Harry turned his head at the sound of a light knock on his door, throwing the last shirt into his suitcase. He rose from the crouching position he had been in for the past fifteen minutes, trying to repack his things so everything would fit in.
"Finished packing?" Perrie asked, leaning against the doorframe.
"Think so," Harry answered. "It's strange having to pack for a whole month."
"And for, like, three different climate zones?"
Harry nodded and rocked back on his heels. "I'll send a postcard from every place."
"And bring souvenirs," Perrie reminded him. "I want something really cool from China."
"Hong Kong's not China, love," Harry corrected her.
Perrie rolled her eyes. "It's the same culture."
The ringing of the doorbell made both of them jump slightly, and Perrie frowned.
"Are you expecting anyone?" she asked.
Harry shook his head. "No. I wanted to go to bed early."
Perrie pressed the button to open the door downstairs. "Who could it be then?"
A minute later, Nick showed up at their door, slightly out of breath from climbing the stairs, apparently. He remained standing outside, gaze settling on Harry's face.
"Sorry for coming by unannounced," he said, shrugging.
"No," Harry immediately responded, shaking his head. "That's alright."
"Come in," Perrie offered and stepped aside, turning to Harry. "I'll be in my room, if you need me."
Nodding, Harry watched her go back into her own room. Nick took off his shoes and buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans, giving Harry a long stare. It made Harry feel uncomfortable.
"Um," he said, pointing behind himself in the direction of the kitchen table. "Tea?"
"Yes, thank you." Nick followed and sat down, still weirdly quiet.
Nervously, Harry started to prepare tea. He had no idea what this was about? Was this Nick coming to set the record straight between them before Harry went out of reach for a whole month? If it was, Harry had no idea how to react.
He had liked how things had played out between them recently. They had met up for dates a few times, had gone out with friends. Some nights, they had ended up kissing, sometimes full-on snogging. They had never talked about it, though. It had felt easy and uncomplicated to Harry -- they just kept each other company, enjoyed a good time together, a lovely friendship, no strings attached. Most importantly, no expectations.
Harry set a mug in front of Nick and took the seat across from him. He curled his fingers around his own mug, waiting for what Nick had to say.
Staring into his mug, Nick bit his lip, exhaling on a shaky breath. "I kissed Nicco."
Harry blinked, not quite sure how to react. "Um..."
Nick looked up, face scrunched up in distress. "I don't know what we are, Harry, or if we even are-- something. I don't know. But if we are, I'm not--" He fell silent, shaking his head. "I'm not two-timing or anything."
Leaning back in his chair, Harry breathed out slowly. "That's good."
Nick frowned, looking utterly lost.
"I mean," Harry added quickly. "You and Nicco. You always liked him, didn't you?"
Nick shrugged, lowering his gaze to the table. "I thought he never really looked at me like that."
Harry hummed, unsure how to answer. "So you tried to find someone else."
"Maybe," Nick said. "But I never meant to go behind your back. I just-- we never... you never let me--" He shrugged again, blushing.
"It's okay, you know?" Harry tilted his chest forwards, crossing his arms on the table. "It's not like we are anything exclusive. We're friends, aren't we?"
Nick nodded quickly. "But, like," he started, trailing off again.
"We kissed," Harry ended the sentence for him. "Snogged a few times."
"I just want to make sure it's not more than I thought it was," Nick admitted. "I want us to be on the same page about this."
Harry smiled slightly, reaching out to touch Nick's hand briefly; just a gentle caress of his knuckles against the back of Nick's hand.
"I have a few commitment issues," he said easily, trying to keep his tone light. "You may have noticed."
Nick's laugh was hollow. "I noticed."
"If you've been waiting for Nicco to come around, I'm definitely not gonna stand in your way, now that he has," Harry clarified.
Nick didn't seem happy with that. "That makes it look like I was only keeping you around, dropping you until I got a better offer."
No, Harry thought, it didn't. He knew what that felt like, and this didn't.
"Nick," he said calmly. "We've never talked about this. I never expected anything of you."
"But there was clearly something going on," Nick said. "And I want you to know that nothing happened while we were-- sort of-- you know."
Harry smiled. "Look, you can't even name what it was. It's okay." To gather his thoughts, Harry sipped his tea that was still too hot. "I'm glad that you came to talk to me, though."
Nick shrugged helplessly.
"We still can be friends, right?"
"Of course," Nick answered promptly. "I was hoping we could be."
Harry grinned, nodding. "So," he added then, grin turning into a smirk. "What happened with Nicco? How did you make him change his mind?"
Nick laughed a little, cheeks turning pink in embarrassment. "I have no idea. He showed up yesterday night, and he said all these... things."
"Yeah," Nick answered. "Good things. And he kissed me before he left."
Harry drummed his fingers against his mug. "That's good, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Nick answered. "I hope so. I really want things with him to work out. He's been it from the moment I met him."
Harry smiled. "Yeah, I know that feeling."
Nick lifted a brow. "Do you? If I have to be honest, you seem rather scared of the whole concept of falling in love."
"Maybe a little." Harry sipped his tea again, the hot liquid burning down his throat.
"Well, I hope that whoever broke your heart burns in hell for it," Nick stated dryly. "You're too sweet to suffer from heartbreak for the rest of your life."
Harry glanced up, finding Nick's expression serious, no trace of joking in his eyes. "I'm as good as over it."
Nick reached out to flick Harry's forehead. "Far from it, popstar."
"Shut up," Harry shot back with a laugh.
For a while, they sat in silence, both drinking their tea, occasionally looking at each other and exchanging small smiles.
"You've got everything packed?" Nick asked then.
Harry nodded. "Ready to leave in the morning."
"Time goes by quick," Nick mused. "Feels like yesterday that I saw you in that pub. Now you're off to tour with Escapade."
"You know them well?" Harry asked.
Nick shrugged. "I did some promo stuff with them. Interviews and such. They're okay."
"Well." Nick drew out the word. "Liam is a nice bloke, quite chatty and easy to get along with. I have no idea what to make of Zayn. He's nice, but he doesn't engage with people, as it seems. He never plays along, really."
Harry hummed, heart beating a little faster. "What about Louis?"
"Dunno," Nick said, frowning. "You've surely met them by now? Don't you think he's a bit of a prick?"
Snorting, Harry set down his mug. "I haven't met them since the offer came in a few months ago, actually."
"So you have no idea who you'll be spending the next month with?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really, no."
"In that case," Nick warned him, "stay clear of Louis. That boy is trouble."
Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
Nick pursed his lips. "Definitely a case of closeted celebrity, if you ask me. And he's not dealing well with it."
A rush went through Harry's body, and he couldn't stop the shiver. That was something he hadn't thought of yet -- Louis was still not out, still lying about who he really was. "How would that be my problem?"
"It doesn't have to be," Nick said. "Unless you end up shagging him."
Trying to will his hands to stop shaking, Harry lifted his mug again, drinking calmly. "I think we've just established that I don't sleep with people randomly."
"Decent people," Nick noted. "You're looking for decent people."
"Don't know why I didn't cut it," Nick added, mock-offended.
"You're far from decent," Harry giggled.
Nick gasped, clutching his chest. "That's it, I'm out of here."
When Nick got up, Harry followed, carrying the empty mugs to the sink. Nick put on his boots again before he shrugged on his coat.
"Take care, popstar. Text me sometimes, yeah?"
Harry nodded. "If I find the time."
Nick nudged Harry's shoulder playfully before he pulled him into a tight hug. Harry returned it immediately, hands coming around Nick's waist, his cheek resting on Nick's shoulder.
"See you in December."
Harry nodded, waving him off when Nick went to the top of the stairs.
He stood for a moment longer, listening to the quiet sound of steps on the stairs, echoing off the walls.
"Everything okay?" Perrie asked when she came out of her room later.
Harry turned off the tab, grabbing a towel to dry off the mugs. "Hm," he hummed. "Looks like I just got dumped."
Perrie gasped. "What?"
"It's okay," Harry reassured her immediately, smiling in her direction. "He let me down easy, and I'm actually glad we talked about this before the tour."
"I always thought Nick was pretty into you," Perrie mused, opening a cupboard to store the mugs away.
"I think we were both a undecided about this," Harry explained. "I didn't know where I wanted it to go."
"You're not sad?"
Harry shrugged. "It's a strange feeling, really. It doesn't hurt, or anything. He handled it quite well."
Perrie smirked. "Did he, now?"
"I mean," Harry added, ignoring her expression. "He was honest about it, and he didn't want me to get the wrong idea. I don't think I ever had anyone treat me like that?"
Perrie bit her lip, grin dying down. "Was there even anyone who had the chance to treat you in any way? I mean after---"
"No," Harry said softly. "I never let anyone close enough. If Nick had wanted, though, he would have been able to break my heart, but he didn't."
Perrie hummed, standing still for a moment. Then she dove in, enveloping Harry in a hug. "It'll be lonely without you."
Harry laughed a little, shaking his head. "You'll be busy all the time. Don't bring different boys back every night."
Perrie pinched his arm. "As if."
Inhaling her scent, Harry closed his eyes. "Can I sleep in your room tonight?"
"Now look who's gonna be homesick within a week," Perrie teased him. "You won't survive without me for five days."
"It's probably true," Harry agreed quietly.
"Go, grab your duvet," Perrie said after a minute spent in comfortable silence, Harry gently swaying them. "I'm not gonna share mine with you."
Harry grinned, pressing a kiss to her cheek before he dashed off to his room.
Jakarta was hot.
Louis ran the back of his hand over his forehead, his fringe already greasy from sweat. Louise, their stylist, came over every two minutes to fix their make-up and hair, cursing under her breath. An outside photo shoot had probably been a bad idea.
Louis just wanted to go back into the building where they had got ready for the shoot earlier, the rooms all cooled by air conditioning. It wasn't that he didn't like the hot temperatures -- he had always preferred summer over winter -- but this wasn't like summer in Britain. The air was humid, thick in his lungs and heavy on his skin.
"Okay, guys, that's it!" someone yelled, and Louis took the time to thank the crew and shake the photographer’s hand before he dashed inside, stripping off his damp t-shirt.
"Get changed," Marco instructed. "We'll take you back to the hotel in fifteen minutes."
Liam hopped on one leg, trying to shimmy out of his jeans. "I need about 5 hours in that pool."
Zayn laughed. "You'll be bored out of your mind within one, mate."
"I don't care." Liam shrugged. "I'd rather be bored than this ."
"You're off tonight," Marco informed them. "So if you'd like to do that, you're free to."
Louis shrugged on a new t-shirt, certain it would be damp again by the time they arrived at the hotel. "Did you reserve a table for dinner?"
Marco nodded. "Yes. Five people, seven-thirty."
"Five?" Zayn asked.
"Your support artist and his manager arrived earlier today," Marco explained. "When I asked them if they was going out for dinner or wanted to stay in, they said they'd eat at the hotel. I figured you could just as well have dinner together."
Louis turned away, trying to hide his expression from Liam and Zayn. They would see the discomfort, would know how much it upset Louis.
It had been almost three months for Louis to get used to the idea of Harry joining them on tour, and yet that thought hadn't quite sunk in. He was going to see Harry every single day, and he would have to talk to him, actually interact with him -- Louis had no idea how.
"I can tell the restaurant to set up two tables?" Marco offered, since he had to notice the tension.
"No," Louis answered immediately. "It's fine. Perfect."
"Okay, get ready, the car is here." Marco left the room.
"Louis, you could have let Marco cancel that reservation," Liam said, putting a hand to Louis' elbow.
"I don't want him to think I'm avoiding him," Louis clarified.
Zayn nodded, approaching the door. "You can't avoid him, anyway. Cancelling the reservation would just have postponed it. So, better jump in there now and see how it turns out."
"Bad," Louis answered. "It will obviously turn out bad."
Liam's hand fell away when Louis made to leave the room.
"Just remember we'll be there too," Zayn reminded him when they went back outside.
When Louis came to the restaurant for dinner, he found the table still empty. A waitress had led him to a table by the huge window overlooking the city. It was already dark outside, the city lights bright and colourful against the night.
Liam was first to join him, sitting down across from Louis. "I just heard soundcheck starts at nine tomorrow morning."
"Too early," Louis complained.
"Means we'll have to get up at seven," Liam calculated. "Considering the jetlag will kick in soon, I'd better go to bed early tonight."
Louis was about to answer when he spotted Niall and Harry come into the room together. Niall was wearing shorts and a faded t-shirt, talking to the waitress. Harry was standing behind him in his tight black jeans and a button-up that wasn't buttoned up much. It was gaping over Harry's chest, revealing pale skin and several necklaces.
Harry’s eyes immediately set on Louis and his jaw clenched, features turning from relaxed to tense.
When they both came over, Louis averted his gaze, trying to look unfazed.
"Didn't know we were going to share a table," Niall commented when he took the seat next to Liam.
Louis noticed Harry shooting Niall an appalled look before he sat down next to Louis. The chairs were so close, Louis could feel the warmth radiating off Harry. He smelt different from how Louis remembered him -- the slightly sweet, musky scent of the cologne Harry had used to spray onto his wrists and neck replaced by something much darker and heavier.
Louis' eyes darted to Harry's wrist, memories taking him back to all the times he had chased the scent there, lips pressing down onto Harry's pulse point.
"Is it a problem?" Liam asked innocently.
Niall shrugged, pointing at Harry and Louis across from them. "We know that it's not as much a problem for me as it probably is for these two."
"Don't throw food at each other," Liam warned, giving Louis a stern look.
"Why would I throw food at anyone?" Louis asked, frowning. "That's just stupid."
"You were always first to start a food fight," Niall commented.
Louis glanced at Harry and found him completely engrossed in reading the menu, apparently not even paying attention to them.
Zayn saved him from having to answer when he showed up at that moment, sitting down on Louis' other side at the head of the table.
"Sorry I'm late," he apologised, looking from Niall to Harry.
"Nothing new there," Louis commented.
"This is a nice opportunity to get to know each other a little, isn't it?" Liam asked, glancing around the table. "I mean, we'll be spending the next month together after all."
"I don't think it will be so hard to avoid each other, despite staying at the same hotels." Harry didn't even lift his head when he spoke.
Louis laced his fingers, looking at them closely and felt Zayn lean forwards next to him.
"Harry, right?" he asked.
Harry glanced up then, attention focussing on Zayn. He nodded briefly.
"I don't think I've talked to you much? Once, maybe?" Zayn's voice was calm. "I don't see why I would want to avoid you, or what I've done to have you avoid me."
Harry blushed, looking back at his menu.
"I get that you're maybe not comfortable around Louis, and I think every one of us here can respect that, but it wouldn't be fair extending that anger towards Liam and me," Zayn explained, knee bumping against Louis' under the table. His voice dropped a little when he added, "that's quite a dick move, really."
Biting his lip, Harry blushed. He sat up straight in his seat, stumbling over his own words. "That's not what I meant-- or thought."
Louis watched him, feeling his heart beat a little out of control. Harry still looked so young, still reacted exactly how he would have reacted three years ago. He looked flustered, a little guilty, and he was never too proud to admit a mistake and apologise. He would apologise.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, as if on cue.
"No harm done," Zayn replied easily. "Let's just try to make this not awkward, yeah?"
Nodding, Harry sat back in his chair, fidgeting with a page of the menu.
Zayn bumped their knees together again, and Louis turned his face, catching the small smile on Zayn's face. He had Louis' back; he wouldn't just sit by and watch Harry tearing Louis apart again. That message was clear.
Louis desperately wanted to hug him.
The waitress came to their table, asking for their orders and the tension eased off for a couple of minutes. They were all quiet when she left again, and Louis saw Liam opening his mouth a few times, always holding in the words, though. Eventually, he seemed to make up his mind.
"Louis said you'd been doing music yourself, Niall," Liam pointed out. "Why the change of mind?"
Shrugging, Niall sipped from his water. "It's just for fun, you know? I play my guitar and sing a bit, but I don't really write songs or want to perform on stage. I just like music."
"So you decided to work behind the scenes," Zayn noted.
"I think you know how much bullshit happens in this business," Niall said. "Judging from your success, you would have seen quite a bit already."
Liam and Zayn didn't react other than looking at Niall, so Louis took it upon himself to answer. "We've witnessed some of the bullshit, yes."
"That's what’s wrong with this business. It should be about the music, and nothing else." Niall glanced at Harry. "And I wanna prove that it's possible. An artist that sells just as well, without giving in to the media shenanigans."
"That'll be hard," Liam commented.
"If you have an artist who's genuinely talented, it's not," Niall argued. "And I just happen to have a genuinely talented artist."
Liam looked a little lost, Zayn doubtful and Louis didn't dare turn his face to Harry. He was very still next to Louis.
"You do," Louis agreed after a moment. "And I'm pretty sure you'll make it."
Niall smiled, no trace of relief on his face. He was pretty certain of what he was doing, sure of where he was headed. Louis admired him for his confidence.
"We don't really need your reassurance," Harry pointed out then, voice low. "So keep it."
"Wasn't meant as reassurance," Louis said, swallowing thickly under Harry's cold gaze. "Just my honest opinion."
Harry's laugh was hollow when he raised a brow. "Guess we should value the opinion of someone who's made it big, shouldn't we?"
Louis felt himself shrinking in his chair, feeling small under Harry's gaze. He didn't ever lose an argument, always had a witty comeback. Louis didn't show weakness in front of anyone, always had a way to find the right words to look in full control of every situation. Not with Harry, though; he couldn't fight back against Harry.
"I'm sure that's not how Louis meant it, Harry," Liam interfered.
Harry kept staring at Louis for a moment longer, then he turned away again. "Yeah, sure."
Bad, Louis thought, closing his eyes for second. He had thought this would go bad. It was heading towards miserable so far, completely spiralling out of control.
He really wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming month.
If Louis had hoped for things to cool down a little overnight, that hope died completely when they watched Harry's soundcheck the next morning. He was bouncy on stage, goofing around with the technicians and singing with all his energy.
His voice was the first thing Louis had heard when entering the arena.
Harry had been on stage already, having arrived much earlier than Louis, Liam and Zayn. Niall had been busy with the soundcheck people, making sure they'd set everything up for Harry's voice to fill the hall in the best way possible.
He was singing a slow song, not exactly a ballad, and Louis identified it as a lullaby after listening for a few minutes.
"See, it's time to sleep," Harry ended the song on a low note, looking at Niall.
Niall gave him a thumbs-up before he shouted through the arena. "We'll check your guitar now."
Someone came on stage to hand it to Harry. He smiled politely, sitting down on the stool that stood behind him and adjusting the guitar on one knee.
"Just play a few chords," Niall instructed.
Harry started playing, looking completely relaxed and content with himself. The volume of his guitar changed a bit, sounding hollow in the arena for a moment before it echoed off the walls, filling up the space.
They kept going like that, a procedure Louis had gone through a million times and got bored of just thinking about having to endure later. Harry looked all excited about it, cheeks flushed and eyes bright.
After a while, he started singing again and Niall nodded at Harry to signal him to keep going while they fiddled with the sound. Louis shifted his weight from one foot to the other, noticing that he was suddenly standing all by himself.
Just when Louis had detached his eyes from Harry for a moment to check for Zayn and Liam, he heard Harry's voice falter a little, a hitched intake of breath, and the melody fading out.
Louis turned back, seeing Harry stare at him, the delight completely gone from his face. It was unbearable, the knowledge that Louis could rob Harry of all his happiness, that the only effect he had on Harry was to make him look bitter, sombre and uncomfortable.
Like so many times before, it made Louis feel helpless and cold because he had no idea how to change it.
"Harry, just keep playing," Niall instructed. He turned to Louis and gave him a look that clearly said leave .
Louis glanced back at Harry, finding him idly strumming his guitar, humming into the microphone and looking at Louis over and over again. It was as if he put up a guard, built a wall around himself to make Louis see as little as possible of him.
Ducking his head, Louis buried his hands in his pockets and turned to go to the backstage area outside of the main hall where Harry was playing.
Harry woke up the next morning with an actual hangover, messed up sheets tangled around his body and a hollow feeling inside his chest.
After the gig, Niall had taken him straight to the hotel bar. Harry had wanted to go out, but Niall had insisted a few drinks at the bar were good enough. They'd celebrate properly when the tour was over.
"Maybe for the last gig you will also manage to walk on stage without having a mental breakdown beforehand," Niall had mused, swirling the bourbon coloured liquid in his glass.
After that, Harry had bought a bottle of vodka to take back to his room, and had made Niall do shots with him.
That was all he could remember. The bottle stood across from him on the table, empty and reeking of alcohol. Rolling out of bed, Harry groaned and walked over to the window to let in fresh air and clear some of the stench.
Niall wasn't there, so Harry assumed he had gone back to his own room sometime during the night or earlier this morning. Or noon, Harry noticed when he looked at his mobile and found that it was already two in the afternoon.
It didn't matter much; he was off for the day. Escapade was doing some promotional work, recording with TV and radio stations before they took off to Malaysia to spend another two days promoting there. That gave Harry time to prepare for the gigs and do some sightseeing with Niall.
Playing in front of an audience that big was something Harry had to get used to. It had been terrifying the day before when he had finally been able to bring himself to walk on stage. There had been mainly girls, looking a bit curious from what Harry had been able to see in the short moment before the lights had blinded him completely.
From then on, it had been only him and his guitar. He remembered talking in between songs, telling stories, laughter from the audience.
Niall had said it had gone well, that they had loved him. Harry wasn't so sure about that, but he was satisfied that he hadn't bored them for the time he had been on stage.
When he had come off the stage, Niall had been there, wrapping him up in a hug, yelling into his ear. Over his shoulder, Harry had caught Liam, Zayn and Louis looking at them. Louis had averted his gaze immediately, looking terribly uncomfortable, Zayn had given him a small smile and Liam had winked, giving a thumbs-up.
Frowning at the memory, Harry rolled over the crisp-white sheets, feeling hot, even though he was completely naked. Louis was behaving-- well, odd. Harry had never known him to be quiet and tense, to avoid an argument or fight.
There had never been a time when Louis had been present in Harry's life that he hadn't been his Louis. It wasn’t just that the Louis Harry got to observe here was not his Louis anymore, though.
He was a completely different person.
Harry rolled out of bed, sighing slightly and rubbing his forehead. He needed some painkillers and some water, and most definitely a shower. Rummaging through his suitcase he found the first aid kit Perrie had packed for him. It had been her farewell gift, as she had called it.
She had made the bag herself. The fabric she had picked was sky blue, patterned with dark green hearts. She had sewn a pink cross at the front and had filled the bag with what she had reckoned were the most important medicine. Mostly painkillers and stuff against mosquito bites.
Harry swallowed a pill and downed half of a water bottle afterwards, then he took a long, cold shower. By the time he was finally dressed and looking presentable, it was almost four.
He took the lift down to the lobby, deciding he would use the time before dinner to buy souvenirs and postcards. He had promised Perrie a postcard from every place, after all.
When the lift doors slid open, he spotted Louis, Liam and Zayn just walking into the lobby, all three of them laughing. Harry stayed by the lifts round a corner, watching them fall onto the sofa by reception. They couldn't see him from there.
"I can't believe she gave you her number," Liam was just saying, fanning his face with one hand.
"She probably thinks you guys can meet up for a slumber party and braid each other's hair and paint your nails." Zayn smirked.
Louis lifted a brow. "Obviously she would like a slumber party, yes. Not so sure about the braiding and nail polish, though."
"Come on, Louis, she must have noticed," Liam argued. "Those media people always notice."
"Do they notice before or after they ask me about girls?" Louis wanted to know, smirking cockily.
"They notice the moment you walk into the room, just like every person with a functioning brain." Liam made a strange gesture with his hand. "That wrist thing is not the manliest thing to do, you know?"
"We're in Indonesia, mate," Louis pointed out. "Maybe I come across as the extremely manly one here, while you guys are just ordinary."
Zayn snorted. "Have you seen me?"
Barking out a laugh, Louis pinched Zayn’s side and they started to wrestle each other, which led to them falling off the sofa. Liam watched, expression unimpressed.
"Guys, would you please pull yourselves together?" Their assistant rolled his eyes. Harry couldn't remember his name, but he was literally always around.
Louis poked out his tongue as soon as the guy turned back to reception and Liam started to snicker, mimicking him scolding them.
"We can go upstairs now, they cleared a conference room for us to meet some local business partners," their assistant informed them. "You have an hour to rest and change."
Harry's stomach dropped when he realised they were headed for the lifts. He quickly turned and pressed the button for the lift, the doors sliding open just in time to make it look like he had just come down.
"Oh. Hi Harry," Liam greeted him.
"Um, hi," Harry said back, forcing a smile.
Louis suddenly seemed very interested in the tiles on the floor, shifting to stand closer to Zayn, who watched Harry with wary eyes.
"Going out?" Liam asked.
"Yeah," Harry answered. "Thought I'd buy some souvenirs."
Liam smiled, and it actually looked genuine. Harry hadn't figured him out yet. Zayn was easier, because Zayn clearly was on Louis' side, and while Harry was sure that Liam was on Louis' side just as much, he also seemed keen on getting along with Harry and Niall.
"Have fun, then," Liam said kindly. "See you later, I guess."
Harry glanced at Louis again and noticed every trace of the playful, giggly boy he had observed just minutes ago gone.
"See you." He stepped aside to make room for them to pass.
Their assistant had held the lift for them and Harry watched them get inside, Liam's hand brushing over the small of Louis' back, Zayn's shoulder touching Louis'. It looked completely casual, nothing out of line. Except for the fact that the Louis Harry had known had never accepted gestures of comfort from anyone, not in public.
Not even from Harry.
The doors closed and Harry kept looking at them, the hollow feeling in his chest from earlier this morning settling back in his chest.
It was pounding and gradually growing, eating him up from inside.
"Haz!" Niall greeted him as he opened his door. "Thought you wanted to go shopping?"
Harry gave him a long look before he dashed past Niall into the room. He crossed his arms and turned back to Niall.
"Well," Niall said, looking a little confused as he closed the door. "I guess shopping's off the list. It's good you came by, actually. You wouldn't believe, there are seven videos up on Youtube from last night, and one of them has almost five-hundred likes already. More than a thousand clicks already!"
Harry felt excitement in his veins, wanted to sit down with him and watch the videos, see what people commented, watch the number of clicks raise steadily.
That wasn't what he had come here for, though.
"The day we got the request from them," he started instead, carefully watching Niall's face. "That day you told me to put my personal issues aside and do what's best for my career, right?"
"And look who was right," Niall commented, grinning, apparently not yet catching up on what Harry was getting at. "People loved it, Harry. This gives you the best exposure."
"You see, Niall," Harry said calmly, ignoring what Niall told him. "I have a problem here."
Niall frowned, looking a little shocked. "A problem? Mate, this is---"
"I didn't want to accept the offer, but I did because Louis was an absolute arse about it," Harry just went on, cutting Niall's words short. "He acted so arrogant about it, implying I was a coward for rejecting it."
Now, Niall seemed to grasp what this was about, his shoulders slouching a little, his expression turning guilty. It was answer enough for Harry.
"And now that I'm here, the same bloody arrogant arse who made me accept the offer can't even look me in the eye, and each time I so much as turn to him, he looks like a kicked puppy. He can't even talk to me."
Niall shrugged helplessly.
"Niall," Harry said keenly. "What the fuck did you do?"
Sighing, Niall turned, running a hand through his hair. "I knew that I couldn't convince you to do this on my own. But he could because he's the only one who could get to you like that."
Harry clenched his jaw, trying to hold back an outburst of anger that would make him say and do things he would regret afterwards. "What happened to you being my manager and friend? To you respecting my decisions and not going behind my bloody back?"
Niall flinched, turning back to Harry. "I couldn't let you refuse this, Harry. It's too much of a chance to get you recognised. An offer like this is something you just can't reject ."
"And you couldn't just tell me as much? Instead you plotted with Louis -- fucking Louis Tomlinson of all people -- behind my back?"
"I did tell you," Niall argued. "I said that you should accept it despite the thing with Louis."
"But you always said it was my decision ultimately," Harry pointed out. "When actually, you planned all along to ignore my decision and just do what you thought would be best for me."
"And isn't it?" Niall shot back. "Fuck, Harry, I'm sorry, okay? But this is the best fucking thing that could have happened to your career, and you know it."
Harry shook his head, every fibre of his body vibrating with anger. He would go mad if he stayed here. He felt like he knew next to nothing -- because everyone seemed to lie to him.
"Maybe you can pull your head out of your arse," he hissed, making for the door, "and start thinking of me as your friend before you make decisions for me like I was just your fucking client."
Storming off, Harry crossed the corridor, pressing the button for the lift. It arrived within seconds, and Harry felt his anger increase even more when he got off on the next floor. Without hesitating for a single second, he pounded his fist against the door to Louis's room.
"You said we had an hour, so what the hell---" The words died on Louis' lips when he saw Harry, his eyes going wide.
He had been sleeping. Harry could tell from the way his eyes were glassy, his skin looking warm and soft, his hair matted to his temple at one side. For a moment, Harry felt something else beneath his anger, something gentle and smooth, like affection or endearment.
Those weren't emotions he had reserved for Louis anymore, though.
"I'm sick of it, Louis," Harry growled, pushing past him as he had done with Niall earlier. "I'm so sick of you."
Frowning, Louis slowly closed the door, keeping his eyes trained on Harry. "Nothing new there, I guess."
"Aren't you funny?" Harry tried to calm down, desperation mixing into his anger. "I don't think you get to joke about this."
For a moment, Louis was quiet. When he spoke, he was closer than before, just a few feet away from Harry. "I guess I don't. Sorry."
"Stop apologising," Harry spit out. "I don't want your apologies."
"Okay," Louis said, nodding briefly. "I won't apologise anymore, if that's what you want."
Harry lifted his head, looking Louis over, trying to find anything, just a hint of the person he knew how to grasp. He couldn't grasp the one in front of him.
"Why are you doing this? Why do you just take everything I throw at you?" Harry asked, the desperation taking over. "Fucking fight me."
Louis looked at him, exhaustion prominent on his face. "I don't think I have a right to, Harry. You can tell me to stop apologising, but you can't make me stop feeling sorry."
That inflamed Harry's anger again because how dare he say that? "Is that why I'm here?" Harry asked, every syllable hurting in his throat. "Because you're feeling sorry for me?"
"I told you I had nothing to do with it," Louis answered.
"Didn't you?" Harry stepped closer, waiting for Louis to raise his head and look at him. "Did you really not have anything to do with me coming here?"
Something flashed in Louis' eyes, the exhaustion gone for a split second, replaced by something vivid.
"Why do you keep lying, Louis?" Harry wanted to know, his chest aching with it, the hollow dark space pounding heavier, craving something to swallow, to absorb and fill it up. His voice dropped to a tight whisper. "Why do you always lie to me?"
Louis' mask crumbled, Harry could see it, finding traces of his Louis beneath. An angry Louis, that Harry could handle, knew how to deal with. He couldn't handle Louis being submissive -- that wasn’t how they worked.
"You say you're sorry and yet you keep lying to me," Harry pushed further, trying to elicit a reaction from Louis. "Why do you always lie to me to get your way?"
Louis slowly shook his head, mouth falling open as if he was about to say something.
Say something , Harry thought. Stop being so passive all the time .
"Is this a game to you?" He held Louis' gaze, saw the blue gradually turn into grey, a sign for anger, a storm boiling up inside of Louis. "Is it a fucking game you play to get what you want?"
Louis' voice was tight when he finally spoke up, a raspy undertone taking off the edges. "I've never played with you."
That was Harry's go, his starting shot. "Then what did you do exactly when you went behind my back for weeks, telling me lies about why you went to London?"
"I did not play with you," Louis hissed. "I thought I was doing the right thing."
"How is lying ever the right thing to do?"
They were so close Harry could feel Louis' chest expand when he inhaled. "If it hadn't worked out, you would have never known. I thought telling you once it had worked out was soon enough."
"I would have never known you never really wanted us, or the band, would have dropped me and Niall first opportunity you got." Harry narrowed his eyes. "You thought that was the right thing to do? Feeling that way about us and not fucking telling me?"
"Telling you from the beginning wouldn't have changed the outcome." Louis raised his voice a little, and Harry could see the same despair he felt reflecting in Louis' eyes. "I fucking knew that I would lose you either way."
"So you decided to be a bloody coward about it," Harry noted, "and lied instead of telling me what was going on. Did it ever -- just fucking once -- occur to you that maybe I would have supported you?"
He saw Louis clench his jaw, knew that he tried to hold in whatever he was about to say. Louis turned away abruptly, pacing the room, running his hands through his hair.
Fucking no. No . Harry wouldn't let him get away with that. He wanted answers, and he would get them now. With one step, he was next to Louis, gripping his biceps and spinning him back around. He opened his mouth to push Louis to say what he had on his mind when Louis' gaze met his, the look in his eyes knocking all breath out of Harry.
In a fraction of a second, Louis had his hand buried in Harry's hair, hauling him towards Louis, his lips crashing against Harry's. Harry gasped, his fingers tightening around Louis' arm, nails digging into his skin. He kept staring into Louis' eyes, radiant blue staring back at him as their lips moved together, Louis' tongue sliding into Harry’s mouth when he exhaled.
For a moment, Harry got lost in it, too surprised, too caught up in how those lips were so familiar, that taste so different, the effect still the same. The hollow pounding in his chest shrank, stopped throbbing, leaving Harry completely motionless. Then he growled in the back of his throat, pushing Louis off forcefully, so his back hit the wall behind him.
"What the fuck ?" Harry ran a hand over his mouth, staring Louis down.
Panting, Louis licked his own lips and Harry felt the urge to punch him. He had never wanted to punch anyone, had always been above such actions -- but right now, he really wanted to punch his fist into Louis' face, make those lips bleed.
"I didn't want you to support me," Louis said, picking up their conversation as if nothing had happened.
Harry gaped at him. "You fucking kissed me!"
Louis took a deep breath, still leaning against the wall. "I knew you would have supported me, Harry. I knew that you would have forgiven me, eventually. Had I been honest, you would have stayed by my side and--- Fuck," he sighed, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. "You would have held me back."
Harry felt those words stab into him like a dagger.
"I could have never done this if you had still been around," Louis went on, pushing the dagger deeper and deeper with his words. "I would have always considered you, would have never put my everything into this. I couldn't tell you," he added, voice shaky. "I didn't want you to be part of this."
Swallowing thickly, Harry fisted his hands, his breathing shallow. "You thought I wouldn't have done everything to---"
"That was the fucking problem, Harry," Louis cut him short. "You would have done everything for me. You would have given up yourself, and everything you ever wanted, just to be with me. I couldn't be everything to you."
Every bit of anger drained from Harry, he felt all of it vanish, the hollow feeling settling back into his chest. He loosened his fists, his fingers feeling numb.
"You played," he simply said. "You fucking played, and you lied."
Louis looked up at him. "I've always still---"
"Loved me?" Harry asked. He couldn't even bring himself to laugh at that. All he managed was a strangled sob. "And yet, that wasn't enough to be honest with me."
"Harry," Louis said, the exhaustion back, colouring his voice thick.
“What even was I to you? What did you see in me?” The questions spilled out, all of the thoughts he had kept in for so many years. “You make it sound like I was nothing but a fucking burden to you.”
“That’s not true.” Louis shook his head.
“Then what, Louis?” Harry wanted to know. “What was I? Your convenient, little toy?”
Louis pressed a hand to his stomach, a if he was trying to keep himself up. “You fucking know that you were never just that. I fucking got you tattooed onto my skin.”
Harry fell silent for a second, the ink beneath his own skin burning.
“And I still have it, Harry,” Louis added. “Because you were never just a game, or a toy. And I never lied about that .”
It wasn’t fair, wasn’t fucking fair to imply that Harry getting it removed meant he had never loved Louis. It was a fucking low blow.
“ You didn’t want us anymore, Louis,” Harry reminded him. “Don’t twist things around.”
“I’m not twisting things.” Louis’ fingers clenched around the fabric of his shirt, his gaze still fixed on the floor. “I’m being honest, like you asked me to.”
Honest, Harry thought. He had wanted honesty, and now that Louis had given him the truth, Harry couldn’t help but think that it hurt just as much as the lies had. His lips still tingled from Louis’ kiss, his taste still lingering on Harry’s tongue, oddly sweet.
"What was that just now? Why did you fucking kiss me?"
"Because you needed to shut up," Louis answered, looking up again. "I had to make you shut up."
Harry tried to inhale, but his chest hurt, every inch of space filled by hollowness, dark and painful. He stepped closer to Louis again, suppressing the urge to yell and scream at him.
"Don't you fucking dare do that again," Harry warned him, voice low, growling in his chest.
Louis held his gaze this time, didn't look away, eyes challenging. He still looked tired, but he was not caving in, definitely not letting Harry walk away without a fight.
A knock on the door made both of them startle, and Harry took a step back.
"For fuck's sake, Louis," the assistant from earlier yelled. "Get your arse upstairs."
With only one glance at Harry, Louis pushed off the wall and went over to his suitcase. Harry took in the room for the first time, found the bed slightly messed up, the door to the bathroom open and sunlight flooding in through the broad balcony door.
His attention was drawn back to Louis when he yelled, "I'm coming, Marco," and pulled his t-shirt over his head.
Harry froze, watching the muscles in Louis' back work, the bumps of his spine visible, dimples pooling dark shadows at the small of his back before he put on a new t-shirt. When he turned again, the defiant look was still there, his lips a tight line.
"I gotta go," he said without so much as a glance towards Harry. "Guess this conversation is over."
"Don't think I have much to say to you anyway," Harry shot back immediately.
Louis stopped at the door, a hand resting on the handle. "There's too much to say, Harry," he said quietly. He opened the door, looking over his shoulder once.
"You don't really want to hear any of it, though."
Throughout the whole five days they had spent in Malaysia Louis hadn't exchanged a single word with Harry. For most of the time, they had just avoided each other, had kept a distance and one had left the room as soon as the other had come in.
Louis grew tired of it, though, tired of having to pretend and of feeling guilty. Harry kept making him feel guilty -- about their past, about what he had said in that hotel room last week, and about that kiss.
That fucking kiss. He had wanted it so badly, hadn’t been able to keep his mind off it when Harry had been so close, his face just inches away from Louis'. His mind had shut down completely, everything becoming a white noise, his focus solely on Harry's lips. Memories had flooded his mind; memories of how Harry had tasted, of how his lips had felt on Louis, his tongue smoothly nudging into Louis' mouth.
Louis had wondered if Harry still kissed the same -- he had wondered how many guys had kissed him since, had taught him new techniques and if Louis would be able to pick them out, tell all the moves Harry hadn't used three years ago.
He had wanted a taste, just a single taste to kill his curiosity, to still the burning desire for what he had lost and craved so badly now that he had Harry so close again.
For a moment, he had thought it would solve everything. A simple kiss, and everything would fall back into place. Harry would press him back against the wall, hands gripping Louis' hips tightly, possessively as they had used to.
It hadn't solved anything, had messed him up just even more. Louis wanted to do it again, wanted to feel those lips back on his, Harry's breath shuddering into his mouth and his hand firmly gripping Louis. He wasn’t supposed to want any of it, though, wasn’t supposed to crave for Harry’s kiss, or touch, not even a look his way.
Although everything about Harry was different -- his shape, his taste, his voice, his mind -- Louis still felt attracted to him, still felt attracted to the traces of the boy he had loved lingering underneath.
Louis couldn't have resisted. Apart from that, it had been the only way he could have thought of to make Harry shut up.
They were at the Philippines now, and Louis was glad the concert was about to start. It would take his mind off things, get him to forget about it at least for the time he would be on stage.
Liam and Zayn had sensed something had happened when they had boarded the flight to Malaysia. Zayn had kept glancing from Louis to Harry, as if he had been been trying to figure out when they would jump and rip each other apart.
This time, Louis had told them about it before they even had to ask.
As a consequence, Liam had stopped trying to make all of them become friends.
He turned, frowning slightly when Niall came into their dressing room.
"Louis, you have to do something," Niall demanded, slightly out of breath. "I can't get through to him."
Alarmed, Louis approached him, automatically reaching for Niall's arm. "What's wrong?"
"Harry's in a right state," Niall explained. "He's completely out of it. He doesn't even react to me."
Liam joined them, looking worried. "What happened? Did he have--"
"Stage fright," Louis said, hand falling from Niall's arm.
Niall nodded. "And he won't go out."
"Why today?" Zayn asked from across the room.
"It's not just today," Niall admitted. "He's had it since the tour started, every night he performed. But I always managed to get him out on stage. He's not having it tonight, though."
Louis shook his head. "Don't think he'd want to see me of all people."
"But you always got him to calm down," Niall argued.
"We're not like that anymore, Niall," Louis reminded him.
"I don't care, Louis. Use what you are now if it helps." Niall threw up his hands, looking helpless. "He needs to go out now ."
"I can take care of it," Zayn offered. "Kick his arse onto stage."
"Zayn," Louis hissed. He turned back to Niall, hesitating for a moment. "Let's go."
"God, thank you," Niall groaned, framing Louis' face and placing a wet kiss on his forehead.
"Gross," Louis commented, trying to keep the affection out of his voice.
Niall went ahead and Louis followed him, seeing Harry crouched behind the entrance to the stage, a couple of security and technicians surrounding him. Louis' heart dropped to his stomach when he saw Harry's expression.
As soon as they reached him, Louis gave Niall one look, and he was glad that it was still enough to make Niall understand that he needed to be alone with Harry. He waited for everyone to clear the area before he kneeled down in front of Harry.
"Hey," he said quietly, reaching out.
Harry batted his hand away. "Fuck off, Louis."
"Niall said you're not doing well."
"You need to go out there, you know," Louis reminded him. "If everything's fine, why are you not out there?"
Harry lifted his head, his cheeks pale and eyes glassy. A thin layer of sweat shone on his forehead, and his lips were red from him biting them. Louis could see where he had torn the skin off and some blood had dripped out.
The urge to pull him into his arms and go through the ritual they had used to have was overwhelming. He would suck the fear out of Harry with a thorough kiss, would press his thumb against his wrist, catch his pulse there until it calmed down again. Until Harry went lax in his arms, became pliant and completely focussed on Louis.
He couldn't do that, wasn't in a position to be that person for Harry. It wasn't who they were anymore.
Instead, he had to use what they were now to make Harry pull himself together.
"You know, Niall told me I'd still know how to press your buttons," Louis said quietly, watching Harry breathe shallowly while he stared at Louis. The green of his eyes had turned into the colour of a foggy forest. "I do. I pressed the right ones to get you to agree to this."
Harry whined a little, lowering his head again.
"I knew exactly what would make you accept the offer, so I did it." Taking a deep breath, Louis tried to somehow reflect his calm onto Harry. "I could do that right now. Press a few buttons and make you go out there."
Louis noticed Harry digging his fingers into his shins, his forehead resting against his knees.
"When I kissed you last week," Louis kept going, "I pressed buttons too. I wanted you to shut up, and I knew a kiss would get you so out of it. You pressed some buttons too, Harry," he added in an afterthought. "You knew how to get me out of my shell, didn't you? You kept pressing them until I snapped and gave you what you wanted."
Harry lifted his head, his breathing already a lot calmer.
"I don't want to press buttons," Louis admitted once Harry's eyes had locked with his. "I want to solve this without having to lie, or play."
Louis could pinpoint the exact moment the spell broke. Harry blinked once, slowly, and his eyes looked a lot clearer, his fingers unclenching and loosening their grip. His chest expanded on a deep breath.
"I need to go," he said quietly before he looked away.
Louis remained kneeling on the floor when Harry got up and took his guitar. He didn't have to turn around to know that Harry was standing in front of the exit for a few more beats.
When he was gone, Louis breathed out slowly, a strange hollow feeling expanding in his chest.
He felt weirdly numb to the throbbing pain.