your dog. Clifford. Thought you had a live-in boyfriend the first time Harry mentioned him.”

He chokes on the lemon juice, throat burning as he coughs violently in an attempt to get rid of the acidity. “My live-in boyfriend?!”

Nick shrugs, eyes trained on Louis’ throat – as if he’s trying to guess whether or not he should intervene and help Louis survive his current coughing fit.

“‘s not that weird. You’re the one who gave your dog a human name and describes him in the most human terms. Seemed your type, and all.”

That piques Louis’ interest. Half offended at the insinuation, he’s still curious what Nick considers to be his type. “Oh?”

Nick gestures as he grabs a hold of the tequila bottle, his wild motions causing some of the alcohol to escape. “Yeah, like the fact he’s got dark hair, has curls, he’s quite – oops – big, and goofy.”

Louis blinks as Nick pours them yet another shot, this time dangerously close to overflowing the shot glasses. “Are you implying I’ve got a crush on me dog?” he asks incredulously. “Out of all the scenarios I thought of tonight going, I can honestly say I definitely did not expect being accused of bestiality was one of them.”

It’s Nick’s turn to choke on his drink, and Louis decides it’s probably a good time to withhold the tequila bottle for a bit from the both of them. “No! God no, was just saying – you’ve got a type.”

“A type?”

Nick shrugs and coughs again, then takes a sip from the glass of water Louis hands him. “Harry, for example. Michael. Greg. Isaac, before he got his haircut. Liam.”

He can’t help but roll his eyes at Nick’s words. “I have plenty of friends who don’t fit that stereotype; and I haven’t had crushes on any of those people you just mentioned.”

Louis averts his gaze and crosses his arms defensively when Nick just stares him down. “Okay, fine, maybe I dated Michael for a bit – so what? His hair isn’t even that curly. Yours is curlier.”

A huff escapes Nick, followed by a breathy giggle. It’s contagious, and within seconds Louis is smiling too – even though he doesn’t really know why.

“What – why are we laughing?”

“I never realized I’m your type,” Nick crows out, struggling to get the words out in between bouts of laughter.

It’s not all that funny to Louis, and apparently once it dawns on Nick what he’s said, the chuckles slowly die out.

“Neither did I.” Louis ends up shrugging his shoulders. It’s the truth. He’d never really taken the time to think of Nick any more than the annoying person who he had to share his best mate with.

He purses his lips and stares at the glass of water set in front of him. There’s a part of him that has definitely wondered if his sudden appreciation of Nick is just because he’s the closest thing to Harry that he’ll have in London – a substitute of sorts.

It’s just the moment he considers it, he immediately shakes that thought away. Because it feels wrong. He knows it’s wrong, and it’s not the same. It’s not even true, what with Harry’s sister living in Clapham.

But most of all, he’s never felt the urge to shut Harry up by pressing his lips to his mouth. He’s never wanted to pull on Harry’s curls the way he wants to push his hand through Nick’s hair. He’s never wanted to touch Harry’s face for the sake of it, wanted to see what he tastes like.

He wants to know the insides of Nick’s brain, wants to get know his body. It’s sudden, but it’s intense nonetheless. And maybe it’s too late. Or maybe there never was a time for them, anyways.

What with the way Nick’s quiet after Louis’ confession, Louis isn’t particularly hopeful. He huffs, and taps the countertop once. “Think I might head out.”

He’s feeling pretty sober now. “No,” Nick interrupts. “Don’t.”

His hand hesitantly reaches for Louis’ shoulder, eyes following the movement of his own arm – as if it’s happening without him fully realizing it. “Stay,” he breathes out.

He takes a step closer to Louis, hand gliding down from his shoulder, ever so slowly inching towards his wrist.

Louis pushes back from the countertop, twisting his body so he’s facing Nick fully. He seeks out his eyes, though he’s not even sure what he’s looking for. Reassurance, maybe.

It’s not there.

Nick’s hesitant, he can feel it in the way his fingers wrap around Louis’ wrist, and see it in the way his eyes flit across Louis’ face. Still, Louis doesn’t back down.

“You sure?” he asks, tilting his chin up – allowing Nick to fully step into his space.

“No,” Nick confesses, but it doesn’t matter anymore, as he swallows whatever was going to be Louis’ reply by kissing him.

“Yes,” Nick amends when he pulls away. “Stay,” he repeats with a deep, husky voice, before drawing Louis right back in for another kiss.

He can taste the tequila that lingers on his tongue, mirroring his own. Still, Louis is fairly certain they aren’t actually that drunk. Most of all, there’s also genuine want and lust in the way he’s gripping Louis’ waist, and staring at him with dilated eyes. 

So Louis nods, and follows Nick when he leads him to his bedroom, closing the door behind him to keep the dogs out.

 


 

There’s light hitting Louis’ face, which is strange – he’s got pretty dark curtains to avoid exactly this. He wants to turn over and away from the light, but suddenly realises that there’s an arm slung across his waist. He blinks once, and is met by the most adorable sight ever. Nick’s still sleeping, eyelashes fanned out against his skin, with a few untamed hairs curling across his forehead. Every time he exhales, there’s a strand of hair that gets lifted into the air, only to land right back where it was. Louis fights the urge to sweep them away, in fear of waking Nick. Instead, he indulges himself and snuggles slightly closer to Nick. He closes his eyes, and falls back asleep with a smile still on his face. 

When he stirs awake the second time, it’s to find Nick already gone. It’s not what Louis had envisioned, and he can’t help but frown a bit at the fact he’s woken up alone. Nevertheless, he figures Nick’s probably making breakfast or walking his dogs. Louis takes his time getting up, stretching once before making his way out from under the duvet.

In an attempt to leave a good impression, he makes the bed right away – only to undo it once he hears his mum’s voice in the back of his head warning him that made-up beds aren’t good for people with dust allergies. 

“Hm,” Louis mutters to himself, looking around in an attempt to find his shirt. He’s fairly certain Nick had taken it off of him and thrown it in the corner of his room, but it’s nowhere to be seen. He doesn’t want to snoop in Nick’s closet, but he also doesn’t want to walk around half-naked. Not that Nick had complained yesterday. 

Louis is terrible at morning-afters. He gets nervous and jittery, and he has no idea what would be the right thing to do. And normally he wouldn’t care so much, but he wants more with Nick. He doesn’t want to fuck things up over something silly and avoidable. 

He scans the room once more, before suddenly spotting the shirt that had kickstarted things a few weeks ago. He can’t help but chuckle to himself as he leans over the edge of a set of drawers in order to grab the shirt. 

It smells fine, just a bit of Nick’s cologne lingering on the collar which he really doesn’t mind, so Louis shrugs it on and proceeds to find his trousers. They’re easier to locate than his seemingly disappeared shirt, neatly folded on top of a chair. He can’t quite remember putting them there, so he guesses Nick was responsible for it. 

With his trousers back on, he makes his way towards the kitchen. He grins as he hears Pig and Stinky approach, their nails scratching the hardwood floor in the hallway. “Hello, did you have a good night?” 

It’s a good thing he’d asked Liam to watch Clifford for him, as he’d anticipated being either incredibly tired, hungover or at Harry’s house. He hadn’t really considered this scenario at the time, but even if he had – he probably wouldn’t have told Liam about it either way. Still, he’s happy he doesn’t have to worry about his own dog. It means he can take his time. 

He gets up once he feels he’s sufficiently cuddled both dogs, before stepping into the kitchen. Nick’s standing in the middle of the room in a bathrobe and a bad case of bed hair, staring out of the window. 

“Good morning,” Louis says cheerily, taking a step towards him. Nick mumbles “good morning”, and points to the countertop, where a freshly brewed pot of coffee is calling out to Louis. He changes direction and grabs himself a cup of coffee first. 

He doesn’t realise it at first, but once he’s taken a sip and makes his way back to Nick – it becomes clear Nick has yet to properly turn his body towards him or look at him.

A terrible feeling of dread is starting to spread through Louis’ body, but he tries to suppress it for now. Maybe he’s wrong. He really, desperately hopes he’s wrong. 

“I hope you don’t mind – I couldn’t find my shirt, so I uh, I swiped one of yours,” he says, briefly breaking the tense silence that’s taken over the room. He wants to reach out and touch Nick, but Louis is pretty sure that wouldn’t help his case right now. 

His words at least seem to shake Nick out of his stupor, as he finally glances at Louis. “Oh,” he says belatedly. “That’s – yeah, I guess that’s fine. Looked better on you anyways.” 

Louis snorts, and wants to respond, but Nick beats him to it. “Listen, Louis. I think – I think you should go. Once you’ve finished your coffee.”

There’s a sense of finality to his tone that almost makes Louis want to not argue back, but his stubborn streak wins out. “Why? I had a really nice time last night. Was kind of hoping we could continue where we left off.” 

Nick’s shoulders tense and he turns away, putting his mug on top of a nearby table. “It was a mistake. I’m sorry, but I’m not what you need and you’re not what I need, and we both know it. Let’s face it Louis, we’re both just a little bit heartbroken over Harry, and we sought comfort in one another. But I’m not doing this again.” 

It hurts, and Louis would almost believe Nick’s cutting words, if only he would dare to look at him. So he snaps back instead, in a way that almost feels too familiar given their history. “A mistake like when you invited me over for dinner? Was that also a mistake? Or when you invited me yesterday? That wasn’t me – that was you.” 

It triggers something in Nick, who suddenly looks up with fire in his eyes as he glares at Louis. It’s better than not being looked at all. “Oh fuck off, as if you weren’t gagging for it.” 

Furious, Louis throws his hands in the air. “Because I like you, you dick – ow , for fuck’s sake,” he interrupts himself as hot coffee splatters onto his hand and arm.

“Jesus, Louis!” Nick runs over with a towel to dab away at the scorching hot liquid, and Louis wants to cry out of frustration. Impatiently and in pain, he rips his arm out of Nick’s reach. 

Nick just moves with him and frowns. “Don’t be like that,” he mutters as he takes a closer look to the blister that’s forming on Louis’ wrist. “Put it under lukewarm water, I’ll get my first aid kit.” 

He knows it’s a losing battle, and if he doesn’t want to be in horrible pain later this week – physically at least, he’s pretty sure he’ll be in pain either way – it’s best if he just acquiesces. 

They’re silent as they wait for the water to do its work, before Nick gently dabs off the excess and treats his blister. It’s stupid, but Louis can feel tears welling up, his throat burning as he looks down to where Nick is taking care of him. 

“Do you regret it?” he pushes, voice soft but urgent. 

Nick’s breath hitches, fingers temporarily tightening their hold on Louis’ arm. “Don’t make me say it out loud,” he settles on eventually, and Louis’ heart sinks. 

He doesn’t say anything else, just shakes his head with a huff before stepping out of Nick’s reach. He grabs his jacket and gives the dogs one final pat on the head, then looks back to where Nick’s still standing as if frozen in a painting, first aid kit still held in his hand. “Didn’t think you were a coward, Grimshaw. And for the record, I don’t regret a single fucking thing.” 

He leaves without waiting for a reply. 

Not because he wants to make a statement, but because he’s afraid he’ll start tearing up if he stays any longer.

“Don’t fucking cry over fucking Nick Grimshaw,” Louis chants under his breath as he realises that he has no way to get home but walk. His phone is dead, and there is no way in hell he’s going to go back to Nick’s and ask if he can call him a cab.

It allows him to clear his head, focusing on his environment to see where the fuck he’s even supposed to go. He’s terrible at orienteering, always has been. Louis grumbles as he wishes he’d paid more attention the first few times he’d been in Nick’s neighbourhood.

He can’t believe he let himself end up in this situation in the first place. How had he been so stupidly cocksure that Nick would want him around? That he’d have suddenly changed his mind? Maybe because he’d changed his mind so quickly before . Maybe because you had changed your mind about him.

The answer echoing in Louis’ mind isn’t a very pleasing one, as it just makes him feel embarrassed. The worst part is that an evil voice tells him that at least he won’t have to deal with Nick any longer, now that Harry’s moving away. But while it’s meant to reassure him, he only ends up making himself more upset.

How did he lose two friendships in just one night? Sure, not all of it was in his control – but he shouldn’t have thrown himself at Nick. God, he’d been so stupid these past few weeks. And he couldn’t even tell Harry about it.

How is it, that fucking Nick Grimshaw out of all things is his downfall? He snorts, realizing the veracity of that statement ironically extends to both the figurative and literal dimension.

To be fair, maybe he should’ve seen the signs. Nick had been clear about not thinking it was a good idea, and didn’t everyone have the right to change their mind about things? And maybe Louis was making this into a way bigger than it had to be. Maybe, to Nick it wasn’t all that deep – sleeping with someone.

Louis had heard enough stories from Harry on his one-night-stand experiences, and while Louis didn’t particularly like to engage in them – maybe Nick did. Maybe they were different when it came to that, as well.

It’s just that Louis gets too attached, too quick – he likes to dive in head-first into relationships and enjoys having a partner, and being someone’s partner. The moment things turn sexual, that means intimacy to Louis. But perhaps it doesn’t to Nick.

He spends the entire hour and a half it takes him to walk back to his own place trying really hard not to think about it, only ending up thinking about it even more. When he reaches his street, he’s fairly certain he’s actually made himself nauseated, but then again – they did have some questionable tequila the night before. Either way, Louis can’t wait to go inside and hang around near his toilet bowl if he feels the need to throw up and feel sorry for himself.

 

He doesn’t get the chance to do so, though, because there’s someone sitting on the front steps of his door. Liam looks up once he hears Louis approach, face going from anxious to relieved right away.

“Bloody hell, mate – where’ve you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for about an hour now! I was worried,” Liam tells him as soon as he’s pulled Louis into a hug.

Louis can’t help but melt into the hug, too tired to respond to anything that Liam’s yammering on about as he leads them inside.

“Phone’s dead, couldn’t call,” Louis explains, smiling softly when Clifford runs up to him the moment Liam’s opened the door. “Hi buddy, I missed you – did Liam take you on a good walk?”

“Come sit for a bit and tell me what’s going on, because – sorry to say this, but you look terrible,” Liam pauses and gives Louis a once over.

Louis doesn’t say anything, just brushes past him and lets himself fall back down on the sofa. He’s exhausted from the walk, and exhausted from non-stop mulling over this situation with Nick.

Clifford jumps on him as soon as he’s lying down, which Louis knows he shouldn’t allow but has been secretly allowing for years now. He gives him an absentminded pat as he turns to stare at the carpet, rather than Liam.

“Slept with Nick last night, then this morning he kicked me out, saying it was a mistake.”

“Oh,” is all Liam says in response, and truly – what else is he supposed to say? “That’s shit, bro. I’m so sorry.”

Louis lets out a non-committal grunt. Liam’s quiet for a while, then speaks up again. “Do you want to talk about it? Maybe over a cup of tea and some breakfast?”

He kind of wants to decline, but his stomach makes it clear that he really, truly shouldn’t, rumbling loudly.

“Alright. Good. I’ll whip you up something to eat, be back in a bit.”

It gives Louis some time to get his thoughts in order. He’s been friends with Liam long enough now to know that he’s not going to get away with this. He’s got the appearance of a burly teddy bear, but he will squeeze every emotion you’ve ever felt right out of you when he thinks you need it. And usually Louis is smart enough to see that coming, and he’ll succeed in avoiding it. But given his recent realization that perhaps he’s been building up too many walls for his friends to climb – or even expect them to climb them; he’s resolved to break some of them down.

Besides, confiding in a friend about being rejected seems – well appealing isn’t the right word perhaps, but Louis’ certain he’ll feel better after airing his grievances.

Liam reappears holding a plate of scrambled eggs. “Here,” he offers them to Louis before retreating back to the kitchen and coming right back out with a steaming cup of tea.

Louis immediately digs in. He’d almost forgotten how good of a cook Liam is, and he suddenly resolves to somehow build that into his radio show. Maybe he can tease him, put the producer on the spot and have him share some recipes. It’ll be fun – he likes his listeners to know that the show isn’t just him, but rather a result of an entire team.

Once he’s practically inhaled the eggs and has taken a few sips of the scalding hot tea – just how he likes it – does Liam pounce. “So?” he implores, looking at Louis with big, serious eyes.

Louis sighs. “Where do you want me to start? I already spoke to Nick at the party. He was outside, I was outside, we were both smoking a cig. I kind of confessed to him how much I liked him in spite of the fact I thought we were so different. And then he said I’m stubborn and closed off and that we were a bad idea,” he starts.

“And somehow you still ended up sleeping with him?” Liam interrupts incredulously, which, now that Louis is hearing himself speak is indeed somewhat unfathomable.

He shrugs uncomfortably so, because he’s not sure how to answer Liam’s question. “It just happened. Harry asked us to help with getting him and his gifts home, and then Nick invited me in when we arrived at his house. We took some tequila – he’d nicked a bottle from Harry’s.”

Liam interrupts again, “How many shots did you take?”

And it’s not that Louis doesn’t remember, it’s just that it sounds bad when he says it out loud, so he pretends to mull the answer for a bit. “Like, five?”

“I know you know what I’m going to say to that, so I won’t say it,” Liam concludes, judgment still evident in his tone.

“I know, I know it’s irresponsible. But he asked me to stay. And honestly, at that point – you know how I fare on tequila – I was actually still quite okay.”

He knows that Liam’s seen him take 4 shots of tequila and function as if he were sober. It’s not until an hour or so after he’s had them that the alcohol usually hits him.

“You might have been, but you don’t know about Nick. I’m sorry, but you can’t really blame him for changing his mind if he was plastered,” Liam says gently.

Louis doesn’t fight him on it – even though he knows deep down that Nick’s just using it as an excuse, he’s not going to ever convince Liam of that.

Dejected, he leans back into the sofa. “He couldn’t even tell me he regretted it. I asked him outright if it had been a mistake, if he regretted sleeping with me. And he just brushed me off.”

Liam waits for him to continue, so Louis does. “That’s what he told me in the morning, and then I stormed off in his stupid fucking t-shirt ‘cause I couldn’t find my own.”

Out of everything that he’s told Liam, that’s when he suddenly gets offended on Louis’ behalf. “He didn’t even make you eat breakfast? Made sure you could leave safely? Psh . I’d hope he treats his one night stands with a little more dignity and respect than that.”

Louis isn’t sure why he wants to defend Nick at all, but he finds himself disagreeing with Liam anyways. “He’s alright. He made coffee. And then I poured it over myself by accident and he did bandage me up proper. Just shouldn’t have compared me to a fucking band-aid,” he grumbles.

“He did what?” Liam squeaks, trying desperately to hold in a snort of laughter. Louis can’t even blame him. He’s sitting in a coffee-stained shirt that isn’t even his, having just done a terrible walk of shame, and he’s gotten compared to a fucking plaster.

“Said we were just “trying to find comfort in one another” because Harry’s leaving.” Louis makes sure to add the air quotes with his fingers.

Liam seems to ponder that, as he takes a sip of his own cup of tea. Louis’ almost 100% certain he’s made it entirely wrong, judging by the colour. No milk. Barbarian.

“Did you tell him that’s not the case for you?”

It’s a stupid question. “Of course I didn’t, he told me to leave. Besides, I shouldn’t have to tell him that at all. Have I ever gone on a date with Harry? Have I ever even kissed Harry? Have I ever sucked his cock? No. Have I done all those things with Nick? Yes,” Louis starts listing off the top of his head, to which Liam groans and covers his ears.

“That was too much information, you know I’m a visual thinker! Fuck you, see if I ever dogsit and make you breakfast ever again!”

He can’t help but laugh at that – immediately feeling somewhat lighter just at the way his muscles relax into the emotion. “But you asked!”

Liam just glares and shakes his head. “I really didn’t. Since I’m such a good friend, however, I just hope that you are able to figure it out. Nick was definitely watching you for most of the night last night. So I guess he’s not entirely uninterested.”

“What a vote of confidence from Payno, that is,” he scoffs.

Liam raises his eyebrows and nods his head towards Louis’ chest. “Sometimes it just is what it is, my friend. It is what it is. And at least it’s not nothing .”

Louis knows Liam is right, of course he is. It’s just… “He told me he liked me, too,” Louis adds miserably.

It’s what’s confusing him so much. He just doesn’t get how they went from saying they both like each other, to Nick saying they’re a bad idea.

“Just give it time, Tommo. He’s probably just confused – there’s a lot going on in his life as well.” Liam pats Louis’ calf, and stands up. “I need to get back to Z; are you going to be okay?”

Confused?

Louis is the one who’s confused. He’s been getting these mixed signals from Nick for ages now – what with their date and getting blown off for the second one. Then they were meant to be friends, but then Nick was acting all prickly. Then he confessed he liked Louis, said they were a bad idea, still invited Louis to sleep with him, only to tell him it was a mistake the day after.

He nods distractedly as Liam bends over him and gives him an affectionate kiss on his forehead, before heading out and leaving Louis alone with his lukewarm tea.

Clifford chooses that moment to lay his head down on Louis’ feet, making him reach down and scratch his dog’s flank. “You’re such a good boy, yes – such a loyal, sweet cuddlebug. Sorry I couldn’t go on your walk this morning with you, bud.”

He sighs and stares at his cup of tea with disinterest. Maybe he should go up and take a shower, and a nap, before trying to figure out what Liam was talking about. He’s not in the mood to think about it all, especially considering the fact that Harry’s flying out tomorrow.

 


 

It turns out that neither the nap or the shower can fully take his mind off things, which is frustrating. Louis is normally someone who sees the glass as half-full, tries to turn anything negative into a positive – always.

And he’s definitely tried to see things from Harry’s perspective. He’s happy for him, and he can’t really forgive himself for feeling irrationally abandoned. It’s not even close to the truth, and Harry’s got every right to go after his dreams. Just like Louis did when he first moved out to London.

What’s even worse, is the fact that Louis is the one who’s been going behind Harry’s back and has slept with his other best friend. And he can’t seem to let it go. The thought that Nick may have confided in Harry has crossed his mind more than once since he left Nick’s place, but he’s fairly certain Nick wouldn’t want to deal with the awkwardness, embarrassment and/or disappointment either.

He doesn’t know, though – but he’s not going to ask him either. It’s clear that he should give Nick some space. He should be good at that, really. Used to do it all the time – try and avoid Nick altogether. It’s just that he’d already given Nick maybe a tiny bit of space in his own heart – and it hurts to know it’s going to remain empty instead.

Frowning, he mutters to himself to “get a grip” before getting his laptop out. He will allow himself one week of wallowing, but then he needs to get on with life. Plenty of more fish in the sea, and all that.

There’s a voice at the back of his head, telling him this is just Louis’ luck. He doesn’t really feel that hot sizzle of attraction all that often, and if he does – it’s usually spiralled into a relationship right away. All in, if you will. Maybe Louis’ a bit of a closed book, he still stubbornly wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s always been a point of contention between him and Harry, with Harry always warning him to guard his heart, and Louis warning Harry to perhaps be more mindful of others’ in the process.

He’ll have to do without Harry’s advice or warning this time. Another sigh escapes him as he checks his emails and sees his request for leave has been approved. It’s strange to think that this time tomorrow, he’ll be standing at the airport – seeing Harry off with his family.

There are some other emails he needs to send, just to make sure everything’s set for Roman who’s taking over for him this once. But instead of focusing on work, he can’t help but think of what Liam had said earlier.

Louis knows it’s wrong, would hate it if any of his friends did this to him, but he just wants to get rid of this confusion that’s eating away at him – so he starts typing in Nick’s name in Google.

His fingers hover over the Enter button.

He hits backspace instead. He can’t do it. It’s not his place, and when Nick chided him for it – he was right. They both know that whatever’s being written in the press is usually about 99,9% bullshit. It’s no use trying to glean the truth from them.

Besides, what would it change? Nick doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with Louis. It’s time he accepts that.

After he eats a bag of crispy M&Ms, perhaps.

 

 


 

  

“Can’t believe this is it,” Harry exhales. Louis can’t believe it either. It’s unreal, to say the least. They’re standing near the check-in desks. Harry’s already dropped off all his luggage, and is just taking his time saying goodbye to the small group of people he’d asked to bring him to the airport.

Gemma is standing right next to Louis, and he’s wrapped an arm around her shoulder to steady her. She’d never admit to needing it, but she’s leaned into the gesture regardless. Louis is grateful for it, as it distracts him from the fact he’s feeling a little emotional himself as well. Harry takes his time saying goodbye to his parents, before turning to Nick who’d been standing next to Anne. 

They’ve been ignoring each other as best as they could without raising any suspicions. Not that Louis thinks Harry would have noticed anything to be off, he’s probably already grateful enough for the fact they’re not throwing insults at each other.

“Don’t let it get to you,” he overhears Harry say, and he can’t help but tense up as panic overtakes his heart. Had Nick told Harry after all?

“As long as you get me your first big interview on UK radio,” Nick jokes back, but his smile is half-hearted at best. Louis isn’t sure what to make of it, but before he gets caught up in it – he tells himself it’s none of his business anyways.

Harry pets Nick’s hair good-naturedly, then gives him another tight hug. He turns to Gemma and Louis next, opening his arms for either of them to step into. Gemma nudges Louis’ side, and so he quickly steps forward into the embrace.

“Promise that you’ll write me back if I send you a letter?”

Louis huffs and swallows once, trying to get rid of the tightness in his throat. “You’re such a showy person, why can’t you just write me an email or text?”

Harry just tightens his hold, and Louis can’t help but snort as Harry stubbornly mutters out another “promise me.”

“Alright, I promise, fine. Will you let me breathe, then?”

Harry pulls back and smiles brightly. Louis’ quiet for a second, just trying to get a last good look at his best friend’s face, before taking a deep breath. “I’m going to miss you, you know?”

Something in Harry’s expression shifts, before he gently pulls Louis closer again to press a kiss on his forehead. “Going to miss you too. You’re my best mate. Always have been, always will be.”

Harry’s eyes flicker to the side, and for a second Louis thinks it means their time is up. But then Harry pins him in place and Louis can tell there’s a request coming he’s not going to like by the way the corner of his mouth is twitching.

“I hope you know you can tell me anything,” Harry implores, then bites his lips. “Which means you can also tell me no, but could you maybe keep an eye on Grimmy?”

With a frown, Louis has to keep himself from looking over. “Why would you ask me that?”

Harry sighs and twists them so it’s harder for the others to see his expression. “There’s just – there’s a lot on his plate right now, and he really isn’t half as self-assured or cocky as you might expect him to be.” He pauses and grins. “Kind of like you, you know?”

Before Louis can protest – he is not cocky, Harry continues. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but you’re the only one I trust.”

His stomach sinks as he sees the unwavering trust in Harry’s eyes, and he feels terribly guilty about not having told him anything. Uneasily, he rolls his shoulders, loosening the grip Harry had on them.

“What about Rita, or Annie – or any of the other friends you share?”

Harry shakes his head. “He’s too proud, and they – they wouldn’t get it. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s a little bit,” he struggles to find the right words. “further removed from things.”

That one hurts, but in a different way. To be considered an outsider by Harry when it comes to Nick’s world truly shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, he can feel his face pulling into a grimace before he can control it.

He knows Harry’s seen it, and he knows it’s cowardly, but he averts his gaze and shakes his head.

“I – I’m sorry Harry, I don’t think I can. Most of all, I don’t think Nick would want me to.”

Harry smiles softly and just pulls him in for another, final hug. “It’s okay, figured it was worth a shot. I kind of expected that, to be honest.”

“Just – don’t forget what I said, yeah? Even if I’m in the States and in a different timezone. You can tell me anything, okay? Best friends.” Harry implores as he pulls away and turns towards Gemma.

It’s like pressing on a fresh bruise, except this one’s filled with pinpricks of guilt, anxiety and regret. He just nods and smiles tersely.

Harry takes his time saying goodbye to Gemma, then circles back to his parents before finally moving towards the gate. It’s odd, waving at him while he walks away from their old shared lives.

He hopes LA will make all of Harry’s dreams come true. Most of all, he hopes their friendship will survive the distance. Survive the secrets Louis has started to keep from him these past few weeks.

Louis chances a glance at Nick once Harry’s out of sight, and frowns when he finds Nick already looking back at him. Nick averts his gaze the moment he’s caught staring. He can’t pretend it doesn’t sting.

“You okay?” Gemma bumps his shoulder, and he shakes himself out of it.

“Yeah,” he says slowly. “You?”

She sighs dramatically. “He’s my little brother and he’s left the nest before I did. Such a show-off.” Louis chuckles. “Proud of him, though,” she adds with a small smile.

He looks back over his shoulder and notices Nick haphazardly following Harry’s mom and step-dad out of the hall. He hesitates a moment too long, Anne catching his gaze instead. Feeling caught out, he offers a smile before turning back to Gemma.

She offers to take them all to lunch, and Louis waits for Nick to say yes. Once he’s accepted, Louis politely declines. They’ll take care of him, he thinks to himself, the forlorn way in which Nick’s shoulders have sagged not being lost on him.

He goes home alone and tries not to worry so much about Harry’s words.

He doesn’t succeed. 

 


 

It isn’t until the next day at work that he finally finds out what everyone has been hinting at. He’s scrolling through his Instagram, only half-listening to what Claire is saying, when Louis hears Nick’s name being mentioned.

“…Nick Grimshaw just announced on his morning show that the Breakfast Show is getting a new host. After many years of hosting the BBC’s flagship morning show, Grimshaw is moving on to the afternoon slot, with Greg James taking over. It could be a change of scenery, or it could be an attempt by the BBC to get the numbers of their morning show up again, after listeners dwindled the last couple of years.”

Claire switches to another news item, but all Louis hears is white noise. Radio is everything to him, and he can’t imagine it being any different for Nick. They can both read between the lines – he’s being demoted. Louis feels the strongest urge to tell them that they’re wrong. Nick’s a brilliant host, personable and sarcastic and funny. He’s not sure who ‘them’ would be, the BBC or the people or maybe he just wants to let Nick know.

But he’s pretty sure Nick wouldn’t want to hear from him anyways – he made that quite clear. Besides, if it were Louis, he’s not sure he would’ve appreciated that either. So he doesn’t say anything after the news beat is done, and just waits for Zayn to chime in, since he’s got zero idea of what else has been said.

Zayn, however, clearly isn’t feeling like covering for Louis whatsoever. “Are you planning on switching to the drivetime slot anytime soon, Louis?”

“Absolutely not,” Louis replies unthinkingly.

“Even though you’re actually not a morning person at all?” Zayn adds, eyes twinkling with mirth. 

He frowns in offense. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m a perfectly fine morning person.”

“Hm, I seem to recall that just this weekend you were having a terrible morning and ended up locked out of your own house.” There’s a triumphant tone to Zayn’s words, and Louis glares over at Liam who shrugs innocently from his seat behind the production panel.

“I dare you to have a good day when someone calls you a band-aid, and you’ve forgotten your phone and keys, Malik.”

He hadn’t even realised until he’d come back from the airport, fully expecting his keys to be in his jacket – before finding they weren’t there at all. They must be somewhere at Nick’s place, but Louis’ not about to go and pick them up. The spare key works just fine for now.

Zayn just laughs in response. “Fair enough, Tommo. Alright, here’s the next song – just for you, it’s “Memories” by Maroon 5.”

As soon as they’re off air, Louis pounces on him, putting him into a headlock. “Fuck you,” he laughs, “what a terrible song choice and terrible reference.”

Even though he’s the butt of the joke, Louis instantly feels lighter, his concerns about Nick fading into the background.

 


 

Why the fuck would you say that on air?

Louis reads the text a second time, before replying. The nervous heat he’d felt in his body as he’d seen a notification from Nick pop has subsided, making place for annoyance instead.

Nice to know you listen to some quality radio in the morning too.

It’s a low blow, not entirely uncommon in their early interactions, but it almost feels familiar and easy to fall back into the sneers. It doesn’t take long for Nick to respond, but it’s almost as disappointing, if not worse than the first text.

Louis.

Louis isn’t even sure what he means by that, what he’s supposed to do with just his name in a text message. Clearly Nick thinks he’s playing dumb on purpose, avoiding the topic at hand – and he is. But also, is that truly the first thing Nick’s going to say to him since Louis left? He had, maybe stupidly and naively so, expected more.

Relax. No one is going to know or even suspect it’s you that called me a band-aid, since we hate each other.

He debates whether he should add that everyone only thinks they hate each other. Then again – he’s not really sure what Nick thinks of him right now anyways. He feels terribly vulnerable, and it’s incredibly irritating to realize just how much he cares about what Nick thinks of him at all. It shouldn’t matter to him, but it does.

Right. Found your keys, by the way. I can drop them off if you give me your address.

It’s probably not meant as an olive branch – Nick probably plans to just put the keys in his mailbox or something, but Louis isn’t in the mood to be intellectually honest with himself.

He sends back his address, then tries to get rid of the sliver of hope he can feel creeping into his heart. After a full minute, he restlessly gets up from his couch and walks to his computer.

He opens Google and types “How to get rid of an unrequited crush” in the search bar.

Clifford barks, as if to tell him just how pathetic that is, then trots over with his leash in his mouth.

Louis chuckles. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe some fresh air will clear my head.” 

Fresh air and a cigarette, he amends – no need to be overly ambitious. 






Louis frowns when his phone vibrates in his pocket. He’s almost back home, and Clifford clearly knows it by the way he’s pulling on the leash. He tries to calm him down as he comes to a stop. “Just a second, love.”

He pulls out his phone, and sees that it’s nothing but an Instagram notification – he’d posted a picture of himself with Clifford at the park.

Nick Grimshaw, Harry Styles and 5,749 others have liked your photo, Instagram tells him.

He closes the app and pockets his phone, continuing his walk back home with Clifford. Louis isn’t sure what to think of the notification, and pushes down the urge to verify whether Nick’s really liked a photo of his. He’s never done that before – not even after Louis’ deeplike disaster that Nick never even mentioned. Which was probably for the best, since he wouldn’t really know how to explain it, anyways.

He’s only just forgotten about the Instagram like, when Clifford pulls on the leash and Louis realises what’s gotten Clifford so antsy. Nick’s standing in front of his house, or crouching more like. He’s seemingly hesitating to ring the bell or just shove Louis’ keys that he’s holding in his hands right through the letterbox slot in his door.

Clifford starts wagging his tail, and happily trots over to Nick to request some scratches, startling him in the process. Of course his dog would do that. A traitor with good taste – following in the footsteps of Louis’ own heart. He guesses it’s true what they say then, dogs really do resemble their humans.

The big difference is Clifford’s demand of affection is reciprocated, as Nick starts petting his dog’s head.

“See? No live-in boyfriend. Just a curly dog,” Louis says in lieu of greeting. He’s trying not to make things more awkward than they need to be, but he can’t help himself.

Nick’s head shoots up, as if he hadn’t yet considered the fact that of course Clifford would only show up with Louis in tow. “I see,” he replies tersely.

Louis wonders what would be the right time to bring up Nick’s demotion, and if he should bring it up at all. He figures he should probably invite him in before he starts asking those type of questions, or even considers asking them.

He takes another step towards Nick, who straightens back up again the moment Louis approaches. “I was just going to – well, I wasn’t sure if you were home. Thought I’d maybe give them to you in person, rather than drop them in your letterbox. Is a tad impersonal, innit?”

He babbles along, shuffling to the side as Louis pushes past him so he can open the door with his spare key. Louis decides to bite the bullet and turns around. “Come in for a bit?”

When Nick doesn’t respond right away, Louis rolls his eyes. “If you prefer, we can pretend you didn’t hover in front of my door, and we can make this painless and quick. Or we actually talk for a bit, inside – since I’d prefer the comfort of my own home without onlookers. Besides, Clifford needs some water. Your call,” he adds after another beat of silence.

With a frown, Nick doesn’t give Louis the satisfaction of nodding – simply telling him to “lead the way” instead.

He guesses it’s better than getting the cold shoulder treatment, so he nods to himself and follows after Clifford who’s already installed himself on the sofa.

Louis heads for his kitchen instead, filling Clifford’s bowl of water and grabbing himself a Dr. Pepper.

Nick’s standing in his living room, staring at Louis’ wall. Weirdly, Louis almost feels like he’s intruding on the moment.

“Do you want something to drink?”

Nick seems to shake himself out of his stupor and faces Louis. “You really do have Keith Haring art in your house,” he marvels.

Louis raises an eyebrow. It’s not an answer to his question, and he doesn’t really get why his owning art would be such a revelation to Nick. He grabs an extra Dr. Pepper nonetheless, before walking over to Nick.

“Yes,” he trails off. “Is it that hard to believe I’d be into art? You’ve got your back to a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat.”

Louis scoffs when it becomes clear Nick’s not going to answer him, too enraptured with the painting once he’s swivelled around to view it properly. “I’m not a barbarian.”

He puts their drinks on the table and sits down on the sofa, right next to Clifford. Louis just watches Nick for a while, wondering what it is exactly that’s made the combination of art and Louis sound so preposterous to Nick that he’d thought Harry was lying.

It seems to take Nick a while to realise that he’s in Louis’ house and not a museum, because it’s a full minute before he even so much as moves again.

“So.”

“So,” Louis echoes, waiting for Nick to say anything else.

Irritated, Nick motions at Louis. “You’re the one who invited me in to talk.”

Louis rolls his eyes and settles deeper into his couch after taking a sip from his drink. “You’re the one who was loitering in front of my house.”

That makes Nick falter, corner of his mouth tilting up in reluctant agreement. “I wasn’t sure yet if I wanted to talk to you.”

“Yet here you are,” Louis retorts. He’s tired of feeling like they’re going round in circles. It’d be easier if Nick would just spit it out, and tell him what he wants from Louis.

Nick shoots him a look, then opens the can of Dr. Pepper and sits down across from Louis. He takes a sip, then points at the neat ring of water droplets the can has already left on Louis’ coffee table. “I see now why Harry was so adamant on getting you coasters.”

It’s a blatant attempt to stall their conversation, but Louis lets it slide given the fact that Nick is at least in his house, sitting down on a chair in his living room. It’s progress.

“Honestly, it’s a lost cause. I like ‘em, give the table a bit of character.”

Nick nods distractedly, and Louis can feel himself getting restless at the way they’re avoiding the elephant in the room. He knows rushing Nick isn’t going to help, though.

“Right, suppose it does.”

Nick takes another sip, fingers tapping on his thigh as if he’s not sure what to do with his hands. Louis just watches and waits, trying not to focus too much on the motions that emphasise just how big Nick’s hands are.

Nick sighs, breaking Louis out of his staring match with Nick’s pinky finger. “You’re really going to enjoy torturing me, huh?”

Nick moves his hand up to rub his neck, and Louis can’t help but follow the movement with his eyes. He tilts his head and smiles innocently. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Sure you don’t.” He crosses, then uncrosses his legs. “Fine. I just – I wanted to say I’m sorry, I suppose. The way I told you to leave, after – well, after , it wasn’t very courteous.”

Louis can’t help but snort humourlessly. Nick can’t even make himself say the words, and it really shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore to Louis, but it hurts nonetheless.

“No, it wasn’t very ‘courteous,’” he agrees, emphasising Nick’s poor word choice.

Frowning, Nick pushes his hair back in irritation and tries to get comfortable once more. Louis doesn’t really believe Nick’s going to be comfortable anytime soon just by fluffing up the pillow in his back. It’s not the chair he’s sitting in – it might be Louis’ favourite in the entire house just for its extreme level of comfort – it’s the situation he’s created.

And truthfully, Louis really doesn’t think that he’s to blame for any of it. Nick is the one who told him to fuck off after they had sex. Nick is the one who loitered around his house just to drop off the keys that Louis had already gotten replaced. He is the one who keeps giving Louis mixed signals, and it’s confusing and maddening and tiring all at once.

“But I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you for sending me away – clearly there was a misunderstanding there with regards to what was happening that night. You don’t need to apologise for not feeling the same way, or not having had the same expectations going into it. But you didn’t have a right to minimize my feelings to some sort of self-coping mechanism,” he tells Nick, instead.

It’s something that’s been bothering him ever since he’s had his conversation with Liam. Zayn had told him the same thing, and he knows they’re right. Despite the fact Nick’s stringing him along with his Instagram liking sprees, Louis doesn’t have any ground to stand on when it comes to Nick dismissing him after spending the night together. It’s not what he’d have wanted, but he can’t fault him for it, and he wants Nick to know that he doesn’t.

Nick looks chastised, but not very surprised at Louis’ words. He gives him a weak smile instead. “See, I knew you’d be the better person here.”

Louis scoffs, interrupting whatever else Nick was going to say. “Hardly. I saw your Instagram activity just now. I need you stop being so hot and cold – just, tell me what it is you want. Are we friends? Are we nothing? Is there something there after all? I just want you to be straight with me.”

He knows he’s made a mistake in his wording the moment he says it out loud. Louis can barely conceal his eye-roll as Nick snorts and mutters under his breath that asking him to be straight is “near enough impossible”.

“I need to know what we are. I heard the news about your radio slot, and I didn’t even know whether I should reach out to you. I want to be there for you – in whatever capacity, but I don’t even know right now if you’d want me to at all.” Louis might as well be completely honest. He almost wishes he would’ve had more time to prepare himself mentally for this conversation, but with how evasive Nick’s been lately, he’s not sure such a planned meeting would’ve ever taken place in the end.

Nick’s expression falls, his restless movements faltering as if he’s found himself caught in a trap. “Oh,” he heaves out a sigh. “You’ve heard.”

He doesn’t leave Louis time to respond, letting out a harsh, agitated chuckle before he continues speaking. “I guess how couldn’t you have heard, right? It’s fucking everywhere.”

“Nick–”

“No, you don’t need to say anything. Pretty sure I’ve heard it all before anyways. And it doesn’t change anything about the fact I fucked this up, as usual. Guess my ex was right after all,” he sounds detached from the words, but it’s clear how much they hurt.

Stunned, Louis registers too late that he’s tightened his hold on his Dr. Pepper until he hears the aluminium can crackle under his grip.

“What’d he tell you,” he asks in what he hopes is a somewhat calm tone.

It seems to temporarily halt Nick’s rambling, catching him off guard as he looks up at Louis for the first time since he started speaking. “Some things that I know aren’t true, but doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt. Sticks in your brain, that.”

Louis repeats his question. He’s pretty sure Harry told him about Nick’s cheating dick of an ex about a year ago, but clearly that wasn’t the whole truth.

“What did he tell you?” he implores.

Nick looks at him for a moment, as if he’s unsure whether to trust Louis. The moment of hesitation stings, but Louis can’t fault him for it. He’d probably have done the same, if their roles were reversed.

“That I was a fuck-up, and he was embarrassed of me – and it was my own fault he strayed because I was always away and working. Which, to be fair, I probably did spend way too much time at the station at the time. He said I’d peaked too early, and I can’t believe he’s right,” Nick moans, burying his head in his hands.

Louis isn’t sure what Nick expects him to do, but he is definitely not about to let him get away thinking whatever random twat was right about him. He’s furious – can’t even imagine anyone saying such heartless things to anyone, much less someone they’re supposed to care about. “Don’t you dare believe those things for even a second. You working all the time and not investing in a relationship may be a reason to break-up, it’s not a reason to be unfaithful – to not be loyal to whatever it was that you guys had. And embarrassed of what? I’d be well chuffed if you’d been my partner, you’re one of the longest sitting Radio 1 Breakfast Show presenters ever, Nick. You’re funny, smart and handsome – even when you’re having a breakdown,” he rambles unthinkingly.

It’s once he notices the strange look on Nick’s face that he realises what he’s been saying, and blood rushes to his cheeks while his stomach sinks. He curses. “Oh, fuck, sorry, I know this is – I just, yeah, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

Nick shakes his head. He opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it again as if he’s reformulating his thoughts before speaking. “I thought you weren’t out, you know,” he settles on in the end, taking Louis by complete surprise.

He doesn’t really understand the relevance, or how they got to the topic, and he’s honestly a bit offended at the insinuation. Disturbed, he drawls out an “okay,” signalling Nick to continue.

“I know it’s stupid, and I realise I based it off of a lot of assumptions rather than facts. I just – I’ve never seen anything written about you dating a man. I just figured you were closeted.”

Louis frowns. “Just because I’d like my private life to remain private, doesn’t mean I’m closeted or ashamed or anything.”

Suddenly, he remembers one of their earlier conversations and how Nick had seemed weirdly distant out of nowhere. “Is this why you acted so coldly towards me? You thought I wanted to date you on the DL only?”

Nick shrugs awkwardly, pushes his hand through his hair once more. It’s a distracting motion that only serves to further reignite the embers of hope inside Louis’ chest.

Ashamed, he ducks his chin a bit and looks up at Louis from underneath his eyelashes. “I’m really sorry for misjudging you. It’s just, my usual type seems to be hot dickheads, so the fact I found you attractive meant you were either a dick or – well.”

Something else.

He gets why Nick doesn’t want to say it out loud. Louis hasn’t even really wanted to examine the thought inside his own head. Feeling it is confusing enough on its own, actively thinking about the way he hasn’t ever had such strong feelings towards someone else before is nothing short of terrifying.

Nick breaks off with a sigh. “It’s just – my life is a mess. I like you, Louis, I do – but what do I even have to offer you right now? I’m getting demoted, my listening numbers have dwindled for years now and that is a problem – I’m in my 30s and I’ve already peaked. I’m not what you need, you’re not what I need right now. Let’s not kid ourselves.”

It feels unfair, the way Nick’s making executive decisions about whatever it is that’s between them, putting an end to it before they’ve even gotten a chance.

So Louis rolls his eyes, suddenly feeling way too tired to argue with Nick about his own feelings. He’s exhausted, and hurt, and sad. “And you think you know me better than I know myself?”

Sighing, Louis stands up and walks over to Nick. He sits down on his coffee table right in front of the other man, who’s regarding him nervously. “I don’t want someone to need me, Nick. I need someone to want me. Don’t you see there’s a world of difference between those two? That’s your decision to make. What’s it gonna be?”

The silence that follows is agonizing, as he waits for Nick to say something – anything to let him know what he thinks. If he got what Louis was trying to say. He feels defenceless, and so utterly vulnerable. He’s completely at Nick’s mercy now, and the lump in his throat starts to grow with every second Nick remains quiet.

He’s already telling himself he’ll just accept the rejection, because at least he knows now to move on and let it go, when suddenly Nick surges forwards and captures Louis’ lips in a bruising kiss. The power of it almost sends Louis backwards and off the coffee table, and he can’t help but giggle into Nick’s mouth as he feels two hands settle on his waist to yank him back upright.

Clifford barks in the background, and Nick lets out a bewildered laugh – as if he needed the interruption to actually believe what’s just happened.

“Sorry about that,” Nick rushes out, eyes shining bright and unguarded – and Louis can’t believe he’s allowed to see them like this, so up close. It almost seems like the colours are different now, a little bit brighter and bolder. It’s probably Louis’ imagination, but he can’t wait to verify his claims by staring at them more often in the near future.  “I want you, I do . I can’t lie, I’m really bloody scared I’ll fuck this up, but I want to try. With you,” he mumbles, before connecting their lips once more. 

Louis grins into the kiss and gently nips at Nick’s bottom lip, coaxing him to open up. He tastes like sparkling Dr. Pepper soda and mints, and he finds himself licking deeper into his mouth, tongue curling around Nick’s. 

They’ve only kissed a few times, so there’s still plenty to explore. The unfamiliarity of it all tastes like promise, and it makes everything all the more exciting to Louis. There’s this immediate feeling of contentment – of it being right, that makes Louis sink into Nick’s hold. 

He wraps his hand around Nick’s wrist and squeezes once, letting him know to pause for a second. “Should we,” he takes a breath, “do you wanna move?” 

He points to the couch, but Clifford is still curled up at the end of it, so Nick shakes his head. “Maybe – maybe your bedroom?”

There’s uncertainty laced through his question, as if he’s not sure whether or not Louis is going to agree or be appreciative of the request. Hurriedly, Nick adds that it doesn’t mean he wants to have sex. That makes Louis laugh, as he pointedly motions towards Nick’s state. There’s a clearly defined bulge in his jeans, which – he won’t lie – is quite the confidence booster on Louis’ part.

“I just mean, we don’t have to. Like, if you don’t want to. I don’t – I don’t want to rush things,” Nick struggles to explain, but Louis gets what he’s trying to get at. This is different to  him. This is not a one night stand. He smiles and can’t help himself from pressing a soft kiss on the corner of Nick’s big mouth. 

“But what if I want to,” he whispers, then pulls Nick with him as he stands up. Frenetic energy courses through his body as he leads him down the hall and up the stairs. 

It feels weirdly intimate, walking someone up into his room – his space – with all sorts of intentions in the back of his mind. Louis makes sure to close the door once Nick’s inside, so Clifford can’t follow. Even though the dog has a perfectly comfortable dog bed, Louis ends up letting him sleep beside him on his own bed more often than not.  

Nick swallows as soon as they sit down on Louis’ bed. He seems anxious, and it makes Louis’ initial enthusiasm falter a bit. He grabs Nick’s hand and strokes the soft skin with his thumb. 

Nick looks down at the gesture, then smiles softly before switching his gaze back to Louis. There’s heat in his eyes as he leans forward and kisses Louis again, slowly pushing him back onto the bed. His arms are caging Louis in, and he can’t help but moan a little at the delicious swirl of Nick’s tongue. 

“Why are you so bloody attractive?” Nick groans as he hungrily eyes up Louis’ body, hand tentatively creeping up under his shirt.

“Just born with it, I s’pose.” He grins up at Nick, before shimmying out of his shirt and tugging impatiently at Nick’s shirt to have him do the same. 

“Fuck, I thought my imagination had probably glorified my memories a bit – but jesus, Lou,” Nick bites his lip as his fingers ghost over Louis’ nipples.

They didn’t really get to that part last time, they were way too busy getting each other off to actually pay much attention to each other’s bodies. The way Nick seems so intent on drinking in every single part of Louis is intense, and as confident as he usually is – it makes him lose a bit of his bravado, shyness setting in. He shivers, skin pulling up into goose pimples wherever Nick touches him. His collarbones, his biceps, his wrists. 

Nick moves back to his chest, a smirk playing on his lips right before he suddenly dives in and starts trailing kisses from Louis’ neck down to his belly button. He sighs into it, one hand gripping Nick’s hair as he moves south. He squeezes Louis’ waist right as he edges his happy trail with a cheeky lick of his tongue. 

The gradual building of the tension only serves to turn Louis on more, and with a renewed sense of adrenalin, he makes use of Nick’s arrogance at teasing Louis like that by suddenly pushing him over and onto the bed instead.

“My turn,” he grins impishly. He’s practically sitting on Nick’s lap, straddling him so he can’t move. Or at least that’s what he likes to imagine. Louis is perfectly aware that if Nick wanted to, he could roll them right over again and pin Louis down instead. It’s maddening, because he can feel just how turned on Nick is and he kind of hates himself for not having been 100% sober the last time they did this. 

Nick’s hand creeps up and settles on his bum, making Louis smile smugly. “You finally venturing out to have a feel of my best asset?” 

He doesn’t really mind the way Nick’s grip tightens with Louis’ implied permission, rather likes it – if he’s being honest. It’s a little possessive, and a lot hot, in Louis’ opinion.

“Try before you buy, and all that,” Nick jokes, but ends up groaning as his kneading of Louis’ arse leads to Louis pushing down onto Nick’s groin in the process. “Besides, fuck,” he pants, “everything about you is like you’ve walked straight out of a wet dream.” 

“Thought I wasn’t your type,” Louis says as he leans down and sucks on a spot behind Nick’s ear. He hisses in return, other hand coming to rest on Louis’ arse as well, playing with the hem of his joggers. 

“Baby, pretty sure you’re everyone’s type. Smart, sweet, sexy, a bit sinister sense of humor, and a salacious body.” 

Louis swivels his hips in appreciation, making Nick’s breath hitch as he leans forward to connect their lips again. It’s addicting. His hands find purchase in the tufts of chest hair that Louis normally wouldn’t have paid any attention to, but is somehow a huge turn-on for him when it comes to Nick. 

“Keep going,” he encourages Nick, fluttering his eyelashes as he hovers over him. 

“Hm, I think you need to first repay the compliments,” Nick tuts, eyes ablaze with lust as he rolls them over once more. It gives him much easier access to slide Louis’ joggers down his legs. 

Louis remembers Nick doing the same thing to him the last time they were together, but he’s being much more reverent about the process this time. He kisses the soft skin of Louis’ tummy, which he normally absolutely detests. 

But he lets Nick do it, can’t help the way his cock twitches at the attention. “Fuck,” Nick breathes out, clearly having felt Louis’ responsiveness himself as well. He balls up Louis’ joggers and throws them off the side of the bed. 

“What do you want,” he asks, peering up at Louis from where he’s admiring the way Louis is straining against his boxers, fingers tracing the outline. 

Louis shrugs, and tries to stifle a moan as Nick wraps his hand around him, stroking him for real this time. Even though there’s still a barrier in place, Louis can’t deny that he kind of likes the feel of the rough drag of the cotton against his sensitive skin. “Depends, ah, what’s on offer. Though maybe you could get your kit off, first?” 

Nick’s got an eager expression on his face as he licks his lips in a tantalizing fashion that Louis’ certain must be on purpose, just to turn him on even more. Nick removes his hand from Louis and tries to get out of his jeans. 

The problem is – they’re a little tighter than Louis’ joggers, and take a little bit more effort to pull down. Louis can’t help but snort as Nick wiggles and shimmies in an attempt to speed up the process, ending up looking more like a fish that’s accidentally washed up ashore and is desperately trying to jump back into the water. 

Once the visual enters his head, it’s almost impossible to let go of, and he finds himself giggling at Nick’s rowdy movements. He’s still got his socks on when he plops back onto the bed, eyebrows drawn together in confusion at Louis’ sudden bout of laughter. 

“I’m sorry – continue, please – I just, you were struggling and it was really cute, then I imagined you as a fish struggling on land and,” Louis motions around helplessly. He knows it sounds bad, but it really hasn’t done anything to make Nick any less attractive to him. 

If anything, the way his boxers are tented proves that it’s quite the opposite. Nick lets out a disgruntled noise, pouting as he crawls closer to Louis. “I’d have worn different jeans if I knew we’d end up here.” 

“You have special sex jeans?” Louis asks dryly, hands wandering to Nick’s own boxers. They’re both wearing Calvin Kleins, and he has to suppress another snort at that. Of course. After a shared shirt and similar sneakers got them to talk, here they are – no setups by Harry, just them. It’s a stupid comparison – he knows that, but it still manages to settle something inside of Louis. At their core, stripped down, they’re really not all that different. 

“I have jeans that elongate my legs, jeans that lift my non-existing bum, which I’m sure you don’t need – and yes, I have jeans that are easier to take off than this one where the buttons are fucked and the zipper’s half broken.” 

Louis laughs at the consternation in Nick’s voice, picking idly at the fabric of the waistband, letting it snap against Nick’s skin. “These don’t have zippers or buttons, though.” 

“They do not,” Nick pauses, then gives Louis an awkward smile. “You show me yours, I show you mine?” 

It’s so ridiculous, but so reflective of the way they both don’t seem to know just quite how to get rid of the crackling tension between them, that he just shakes his head and nods.

“You do realize I’ve literally sucked your cock before, right?” Louis teases, “I know it’s very pretty and I’d love to find out what else you can do with it.”  

That seems to make Nick regain some of his earlier bravado, as he pulls off his boxers – erection bobbing up as he sits back and appraises Louis while he does the same. “God, look at you, even got the perfect cock. Still, would love to fuck you, if you let me.” His voice sounds a little hoarse, thick with lust, eyes raking hungrily across Louis’ now naked body. It immediately sends a shiver of pleasure through Louis at just the idea, and he can’t deny he’s thought about it himself as well. 

Louis presses the heel of his hand against himself and hisses, just to get the edge off as he turns around and reaches for his nightstand. He opens the drawer and pulls out lube and a condom, then throws both items in Nick’s direction. He’s slowly pulling himself off at the sight of Louis alone, heavy-lidded gaze snapping up just a second too late from Louis’ arse. 

“I’ll let you,” he murmurs, then waits for a beat, hesitating. “Just – go slow, will you?” 

Nick seems to get the unsaid words, nodding reverently as he stares at Louis as if he’s bestowing a great honour on him. “God, yes, of course.”

Louis nods with a smile, and lets Nick rearrange his legs just how he wants them – enjoying the small kisses Nick adds to Louis’ ankles in the process.

“Didn’t know I’d be attracted to a man’s ankles,” Nick babbles to Louis’ amusement, as if he isn’t even aware he’s saying it out loud. Still, he can’t help but preen at the praise, can feel his chest flushing as Nick continues his ministrations and running commentary. 

“Gonna go and open you up now,” he declares as he opens the bottle of lube. It’s meant to reassure Louis but he can’t help but tense up as the first liquid-coated finger brushes over his hole. 

He hisses. “That’s fucking freezing cold, what the fuck?” 

But then Nick starts massaging the skin right around his rim first, succeeding in making Louis relax into it. The first finger is a little uncomfortable, as it always is, but Nick does a great job of distracting him from the sting. 

“God, you look so fucking good like this, would you let me eat you out?” Nick asks, and it’s such a blunt question that it makes Louis temporarily forget about the fact Nick’s started scissoring two fingers. Images of Nick’s talented tongue licking him assault his vision, and he has to resist letting out a moan just at the thought of it. 

“Yes, fuck – anything. Jesus, I should’ve known those big hands of yours would come in handy. Fuck, ah,” Louis pants as Nick suddenly jabs at his prostate. “Holy shit do that again,” he exclaims, even though he kind of wants to rip the smug smile right off Nick’s face.

“Here?” Nick asks innocently, deliberately touching Louis anywhere but where he wants it the most. 

He grits his teeth and tries wiggling his hips, but Nick uses his other arm to pin him down. “No cheating,” he singsongs, “what about…. Here?” 

It’s decidedly closer, but not close enough and he knows it as well as Louis does. “Oh fuck off, you bastard!” 

Nick laughs, then relents and touches Louis’ prostate again and again. He closes his eyes in pleasure, moving back against Nick’s fingers, riding them as he pants loudly, trying desperately to stave off his orgasm but also wanting to lean into the glorious release he can already feel building inside of him. 

He manages to grab a hold of Nick’s arm, stilling his movements. “Don’t wanna come yet, want you to fuck me first,” Louis breathes out. 

Nick groans at the suggestion alone, then leans forward to press another kiss to Louis’ lips. “Fuck, yes, please.” 

He rolls on the condom and drizzles a bit more lube on Nick’s cock, just to make sure it’ll make for a smooth glide. Nick’s not the biggest Louis’ ever taken, but also not the smallest and it’s been a while either way. He’d rather it be a bit slippery than too tight. 

Nick’s hovering over him, hazel eyes boring into blue ones, hard cock pressing against Louis’ bum. “You good?” Nick checks a final time, a serious expression taking over for a second, though it’s clear he’s trying really hard not to lose focus. 

Louis appreciates him asking, smiling up at Nick as he reaches for a lost eyelash that’s gotten stuck on Nick’s cheek. He shows it off, then blows it away with a cheeky grin. “All good, I wished for the best orgasm ever, so you better deliver.” 

Nick doesn’t need to be told twice, sinking slowly but surely into Louis’ heat. The drag is agonizingly good, as he feels Nick entering him inch by inch. In an attempt to distract himself from the pressure, he turns his head sideways and bites his lip. 

“Louis, love, can I move?” He nods at Nick’s question, can hear the strain in Nick’s voice as he waits patiently for Louis to turn back over.

Relieved, Nick starts moving. Slow thrusts at first, only further accentuating that delicious drag, and he lets out a strangled moan once Nick pushes back in and hits his prostate straight on.

As Nick speeds up, series of uh-uh-uh s fill the air, with Louis trying desperately to meet Nick’s thrusts one by one. It’s just incredibly hard when he finds his mind drifting off into seas of pleasure. He grips the sheets in search of purchase, but eventually abandons it in favour of slipping his arm around Nick. 

It tilts Louis’ body upwards just ever so lightly, creating a whole new angle that apparently is also very agreeable to Nick, who grunts out an unintelligible noise and pistons his hips with renewed vigour. Louis can feel his orgasm building, whimpering at each thrust as he makes sure to meet Nick’s movements, tightening his muscles. “Fuck, fu— yes! There, right there.” Louis bites into Nick’s shoulder to stifle his own moans as he comes. 

Nick’s hand comes down to entangle with Louis’ own, as he licks into Louis’ mouth with fervour. “So close,” he whispers in his ear as he pulls back. Then, Louis hears Nick’s breathing quicken, groans growing louder before he follows Louis right over the edge. 

 

Nick carefully pulls out, Louis wincing only a little bit as he looks down. He’s definitely going to be a little uncomfortable, he figures, feeling weirdly empty yet incredibly aware of how his body’s just been stretched. 

With the condom tied and disposed of in the bin, Nick pads back over the bed and slides in right next to Louis, fingers going right back to where they’d been entangled with Louis between their bodies. 

They lay there in silence for a second, just basking in the afterglow, trying to catch their breath with big, dopey smiles on their faces every time they catch each other looking. “That was – wonderful.” 

“Best orgasm ever, just like you wished for?” Nick asks, and Louis untangles their hands to give Nick’s shoulder a playful shove. 

“I kind of want to go again,” he adds, “can’t believe we haven’t been doing this for years already – you’ve been holding out on me, Tomlinson.” 

Louis laughs at Nick’s teasing lilt. “Me? What about you?” He retorts, fully expecting some playful banter. 

However, Nick’s expression suddenly turns serious as he rests his head on his arms. “We shouldn’t tell anyone, though.”

It’s not exactly the pillowtalk Louis was hoping for, or was craving. He can’t help the way his voice turns sour as he stares at the ceiling and huffs. “Wow, can’t say that’s a great confidence booster after sleeping together. There’s still lube dripping out of my arse, Nicholas.” 

Nick turns and looks at Louis’ profile. It’s unnerving, but he doesn’t budge, instead busying himself with looking over into his bedside table to see if he’s got any wipes there. “Sex is so fucking messy. Where’d I leave those fucking wipes,” he mutters to himself. 

He rummages around, and jerks away from Nick’s touch as he traces a finger down the dip of Louis’ waist. 

“Louis, love, I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just – we’re both accidentally somewhat of interest to the press. I want to give us time to figure this out. Properly. No distractions. No outside opinions. Just us.” 

The endearment makes Louis close his eyes and suppress a fond smile from breaking out across his features. He’s suddenly very happy that he’s turned away from Nick, but for an entirely different reason now. 

“Yeah, alright. Makes sense, I suppose.” He turns back around once he's certain his features are schooled in a more neutral expression, but Nick just gives him an amused smile.  

“You're actually a sappy little romantic, aren't you?” 

Louis shoves him good-naturedly. “Fuck off. I'm not little.” 

He receives a pointed look in return, as Nick tells him he’s not even denying the accusation. “Remember just now when you were telling me about your best assets?” 

Nick rests his hand on Louis’ hip, just on the edge of Louis’ bare arse. “I lied a little when I just agreed with you. Pretty sure your heart’s your biggest and best asset.” 

He nuzzles his nose in Louis’ hair and pulls Louis back into a hug. Louis’ heart flutters in his chest, as he leans back into Nick’s chest. Cleaning up isn’t his priority after all, he supposes. He waits until Nick’s breathing has steadied, indicating he’s dozed off, before whispering a soft “thank you.” 

Nick’s grip on him tightens ever so lightly, hand resting on Louis’ stomach now, fingers splayed out across his belly button. Louis’ breath hitches in his throat as he realises Nick wasn’t asleep after all. “You’re very welcome, love.” 

Maybe it’s the nicest pillow talk Louis’ ever had, after all. 

 


 

Louis hums to himself as he collects the dishes from the night before. There’s yet another unexplainable stain on his wooden table, and he grins before taking a picture and sending it to Harry. It frustrates him to no end whenever Louis does this, especially now that he can’t come over and demand Louis uses coasters or gets someone to fix up his table for him. 

He puts on a playlist and sets his phone to an acceptable volume – not too loud to disturb anyone, but loud enough for him to hear as he continues with his cleaning session. Louis freezes for a second when he hears footsteps coming down the stairs, but then he relaxes as he remembers whose feet they belong to. 

Normally Louis would raise hell, and make whoever caught him singing along to ABBA’s Greatest Hits Collection whilst cleaning swear to never ever tell a living soul what they witnessed. But this is Nick. Who spent the night for the fourth time this month. Who has managed to carve out a little space in Louis’ heart just for him. Who is giving him a really fond look. So he just smiles to himself, refusing to be embarrassed, and continues to hum softly. 

“Didn’t know you had a soft spot for ABBA,” Nick muses as he passes him by, pressing a kiss to his forehead. It almost feels more intimate of a gesture than Louis having his cock in Nick the night before. There’s a certain sense of familiarity and domesticity to it that makes Louis’ insides feel all syrupy and soft. 

He shrugs and walks over to the dishwasher to load it with all the dirty plates and utensils he’s collected. “Who doesn’t, though? One of my mates back in Donny, Oli – his favourite song’s “Chiquitita” but don’t ever tell him I told you that.” 

Nick hums noncommittally, as he pours himself a cup of coffee. “When am I meeting him?” 

The off-handed comment stops Louis in his tracks. For the past three months, they’ve been doing their absolute best to keep things quiet and completely separate from their own lives. 

And while it’s exhilarating too, to sneak out and try and hide in plain sight, it’s definitely starting to wear on Louis. He’s not very used to having to outright lie to people who ask him why he’s been smiling more often, or omitting such a big part of his life from the stories he tells his friends and family. 

Guilt swirls in his stomach as he thinks of Harry, who’d unwittingly asked him if he’d seen Nick around – and Louis had lied and said he hadn’t seen him since dropping Harry off at the airport.  

He knows it’s wrong, knows it’s a terrible thing to do – lying to your best mate in the whole world about a very important person in your life – but there’s still the risk of things going south between him and Nick. They just need to be a little more solid, prior to adding Harry into the mix. At least if they break up now and hate each other at the end of it, Harry won’t even know the difference – will never have to choose sides between his friends. 

 

It’ll be like nothing has changed. Except everything will have changed.  

Louis knows how many freckles adorns Nick’s shoulders. He knows the way he laughs when he’s actively trying not to find something funny – usually Louis’ jokes. He knows the far-off look Nick gets when he’s thinking about what to do next in life. He knows the feel of Nick’s touches on his own skin. He knows what Nick sounds like when he comes. He knows the way his own heart sings whenever Nick makes him coffee in the morning in a tea mug, just to let Louis pretend he doesn’t like coffee.  

He also knows it can’t go on like this.

He keeps finding himself being more and more reluctant when it comes to lying to his sisters and friends. Sure, Louis is known as a somewhat private guy, and it’s not like they ask him about his relationships or lack thereof.  

But they can tell something’s different. He’s grateful that he can speak freely around Zayn and Liam, at least. They’d been there since the beginning, and Louis knows they won’t blab to anyone. He’s pretty certain that Aimee knows about them, too – if the looks she’s given him at the latest dinner party over at Annie’s were anything to go by.  

He looks up at Nick thoughtfully. “Dunno. When do you want to meet him? Don’t go back to Donny all that often. If I do, I visit my family.”  

Nick takes a sip from his coffee, and Louis already knows that he’s going to burn his tongue. “Ow, fuck – I keep forgetting,” he mutters to himself.  

“Can’t help my kettle runs hotter than yours,” Louis shrugs and hands Nick a glass of cold water to soothe the burn a bit.  

With the conversation derailed, they don’t broach the topic of meeting friends or family again that weekend. Louis can’t help but feel slightly disappointed about it. 

It’s put doubt in the forefront of his mind. Because what is it that him and Nick are even doing? They haven’t talked, really, about what it all means. He’s gotten to know Nick better, has had deep and meaningful conversations about losing a parent, and light-hearted but impassioned discussions on supporting the local football club – even if they’re doomed to lose every game they play. They’ve stayed in and watched shit movies that made them laugh anyways, and they’ve even ventured out to a road market together.  

And yet.

Even though it doesn’t feel like there’s an elephant in the room, Louis now knows there is one anyway. Multiple ones, even. They don’t talk about Harry, they don’t talk about their relationship status, and they don’t talk about the future.  

The fact Nick had so casually asked when he’d meet a friend of Louis has him wondering if maybe he’s the one who’d made it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. But then Liam and Zayn had pointed out that if it was important to Louis, he should communicate that with Nick.  

But it’s not that easy.


Louis is meant to go visit Harry in LA for a week, and he knows that he needs to talk to Nick before he goes.  

He makes plans, lies awake at night trying to come up with what it is he wants to ask and how to phrase it – but he never actually gets to ask at all.  

Louis’ own procrastination has left him with just one possibility to ask before he leaves, which would’ve been fine if only Nick hadn’t fallen ill.  

He’s coughing up a storm over the phone, as he rings Louis to please stay home and pack – since he knows for a fact Louis hasn’t started doing that either. Insulted at the notion, as correct as it may be, Louis vows to send Nick pictures of his neatly packed suitcase. 

It’s a miracle, but he manages to finish the job in just under 30 minutes. Louis doesn’t even hesitate before getting into his car and driving over to Nick’s, chicken broth, cold meds and his suitcase in the backseat.  

Nick’s surprised to see him, opening the door in his blue robe, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion. “What are you doing here? I’m ill, I look terrible.”  

“Came by to show off my suitcase,” Louis teases, eliciting a smile from Nick. “And I brought you some chicken soup, if you’re hungry. Plus some other things, I wasn’t sure if you had everything,” he trails off, suddenly realizing how overly protective he must sound.  

Before he can turn right around and feel embarrassed about his own impulsivity, Nick smiles and ushers him inside. “Not gonna say no to some chicken soup, well, am I?” 

Louis’ flight doesn’t leave until the next morning, and so he spends the night tending to Nick’s needs – making sure he’s wrapped up like a tiny big burrito, and has taken enough medication to wash whatever he’s got right out of his system.  

Nick refuses to kiss him, but snuggles up to Louis in bed regardless. Louis presses a kiss to his clammy forehead anyways, and he just hands Nick another box of tissues when he sniffles his way through the first box throughout the night.  

It should probably be gross, but it’s not – because it’s Nick, and Louis is desperately falling in love with him. When Nick wakes him up in the morning and makes him a cup of Yorkshire tea in Louis’ designated mug, he has to bite his lip to keep the words from spilling out.  

Nick hackles out a cough, then lifts his phone to show Louis the notification of the Uber he’s ordered for him. 

“See you when I get back?” he asks quietly, terribly afraid of somehow upsetting the peace and quiet in Nick’s house. It’s a miracle the dogs have just gone back to sleep after Louis let them into Nick’s garden to relieve themselves.  

Nick nods, followed by another cough as he takes a step back. “If I survive,” he croaks out with a laugh, then pushes Louis towards his front door.  

He wants to ask what he should tell Harry, but he knows he’s run out of time and opportunities, so Louis just turns and rolls his suitcase to the awaiting Uber driver. 

 


 

It’s weird.

He always thought the first trip he’d make to Harry would be one filled with excitement. Instead, he’s never dreaded seeing Harry more. He wants to stay with Nick, make sure he doesn’t develop a fever. He wants to talk to Nick, and put a label on things for real. He wants to tell Nick he’s falling in love with him. He wants to try his best to make Nick fall for him too. 

What he doesn’t want, is having to cut every piece of his daily life that involves Nick right out of the stories he tells his best friend. 

But it’s what he ends up doing anyways. It’s fine at first – he manages to keep his stories vague whenever Harry asks what he’s been up to, or he distracts him with funny things that have happened at work. They’ve spent most of their time hanging out, sightseeing and catching up just like old times. And it’s been so good to just have that one on one time like they used to, that it lulls Louis into a false sense of security.  

It gets harder when Harry asks if he knows how Nick’s doing, and he has to pretend he has no idea. The way Harry deflates right after almost makes Louis confess everything, but then he remembers that he wouldn’t even know where to begin.  

“Why’d you ask? You know him and I don’t really keep in touch,” Louis hears himself ask, despite the fact that every molecule in his body is telling him to shut up and move on from the dangerous topic as soon as possible. 

Harry shrugs and shoots him a rueful smile, nodding towards Louis’ shirt. “Nick’s got the same shirt – just reminded me of him. He’s ill, been sending me some texts about how he feels lonely.”  

Louis tries to be nonchalant as he looks down at his own shirt, tensing up right away as he realises what he’s done. Nick must’ve left the shirt behind at his, and he hadn’t even noticed in his rushed packing that he’d taken it with him. Hadn’t even noticed as he’d slipped it over his head that it wasn’t his. It had looked comfortable enough, and it had smelled really nice. 

Because it smells like Nick, you idiot , Louis thinks to himself.  

“—which is funny, because you are like opposites, but the same.” 

Louis tunes back into what Harry’s been rambling on about, for once grateful about his friend’s ability to talk inanely about things that really don’t matter all that much. “Anyways, let’s stop talking about Nick, I know he’s not your favourite topic of conversation, I can tell by your face,” Harry teases.  

Louis wants so badly to tell him that he’s right, but not for the reason he thinks – his stomach lurches as it hits him once more how much he is keeping from Harry.  

“How’s your sister?” Harry asks eagerly, the previous topic all but forgotten.

While Louis feels some relief at the switch in conversation, the nasty feeling of lying to Harry stays with him until the end of the trip.  

Especially when Harry catches Louis smiling fondly at his phone, after he receives a stupidly sappy text from Nick. He must still be a bit delirious from the codeine he’d texted Louis about earlier, because it doesn’t even make sense.  

“I find it quite comforting to know that you’re counting the same stars in the sky as I am right now.”  

“What’s that?”  

Louis tries to be as unsuspicious as possible as he types back ‘you’re ridiculous’, then pockets his phone, out of Harry’s line of sight. “Oh, just some video Lots has sent me in an attempt to make sure I keep up with the youth.”  

Affronted, Harry immediately retorts that they are, in fact, the youth. “How can you keep up with the youth when we are it? What are we missing out on?!” 

Louis snorts at Harry’s frustration, especially as he airs his grievances about ‘the youth’ while dressed as a grandfather. Louis doesn’t really get Harry’s recent obsession with sweater vests and ill-fitting pants, but Harry does what Harry wants – and if he’s comfortable, that’s what matters.  

 

 

Internally, he’s all too aware of the fact he was very lucky, and he probably won’t be lucky the next time Harry catches him in the act. Rather, he finds out he wasn’t even really lucky that first time either, but Harry’s just being a good friend.  

When he drops Louis off at the airport, skin sufficiently sunkissed by his weeklong holiday at Harry’s beach house, Harry pulls him in a tight hug and whispers that he shouldn’t think Harry hasn’t noticed something’s off. 

“You’re wearing cologne, which I know you only do if you like someone – and you’ve been acting all secretive and smiling at your phone. You don’t need to tell me, just know that I’m happy for you if someone’s making you smile like that, Lou.”  

Louis is positive his heart skips several beats while Harry talks, as he tries to figure out whether he’s panicking or endeared over the fact Harry’s noticed. He knows denial is out of the question, but so is actual confirmation – so he ends up smiling back lamely as he nods.  

“Thanks, Hazza,” he croaks out. “I’m not sure what it is just yet, so,” he shifts his weight from one leg to another as he pulls back from the hug. “But I appreciate it.”  

Harry just smiles and presses a kiss to his forehead, before pushing him towards his gate. “You deserve it. Now go, or you’re gonna miss your flight. Love you, mate! Text me when you’ve landed safely!” 

Louis grins over his shoulder as he turns to join the queue for passport control, waving at Harry until he’s completely out of sight.  

 

The rush of emotions is overwhelming, as he tries to make sense of what he feels. He’s sad about saying goodbye to Harry, feels guilty for not having been able to be completely honest. He’s anxious about telling Nick how he feels, but he’s also feeling weirdly exhilarated over the fact Harry could tell he was somehow… happier. It’s confusing, and draining, and he ends up spending the entire flight asleep, despite the fact he usually loves flying and staring out the window as the world keeps changing underneath him. 

He realises belatedly that he should’ve probably let the Uber drop him off at Nick’s so he could drive his own car back, rather than going straight home. It’s too late to ask the driver to turn around given their proximity to Louis’ house, so he resolves to figure it out once he’s had a shower and maybe some coffee to get his brain to function. Jetlag’s not his strongest suit, and even though he slept on the plane, he’s still absolutely knackered. 

It’s probably why he doesn’t even notice at first that he’s not alone in his house.  

Only after he’s rolled his suitcase into position right next to the stairs so he won’t forget it and he’s made his way into the living room, does Louis see that there’s a person standing in his kitchen. 

“Nick?” Louis asks dumbly, dropping his backpack and jacket in the middle of the room before slowly making his way towards him.  

Nick smiles brightly and pulls him in for a chaste kiss. Louis’ heart pangs at the domesticity of it all, yet another reminder of how much he wants this, and how much they need to talk if Louis wants to make that happen.  

“I was meaning to just stock up your fridge for you, but then I thought I might as well cook you dinner since you tried to nurse me to health with your chicken soup,” Nick waves the ladle around as he talks, “I was going to set the table and all, but didn’t realise you’d already be home so soon. Sorry about the mess.”  

It’s so utterly reminiscent of their first romantic encounter, that Louis suddenly feels all his inhibitions fly out the window. Maybe he’s delirious on jetlag and sleep, or he’s just hit his breaking point. Either way, he blurts out the three words that he’s been so desperately trying to stamp down every time they’ve threatened to spill out of his mouth for the last few weeks.  

 

“I love you.”  

 

Louis feels one short millisecond of relief, blood rushing in his ears as a weight’s been lifted off his conscience. But then the ladle drops to the floor, followed by complete and utter silence, and a terrible mix of dread and embarrassment are beginning to crawl their way up Louis’ spine.  

“I — what?” Nick squeaks out, blinking in what seems to be genuine confusion. “What did you just say,” he asks for good measure – as if Louis is suffering from the same hearing problems he suddenly seems to have.  

Louis shrugs and looks at the floor, then sighs deeply as he slowly reaches out to take a hold of Nick’s hand, slotting their fingers together in the same way they always do when they fall asleep. “I love you. I just – I really missed you and your stupid texts and your hair and your loud opinions, and then I realized that I love them. I love those texts that make no sense, or the extremely sappy ones that you seem to have copied straight out of a poetry book or a bad erotica novel, but I know you come up with them yourselves and somehow that pleases me even more. I love your hair when you just wake up and I love it when you’ve taken so much time to style it. I love raking my hands through it and tugging on the hairs in the back when we fuck. God, I love it when we fuck. I love your cynical sense of humour, I love taking care of you and I love you taking care of me. I love how passionate you are about radio, and I even love your weird sneezes. Just, I love you. And particularly these big fucking hands of yours,” he ends with an awkward grin, lifting their entwined hands and wiggling around to show Nick what he means.  

It feels liberating, having said his piece – but it’s also incredibly daunting and scary. He’s just handed Nick his heart on a silver platter, for him to do with it whatever he so pleases. But Louis has realised by now that no matter how much he can try to build up his defences around Nick, he’s way past them already.  

Nick doesn’t pull his hand away, which Louis takes to be a good sign. He seems somewhat shell-shocked, as he stares at Louis in something akin to bewilderment.  

You don’t need to say anything back, or anything—” Louis starts saying, pushing down on the ugly feeling of rejection and disappointment when Nick remains quiet, but then Nick suddenly shakes his head.  

“No — I do. I really do.”  

There’s a small smile playing on his lips, as he tugs on Louis’ hand – urging him to follow. Frowning, Louis does as told, not sure what Nick is playing at. 

“Did you know I actually fancied you for a while, back when we first met?” Nick says casually, dropping Louis’ hand in favour of opening the freezer.  

“Thought you were really hot, even asked Harry to introduce us but you all but ripped my head off,” Nick laughs about it now, but Louis remembers very well how out of his depth he’d felt – and how he’d lashed out at anyone trying to steal his only safety net away.  

“You’re still hot now, obviously. But I didn’t fall in love with you until you offered to make me my gross protein shake that you know I secretly hate but make myself drink anyways before hitting the gym. And I didn’t even realise it until you picked up all my used tissues overnight and I almost ended my texts to you in LA with “love you”, I’m honestly impressed that even my medicated brain recognised it would’ve been a bad idea.”  

He pulls a tub of ice cream out of the freezer, and pulls the lid off so Louis can peer inside. It’s mint-chocolate chip swirl, but someone’s pressed a little candy heart that spells “I love you” right in the middle of the tub.   

“Was going to tell you over ice cream, and I thought that the candy heart would make sure I wouldn’t chicken out. But you fucking beat me to it,” Nick smirks and shakes his head before putting the tub back into the freezer.  

Louis couldn’t care less about his ice cream melting, or any of his other food being spoiled right now. His cheeks hurt from the sheer size of his smile, grinning up at Nick as he tugs him down to meet him halfway for a kiss that’s more teeth than lips due to their massive smiles. “Can’t believe I’m this lucky – that I get to love you and have you love me back in return,” he wonders out loud as he pulls back.  

Nick just smiles back at him. “Trust me, love, I’m the lucky one.”  

Louis is just about to kiss him again, when his stomach grumbles loudly. They both laugh in surprise, before Nick points to the food he’d been making. “Eat, then celebrate, then talk about LA?”  

“Sounds like a plan.” 

 


 

Louis twists around in Nick’s hold, tip of his nose almost touching that of Nick’s. He’d never really taken the whole ‘make love’ thing very seriously in his previous relationships – had never experienced there to be a difference in any case. But this time, he’d felt more connected to Nick than ever before. And so sex with Nick had felt more meaningful, more emotional, and more intimate. Even though he’s tired and still a bit sex-stupid, he does want to talk to Nick still – before they doze off to sleep again.  

“Hey,” he whispers, nudging Nick’s nose with his own for a second. He feels giddy, smiling softly as Nick goes cross-eye for a bit in his attempt to focus on his own nose and steering it in Louis’ direction to nudge him right back.  

“Hey,” Nick whispers back. 

Even though they’ve literally just slept together after having said “I love you”, Louis still feels weirdly nervous asking Nick about their relationship status.  

“Was just wondering – can I, can I refer to you as my boyfriend? If people ask, can I tell them that I’ve got a boyfriend?” 

Nick pretends to think about it, and Louis digs into his sides with his fingers. “Don’t think I won’t kick you out of this bed,” he warns Nick, feeling genuinely flustered about the whole situation. 

It must be visible to Nick as well, because he nods his head in agreement and pulls Louis even closer, tangling their legs together so there’s as little space between them as possible. “Yes,” he whispers into Louis’ hair. “I’d love to be your boyfriend, if you’ll be mine.”  

Louis kind of wants to ask a follow-up question on how specific they’ll be if asked – if he’s allowed to say it’s Nick, though he doubts people would even believe them. He snickers to himself at the thought. When he sees Nick’s amused glance, he shakes his head and pushes his face into the crook of Nick’s neck.  

“Was nothing – just imagined saying I was dating you and people not believing it, even though it’s true. They’d probably think I was joking. Same goes for you.” 

Nick hums as his hand glides up and down Louis’ arm in a distracting motion, but Louis can still hear there’s something uneasy about it. Louis can’t properly get a read of his facial expressions from where he’s smushed his face between Nick’s shoulder and his pillow, but he murmurs out a “what” anyways.  

“I don’t - I think we should be careful with who we tell that it’s us who are boyfriends. We haven’t had a chance to talk to Harry, and I’d feel terrible if he heard from someone else.”  

Nick’s hand slowly resumes stroking Louis’ arm, having halted slightly whilst talking. 

Intellectually, Louis knows Nick has a point. Emotionally, he’d love to throw a tantrum about it.  

Especially because he already knows what Nick’s going to suggest next. “He’s back in London next month – right after your awards thing. We could tell him then.”  

Louis nods and lifts his head a little so Nick can see. “Yeah, I don’t want to tell him over the phone that we’ve essentially been lying for almost half a year now; he deserves better,” he notes as he does the math in his head. 

With a yawn, Nick closes his eyes and shifts around in the bed until they’re spooning. “Night Lou, love you.”  

“Love you too, g’night.”  

 

They’re quiet for a beat, but then they both dissolve in laughter, like two overly giddy teenagers after having felt that rush of excitement for the first time.  

 

God, Louis can’t quite believe how much time has passed, though. The seasons have changed, they’re heading into autumn now – and just like the time of year bringing new hues of colour into focus, it’s like Louis continues to see and discover new bits and pieces of Nick every day.  

For example, he can’t help but smile as he hears tiny little snores escape Nick’s lips. It should probably be distracting, but Louis finds himself being lulled to sleep by them instead.  

 


 

The Global Awards are happening in just two weeks, and Louis feels like he’s losing his mind. As host of the Breakfast Show at Capital FM, he’s the face and presenter of the night – and it’s taking a lot more preparation than he’d originally anticipated. There are skits that need to be practiced, artists that need to be booked and confirmed, shorts that need to be created, placement and light blocking that has to be done at the venue. It’s exhausting, and he finds himself craving a nice bath more often than not these days. A bath where he could potentially drown himself if he decided to just throw in the towel. He wouldn’t — he’s worked too hard for this, poured way too much of himself in this project together with Zayn and Liam to ever give it up. 

Nick sympathises, but Louis can tell it’s also a contentious issue for him. Every day now, the BBC is supposed to give him an official notice of what will be his last day as morning host. Aside from the sense of failure that Nick’s experiencing, he now also has to deal with additional uncertainty that is causing anxiety and tension on the work floor.  

Louis wishes he could help, but so far all he’s been able to come up with is to silently disperse university leaflets and self-help books every time he visits Nick’s place or Nick comes over to his. He knows Nick has an unfinished degree in set design, and there are loads of programs that he could do remote or part-time, while doing the drivetime radio show.  

He just hopes Nick will properly consider it, though going by the frequent disappearance of leaflets, he assumes he reads them at the very least.  

Clifford greets him as he comes home, whining for attention and food. There’s a post-it on the mirror in the hallway, featuring the familiar scribble of Lottie, telling him that Clifford was a very good boy today. He snorts and makes a mental note to buy her something nice for offering to be his stand-in dogsitter during these long days.  

Louis finally feels like he can rest and have a moment to himself, when his phone rings. It’s Harry, requesting to FaceTime. Despite their best efforts to keep in touch like they used to, the timezones do make it difficult, and so Louis doesn’t even hesitate before answering the call. Tired as he is, maintaining his friendship with Harry is important to him.  

Harry’s in the middle of an anecdote about his latest audition, when Louis’ front door bursts open and he realises his mistake too late. He closes his eyes, and tries to will the nightmare away, but to no avail.  

 

“I did it Lou, baby, I enrolled for the Set Design course in London! Don’t think I didn’t see all those leaflets.” Nick bounces over and presses a wet kiss to Louis’ cheek in excitement.  

Except Louis is still staring at the iPad in front of him, and it’s suddenly suspiciously quiet from Harry’s end of the world.  

“I’m no longer doomed for failure with no future,” Nick continues on happily, blissfully unaware of the impending full-frontal collision now that they’ve lost control of the steering wheel.  

Louis sighs and smiles weakly. “I’m so happy for you – I was just,” he motions at the screen, “in a call.” His throat feels dry and he desperately wants to do something, anything to fix this – but deep down inside he already knows it’s beyond fixing. 

He grips the table as he hears Nick curse under his breath, and attempt to move out of view.

“Stay.” Harry’s voice booms through the speakers of the iPad. The sound’s always a bit tinny – Louis should probably get a new one – but it’s clear the detached tone is not coming from the device, but from Harry himself. Nick stops in his tracks, sitting down next to Louis instead. 

“You’re a couple,” he states, and Louis swallows, before slowly nodding his head.  

“How long have you been – how long has this been going on?” 

It feels like an interrogation, and Louis can’t even blame him for the harsh tone he’s using with them. “About - give or take six months,” Nick eventually replies.  

The silence that follows is painful, and so is the expression on Harry’s face.

He’s not happy for them at all – he seems devastated and upset.  

“So,” he whispers, “you lied to me, for six months?!” he questions disbelievingly. “No,” Harry denies before they can even answer, shaking his head as if it simply can’t be true. “You wouldn’t do that to me – you wouldn’t shut me out like that, you’re my best friends,” Harry simpers. 

When neither of them speak, too embarrassed to admit or explain their reasoning, Harry lets out a humourless laugh. “I can’t fucking believe this. Half a fucking year! Am I like the last person to know?” 

Louis shakes his head. “We were going to tell you,” he starts, glancing quickly over at Nick for reassurance and support. The moment’s taken for weakness by Harry, and he doesn’t even let Louis finish his sentence. 

“If you were going to tell me, you should’ve done that a lot earlier. Six months, Lou – six months . That was while you were on holiday. I can’t — you’re a fucking liar , Louis.” Harry seems to struggle for words and it hurts. Harry knows exactly where to hit or push, and being called a liar — like his father who fucked off to God knows where when the first opportunity arose – is definitely one of them. To hear Harry use it now – it's painful and heart-breaking all by itself. 

The lump in Louis’ throat grows as Harry continues. “You lied to my face. I can’t be friends with someone who does that to their other friends – hell, their best fucking friend . I can’t. I need to go.”  

And just like that, he hangs up and leaves the call.  

 

Louis just sits there slack jawed, with one hand having a death grip of the table top and his other hand clinging desperately to Nick’s thigh. It takes him a second to process, but then the first tear rolls off of his cheek, followed by another, and another.  

If he’s being honest, he knows that he would’ve cried on any other day as well over Harry cutting him off like that, but the fact it happens in such a stressful week does not help either. 

Nick seems somewhat calmer, though most of Harry’s silent screams were aimed at Louis, rather than Nick himself.  

Sh , let it all out Lou, I’m so fucking sorry for coming in like that,” Nick rushes to apologise, scooting over in his chair so he can wrap his arm around Louis and pull him onto his lap in an embrace. 

It would be so easy to pick a fight now, to blame it all on Nick, but he knows that wouldn’t be the truth. And on some level, Louis is angry with Harry too – for not even letting him try to explain why he did what he did. For monopolizing the conversation and deliberately calling him names he knew would hurt Louis on a visceral level. It’s an unfair situation, and the worst part is that he’s got himself to blame — for wanting something he maybe shouldn’t have, for indulging himself and for falling in love in secrecy. 

“He hates me,” Louis laments, burying his face in Nick’s sweatshirt.   

Nick sighs and rubs Louis’ back. “No he doesn’t. He’ll come around, he just needs time. You know him Lou – better than anyone. Would he not support his two best friends falling in love?”  

Rationally, Louis knows Nick is right. But Louis also knows that Harry can be incredibly stubborn, especially if he feels wounded in his pride. And right now? He probably feels terrible, and in turn Louis feels terrible for having given him that feeling. Whether deservedly so, or not.  

“And it’s not just you. We decided together not to tell him, and maybe that was the wrong choice. But we made the best choice based on what we thought then,” Nick tries to reassure him.  

Louis snorts through his tears and pinches Nick’s side. “You sound just like a self-help book.”  

“Been reading some of those you left scattered around your house, quite useful,” Nick retorts, reminding Louis of the reason why Nick had made use of the spare key Louis had given him just a week earlier.  

“Another useful tip is to take some time for yourself to process and recuperate. So what if I draw you a bath, Sir Tomlinson?”  

Louis is not going to refuse that offer, feeling not just physically but also mentally depleted – especially after that conversation just now. “Maybe tell me about your other self-help thing you did? Enrolling at uni?” he asks Nick, in an effort to keep himself distracted.  

It only works a little bit, as Louis keeps on flashing back to the look of utter betrayal in Harry’s eyes just before he hung up. The only thing that does end up taking his mind off of the broken friendship? Being completely overwhelmed and overloaded with work 24/7. Even though it’s still on his mind, it’s not as prominent or sad of a thought as it was before.

 


 

He’s thankfully able to focus, and make the most of his live TV debut. It’s exciting, and incredibly fun, but Louis feels the exhaustion settled deep in his bones. Liam and Zayn have been tagging him in all sorts of stuff throughout the day, and Louis knows he’s got other obligations himself as well. Such as celebrating the fact that the night was a huge success. Still, Louis can’t help but feel like he’s traded in one piece of happiness for the other – and the balance is still out on that trade-off in the long run.  

Louis groans and looks over at Niall who’s uncapping another beer bottle for him. “Cheer up, buttercup!”  

“Just get me my drink, Ni – gonna need it if I wanna survive this party. I’m so fucking tired.”  

Niall laughs loudly and passes him his beer, before slinging an arm over his shoulder. “Come on Tommo, I know you’ve had a long week what with the award show, but it’s all over! This is your afterparty!” 

Louis doesn’t recall asking for Calvin Harris to throw him an afterparty, when all he really wants to do is curl up in bed and sleep for approximately 24 hours straight. Still, he appreciates the effort his friends have made. To be fair, he’s mostly annoyed that Nick isn’t here – said he had another party to attend.  

Besides, they’re still trying to figure out how best to ease themselves into the public eye as an item. It’s going to take a while to figure it out, but they’re okay with that. Louis is okay with that. As long as he doesn’t have to actively hide anything, he couldn’t really care less about it.  

It’s when they round the corner that he suddenly gets why Niall and Zayn had been so adamant he’d join them.  

“No fucking way,” he exclaims as he catches sight of an all too familiar figure standing next to Nick.  

Louis immediately lets Niall go and rushes over, stopping right in front of them. He squints at Nick and feigns a frown. “Didn’t know you were going to be here.” 

Nick’s eyes twinkle as he shrugs, “had to pick up a special delivery, sorry.”  

Louis has to swallow his smile, before his eyes slide back over to Harry. Instinctively, he wants to hug him, but he’s not so sure where they stand after that disastrous conversation over the phone.  

He’s kind of surprised at the fact he’s here at all – in the UK, at a party where Louis is, too. Which hurts, to think of that as a surprise. Not that he blames Harry completely for feeling spiteful.  

“Hey,” he says lamely, in lieu of reaching out and pulling him in a cuddle.  

Harry looks rather dejected at the lukewarm response, but returns the greeting. “Hey.”  

Nick raises his eyebrows and motions with his head, urging Harry to continue. Louis knows it’s ridiculous, but it stings a little to see that clearly Harry has talked to Nick and it’s somehow just Louis he’s upset with – when it’s Louis and Nick both who kept their relationship from him. 

“Right,” Harry scuffles his feet, then clears his throat. It’s obvious he’s uncomfortable, but apparently determined to pull through regardless. “I just wanted to apologise to you, Louis. In person. I uh, the truth is that I was angry and upset, because I felt like you’d purposely pushed me out of your life and distanced yourself from me. It was unfair of me to call you a liar and to cut you off – I overreacted. And I want you to know that I miss you, and – fuck – you’re my best friend.” Harry lets out an almost teary laugh.  

Nick grumbles, but Harry just shrugs helplessly and continues. “And even from a million miles away – even if you choose not to confide in me for whatever reason, I love you just the same. I didn’t show it in that phone call, but I support you. The both of you, together. I was just mad at myself that I didn’t witness it happening.” 

In all the years that Louis has been best friends with Harry – he’s never heard him apologise or grovel like that. Ever.

Slightly perplexed, he just blinks as he tries to get his thoughts in order.  

Nick’s hand slips in his own, and he’s grateful for the way it anchors him. He smiles at his boyfriend, then looks back at Harry and nods. “Apology accepted, Hazza. Obviously we didn’t deal with this in the best way, but that was also because you’re my best friend too. I didn’t want to lose that over a guy – no offense babe.”  

“Sure, first Harry tells me I’m not actually his best friend and then you go ahead and tell me I’m just a guy. Kick someone when he’s down, why don’t you?” He wails dramatically, effectively breaking the heavy atmosphere. 

Louis laughs and elbows his side, before engulfing Harry in a tentative hug. He smiles and mouths a “thank you” at Nick over Harry’s shoulder. 

When he pulls away, Harry gleefully looks at the two of them.  

“So, now that we’re all good – would now be a good time to point out you’re wearing the same shoes?”  

 

He throws his head back and groans. Some things never change.  

 

“We’re just annoyingly in sync, that’s all,” Nick replies testily, as he wraps his arms around Louis from behind, effectively pulling him into his chest.  

He smiles, and peels one of Nick’s hands away so he can lift it up and press a quick kiss to his hand before folding it neatly back in place.  

 

And some things are different – in the best way.