The only reason George notices that anything is afoot is that Harriet's mouth drops open. And she pokes him, repeatedly, in the shoulder. Otherwise, he would be lost in fretting and worrying and clutching his guitar for dear life. Everyone here is so... charismatic. Even the people who are rehearsing and awful, they're fun to watch. George is just George, and Harriet's meant to be distracting him.
"George," Harriet hisses, and then another, very familiar voice, pipes up from behind him.
"Hello," it says, lilting a little, and he's heard it on TV so many times but he's still not expecting to see Actual Caroline Flack when he turns around.
George can't help it.
He starts to giggle.
Thankfully, she looks endeared, rather than mocking, a bright smile still on her face. It's only then that George notices that she has a microphone with her, and a cameraman behind her with a bored look on his face.
He swallows down the giggle. It's uncomfortable, and he just prays he won't burp on camera.
"Hi," he manages. She's so pretty. And tinier than he'd pictured. She seems so tall on telly.
"Hi," she says back. "We're looking for a few people to tape little clips for the show, and you seem like just the kind of person we're looking for. Would you mind terribly doing a little sit-down with us?"
George goggles. "Yeah, sure, I -- yeah, sure. Erm, what do I have to talk about?"
"Well," Caroline says thoughtfully, "The segment's called 'Hot Hunks.'"
He squeaks this time, and it's mortifying, and he covers up his face with his hands when he feels it growing hot.
Caroline laughs. Reaches out. Ruffles his hair.
She must be kidding, right? There are boys across the room literally flexing their pecs at her to make them dance, and guys with biceps as round as George's head. He isn't a hot hunk.
He's just George.
The hotel they're staying in is big, bigger than George's house, bigger than any house he's ever seen, and nicer, too. He's not used to it. He's not used to anything about this life - people knowing who he is when he goes out to get a sandwich, articles about him on the internet, girls screaming. All the time, girls screaming.
And people caring about where he's going every day. People caring about who he's with when he goes there. Everyone thinks he's dating Ella, but he isn't. Really. She's too young and too talented for him--she can do better, and they both know it.
Not that she's ever mean about it, or anything. Ella doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She's just very practical, about these sorts of things, and in the end, George is, too, really, and it makes sense. It makes sense not to.
They'll only live near each other for three months at the most, and really... it will probably be less. Everyone knows Ella is going to win, and that means George probably won't win.
Even if he does like their band. It's still so new, and they still have awkward silences sometimes, but he likes them, and he thinks they like him.
Really, it seems like mostly everyone likes him. Maybe not Gary.
George sort of feels like Gary might not like anyone.
Well, he likes Christopher - likes all his own acts, actually. That's par for the course, George guesses, but the other judges at least pretend to be impartial.
Nicole definitely likes Union J. She has spent a lot of time giggling at JJ and poking his abs. Granted, JJ has sort of amazing abs.
And she coos at George, which is. Something. It's not dislike, certainly, but he's not sure if she knows he's a human being rather than a toddler or a small animal.
George doesn't really mind, either way. That's how most people see him.
Louis is kind, and he tries, at least, to be a good mentor, which is all they can ask. He might go a little overboard with the One Direction comparisons, but then again, so does everyone else.
Sometimes, George catches Caroline Flack staring at him. He thinks he knows why, and he always waves. It seems to startle her, remind her that he's real and he's his own person, and then they chat and get a cup of coffee.
But sometimes Tulisa stares at him, too, and that has to be for a different reason, he thinks. He's forever doubling back once he notices, to check in windows whether he has something on his face, or his hair's messed up.
She's probably worried that he's going to sabotage Ella somehow. Her other girls in the competition aren't really turning out the way Little Mix did for her last year.
He wouldn't sabotage Ella - even if that's how competitions work, it's not how he works, and he likes Ella, and he'd be terrible at sabotage anyway.
What could he even do? Steal her voice like Ursula the Sea Witch?
George giggles at the thought of having tentacles. Some caramel macchiato slurps up his nose, and he coughs.
He jumps. Speak of the devil. Or, well, he likes Tulisa, doesn't think she's the devil at all, and she's nice to him even if she does stare. She offers him a napkin.
He splutters another moment and wipes his nose. "Thank you. M'alright, y'alright?"
"Yeah, I'm alright." She smiles at him. She has a nice smile.
George gestures at the empty seat across from him. "D'you want to sit?"
He's not expecting her to say, "Sure, thanks," but she does, and he isn't upset about it when she drops down into that chair with her own drink, something with steam rising from it.
Tulisa is entirely too... cool, for George. She's from Camden, for pete's sake, and she's related to Dappy and all that.
She doesn't act like she's too cool for him, but he figures they both have to be aware.
He has to apologize three times when her ankles rub up against his under the table, once even slinking halfway along his calf.
He must he taking too much space.
Rylan Clark is many things.
Subtle isn't one of them.
George likes Rylan, even, because everybody likes Rylan. And Rylan likes everybody. And he makes that very, very clear very, very quickly.
"Hey, babe." There's suddenly a Rylan lying in George's lap, manicured fingers feathering through George's hair. "What's up?"
"Not much," croaks George. Rylan is sort of sitting on his bladder, but that's okay. He'll move soon enough. Hopefully he'll do it before George accidentally pees on him.
Although maybe Rylan's into that sort of thing. You never know with Rylan.
"D'you want something to be up?"
Case in point.
"Um," says George. He's never sure how to talk to Rylan. Sometimes it's like they speak different languages. Thankfully, Rylan is patient, and just flutters his eyelashes at George until he thinks of something to say. "I don't think so?"
"That's a shame," Rylan says, and it sounds very genuine. "I think we'd be good at it."
"At... what?" George asks with some trepidation. Most of what Rylan says makes George intrigued and cautious at the same time.
Rylan just shakes his head before kissing George's cheek. It lingers.
George wants to rub his hand on it, because he's pretty sure he feels lip gloss, but that'd be rude, so he tries for a smile anyway.
Rylan just gives him a pat and heaves himself up. "You're such a tiny babe, George. Come find me if you figure yourself out."
George frowns and watches Rylan saunter away. He'd thought he figured himself out a long time ago.
George does like One Direction. It's hard not to, the way they're so personable, and they put on happy faces all the time, and they have catchy music. He doesn't think you can really be in a boy band and not have at least grudging admiration for One Direction.
Josh is much more grudging than George is, but Josh also doesn't benefit from having Harry Styles Hair. At this point, anyway, George considers it a benefit, because it's definitely gotten them at least a few votes.
And they're nice. Or at least a few of them are nice - when they meet Actual One Direction, they get shaken hands and smiles and well-wishes all around.
That's better than a lot of the people the X-Factor has pulled through for the contestants to meet. Some of them stay in their dressing rooms the entire time they're around and never say hello to anyone.
It seems like everywhere George turns the day One Direction are there, he's running into a member. He almost dumps coffee all over Louis Tomlinson, and apologizes until his voice nearly gives out, then turns away and almost dumps the same coffee onto Harry Styles.
He can't help that it makes him start giggling; that's just who George is. But across the room, for once, someone else is giggling too -- more than a giggle, it's a full-out chortling laugh.
"Something funny?" asks Harry Styles, though he looks amused, too; George thinks it's more at Niall - the other person laughing - than it is at the situation, or at him.
"They just never made this greenroom big enough for all the people what are in it," Niall says. His eyes look faraway and fond, like a hundred bumped cups of coffee in years gone by are flashing before them.
"At least I didn't actually spill it this time," says George. He's not intimidated, that's not the word for it, but they are real, actual famous people, who have already done this, and he's. He's George. "I spilled juice all down Chris Maloney's front last week."
"Good on you," Louis Tomlinson mutters, crossing behind George to murmur in Harry's ear.
He doesn't seem very interested in George, but that's fine with him. He sidles (attempts to sidle, anyway) toward Niall, instead, who is grinning at him.
"'Lo," Niall says. He's eating crisps and they're stuck in his orthodontia, but if he doesn't mind, then neither does George.
"Hi," he says, taking a sip from his coffee before he can spill it on anybody else.
Niall scootches over on the squashy sofa and pats the spot beside him. "Come sit. You probably need a rest."
George lets out a breath, because he does and he's already so tired and it's barely been any time on the show at all, and the first person who's really shown anything approaching concern for him is Niall Horan, of all people.
"Thanks." He sighs happily as the cofa squushes around him. "Did you feel tired all the time when you were on the show?"
"Sure," Niall says, nodding and eating another crisp. "Unless I got a good wank or somethin' in."
George's face decides to blush, even as he's trying desperately to school it into something less startled. "Um," he says. "I'd think that'd just make you more tired."
"Maybe," Niall allows. "But then you sleep better. 'Though you lot don't have creaky bunkbeds."
"No, we've got nice beds. They're really comfortable. And we're only two to a room." George can't even imagine if they'd needed to stay all four in the same room.
Niall nods slowly, savoring a crisp. "Where's your roommate now?"
George frowns. "Probably with - um, with someone," he concludes awkwardly, because Jaymi's with Olly, but Jaymi's also, until further notice, a lot of other things they aren't mentioning to people.
"In yours?" Niall asks, his eyes darting up. "Or is your room empty?"
"No, they'll be up in our room. It's really the only privacy we get, and it's Jaymi's day to have it to himself." George half-shrugs, and half-frowns. He doesn't begrudge Jaymi and Olly their time together, but he'd sort of like a nap.
Niall looks back down at the crisps. "Shame you aren't in the old House. We always had loads of spare empty rooms, but I guess you don't in a hotel."
"Not really," says George. Niall sounds rather wistful, and George wonders how much time he gets to himself now. He'd imagine not much.
Niall reaches over and pats George's knee. Well, his thigh. Fairly high up on his thigh. "That's a shame."
Then he gets up, dusts off his hands, and wanders away.
George shakes his head and looks down at his coffee. That was very strange, and Niall doesn't even have the excuse of George having spilled coffee on him.
One Direction's fame must have got to them. They're all weird.
George is in a rush. He's always in a rush these days but he's especially in a rush today, which is the original reason he quietly groans when he hears his full name said with obvious delight. The groan becomes a little less quiet when he sees who it is, but he pastes a smile on anyway. He's getting good at that.
"Hello, Nick Grimshaw," he says dutifully. "You're up early. Or, no, wait. You're up late."
"I am indeed," Nick says with great cheer. "That's why I'm here, to get caffeine in me before I topple over. What about you, Georgina? You're here early, aren't you? For normal people? My sense of time's all skewed."
George grunts. "Don't call me Georgina. And I'm headed to the studio."
"Right, you do that music thing, don't you?" Nick says. George wishes he'd picked a different coffee place. One with less chipper DJs in it.
"I do," George agrees. "And that coffee thing. And the bit where I don't like being called Georgina, please."
"It was just the once," Nick says lightly, rolling his eyes and nudging George's shoulder like they're old pals. "Inside joke, innit?"
"Well, I'm not inside it." George takes the coffee that's come up for him at the counter. There's a blob of whipped cream seeping down the side, and he mouths it up happily.
"Hmm." Nick's looking at him a bit oddly now. "I guess that'd put a bit of a damper on things."
George has whipped cream on his thumb. Damn. He licks that up, too.
"What're you doing after your studio adventure?" Nick asks, abrupt, tapping his fingers on the counter and his eyes inquisitive on George. "Anything interesting?"
George shrugs. "Singing, I suppose. Playing with Josh."
"Oooh." Nick wobbles his head vaguely, his quiff flopping from side to side. "Your kind of playing or my kind of playing?"
George blinks. "I don't know what your sort of playing is, do I? Unless you like worm baths regularly."
Nick winces, a theatrical cringe, and seems to come to a decision, accepting his coffee when the barista offers it to him, his name scrawled haphazardly on the side. "Hope it goes well," he says.
Well, that was abrupt, George thinks, and jogs after Nick a few steps. "Is that all, then? That's all you wanted to say?"
Nick raises his eyebrows. It's a bit endearing, the way it makes him look like a surprised woodland creature. "Would you like me to say something else?" he says, friendly enough.
George blinks. "I don't know. Yes, I suppose."
"Alright, then." Nick tips his cup of coffee at George. "You should get the band together and come back on my show. We all loved you dearly."
"Okay," George says. "When?"
"I'll take a look at our schedule and let you know our open slots," says Nick. "Long as you don't mind waking up at the crack of dawn."
George shakes his head. "I won't like waking up, but I'd be happy to come on your show."
Nick brightens. "And we'd be happy to have you." He grins, then takes a drink from his cup. "I'll bring it up with Finchy. See you around, George?"
George nods. "Yes. And thanks for calling me 'George.'"
Nick grins. "Next time, just thank me for calling you."
"Can you believe it, Georgie Porgie?" JJ asks, sprawling out on the big hotel bed. "Los Angeles!"
"I think I'll believe it when I can feel the sunburn I'm bound to get," George says, looking out the window at the beaming sun. It's so bright, and when they'd got on the plane to come here, England had been so dreary. This is amazing.
Arms wrap around George from behind, and he has to check the tattoos to know whose they are. Josh.
"I'll believe it when I see your sunburn, too," he teases. Josh, who went outside in his youth and tans easily, the lout.
"It's not my fault that my childhood was spent browsing the internet," George whines, leaning back against Josh's chest. He's very sturdy, is Josh. George doesn't feel even a little like he's going to fall over.
Josh just kisses his cheek. "Ickle Georgie. Let's get some sun cream on you."
"Yay," George cheers. He's already warm with the sun streaming into the room, and cool sun cream sounds like an excellent idea.
Josh dances him over to JJ and the bed. Across from them, Jaymi riffles through the suitcase, looking for the tube of sun cream.
"Got it," he announces when he's found it, shuffling across and plopping himself down right on JJ's back.
George giggles at the noise JJ makes. He peels off his shirt and sits at the edge of the bed so they can all reach his back and shoulders.
It's odd, the sensation of six (or five, he can't tell how many of JJ's reach) hands rubbing sun cream into your back. Like being massaged by an octopus.
He hums, then giggles gladly, letting one of them tickle around his ribs. He does love a good tickle. It's uplifting.
But one tickle turns into two, and two into three, and three into so many that it leaves George gasping with laughter that's turned his face red and nearly dumped him off the mattress.
He loves this feeling, too: breathless and covered in warm hands and lightheaded with joy.
"Stop, stop," he says finally, when he can't breathe enough that he's sure he's about to faint, black at the corners of his vision, and they all stop when he says.
Josh kisses George's cheek again. "Alright, George. You're alright. Come back in the room."
"I never left. Silly," George chastises, taking deep breaths to get his lungs used to having air in them again.
It's still a nice reminder. Josh is good at that, bringing George back when his mind starts to wander.
They all are, really. He's so lucky to have them.
"Oh, George," Jaymi sighs, "There's carpet stuck all over your back from the sun cream."
"Would you like to get it off for me?" George asks with a smile, all teeth and charm, his eyes scrunching closed with the force of it.
Jaymi shakes his head, but George knows by now when he's fond. "Of course. Budge up, silly goose."
George budges up, scooting forward so that Jaymi can slip behind him. "I feel like a real monkey."
"And you smell like one, too," sings JJ.
"Rude," rebukes Josh, giving JJ a flick on his ribs. "George doesn't smell that much like a monkey."
And then they're all squabbling over George, paying so much attention to him, even if they're making fun. It's nice. It's like home.