Hi , Louis wrote down, staring at the word for several seconds. The black ink stood out against the clean, unlined paper. Some spots were still shimmering, the ink not dried yet, and Louis ran a finger over it. The word smeared, staining the paper.
A stain, he thought, and ran the smeared finger over the tattoo on his right arm, some of the ink rubbing off. It was a stain, just like the tattoo on Louis' arm, but that couldn't be erased anymore, would permanently remain as it was.
Leaning back against the headboard of the bed, Louis dropped the pen. He was sitting on the bed in his hotel room that was illuminated by the small bedside lamp. For two weeks, Escapade had been touring the US, keeping Louis distracted from the recent confrontation he had faced with his past.
Now, in the quiet of the luxury hotel room, he was allowing himself to let his thoughts drift to the past, to the moment Harry had told Louis he loved him for the first time. He had looked so innocent and scared, surprised by himself.
Louis' whole heart had belonged to Harry in that one moment.
Tracing his finger over the tattoo again, he thought of how much it had hurt when it had been made, how the fresh ink had stood out against his skin, the Oops! a stark contrast, as if it had been stamped onto his skin. It was smooth now, had faded a bit in colour, melted into Louis' skin.
They had gone out on a limb to get those tattoos. Right after Louis' eighteenth birthday, in January, they had taken the train to Manchester to get them done. Harry had been begging his mother for weeks to allow it, until she had finally given in -- under the condition that he got his tattoo somewhere where it would be easy to cover up.
It had been a foolish idea, really. An idea that only a lovesick idiot could have come up with. Since they hadn't been out to anyone, they had used the first words they had said after confessing their love as code words. It hadn’t been easy being around each other in public, and it had given Louis’ an odd, exciting kick, whenever they had used them. The first time, they had been at one of Louis’ football games, and Niall and Harry had come up to the sidelines before the game, wishing him luck. A ball had hit Harry’s arm, and he had kicked it back, missing the aim completely. With a foolish smile, he had said, “Oops”. Louis’ heart had skipped a beat at that, and Harry had stared at him for a second before he had repeated it again, looking into Louis’ eyes and making the meaning clear. From then on, whenever they had been in public where it had been impossible to tell each other "I love you", they had said "Oops" and "Hi" instead.
It had been Louis' idea to get the words permanently tattooed onto their bodies.
Harry had been so fearless. While Louis had liked the idea of getting a piece of Harry tattooed onto him, the idea of a needle piercing his skin hadn't been too attractive. So Harry had gone first, smiling at Louis all the while, holding on to Louis' hand and only wincing a little at the pain.
Louis remembered that the finished tattoo had looked exactly like the Hi he had just written into his pocketbook. Black ink in Louis' handwriting, smudged on Harry's skin.
They had rushed into that, had wanted everything, much too soon. Louis had been certain at that time that Harry would be by his side forever, that nothing would ever change that.
It had taken a single sentence to break the spell.
Sighing, Louis turned the pages in his notebook, an unfinished songtext glaring at him from the paper. There were plenty more in that book, plenty of lyrics he had written over the past three years, collected in a small, ratty notebook that Louis carried everywhere. Every thought of Harry, every memory of a past Louis wanted to lock away in his heart was engraved in that book.
They were songs that were never meant to be written. Mistakes, a collection of mistakes Louis had made in his life, and they all came back to one moment.
Every one of his mistakes came back to Harry.
Louis took the pen, staring at the words in front of him.
I've felt the ground move beneath my feet
All the walls are still closing in
And it's hard to love when you're caught beneath
the shackles of your skin
He read the words over, thumb brushing the tattoo on his forearm before he added a few lines at the end of the page.
We've lost it all love since
It's far too much to take
But my love for you was blind and true
As my magnificent mistake
Leaving the train station, Harry turned with a blinding smile. Just five minutes earlier, he had been fast asleep, head on Louis' shoulder and their fingers laced, securely tucked between them. Now he was practically glowing, eyes wide awake and smile so happy, Louis couldn't help but grin back at him.
"Lou, look," he said in excitement, holding out his palm. "It's snowing!"
Louis buried his hands in the pockets of his jacket, raising his shoulders and nuzzling his chin into the warm wool of his shawl. He glanced up at the sky, seeing snowflakes floating down. They melted on the ground, left it stained with wet spots that grew by the minute.
"It's not really snow, is it?" Louis asked, catching one on his palm. It left a droplet on his skin. "It won't stay."
Harry looked around, people passing them on the crowded place in front of the train station. Louis watched him turn, scanning the area before he looked at Louis again. "No one else seems to care."
"It's no different from rain, Haz," Louis told him.
"But they're snowflakes," Harry protested, catching another one. He closed his fingers around it and looked up again. "At what speed does a snowflake fall, what do you think?"
Louis had no idea how Harry came up with those questions, where those random thoughts came from, but he had stopped questioning it long ago. Harry was random, quirky, pondered the strangest things in life -- and Louis had come to love that about Harry as much as the fact that he had curly hair, and dimples and wore those ridiculous, baggy jeans that hung low on his hips.
"I don't know, babe," Louis answered easily. "They're all different, right?"
Harry blinked, the snow slowly melted into fine sleet that made his hair glistening, curling up even more over his ears. "What do you mean?"
Shrugging, Louis stepped closer, tugging one of the curls behind Harry's ear. "They say every snowflake is individual, right? I'd guess they fall at different speeds, then."
Harry watched him with wondering eyes for a moment, before he glanced around again. He rested a tentative hand on Louis' hip, standing so close Louis could feel his warmth. It was nice, touching Harry like that in public. From the look in Harry's eyes Louis knew that they were both thinking the same. No one here knew them, no one paid attention to the two young boys standing in front of the station, just a breath away from a kiss. No one cared.
"You're my special snowflake, Lou," Harry said quietly, looking completely serious, entirely earnest about it.
"You're such a sap," Louis answered lightly, and he knew the fondness had to show on his face. It was okay, though. Nothing Harry didn't already know.
"Only when it comes to you," Harry answered.
Louis snorted, shaking his head. "You do know you turn into a sap everytime we're watching romantic comedies?" he teased, brushing his thumb over Harry's jaw.
"It's because they remind me of you," Harry protested, a small pout on his lips. "Of us."
"Your life's not a romantic comedy, Harry," Louis reminded him.
"I'm about to kiss you in the rain," Harry answered, smirking. "That's pretty much a romantic comedy."
"We're missing out on some drama to make it a proper storyline, don't you think?" Louis teased and grinned back. "Like, you leaving me to become a pop star on your own, but then---"
"Shut up and kiss me," Harry demanded, leaning in to catch Louis' lips.
Louis gasped slightly, closing his eyes and sinking into Harry's arms. One of Harry's hands tangled into his hair, and Louis cupped his own around Harry's jaw, tilting his head lightly. Sleet had turned into rain, sprinkling them softly. Louis felt it drench his skin, his hands slick and cold, raindrops running from his hair down his temple.
When they pulled apart, Louis could only imagine his smile being as big as Harry's, a manic grin, so happy and wide.
"I love you," Louis said quietly, catching a raindrop on Harry's lip with his mouth.
Harry nuzzled his nose against Louis' cheek, winding his arms around his neck. "I want it to be like this," he murmured, so only Louis could hear. "Holding you, kissing you in public. This is so nice."
"Feels good," Louis agreed. He pulled back slightly, brushing a stray curl from Harry's face. "We'll get there."
Harry nodded, squeezed Louis once more. "Promise."
Louis nodded, inhaling the scent of Harry's hair before he pulled back and laced his fingers with Harry's. "Come on, now. We have an appointment at the tattoo parlour, you ridiculous snowflake."
Harry laughed, bright and loud. It was Louis' favourite sound in the whole world.
Louis stared at the words in front of him for a little longer, thought he could still feel the rain on his skin and Harry's mouth on his lips. He traced a finger over his bottom lip, glancing at the window where rain was quietly tapping against the glass.
They had been good, had made a good couple. Harry had been honest and endearing, loving and giving -- Louis had loved every single bit of him.
Maybe the mistake hadn't been Louis leaving Harry; maybe Louis hadn't had another choice. They had been so close, too close, sharing every single heartbeat, every breath.
Maybe the mistake had been falling in love with Harry in the first place.
Louis closed his notebook and switched off the light.
In the darkness the thought didn't feel as heavy on his chest, and was easier to believe.
Convincing Perrie to come had required all of Harry and Niall's joined forces, so Harry felt relief settling into his chest, a heavy load falling from his shoulders when he saw her walk into the pub.
It was Saturday night and somehow, Niall had managed to get Harry a slot at an open mic night in a pub in Central London. Harry had no idea how Niall did it, but one thing was certain -- Niall could talk everyone into what he wanted them to do. Harry wished he had that talent, but as long as Niall used it to get Harry gigs like this one, he wasn't complaining.
"Thanks for coming," Harry said, pulling Perrie into a hug.
"Of course," Perrie answered. "I wouldn't miss this. It's big, isn't it?"
"Some important people regularly come here," Harry confirmed, glancing around. "People who are involved in the music industry. I have to impress someone tonight."
"You'll charm their socks off, babes," Perrie told him.
She had lost a couple of pounds, but at least the colour in her cheeks was back. She smiled genuinely lately and her eyes sparkled when she laughed, but Harry still caught her staring out of their kitchen window aimlessly, expression blank.
The knowledge that the look in her eyes would never really fade, would settle somewhere deep inside her, left a sting in his chest. The grief would be a part of her, just like it had become part of Harry when he had dragged himself out of his bed, acknowledging that Louis had betrayed him and wasn't part of his life anymore.
He wished there had been a way to save Perrie from that.
Keeping a hand on her elbow, he pointed across the room. "Ed, Niall and Barbara are over there," he said. "I need to go backstage."
"They have a backstage area here?" Perrie raised a brow. "This is the real deal, isn't it?"
"A&R Reps all over the place," Harry simply said.
Perrie kissed his cheek. "It'll be great. Heard that song you practiced last night." She winked, grinning openly. It looked a little forced. "You're welcome for the inspiration."
Biting his lip, Harry wanted to protest, but wasn't ready to tell her about his past, about how what happened to her had ripped open wounds that had never really healed. Instead he watched her go over to the table, instantly starting to discuss something Barbara wore.
Shaking his head, Harry turned.
It was about Perrie. He had written a song about betrayed trust, a hole in his heart and numb lips that missed the taste of another pair. It was about Perrie, for Perrie. She had suffered, and just like she had said, Harry had used it as inspiration for a song.
He didn't write songs for Louis anymore.
Harry had stopped doing that a long time ago.
"I think they hated it," Harry stated.
Ed grinned slightly, shaking his head. He tapped his cigarette with one finger before he took another drag. "They didn't."
They were outside of the pub, Ed smoking leisurely while soft rain poured from a black sky. Harry tilted his head back against the brick wall he leaned against. "No one seemed particularly interested."
"It'll work out on the next gig, I guess." Ed shrugged. "It takes time, Haz."
"It's just so frustrating." Harry heard the door open and turned his head to see a group of five leave.
"You had an offer that one time, didn't you?"
"By a guy who thought if we sent my lyrics to the right dance producers, they could be a hit," Harry deadpanned. "I couldn't possibly agree to that."
Ed shook his head. "Suppose not."
Harry looked up from Ed's face, seeing a stranger stand next to him. He was tall and lanky, dressed in dark clothes. He smiled kindly, and his eyes were clear, looking friendly. He seemed familiar, but Harry couldn't quite pinpoint where he had seen him before.
"May I join you for a moment?"
Harry nodded, stepping aside a little to let the stranger come closer.
"I have a bit of a problem, really," the guy said.
"What is it?" Harry asked, ready to help out.
"I'd kinda like to ask for your number," the mystery man answered, shrugging. "But I'd also like to ask for a demo tape. Would you consider me rude if I asked for both?"
Harry blinked. "You want my number and a demo tape?"
"Well, the thing is." He stopped, seemed to consider his words for a moment. "Harry, right?"
Harry nodded dumbly.
"Look, Harry, we can pretend I want your number for business purposes. But I'd end up using it to ask you on a date." The man shrugged again. Harry noticed that his quiff didn't seem affected by the rain at all. "That wouldn't be quite right, would it?"
A smile tugged on the corners of Harry's mouth. He glanced at Ed who seemed oddly preoccupied with his cigarette, smirking to himself. "I guess," Harry mused.
"So, my friends just went home. How about we have a drink and talk about your music? I really liked your performance," the guy admitted.
"Thank you," Harry said, smiling openly now. "I don't think it'd be a problem if he joined us, would it, Ed?"
"'Course not." Ed flipped his fag, turning to the door. He opened it, winking at Harry when the guy walked inside ahead of them.
Harry followed, catching up on him to lead the man to their table. "Guys," he said, stopping next to Niall's chair. "Do you mind-- um." Frowning, Harry turned to the man next to him. "Sorry, I guess I didn't catch your name?"
"I'm Nick," he answered, grinning widely.
"Would you mind Nick joining us?" Harry asked into the round. Barbara shook her head lightly, a smile on her lips while Niall patted the chair next to him in invitation. Perrie stared at Nick with wide eyes, giving Harry an appalled look when Nick took off his jacket.
Harry didn't quite get what she was trying to communicate, so he sat down across from her, shrugging.
"I'll have another drink. Can I get you guys something?" Nick asked, pointing at the bar.
Harry saw everyone else shake their heads. "We're good, thanks."
As soon as Nick was out of hearing range, Perrie leaned forwards, eyes wild. "How did you pick up Nick Grimshaw of all people?"
Harry blinked, suddenly realising why Nick had seemed so familiar.
"Nick Grimshaw?" Barbara repeated, turning to Perrie.
Perrie rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you didn't recognise him."
Barbara and Harry exchanged a look, both shrugging helplessly.
"Did you know?" Harry asked Ed.
Ed smirked. "Of course. He does the breakfast programme on the radio, Harry. The whole nation knows him."
"He is no Greg James, though," Niall threw in. His arm slung around Barbara's shoulders, he leaned in, pointing at Harry. "It's still worth a lot if he didn't just ask for your number."
"Asked for my demo tape," Harry replied. He felt like choking, because this suddenly felt very serious.
Niall beamed. "Play it well, Haz. Could be your chance."
Nick came back, setting down a pint glass on the table before he sat down. He was met by silence, everyone looking at him, and Harry felt greatly uncomfortable on his behalf.
"So I guess you told him?" Nick asked, tone light. He sipped his beer, glancing at Harry. "What spoilsports you are."
"Sorry," Harry blurted out.
Nick laughed, shaking his head. "It's alright. Not a secret, is it?" He looked around, leaning back in his chair. "So, since all of you know my name now, how about you introduce yourselves to me?"
Harry let go of his breath when Niall happily obliged, starting to chatter away.
The night had taken an interesting turn.
"So Harry," Nick said when silence had settled at their table for a moment.
He was on his second pint, had led a long discussion with Niall and Ed about Glastonbury, and had literally been a complete fanboy over Holly Willoughby, Fearne Cotton and Caroline Flack with Perrie and Barbara. It was a mystery to Harry how he could have the same level of knowledge about recent gossip and music.
"I quite liked your little gig earlier." Nick moved his glass a little. "Are you signed yet?"
"Forward," Niall commented.
"I'm not signed, no." Harry shrugged. "There was an offer."
"Two," Niall corrected.
Harry frowned, glancing at Niall. "One recently. The other one was when I was very young."
Nick hummed, watching him closely. "Let me rephrase that a little," he said. "Why are you not signed?"
Blushing, Harry took another swipe of his beer.
"Right?" Perrie asked. She looked overly excited. "He's so good. He could make it, couldn't he?"
"Absolutely," Nick agreed. "I like your style. We get a lot of love songs these days that focus on heartbreak. I like the positive touch your songs have." He smirked a little. "Well, there was one heartbreak song in there, but I guess there has to be."
Harry shrugged, glancing at Perrie. "Got inspired there."
"There are enough people who will love that too. There has to be some contrast. But I think especially the folky ones, the happy one---"
"Happily," Harry provided the song title.
"Yes." Nick pointed at him. "That stuff is great. I'd like to hear more of it."
"Thank you," Harry breathed, unable to form any other coherent thought.
"Happy music from a happy chap," Nick summarised, unfazed about Harry obviously having lost his voice and use of his brain. "It's a nice change."
"It's genuine," Ed commented. "That's why people will like it."
Nick nodded. "Exactly. It convinced me, at least. Although, you had me the moment you smiled up there." He pointed at the stage. "Those dimples work magic."
Harry blushed again, cheeks flushing hot.
"It's another factor," Barbara threw in. "Harry's very likeable, isn't he? That's important in the music industry."
"Absolutely," Nick agreed. "You're pretty and charming. They'll love you."
"Where do I sign?" Harry asked, smirking. His heart was still beating wildly in his chest, but he forced himself to play cool.
Laughing, Nick shook his head. "Not so quick, popstar."
"Now, I’m the one with a problem, I guess" Harry pointed out.
"I'm sure we can figure a way to solve it," Nick offered.
Glancing at his friends surrounding him, Harry leaned forwards. "So, you asked for my number and a demo tape. I can't give you both, though."
Nick lifted a brow, and Harry felt Perrie kick him under the table. "You can't?"
Harry shook his head. After a short fight, he managed to trap Perrie's feet between his ankles. "I don't want you to think I'm only giving you my number because I want that record deal."
"Aw, how noble you are. What a prince," Nick cooed. "Okay, let's make a deal."
"You give me your demo tape and I get Niall's number because he's pretty cool," Nick suggested, glancing at Niall. Barbara frowned pretty openly at Nick. "And I give you my number. You decide what you do with it."
Harry thought about that for a second. He considered the offer, considered if it was fair to both of them. Under no circumstances did he want Nick to feel used. It was a peculiar situation, really, with Nick showing interest in Harry as a person, as well as in Harry's music. With his position in the music industry, that made difficult it for Harry to make a clear distinction between both.
He wouldn't go on a date with someone just to use them for his career.
Then again, Nick seemed really nice. He was fun, and pretty cool about Harry not willingly jumping into it immediately. His sense of humour was nice, and from what Harry had gathered, Nick liked a lot of the same bands as him.
There wasn't a reason not to give it a try.
"Okay," he said, nodding. "That's a deal."
Nick smiled, taking out a pen and scribbling his number onto a coaster. He exchanged it for the CD case Harry held out for him and handed Niall the pen, so he could write down his number for Nick.
When he got up, Nick winked at Barbara. "No worries, love. I just want his number because I have a feeling that for business matters, I better contact him than Harry."
Barbara blushed, glancing at Niall. "Um, yeah."
"It was nice meeting you guys." Nick raised his hand in a short wave. "See you around, I guess."
"See you," Harry said. "And thanks."
Nick winked at him, then turned and left the pub.
For another moment, it was silent, then everyone started to talk at once.
"Fuck, Harry, you made it!" Niall yelled.
"He's totally into you," Perrie shrieked.
"Told you that performance did it," Ed mumbled.
"Did that freak hit on Niall?" Barbara asked.
Harry decided to focus on the most urgent issue first. "You should watch it, Babs. He's gonna steal your boy."
Niall laced his fingers with Barbara's on the table top. "You realise that I'm not really into men?"
"I don't care," Barbara countered. "It makes me---" she pressed her lips together, shrugging. "As Harry said. You're my boy."
They were on the right track, Harry thought when a goofy grin bloomed on Niall's face. He leaned in to say something into Barbara's ear. Harry caught Perrie staring at them, that look back in her eyes. He knew it was a twist to her heart, a mean sting that wouldn't stop -- a longing for something that was gone.
"I'll get another round of drinks," Ed announced. "This needs to be celebrated."
Perrie looked up, gazing after Ed for a moment, before she focussed back on Harry. "This is definitely a turning point." She grabbed Harry's hands, beaming at him. "I'm so happy for you, Haz."
"Nothing's settled yet," Harry reminded her. "For all we know he could hate the demo tape. It's different from the live version."
Perrie shook her head. "Well, even if that would be the case -- and it won't be, let's be real -- you get to shag Nick Grimshaw."
Harry felt a blush creep up his neck. "Who said I would shag him?"
Niall and Barbara had surfaced from their little bubble, and Barbara pointed at Harry sternly. "Excuse me, Harry, but you'll have to. To take his mind off Niall."
Perrie laughed. "Do it for Babs, Harry."
"Seriously," Niall said, his voice less humorous than Perrie and Barbara's. "He seemed honestly interested. Don't shoot him down without giving him a chance."
"I didn't plan to," Harry assured him.
At that moment, Ed came back, setting down a round of shots. "Now the hard work starts, Harry," he warned him."You'll sign a deal and they'll get you to knuckle down to contracts, and managers will swarm you, telling you where to go and what to do."
Harry blinked. "I hate when you do that," he groaned.
Ed smirked. "It's the truth, man. I can tell you."
"It comes with signing a record deal, I guess," Harry contemplated. He raised a shot glass, waiting for the others to mirror the motion. He downed the drink, strong alcohol burning down his throat.
"What if the manager knows you well, though?" Niall asked. "What if he didn't need to tell you all those things, because he'd let you have a say?"
"Those don't exist," Ed pointed out.
"They do," Niall argued. "If they're friends."
For a moment, Harry could only stare at him. Because, if Niall was proposing what Harry thought he was, that would top up the night just that tiny bit more.
"Listen," Niall said, tone serious. "Harry, I played your manager for the past couple months. It worked, didn't it? I got you the gigs, talked to the right people. I can do that. It's what I’ve wanted to do all my life."
"But your studies," Harry protested. "You're not finished yet."
"No," Niall agreed. "But this is a chance, Harry. I want to be a manager anyway, but the artist I want to manage needs me now. So." He crossed his arms on the table. "Does the artist only hire a manager with a degree? Or does that not matter?"
Harry swallowed thickly. "You wanna be my manager?"
"There's no one better for the job, is there?"
Niall lifted a hand. "Wait." He turned to Barbara who watched him with a small smile gracing her lips. "You're okay with this, aren't you?"
She lifted a hand, brushing the hair from his forehead. "I think it's as much of a chance for you as it is for Harry."
Niall beamed, tilting his body to briefly kiss her. Then, he turned back to Harry, giving him an expectant look.
"We're a good team," Harry admitted. "Of course, if you want that, I'd be happy to have you by my side."
Niall jumped off his chair, pulling Harry into a tight embrace, which was rather awkward with the table in between them. When he let go, Perrie came back from the bar, putting down another set of shot glasses, all filled to the brim.
Harry turned to her, seeing tears glimmer in her eyes when she handed out the glasses.
"Stop it," Harry said. "I've seen enough of you crying for the rest of my life."
Perrie barked out a wet laugh. She set down her glass and framed Harry's face, getting to her toes to kiss his lips with smacking sound. Harry was too startled to react, blinking at her in confusion.
"This is just so great," Perrie said, shrugging. "I'm really happy for you, Harry."
Ed raised his glass, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Congrats, mate."
Harry didn't even try to bite back the grin that split his face in two.
On Monday, Harry picked Perrie up from work after his shift at the bakery.
He had dinner at the pub, working on a song, sitting at a table in a corner. He had most of the melody set, just had to fit the lyrics in somehow.
His mobile vibrated next to him on the table. Harry picked it up with a frown, and opened the text he had received from Nick.
Going to a band called Pixie and the Dusts on Friday w/ some friends. You in? xx
Harry smiled, checking his timer for when he'd get off work before he texted back.
Sounds good. Count me in! .xx
He got back to writing his song, and when he surfaced from that a while later, Perrie was putting up the stools. Harry watched her for a moment before he collected his sheets and put them into his bag.
"Phil’s locking up tonight," Perrie said. "I'll just go get my stuff and be out in a minute."
Harry waited outside, checking twitter on his mobile until Perrie came out.
It was still quite chilly for April, but Harry could smell summer already. Perrie had dyed her hair blond in order to greet it, she had told him last week when she had come home sporting a new hairstyle once again. Harry thought that he was ready for summer, too.
He was ready for a change.
"Did Nick text you?" Perrie asked.
Harry had been hesitant about contacting him, but Perrie had pushed him a little, making him give into it.
"Yeah, earlier tonight," Harry answered. "We're going to a concert on Friday."
"Sounds great," Perrie said, nudging his shoulder. "Seriously, don't be so insecure. I haven't seen you bring anyone home since we moved in together. You have to be sick of being single."
Harry laughed gently. "It's not so bad."
"What are you waiting for?" Perrie wanted to know. "You'll never find the right one if you don't take some action. Nick might just be Mister Perfect."
Harry thought of feathery hair, small hands in his, and bright blue eyes for a moment. No. That had proven to be the wrong route. "He may be," he said instead. "I'm just not the type to jump into it. I'd like to know who it is I'm letting into my bed."
"Nothing wrong with that," Perrie mused. "Nick seems to be cool with that. Which, plus point for him, isn't it?"
"It is," Harry agreed.
They walked down the stairs to the tube station, starting to run when they saw the train coming in. After a short sprint, Harry let Perrie go in first and they sat down next to each other. For the short ride, they sat in silence, Perrie's head resting on Harry's shoulder.
Neither of them had been home between classes and work, so Harry emptied their mailbox when they got in, shuffling through the letters on his way upstairs. There was a postcard for him from Gemma. It displayed a pretty landscape in Italy, and Harry sighed, envious of her going on a holiday with her boyfriend.
"Something for me?" Perrie asked while she locked up the door.
"A letter, yes," Harry answered, handing it over and closing the door behind himself. He put the other letters on the kitchen table to open them later and went off to his room, putting his guitar in its usual corner.
"Oh my God!" he heard Perrie shriek then, followed by a high-pitched scream. "Harry!"
Frowning, Harry peeked out of his room, seeing her jump up and down in their kitchen.
"Harry!" Perrie repeated, clutching the envelope against her chest. "This can't be true!"
"What?" Harry asked.
"I won tickets!" Perrie ran up to him, holding up two concert tickets. "I thought I'd give it a try and applied, and---" She beamed, throwing her arms around Harry's neck. "I won! I really won."
"That's great. I'm happy for you." Harry patted her back.
"You have to come with me," Perrie instantly demanded. "Like, I owe you for taking care of me the past few weeks."
Harry shook his head. "It’s not necessary, Pez."
"Please say you'll come." She looked at him with pleading eyes. "I promise you'll like it."
"Which band is it, anyway?" Harry asked, laughing a little.
"Escapade." She waved the tickets in his face.
Harry felt his fingers go numb, his breath getting caught in his throat. He wasn’t sure he was still breathing at all. He forced a smile. "Why don't you take one of your girl friends?"
"They don't like them," Perrie mumbled, obviously disappointed. "They wouldn't want to come."
"I don't like them, either," Harry pointed out.
"Excuse me?" Perrie stood with her hands on her hips. "You never even bothered to listen to them."
"Boy bands are not really my thing." Shrugging, Harry turned to go back into his room.
Perrie followed on his heels. "That's such a pretentious thing to say, Harry. You said no band should be judged by the genre they're in. Why would you exclude Escapade from that?"
Harry felt his fingers twitch, his blood running just that little faster in his veins, making him nervous. He had managed to avoid consciously listening to Escapade up until this day -- and he had no intentions of changing that anytime soon.
"Sorry, Pez," he pressed through gritted teeth. The words felt heavy on his tongue. He didn't look at her, folding a t-shirt he had left on his bed earlier. "I'm really not interested in going to that concert. You'll have to find someone else."
Perrie remained standing in his doorframe, looking a little lost, confused by Harry's reaction.
He couldn't explain it; Harry didn't think he'd ever get to a point where he could explain Louis to anyone in the world.
"Okay, I get it," Perrie mumbled. She turned and left Harry's room.
Harry breathed out, closing his eyes. That had not gone well. He shouldn't have been this harsh to Perrie. It wasn't her fault; she didn't know after all.
With a sigh, Harry fell to his bed and buried his face in the cushions.
It wasn't the thought of seeing Louis in person that scared Harry. He had fought long and hard to get over Louis, and although his wounds had never healed completely, Harry had managed to move on the best he could.
What he was scared of, what Harry was afraid he wouldn't be able to deal with, was seeing Louis on a stage.
Living his dream.
They had received another rejection.
It had been the seventh, out of so many applications they had sent out. Harry had found it in his mailbox when he had come back from school, checking his emails first. It was a habit he had developed over the past few weeks.
Rolling over, Harry curled up on the floor of the treehouse, waiting for Louis to show up. He was late -- maybe his train was late. Louis had spent the past four days in London, visiting his aunt and uncle. Since it was the school holidays, he had to use the time to fulfil his family obligations.
Harry missed him. He was so used to having Louis around every day that spending four days without him had made him feel incomplete inside. Like half his heart had travelled to London with Louis.
Louis was the only one who would be able to reassure Harry about the rejection. It was unsettling Harry inside, a fear let loose that they would never make it. He needed Louis to tell him that everything would be alright.
For a moment, Harry closed his eyes, allowing himself to think of the email he had received from Syco a couple of months ago -- finally a positive answer. It had been positive only on first glance, though. They had asked for Harry alone, without Louis and Niall, had wanted him to come down for an audition. Harry's heart had been racing out of control when he had read the email.
He had rejected the offer without a second thought. It had always been their dream, they were in this together, and Harry didn't want any of it if it wasn't with Louis by his side.
He traced his finger over the tattoo on his biceps, hidden under the sleeve of his t-shirt. It was blending into his skin well, the rough edges long gone. Louis' handwriting inked into Harry's skin, as a sign of them belonging to each other.
The birds stopped chirping, a startled rustling of the tree followed, and Harry opened his eyes, knowing Louis was climbing the ladder. He sat up, crossing his legs.
"Hi babe," Louis greeted him lightly when he reached the top, crawling into the treehouse.
Something was off, Harry could tell by the look on his face. "Hi."
Louis approached him, still crawling, and crowded Harry's space in no time, hands settling on Harry's waist.
"I missed you," Harry breathed before he sealed Louis' lips with a kiss. He opened his lips, drinking in Louis' familiar taste, sinking into his warmth. Louis pushed his shoulder lightly and made Harry lie down until Louis could slot himself between his legs.
They kissed for a few minutes, maybe hours, Harry lost track of it. He had Louis back in his arms, everything else could wait.
Louis lifted his head abruptly, detaching his lips from Harry's. He breathed heavily, eyes half-lidded, and he licked his lips. Harry's stomach twisted, making it hard to breathe.
Something was wrong.
"I'm going to London," Louis murmured quietly.
Harry stared at him, unmoving.
Without another word, Louis leaned in again, attaching his lips to Harry's neck. He pulled down the collar of the t-shirt to suck at Harry's collarbones. Harry’s skin felt numb, the feeling of Louis’ lips unreal.
Harry stared at the ceiling, small stripes of a bright blue summer sky visible through the wood battens, trying to process Louis' words. His heart pounded loudly in his ears, his chest expanding with it.
"You-- what?" he asked, voice raspy.
Louis stopped moving. He let go of the collar and lifted his upper body again. His expression was calm, alarmingly calm.
"I signed a contract with Syco," he said quietly. "Starting next week."
This was a bad dream, Harry decided. He couldn't tear his eyes from Louis. But he had to -- had to, if he wanted to wake up and return to his world, to his Louis.
"They wanted me to come down to London for a casting. For a three-piece band." Louis averted his gaze from Harry, biting his lip. "I got through. I signed this morning."
Harry's numb hands slid from Louis' hips to the floor and hit it with a wooden noise. He was sure his heart wasn't beating at all while he stared up at Louis. His eyes felt dry, but he couldn't even bring himself to blink.
"You lied to me," Harry finally managed to choke out. He wasn't quite sure what he was referring to. The fact that Louis had lied about why he had been to London or everything else Louis had ever told him.
It was their dream, wasn't it?
When had Louis decided to make it his own dream? To live it without Harry?
"Haz," Louis started.
And why were they still so close together? Why was Louis tangled with Harry when he had just told Harry that he would leave him? "No," Harry cut him off, shaking his head. "No."
"Come on, now, this is not---"
Harry shoved Louis off, sitting up and shifting away from him. "What do you mean, next week?"
"I'm moving to London," Louis simply said -- as if it was nothing, just that easy. "Haz, it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse."
Staring at him, Harry heard his heart rock back into motion -- and it was racing. "Fuck you, Louis," he breathed, unable to form any other answer.
There he was, Louis, the boy he loved, the boy he knew everything about. The boy Harry knew better than himself. And yet, he knew so little, hadn't known Louis was capable of a betrayal like this. He stared at Harry with that inscrutable expression -- as if he didn't even understand what he had done.
"Harry," he said again, voice soothing.
"You lied," Harry repeated. "I can't---" he swallowed thickly, getting to his feet and dashing to the ladder. "You fucking lied all this time."
"That's not true." Louis followed him, grabbing Harry's elbow before he could climb down. "Listen to me, please. Baby."
That brought tears to Harry's eyes, they pooled in the corners, burning, his throat tightening up. "Don't you dare," he hissed. "Not after you abandoned me so easily."
Louis' hand jerked back as if he had burnt himself on Harry's skin. Harry could see hurt in his face, his blue eyes turning grey, shadowed by pain.
Good, Harry thought, climbing down the steps. He looked at Louis once again, saw desperation on his features as he shook his head in a silent protest to Harry leaving.
Harry had a million things to say that swarmed his brain, accusations and angry tirades. Instead, he just held Louis’ gaze until he reached the ground, adamantly trying to convey every one of his feelings through his angry, ice-cold stare. He stood there for a moment, eyes locked on Louis’, and his heart broke just that tiny bit more when Louis averted his gaze and bit his lip.
Harry turned and walked away slowly, his limbs feeling oddly stiff, as if they were frozen. Only when he had rounded the house, and he knew that he was out of sight, did he start to run.
He ran blindly, lungs burning, tears staining his cheeks and heart shattered in his chest.
Louis blinked his eyes open slowly, his TV screen coming into vision. He recognised a character from Little Britain, watching for a few seconds before he realised it was his phone ringing that had woken him.
He grabbed it off the table and picked up when he saw Aiden's ID.
"Louis," Aiden greeted him. "Back in London?"
"Since yesterday, yes," Louis answered, rolling onto his back. Noises of laughter came from the TV. "How are you?"
"I'm good, the usual," Aiden said. "You? Jetlagged?"
Louis hummed. "Just slept all afternoon."
"So you're well-rested to go out tonight," Aiden noted, sounding chipper.
Louis frowned, considering that. "Going out doing what?" he asked.
"There's a concert by a band that you'd probably like as a supporting act," Aiden told him. "They’re playing a small club in Camden, possibly a hundred people. Pixie and the Dusts."
"What a dumb name," Louis snorted.
"They have potential."
Louis should go -- a band playing clubs for less than a hundred people sounded like just the kind of band he was looking for. And if Aiden said they had potential, chances were they'd be really good and worth some attention.
"Not tonight," Louis answered.
"Louis, come on," Aiden started.
"We're playing the O2 again tomorrow," Louis explained, feeling tired at the thought of having to show up for a gig tomorrow. "It's an extra show before the European leg starts next week. I guess I could use a night in, catch some more sleep."
"Why am I not invited to that gig tomorrow?" Aiden wanted to know, mock-appalled. "I didn't even know about it."
"You can come, if you want. I'll get you in," Louis offered. "It was added only last month. High demand."
"It's always high demand for you guys." Aiden sighed. "So I'll go to the concert by myself tonight?"
"Sorry, love," Louis apologised. "Need to be fit tomorrow."
"It's okay. I get it. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"See you," Louis confirmed.
"Have a good night," Aiden said softly.
Louis hung up, closing his eyes again. He managed to grab a blanket from the armchair, spreading it over his body. Little Britain was still airing on telly, the laughter and high-pitched voices lulling him back to sleep.
"That was pretty good," Harry said, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans.
Nick nodded, walking next to him. Their arms were brushing, but Harry didn't bother to put more space between them. It felt comfortable. The few friends he had taken along were walking in front of them, chatting away, not paying them much attention.
"I got a tip that they're fantastic," Nick told him. "They play some wicked stuff, but it's not for the radio."
"You wouldn't play them?" Harry asked, surprised by that.
"Top forty for the Breakfast Show," Nick explained, shrugging. "Their music is for the night time programmes, where you get to play original and unusual music."
Harry gazed at Nick for a second. "Do you miss that?"
"Sometimes," Nick admitted. "I wouldn't want to go back, though. My team is great, and I'm having a lot of fun as it is."
"Sounds like it," Harry agreed.
"Aw, Harold," Nick cooed. "You listen to my show every morning just to hear my voice."
"I had to convince Betsy to change the radio in the kitchen to Radio One," Harry revealed, winking. "She only agreed to it when I told her the host of the Breakfast Show is a dear friend of mine. She's been listening to Capital FM for the past ten years."
"What is wrong with Betsy?" Nick asked, clutching his chest. "Chris Moyles did so well to please her generation."
Harry laughed. "She's very fond of Matt."
"If she only knew." Nick shook his head. He stopped when they reached the underground station. "We're going back to Nicco's," he said. "Are you in?"
"I'd love to," Harry admitted, biting his lip. "But I have to be at the bakery at five tomorrow morning. So I shouldn't."
"Alright," Nick said easily. He looked a little nervous, hands buried in the pockets of his leather jacket.
Harry looked at him for a second longer, pondering his options. He could lean in and kiss Nick right now -- it wouldn't be weird, would it? Nick had admitted from the first second that he was interested in Harry.
"Maybe we could go out again? Like, dinner or something?" he asked instead.
Nick smirked, nodding. "Sure, I'd like that. Call me up when you're free."
"I'm pretty sure you're the busier one here," Harry pointed out.
"Never too busy to meet up with you," Nick said, winking at Harry and leaning in to kiss his cheek. He turned, catching up on his friends who were already taking the steps down to the station. "Talk to Niall. I sent him a few things."
Harry waved, watching Nick leave, staying at the top of the stairs until he couldn't see Nick anymore. Slowly, he let his fingertips graze his cheek that still tingled a little from Nick’s lips. A gentle breeze moved his hair, making him shiver slightly and bury his hands in his pockets. He turned, preoccupied with the thoughts flooding his mind.
It was about time he stopped pushing everyone away. Harry hadn't had a serious relationship since Louis had left. At first, he had been too hurt, too stuck on Louis to even look at anyone new. And after that, Harry had become careful, very careful whom he let close enough to his heart.
Louis had been too close, Harry had given him every single piece of him -- and that had been wrong, his biggest mistake. He had been completely dependant on Louis, had stopped being his own person, every of his actions and thoughts focussed on Louis.
Harry had confused it for love, when really, it had been nothing but blind dependency. Like an addiction.
He had tried sleeping with random people, making it about the sex rather than the feelings, but each time he had tried, he had pulled back last minute, had fled before he could have taken the last step. It wasn't him, wasn't how Harry's mind -- or heart -- worked.
He wanted something stable, something honest, wanted the sex to mean something, not only to be a release. He wanted to give, lay his heart bare for someone else to see and take care of.
Maybe he had a chance at that right now.
When he got home, Harry stripped off his jacket in his room. He stepped to the window to close his curtains, his hands freezing in motion, gaze caught by the huge billboard at the footie pitch.
It had displayed an advertisement for tea during the last weeks, but had been changed to a poster of Escapade now. Special Concert at London O2 Arena , it read at the top. Louis' gaze was lowered, hands buried in the pockets of a denim jacket, hair an organised mess. Zayn looked off camera, Liam stared right ahead.
That was too much, Harry thought, throat tight.
He had vowed to never find out anything about that band, but now he knew the two blokes’ names already, feeling bitter towards them for taking Harry and Niall' spot -- which was ridiculous, because it had never been meant to be Harry and Niall in the first place.
Closing the curtains, Harry turned and stormed into the kitchen. He took out the CD Perrie had positioned next to the CD player Harry had insisted they needed in the kitchen. He put the disk in, pressing play.
When the music started, Harry exhaled, his hands falling to his side.
If he wanted to finally leave Louis behind -- all of it, every bit of that past -- he had to know where Louis had moved on to. He had to find out what Louis did now, where he was and how he lived. He had to know who Louis was without Harry.
If he didn't, he would always wonder.
Harry thought about going back to his room, leaving the door open and listening to the songs from there. It felt like running away again, though, so he just got his duvet from his bed and closed the door to his room, leaving the music outside of it.
He curled up on the kitchen floor, listening to the song playing, to the voices, of which he only recognised one.
When I close my eyes you're still there, still smiling without a care , someone sang. I keep you in my dreams where you're close. I’ve run as far as I could but a piece of you is still with me, no place to hide .
The songs moved on to raindrops at the end of summer, hearts tearing apart by one wrong word, to the feeling of regret, up-tempo songs about wanting to change the time, going back. There were others in between, songs that didn't trigger memories, that didn't clearly carry Louis' handwriting.
Harry didn't have to look it up to know which songs Louis had written. The songs told stories about long summer days spent hidden in the trees, about inked skin that held memories of brighter days.
It's spring, but you're still snowing after two and a half years , Louis voice quietly sang, lulling Harry to sleep. I want it to be snowing inside of me and never melt there. I'm losing my sense of season.
I know it's love .
Harry woke up to the lights being switched on, startling him from his slumber. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and found Perrie by the door, staring at him. The music was still on repeat, filling the room.
"Why are you sleeping on the floor?" she asked.
Tiredly, Harry gave up on pretending. He could probably come up with a lie, but he didn't want to lie to Perrie. "Didn't want to let Louis into my room."
For a moment, Perrie was quiet. Then she slowly closed the door and set down her handbag. She slipped out of her boots, went over to the CD player to switch it off, and sat down next to Harry, winding her arms around her knees. "I thought you'd never tell me."
Harry blinked, tilting his head. "What?"
"About Louis," Perrie murmured, looking guilty. "Niall slipped when he was drunk last week. I told him about the tickets and that you didn't wanna go with me." She shrugged, biting her bottom lip. "He told me that it was because you guys used to be in a band."
Niall couldn't be trusted drunk. Harry should have known. He averted his gaze, fidgeting the fabric of his duvet between his fingers. "That all he told you?"
Perrie nodded. "I'm sorry, Haz. Had I known, I'd have never put up the poster and played their music or asked you to come to their concert." She put an arm around him. "I'm not going either. I'm not a fan of someone who betrayed you."
Harry laughed dryly. "Pez," he said then, memories rushing back in, of snow and a red shawl, a kiss in the rain, whispers and touches hidden in a small treehouse, stolen looks exchanged at school. "He was-- we were--" Harry swallowed thickly. "I loved him," he finally settled on. It was the first time Harry had said it out loud. It felt foreign on his tongue, sounded strange to his ears.
Perrie stared at him, hand still on his shoulder. "Did he---?"
"Break my heart?" Harry choked, pressing his palms to his face. "Yeah, he did. We were together, like-- not out," Harry explained. "But we were together. He decided to go on without me, and I let him just leave me behind. I let him push me over, and I hate him." It all just babbled out of him now, the words spinning in his head, running through his mind, and Harry couldn't grasp a single one before he said them. "I hate him for doing that to me, and I hate that I let him do it. He should have never had that kind of power over me, to hurt me the way he did. He just decided I wasn’t worth it, and he turned away so easily. How could he turn so easily?"
“How dare he write songs about it?” Harry threw his hands up. “How can he write about all the things we shared, as if they still mattered to him when he was the one who just threw it all away?”
Perrie pulled him in, arms tight around Harry's shoulders. "Fuck, Harry," she mumbled. "What an arse."
Harry didn't correct her. He buried his face in her neck, closing his eyes. He knew it wasn't fair, knew there was so much more to that story. But at the moment, he just needed someone on his side, someone who understood him.
Taking a deep breath, he pulled back, looking at Perrie's face. "I'll come with you. To the concert."
"Harry, love," Perrie started, looking worried. "Are you sure that's what you want?"
Harry nodded. He had made up his mind. "I'll have to see it with my own eyes to get over it."
"Okay," Perrie murmured quietly, brushing his hair with her fingers. "If that's what you want."
"It is," Harry firmly replied.
"Louis, are you all set?"
Louis turned, giving a thumbs-up to the assistant who had asked. "Yep, ready to go on stage."
Zayn appeared next to him, putting a hand on his back and leaving it there.
"Should be out any minute," Zayn said. "Have you memorised the setlist?"
Louis rolled his eyes. "Of course."
Special concerts were nice, because they got to play different songs from the ones they had set for their tour. It was a nice change from the gigs that had become routine, even if every gig felt different in atmosphere and mood.
"Looking forward to the encore," Louis pointed out when Liam joined them. "Playing new songs for the first time is always fun."
"They'll love it," Liam added.
Harry heard the music start through the heavy door he stood in front of. He hadn't yet entered the hall, couldn't have brought himself to do it. Instead he had stayed in the lobby, watching excited teenage girls enter the arena, chatting away, buying merchandise with Louis' face on it.
It had made Harry feel sick.
He thought of the day when Louis had left Holmes Chapel to go to London, about how Harry had woken up that morning. His heart had felt heavy in his chest, as if it hadn't belonged in there, wanting out.
Harry had wished it could have been that easy -- exchanging his heart for a new one. One that didn't know what Louis' hair smelled like, or how his heartbeat picked up speed when Harry kissed him, how he laughed when he was tickled and how he talked in his sleep.
That morning, Harry had decided that, after all, he couldn't let Louis go.
Shaking his head, Harry took a deep breath, finding himself in the same position again. He was running after Louis. But this time, he had come to end it properly.
He opened the door and walked in, immediately spotting Louis on stage. Averting his gaze, he searched for his seat, found Perrie in the crowd and joined her. He could feel her tension loosen up when she shot him a glance.
Harry could only stare at Louis on the stage, seeing him in person for the first time in what had been three years. He had changed a lot, was much more built, his hair longer, his face much more defined. He wore jeans and a simple t-shirt. The tattoo on his arm visible, right on display for everyone to see.
Harry couldn’t look at it.
Upbeat music playing, their voices clear and loud above the crowd's screaming, and they put on a decent show, obviously having fun on stage. Harry's gaze followed Louis high-fiving Zayn, slapping Liam's bum, his energy unleashed and making him glow. His smiles were bright, crinkling his eyes.
With the crowd around him going wild, girls screaming loudly at everything that happened on stage, Harry felt weirdly calm. His heart beat slowly in his chest and he stood completely still. He forgot about the music, all noise drowned out in his head.
He hadn’t realised time going by until the band left the stage and Harry had to tear his eyes from Louis. When they came back ten minutes later, Harry hadn’t moved a single bit, eyes instantly locking onto Louis again.
“We only have one encore tonight,” Louis announced. “It’s a new song, exclusively played for you guys for the first time. I hope you’ll like it.”
He glanced at Liam and Zayn, when the music started playing, a soft tune. Liam started singing, his voice warm and golden.
I know it and yet, I’m afraid
and to confirm it you hold me
you kiss me, you say that you miss me
but I can’t calm down, oh why tonight?
Zayn took over, voice filling the sudden silence in the arena.
Where are you now?
Tell me, what are you doing?
Images inside my head,
what are you thinking now?
Harry let the words fill his mind, closed his eyes to shut everything else out.
All he could see was Louis.
He wouldn't make it.
Harry's lungs hurt, feeling as though they were pierced by broken glass. He ignored it, though, running just that tiny bit faster.
He caught a glimpse of the clock at the station, and if that one was correct, he had one more minute. Only a minute. He hurried up the stairs to the platform, seeing that the train was still there, and tried to spot Louis.
Instead, he spotted Niall at the end of the platform, and Harry set off into another sprint to reach him.
"Niall," he breathed heavily, reaching him. Niall turned to him, eyes wide. "Where--"
A ringing noise echoed through the station and the train started moving. Harry lifted his look and his eyes instantly locked with Louis'. Taking a tentative step towards the train, he saw Louis' face through the glass.
Harry felt paralysed, too shocked by the picture in front of him.
Louis stared at Harry, eyes red, cheeks stained with streaks of tears. His skin was pale, his lips bitten, and he was moving away -- slowly moving away.
“Lou,” Harry choked on the word, reaching for the window. "Please."
Louis bit his lip, tears dwelling in his eyes again, then he turned away, his back facing Harry.
Harry stopped in his tracks, lowering and fisting his hand by his side. He watched the train gaining speed, leaving the station, taking Louis away from him.
This time around, he didn’t cry, having shed every tear inside him during the days before. Instead, he tried to breathe through the splinters still piercing his lungs, trying to make sense of all this.
He still stood there long after, staring into the distance, wondering what he had done to make Louis turn away.
Opening his eyes, a single tear escaped Harry, his lips trembling a bit. His gaze found Louis again. He sat on the stairs to the upper part of the stage, eyes closed, singing with all his heart.
He looked like the boy Harry had fallen in love with all those years ago.
But I know I’ll stay 'cause next to you is where I belong.
The words ripped into Harry's heart.
Let me believe it when you’re gone.
I guess it’s just a helpless night ,
a helpless night, a helpless night.
It was, Harry thought, when Louis repeated it on stage again and again. That was what it felt like, helpless , and that made it easier to let go, to finally leave Louis behind the way Louis had left Harry behind three years ago.
Perrie reached for his hand, tangling their fingers wordlessly, and Harry squeezed back, holding on.
Louis opened his eyes, and for a moment, Harry thought he'd see him, but of course he wouldn't. He wasn't supposed to, anyway. Instead, Louis' gaze drifted over the crowd when he sang the last line and all lights went out.
Maybe Louis had managed to move on, too.
My heart melts when you’re gone.