It isn't that Harry is co-dependent. So maybe he has trouble sleeping if he can't hear at least one of the lads snoring. He can still fall asleep eventually. The point is, Harry can function perfectly fine if Niall is in Ireland and Zayn is in Nottingham with Perrie and Louis has whisked Liam away to California for surfing opportunities. He blows a sigh out through his teeth and looks at the clock on his phone; nearly five in the morning, and he still hasn't been able to drift off. For a crazy second he debates calling Louis -- it's probably still acceptable to be awake in the most Western timezone -- but he shakes his head, throws his mobile onto a pile of dirty laundry.
Louis would laugh at him, he's sure of it. In a nice way, of course, but with that smug overtone to his words that Harry knows all too well.
If it were just Louis that was gone away, Harry would be fine. He could go to Niall's or Zayn's and play video games until he crashed, or he could drag Liam out dancing to tire himself out. Except that none of them are around, and, yes, Harry has other friends, but it has never been the same.
"I hate everything," Harry tells his ceiling. It doesn't respond.
There's no point in lying to himself -- he misses Louis the most. Louis' only been in California for a few days, and already Harry is going through withdrawals. He makes a lone tea in the morning, doesn't have anybody to yell for when he forgets to bring a towel with him to the shower, and has found himself, all around, bored. Harry has never lived alone. He isn't sure how.
He wishes he could just go home, and let his mum dote on him for a while, and bicker with Gemma, and talk sports with Robin, but he doesn't want to make them worry. He knows telling his family that he can't sleep without Louis (and the other boys) will only lead to concerned looks and talk of sleeping pills or therapists or something. That's the last thing Harry needs -- something else making him tired all the time; somebody else knowing his business. So, his own house isn't an option, but that isn't the only place he's welcome.
With a burst of inspiration, Harry gets out of the restricting blankets and pulls the nearest clothes on. He's pretty sure the jumper is Louis', but he isn't dwelling, he's just grabbing his phone from where it's hidden in the laundry and shoving it in his pocket.
It takes no time at all for him to pack a bag; he's gotten good at that, over the years of living out of suitcases. He wonders briefly if he should call ahead, but one glance at his watch tells him he'd be boiled alive if he tries. Besides, he'll get there at a decent hour, and maybe they'll see right through his 'I wanted to surprise you' schtick, but they have enough tact to pretend otherwise.
The drive is long, but quiet. Almost nobody is on the roads at half five in the morning -- the sun hasn't even started to break over the horizon yet -- and Harry is free to sing along to the radio as loud as he pleases. He changes the radio station every time a One Direction song starts to play, which is more often than he expected. Of course, that's awesome, that so many people are listening to them (assuming, of course, that other people are currently awake), but it makes him feel homesick. After two and a half years of this, Harry knows the feeling of homesickness very well. He isn't used to it in this situation, though, because he's at home, isn't he? Not at this exact moment, but he's been wandering around his own place for almost a week with the same sinking feeling in his stomach that tour buses induced.
He wonders if it's possible to be homesick for the lads, for 'home' to be people instead of a place bought with his own money and furnished with his own things, but that line of thinking just makes his chest ache more.
By the time he reaches Doncaster, his car has been bathed in weak morning rays of sunlight, barely warming his hands. He's only been to Louis' family home a handful of times, but he remembers exactly which roads to turn down. Probably this is because of the time they'd driven Louis' car into a ditch and had to navigate their way back by foot. They hadn't even been drinking, Harry remembers, just silly and carefree and there had been some kind of tickle-fight, maybe.
The Tomlinson house looks the same as ever, forgotten toys strewn in the front yard and a row of bicycles in the driveway. Harry wonders, ridiculously, if the girls will look no different to the last time he saw them. Of course they will, he scolds himself, putting his car in park. They're growing girls, not vampires.
There aren't any lights on in the windows except the upstairs bathroom, which he's pretty sure is left on for the twins' benefit. He hesitates on the porch steps. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. He's thinking about turning around when the curtains in a second-floor window are pulled aside and Jay peers outside curiously. She doesn't see him right away, so he waves like an idiot until she does. His misgivings are dashed immediately, because the brilliant smile she gives him through the glass is surely invitation enough.
Harry doesn't knock on the door, he waits until Jay opens it, dressed in a robe and mismatched slippers.
"Harry," she half-whispers happily. "What on earth are you doing here? Come on, come on, inside you get, the girls will be so excited to see you."
"Thanks, Mama Tommo," he says. The nickname is something Niall made up once, several pints deep, and it had stuck with Harry. He's never been sure what to call Jay, after all -- 'Mrs Tomlinson' sounding too elementary-school for Harry's liking and 'Jay' too informal, making Louis loudly admonish him for flirting with my mum, now, are you? -- so he's latched onto the name. It's cheeky, which he likes, while still acknowledging that it's Louis' mum he's talking to, which Louis likes.
Thinking about Louis causes him to frown, though, so he stops before Jay asks what the matter is. She leads him through the narrow hallway and into the kitchen. It's as cluttered as Harry remembers, but he finds it comfortable.
"Tea?" Jay asks.
Harry realises just how bone-tired he is, now, and nods. He doesn't need to say anything else -- you never have to, when you're in the company of a Tomlinson -- he only needs to smile and listen to her chatter away about Lottie's new school and the neighbourhood gossip. She isn't trying to keep her voice down any longer, and Harry can hear the telltale thumps from upstairs that indicate Louis' sisters waking up.
If Louis is anything to go by, Harry is sure they'll take ages to actually get down the stairs and even longer to fully wake up. There's a break in Jay's ramblings while she pours his tea, and he seizes on it to ask something that he's absolutely certain Niall would laugh at him for.
"Have you heard from Lou?"
"Of course," says Jay, placing a colourful mug in front of him. "He's having a good time, he says. Apparently he and Liam aren't as good as they thought they were, and there have been a few tumbles into the water."
"Oh," Harry says. He stares down at the milk swirling in his tea, trying not to show that this information bothers him.
He hasn't gotten any calls or texts or emails from Louis, has had to track his holiday by the tweets he and Liam post periodically, and he's still just a little bitter that he wasn't asked to come along in the first place. He knows that, okay, he hasn't exactly contacted Louis either, and he doesn't actually want to learn how to surf, but there's something about Louis going out of the country without him that just rubs Harry the wrong way.
Demonstrating the tact that Harry wouldn't have been privy to in his own family home, Jay doesn't comment on his silence. She wipes the counter down absent-mindedly with a washcloth, says, "Where are those girls?", and leaves in a flurry of pink bathrobe.
Harry sips at his tea, listening for a sign that Louis' sisters know he's visiting. He needn't have listened so carefully.
"Harry?" Phoebe shrieks, and there's a bang that he's fairly certain is Lottie throwing a shoe at their connecting wall. "Harry's here?" A thundering sound comes, then, like a hundred baby elephants all running down the Tomlinson's stairs at once. It's just Phoebe and Daisy, though, and Harry can't help but smile at the look on their faces. They're as wide-eyed as if Christmas had come early.
"Hey," he says. Unsurprisingly, he's greeted with another shriek.
They can't exactly bowl him over while he's sitting down, but they make a good go of it. Harry has been grabbed and hugged and screamed at by an indescribable number of girls, but this is different. These are Louis' sisters -- for all intents and purposes, these are Harry's sisters.
He laughs, hugging the twins back, and looks over their heads to see Felicite leaning against the door to the kitchen. She's got cow-patterned pajamas on and her hair is a rat's nest, but she's obviously too old to be overtly excited about Harry being there. Which is fine, of course, two excited girls is roughly Harry's limit when he isn't performing.
"Lottie's still sleeping," she informs him.
"That's all right," says Harry, squeezing the twins one last time before standing up. "I need a kip, anyway. Where should I...?"
"Lou's room is free as always," Felicite says, ignoring the sounds of protest from her younger sisters. She walks over and drinks from Harry's mug. The small act makes his throat constrict. Maybe being here isn't such a good idea, if all it does is remind him of Louis. He doesn't want to spend his days off pining. "You know where it is, sleep as long as you like."
"Wake me up 'round lunch, please," Harry tells the girls. He pats Daisy's head and nudges Felicite with his elbow as he walks past.
Definitely a bad idea, he thinks as he passes a row of family photos in the hallway. It doesn't feel right, being here without Louis, but now that he's here he can't very well up and leave again. He hitches his bag higher on his shoulder and braves the stupidly steep staircase. He doesn't know how Louis hasn't broken a thousand bones trying to sneak in and out of his own house. Jay is leaving her room just as he reaches the second floor, dressed in proper clothes, and all he can manage is a tired smile before ducking into Louis' old bedroom.
It's like stepping back in time. Actually, it's a bit more like he's meeting a different version of Louis. This isn't the first time Harry has been here, but usually he's distracted enough by Louis himself to look around and wonder what Louis used to be like.
There aren't any books, which hardly surprises Harry, but there are posters of bands and hot girls tacked, lopsided, onto the walls and a stack of magazines under the end-table. Nothing dirty, Harry notes as he flips through them, just stuff about cars and 'tween' ones that he must have stolen from his sisters. Near the bottom Harry finds one that has One Direction on the cover, young and fashionably challenged. There is a dick drawn on Zayn's forehead, mocking hearts around Niall's head, and devil horns on Harry. He can't see Liam or Louis without taking the magazine out of the pile, and as dumb as it sounds, he doesn't want to disrupt anything. Sparing just a moment to wonder when Louis had bought (or stolen) it, Harry decided it was time to stop snooping and time to start snoozing.
He strips off easily, and is about to open his bag when he hesitates. It's creepy -- he shouldn't. He does anyway, opening Louis' top dresser drawer and pulling out a pair of flannel pajama pants. Usually he sleeps in less, but he doesn't want to risk it with so many curious girls in the house and no lock on the bedroom door. Assuring himself that this is the only reason he picks out a t-shirt, too, is how he ignores his own weird, not at all co-dependant actions.
The shirt is too small on him; his hipbones are bared until he draws the trousers higher. For some reason, that makes him want to cry.
Harry snuggles into Louis' childhood blankets, surprised that they still smell a bit like Louis. Not entirely -- there’s a strong detergent scent masking it, but Harry would know Louis’ smell anywhere. He thinks about what he’s doing, how unnatural it all is.
He’s known for, what? Months? Years? His entire life? That he wants Louis more than he should. More than Louis wants him, in any case. Sixteen-year-old Harry would have said it might be love, but he knows better now.
It’s definitely love. He loves all his boys, that isn't even a question. Except that it’s different with Louis. It always has been.
Not something he really wants to think about in Louis’ old bedroom, though, so Harry sighs into his pillow, remembering the last time he was here. That time, Louis had been with him, and the bed had been too small for the two of them. Except they hadn't cared. Harry feels the phantom warmth of Louis, along his back, and falls into a restless sleep.
Between entertaining the youngest girls and helping Lottie with her math homework and doing chores for Jay's benefit, Harry is too busy to dwell on his backwards homesickness. It's pretty obvious after only a few hours why Louis is the way he is, all unbridled energy and loud declarations -- in such a quick-witted, bustling household, Harry feels like his regular nature can't keep up. He has to channel his stage presence to avoid collapsing in physical exhaustion by dinnertime.
He takes a break while the twins are pestering their mum for dessert and calls Liam.
"Haz," Liam's voice greets him. It's warm and happy even through the thousands upon thousands of miles, and Harry steps out onto the back porch to avoid the girls pestering to talk to his bandmate. "What's up?"
"Don't tell Louis," says Harry, "but I'm kind of... at his place. Right now."
"Well, yeah, it's... your place, too."
The sheer confusion in Liam's voice makes Harry bark with laughter. It isn't only Louis that he misses -- he just misses Louis the most. In response to Liam's bafflement, Harry clarifies, "No, like, I'm at his mum's place. I've been hanging out with the girls all day."
"Why?" Liam asks, surprised.
"I have no bloody idea." Harry sighs; that's a lie. "Well, alright, I suppose I miss him. Lou, I mean. Kind of a lot."
"You're hopeless, you know that?” Harry imagines that Liam is shaking his head, exasperated. “D'you want to speak with him?"
"No," Harry says. He doesn't regret the answer, because he isn't confident that talking to Louis won't end in tears. It's so dumb to do this, to be physically unable of staying away from each other for a few days. Most of his friends, Harry only sees every couple of months, and even in the case of Liam, Zayn, and Niall, he enjoys a short break every now and again. What he's doing is probably unhealthy. "Don't tell him I called, either. He..." Harry swallowed hard, feeling like a complete idiot. "He'll just worry about me, and I'm fine."
"Are you?" Liam asks. Harry hates that he can sound so knowing and concerned.
"'Course I am. The place was boring on my own and the rest of you are all off enjoying other people's company, so here I am."
There's a long moment of silence, and Harry chews the nail on his left pinky finger as he waits for Liam to reply. He doesn't want to hear any kind of apology for going and having a good time, that -- Harry is alone, yeah, but he can count the number of times they've left him alone on one hand. Eventually, Liam says, "If you're sure. We both miss you lot, too, you know."
"Yeah, I know," Harry says, smiling out at the darkening backyard. Possibly he's freaking out the Tomlinsons' neighbours, but he doesn't care. "I have to drive Fizzy to a friend's, now, so I'll text you later?"
"Not if I text you first," says Liam. It's such a lame thing to say that Harry sniggers. "Love you, Haz."
"Love you, too." He presses the End Call button and just grins at the silly icon he has for Liam until Felicite yells at him to hurry up.
It takes Harry ages to get back to the Tomlinson house. At first, Felicite's friends didn't believe he was there, and then once he went to the door to prove he was indeed in Doncaster, they didn't let him leave for what felt like forever. There was only so much barely-teenage screeching he could handle.
"Sorry," Felicite had said, rolling her eyes at the giggling messes that had become of her friends. "They never get like this with Lou, I don't get what's so different about you."
Harry doesn't get it, either. He doesn't get any of it -- why girls who had never given him a second glance in school think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread or why everyone he has come into the briefest of contact with over sixteen years is so excited to know a 'celebrity' -- because he's just a boy, and Louis is just a boy, and Niall and Zayn and Liam are all just boys who happened to catch a break.
Jay and Lottie are waiting up for him with tea and cookies when he lets himself in, the twins having crashed a little while before. Harry adores them, but he's secretly glad that he doesn't have to be energetic anymore.
Matching the tired smiles on two of Louis' favourite ladies, Harry slides into a chair and grabs a handful of chocolate chip cookies.
"Fizzy's friends?" Lottie asks. When Harry nods, looking slightly afraid, she laughs. "Yeah, that's why I'm going to a different school. Not -- not her friends, specifically, but all the... people, you know?"
She isn't nearly as good at explaining herself as her older brother, but Harry knows exactly what she's trying to say. He's been thinking about it since the time he’d had to sign his name on a slip of paper for a stranger. Fame is such a weird thing, but he thinks it must be weirder for their families. If people up and down the continent were suddenly salivating over Gemma, for instance, Harry would want to know if a mass head-check was needed. It isn't that the people close to them aren't happy, or proud, or anything like that, it just... it must be so strange.
"Yeah," he says, chewing absently.
"I've been wondering, Harry," says Jay, "how long are you staying here?"
"Trying to get rid of me?" Harry asks. He grins in what he hopes looks cheeky instead of tense. Louis isn't due to get home for another week, and Harry isn't certain he's able to go home and be alone for that long. Alone isn't something he's ever been good at.
"Not at all, it's nice having you around to fill Louis' shoes for a bit." The look on his face must give something away, because Jay gets that annoying I-know-more-than-you-because-I'm-a-mum smirk that Harry is rather familiar with thanks to his own mother. "You can stay as long as you like. Lottie wants to go shopping tomorrow, I was going to bring her but if you don't mind..."
"I can do that," Harry says, determined to do something with his Sunday that doesn't involve actual babysitting.
Lottie makes a noise, almost like a protest, and says, "Mum! I can't go shopping with Harry Styles without getting mobbed, now can I?"
"You can disguise him," Jay suggests, the corners of her mouth twitching. "Straighten his hair or something." Harry doesn't know if she's joking or not, but the way Lottie looks at him with a scrutinising eye makes him sure his curls will be tamed before they leave the house.
Sure enough, Lottie wakes him up earlier than he'd like with a pink flat-iron in one hand. It reminds him so much of Liam that he laughs himself awake. He doesn't mind getting his hair straightened, per se, but he's still wary about letting anything related to Louis near his head with hot metal. He thinks this is only natural.
"Oh, stop being such a baby," Lottie sighs when he flinches away. "I'm not going to hurt you."
When she's done that -- Harry isn't certain how long it had taken, as he was busy staring at the framed photograph of One Direction on Louis' desk -- she throws a bunch of Louis' old clothes at him, including sunglasses and a beanie. A combination that wouldn't be seen on a normal person, Harry guesses, because if it was cold enough to need a hat you wouldn't really need sunglasses, would you? He doesn't complain, though, because anything that will help prevent more screaming girls can only be beneficial to him. He shoos Lottie out of the room so he can get dressed, marvelling that the shirt still smells like Louis after all this time.
"How do I look?" he asks, stepping out of the bedroom with a twirl.
Lottie looks him over and shrugs. "You'll do. Do you want to eat breakfast now or get something on the way?"
"So, now that I have you alone," Lottie says, words curling around a Burger King straw. "Can I ask you something that's been bothering me?"
They'd stopped ducking in and out of stores to grab some lunch, and Harry miraculously hadn't been recognised yet. He steals a handful of her chips. When she doesn't complain, he knows she's being serious.
"'Course you can, Lots. What's up?"
Now that she has permission, she seems to have trouble meeting his gaze. She fiddles with her mobile, the clasp on her purse, the strings of her jumper, anything to avoid looking at him. She starts, says, "Are you...", and then changes her mind and frowns at her lunch instead. Anyone else would tell her to get on with it, but Harry isn't fussed about conversations moving quickly. He chews in silence and waits for her to find the right words.
Finally, she does. "I know that you and Louis have this... thing, I guess, where you joke around and say you're together when you aren't. You're only friends, I get that, but this? What you're doing right now, Harry? This isn't regular friend behaviour." Lottie takes a deep breath, looks him straight in the eye. "Are you shagging my brother?"
Harry chokes on his chips.
"What? No, I'm not. How do you even know what shagging is?"
"I'm not a child," she says, offended.
He supposes she isn't, at that, but the question is still shocking to hear from one of Louis' baby sisters. It isn't a question that requires much thinking, but Harry takes a moment to dwell anyway. This isn't normal, is it? Would he have gone to Zayn's family home for a weekend? Liam's? With no warning whatsoever or even, really, a reason? He doesn't think that he would. Or, maybe he would, but the fact of the matter is that none of the boys were with him -- Niall and Zayn had been away longer than the others -- and he chose to go to Louis' mum's place over his own.
"We're not shagging," he says again. Lottie looks at him, expectant. "What?"
"Well, do you want to be?"
It's Harry's turn to look around at anything but Lottie. She doesn't look all that much like Louis, really, but he can see the resemblance in the set of her mouth and the impatient cadence in her voice. He stares into his own lap and jerks his head in a way that he hopes conveys more than basically anything in the world, thanks for reminding me.
Lottie doesn't say anything else. She slurps at her Coke and stands up to throw her wrappers in the rubbish. Grateful for the conversation to be over, Harry follows her into another dozen shops without complaint.
When Harry is jolted awake rather suddenly in the middle of the night, he's fairly certain he's hallucinating.
"So," the hallucination says, "I heard that you miss me."
He's got the biggest shit-eating grin on his pretty face and Harry realises that, oh, it isn't a figment of his imagination. Louis is really there. Harry reaches a hand out to touch Louis' hip, just to be certain.
"Don't know where you got that impression," Harry mumbles, eyelids drooping. Louis laughs.
"Go to sleep," says Louis. When Harry looks defiant, Louis sighs and crawls under the covers with him. Harry feels a whole lot better when Louis has an arm wrapped securely around him. After a few moments, wherein Louis is trying to get comfortable in his bed-made-for-one, he kisses Harry's jaw and repeats himself. "Go to sleep, Hazza. I'll still be here when you wake up."
"Promise?" Harry reaches up to tangle his fingers with Louis' and rests both hands against his heartbeat. He falls back to sleep before he hears the answer.
Luckily, when he wakes up, Louis is there. It really could have gone either way, what with how his mental state has been lately. Louis isn't awake, so Harry prods at his stomach until he groans and opens his eyes.
“What?” he asks snappishly. Harry grins at him. He’s never been so happy to see Louis -- he feels like his heart is about to burst.
“You’re real,” says Harry.
Louis laughs, half-asleep, and rubs at his eyes. “Last time I checked, yeah.”
For a moment, Harry panics. Was it Lottie who called him? Did she tell Louis anything else about their conversation? Except that doesn't make any sense; California is a ten-hour flight away. It must have been Liam who ratted Harry out. Despite the fact that it’s a good thing he did, Harry is still mentally running through his favourite pranks to pull on Liam.
“You came home because Liam tattled on me?” Harry asks. He wishes he could inject even a single note of reprimand into his voice, but his smile would give his true thoughts away easily enough anyway. It isn’t worth the effort to pretend he isn’t happy.
“Yeah,” Louis says, like it’s nothing. “We shouldn’t have left you alone. Apparently, you can’t be alone.”
Now is the moment, Harry thinks. This is when he tells Louis that yes, he’d missed him, but it’s a little more complicated than that. He’s lying in Louis’ childhood bed, their legs tangled together, and if he could just... muster up enough courage, this would be a perfect time for a dumb confession. He’s sure he can do it, probably. Instead, what comes out of his mouth is, “So you’re never going to leave me alone again, then?”
“Well, I might have to go to the bathroom,” says Louis.
Harry giggles. After a second of Louis just smiling indulgently at him, Louis starts to laugh with him. Harry snuggles closer under the duvet and thinks alright, tomorrow, then.