Harry froze after he had opened the door, staring at the picture in front of him.
Perrie sat on the table, legs crossed, surrounded by papers and pens. Her hair was pink -- changed from the lilac colour she had sported for the past couple weeks -- and tied up in a messy bun on top of her head. She wore blue tights and a black jumper, as well as thick socks in rainbow colours.
"Hi," Harry said softly as she didn't even look up. He closed the door behind himself and set down his bag.
Perrie finally looked up and a smile bloomed on her face. "Hey darling."
"New colour?" He gestured at her hair. "I like it."
"I felt like it," she answered, shrugging a bit and putting the pen she held aside.
"Suits you." Grinning, Harry walked over to the table, picked up one of the papers and tilted his head to have a good look. "You're making sketches?"
Perrie sighed. "We'll have a fashion show in a few months. I have to hand in my concept next week."
"What is your concept?" Harry asked.
"Good question." Perrie hopped off the table and went to the sink to make tea. "I'm not sure what I want. Summer clothes, maybe, because it'll be April by the time we show them. But do I show men's fashion or women's? Both, maybe? And in what style?"
"Yours," Harry answered. He opened a cupboard and frowned at the new mugs right in his line of vision. "It should be something reflecting your personality, right?"
"That's so easily said, Harry." Perrie rolled her eyes and switched on the kettle. "My style suits me. It's a style that combines different already existing styles. Or rather brands." She frowned a little. "I need to come up with something that is original and new and hip and trendy."
Harry set down the mugs on the worktop. One was black and had a Mickey Mouse face in white, the other was white and had a Minnie Mouse face in black as well as a red ribbon with polka dots drawn on. "That's what your studies are essentially about, isn't it?"
Perrie groaned, bending her knees and tilting her head back. "Basically, yes."
"Why the pressure, then? You did alright before."
"I know," she mumbled. "It's the first serious fashion show, though."
"I can help, if you want me to," Harry offered. "Just let me know if you need anything."
"You're busy enough as it is," Perrie argued. "Reminds me, how did it go today?"
Harry turned around, rummaging through a drawer for tea spoons. "Yeah, alright."
"You got any feedback?"
"No, not yet." He shrugged, then pointed at the mugs. "Just so I'm not getting confused. You bought us couple mugs?"
Perrie grinned blissfully. She looked a lot more relaxed than she had been just minutes ago. "Got them for two quid each in the Factory Shop."
"What does Colin say about you buying us couple mugs?" Harry smirked. At first, he had been a little worried that him moving in with Perrie would cause problems, but Harry hadn't heard from Colin yet. After having lived with Perrie for more than a month, he had still not met the guy, and by now Harry bought into Josh's theory that Perrie just made up stories about him and he really didn't exist.
"They are not really couple mugs," Perrie said, filling said mugs with hot water.
"Yeah, they are. Mickey and Minnie, reversed colours. Totally couple mugs," Harry argued. He added a dash of milk to both mugs.
"I'll have the Mickey one," Perrie announced then, pointing at the black mug. "Then you can't call them couple mugs, because I have the boy's one and you have the girl's one."
Harry laughed, taking his own mug and sitting down at the kitchen table. "I like Minnie better, anyway."
"Why am I not surprised?" She mindlessly shoved her sketches aside and sat down across from Harry. "I'm working tonight. Ed's in. Are you coming?"
Harry thought about the song he had started to work on before he had fallen asleep the night before. He had started to work at a bakery, and had been too exhausted from a twelve hour shift to properly write. He should use the night off to get something done.
He really shouldn't go. He had really let his music slide lately, hadn't worked hard enough to find a place to play at, or a label willing to listen to his demo tapes.
Perrie sorted through her papers, mug in one hand, foot tapping steadily on the floor. Harry looked over the numerous sketches, thought of the single sheet of paper in his own room.
He really shouldn't go.
"I'll come," he said instead, sipping from his tea.
The year had started more than promising.
Two weeks ago, their tour had kicked off in London. Before that, they had won three Brit Awards -- making them winners of the night --, their new album was in the making, and they had just added more than ten dates to their tour. As of now, Escapade would be on the road for nine months, the tour only ending in November.
"We're still looking for a support act for the Asian leg of your tour," Sybill said, going through a stack of papers in her hands. "Maybe we'll find some artist from over there."
"How many dates?" Liam asked.
"For Asia?" She looked up, skipping a few pages. "Two in Singapore, three in Hong Kong, one in Malaysia. South Korea is on the list, one date so far, but we're negotiating for a second date. Four confirmed dates in Japan -- two in Tokyo, one in Osaka, one in Sapporo."
"Wouldn't it make sense to just take the support artist from the Australian leg?" Louis suggested.
"They're starting an own tour right after, so we'll need someone else," Sybill argued, pursing her lips. "We'll see to that. There's still plenty of time."
Louis kept watching her but tuned out her further ramblings. He wouldn't be able to remember anything that would only be of interest for him in a couple of months anyway. They'd get back to them with detailed lists and plans once time had come, making sure none of them would miss a single thing.
Louis didn't have to take care of anything, someone was always around to take care of things, to tell him where to go, to tell him where to be, to tell him what to say. Sometimes, it made Louis' stomach hurt with how controlled he felt, how little he had to say in his own life, how few decisions he got to make for himself.
"We're only making sure you're doing the right thing," was what he had been told from the beginning. He had bought into it at first, because who was he to argue? He hadn't had a clue about the business and he had needed the help -- all three of them had relied on it. By now Louis knew the business well enough, and he trusted himself to make the right decisions, to choose the right path.
He had signed a lot of contracts, a lot of papers, but that didn't keep him from using as much of his money as he could to build something for himself. Six months ago, he had looked up a good solicitor, had met up with him a few times to discuss business. Two months ago, he and Liam had founded their own company. Having Liam on board with it made Louis feel a lot safer, much more secure in his plans.
Louis wasn't stupid; he knew that singing in a boy band wasn't what he would do for the rest of his life. That would end someday, and when it would, he'd have an alternative, something to keep him in the business, something that would keep the money coming in.
I promise I'll make your dream come true. He had. Louis had made the dream come true. And he wanted to keep doing that -- make dreams come true. He wanted to help other artists to make it big. He had the knowledge, he had the financial background, and he had opportunities.
This was once again a good opportunity for himself. He only had to find a promising act, a good artist to support. He would be the one finding them a support act for the tour, and he would make sure that he'd have shares in them.
This world he lived in now was nothing but tough business, and Louis was determined to keep up. He wouldn't end miserably once his own career was over -- he was thinking ahead, taking precautions for his future.
An opportunity, he thought again, watching Sybill pace the room while she read something out to them from one of her many papers.
He just had to use it wisely.
Harry turned to the sound of the bell jingling above the door. "Welcome," he greeted in a friendly tone, his smile growing wider when he saw Niall coming in.
"Hi mate," Niall said, adjusting his rucksack on his shoulders. "Thought I'd drop by before going home."
Harry had been working in the bakery for a good month, and ever since he had started, Niall had stopped by almost every day. He didn't think Niall could actually eat all the bread he bought. Harry wondered what Barbara had to say about it, which reminded him that he hadn't seen her in quite a while.
"Is Babs not waiting?" Harry asked, angling his body a little to reach one of the pastries on display. He fetched it with a napkin and shoved it into a paper bag.
Niall followed Harry's motions with his eyes, pulling out his wallet. "She's not home yet," he answered, dropping some coins onto the cash desk. "I wanted to show you something."
Harry handed him the bag and frowned slightly, while opening the till and sorting in the coins. "What is it?"
Niall fished a crumpled paper from his pocket, straightening it out with his hands and holding it out for Harry. Tilting his head, Harry took it and read over the simple grey letters on the white sheet.
"An open mic night?" he read out loud. "On Saturday?"
"You should go," Niall told him. "That pub's quite popular. A&R Reps are dropping by regularly, so you might get to leave an impression."
Harry swallowed thickly, feeling his blood run a little cold in his veins. He had contacted several labels, handing out demo tapes. He had not yet heard back from any of them.
"They’re usually not the really big ones," Niall continued as Harry just kept staring at the flyer. "But it's a start, isn't it? If they are interested, maybe the bigger labels would be, too."
"Yeah," Harry breathed. "I guess."
Niall beamed, reaching over the desk to bump Harry's shoulder slightly. "I've already signed you up."
Harry blinked at him. "What?"
"They only accept eight. If I hadn't signed you up the minute I read it, all spots would have been taken by the time you made up your mind." Niall shrugged. "And what's there to lose, Haz?"
What if they hated it, Harry thought, heart racing in his chest. What if they didn't contact him, didn't see anything special in him? Harry didn't think he was ready for that step.
Niall opened his rucksack and tucked the paper bag inside. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow, I guess."
Harry nodded, still standing frozen behind the counter.
"Hey," Niall said stopping in front of the door. He smiled brightly, expression so careless and sunny. Harry wondered how exactly he did that, how he always managed to be so positive. "You'll make it, okay?"
Harry smiled back, cheeks flushing. "We'll see."
"No, Harry," Niall said firmly. "You came here just for that. Don't back down now. You have to keep chasing that dream."
Harry pressed his lips together. "Yeah, okay. Got it."
Niall grinned, giving him a thumbs-up before he left the store.
He was right, Harry thought, absent-mindedly wiping the top of the display. He had lost his fire, too distracted by everything else going on his life. Harry had been satisfied with moving into a nice flat with a nice flatmate, finding a job at a bakery and having a day-to-day routine that paid enough for a living. He had been content spending his days working long shifts, chatting to lovely, old ladies about the weather and cake recipes and going to the pub every few nights, meeting new people. He had distracted himself with decorating the flat, spending hours in second hand and charity shops with Perrie, and sitting with her until late nights, talking about dreams and plans that had become nothing but a nice fantasy in his head.
It wasn't what he wanted to do, what he wanted to be, though. He had come here to fulfil a dream, not to let it end up being a dream for the rest of his life.
I promise I'll make your dream come true, it echoed through his head, and Harry's hand stopped on top of the display. He lowered his gaze, biting his lip for a moment.
It had been the goal from the second he had stood on a stage for the first time. It had been a dream, always a dream, but he had never doubted that it would come true, that they would make it.
Not until Louis had shattered that dream.
"Did you hear back from them?"
Harry breathed heavily from running all the way from school to Louis' house. It had been so much easier when Louis had still been attending their school -- not just in terms of exchanging latest updates, but also in terms of doing boyfriend stuff.
Harry loved to think of it like that. It had been two weeks since he had been allowed to call Louis his boyfriend. Not publicly, but in his own head at least, and in front of Niall. That was enough for now; it was enough to know that they were exclusive, that there was no one else besides Harry that Louis looked at.
That wasn't the matter at hand, though. Not right now.
Louis came down from his tree house, his back turned to them as he slowly climbed the stairs. He skipped the last few steps, landing steadily on his feet.
Harry knew the moment Louis turned around to them.
"We got rejected," he said lowly, looking from Harry to Niall. "They said it's not original enough."
"That doesn't mean a thing," Niall promptly threw in. "It was only the first label we tried. Nothing's lost yet."
"There wasn't even a single one they liked?" Harry asked.
Louis shrugged, shaking his head. "Apparently not."
Harry didn't get it. How could anyone not love the songs Louis wrote? They had all written songs, but Harry thought of Louis' as the strongest ones. How did those people not recognise that?
There was a noise coming from the house, announcing Louis' sisters coming back from school.
"Get up there, lads," Louis just said, pointing at the ladder behind himself. There was a sign at the top, reading "Girls" which was crossed out with red colour. Louis had told Harry once that his mother had made it for him, because she wanted Louis to have a place that was only his and where his sisters were not allowed.
During summer time, Harry barely got to see the house from inside. Louis always took him to the tree house to make sure his sisters wouldn't disturb them. That way, they had been able to have their first time without being afraid of getting caught. It had been a little uncomfortable, but they hadn’t had to worry about Harry’s mum hearing them downstairs or one of Louis’ sisters coming into his room without knocking. Louis had taken his time, the night air a little chilly on their naked skin, the lonely howl of an owl from the distance breaking the quiet of the night.
This place was sacred to Harry.
"Are we gonna try other labels?" Niall asked once they were inside the tree house, sitting down on the cold, wooden planks. "I mean, let's not give up just because of one rejection."
"We'll try again," Louis agreed.
Harry pressed his lips together. What if the other labels rejected them too? What if it really was foolish to believe they were any better than everyone else who tried to get to the top, to live the dream of being a pop star?
"Hey," Louis said quietly, his touch pulling Harry back into reality. He blinked to bring Louis' face into focus. He was close, his fingertips light on Harry's arm.
"I promise," he murmured. "We'll make it, love. We're a good team, the three of us. It's just one rejection. That was to be expected, okay?"
Harry inhaled deeply, nodding his head. He glanced at Niall before he leaned in and gently kissed Louis' lips. Louis smiled, lifting his hand to brush the curls from Harry's forehead.
"Don't worry, yeah?" Louis pulled him closer, an arm winding around Harry's waist.
"Why don't I get that kind of reassurement?" Niall complained.
"You don't really want me to hug and kiss you," Louis mocked him. "Or, well, if you do want me to, I wouldn't---"
"Heeey," Harry cut in, frowning and pulling Louis closer. "No kissing other boys."
Niall laughed, falling to his back, and Harry felt Louis’ giggles echo in his own chest. It was warm and felt familiar. Louis turned his head to press his lips gently against Harry's temple.
"I promise I'll make your dream come true," he whispered, almost drowned out by Niall's laughter. But Harry could hear it, the words sinking into his mind, running through his blood.
He only held on tighter, fingers digging into Louis's skin.
With the jingling of the bells above the door, Harry snapped back to reality. He blinked twice, clearing his mind of the memory, Niall's laughter still ringing in his ears, Louis' breath still warm and soothing against his skin.
A businessman dressed in a grey suit approached the display, pointing at some bread. "I'll have two of those, please."
"'Course," Harry answered, turning to grab another paper bag.
He had to stop recalling those memories. For the past two years, ever since he had managed to get over Louis, he had been so good at ignoring every feeling that had been connected to Louis. Harry had not thought of him often -- and when he had, it had been in the dark of the night, where no one could have caught him.
Louis had not shattered the dream. Temporarily, maybe. But he had not shattered it completely. After all, Harry was here now, and he had made it this far on his own, all by himself.
With a smile, Harry accepted the money from the man, handing out the change. He wished him a nice day and kept the smile on his lips, even when the man was gone.
Harry could still dream, could still follow his plans and work hard to reach his goals.
He didn't need Louis to make those dreams come true.
"Aiden," Louis greeted, once the person on the other end of the line had picked up. "Light of my life, apple of my eye."
"Um," Aiden answered, irritation apparent in his voice. "What do you want, Tommo?"
They had met for the first time on a sunny afternoon in May two years ago. Aiden was a songwriter and producer and had written a majority of the songs for Escapade's first album. He and Louis had hit it off from the very first moment.
In more than one way, actually. Louis loved working with Aiden, he understood Louis' mind, gave just the right suggestions to make Louis' writing just that tiny bit better, without pushing it in a direction that wouldn't suit Louis. He was amazing. Apart from his songwriter abilities, he had proven himself quite a good lover as well.
It was nothing like a romantic relationship, though. They hadn't gone on a single date, and Louis thought of Aiden as a friend -- he was more of a friend than a lot of his actual friends. He wasn't looking for any advantages, wasn't after Louis' money, and he understood the situation Louis was in. Louis trusted Aiden that he wouldn't sell a single word to the press.
It was a trust he had laid on only a few people.
"Just a small favour," Louis answered now, trying to ease Aiden's irritation. "Remember how I told you about the company I founded?"
"The one with Liam?" Aiden asked.
"Yes, that one," Louis agreed. "You have a foot in the indie scene, don't you? All those hipster places and people you have connections to."
Aiden sighed. "Lou, for the millionth time. Hipster and indie is not the same."
"Okay, whatever." Pacing his bedroom, Louis rolled his eyes. "I'm looking for a talented, young act to take on tour at the end of the year."
Aiden was quiet for a minute. "Man or woman?"
"Doesn't matter. Just, someone promising, someone original with charisma. Someone who will definitely make it."
"A safe bet?" Aiden inquired. "That's finding a needle in a haystack, Lou."
"I'm not asking you to spit out a name on the spot," Louis clarified. "I need a few tips, some advice on where to look."
Aiden sighed. "Listen. I have to go, I'm in a meeting, actually. I'll get back to you, okay?"
"I'll hold you to it."
Louis waited for the line to go dead before he hung up too, then he grabbed the bag he had packed and headed for the front door.
He hoped he would find someone who deserved the chance, who deserved making it big. Louis had received that chance three years ago, and he hadn’t hesitated for a single second.
Of course he had Harry in mind, of course he had thought about giving the opportunity to Harry. He was talented, he was charming, he had potential.
Unfortunately, Louis was too much of a coward to take that step. He would have to contact Harry, and Louis was scared witless of that. He wasn’t afraid of what Harry’s reaction would be. He knew what Harry’s reaction would be and that he wouldn’t give Louis the time of the day, would probably spit it back right in his face. That was what scared Louis.
An opportunity given by Louis? Harry would probably rather live under a bridge than stoop down to that level.
And he was right.
Louis slid into the car waiting for him in front of the building. The driver greeted him with a friendly nod and Louis nodded back.
Harry had every right to despise Louis, to hate him and look down on him. Louis never wanted to get into a situation where he would have to endure Harry looking at him; looking at him with a cold, hurtful and resentful expression. Louis didn’t think he’d be able to take it. He knew he was a coward, knew he deserved every single bit of hatred Harry felt for him.
Louis had kept his promise; he had made the dream come true.
Just not for Harry.
"Harry, don't freak now." Niall crouched down in front of him, looking worried. "It's no different from when you play over at The Anchor's Rope."
"It is," Harry protested, voice weak. "Perrie's there, and Ed plays there too. I know the people there, and there are no talent scouts dropping in, judging me."
"Look, you'll be alright." Niall frowned, gripping Harry's shoulders. "You're so good, Harry. You have nothing to be afraid of. You've got some wicked stuff to play out there, and you'll blow all of them away."
"What if they hate it?" Harry swallowed thickly. Niall could talk so easily. He was not about to go out there and risk having about fifty people find everything he had built over his life ridiculous and not worth their time.
"I haven't seen you this nervous since--" Niall cut himself short, biting his lip.
"Yeah, better not go there," Harry agreed, closing his eyes. "This is not the same, though. I don't need him anymore to calm me down."
Niall was quiet for a moment. "Harry, you just need to do what you always do, okay?"
"Why am I first, too? Can't someone else go first?"
Laughing, Niall pulled Harry up from the floor and framed Harry's face, forcing him to look Niall in the eye. He was grinning madly, eyes reduced to small slits. "Harry, you're on now. I'm not letting you waste this opportunity. You hear me? You're using it now, and you'll smash it."
Harry breathed in deeply, feeling his muscles loosen up a little. "Yeah, okay. Okay."
"I'll be watching from the front row, okay?"
"You didn't tell anyone else about it?" Harry asked, just to make sure again.
"It's just me here. Just imagine no one else were here." Niall pulled Harry in, hugging him tightly before he adjusted the headscarf in Harry's hair when he pulled back. "Go get ‘em, Tiger."
Harry barked out a laugh. "Wish me luck."
"You don't need it." Niall turned to open the door of the small back room behind the bar that the bartender had let them use to prepare.
"Thank you, Niall," Harry said quietly, briefly glancing out the door. He had to keep his cool now, couldn't afford to lose it out there on that makeshift stage.
Niall right on his heels, Harry left the room and let his gaze drift over the small audience, a sea of foreign faces. Then, his eyes settled on one, a single one that was familiar.
Harry's breath got caught in his throat, his lips numb, his fingertips cold when his gaze was returned.
"So why exactly is Liam not here?" Aiden sat down a pint glass in front of Louis and slid into the seat across. Music played from the boxes set up next to the stage, so he had to raise his voice a little.
"We're on tour, mate. I only came down from Cardiff for this," Louis answered.
"Having a day off?"
Louis nodded. "And Liam doesn't really know about this yet." He shrugged, taking a swipe from his pint. "Doesn't need to, I guess. I'm just having a look around. I'll let him know once I find a potential act."
"You're serious about this, huh?" Aiden leaned back, eyes sparkling a little in amusement. "Don't get me wrong, but... do you have trouble with the boys?"
"No," Louis answered immediately. "Not at all."
"I mean," Aiden pointed out. "You're at the peak of your career. Why are you looking for alternatives?"
"It goes downhill from the peak," Louis said. "This will be over at some point. Maybe there are another three years in for us. Five at most. I just want to make sure I have a backup plan."
"That's probably not a bad idea," Aiden agreed. "Liam's on board with your company. What about Zayn?"
Louis grinned, thinking about Zayn. "It's not his thing, really. He'll use his name to get into the fine arts market and settle with selling art, disappearing from the music industry."
Aiden pursed his lips, rolling his glass between his hands. "Seems like him."
"Excuse me?" Louis looked up at a guy standing next to their table. He had broad shoulders and pale skin, his hair ginger and eyes green. "I don't mean to bother you, but... You're Louis Tomlinson, right?"
Louis smirked. "The one and only."
"My girlfriend's a big fan of the band. She'd freak if I'd send her a picture with you." The guy shrugged, looking slightly uncomfortable in his own skin. Louis glanced at the table at the other end of the room, a bunch of lads gathered around it, grinning madly.
He had to honestly love her, Louis thought, if he jumped over his own shadow to ask the boy band guy in front of his mates for a picture. Most blokes treated Louis, Liam and Zayn like a disease. "How about I send her a nice video message?" Louis offered.
"That would be so wicked." The ginger lad beamed, pulling out his mobile. "That's very kind. Thank you."
"No problem, mate." Louis shifted on his chair. "What's her name?"
"Holly. She's dragged me to your concert last year." He blushed immediately, looking caught. "I mean, it's--- I hadn't---"
"Yeah, alright." Louis laughed. "I'm aware there are not that many blokes coming to our gigs. Don't stress."
"It was fun," Ginger Boy smiled, shrugging. "Not exactly my kind of music, but--- you know. Decent show."
Louis adjusted the beanie over his hair, brushing some of the strands poking out off his forehead. "Thanks. I'm glad you liked it."
Aiden offered to take the picture of them and Louis pulled a face for the camera, winking at Aiden when he giggled. Afterwards, he let Ginger Boy record a short video message of him. Louis chose his words carefully, waving and smiling nicely because he knew it would end up on Twitter or Instagram.
"Would you please not post it on the internet until the gigs here are over?" Louis asked after the bloke had thanked him for the tenth time. "If the fans find out where I am, they'll definitely show up here."
"No problem," Ginger Boy assured him. "Don't have Twitter anyway. I'll show it to my girlfriend when I get home. She'll probably post it, though."
"That's alright." Louis nodded, raising his pint in cheers. "Enjoy the acts."
"And you. Thanks again." Ginger Boy turned and walked back to his own table.
"They're making fun of him," Aiden commented, glancing past Louis a few times.
"Only because they'd like a picture with the fit boybander as well, but don't have the balls to ask." Louis smirked, dismissing it with a shrug. "Back to business." He picked up a flyer from the table. "Who is going to play tonight? Any potential artists among them?"
Aiden just grinned knowingly but didn't say any more about it, and Louis was grateful he just dropped the topic. They had discussed music elitism often enough, and Louis really wasn't in the mood for it today. After all, Ginger Boy had been pretty nice about it -- Louis had endured much worse.
"There are a few," Aiden said, pulling out a pocketbook. "I had the owner give me the names and his impressions. You want a quick briefing?"
Louis emptied his pint, nodding. "Hit me."
"You're such a prick," Harry growled, shoving Niall's shoulder when he came to hug Harry.
Niall laughed like a maniac and clapped his hands in amusement. "Should have seen your face."
“You’re the reason I have trust issues,” Harry claimed, pouting at him.
Niall smirked. Harry didn’t fight his hug this time, but sank into it. “We both know that the reason for any issue you have definitely doesn’t lie with me,” Niall said quietly, right next to Harry’s ear before he let go.
Harry lifted a brow and stepped past Niall to pull Perrie into a hug. She wound her arms around his neck and swayed them a bit.
"You are the prick, Harry," she complained. "How could you not tell me about this?"
Harry closed his eyes, inhaling her scent for a moment. "What if I had been awful? Wouldn't want to have you witness that."
Perrie pulled back, gently tapping her fingers flatly against Harry's cheek. "Love, I've heard you play before. I hear you writing your songs in your room. You'll have to pay all my drinks to make up for that."
"Drinks?" Harry asked.
Niall threw an arm around each of them. "We're going out. Ed's been playing at another pub and he said he'll join us."
"But there's nothing to---"
"There is," Niall answered before Harry could even finish that thought. He held up a business card. "You've got someone interested."
"Why do you have that card?"
Niall smirked. "Told them I was your manager. The guy's waiting over there. He'd like to talk to you."
"My manager?" He rather didn't think about how to explain to those people that he actually didn't have a manager. Harry glanced past Niall and saw a guy in a leather jacket and shades covering his eyes scribble something down into a pocketbook. "What am I gonna say?"
Niall rolled his eyes. "Just go and be your charming self, mate."
Harry swallowed thickly and squeezed Perrie's hand quickly, as if to give her reassurance. He knew he was the one who needed it, and since Perrie was Perrie, she didn't say anything about it and just let him be. Forcing himself to stay calm, Harry walked over to the guy in the leather jacket.
"Hi," he said, surprised at how firm his voice sounded.
The bloke looked up, his brown hair tied together at his neck, a few loose strands falling over his forehead and temples. Harry couldn't see his eyes through the shades. "Harry Styles, right?"
Harry nodded. "That's me."
"Nice performance. I liked a few of those songs. Send some demo tapes in, would you?" He grinned leisurely, tapping his pen against Harry's shoulder. "We'll make some good stuff out of that."
"Um, thanks," Harry answered politely. "For coming down, too."
"Well, it's not been a waste, at least. Let's see if the rest is as good as you." The guy lowered his gaze again and Harry deemed the conversation over.
"Thanks again. I'll send a tape in." Harry took a step back.
"Your manager has my card."
Turning, Harry went back over to Niall and Perrie. He let go of his breath, his hand shaking slightly. “You lied about being my manager.”
Niall laughed. "We won't work with the first one to offer, Haz. Keep going like this, and you'll get to choose soon enough." He looked around, gaze fixed on the bloke setting up his guitar on stage. "Gonna have to celebrate the first step taken, though. Let's leave, before your competition comes on."
Harry nodded, gripping his guitar case and his jacket. "Wouldn't want to hear them," he agreed. It would just make him lose the confidence he had gained throughout the past hour he had been on stage.
"You made it," Perrie cooed, poking his ribs. "If there's one, there are plenty more."
"Did you reach Colin?" Niall asked Perrie once they were outside and the chilly air of a March night wrapped around them.
"Yeah," she answered. "He can't come."
Niall rolled his eyes. "Did you tell him you're going out with three blokes?"
"He's not bothered by that, Niall. I live with one of the blokes, the other one has a girlfriend, and the third is too busy writing about love to practise it."
Harry burst out laughing. He threw an arm around Perrie's shoulders, pulling her against his side. "If my girlfriend told me that, I'd be even more worried."
"You," she said, pointing a finger at him, "are not even into girls, are you?"
Harry pressed his lips together. They hadn't yet talked about it. Harry had always deflected questions about girlfriends, or any of Perrie's attempts to set him up with one of her girl friends. He glanced up at Niall who only shrugged at him.
"No, I'm not," Harry confirmed, smiling sheepishly.
"Thought so," Perrie said. "So, where's the threat Colin has to be worried about?"
"Ed," Niall answered promptly. "You don't think he writes all the stuff without any experience?"
Harry grinned and listened to their banter. His arm was still around Perrie's shoulders and she hadn't moved away from his touch a single bit. She had slung an arm around Harry's waist, her hand buried in his jacket because the jacket she wore was way too light for March, so she was probably feeling cold.
Laughing at what Niall said, she shot back a sharp reply, smile as carefree and relaxed as it had been when she had sent Harry off after breakfast this morning.
If anything, she felt even closer than before.
"Drinks are on you," Louis said when they slid into a booth in the corner of the club. There was a VIP section and Louis hadn't had any trouble getting the security to open one booth for them. A few girls had recognised him, but were held back by the club's security team now. "You owe me."
Aiden rolled his eyes. "It wasn't that bad."
"There wasn't a single original one. Jason Mraz covers? If he had at least rearranged them." Louis shuddered. "Can't get any less original. And what was that rapper about? Slim Shady is so last century, how did he even get the idea?"
Aiden laughed, banging his fist onto the table. A waitress in short hot pants and a bikini top brought six shot glasses, setting them down in front of them. She winked at Louis, and since he was still sober, Louis decided to politely smile back at her.
"I had another pub in Clapham Junction, but I thought that may be too hipster for you," Aiden told him.
Too hipster, Louis thought. If he was honest with himself, he had quite the weak spot for hipster. "You are too hipster," he pointed out, raising one of the shot glasses filled to its rim. "And look, I'm here, hanging with you."
"We'll go to that one next time," Aiden promised.
"I'm never listening to you again," Louis rejected him and tilted his head back, the vodka burning down his throat. Without hesitation, Louis downed the second one too.
"Don't know why you need to worry about your future anyway," Aiden pointed out. He emptied his second shot glass too, shaking his head afterwards. "You're on tour, mate. Just enjoy life."
"I do. I am enjoying my life," Louis argued. "I'll go back tomorrow afternoon, go on stage Monday night, get to Manchester the day after and repeat on stage there what I do on stage every other night. It's cool. It's fun, and next month, we're off to America. I couldn't ask for more. Just need some relief sometimes."
"Hmm." Aiden tilted his head. "So you'll get drunk and shag a random bloke tonight."
"Definitely," Louis answered, glancing around the club. "Once we're in America, it won't be that easy anymore. Hotels and tour bus, and a crew around us every hour of the day."
"Does anyone know?" Aiden asked quietly, his voice almost drowned out by the loud beat of the music.
Louis looked down, fingers already curled around the third shot glass. "Liam and Zayn do, of course. They're chill. The team doesn't."
"That's tough," Aiden commented.
"Can't complain." Louis shrugged. "I still get laid often enough. I'm not looking for something serious, and one-night stands are possible, so all's good."
Aiden was quiet for a moment, then he lifted his glass in cheers. "Let's find you a pretty boy for tonight, then."
"Or else I will have to go home with you. Wouldn't want to have to stoop that low."
Harry was pleasantly tipsy. He stumbled slightly, catching his balance by gripping the hips of the boy who was dancing in front of him. Okay, maybe Harry was a bit more than tipsy.
Maybe he was drunk.
Perrie was dancing on his left, fencing off any boy who tried to get too close to her. Harry had no idea how she did it, but she managed to keep some space around her. She looked like she was enjoying herself very much a lot.
The boy in front of him turned and grinned. He was short and curvy, brown hair falling into his eyes. They were brown and looking glassy. Harry kept searching a spark in them, but they kept looking back at him from dull brown. The guy’s lips were full and bitten red -- he was biting his bottom lip at that very moment, too.
Niall had taken them to a posh club, and the cab had taken forever to get them there. Harry was afraid they were very far from Clapham Junction, and maybe he wouldn't be able to afford the cab home.
Maybe this guy would take Harry home.
He danced languidly, movements slick and smooth, rubbing against Harry. His hands were firm on Harry's waist, fingers digging into the fabric of the simple white t-shirt Harry wore. He smelled of some earthy after shave and clean sweat and he seemed to like vodka cranberry. He’s been drinking one after another during the past hour, and kept buying Harry the same.
Harry didn't even know his name.
The guy got to his toes. "Bathroom?" he asked.
Harry felt his stomach flip around. Do it, his brain demanded. There was no reason not to. The bloke was good-looking, could definitely move and wouldn't have any expectations past a quick fuck in a toilet stall. His fingers slipped beneath the hem of Harry’s shirt, tracing his skin, the waistline of his jeans. It felt nice, left Harry’s skin tingling, as if it was demanding more of those caresses.
It was nice, but Harry was drunk, and not up for a casual shag in a filthy bathroom stall of a nightclub. That wasn’t who he wanted to be.
"I--" Harry stuttered. "I'll get myself another drink."
He let go of the boy and stumbled towards the bar where he spotted Niall and Ed. Both had a bottle of beer in one hand, watching Harry approach them.
"You look terrified, mate," Ed told him.
"'Nother drink," Harry only said.
"I think you had enough, love." Perrie joined them, a hand on Harry's back. "Looks like my tip with the headscarf works pretty well, huh? Hot shortie there was all over you."
Harry laughed at that. Someone stumbled into his back and he gazed around, frowning. Stepping closer to Ed's side, he inspected the crowd. "Got pretty crowded here, huh?"
Ed nodded. "A bit too crowded for my taste."
"How about we head home?" Perrie asked. "Grab our coats and see if we can get a cab?"
Niall nodded. "You guys wait here?" he asked, pointing between Harry and Ed.
"I'll have a piss before we leave," Ed said. "Meet you here, yeah?"
Perrie and Niall disappeared into the crowd, and suddenly Ed was gone too, so Harry found himself left alone at the bar. He sighed and plopped down onto the stool Niall had been sitting on. He buried one hand in his pocket, fishing out all the coins he had in there. His phone was tucked away in the other one, as well as a twenty pound note.
If he had enough loose change, though, he could entertain his waiting time with another drink. Narrowing his eyes, Harry started to count the coins on his palm.
"Need another pound there, mate?" someone asked, and Harry looked up, blinking.
A tall guy stood next to him, hair styled up in a quiff, eyes rather small, Harry couldn't quite make them out in the dim light of the club. "Sorry?"
"I can buy you another drink," the guy offered. "Because you're pretty."
For a moment, Harry just stared at him, then he heard himself answer, "I'm not gonna sleep with you, you know."
The boy's eyes widened comically, but then he started to laugh and they were reduced to small slits. "Okay? Assuming that was my aim, why am I not getting it, then?"
"I'm just not the type for one-night stands." Harry shrugged. Why was he telling a stranger something like that? He should keep his mouth shut, should stop talking. Where were Niall and Perrie? They were supposed to keep him from doing anything stupid. "It's just wrong, somehow."
The bloke nodded, stepping closer. He lifted a finger, and despite the crowd at the bar, he got the bartenders attention right away. Harry followed his movements as he leaned in to talk into the bartender's ear.
"Let me buy you a drink," he said to Harry afterwards, "to at least compensate a little for the fun you're missing out on. Like, in general," he added. "One-night stands are fun."
Harry frowned slightly. He accepted the shot glass the boy handed him, though. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." The guy downed his shot and Harry followed suit. He set the empty glass down on the counter and extended his hand for Harry. "I'm Aiden."
Harry considered it for a second, then he gripped the hand. "I'm Harry."
"So, Harry," Aiden said, leaning against the bar counter. "What are you doing here all by yourself, if not to pick up a one-night stand?"
Harry gestured at the crowd. "'M here with friends. We're about to leave, actually. You?"
"I'm here with a friend, too," Aiden said. "We're both picking up one-night stands."
"Wouldn't want to keep you from that," Harry clarified.
"You don't." Aiden smiled. His smile was actually nice.
At that moment, Niall and Perrie showed up, carrying their coats. Perrie was already wearing Harry's, completely drowning in the brown coat. Harry found it stupidly endearing.
"You comin', Haz?" Niall asked. "Ed's already at the door. The crowd's gone crazy, it's mental to get inside."
"Apparently, there's some pop star here," Perrie added. "That's why so many people are showing up."
"Yeah, let's go." Harry slid from the stool, extending his hand for Aiden. "It was nice meeting you. Thanks for the drink, and good luck."
"And you, mate." Aiden shook his hand, winking at Harry. "See you."
Harry looked back over his shoulder when Perrie tangled her fingers with his as not to lose him in the crowd. Aiden gazed after them with a smile and raised a hand in a friendly wave when he saw Harry looking back.
Harry returned the smile, then he couldn't see him anymore.
Louis couldn't even see straight, much less walk. A firm hand was curled around his arm, guiding him.
At some point, the situation had escalated, and Louis knew he would receive a call in the morning, someone lecturing him on how reckless he had been, showing up in a club of that standard without any precautions taken in advance. One of their team's bodyguards, Alberto, was leading him out of the club now, fending off the girls trying to get to him. He had shown up without a word of complaint, but Louis knew he was causing trouble.
He hadn't even managed to pick up a guy. Before he could have come that far, too many people had recognised him, had spread the information on Twitter, and it had not even taken an hour before the club had been filled with girls. Another crowd was waiting outside.
Louis had his mobile pressed against his ear, trying to reach Aiden.
"Heard you caused quite the commotion," Aiden answered his phone.
"Security's getting me out of here now," Louis said. "Are you gonna come?"
"I met quite a cute boy, actually." Aiden sighed dramatically. "He wasn't up for a fuck, though. I'll meet you at your flat."
"Great," Louis managed to get out before he was shoved to the right and Alberto lost his grip on him. He stumbled into another bloke, almost losing his balance.
The bloke frowned deeply, shoving Louis off himself. "Careful, mate."
Louis caught himself, the alcohol in his bloodstream making it hard to estimate whether he really managed to stand straight or if he just imagined that. Flashing lights went off from all directions, people taking pictures with their phones. The guy in front of him didn't look too pleased, and a bit confused with the group of girls suddenly surrounding them. He was a bit chubby and sported messy, ginger hair.
"Sorry," Louis said. "Didn't mean to shove you."
Alberto dragged him along before Louis could even get an answer from the guy. Louis glanced back once, but the mess that awaited them outside had Louis forget anything else but to get to the car parking in front of the building alive.
It felt like an eternity, his ears ringing, his stomach hurting and his skin burning, but eventually, Louis found himself in the backseat of the black car, all noises from outside drowned out. Alberto slid into the passenger seat and turned to him, worry apparent on his face.
"You okay, Louis?"
He nodded, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't think it would escalate like that."
"That was pretty bad," Alfredo agreed.
"Home?" the driver asked.
Louis nodded again, leaning back. He was about to close his eyes, when he rolled his head to the side, looking out the window.
On the other side of the street, he saw the ginger boy from earlier get into a cab, followed by a girl with bright pink hair. Another person opened the passenger door, eyes bright and apparently talking about something that made the girl in pink laugh.
His driver rounded a corner, and Louis turned in his seat, his cheek pressed to the cold window of the car not to lose sight of that blond boy.
Niall, he thought, his heart beating high in his throat.
That boy had been Niall.