“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road
The ink’s barely dry, figuratively, when Harry realizes he’s got to arrange a way to get it back to LA.
u get it ??? Niall texts him, probably still from his bed. They’d gone out again last night, just the two of them sneaking out to some bar Niall knew on the Lower East Side. It’s when Harry’d told him about the car, this old beaut he’d wanted more than anything.
The car’s the only reason Harry’s not back at the hotel, nursing his hangover. He sends Niall a string of grinning emojis.
“We can call the shipping company, if you’d like. We deal with them exclusively.”
“Yes,” Harry says, nodding, and then, “but could you maybe wait? Until tomorrow. I think --”
He’s nodding before Harry’s finished talking. “Of course, Mr. Styles.”
“Cheers.” Harry shakes his hand again, thanking him profusely before pulling his phone out of his pocket.
when does your flight leave again?
“You what?” Liam’s doing that thing where all his features scrunch into the center of his face to show how well confused he is. Harry tries his hardest not to sigh heavily.
“I’ve got to get it back somehow,” he says, shrugging, “and it’s not like we’ve got much coming up.”
“So you want us to drive it?” Liam’s looking at Harry like he’s cracked.
Harry nods. “Why not?”
Liam fishmouths, searching for something, anything. They’ve only got a couple shows left at Madison Square Garden and then they’re done with the whole tour, absolutely nothing on their horizon until they’re due in Sydney in two months.
“Sophia’s in London,” Liam says eventually.
“I don’t want you to like, move in with me, mate. I just think it’d be fun, yeah? One last…” he trails off. They’ve not really been talking about it, at least not recently, not since they’d agreed to let their new contracts go unsigned. “C’mon, you know Niall’ll say yes, so all we need to convince is Zayn and Louis and if you’re in, they are and it can be like, a proper lads trip.”
Liam stares at Harry’s phone, the pic of his car, restored perfectly.
“America’s like, really big,” he says, blinking at Harry, but there’s a smile pulling at his lips and Harry knows he’s two, maybe three minutes from agreeing. It’s basically a done deal.
“No,” Zayn says immediately, before Harry’s even finished proposing the trip. “I’ve already driven across the country with you lot, or have you forgotten the past ten years?”
“It hasn’t been ten years,” Liam says, frowning. Zayn rolls his eyes, mumbling something Harry doesn’t catch. It makes Louis snort though, so it can’t have been kind.
“Zayyyn,” Harry worms his way in between Zayn and Louis on the sofa. “C’mon, Lou’s in.”
Louis pinches Harry’s side. “I said no such thing.”
“Didn’t have to,” Harry tries to pinch him back but keeps getting blocked. “My speech was very convincing.”
From the floor, Niall snorts.
“It was a good speech, Harry,” Liam says, before Harry can get worked up about it. Next to him, Harry can feel Zayn inhale like he’s getting ready to say something.
“Bit rude that everyone got a speech but me,” Niall says, beating Zayn to the punch. “All I got was a bloody text telling me to cancel my flight.”
“I’ll give you a speech if you want, Nialler.” Harry heaves himself off the sofa, tripping over Louis’s feet and landing sprawled on Niall’s stomach, which is pretty much exactly where he’d been aiming for. “It’s been a --”
“Get the fuck off me.” Niall shoves him, laughing when Harry sputters and shoves him back. Most of Harry’s speech gets lost in a flurry of limbs, him and Niall rolling across the floor until someone chucks a cushion at them.
“If you’ve quite finished,” Louis says, “Zayn’s got something he’d like to share with the class.”
“Hope it’s nothing like the last thing he shared,” Niall says, words muffled because of how Harry’s smashing his face into the carpet.
“You snooping through my phone isn’t the same as sharing,” Zayn says, glaring like his ears aren’t going pink.
Liam clears his throat, prodding Zayn’s knee. Harry sits up a bit straighter, keeping Niall pinned even though he’s not struggling at all. He feels like he should hold his breath, watching the way Zayn picks at a rip in his jeans, his mouth all twisted up like he’s been put on the spot in an interview.
“Oh, for the love of,” Louis sighs loudly, “he’s in, too.”
Harry’s so pleased his grin barely falters when Louis adds, “And for the record, Liam’s speech was much more convincing.”
The plan is to leave the morning after their last show, get out of New York before anyone realizes. After that they’ll just be quiet about it. The fans have been calmer this tour, mostly, so it should work.
“Quit worrying, would ya?” Niall stops flipping through the channels to roll his eyes at Harry. “It’ll be fine. We’ll get out of the city fast and then as long as Payno keeps his location services turned off we’re good, yeah?”
Harry nods slowly. He’s got a point; they’ve all gotten brilliant at flying under the radar when they want to.
“Great,” Niall turns back to the telly, “now hurry up and sort your luggage out because judging from the pics there’s no way you’re fitting all these bags plus ours into the boot of that old-arse car.”
“Old-arse?” Harry gasps. “Just for that you can ride in the back the whole trip.”
Niall flips him off lazily.
“In the middle seat, Niall,” Harry says, ignoring the way Niall just laughs. “The whole trip.”
“SHOTGUN!” Niall yells, his voice echoing through the hotel garage.
“Jesus, Niall,” Louis whispers, looking dead on his feet. In their plan for an early start they’d somehow managed to forget to account for the after party and now, well. At least it’s nearly dark out. Harry thinks that’ll help them get on the road unnoticed. So it’s all working out, really. Even if he’s the only one loading their bags into the boot while everyone else stands around like lumps.
“I don’t know why, but I thought it’d be bigger,” Liam says, his head tilted sideways.
Zayn nods, shuffling forward when Louis pushes him towards the car.
“It looks nice, though,” Liam adds as an afterthought, smiling at Harry before he climbs into the back seat with Zayn and Louis, the door shutting seeming so loud now that Harry’s stood out here alone.
“Oi, Styles! Let’s go!”
“You can’t rush a road trip, Niall,” Harry says, sliding into the driver’s seat.
Liam laughs. “Is it rushing if you’re leaving eight hours late?”
“That was a suggested departure time, Payno,” Louis says, reaching around Zayn to tweak Liam’s nipple. They all look a bit better now that they’re seated again, and that’s good. Harry doesn’t want to worry about anyone dying in his car, at least not this early on. “We’re still on track, technically.”
“Technically,” Liam snorts, going behind Zayn to pinch Louis.
“I’ll give you twenty quid to switch with me,” Zayn offers Niall. Niall just laughs so Zayn elbows Louis and Liam sharply and hisses, “Quit it.”
“Are we ready?” Harry asks. “Does anyone have to go for one last wee?”
“Do you?” Louis asks, so sharply that Harry thinks about it for a long hard moment before he decides no, he’s good for now, and starts the car.
“Wait!” Niall grabs Harry’s arm so quickly that Harry startles. Everyone in the back seat groans. “No, I don’t have to piss, I just --” Niall roots around in the bag at his feet, shoving aside water bottles and packages of crisps until he resurfaces with his Polaroid camera. “Gotta take a selfie before we start. Road trip rules.”
Harry does it since he’s got the longest arms and the button’s on his side, anyway. They’re nearly out of the city by the time it develops; all five of them had crammed in close to make the shot and Harry’d still managed to cut off part of Liam’s face and snap it during the half a second when Zayn’s mouth was open, caught mid-word, and his own eyes were mostly closed.
“Legend,” Niall says, holding it up in the fading light. “No do overs,” he adds, before Zayn can start complaining. He tosses it on the dashboard and reaches for the radio to find a station that isn’t coming through staticky.
It’s a smooth drive, Harry’s pleased to find. He hadn’t really gotten a chance to test the car on the open road before he’d bought it, but out here, with the sunset painting the horizon orange and the radio on low, it’s brilliant. Better than expected.
“What’s the plan, Haz?” Louis asks, his voice low. Harry chances a glance over his shoulder and sees Zayn slumped against him. Liam’s tipped the other way, both of them out cold. He fights back a laugh. That hadn’t taken long at all.
“Well,” Harry says, and then Niall’s twisting in his seat, yanking at the seat belt so he can face almost entirely backwards.
“Virginia, right?” He looks to Harry for confirmation.
Niall shrugs like there’s not much of a difference. “Got some golf set up in afternoon. Rooms, too.”
“If anyone asks, your name is Murphy MacManus,” Harry says, laughing.
Louis isn’t close enough to hit Harry without dislodging Zayn so he slaps the side of Niall’s head instead, saying, “Pass it along.”
“Don’t,” Harry holds up one arm to ward off Niall’s slap, “Niall, I’m driving, it’s against the rules to hit the driver.”
“Cheers,” Louis says, while Harry rubs the sting out of his arm and Niall settles back into his seat.
It’s late when they make it to the hotel, nearly middle of the night, and everyone’d gone from drowsy to punchdrunk to downright cranky in the back half of the drive. Even Niall’d lost it a bit at the end, going quiet and slumped in his seat. They probably should’ve planned better, left earlier or later, or --
“Oi!” Harry’s head snaps up to find Niall coming round the corner, bag over his shoulder. “Checked you in while you were doing car shit.”
Harry hums his thanks, holding his hand out for the keys. Everyone else is already gone, the lobby pretty much empty at this point. His body feels heavy as he drags himself into the lift, Niall hitting the button for their floor.
“Driving’s exhausting, Nialler.”
“Yeah, well,” Niall pauses to yawn, setting off Harry as well, “so’s keeping your arse awake. Remind me not to call shotgun anymore.”
“I spy,” Harry starts, making Niall groan. For such a tiny state, Maryland had been particularly brutal.
“I swear, I’m sleeping the whole way next time. Rest of the trip.”
“We’ll make Louis and Liam do it,” Harry says, using his body weight to heave the door open. “Let them fight over --”
“That car was black, Haz. You need to get your eyes checked.”
“It was blue,” Harry argues one last time, hearing Niall’s laugh even after the door’s shut.
Harry strips to his pants and falls into bed without bothering to do anything else. His phone’s on silent but the screen lighting up makes the whole room glow for a moment.
BLACK !!!!!!!!! is all Niall’s text says. Harry falls asleep before he can bother responding.
The strangest thing is, once they’re out on the course, just him and Niall, it doesn’t feel much different than any other day off. Harry’d been expecting it to be more momentous, even though he’s not sure why. Because they drove themselves here? Had crept out of the hotel just before noon while the rest of the lads were still asleep? It’s just another day, though, another round of golf that Harry’s lost, Niall cackling gleefully as he added it up at the end.
“Alright, hold this up,” Niall forces the scorecard into Harry’s hand before taking a step back, “and say ‘I suck!’”
“I can’t believe you brought that bloody thing,” Harry says instead, still talking when Niall snaps the pic. “And whatever, I should get a handicap for driving all night.”
Niall laughs, stuffing the picture into his pocket without waiting for it to develop. “Your handicap was revoked when you got up at arse o’clock to go to the gym. We are on vacation, you know.”
“Nine is not arse o’clock.” He ignores the way Niall scoffs as they both slide into the golf cart. “Besides, it’s important to have a routine,” he brushes his knuckles along the curve of Niall’s bicep where he’s going pink, the sun unexpectedly strong today, “you should think of incorporating suncream into yours.”
“Don’t be jealous of my farmer’s tan, Haz,” Niall says, the last half of it getting caught up in his laugh as Harry takes a turn too fast and he has to brace a hand on the roof to keep from sliding out.
Harry convinces Niall to buy him a round or two as consolation so it’s verging on late by the time they reunite with the rest of the lads.
“Oh thank Christ,” Liam says when he answers his door. Harry’s surprised a literal cloud of smoke doesn’t billow into the hallway, the stench of weed is so strong. “It’s them, let’s go!”
“Go where?” Niall asks, clearly ignoring the scuffle that’s breaking out over Liam’s shoulder. Harry can’t make it out either, the room lit only by the telly. There’s a loud thud and then a grunt and then Louis pops up behind Liam.
“You need to drive us to KFC right now,” he says, so seriously that Niall bursts out laughing.
“Yes!” Zayn yells from inside. “We’re starving and you stole the car all day!”
Niall makes a face at Harry, confused and trying not to laugh at the same time, and then says, “Sorry?”
Louis nods. “You should be.”
“C’mon then.” Niall waves his hand and Louis turns back into the room, presumably to collect Zayn, who’s started singing something that doesn’t really sound like words. Liam’s already down the hall, staring at the button for the lift.
“Is,” Niall leans in close, laughing as he says, “there is a KFC nearby, right?”
“You’re back!” Zayn says, slinging his arm around Harry’s shoulders and then immediately sagging into him, making Harry support his weight. “We missed you. We’re very hungry.”
“I heard,” Harry laughs, trying to hold him up while also pulling out his phone. He shrugs at Niall. “Guess we’ll find out?”
“I’m going to kill them,” Niall hisses on the drive back, low enough that only Harry can hear over Louis’s constant narration of his bucket of wings. He’s got his hands clenched so tight on the wheel his knuckles are going white.
Harry nods. “On it.”
It had turned out the nearest KFC was a half-hour away; what had seemed manageable at the start had deteriorated by the time they hit the drive-thru. Thirty minutes is a lot of time trapped in a car with Zayn singing falsetto and Louis trying to yell out the window.
“I’ve got an idea,” he says brightly, turning around and hoping his smile can like, trick them all into going along with it. It gets their attention, at least. “Let’s play the quiet game! One, two, three, go!”
Liam takes a comical breath, his cheeks puffing up. Harry almost wants to correct him, say they’re sitting quietly, not holding their breath, but the silence in the car is too welcome. He flashes them a thumbs up before sitting back in his seat.
He smiles at Niall, who’s already visibly calmer. It’s not that late but there’s no one else on the road, everything just a stretch of darkness beyond their headlights.
In the back, Zayn starts singing again. Niall sighs and Harry feels the car accelerate. They’d made it almost two full minutes.
“You coming?” Niall is halfway to the doors, keeping one eye on Liam making a beeline through the lobby.
“Be up in a minute.” Harry raises the keys like he’s got to deal with waiting for the valet. Niall nods.
He’s back barely a minute later, as Harry’s watching his car drive away. “They made it to the lift,” he says, “that’s good enough.”
“They’ll probably ride it for an hour ‘cause Liam likes the lights in the buttons.”
Niall snorts and holds up a sack from the restaurant. “Your room or mine?”
Harry thinks about it for a moment. Even out here, in the hotel’s front drive, there’s a quiet kind of calm.
“I’ve got a better idea,” he says.
The pool’s empty at this hour. Harry helps himself to some chips before kicking back in one of the loungers. Niall sets himself up on the edge of the pool, rucking up his jeans so he can stick his feet in while he eats.
“Careful,” Harry jokingly gestures to the sign that says NO GUARD ON DUTY, SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.
“Be prepared to rescue me, then.”
“Can’t,” Harry twists until his back cracks, makes sure his mouth is full when he says, “I’m eating, I’ll get a cramp and then we’re both goners.”
“Ta, Haz,” Niall kicks his foot, water arcing towards Harry but barely coming close to him, “guess I’ll wait thirty minutes before I drown, then.”
Harry shoots him a lazy thumbs up, making Niall laugh and kick water at him again. Everything seems like it echoes in the quiet; it makes Harry feel like they’re getting away with something, like they’re kids again, filled with that giddy rush of sneaking out of the hotel behind Paul’s back. It seems like yesterday.
It’s a long while before Niall says, “I can’t believe…”
Harry looks over when he trails off, just in time to catch Niall, flat on his back, shrugging at the sky. He thinks he can see Niall smiling, but it could just be a trick of the light.
After a second Niall laughs at himself, says, “It went fast, is all. And now --”
“Yeah,” Harry laughs a bit, too, still full of that rush, “don’t know what I want to do first, it’s like.”
“There’s too many options,” Niall finishes. When he looks over, his eyes are bright in the moonlight. Harry nods, takes a steadying breath. Everything feels overwhelming in the best way, like the possibilities that are stretching out before them are endless.
Harry slides down in his seat until he’s staring up at the sky, too. There are parts of America where you can see for ages, so many stars it’s like a planetarium. It always takes him by surprise.
“This was a good idea, Haz.”
Harry’s not sure if Niall means the pool, right now, or the trip in general. He listens to the soft splash of Niall’s feet, the crickets somewhere in the distance.
“Yeah,” he says, smiling up at nothing, “cheers.”
“So,” Harry asks, breaking the silence that’s settled over the car. They’ve only been driving a bit, long enough that everyone’s getting drowsy again. His and Niall’s plan of leaving early had mostly worked, in that it’s technically still mid-afternoon. “Where are we going?”
“LA,” Zayn says carefully, catching Harry’s eye in the rearview.
“I know,” Harry says, trying not to roll his eyes, “but like --”
“Oh god,” Liam’s voice is muffled so Harry’s pretty sure he’s got his head in his hands, “please tell me you’ve got a plan.”
“Or at least a map,” Louis says.
“I have my phone?”
Louis pops open the glove box and socks Harry in the arm when he finds it empty. “Not even a map, Haz? Jesus.”
“Harry,” Niall sounds even more disappointed than Liam, which is impressive, “I can’t believe --”
“This says we need to be on Route 64,” Zayn says over Niall.
“-- that you would disrespect --”
“Route 64 west,” Liam clarifies.
“Oh, is Los Angeles west?” Louis asks. “Did you know that, Harry?”
“-- the sanctity of a road trip in this way.”
“Don’t -- ow!” Liam yells when Louis slaps him.
“Route 64?” Harry asks, trying to catch Zayn’s eye in the rearview. He thinks he saw a sign for that somewhere. It’ll probably come up again.
“It’s weird, innit?” Liam leans against the boot of the car while Harry punches the buttons on the petrol pump. “It’s like, how much have we traveled together? But this still feels massively different.”
Harry nods. It does, feels cramped in a way they haven’t been in ages. They’ve gotten so accustomed to splitting up, taking different planes, different buses, separating for the short breaks between shows.
Liam’s fingers twitch against the car. After a moment he bumps Harry’s shoulder with his own. “It was a good idea, Haz.”
There’s a sincerity in his smile that makes something in Harry’s stomach flip over. A small part of him isn’t ready to say goodbye to all this and it’s got a habit of making itself known at the weirdest times.
Liam tugs on the end of Harry’s hair like he knows, reaching over to twist his nipple as a distraction. Harry’s still trying to get him back when Louis and Niall return from the convenience store.
“We come bearing gifts!” Louis announces, while Harry pays for the petrol.
“We?” Niall scoffs, plastic bag swinging from his arm. “You were in the toilet the whole fucking time!”
“I was helping you shop in spirit, Niall.”
“Yeah,” Niall says, climbing into the passenger seat, “alright.”
Harry goes up onto his toes, stretching one last time before he gets back in the car. They’ve still got to decide how much longer they want to go today. Where they want to stop next. Hopefully Niall’s got some snacks in that bag.
“Payno, as the current driver, this one’s for you.” Niall pulls a map out of his bag. There’s already a big black X on it, you are here in Louis’s unmistakable scrawl.
“Real personal gifts,” Louis stage whispers, “loads of thought and effort put into this. Getting Liam a map.”
Harry blinks at him. “I thought you said you helped?”
Up front, Liam looks amused, trying to look at the map while keeping his eyes on the road.
“Later, yeah?” Niall waits for Liam to nod before setting the map on the dashboard on top of the ever-growing pile of Polaroids Niall’s been chucking there as he takes them. “Look alive, Hazza.”
Harry catches the pack of gum Niall tosses to him, opening it as Zayn thanks Niall for a new magazine.
“Did you get me tape?” Louis asks, frowning at the package in Niall’s hand. “What the fuck?”
“No,” Niall sounds distracted, fishing around the dash for something, “this is mine. Ow, Jesus, alright, here, fuck’s sake, Tommo.”
He chucks the whole bag at Louis before he goes back to rifling through the pictures, clearly searching for something specific.
“Sick,” Louis says, ignoring the bags of crisps and candy Niall’s bought in favor of tearing open the cardboard of a travel-sized Battleship game. “I’ll be red.”
“Louis!” Zayn frowns when Louis pulls the magazine from his hands to use as a makeshift table.
“Play nice, lads,” Liam says. Harry catches him making a face at himself, like he hadn’t meant to say it. Louis waves him off anyway, hunched over his half of the board like he’s trying to hide it. Harry tries to catch Zayn’s eye just so he can point out where Louis’s stacked his ships.
“Dunno,” Louis shrugs, looking from the map pulled up on his phone to the one spread out on the bed in front of them. They hadn’t made it much farther before Liam had cried uncle, asking Niall to pull up the nearest hotel on his phone and book them some rooms. “Seems like it’s whichever we want.”
Liam shrugs back, and when they both turn to Harry, he shrugs as well. LA seems so much farther away when it’s laid out like this. He traces the California border with his finger, counting all the states they’ve still got left to drive through. He’s not sure going north or south matters that much, not at this point.
“What about you,” Harry turns to nudge Niall but Niall’s not sat next to him like he had been a few seconds ago and Harry almost tips off the bed when he elbows the air, has to grab Liam’s knee for balance.
“Whichever,” Niall says from where he’s crouched down so he can get a pic of Zayn, sat on the floor across the room, the sliding door to the balcony cracked open so he can have a smoke. He turns at the whirr of the Polaroid, scowling and flipping Niall off. “Too late,” Niall laughs, propping the pic against his knee so he can write something on the bottom in sharpie.
“Could at least take one of us,” Louis says, throwing his arm around Liam’s neck to pull him close, both of them making silly faces.
Niall laughs. “Already did.”
The picture he tosses over is faded still, not fully developed, but it’s the three of them bent over the map, Harry stretched out as he’d traced one of their possible routes, north or south?? underneath in Niall’s careful handwriting.
“The southern one,” Zayn says, shrugging one shoulder up when they all turn to look at him. “That’s my vote, if no one else wants to decide.”
“Yeah, alright,” Louis says, making a grabby hand until Niall chucks him the sharpie so he can trace their route along the whole map, “south it is.”
Harry startles, taking a minute to realize that Zayn and Louis are bickering in the backseat.
“Sorry,” Niall says, fingers tight around the wheel. They must’ve been going at it for a while now; Harry feels bad for getting caught up in his book. “I was saying we need to stop soon. Just... letting you know.”
“S’alright.” Harry unfolds his legs, stretching as best he can. He grabs a picture from the dash, a bunch of empty bottles captioned temple of doom, to use as a bookmark.
“Five seconds, that’s all I need.”
“I said no, Louis!” Harry turns in time to see Zayn trying to fend off Louis’s grabs for his phone. Liam, impressively, is completely ignoring them both as he does something on his own phone. “You should’ve charged yours before we left.”
“I did, it’s just dead now. C’mon, let me --”
Niall takes a deep breath and holds it. Harry reaches out to cup the back of his neck, digging his thumb into the muscle there until Niall exhales.
“Want me go all mum on them? Threaten to take their phones away until we stop?” Harry offers, careful to keep his voice low.
Niall laughs and Harry can feel him relaxing even though Louis and Zayn are still going at it.
“Sorry,” he says after a minute, “I know you were reading, I just --”
“It’s fine, really.” Harry squeezes Niall’s neck again before letting go. “Kerouac can wait.”
“One text,” Louis says, loudly enough that Niall’s hands clench on the wheel.
The car’s small enough that Harry can reach into the back seat and swat at both Louis and Zayn without much of an effort.
“Don’t make me separate you two,” he says, pointing his finger in their faces. There’s a second where they both look stunned and then Niall ruins it by bursting out laughing.
Louis reaches for Zayn’s phone, setting the whole thing off again, and Harry sighs before facing front in his seat.
“Yeah.” Niall runs his thumb along the tape holding their first selfie to the rear view, taking a breath like he’s calming himself down. Probably reminding himself that he shouldn’t leave anyone on the side of the road, no matter how annoying they’re being.
“Oh, look!” Harry taps Niall’s elbow, pointing to a sign in the distance. “13 miles. That’s not bad, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Niall breathes out, looking relieved. Harry reaches over to cup the back of his neck again, just in case it’s not close enough.
“Hey, love,” Louis answers his phone before it hits the second ring.
“Oh, is it seven already?” Niall makes a show of checking the time, laughing when Louis flips him off, making a face like El hasn’t called at the same time every night since they left.
“No, not much,” Louis rolls off the bed and out the door, “just watching telly, nothing exciting.”
“I should probably phone Soph, too,” Liam says, pushing himself upright.
“Course,” Niall says, “wouldn’t want to spare her the details of the Mark Twain trees.”
“Excuse me,” Harry stretches in his seat to kick at Niall’s ankle, “it was a national forest.”
“That’s what I said, trees.” Niall’s teasing, Harry knows, but he still scowls, slumping lower in his seat. He’d seen a brochure in the hotel lobby when they checked in last night and it’d looked like a nice place to go for a hike, especially now that the leaves are changing. It’d been a good time, too, being able to stretch their legs for the day.
“Well, I liked it,” Harry says.
“Me too,” Liam says, leaning against the door, phone in his hand.
“See?” Harry sticks his tongue out at Niall.
“Did I say I didn’t like it? No.”
Liam knocks on the wall once, that thing he does when he’s trying to get their attention without seeming like he’s interrupting. “I’m off, lads,” he says and then he’s gone before Harry can say good night.
Niall twists, reaching across the nightstand to check if there’s anything left of Liam’s beer, grinning when he realizes it’s not empty.
“And then there were two,” he says, raising Liam’s bottle in salute. Harry raises his back, taking a pull before tipping his head back against the chair. He could move to one of the beds, now that the other three have fucked off to call home, but this seat’s warm, and they’d walked so much today that Harry’s not really up for moving. Maybe in a bit, during an advert break.
They’re both completely zoned out when Harry’s phone vibrates; Niall’s closer to where it’s plugged into the wall so he leans over to check it.
“It’s from Jeff.”
Harry holds out his hand so he can read the email. It takes some time to respond, Jeff throwing out suggestions for meetings Harry should take once he’s back, trying to gauge Harry’s interest in certain projects. He opens up his calendar for a minute and stares at it, trying to slot things into all the open space. It’s the emptiest his schedule’s been in years; Harry feels torn between the excitement of it being blank and excitement of all the ways he can fill it in. It’s like Niall’d said back at the Greenbrier: there’s too many options. It’s a good problem to have.
After a moment he gives up, tapping out a quick response and a promise to follow up for real when he’s back in LA.
“Alright?” Niall asks when Harry sets his phone down. He’s got his own phone in his lap and the Polaroid by his hip, which means there’s probably a pic of Harry developing on the nightstand.
“Yeah,” Harry says around the neck of his beer. “It’s all good.”
Niall’s smile starts small. He opens his mouth like he’s got something to say but then he shakes his head, stopping himself.
Niall nods. His smile’s absolutely massive, makes Harry feel more awake than ever even though his voice is quiet when he says, “It’s all good.”
Harry wakes up to Niall looming over him.
“You’ll fuck up your back, Haz, c’mon.”
He lets himself be pulled up, nearly tripping as he heads towards the door. He shivers when Niall stops him, his warm hand on Harry’s shoulder making him realize he’s proper freezing. They’d turned the air con up when all five of them had been lounging; Niall must’ve forgotten to shut it off again.
“It’s half three, Harry,” Niall says, manhandling Harry towards the spare bed, shoving something soft into his arms, ”just stay here.”
Harry’s too sleep-addled to figure anything out, struggling into the hoodie Niall’s given him, distantly aware of Niall laughing at the way it doesn’t fit quite right, tight in the shoulders and short in the arms.
“Shut it.” Harry leaves the hood pulled up, tugging at the sleeves like the arms might stretch enough to cover his wrists as he curls up under the blankets, a thousand times warmer already.
He falls asleep almost like he’d never woken up at all.
“Shit.” Zayn glances out the window and then turns, ducking down and adjusting his beanie all in one motion. Harry gets that sinking feeling in his stomach. “Fuck.”
Louis is the first one snapping into motion, nudging Liam out of the booth while simultaneously pulling money out of his wallet, dropping enough cash onto the table to cover the food that’s not arrived yet.
They’re half an hour away before Harry feels like he can breathe easily, and even then he can’t stop checking twitter. Nothing’s cropped up yet, which is a relief. The girl hadn’t had her phone out; Harry’d only seen her staring through the window in that dumbstruck way.
“We’ll be fine, I think,” Niall says, leaning over so his arm’s pressed all along Harry’s side. “Willie had a barbeque, sent me a pic. I tweeted it earlier, they’ll think I’m at home.”
“We should do more of that,” Liam says, as Louis holds his fist over the seatback for Niall to bump. “Preemptive distraction, or whatever you want to call it.”
“Misdirection,” Zayn says.
“We should,” Louis says. “Oi, Payno, do you think you can get your twin who lives at Funky Buddha to take some pics?”
“I… don’t --”
“Wait,” Louis spares a glance back at them, his face a perfect mask of confusion, “that’s you there constantly?”
Liam swats at him, the car swerving when Louis ducks out of the way.
“Careful,” Zayn hisses, his hand shooting out like he’s going to steady the wheel.
“Careful,” Louis mocks, making a pained sound when Zayn socks him in the arm.
“Ooh, Combos.” Niall’s cheek nearly brushes Harry’s knee as he reaches down. The car floor’s full of trash and half-empty bags of crisps and spilled Battleship pegs. It’s going to be a bear to clean up. “Want one?”
Harry shakes his head. “Thanks.” After a minute he bumps Niall’s shoulder with his own, gently so he doesn’t send Niall into Liam. “Nice one. With the tweeting.”
Niall bumps Harry back. “Got your back, Hazza.” He tosses another Combo in his mouth.
“Oh come off it,” Harry hears Louis say, and then louder, “Putting it to a vote. Lads, show of hands for everyone who thinks Perrie should Instagram one of her disgusting Zayn pics for the good of the team.”
Everyone raises their hand, Niall throwing both his up. Zayn turns around to fix each of them with a wounded glare.
“For the good of the team, Zayner,” Harry says, keeping a mostly-straight face. He can barely hear Zayn’s “fuck all of you” over how loud Louis is cackling.
“Just saying.” Niall takes another bite of his egg McMuffin.
“Yeah, well, next time we’re leaving in a blind panic I’ll stop to consult a bloody map.”
No one had realized Louis was driving north until too late. Hours too late. And now, well. It’s alright. This town has McDonald’s and seems dead enough that maybe no one’ll notice they’re here, stretching their legs before they get back on the road.
Up front, Liam nudges Zayn, points to a diamond-shaped sign down the road. Family Owned. Harry’s heart starts beating double time when he reads it.
Liam bites his lip, still staring at the sign. “Couldn’t hurt to look.”
Zayn blinks, his voice quiet when he asks, “Yeah?”
The look on Liam’s face is so hopeful Harry finds himself holding his breath as he grabs blindly for the Polaroid, hoping he can find it in time to snap a picture.
“Oh shit, sorry Haz!” Niall’s patting Harry’s chest, checking him over for injuries before Harry’s able to get his wits about him, remember that he’s the one who’d wanted to visit the park nearby while Liam chatted with the jeweler.
“S’alright,” Harry says, but Niall’s already gone, chasing after Liam. It’s strangely quiet, even with Niall and Liam laughing; it’s like the whole town’s abandoned. Harry shades his eyes against the sun. All he sees is Zayn, thumbing through the copy of On the Road Harry’d abandoned for a kip.
“Where’s Lou?” Harry asks.
“Phone.” Zayn nods his head to where Louis is just a pair of feet dangling over the side of a bench. They really are the only people out here. Something about it makes Harry want to stretch out, go back to sleep. The sky’s an endless blue, the kind that’s so clear it almost looks fake.
“Wait,” he throws his hand out, fingers brushing Liam’s ankle as he cuts a run. “How’d it go?”
Liam’s face splits in two with a grin. The ball sails over his head, Niall making a sad sound in the distance. “They’ll call when it’s ready,” Liam says, pulling out his phone to show Harry a picture of the ring. It’s the same one he’d shown Harry in the store, had been drawn to it almost immediately. “It’ll take a bit, he said, but by the end of the day. We should still be good to leave tonight.”
Harry doesn’t care, they can hide out here for a full week if that’s how long it takes.
“We should get something to celebrate,” Harry says, looking from Liam to Zayn and then back.
“Shots?” Niall suggests, just as Harry says, “Like ice cream.”
Liam lurches forward as Niall scrambles onto his back, both of them laughing.
“No, wait, shots,” Harry says, “Niall’s idea is better.”
Niall winks, points at him. “Always.”
The car’s quiet, Harry humming along with the radio to keep himself awake. Everyone else is asleep. Well. Liam’s not, but he’s been so quiet he might as well be, turning the ring box over and over in his hands. He’s not stopped smiling since they called to say it was ready.
Maybe it’s because the other three are sacked out in the back, but Liam’s movements are very careful, measured, when he uncaps the sharpie and leans over. Harry instinctively shifts away, but Liam’s not moving to draw a dick on Harry’s bare arm. When Liam sits back, Harry sees he’s captioned the selfie still hanging from the mirror with five chevrons.
“Liam,” Harry says, feeling unsteady. Liam grins at him brightly, all teeth and crinkly eyes. Harry has to blink hard so he can focus on the road.
The sun’s setting directly in his eyes, that’s what’s making it so hard to see.
“Lads,” Louis says, nudging Niall further into the booth so he and Zayn can crowd back in after their smoke break, “there’s another bar down the road that’s got a live band, we --”
“You,” Zayn corrects, Louis flipping him off without hesitation.
“I think we should check it out.”
“Could do,” Niall says, downing the rest of his beer. They’ve not been at this bar very long, just enough to have one round, really, and Harry knows Liam hadn’t started a tab. There’s nothing keeping them here.
“When you think about it,” Harry says, “it’s actually smarter to keep moving, like, for security purposes.”
It’s Harry’s logic that has them hopping from bar to bar in this town in the middle of --
“Where are we?” he asks Louis, who just shrugs, eyes gone glassy.
“Think it’s called Frank’s?”
That’s not what Harry meant, but he lets it go. Wherever they are, Harry’s glad they’re staying here tonight. Maybe for two nights. They could do this again tomorrow.
“Oi, Niall,” Liam says, “come play darts with me.”
“I want to play,” Harry says when Niall jumps up. Louis catches Harry’s wrist, keeping him in his seat.
“We’ve made it nearly halfway across the country without anyone getting injured,” Louis chuckles when Zayn knocks his knuckles against the wooden table, “let’s not start now.”
Harry sighs into his pint. Louis lets go of his wrist and pats his back soothingly.
“C’mon,” Louis says after a second, “there’s a jukebox, I’ll bet I can pick five worse songs than you. Let’s fuck up Payno’s concentration with some death metal.”
Harry’s not even sure what time it is, doesn’t even care, really, because this bar -- the fourth? Fifth? one they’ve been to has an entire basement level that’s been turned into a dance floor they’d all crammed into immediately. Even Zayn’d stuck around for a few songs, laughing and dancing right along with them before he’d begged off, running back upstairs for another smoke and whatever there is on that floor. Pool, maybe? Harry thinks he saw some pool tables when they came in.
“Found you!” Niall says, his mouth close to Harry’s ear just to be heard over the music. “The loo’s a fucking madhouse.”
Harry nods, leaning away from whoever he’d just been dancing with to create space for Niall. He’d thought he’d come back with a fresh pint but he’s empty-handed, laughing and slotting right in next to Harry, his body finding the beat easily. There’s hardly any room out here, it’s just a sea of people in shit lighting, a heavy bassline vibrating through the floor, making Harry feel the same way he does when he’s onstage, adrenaline rushing through his veins so fast it nearly makes him dizzy.
Niall catches him when he stumbles on the floor, slippery with so many spilled drinks.
“Steady,” he says, so close that Harry has to pull back to wink. Niall just laughs and keeps dancing, his hands still on Harry’s waist, holding on like he doesn’t want to lose him. Harry leans into it, lets the crowd press him closer to Niall until they’re chest to chest, nowhere left to go.
It’s hot down here; Harry can feel the sweat rolling down his back, can see the sheen on Niall’s forehead when the strobe light flickers. Harry’s breath catches when Niall’s fingers snag on the hole in Harry’s jeans, right at his hip. Niall drags his fingertip along Harry’s hipbone and the room feels even more crowded somehow, like everyone’s take one step towards the middle, boxing them in.
When Harry glances down, Niall’s smile is bright in the flashing lights, that one he always gets when he’s pissed. He licks his lips, grinds a little harder against Harry before he laughs. Harry narrows his eyes, giving Niall a split second warning before he shifts, using his hands on Niall’s hips to spin him around, pulling him back so Harry can grind against him.
It’s too loud to hear anything, but he can feel the way Niall’s chest expands with his gasp before he laughs, weakly. One of his hands settles over Harry’s as he pushes back, the two of them moving together. Niall tips his head back against Harry’s shoulder; from this angle, Harry can just see the edge of his grin, how he’s got his eyes mostly closed. Harry tightens his grip on Niall’s hips, grinds harder, wondering if that’ll make his eyes open.
They both startle when someone grabs their arms, Harry having to blink a few times before he registers that it’s Louis, saying something about Liam and a broken glass.
“We gotta go!” he yells, frustrated when Harry and Niall only blink at him. Harry feels sluggish, like he’s coming out of a dream. Niall’s arse is still pressed against him and Louis’s arms are waving wildly.
“C’mon.” Niall grabs Harry’s hand and drags him after Louis, up the stairs and out the door and down the street, where everything is quieter and colder.
They try to leave town in the morning, but only make it thirty minutes before they have to make an emergency roadside stop so Liam can be sick in the bushes.
Niall books them another night in their last hotel immediately. Harry wants to kiss him for it, but Louis beats him to it.
“We have to!” Louis yells, no regard for anyone else staying in the hotel tonight. Harry hasn’t really seen anyone else since they arrived, so maybe there’s no one else staying here, but still. “Full circle!”
“Maybe it should be like, we did it in theory so it counts,” Zayn suggests, eyeing the pool warily. Louis, in response, tries to pants him before shoving him in the water. It ends with everyone but Harry in a tangled heap on the ground and Louis crying uncle.
“I’m just saying,” he says, once Zayn’s let him up.
“I liked it,” Harry says, and just as Zayn’s scoffing, saying, “Of course you did,” Harry strips off his kit and cannonballs into the pool.
When he surfaces, Louis is beaming at him, full of pride. Zayn looks like a disappointed dad.
“This is a public pool, Harry.”
“Technically it’s private,” Liam says, mouth clamping shut when Zayn glares. Harry sticks his tongue out at Zayn, shaking his head so water sprays over everyone’s feet.
“It’s fine,” he says, rolling his eyes, “I’ve still got my pants on.”
“See?” Louis pinches Zayn’s side, hard. “It’s fine. Harold’s not getting arrested for public indecency and --”
He’s cut off by Niall jumping into the pool.
“Absolutely not,” Zayn says, once they’re all four in the water and he’s sat on a lounger, unlit cig hanging out of his mouth. “I will tweet our location if you even think about it.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Louis says, but he drops out of his half-hoist over the wall and pushes towards the middle of the pool, splashing Niall for entertainment instead.
Harry kicks gently until he floats away from the rest. It’s quiet once Louis stops splashing, him and Niall climbing out to assess the hot tub. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry can see Liam hanging onto the wall to share Zayn’s cigarette.
The moon’s huge tonight, nearly full. Harry maps out the handful of constellations he knows, pushing his hands through the water so he spins in a slow, lazy circle. When they get to Australia it’ll be a different sky. Everything’s going to be different. The thought makes his stomach flip over in a good way, like he’s driven too fast over a bump, given himself that tiny rollercoaster thrill. He changes the patterns he’s drawing in the water, starts spinning himself in the other direction.
Harry gets cold about the same time Zayn disappears, phone in hand. Harry could go upstairs, too, he knows, but he’s got a sweatshirt down here and the night’s too nice give up. It’ll start getting proper cold soon, before they make it to LA probably. No use wasting it.
“Ditching us, Haz?” Niall asks from where he and Louis are in the hot tub. Harry rubs the tips of his fingers together; they’ve gone all pruney. He tugs his sleeves down farther before remembering it was Niall’s first, it’ll never cover his knuckles.
“Never.” He pulls his book out of the pouch in his sweatshirt, settling in where Zayn had been, dangling his feet back in the pool. It’s warmer in the water than out of it. There’s always the hot tub, he supposes, but Niall and Lou are talking and Harry’s enjoying the silence he’s got over here, just the quiet, methodical sound of Liam swimming laps. It’s easy to get lost in it.
It’s a while before he notices he’s alone. He breathes in deeply, staring up at the moon. He must not’ve heard them go. He sets his book down, splayed to keep his place, before standing up to stretch.
“Hey,” Niall says, Harry glancing over his shoulder to see Niall’s still there after all, and that’s all the warning he gets before Niall’s shoving him in the pool, Harry flailing at the last second to take Niall in with him.
Niall laughs while Harry chucks his sopping hoodie onto the deck, keeps laughing when Harry gets his arms around Niall’s neck and tries to push him under. When Niall shoots up again, gasping for air, he’s pressed chest-to-chest with Harry. He’s grinning just as brightly as he’d been in that bar, too. Everything from last night comes back in a rush.
"Niall." Harry feels like he's the one trying to breathe, their legs bumping as they tread water. He doesn't know what he meant to say. There's a bead of water running down Niall's cheek; Harry brushes it away instinctively, feeling the way Niall's ribs expand at the touch. Niall's eyes flicker down to Harry's mouth, watching the way Harry licks away the water there.
Harry feels ten times drunker than he actually is, like the beers they’d had before stumbling down to the pool are hitting him all over again as he flattens his palm against Niall's back, pulling him that much closer.
"You won this round," Niall says, Harry's brain taking a minute to catch on that Niall means for dunking him. Not that it matters because Harry laughs and then Niall's kissing him, his forearms on Harry's shoulders for leverage. Niall's mouth is warm and tastes like chlorine when Harry licks into it, Niall making a sound low in his throat that goes straight to Harry’s cock.
“We’re,” he starts, mouthing at Niall’s jaw, liking the drag of Niall’s stubble against his lips. Niall’s got them to the side of the pool somehow, his arms bracketed on either side of Harry, holding onto the wall.
Niall tugs on the ends of Harry’s hair. “We’re what?”
Harry snakes one of his legs out, twines it around Niall’s under water, smirking when Niall bites his lip. After a second Niall rolls his hips the tiniest bit and Harry loses his entire train of thought.
“Dunno,” he says, palming Niall’s hips as he kisses him again, wanting to keep him from drifting away.
“Haz,” Niall says after what feels like a long time. He doesn’t move away, just pulls back enough so Harry has to blink to focus on him. Niall jerks his head to the hotel.
“Yeah.” Harry blinks slowly. “Yeah. C’mon.”
Harry can feel Niall’s breath warm on his shoulder blade while he unlocks the door.
“Yessss,” Niall lets out softly once it’s open, propelling Harry into the room. Harry drops his things right on the floor before spinning Niall around, reeling him in to kiss him again, Niall grinning against his mouth as he says, “Much better.”
Now that they’re inside, Harry can tell how cold he was getting. He shivers when Niall skates his palm over his ribs, fingers playing at where Harry’d knotted a towel around his waist.
“One sec,” Niall says, ignoring the frustrated noise Harry makes as he pulls away to set his things down in a neat pile on the dresser, the Polaroid on top. “Don’t want it to get broken,” Niall’s voice gets a touch higher when Harry plasters himself to Niall’s back, setting his teeth where Niall’s shoulder turns into his neck, “there’s still half a bleeding country left. Haz.”
Harry’s not entirely sure what they’re doing, he only knows he wants to make Niall sound like that again. He kisses where his teeth had just been, making a path all the way up Niall’s neck until he turns around, groaning into Harry’s mouth.
“It’s gonna get all wet,” Niall says, nose wrinkling as Harry sprawls on the bed, towel chucked aside.
“Just saying,” Niall shrugs, walking up the bed on his knees until he’s close enough for Harry to tug down.
“I’ve got another one.” Harry traces his thumb along the shell of Niall’s ear before curling his fingers around Niall’s nape, leaning up to meet Niall halfway. “Just saying.”
Harry’d been half-hard in the pool and now, with Niall warm and settled on top of him, rolling his hips like they’re in that fucking bar again, it’s like going from zero to sixty. Harry can practically hear the music, the bassline thrumming through his veins as Niall drags his nails over Harry’s abs.
“Fuck,” Harry grits out when Niall’s hand brushes his cock, making Harry’s hips jerk, Niall doing it again to be a prick. “Don’t --”
“Okay.” Niall shifts so he’s braced over Harry again, his hand so bloody far away from Harry’s pants, holding himself carefully so they only touch when Niall dips his head to kiss Harry again, which is great, but also the opposite of what Harry wanted. The half opposite. He wants both things. Wants everything right now.
“That’s not,” Harry palms Niall’s arse, pulling him down until they’re flush, until Harry’s got something to grind up against, “not what I meant.”
Niall bites Harry’s lip. “No shit.”
Harry wants to tell Niall to be nicer, but Niall’s rolling them and shoving Harry’s pants down as they move, and it takes all of Harry’s concentration to help him and then to push Niall’s off, as well.
“Fuck, watch it,” Niall cringes when Harry’s knee strays too far north as he tries to kick free of his pants.
“You watch it,” Harry says, kissing Niall quickly before licking his palm. “Better?”
Niall’s mouth falls open like he’s dumbstruck, his hips pushing into Harry’s hand. “Yeah,” he says, sounding like it’s a struggle to talk. Harry feels the same way when Niall finally gets his hand around Harry’s cock, everything going staticky for a second.
“Fuck,” Harry exhales shakily, feeling Niall laugh against his temple. They’re a mess, then, trying to kiss, their hands knocking as they wank each other. Harry wonders what would’ve happened if they hadn’t gotten kicked out of the bar yesterday, if it could’ve possibly been anything as brilliant as this.
“Harry.” Niall’s hand is moving faster, almost in time to the rhythm of his hips, Harry taking that as his cue to pick up the pace, fighting to keep his eyes open so he can watch Niall’s face as he comes, his nails digging into Harry’s bicep, his grip on Harry’s cock unbearably tight for one second before going slack.
If Harry weren’t so close maybe he’d be considerate, give Niall a mo to recover, but right now there’s no way.
“No, hey, let me,” Niall knocks Harry’s hand out of the way to finish wanking him, even as he’s still a little twitchy with the comedown, “I got you.”
Harry feels doped up as he watches Niall gather his things again. There’s a spot on his neck that could be from Harry. Could be a shadow.
Niall pauses in the middle of the room when he’s finished, arms full.
“Wanna take my picture?” Harry rolls onto his side, hoping the sheets pool dramatically at his waist.
Niall laughs softly, pressing the button on the camera. “There’s no film.”
Harry pouts and Niall laughs louder, reaching out to pat Harry’s ankle through the blankets. “Night, Harry.”
Harry means to shower, move to the spare bed, but Niall turns off the light as he goes. It makes falling asleep that much easier.
“Niall,” Harry dumps an armful of trash into the truck stop bin before jogging to catch up with him. Because everyone forgot to set an alarm, they were late leaving again, Liam muttering about falling behind schedule until Louis told him to stuff it.
“Morning, Haz.” Niall’s got a paper cup of coffee set between his feet as he stares at the horizon. He smiles when Harry reaches him and even though Harry hadn’t been worried about the way Niall’d left last night, he still feels relieved right now.
“Alright?” Niall asks after a minute, probably because Harry’s stood there staring at him.
“Of course.” Harry throws his arm around Niall’s waist, leaning into him. “You?”
“Superb,” Niall laughs and half-hugs Harry back, turning his head to drop a quick kiss in Harry’s hair. He squeezes Harry once before slapping his arse. “Now don’t fuck up my shot.”
Niall lifts his camera to take a pic, catching Zayn wandering back from the edge of the car park.
“Now me.” Harry takes the camera, turning it on them. “Say ‘pool party!’”
He’s only slightly disappointed when it develops and Louis is behind them, giving them both bunny ears.
They hit the middle of nowhere a day later, where it feels like all the states blend together and no matter where Harry looks all he can see is a flat horizon line. And sky. It’s quiet in the car as Niall drives, and even though he’s in the back seat wedged between Liam (who’s suddenly a mouth breather), and Louis (who’s alternating between trying to flick things over into Liam’s open mouth and drifting off against Harry’s shoulder), Harry can still hear him sing quietly along with the radio, some Motown station that he won’t let Zayn change.
“Driver’s the DJ,” Niall had said, swatting at Zayn’s hand the first time he flinched awake when Niall busted out the chorus of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”.
He’s at least mostly quiet now, head twisting slightly as Harry can clearly make out that he’s harmonizing under his breath with The Supremes. Harry knows that Zayn’s asleep from how he’s slumped against the window, and he’s tempted to shove his jumper under Zayn’s neck so he won’t complain later about how sore it is from how he slept.
Harry knows that it’s his turn to drive next, that he should be closing his eyes, but he feels too twitchy, wishes he was up front and swapped out with Zayn. Instead, he sits up as carefully as he can not to disturb Louis, who’s passed out again, and catches Niall’s eyes in the rearview mirror. It takes Niall a moment to notice, but he winks when he does, and Harry grins.
“Up,” Harry mouths, pointing up to the worn ceiling, trying to get Niall to crank the volume. It’s so bloody low that Harry knows he’ll never get any sleep in just hearing Niall sing along.
Niall winks again, and a second later there’s Jackson 5 blasting throughout the car, Liam and Louis both jolting awake. Harry loves how small the back seat feels.
“Twat,” Louis reaches around to cuff the back of Niall’s head, and the car swerves just enough to make Harry’s heart leap for a mo.
“Lads, I swear, if you let me sleep for a little bit more, we can have a proper singalong,” Liam is mumbling into Harry’s shoulder, and Niall starts laughing, loud enough to set Zayn off groaning next to him.
“Willie sent me the pic, fucking finally,” Niall announces to all of them at the table, Harry staring at the menu and wondering what exactly chipped beef is.
“Congrats,” Louis rolls his eyes, looking over his shoulder. “Oh look, it’s your telly.”
“Gonna instagram it, dick.” Niall stares down at his phone. “No one’s spotted us for days, they think Harry’s in LA already. Gonna throw them off.”
“It’s a little creepy how into this you get,” Liam prods at something on the menu that Harry can’t see, pointing it out to Zayn who nods. “Like you’re a proper James Bond.”
Niall shrugs, and Harry pokes at his thigh under the table. “Fuck,” Niall swears, cutting his eyes over to Harry quick and pushing against his hand, “you’re making me fuck it up. C’mon, Payno, there’s something fun in it, yeah?”
Liam’s cut off from answering by their server showing up with their coffee (hot water for Harry, a plate of lemons) and to take their order, a really interesting looking older lady who doesn’t even blink at them, nothing but exhaustion and annoyance in her eyes. She’s got her hair up in this complicated knot on top of her head, and Harry decides to take a picture with her before they go. If she’ll let him.
It’s the middle of the night and they’re at some 24 hour diner, trying to keep their driving schedule loose and unpredictable. (Or “fucked and absolute rubbish” according to Louis.) Harry loves it though, how even though at the beginning of the day they’d planned to go one way and follow one path, by the time it was two in the morning they were all on the edge of mutiny and zigged in a different direction.
He pokes at Niall’s leg again, because Harry’s squeezed into the corner of their booth in the back and Louis is too busy arguing with Zayn and Liam about some bollocks to notice on Niall’s other side. Niall shifts when he does, and Harry lets his hand slide down to palm at Niall’s knee, feeling the jagged press of Niall’s scar against his skin.
Niall makes a sound, soft, and Harry knows it’s not because his knee hurts, because Harry’s seen and heard that sound he makes when it does, there right after the surgery ages ago when all Niall could do was grit his teeth and stare at the ceiling; or during the tour right after that, when sometimes just standing next to Niall backstage after a show he could feel the heat from it.
Harry presses down his palm just because he wants to see what might happen, refusing to look at Niall and staring over at the odd contraption on the table instead. Like a jukebox, but small. He flips through it and keeps his eye on Niall squeezing all the lemons into Harry’s mug, one by one, his knuckles gone white with it.
“Cheers, Niall,” Harry says softly, surprised when Niall pulls out a flask from somewhere after that and pours a generous glug in all of their mugs. “Oi.”
“Thank fuck,” Louis catches Niall’s wrist when it hovers over his mug, pouring extra in.
“Thought we were driving tonight,” Liam’s already taking a sip anyway, making a face before taking another.
“There’s a hotel across the way,” Zayn offers, his voice already gone tired even though they had to wake him up from a kip when they’d pulled in. “Could see if they have anything.”
“Isn’t it handy then,” Louis takes the flask from Niall again, Niall’s knee bouncing up into Harry’s hand when he does, “that they have that fucking giant sign that’s blinking Vacancy right now?”
“We don’t know if that’s entirely accurate.” Liam points out, and Harry thinks that it’s real lucky their food comes then before Louis can say anything else.
“Liam if you pick rock again, I swear to bloody Christ,” Louis holds out his hand, Zayn counting to four before Louis and Liam both extend their hands, palms flat. “FUCKING HELL,” Louis yells, it echoing in the small hotel room.
“You said not to pick rock,” Liam’s eyes are crinkling up at the corners like he’s about to laugh, Harry can tell he’s fighting it. “So I picked paper.”
“It was a tactic,” Louis says, his voice dangerously calm.
“Louis…” Zayn says under his breath, eyes darting between the two of them before he glances over and meets Harry’s eyes. Harry knows he’s asking for some help.
“Louis, if you don’t know by now that Liam would have gone paper,” Harry lets it trail off, shrugging and grinning when Louis glares over at him. They’d called a moratorium on the two of them deciding shit this way ages ago anyway, because it can go on for hours and hours. Weeks, that one time.
Zayn makes his way over to the bed opposite the one Harry’s sitting on, toeing off his boots and bouncing back. “You lot let me know when you’ve decided,” he mumbles, already turning toward the wall.
“Helpful,” Harry turns to where Liam and Louis are still facing each other. It’s been years since they’ve had to share a room like this, two double beds and a telly wedged into a small space. There’s not even an extra cot, the bloke at the desk staring at Harry like he had two heads when he asked. They’re all cranky and half pissed, and Harry just wants to sleep.
He doesn’t know why everyone has to act like he snores so bloody loud anyway, it’s not like he’s gotten a ton of complaints in the past few years. Fuck’s sake.
Niall comes out of the loo already laughing, taking in Liam and Louis and pointing at where Zayn’s already curled up.
“Lads,” Niall says, barely able to get the words out, “the tub looks proper cozy.”
“Good,” Louis turns to Harry, grinning, “so Harry can sleep there. Tub bed for Harry.”
“We could close the door then,” Liam adds, starting to get that hopeful reasonable look that Harry feels is entirely too dangerous.
“Hold on,” Harry holds up his hands, scooting so his back is up against the headboard and he’s fully on the bed, “I’m not sleeping in the tub. I’m the only one who wouldn’t fit in the tub, for chrissakes.”
“You don’t know that, you haven’t seen it!” Niall says brightly, and Harry narrows his eyes at him to cover up for the fact that he knows Niall is on his side. Can’t let Louis catch wind of it.
“You know who would fit?” Harry goes spread eagle to cover up as much of the bed as possible, looking up and hoping that it’s a shadow and not a stain on the ceiling, “Louis would. Our little pocket friend.”
“That is a fair point,” Liam turns to Louis, “and I don’t think I’d mind if I heard Hazza, so you could just close-”
“This is fucking ridiculous,” Louis shoves at Liam’s shoulder. “Payno, you’re in the middle, get next to Zayn.”
“I take it I’m to share with Harry?” Niall asks, his tone decidedly neutral even though Harry’s paying close attention. Or maybe it’s because Harry’s paying attention.
“Since you came up with the shit tub idea,” Louis is already kicking his legs over at Liam’s, “you’re dealing with it.”
“Fair enough,” Niall shrugs, and Harry rolls over when Louis kills the light, misjudging how much space Niall will need and ramming his shoulder against the wall with a thud. “Oi, Harry.”
“That was unpleasant.” Harry rubs at his shoulder. “Do you think you’ll be able to make it sleeping next to me, since I’m so awful.”
“They’re just taking the piss,” Niall whispers even though the others are about three feet away, “you’ve barely made a peep when you sleep in t’car.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Louis calls out, and Harry wishes he was someone who fell asleep much faster.
“Don’t mind,” Niall’s whispering even softer now, “really.”
It’s cold in the room despite the fact that they’re all in it and taking up so much space, it not helping that Harry’s so close to the window. He holds his breath, wiggling a little closer to Niall and knowing that it would be a shit idea to ask to switch with the others.
Niall’s hand finds Harry’s and squeezes, once. Harry opens his mouth to say something, like maybe not here or want to see if this place has a pool when Niall speaks, not whispering this time.
“Hazza, just put your head under the pillow and we’ll be just fine.”
Louis and Liam stop their quiet bickering from across the room to laugh, and Harry grins in the dark, reaching out to pinch at Niall’s leg.
“Can we put the heat on?” Harry asks, already knowing before it happens that everyone is going to say No in unison. He smiles when it happens, Niall squeezing at his hand again, and in the dark the room really does look rather nice.
Harry vaguely remembers waking up a couple of times during the night with his nose cold and his hands shaking, so it’s a bit of a surprise when he blinks awake and he feels just. Warm. Surrounded by warmth. It’s good, and he turns his face into Niall’s neck before he realizes what he’s doing, the two of them tangled together nearly on the edge of the bed. It’s almost like in his sleep he’s gotten as close to Niall as he can without actually being in his skin. Niall smells like sweat and a little bit of the whiskey they’d all had the night before, and Harry inhales and wonders if it’s what he’ll miss the most about spending so much time with all the lads, of knowing them all so well you can identify them with just a deep breath in the dark.
There’s a quiet sound, and when Harry opens his eyes he can see that Liam’s sitting up on the edge of the other bed, fiddling with his watch.
“Hey,” Harry keeps his voice almost silent, tipping his chin carefully up on the slow rise and fall of Niall’s chest.
“Should probably get going soon, but,” Liam jerks his head back, and Harry’s eyes focus in on Louis and Zayn, both of them laid out and still asleep.
“We can give it a bit,” Harry glances over at the nightstand then, Niall’s camera catching his eye. He gets an idea. “Liam,” he rolls his eyes wildly, and it takes a second of a confused look before Liam nods, rolling his eyes and grinning before leaning over to pick it up carefully.
Harry closes his eyes, steadying his cheek on Niall’s chest and counting the steady thud of Niall’s heartbeat at his temple until he can hear the whir of the photo being taken.
When he opens them, Liam’s already set the camera back down, holding the photo carefully by its edge.
“Think it turned out mate,” he says, and Harry tries his best not to sprawl out over Niall like a twat when he edges out of bed, concentrating on keeping his movements careful. “Ace,” is Liam’s comment when he finally makes it, Niall amazingly still asleep and silent.
“Top marks,” Harry stumbles to the bathroom, having a piss and splashing water on his face before inspecting it carefully in the mirror. He’s surprised it’s mostly clear, had figured that the off schedule and shit food they’ve been eating would have shown up by now. There’s a sign in it somewhere, but Harry’s too distracted by the outline of Niall’s button showing up as a clear indent on his cheek to try and figure it.
When he comes out of the toilet, Harry walks past Liam, who’s on his phone now, and picks up the picture where Liam had set it on the end of the bed by Niall’s feet. It turned out well in the muted dawn light of the room, looking fuzzed out and vintage but still capturing how the two of them are wrapped up together, one of Harry’s curls caught on the stubble of Niall’s chin. It’s wicked. Harry brackets the edges of it with his hand, palming it.
“Gonna go get some coffee so wake up will be nicer,” Harry says to Liam, who waves at him from where he’s still engrossed in his phone.
It’s chilly, and Harry stops at the car first to nick Louis’s jacket that he knows he left in the back seat. He climbs fully in the front and closes the door, writing an H on the fogged up window lazily as he reaches back for the jacket. When he shrugs it on, he notices his book where it had fallen down between the seats and digs it out. The corner’s bent back a bit, and he rights it with a crease in the other direction as he idly flips through, tries to remember where he left off.
A passage he’d already circled catches his eye, and he reads it over a couple of times before he closes the book and tosses it in the backseat, reaching over to the glove box and getting the marker and tape out from where he knows Zayn left it. The pic Louis had taken of himself and Zayn and Liam after they finally decided on the ring hangs a bit precariously, and Harry retapes it before he grabs the pic of him and Niall from where he’d set it on the dash.
The Mad Ones he captions it, printing as neatly as he can before taping the photo to the middle of the wheel. Niall always takes the first morning shift.
Everyone’s slow moving and well rested, grateful for the coffee and pastries Harry had gotten from the place across the street as they pile in the car. Like any new day so far, there’s no one bickering and Zayn flips through the radio before anyone else is settled, his eyes bright when he finds something he likes and is already singing along by the time Niall pulls out of the lot.
In the commotion, Harry doesn’t know exactly when the photo’s gone from the wheel, but when they stop for petrol and for Louis to take over, Harry can see it peeking out the top of Niall’s back pocket as he climbs in the backseat after Zayn.
“What are you so happy about?” Louis asks him when Harry gets up front, grinning like a prat.
“Dunno,” Harry glances at the back seat, where Niall is having some sort of complicated thumb war with Zayn already. “I’m just having a good time, I suppose.”
“Of course you are,” Louis snorts, “aren’t we all, then?”
“Louis,” Harry drags out his name, leaning across the console to kiss Louis’s cheek sloppily.
“Going to piss meself,” Niall moans from the backseat, and Harry keeps his eyes closed so he doesn’t think about his own full bladder. It’s been ages that they’ve been on this stretch of highway, it seems, and Harry tries not to think about the empty bottles of water he knows are at his feet.
“Don’t think there’s an exit for ages,” Louis’s voice sounds clipped as he drives, “so I guess you can fucking hold it.”
“Lou,” Zayn’s voice is quiet. “Think we all need a piss, is all.”
“Yeah, and moaning about it isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Tommo,” Liam’s leaning forward now, and Harry finally opens his eyes to turn his head and look at how he’s got his chin hooked over Louis’s shoulder.
“For fuck’s sake,” Louis jerks the wheel abruptly, all of them nearly going arse over ankles when the car skids to a stop on the side of the road.
“Thank Christ,” Niall’s already out of the car before Harry can blink, disappearing behind a bush while everyone else moves, sluggish and tripping over themselves.
“There hasn’t been another car on the road for ages,” Zayn’s already half standing in a ditch, struggling with his flies. Harry glances over at the bush Niall’d fucked off to, shrugging and stopping so he’s next to Zayn. He chuckles to himself when Liam and Louis silently join them, all in a row.
“Better hope no one drives by with a camera,” Liam remarks, all of them nodding.
“What a beautiful picture,” Niall yells out, and before Harry turns he can already hear the Polaroid go off. “Relax, Louis, don’t look at me like that, it’s just a pic of your feet.”
“I FEEL VIOLATED,” Louis’s still struggling to do up his flies when he takes off after Niall, chasing him round the car.
“I’ll violate you,” Niall’s laughing, zigging around Harry and clipping his shoulder on the way. Harry snags the pic from Niall’s arm then, angling it so Zayn and Liam can see how it looks, their shadows all lined up.
“Looks sick, actually,” Zayn takes it from Harry, “I’m gonna put it up.”
“I better go rescue Niall,” Liam sighs, rolling his eyes and ruffling Harry’s hair as he takes off, Louis and Niall out so far from the car that he can barely hear them yelling. Everything is so quiet, even when Zayn starts singing softly from the front seat of the car.
It’s so smoky in the bar Liam picked that Harry’s sure he’s about to dive headfirst into an asthma attack, but it’s also crowded and no one’s outwardly recognized them yet and he can hear Liam laughing clear across the bar. So Harry can deal with it.
“Liam fancies himself a proper line dancer,” Zayn exhales carefully away from Harry’s face when Harry finds him in the corner, probably half a pack in. The second they’d walked into this place, Niall and Louis making a million jokes to Liam about the name, the Western Horseman Club, Zayn had realized he could smoke inside. Been happy as fuck ever since.
“He seems to have caught the hang of it,” Harry watches as Liam, Louis, and Niall dance together, a handful of older ladies trying to teach them. Liam’s easily the best one, Niall half trying and Louis clearly taking the piss.
“Niall’d be better if he put down the bottle, yeah?” Zayn leans back, his hand reaching out to squeeze at Harry’s shoulder. “Not that I’d be the one to tell him that.”
“When d’you think that Liam’s gonna ask her?” Harry asks suddenly, a feeling like he needs to get the subject off of Niall, at how he’s laughing so hard that Harry can feel it vibrating down his arms and legs even with the crowd between them.
“Sophia?” Zayn blinks a couple of times, taking a long drag like he’s considering. “Probably gonna plan it out, yeah?”
“You know already,” Harry accuses, knows Zayn’s tell better than anything, when his eyes cut away at the last minute and his jaw twitches.
“He asked Lou and I, like.” Zayn shrugs, reaching around Harry to grind out his cigarette in the ashtray on the table. “Got a whole thing planned at the airport, wants us to help since we’re all on the same flight, the lot of us.”
“The lot of you.” Harry echoes, letting the words roll around in his mouth before he speaks. “I’d have flown out, you know. If he asked.”
“He knows that.” Zayn’s twitchy, fingers flashing in the lights while he plays with his beard, pinching at his lips. It’s so loud, Harry tipping the brim of the cowboy hat he bought at the last rest stop up so he can lean in and speak.
“Just take a video of it. Promise?” The thing is, it’s not that it’s really bothering Harry. Which is really more bothersome than anything. He feels like there’s so much to look forward to, for all of them, really. And it doesn’t matter who does what first or who helps or is there. Just that all these great things are happening.
“I’ll make sure Louis does,” Zayn nods, grinning and ducking out of Harry’s reach like he anticipates Harry’s next move.
“We’re all gonna have such great lives, Zayn.” Harry leans over again then, kissing Zayn’s cheek before he can move away again. Zayn reaches up to rest his hand on Harry’s shoulder, in this soothing pat pat pat rhythm.
“This was a good idea,” Zayn drops his hand to rummage around in his pockets for his pack again, “it’s been a good trip. Not just because I’ve caught up on my sleep, either.”
“I always have the best ideas,” Harry straightens his shoulders like he’s resolving himself against something, a new song starting. He can see Louis start to head over to where they’re sat, Liam still out on the floor and raising his hand above his head like he’s about to go off on stage. “Be back, Zayn.”
Harry finds Niall in the dark hallway where the toilets are, flushed from the floor and thumbing at something on his phone, staring intently at the screen. So intently that he doesn’t notice Harry’s there until Harry can practically smell the beer on his breath.
“You were really tearing up the dance floor.”
“Chrissakes!” Niall startles, grabbing at Harry’s shoulder and pressing in his fingers, holding him there. “Can’t a man have a moment to himself?”
“I’ll go,” Harry grins, starting to walk away. He’s pleased when Niall’s fingers dig in harder.
“Didn’t say that, I-” Niall takes a deep breath, “was talking to a bloke, out there. Think I know where we need to hit next.”
“And where is that?” Harry leans over, trying to get a glance at Niall’s phone screen.
“Winslow, Arizona.” Niall stares at Harry’s face, rolling his eyes when Harry does nothing. “Harry. Take it easy.”
Harry realizes, laughing hard. “You wanna go stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona?”
“Think of how sick,” Niall holds up his phone, looking so serious Harry gets that twitch like he wants to kiss him again, “it would be. A polaroid by the statue. All of us.”
“All of us?” Harry tries to calm down so he’s able to speak, “Or just you.”
“I was gonna,” Niall sniffs, shoving his phone in his pocket, “make the lads take our pic. Got my Eagles shirt in me bag, Haz. Like it’s meant to be. It’d be a real good memory.”
“I-” Harry feels unsteady, glancing over his shoulder to make sure there’s no one around before he leans in and kisses Niall quick. Just enough to take off the edge, to feel the surprised noise Niall makes against his mouth.
“Fuck’s sake,” Niall’s staring at him, mouth open. “Harry.”
“Winslow it is,” Harry turns so his shoulder is against Niall’s, leaned up together in the hallway. “Did you know Liam’s gonna propose in the airport?”
“Huh.” Niall still sounds shocked, like he’s on a delay. “Sounds about right. He tell you that?”
“Zayn.” Harry knocks his elbow against Niall’s arm. “Got a thing planned.”
“That’s great,” Niall laughs, “and we’ve been boxed in together for days, so it’s not a secret. Or anything.”
“Are we going to make them listen to Take it Easy on repeat the whole way tomorrow?” Harry changes the subject, fingers tapping at Niall’s hand so Niall knows that Harry gets it.
“I’m gonna change all their alarms to it, tonight.” Niall grins when Harry looks over and meets his eyes. “I’m going full tilt at this one.”
“Babe? I can barely hear you. Babe.”
Louis and Liam sigh in unison almost on cue, the familiar refrain of Zayn’s daily calls with Perrie clearly wearing them down. Harry laughs to himself, continuing to sort through the polaroids that have gotten into an unmanageable pile, all of the ones not taped up sliding around, especially when Louis is driving and he takes a hard turn.
“Sometimes wish you had a partition in this thing,” Niall mutters, glancing over at the pic Harry’s inspecting, not sure if it’s Liam or Louis’s nostril. “That’s Tommo.”
“Thanks.” Harry takes the sharpie out, making a note on the back. It’s his favorite driving configuration, Niall driving with Harry next to him, the others crowded up in the back with Zayn in the middle. He stretches his legs out as much as he can, tapping Niall’s hand on the gearshift when he gets to the next picture, one he took of Niall and Liam line dancing together the night before. It was late, the only light overhead the dance floor flaring out the side of the picture.
“Tape that one up,” Niall glances over, his grin mirroring Harry’s. “Oi, Payno, did you see this one of us?”
“Which one? There’s been so many-” Liam’s face is between them then, which ends up being a mistake since he’s shifted into Harry’s shoulder by Louis, who must shove himself under so he’s in the middle, Zayn yelling suddenly.
“Louis, I was on the phone, what the fuck.”
“Sorry Pez,” Louis’s yelling in the commotion, “I’ll owe you one.”
“Louis,” Liam sounds horrified, and Harry’d laugh if he didn’t feel jostled out of his mind, sees how Niall’s knuckles have gone white. “How would you feel?”
“I’d feel fucking great, because then I knew I’d be giving Zayn some peace,” there’s a rustle, and Harry reaches blindly back to try and intervene between the two of them grappling over the phone.
“Louis,” Liam warns.
“Roll down your window, I’m throwing out his phone.”
“LOUIS.” Niall’s voice comes out sharp, and Harry braces himself against the door when the car pulls over suddenly. “Alright. EVERYONE OUT.”
“Was just taking the piss,” Louis mutters, but they all file out anyway. Harry wants to laugh at how Louis’s looking down at the ground and not Niall, who’s pacing back and forth in front of them all leaned up against the car.
“We are about to go to a really great place, that I am looking forward to, and you’re all acting like a bunch of shits. Harry planned this nice trip, and you’re all shits!” Niall’s waving his hands about now, and Harry tries to remember exactly what time it was when he started driving.
“Erm,” Liam speaks up, “I wasn’t...I mean, Harry didn’t really have a plan, like?”
“Hey,” Harry feels a short stab of annoyance. A plan would have been rubbish.
“I-” Niall shakes his head. “All of you, we’re going to drive straight to Winslow. Zayn, shotgun. Call Pez and apologize before you get in the car.”
“Fair enough.” Zayn holds out his hand, glaring at Louis until he hands him his phone.
“You two-” Niall points, “are on each window, and Harry will keep the peace between you both.”
“This feels very unfair,” Harry allows, coming up to stand behind Niall, poking at his back. “Niall.”
“It’s two hours,” Niall says, low, turning and meeting Harry’s eyes, “then we can fuck off for a break.”
“We are standing right here,” Louis speaks up from where he’s leaned against the car, holding the door open for Harry to scoot in.
“Oh, Louis,” Niall grins back at Harry when he reaches up to mess up Louis’s hair. “I promise, I won’t miss you the most.”
“Get behind the wheel, Horan.” But at least Louis’s grinning now, quirking up his eyebrow when Harry brushes past him, handing Liam the stack of polaroids he’s had clutched in his hand the whole time.
“And now one with my hat,” Harry reaches up to drop it on the statue’s head, cutting his eyes over to make sure Niall’s laughing. He is. It’s contagious, really, like the second all of them got out of the car that excitement that’s been bubbling under the surface, for the whole trip, really, not just the last two hours of Niall singing The Eagles loudly and without break, broke open over them all. Smoothed out all of the rough edges.
“Zayn, did you get my shirt?” Niall reaches over to twist at Harry’s nipple, a smile frozen on his face as Zayn takes another picture.
“I did, looks sick,” Zayn nods at Niall to come look at the pictures he’s got spread out, one of all of them that they got a guy walking by to take, some individual shots, then a few of just Niall, just Harry and Niall. Harry laughs, pointing at the one where Liam answered his phone right when Harry’d snapped the photo.
“When Sophia called,” Harry nudges at Niall’s side, grinning when Niall reaches up to squeeze at the back of his neck. In the photo, Liam’s face is split into a wide smile, his head tilted to answer.
“He just texted, our rooms are ready,” Zayn adjusts his beanie, looking down at his phone and glancing around at the crowded park. Harry knows that it’s probably not the best idea, out in the dusky twilight when there are a lot of people around, but a part of him doesn’t care anymore. In just a couple of days, they’ll be in LA and then it’s ages before Australia, nothing but planning out whatever’s gonna happen next. It’s like his fingertips ache with the buzz of it all, poking at Niall’s side before he turns his head to catch Harry’s eye, a smile blooming slow on his face.
“C’mon, we’ll get a good night’s sleep in,” Niall gathers all of the photos together before slinging his arm around them both, “maybe we can get used to that, for a bit.” There’s a beat of silence as they all think about it, Harry knows, how much it always means after the whirlwind of tour, the chaos of their lives.
“Yeah,” Zayn’s voice is so quiet and hopeful that it makes Harry blink down on it, Niall’s arm tightening around his waist until Harry feels tethered to the ground again.
“Harry, hey.” Niall’s foot is poking at Harry’s side from where he’s sprawled out on the foot of the bed, hadn’t realized he’d dozed off when they got in.
“Shit, I hope I haven’t been out for long,” Harry sits up slowly, his head spinning a bit. After dinner together in Louis’s room, they’d all fucked off, Niall and Harry heading down to the hotel bar until they were both half pissed and Niall was sure everyone around them was taking their picture.
“Enough for me to check my email and schedule a couple of tee times for next week,” Niall holds up his phone, “my calendar’s filling up.”
“Yeah, mine too.” Harry reaches into his pocket for his phone, tossing it over on the other bed. “Mind if I just sleep here?”
“Dunno why you bothered getting your own,” Niall laughs, kicking at Harry when he launches himself for the pillows next to Niall.
“What if you said no, Niall?” Harry turns his head so his voice won’t be muffled, looking up at Niall. It’s dark in the room save for the telly, something Harry can’t identify from the low volume Niall’s got it at.
“Suppose you don’t want to be presumptuous,” Niall’s eyes look like they’re taking in Harry’s whole face, and Harry feels that looming sense of everything bubbling over again, like it was in the pool. Like he felt in the hallway at the bar the other night.
“Niall, we’re-” Harry knows that they’re good, that it’s good, that no matter what it’s still them. Niall’s still staring down at him, his eyes glassed over with something, Harry’s not sure what. Harry stretches his legs out like he can’t in the car, using his full height when he reaches up to palm Niall’s hips and pull him down so they’re level, kissing Niall before he can finish Harry’s sentence.
Niall makes a soft noise into Harry’s mouth, and Harry wonders if they should stop this, find another way to get everything out, but then he’s rolling and sliding his knee between Harry’s. He rocks his hips a little bit, a subtle shift at the same time he’s licking into Harry’s mouth, and that’s all it takes for Harry to feel his dick start to fill up, more than half hard before Niall even tugs on the ends of Harry’s hair.
“Harry, here,” Niall pulls away for a second, laughing breathlessly and reaching for the night table, holding up his camera. “Smile.”
“Are you-” Harry feels sluggish, like his dick and brain are on the same short circuit. He feels himself go on autopilot, opening his mouth and smiling before Niall drops the camera down at their feet, curling around Harry and laughing hard.
“You were-” Niall gasps against Harry’s shoulder, “you did your dumbshit photo smile.”
“I was caught off guard, honestly,” Harry shakes his head, nudging his thigh up until Niall groans. “You’re such a child sometimes. We were having a moment.”
“It was classic, and you know it.” Niall nudges his nose against Harry’s cheek until Harry turns enough that he meets Niall’s eyes. They’re so close that Harry can’t tell for sure that Niall’s smiling, not that it matters when Niall ducks his head down, brushing his lips against Harry’s.
“It was alright.” Harry moves his arm so his hand is palming Niall’s hip.
“Maybe I just wanted to remember this part of the trip, too,” Niall says, low, “tape it up on the dash.”
“The lads,” Harry sucks in a breath when Niall drags his lips down over Harry’s jaw, “would love that.”
“Don’t wanna talk about them now,” Niall murmurs, running his tongue along the seam of Harry’s lips, kissing him forcefully. Harry digs his fingers into Niall’s hip to hold him still while Harry rocks into him, splaying his fingers out until he’s fully palming Niall’s ass.
They get into a rhythm fast, just like they do anything, and Harry’s fully aware of how hard they both are, the line of Niall’s cock rocking against his own even through all their layers. It’s been ages since Harry’s done this, just made out with someone without knowing what’s going to happen next; just because it feels good, just because it’s enough. It’s nice.
More than nice, really, but sometimes Harry wonders if he has a different definition of nice than anyone else, how he thinks that it’s really the best anyone can hope for. How the way Niall fits against him in this moment is even better than that.
Harry’s not sure when things turned from slow and nice to more, but now Niall is rocking into him off rhythm, like he’s about to come before anything else has even happened. Harry reaches down immediately, tipping his forehead against Niall’s while he fumbles at Niall’s flies.
Niall’s breathing heavy between them when Harry gets Niall’s jeans and pants shoved down enough to get his hand around Niall’s cock, pushing the foreskin back with his thumb and stroking down until Niall’s kissing him again. His teeth graze against Harry’s bottom lip while Harry wanks him, flicking his wrist while Niall grips his shoulders. His fingers dig in hard and his mouth opens against Harry’s when he comes, Harry stroking him slow through it until Niall exhales, his grip on Harry loosening.
“Yeah,” Harry glances up at Niall’s half open eyes, assessing how aware Niall is, because Harry’s desperate, pressing his lips to Niall’s so he’ll get the hint.
“Soz, Haz,” Niall’s voice is rough, and Harry’s cock jerks at the tone of it, Niall moving too slow to get Harry out of his pants. “I’m gonna.”
“I’m so close,” Harry whispers, hears how ragged it sounds when he bats Niall’s hands away. His hand is still messy with Niall’s come but he doesn’t care, his brain going blank when he slides it along his cock. It’s hot in a way he’s not prepared for, especially not when he tilts his head up and Niall’s staring down at him, mouth open and his eyes flickering up to Harry’s face, a bright flush on his cheeks. Harry bites at his own lip, bracing his free hand on Niall’s knee when he comes like he hasn’t in ages, unable to look away.
They breathe there for a moment, Harry slumped over Niall and pressing a kiss to his temple.
“Take it easy, Haz,” Niall says, in the quiet, smiling at his own joke.
“Glad you decided we should come here,” Harry forces his body to move, so he can go clean up. Niall’s still sprawled out on the bed, pants pushed down and a lazy smile on his face.
“Yeah,” Niall agrees, before Harry ducks into the loo, “it was nice, yeah?”
“What time did we say last night?” Niall bumps his hand against the steering wheel in staccato bursts, and Harry gets it. He feels it too, that slow morning energy like he’s busting out of his skin.
“Dunno, I think we said...9?” Harry turns Niall’s wrist so he can see the time. “So, about half an hour ago.”
“We could’ve slept a little longer.” Niall sounds slightly put out, like it wasn’t him who had set an alarm, swatting at Harry to wake up and poking at him until they were both in the shower, too much in a hurry to do anything but kiss lazily for a few minutes while the spray warmed up over them, Niall crowding Harry up against the wall before pushing him away. Saying now you’re up, have a wash.
“Mhmm.” Harry makes a noncommittal noise. “Think we’ll be okay on time.”
“Thought you wanted everyone to have time at yours for a bit before we go.” Niall leans his head back, dropping his hand down to trace patterns on Harry’s thigh.
“I do.” Harry’s voice comes out all strangled, and Niall laughs. He clears his throat. “I do. But we’ve got ages.”
“Yeah.” Niall nods. “Think Payno’s anxious to get going.”
“You thought about changing your flight to join them?” Harry draws a stick man on the window, the glass steamed up from them talking for the past forever.
“Nah,” Niall pokes his finger higher, wiggling it into the crease of Harry’s thigh, “think Bobby Horan’s looking forward to my visit.”
“Well,” Harry holds himself very still, doesn’t meet Niall’s eyes, “we can’t disappoint Bobby.”
“I think,” Niall leans in a little closer, “that any more of us and it’ll be less about them, y’know?”
“Yeah,” when Harry turns his head, Niall’s right there, close enough that it makes sense for Harry to push forward that last inch and kiss him, softly at first before leaning in and deepening it.
“Harry,” Niall pulls away after a moment, “even I’d feel like a shit for doing this knowing Louis’s taking next shift.”
“We’d be mad,” Harry still leans forward to kiss him again, quick.
“What was it?” Niall grins. “The mad ones? You and I?”
“It’s from my book,” Harry pulls it out from the bag at his feet. “See?”
Niall takes it from him, Harry opening it to the page he’s got marked. He reads it slowly, mouth curving around the silent words, a smile ghosting his features.
“Yeah, okay.” Niall reaches out, tapping at Harry’s knee a couple of times before palming it and squeezing. “Yeah, Harry. Yeah.”
Five hours later, they’re getting out of the car, to stretch their legs and cross another thing off Payno’s list.
“I call Utah!” Liam’s yelling, making his way over to the monument, Zayn walking slowly behind him while Niall keeps the pace.
“We’re gonna have to drive straight through to make it,” Louis says softly, Harry surprised when he’s waited for Harry to finish finding his sunglasses.
“Yeah, but look.” Harry gestures over to where the others are closing in on the Four Corners. When the others had finally showed up at the car, Liam was going on and on about how he and Zayn were wrecked that they forgot the Four Corners, he looked it up and it’s only a few hours away, let’s do this one last thing. Zayn didn’t look so wrecked and Louis was laughing, but it wasn’t like Niall and Harry were ever going to say no.
“I know, but.” Louis laughs, slinging his arm around Harry’s waist and pulling him close, “Liam just looked up how long it was to get here, not how long it’ll be to get to LA from here.”
“It’ll be close,” Harry allows, “but we’ll make it.”
“Cheers, Hazza.” Louis is grinning when Harry looks over at him. “You know, for this. It’s been a good like…”
“Australia.” Harry says it because he has to, because who knows what will even happen past tomorrow when all the lads are gone and he’s alone in LA with weeks to kill and decisions to make that are all his. Louis nods.
“Just talked to El last time we stopped, she’s bringing Sophia round to Heathrow.” When Louis changes the subject, it’s with a deft hand that Harry wishes he’d use more.
“Lads,” Liam calls out, and when Harry looks over he’s spread out with a limb in each state. “This is proper amazing, come on.”
“There are five of us and four states,” Zayn points out, holding Niall’s camera.
“We’ll take turns,” Harry says, reaching for the camera. “Or, here.” He pushes them all so they’re all standing in a circle over the seal, legs entwined over the state lines. It looks sick, he thinks, when he takes the picture of their feet from above, all of them still and silent.
They all crowd around while it develops. It feels like a group hug at the end of tour.
“I’m gonna feel so gross the whole flight,” Zayn says, for not the first time in the last hour. They’re a few minutes away from LAX, the last ten hour push through to get to the airport on time wearing thin on everyone.
“Say it again, so I can really let it sink in, Zayn,” Louis says from behind the wheel, reaching over to turn down the radio and shoving at Zayn’s shoulder in the process.
“Just saying,” Zayn mumbles, running his hands through his hair and grimacing. “Wish we had time for a shower.”
“Well,” Harry starts, about to offer his, but Niall elbows him hard before nodding over at Liam on his other side in the backseat, gone all twitchy.
“Deep subject,” Niall says.
“Jesus bloody Christ, you two sound like my grandpa.” Louis turns fast on a yellow, everyone skidding together.
“Sorry lads, I didn’t think-” Liam’s voice drops off, and it’s silent now, without the sound of the radio underscoring everything.
“S’alright, Liam,” Zayn says, sounding contrite. “we’ve all been more disgusting before.”
“Truer words,” Louis murmurs, so low Harry can barely hear them when they approach the kerb. Amazingly, there are no paps that Harry can see, but he knows it’s probably still safest if they do it here, in the car. Louis must know it, too, because he parks silently, he and Zayn both turning so their chins rest on the backs of their seats, facing the three of them sat in the back, all of them staring at each other.
“So.” Harry breaks the silence.
“So.” Niall echoes.
“Well, now we’re all a bunch of absolute twats,” Louis’s voice sounds a touch strangled, “suppose we should be off. Some of us have some big plans.”
“I can’t believe,” Liam’s gone all hoarse, “lads, I--”
“It’s gonna be so sick, Liam,” Zayn cuts him off, his eyes bright when he winks over at Liam, grinning across Niall to Harry.
“None of us are dying,” Niall says, in that voice he gets when he’s trying to sound rational, “and we’ll all see each other soon. Here.”
He holds his hand out, grabbing Harry’s in the process, the others joining in.
“Dunno what to say,” Niall laughs, then, “it felt like something to do.”
“Maybe we don’t have to say anything?” Harry feels like his insides have gone all tight and swelled, Niall warm all along his side.
They all nod, everyone pulling back to gather themselves so they can leave and filter out.
“Wait,” Niall pulls at the back of Harry’s shirt when he goes to slide behind the wheel. “One more thing.”
“What, you’re not coming with?” Harry turns, spots the camera in Niall’s hands. Harry can feel his hands shake a bit when he realizes, reaching to take it from him.
This group selfie turns out better than the first, everyone’s eyes open and mouths properly closed. As they drive away from the airport, Harry watches as Niall tapes it so it’s hanging right under the first on the rearview mirror. At the next light, he fiddles with the radio until he finds one of their songs. It doesn’t take very long at all.
“I’m knackered,” Niall falls onto one of Harry’s couches the second they walk in, Harry walking over to open up a few windows and get the place smelling less stale.
“Can sleep on your flight?” Harry’s not sure if he wants to convince Niall to not go for a kip in the couple of hours they have to kill, maybe lay him out and see what happens now that the magic of the road is gone, or.
“Yeah, there too. C’mere.” Niall holds his arms out from where he’s sprawled, yanking at Harry’s arm until they’re tangled together. Harry’s got his head tucked into Niall’s neck, cheek resting on his chest like that morning they woke up. The easy rise and fall of Niall’s breathing is pulling him under, Harry gone dreamy with it already.
“Niall,” Harry says, into Niall’s chest. He feels the heavy weight of Niall’s hand land on his head, fingers tangling in his hair. He knows he needs a good shampoo but Niall doesn’t seem to mind at all, scratching at Harry’s scalp in a soothing rhythm and humming something that vibrates in this pleasant way.
“Mmmm,” Niall keeps humming, and Harry feels his eyes start to close.
The sound of an alarm going off, loud and somewhere near Harry’s ear, startles Harry awake. He almost goes right off the couch but Niall catches him at the last minute, strongarming him until they’re tangled together again.
“Shit.” Niall silences his phone, and Harry tips his head up so he can see, takes in the line of Niall’s jaw, littered with dark stubble. He pushes at Harry until they’re both sitting up. “Shit,” he says again, rubbing his hand over his face.
“I--” Harry starts to speak, but then stops. He feels a little less tired now, which is pro, but now they have to do a mad scramble to the airport and he would much rather see how Niall’s stubble would scrape along the skin of his chest, which is a big con. “Gather your stuff, we’ll make it.”
“What?” Niall looks at him, confused, before his features smooth out. “Oh, no. Harry! No, I set my alarm so I’d have time for a shower before we had to go.”
“So,” Harry shakes his head, feeling on edge when Niall reaches up to push his hair out of his eyes, “you don’t have to be anywhere yet?”
“We only slept for half an hour,” Niall laughs, leaning forward, “so we’ve got a bit.”
“Thought you wanted to shower,” Harry feels unsteady, just enough to put his heartbeat on edge. Like every aspect of his life now is something he has full control over. From the way Niall’s eyes drop down to his mouth, a slow grin filling up his face, Harry knows that he feels the same.
“I will, but I got some other things on my mind first.” Niall catches Harry’s lips with his own, climbing over Harry so suddenly that Harry’s knocked back into the corner, Niall a weight of limbs bracketing him in.
It’s frantic, Harry maneuvering Niall until he’s straddling his lap, slides his hands down to push at Niall so when Harry rocks his hips up, Niall gasps into his mouth.
“Know I said we have time,” Niall pulls at Harry’s shirt, rucking it up so it’s in a tangle under his arms, “but not like, make it last time. Hold still, Haz.”
“For what?” Harry gives up on his shirt when Niall grins at him before dragging his lips down Harry’s chest, Harry discovering just how the draw of Niall’s jaw along his skin feels. He’s so lost in it that he doesn’t realize until Niall’s already down on the floor, pulling Harry’s jeans and pants down so they’re around his ankles.
Niall rests his cheek against Harry’s thigh when he looks up at him, his hand tight around Harry’s cock. It’s odd, Harry thinks as he meets Niall’s eyes, just how much this trip has been good, for all of them. But especially for Harry. For how he hopes Niall feels the same way.
When Niall’s lips first touch the head of Harry’s cock, Harry plants his feet on the floor and braces himself so he won’t thrust up, mentally high fiving himself for his restraint when Niall swirls his tongue.
Niall wasn’t taking the piss when he said they didn’t have time, because he sets up a fast rhythm, using his hand and his mouth to get Harry gasping within minutes. Harry can feel how tight his stomach’s gone from trying to hold himself still for Niall, sure that Niall can feel the muscles jump under his palm from where he’s got his free hand firm above his laurels.
Harry’s orgasm is barreling close way too soon, and he releases his death grip on the cushion to brush his fingers against Niall’s cheek. Niall’s eyes flick up at him then and the ghost of a grin plays at the corner of Niall’s mouth as it’s stretched around Harry’s cock; he changes the angle so Harry can feel the head of his prick through Niall’s skin, thumbing at Niall’s cheek.
“Niall, fuck,” Harry grits out and Niall pulls off at the last second, Harry coming in long pulses all over his stomach, Niall breathing hard against his knee like he’s gasping for air.
“Gonna help a lad out, before he’s got to go?” Niall asks, and his eyes are wide and bright, wet gathering at the corners as he looks at Harry’s stomach, palming himself .
“Too much of a mess,” Harry yanks his shirt the rest of the way off, swiping at his stomach and pulling at Niall until they’re both standing. “C’mon, I’ll get you in the shower.”
“You’re lucky I know you’re good for your word,” Niall gets out, letting Harry drag him down the hall. Harry stops then, kissing Niall quick and then slower, crowded up against the door to the loo.
Harry ends up on his knees before they even make it to the shower, Niall pulling at the curtain rod while the steam surrounds them, curling up Harry’s hair into tight ringlets as he sucks Niall down as far as he can. By the time he comes on Harry’s face, murmuring something about how they’re both mad and he loves it, the water’s gone cold.
Niall keeps up a constant stream of chatter the whole drive to the airport, sorting through the pictures on the dash and narrating each one. Remember when Payno; he’s never seen Zayn laugh so hard; Louis was an absolute twat that night. It’s nice, settles the whole trip in for Harry, like his whole body feels rested with it.
“Think I’m going to sort them out, make a book,” Harry says when they’re almost there, getting in the lane for international departures.
“Sick, like. That’s just a sick idea.” Niall sets the stack back on the dash when the car comes up to the kerb, Harry blinking his eyes hard when he thinks about it too much, about how they were just there. “Don’t forget this one.” Niall runs his finger along the chevrons Liam drew on their first selfie.
“That’s a cover, right there.” Harry parks.
“Can’t wait to have a copy of my own.” Niall glances over at Harry, and his grin seems a little less wide than usual. “Well, Harold.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Niall rolls his eyes, but then when he smiles again, it seems more like how Harry’s used to. “See ya soon, Harry. Yeah?”
“Have fun, don’t miss your tee time.” Harry keeps his voice steady, surprised when Niall doesn’t say something dumb back, just leans forward and kisses him instead, lingering there for a moment. He gets out of the car without saying anything else, and Harry pulls away before he can watch him go.
The pictures slide all over the dash every time he takes a turn. Until he gets home.
It’s the next morning when Harry finds it, when he decides to empty his case because he has the luxury now. He’s already spent the last hour sorting through all the polaroids, nearly a hundred in all, laying them out how he thinks it should go. Wondered what Niall did with the one of them sleeping together. Watched the crooked videos Louis and Zayn sent, Harry wondering how they managed to get Liam’s smile in the frame, looking like it was bigger than life itself.
It’s at the bottom of his bag, tucked under a clean pair of pants and the aviators Niall bought all of them at that one truck stop, back when they were first getting started. He’s not sure how Niall managed to get it without him noticing, but it’s Harry at the pool that night, when he was alternating thumbing through his book and looking up at the sky, wondering if he’d ever seen it so clear. Wondering where Niall had fucked off to, what was going to happen next.
It feels ages ago and not days.
There’s a careful caption along the bottom, smudged at the very end like Niall was in a hurry, probably when Harry was getting dressed and yelling that Niall wasn’t going to make the airport in time. burn, burn, burn xx
Harry books the earliest flight he can find, giving himself only just enough time to pack up his bag again.