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Louis knew he shouldn't be so smug about it, but whenever Liam or Zayn messed up, he felt oddly relieved. It reminded him that they were only human too, and although they usually handled their fame much better than Louis did, they couldn't always cope with it.

They had been back from the first part of their European tour for only a few days, and spring was in full bloom over here, just on the verge of summer. So, really, who could blame Zayn for getting a little reckless?

He had been out with friends, which was how it usually started when things went downhill. Of course he had been drunk, so Zayn had not given it much thought when he had gone home with a girl.

"She asked for my name," Zayn had protested yesterday morning when their PR team had called an urgent meeting. "She had no idea who I was."

"Apparently she did know, though," someone had calmly told him, showing a profile on twitter and opening an Instagram link. The girl had posted a picture of Zayn sleeping, his hair all messed up, chest naked.

The backlash was huge, of course, with their fans going crazy on Twitter.

Following the advice of their team, they all decided to stay in, so they wouldn't be seen in public where anyone could come up to them and ask questions. They had enough to do anyways, Louis thought. Not much time to go out and be seen.

They were holed up in the studio where they were recording some first vocals for the new album. Aiden was there, as well as some other people they had written songs with, producers and technicians. They had decided on only four songs yet that would definitely make it onto the album, three written by Louis, one by Liam.

"This is going to be a huge change from your previous two albums," Aiden had commented, looking over the songs again. "It's gonna be big."

Zayn had been rather quiet all day, not participating in any talk. He put away his phone when he was asked to record something or pay attention, but other than that he kept scrolling on his phone. Probably checking Twitter to see what their fans were writing about him.

Louis wanted to tell him to leave it alone, to wait until it all blew over and no one cared about it anymore. Then again, he knew Zayn was different -- Liam and Zayn both were.

Zayn usually kept up to date with the stuff the media reported about them, always knew about the latest rumours that were spread about them. Liam did, too, although he took it a level further, because he didn't just read it, he also tended to comment on it on Twitter.

Louis had stopped looking at it long ago. He didn't know who he was allegedly dating this week, or what arsehole move he had made in an interview, or how awful his outfit was when he arrived for rehearsals the other day.

Louis looked up as Liam came back into the room. They were on lunch break, and their assistant had apparently just come back from Tesco's. Liam handed Louis a lunch box and a bottle of water, putting Zayn's on the table.

Zayn had his head in Louis' lap, not acknowledging Liam's presence at all and still scrolling on his phone.

"Hey, Z," Louis said, running a hand through Zayn's hair. "You hungry?"

"Not really," Zayn murmured.

"Come on, Zayn," Liam pushed gently, his foot kicking out to nudge Zayn's arm. "Don't let it drag you down."

Frowning, Zayn turned to him. "It’s not about the negative backlash from the fans," he clarified. "It’s just frustrating that every girl I meet is after my fame."

Louis hummed. "It's not easy to find someone genuine."

"If it makes you feel any better," Liam said, waving a magazine in front of their faces, "Heat's more interested in Nick Grimshaw's new boyfriend than your little slip."

"I don't care," Zayn stated, turning his head again to look at his phone.

Louis watched Liam turning the pages of the magazine with Nick Grimshaw's face on the cover. "Who cares about Grimshaw anyway?"

Liam shrugged. "Quite a few people, actually," he pointed out.

Aiden came back in that moment, plopping down onto the sofa next to Liam. He had a sandwich in one hand, and looked at the page Liam was reading. Louis saw him frown down at it.

"Who's that guy?"

Liam shrugged. "Nick Grimshaw's new boyfriend, apparently."

"I think I've seen him before," Aiden mused.

"Maybe Louis shagged him," Liam joked, glancing up with a smirk. "Totally your type."

"Fuck off, Li." Louis scowled at him. "I'd like to believe that someone who had me wouldn't ever stoop so low as to fuck Nick Grimshaw. I sleep with decent people."

Liam rolled his eyes and turned the page. "Whatever."

“What’s your problem with Grimmy?” Aiden asked.

“He’s a twat.” Louis shrugged. “Not my cup of tea.”

Aiden hummed quietly.

“It’s because he’s just as witty as Lou,” Zayn commented. “Louis doesn’t like people who are equal in taking the piss.”

“As I said,” Louis simply repeated. “I like decent people.”

"At least the people you slept with didn't post pictures of you in their bed," Zayn commented.

Louis sighed and patted his head. Zayn rolled around and curled up, burying his face in Louis' t-shirt.

Someday, Louis thought, running his fingers through Zayn's hair, he would find someone who was worth it, someone who wouldn't be after the fame and the money. Someone who would only be there for Zayn.

Louis thought about the day he sat on a train, seeing Harry, expression wild, desperate, and tears in his eyes. He had looked so lost and as if he had only needed one thing to gain back control -- Louis. He had only needed Louis to be himself again.

That had been the problem, though. Harry had needed him too much, had built his whole life around Louis, up to the point where he hadn't been able to take a single step without Louis by his side.

That hadn't been healthy for either of them.

It hadn't justified any of what Louis had done to Harry, though.

He had lost the chance of finding someone perfect for himself in that moment Harry had stared at him through the window of the train. Right then, Louis had given up on love to become who he was now.

Perhaps it was a cliché, but it was true that you couldn’t have both. Louis had decided upon a big career, and had left behind the only true love he had ever known.

It hadn't been wrong, he thought now while Zayn was breathing evenly against Louis' stomach. He got what he had always dreamt of, had found Zayn and Liam, and Louis would never exchange a single memory he had made with them, didn't think there could have been anyone else taking their places. It hadn't been the wrong thing to do.

It just hadn't been right either.

+++

"Thanks for coming, Niall," Louis said quietly, looking at the ground.

People passed them, getting onto the train. Louis glanced at his watch, seeing he had five minutes left.

"Wouldn't want to let you go without a proper goodbye." Niall gently shoved his shoulder.

"It's okay if you hate me, you know," Louis told him, biting his lip. "I did fuck this up big time after all."

"You did," Niall agreed. "You should have told us from the beginning, mate. It's such a huge thing." He was quiet for a few beats. "You know that neither of us would have ever stopped you."

Louis nodded, couldn't answer.

"Harry's in a state, though," Niall murmured. "He doesn't get it. I don't either, you know," he added.

"I love him," Louis choked out. Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. "But he's-- I can't take it, Ni."

Niall stepped closer, resting a hand on his arm. "What?"

"He can't do it without me," Louis rushed out. "He relies on me completely, and it's too much. I can't take it."

A shrill ringing startled both of them.

"Lou--"

Louis lifted his head, biting back the tears. "I broke his heart."

Niall sighed, drawing him into a hug. "You're the biggest idiot I ever met, Louis," he growled deeply. "You think Harry relies on you completely? You rely on him just as much, don't you know that?"

Louis drew back, staring into Niall's face. "What?"

"You know it's a mistake," Niall said sternly. The serious look was so unusual on him, it scared Louis a little. "You know that without him, you won't ever make it either. You need each other, Louis. And it's not too late to get Harry back. He'd forgive you."

He would, Louis thought. Harry would always forgive him. They would make up, and he would kiss Harry's tears away, and Harry would kiss a smile onto Louis's lips. They would go back to their life -- a life in which they only dreamt about making it big one day.

Louis shook his head. He hugged Niall again, burying his face at his neck.

"Take care, Niall," Louis told him, squeezing his arms. "I'm sorry, okay?"

Niall frowned deeply, but instead of saying any more, he nodded.

Louis turned and got onto the train, sitting down. The tears began to fall once he was alone. He bit back a sob, thinking about Harry -- about the way he had frozen in Louis' arms, the hurt expression on his face, the anger when he had left.

He could never have both. Being with Harry would always hold him back, would always make him want to take a step back and consider what was good for them , not for him.

With Harry, there was no Louis , there was only Harry and Louis .

The offer only stood for Louis, though.

He breathed out shakily, lifting his gaze, and in that moment his eyes locked with Harry's. Louis could see he was breathing heavily, eyes wide, looking bewildered. He desperately reached out for Louis, his hand coming up to touch the glass between them.

No, Louis thought. He couldn't stay -- Harry held him down like an anchor dragged a rope to the bottom of the sea. And Louis knew that if he stayed, he would eventually hold it against Harry.

It wasn't fair to either of them.

Harry's face fell, desperation in his eyes, and he lowered his hand. The train started moving and Louis noticed that he was shaking his head. He held Harry's gaze for a moment longer, tried to say it all in one look.

I'm sorry, I can't do this, it's all too much, I need to do this for myself, he wanted to say , but wasn’t sure his eyes could convey it all .

He turned away, breaking their eye contact, Harry’s desperate expression imprinted on his lids when he closed his eyes.

+++

"Pez!"

Harry stormed into the flat, finding the kitchen empty and making a beeline for Perrie's room. He stopped at the doorframe, staring at Perrie standing on a chair across from her bed. She had her hands on one corner of the massive Escapade poster as she glanced at him over her shoulder.

"Oh, hi Harry," she greeted him.

Harry frowned, excitement forgotten. "What are you doing?"

"I think it's about time I took this down," she told him, gently ripping the corner off the wall.

It had been almost two months since the concert, and Perrie had not uttered a single word about the band since then. She didn't listen to their music anymore -- at least not when Harry was around.

"You know you don't have to, right?" Harry asked, watching her carefully peel off the other side.

"Looking at it actually makes me feel a little sick," Perrie confessed. "They're a good band, and the concert was amazing, but..." She trailed off, rolling up the poster in her hands.

When she made to climb from the chair, Harry rushed over to give her a hand.

"You looked so sad, you know?" Perrie shrugged, looking at Harry's face. "You're my friend, Harry, and I don't want to look at the guy who hurt you every day."

Harry smiled weakly. "I'm okay, Perrie."

With a stern look, Perrie held his gaze. "You cried."

"I didn't!" Harry groaned and burrowed his face in his hands, feeling his cheeks flush in embarrassment.

"You did, if only a little." Perrie put the poster aside and grabbed Harry's hands, pulling them down. "And even if you hadn't? I wouldn't want his face on my wall, after everything you told me."

Harry took a deep breath, swallowing the lump in his throat. "I'm over it now." He unrolled the poster on Perrie's bed with one hand until Louis' face came into vision. "It doesn't hurt anymore, you know?"

Perrie nodded. "That's good."

“Seeing his face doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.” Harry thought of the boy he had watched on stage, glowing and happy. It wasn’t the boy Harry had let go all those years ago. That boy was gone, and the one looking at him from the poster and billboards wasn’t anyone but a stranger to him.

"It was probably never love to begin with," he added quietly, letting go and watching the poster roll up again. "He wouldn’t have done that to me, if it had been, right?"

Harry caught the look in Perrie's eyes, and knew she understood because she had come to the same conclusions about herself. Shaking her head, she drew Harry in and hugged him. “I’m going to get a poster of Zayn only. That’s much better anyway.”

Harry laughed and sank into the embrace, letting Perrie hold him for a minute. "Hey," he said then, getting some of her platinum blond hair into his mouth. "I actually came with pretty good news."

She pulled back, grinning. "What is it?"

"I got a gig," Harry told her, watching her face light up even more. "At a BBC event next month. Niall organised it, and Nick put in a good word."

"Wow!" Perrie jumped a little. "That's a first headliner for you, isn't it? Like, no one else on stage that night?"

Harry nodded excitedly. "Just me. And it's some kind of VIP event? There will be celebrities and bigwigs from the music industry."

Perrie threw her arms back around his neck. "I'm so proud of you, Harry!"

Harry swayed them a little. "Thanks, love. Really. This summer is gonna be amazing," he added then. "Niall's got me onto four festivals, as well. I get to play seriously, in front of people and all."

"You will," Perrie laughed. "You wanna see what I bought today?" She turned and opened her handbag, pulling out a CD.

"Fuck, it's already out?" Harry breathed in awe. He held Ed's first record in his hands -- among all the things he had going on recently, he had totally forgotten about the release date.

“And,” Perrie added, pulling out a Heat magazine. Nick’s face was on the cover, so Harry had an idea what he would find in there.

“I bought it because there’s an article about Zayn,” she admitted. “Guess who I discovered in the main story, though?”

Harry snagged the magazine from her hands and opened it, shuffling the pages until he saw a picture of himself walking next to Nick.

“I’m in a gossip rag,” he deadpanned.

Perrie grinned widely. "I think we have a lot to celebrate tonight, don't you?"

+++

Festivals were great.

Harry had spent the last month sorting his life out and preparing for his gigs. He had cut down working hours at the bakery to have more time for writing songs and practising. Nick had dragged him to a few events, always introducing him to the right people.

In that way, Harry had ended up in a good studio with Niall and a friend of Nick’s, recording a proper demo tape to hand out to different labels. Niall had said it wouldn’t be long anymore before they’d get the real deal, that one of the big fish would certainly sign him soon.

Things with Nick developed steadily. Nick invited him along when he was out with friends, but often enough joined Harry when he met up with Niall and Ed at The Anchor’s Rope. He never pushed things, never asked questions and always adjusted to Harry’s pace, which was a nice change.

They had kissed, full-on snogged a few times, but Harry hadn’t slept with Nick yet. Now that Harry was away for almost a month to play three different festivals, he was rather relieved about that fact.

At this point, Harry wasn’t sure he wanted a relationship -- it would complicate things. For the moment, Harry wanted to concentrate on his career.

He could imagine doing this forever; festivals were awesome .

The ones Niall had got him into were only small ones, but still -- better than nothing. People were actually gathering around the stage to see him perform, and Harry felt it tug at his nerves.

He loved the atmosphere and mood of those small festivals, loved sharing a tent with Niall and watching other artists perform. Ed had been at the first one too, and at the end of Harry's gig, he had come on stage for a jam session. Niall had joined them for one song too.

Harry had liked that, had felt entirely secure then.

Now, however, he felt as nervous as never before. Out of the three festivals, this was the biggest one and Harry had made the mistake of glancing at the audience from backstage. There were a lot of people gathered already, waiting for Harry to come on and play.

"Harry," Niall said calmly. "What's different from last time? You just go out there and play your songs. They'll love you."

Harry breathed shallowly, trying to will his racing pulse to calm down. It'd be okay once he was on stage, he knew that. The hard part was forcing himself to take the step and go out.

"I can come with you," Niall offered.

Harry shook his head.

"Fuck, Haz." Groaning, Niall tugged at his arms to make Harry stand up from the floor. "You really need to overcome the stage fright. Can't be a singer like that."

"I know," Harry croaked out, his knees making him feel wobbly on his feet.

"How did he do it?" Niall wanted to know. "He always managed to calm you down."

Harry thought of Louis hands, the ghost feeling of fingertips on his skin, combing his hair. His voice echoed in Harry's head, familiar and soothing. Harry's heart gave a silent flutter at that.

He had changed since then, wasn’t that kid anymore. He wasn’t fucking scared anymore.

"Fuck," Harry breathed out, fisting his hands. "I'm gonna go out," he said then, grabbing his guitar.

He saw Niall's confused face but didn't comment on it before he turned and walked out on stage with rapid strides.

+++

"Remind me again why I had to come here?" Louis asked, watching the crowd of people in front of him.

"Because our PR thought it was time we were seen out again," Liam reminded him.

"And this is a party, but not a party ," Zayn added.

"Don't you wish it were?" Louis sighed, taking a glass of champagne from a waiter passing them with a tray.

"I'd actually rather be in my bed," Liam pointed out. He wore a suit, looking dapper as always. Louis thought he'd never grasp why Liam did that to himself all the time. Suits were so bloody uncomfortable. "With pizza and beer."

"I'd join," Zayn murmured. "Well, since we're here, though, I'll see if the bar has any better drinks to offer."

Liam was dragged into a conversation shortly after and Louis sighed to himself. He let his gaze drift over the crowd again, spotting a number of familiar faces. There were a lot of people among them that he should go over and greet properly, chat up to keep their business relationship steady.

Well, he decided, they could just as well come and talk to him. He took another sip from the overly expensive champagne that was way too dry for Louis' taste. He was afraid he wouldn't get a beer around here.

His gaze settled on a bloke standing not too far from them. He had his back to Louis, but it was a bloody attractive back. Broad shoulders and a slim waist, lean legs in very skinny jeans, and a small bum, just about the right size to fit in the picture. The guy's stance was a bit funny, though. He stood with his feet almost crossed, arms behind his back and fingers laced. His dark hair wasn't exactly curly, more of a wavy mess tied back by a headband, as it seemed.

Louis averted his gaze to the guy next to him, and a sour taste settled on his tongue that he tried to rinse with champagne. The fit bloke was with Nick Grimshaw, which made him ten times less attractive.

Unfortunately, he was still a hundred times more attractive than the rest of the people in the room, and Louis hadn't even seen his face.

"Hey, Lou," Liam said next to him, turning. Louis tore his stare from the guy in tight, black jeans to look at Liam. "The BBC is doing a charity thing in August, the week after we're back from Spain."

Louis tilted his head, looking at the man across from Liam. "How can we help?"

"I sent a request to your management," the man said, shrugging. "They said you were not available for that date."

"Which date exactly?" Louis wanted to know. It wasn't that he didn't trust Liam. But when it came to organising schedules -- he didn't trust Liam. He often enough mixed things up and got dates wrong.

"August twentieth," the man answered, looking hopeful.

"We have a week off after Spain, don't we?" Liam asked, frowning at Louis.

"Yeah, we do." Louis put down the glass, giving up on finishing the dry champagne. "What charity is it?"

"We're raising money to make people aware of the bullying problems most schools in the UK deal with. It's a campaign against bullying in schools."

Louis had no idea why their management would decline the request for Escapade to support that project. "We'd definitely like to help with that," he said. It was a good cause, would improve their image. They would use their influence for something good -- Louis definitely wanted that. "We'll put in a word."

The man beamed, extending a hand to Louis. "Thank you, guys." He grabbed Liam's hand afterwards, shaking it effusively.

"Ah, look," Louis heard a voice behind him then, just as Zayn came back from the bar, joining them. Zayn smiled politely, so Louis turned to face Nick Grimshaw. "My friends from Escapade did show up too."

Louis gave him an unimpressed look, then noticed his company and ---

His heart skipped a beat, two, three. It didn't start beating again.

The curls were gone. Or, well -- a wavy mess, Louis remembered his earlier thoughts. The round cheeks were gone too, replaced by soft cheekbones. Dimples still pressed into those cheeks, the smile a little lopsided, mouth too big for that face and lips pink and full.

Green eyes were still bright, looking friendly and clear. Louis' heart kicked back into motion, beating louder and faster than ever before.

"This is Harry," Nick's voice tuned in again, breaking through the hissing in Louis' ears.

"Hi," Harry said -- and what was that voice? Dark and raspy, so much rougher than it used to be. Sandpaper on velvet, Louis thought, every fibre of his body drawn to the boy in front of him. Harry extended his hand and shook Zayn's, grabbing Louis' just as casually before he moved on to Liam. "Nice to meet you."

He didn't--- Louis stared at him, at Harry . That was Harry right there in front of him. The boy Louis had had his first kiss with, the boy who had literally deflowered Louis, the only person Louis had ever said "I love you" to. And he didn't recognise Louis.

"Harry's going to play tonight," Nick announced. "You guys will be blown away, he's got some wicked tunes."

Harry blushed, lowering his head and shaking it. His bottom lip was glistening, pink and wet from him biting it repeatedly, his lashes throwing long shadows over his cheeks.

Louis couldn't stop staring at him.

"You're talking to the world's most successful band here," Harry reminded Nick, looking up at him. "I don't think they're blown away that easily."

Louis watched Nick's hand come up to rest on Harry's hip and pull him just that tiny bit closer -- Harry went easily.

"He's modest," Nick said with a smirk.

"I'm looking forward to hearing you play," Liam told Harry and Louis didn't have to look at him to know that his smile was kind.

"Thank you," Harry said softly, not acknowledging Louis the tiniest bit. He had to feel Louis staring so hard at his face -- he had to . "It means a lot, coming from you guys." His smile didn't falter a bit. "Your songs are really great."

"You write your own songs?" Zayn wanted to know.

"Singer-songwriter, yes," Harry answered. He crossed his arms behind his back, looking like a kid. Louis wanted to reach out and touch. He had to make sure Harry was real. "Been writing for years."

"Young talent," Liam commented.

"You sound like a grandfather," Zayn told him, laughing and nudging Louis' side to make him join Zayn in teasing Liam.

Louis couldn't move.

"Hey, Haz. You have to get ready to go on stage now."

Louis' heart dropped a second time when he turned his head, forced his eyes to leave Harry's face and look at Niall. He stopped next to Harry, and it took a second -- Louis could see the exact moment recognition dawned on him.

"Shit," Niall said loudly.

"Lou, isn't that---"

Louis turned to Liam with a stern look, making him fall silent immediately. He noticed Harry eyeing him curiously, Nick looking a little perplexed when Niall stepped closer to pat Louis' shoulder.

"Louis," he said, tone as kind and carefree as ever. "Man, it's been a while. Didn't think we'd meet you here."

"Yeah," Louis answered lamely. "It's a small world."

Niall's gaze flickered to Harry several times.

"How have you been, Niall?" Louis asked softly. Both of you, he thought but didn't dare say it.

"Good, mate," Niall answered nervously. "Reckon I don't have to ask you, do I? Made it big time, haven't you?"

Louis darted his eyes back to Harry who watched them calmly. Liam had shuffled a little closer to Louis, so he could feel Liam's warmth by his side. Zayn had fallen very quiet.

"I---" Louis' voice cracked. He had no idea what to answer. There was no way to answer this that wouldn't make him feel like the biggest prick on earth.

Why wasn't Harry looking at him? Why didn't he say something?

"You guys know each other?" Nick asked into the ensuing silence, and Louis had never been so grateful for his nosiness before.

"We went to school together," Niall explained, once again glancing between Harry and Louis. "Anyway, Harry," he said then. "Stage?"

"'Course," Harry answered. He smiled again, his expression so very open and calm. "It was very nice meeting you guys."

"And you," Liam said absently.

Zayn didn't say anything.

Harry averted his gaze to Nick, squeezing his waist briefly, before he followed Niall to the stage.

Louis stared after them, trying not to lose sight of Harry in the crowd. When he eventually did, he wasn't sure his heart was still beating, or his blood still running through his veins. He felt cold all over, numb and frozen in place.

"Hey, Lou," Zayn said gently, jolting his shoulder softly.

Louis blinked, coming out of his stupor to find that Liam and Zayn both stood very close. Nick was gone, and no one else seemed to be paying them attention.

"Are you okay?" Liam asked.

"Fuck," Louis breathed out. His throat felt raw.

"You had no idea he got into music management?" Zayn wanted to know.

Louis shook his head. "No, I didn't know."

"There's no need to freak, Louis," Liam assured him. "He cut his path, didn't he? And if that kid's any good, he'll get pretty far."

"That was still sufficiently awkward," Zayn commented. "But he didn't seem mad. Just as taken aback by the situation as you were."

Harry, Louis thought, the hiss in his head drowning out whatever else they said, because---  Harry, Harry, Harry Harry . He had looked at Louis with a polite smile, had shaken his hand like a stranger. He had talked to Liam and Zayn, had leaned into Nick Grimshaw's touch, all the while smiling as if he didn't know Louis.

There was no way in bloody hell that Harry hadn't recognised him.

"Good evening, dear friends," Nick's voice suddenly ripped into his blind thoughts. Louis looked up to see him on stage, microphone in one hand, champagne glass in the other. "I'm very happy to welcome all of you to our charity party tonight."

He proceeded talking about the event and Louis stared at him, couldn't help but replay how Nick's hand had come to rest on Harry's hip in his mind again and again. It left his stomach in tight knots.

"Anyway, since these little events are always a bit nicer with live music, I would like to introduce you to my friend Harry. He's still very young and came to London only this year." Nick turned to the back of the stage. "He's prepared some nice tunes for you. Give it up for Harry Styles."

The crowd applauded politely while Louis watched Harry walk on stage. Nick rested a hand on his shoulder before he left and Harry adjusted the microphone, gazing over the crowd.

"Good evening. I'm Harry," he said, his voice low. "Thanks for having me. I hope you'll enjoy my songs. The first one is called Song."

Naming his song Song , Louis choked on a dry laugh. That was something only Harry Styles would come up with. What a fucking loser. Louis felt like crying, because he still knew those things -- still knew so much about Harry.

Harry started to play his guitar, and when he sang, the room fell silent, everyone turning to the stage.

"Fuck," Liam hissed next to Louis. "He is good."

To you, not so far in the future,
Where will we cross paths?
It's not that I'm turning my back to you,
I’m waiting here
Just as I am, as the unchanging skies

Louis' breath got caught for a moment, every cell in his body focussed on the boy on stage. His voice was deep and full, carrying so many emotions Louis didn’t know which one to grasp first. They were gentle and calm emotions, leaving a tingling behind in Louis’ chest.

That song wasn't sad, and yet, Louis couldn't find a way to describe its mood. The lyrics were cryptic. The next one wasn’t any less cryptic, telling a story of a brave, young girl getting over a broken heart and finding herself. Louis wasn’t sure, as the lyrics didn’t give away too much. But it didn’t sound like the story of a boy.

"The next one is a song I wrote for a friend," Harry announced then, smiling slightly. "I think we all know the feeling of relying on a friend, knowing they're by our side, no matter what. This one's called Process."

"He wrote those?" Zayn asked between the two songs. "It's fucking poetic."

It was, Louis thought, completely under Harry's spell. He couldn't answer, couldn't even bring himself to tear his eyes from Harry. He looked like he belonged right where he was.

By being hurt, and tripping over your feet
by letting your tears fall freely,
you can grow up
Right beside you, there's someone to dry your tears
you're not alone
From here, let's get going

Those songs were about friendships, and pursuing dreams, growing up and about beauty of life and love. They told stories of a boy who found his way and appreciated every day of his life, lived it to the fullest.

Louis swallowed thickly. There was not a single trace of Louis in Harry's songs.

Not one.

+++

Harry raised his head, staring at his reflection in the mirror, his skin pale, pupils wide. His hair curled over his temples, wet from when he had splashed water into his face a moment ago. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes and blindly groping for some paper tissues. He dried his face and hands, ready to go back.

That had been hard. Nothing in his life had ever been as hard as pretending not to recognise Louis, to hold back the pain and anger and act as if he was just another face Harry got to know through Nick.

Louis had looked at him as if he had seen death, staring wide-eyed and unbelieving.

Yeah, Harry thought bitterly, he had probably never thought he'd meet Harry at an event like this -- much less see Harry on a stage by himself. He had to fucking think again, then. Harry had made it, and he had made it without Louis.

It had been the first time ever in his life that he had gone onto a stage without a single drop of fear in his body. Harry had been so set on proving Louis that his presence didn’t affect him one single bit, that he had completely forgotten about being nervous.

He had just wanted to show how good he had become, how good he was without Louis.

He turned when he heard the door open and something inside him froze as he saw Louis come into the toilet. He had his hands in his pockets and his expression was a lot calmer than before. He looked good in the dark jeans and dress shoes, a white t-shirt beneath his blazer.

He looked like he was straight out of a magazine. It suddenly made Harry feel angry.

"Hi," Louis said quietly.

And how dare he? Harry gritted his teeth, turning to throw away the used paper tissues. How dare Louis greet him like that, out of all greetings he could have chosen?

"What do you want, Louis?" Harry asked, trying to level his tone. He turned back around, arching a brow.

"Just wanna talk to you for a sec," Louis answered. He looked sheepish, withdrawn and insecure.

"I don't think I have much to say to you, actually," Harry pointed out, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"Really?" Louis asked quietly, approaching him. "I think there's a lot to say."

"I can summarise it real quick for you, if you want," Harry offered. He noticed the shock in Louis' eyes, briefly, before he schooled his expression back into that calm look. Good, Harry thought. "You told me you loved me and wanted to be in a band with me. You decided that no, you were not in love and fucked me over for a new, better band. I’ve cut my path without you. End of story."

Louis propped his hip against one of the basins. "You know that's not all there is. You need to know---"

"I don't need to know anything," Harry cut him short. "I think I know all there is to know."

"Harry," Louis said, drawing out the name impatiently. "Listen."

"I don't want to listen to you." Harry looked Louis over from head to toe. "What do you want? I don't even know you."

"I'm still the same---"

"I’m not." The words ripped into Louis', harshly echoing off the tiles. "I am not the same boy, Louis. I am not the boy anymore who couldn't be without you, and who was afraid of a world without you by my side. I stopped being that boy, and I'm rather happy with the way it is now. Without you. I don't miss you."

Louis stared at him for a long moment. "Don't you want an explanation?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "I didn't need it back then and I don't need it now. You decided I wasn't good enough for you, or your career. What's there to explain?" Harry tried to hold back, tried not to say all the things he had wanted to tell Louis since he had left. Each and every one was hurtful, and Harry wanted to be over the pain. He just wanted to forget it all.

Louis nodded briefly, and silence settled between them. Harry could hear water running somewhere behind the walls.

"I'm sorry, Haz," Louis said then, so quiet Harry could barely hear it.

And yet, it was everything Harry could hear, taking over his mind, sending a shiver down his spine. He knew there was no going back in that moment. "You know what?" he asked, almost not recognising his own voice. It had dropped to an ice-cold level.

Louis didn't seem to suspect anything as he watched Harry with hopeful eyes.

"Fuck you," Harry hissed out. "Fuck you and your apology. You don't even have a right to feel sorry, or to feel anything about me at all. You fucked me over in every possible way, and you never once bothered to apologise. You never bothered to think twice about me when you made your choice. You might just as well have gone off to fuck another boy behind my back. It wouldn't have been any different."

Louis gasped, opening his mouth to speak up.

"You would have never? Yeah, think again, Louis." Harry pushed out a dry laugh. "You didn't have a problem getting rid of me like you'd get rid of an annoying pet. You found something better, and that was it. And you did it behind my back -- I don't know what you would call that, other than betrayal."

"It was a chance," Louis protested. "I couldn't refuse it."

Maybe Louis hadn’t lied when he had said he was still the same as three years ago. Harry had thought Louis had moved on on his own terms, but apparently, he still didn’t understand more than he had back then.

As if it was about his fucking career.

"I'm not saying you had to refuse it." Harry shook his head, running a palm over his face. "It's about promises you made to me that you didn't even think about before breaking them. Was there really no other solution in your mind than going behind my back? Did you have that little trust in me?" He didn't even wait for Louis' answer, because Harry knew, he knew the answers to every question he ever had about Louis. "No, you fucking didn't trust me at all. You just screwed me over -- and Niall, both of us -- because we weren't good enough for you."

Louis stared at him, the calm, professional expression from earlier gone. Better, Harry thought. It was getting better.

"If you've listened to any of the songs I---"

"You can shove those up your arse, Louis," Harry told him dryly. "Your songs about fucking snow and bloody regrets and first loves that didn't go right? It's your fault it didn't go right. You are the only one to blame for that. I don't wanna hear them." Snorting deprecatingly, Harry shot Louis a cold look, saw him shrinking even further under Harry's gaze. "What a fucking hypocrite you are. You decided to leave, and you decided that you didn't love me. Stop whining about it. It's pathetic."

All colour drained from Louis' face, and Harry knew he should stop. He couldn't, though, couldn't stop the words from coming out.

"You're not writing those songs for me," Harry pointed out. "You write them for yourself, because you pity yourself. You know what? Fuck you for that too. You have absolutely no reason to pity yourself. You made that decision for yourself, because you thought you couldn't have both. Well, Louis, you made your choice, so get over it."

Louis lowered his gaze, apparently shocked into complete silence. His lashes threw long shadows over his face, and for a moment Harry felt the urge to pull him into his arms. He looked so small, so vulnerable, and lost.

Not your boy, Harry reminded himself, fisting his hands. He didn't know the boy standing in front of him.

Harry had to end this, hand to make a clean cut to set both of them free from that past. He never wanted to be reminded of the pain again. He wanted to finally store it away in a corner of his heart and never have to open that part again.

"I got it removed," he said into the quiet of the room.

Louis looked up, confusion in his eyes.

Harry tapped his left biceps with one finger. "The tattoo. I got it removed."

Louis' mouth fell open and he gaped at Harry. His hand automatically came up to curl his fingers over his own arm, where Harry knew the Oops! was hidden under the sleeve of his blazer.

It was a lie, but seeing the hurt look in Louis' eyes gave Harry an odd feeling of satisfaction.

"You cut me from your life so easily, Louis," Harry murmured. "I've completely cut you from mine."

Louis looked like he was going to say something, but instead he lowered his head again, fingers digging into the sleeve.

"I'm saying this once, so you better listen." Taking a deep breath, Harry straightened. "I don't need you. I came all this way without you, and I'll go farther. Don't you fucking dare interfere in any way. I don't want to hear from you or see you ever again."

Louis' mouth formed a thin line, Harry could see him clench his jaw, but he still nodded tightly.

Without another word or glance at him, Harry walked past Louis, leaving him behind.

+++

"Louis?"

He raised his head, turning from staring at the toilet stall wall to the door. He heard steps approaching, a light knock on the door.

"Are you in there?"

Closing his eyes, Louis ignored the voice. He couldn't even place it -- one of the security people, but which one?

"Louis?" The man asked again. "Are you okay?"

What a question. Nothing was okay. Louis had gone through the worst scene of his entire life, had got his heart ripped out of his chest and trampled on it until every fibre of it had been left aching. Harry had thrown everything Louis had ever regretted in his life at him, had ripped open every wound of the past, reminding him what scum he really was. He had been pushed over without mercy.  

No, of course he was not okay.

Louis buried his face in his hands, groaning. This had gone completely differently from how he had expected it would go.

Harry had driven the message home by pretending not to recognise Louis -- he had understood that Harry was over it, that Harry had moved on. Louis had too. Or so he had thought. Seeing Harry on stage, singing songs about a life that didn't involve Louis, owning the stage all by himself -- Louis had grasped it then.

Harry was doing well, Harry had made it on his own. Without Louis.

He had thought that it meant they could face each other, bury that past and move on. He had been so sure about it, the feeling of finally getting to put that guilty conscience to peace, making him calm and confident.

Instead, Harry had ripped every wound open and had dragged out every one of Louis' fears and regrets. He had made sure it would sting, that it would leave Louis hurting as much as Harry had hurt. Louis bit his lip, trying to hold in the tears.

He wouldn't fucking cry.

"Louis?" The guy asked again, and reminded Louis that he wasn't alone. "What's going on? Are you in pain?"

Fucking pain, indeed, Louis thought. It was so painful he couldn't even move. His head was throbbing, and his stomach was in knots, making him feel sick. His lungs were hurting, his breathing laboured, and his heart felt clenched, every beat painful.

Harry had been right. Every word he had said had been true -- and Louis had known it from the day he had left, had always known it, but had never had the balls to admit it to himself.

He was the fucking worst, and he had screwed up, fucked up the one thing he had been certain of in life. Instead of properly cherishing their relationship, he had kicked it, hadn't even realised how special they had been.

I don't miss you .

Louis stared at the tiled floor, feeling completely drained. Harry didn't miss a single thing about them, didn't think back to those days and miss how they had fit together, or how they had whispered in the dark, what they had experienced and what they had told only each other.

Harry didn't miss a thing about that past, probably looked back at everything with a bitter feeling inside his chest. Why wouldn't he? Louis had fucked it up, had robbed it of every meaning for Harry.

The knocking on the door got louder and louder, someone repeating his name over and over. Louis stared blankly ahead, at the door pounding. He blinked slowly, flexing his fingers against his thighs before he got up and opened it.

"Louis, what the fuck?"

He stared at the man in front of him. Daniel, Louis thought, placing the face. Right, the name was Daniel, and he had joined their security team just a few weeks ago. Poor sod -- he was the newbie and had to do the job on a Saturday night. Certainly, he'd rather be home with his wife and son. Daniel's son had turned three this year, Louis remembered.

"Louis?" Daniel asked. "Are you okay?"

"No," Louis said blankly.

"I'll get you home, then," Daniel offered without further questions, leading him to the door. "Try not to show it, yeah? Act normal."

Normal, Louis thought, following Daniel on numb feet. He didn't even see where he was going, gaze fixed on the floor. Nothing was normal anymore -- how was he supposed to go back to his normal life?

Somehow, he had always believed that if he ever met Harry again, things would magically work out. In a corner of his mind he had always known it wouldn't, but he had reassured himself that he could make it up to Harry if he just got the chance.

He couldn't.

Louis raised his head when he suddenly found himself outside. A car pulled up in front of him and Daniel opened the door for him. They were in a small street, the ground wet, the air chilly. Louis slid into the car, curling up on the back seat.

He would have to live like this forever -- He wouldn't get to talk himself out of this one. Harry had laid it out for him, every single bit, every nuance of how Louis had ruined what they had shared.

Harry hated him -- no, he despised him, which was so much worse than hate could ever be. Harry wouldn't ever forgive him, or give him another chance to make up for what Louis had done to him.

He stroked his thumb over his tattoo, thinking of the look on Harry’s face when he had said he had got his removed. Although he hadn't met Harry in three years, had only had him in dreams and memories, Louis had always felt connected to him by that tattoo. Knowing that connection was gone felt like losing Harry all over again.

Only, this time around, it cut much deeper than the first time.