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Nick catches his phone just as it’s about to vibrate its way off the bathroom counter. His mouth is full of toothpaste but the caller ID says ‘Haroldddd!!!!’ and well, Harry’s heard him much worse, so he swipes right.

“Hullo?”

“Nick, hi,” Harry says. Nick spits out the toothpaste.

“What’s up?” Nick’s a bit confused. They don’t really call each other that often and even if they did (back when they did) Harry’s far too polite to do it when he knows Nick has work in the morning. Besides, isn’t the tour about to start like, any day now? Shit, is it today?

“I sang Medicine,” Harry says, his voice strained and everything stops. Nick stops where he’s bending over the sink, his breath catches in his throat, his heart skips a beat. He’s stunned into silence for long enough that he misses what Harry’s saying, an anxious ramble and hitched breaths.

“Love, love, wait, breathe,” Nick stops him.

Something happens on Harry’s end, suddenly there’s this rush of background noise and Harry’s speaking to someone else, “No, I’m okay, just, let me have a couple minutes? Okay? Yeah.” Nick takes a sip from his tooth mug. Sits down on the toilet seat. Whoever it was opening the door must shut it again and Harry lets out a long shaky breath.

They stay silent for a couple more hectic beats of Nick’s heart. Nick’s the one to break it, and even though he clears his throat his voice still comes out all wrong, all hoarse. “You sang Medicine?”

“I did, I mean, I tried, but I didn’t - “

Nick waits for Harry’s mouth to catch up with his thoughts.

“They didn’t pick up on it,” Harry finally says in one rush of breath. “I was, I thought I was ready but I didn’t… I mumbled through it, they didn’t, I checked Twitter and they didn’t hear - “

Nick’s heart aches. “Love.”

“I tried, I tried but I couldn’t, I tried but they didn’t hear - “

They’re both silent for a moment, Nick thinking back to Harry, nineteen years old, looking up at him nervously, biting his lip, hugging his arms to his chest, asking “What’s it like being out?” Harry, twenty-one years old, ranting to him on the phone “It’s such bullshit, such bullshit, all they ever do is ask about girls and I just, the look on Liam’s fucking face but I had to say something.” Harry a couple months ago, calling him from the other side of the world after a couple too many, “I gave them an answer, I said I don’t want labels, and it’s still not enough, Nick, they’re calling me a straight ally.

Harry in 2015, tying his hair back with an easy grin, saying “Wanna hear this new song I wrote? It’s about sucking dick.”

“I hate this,” Harry says finally, and he sounds just tired, tired and defeated. “Like, why do I even have to do this, why do I have to…”

“I know, love,” Nick says. He really does.

“It’s just, why does it have to be a thing, why do I even care? Why didn’t I just put it on the album and get it over with, like, like, what fucking right do I have to be scared - “

“No,” Nick stops him. “No, of course you have a right to be scared. It’s fucking shite, it is. No matter who you are.”

Harry sniffs and his breath hitches. Nick’s doing a well good job of being comforting, fuck.

“I should be doing more,” Harry says. “I’m just, I know who I am and it used to be enough but I...I should be doing more, saying it more clearly, I should be out there helping people and - “ he lets out another sniffle, a stifled sob. “I can’t even sing the fucking words clearly enough so people can hear me.”

It’s a lot, this. Harry freaking out in a dressing room or a broom closet of an arena, crying, alone, it’s a lot.

“Love, love, you’re doing plenty,” he says, trying to keep his voice steady and firm, trying to keep his desperation out of his voice. He’s not sure how well he’s succeeding but at least Harry stops sniffling for a moment. “The thing with the flags, love? Your last concerts looked like bloody Pride parades, don’t tell me that’s not doing anything.”

“That’s the fans, though,” Harry gets out. “They’re the ones bringing them.”

“But it’s you taking them onstage, innit? You dancing around with them and encouraging people to bring them.”

Harry’s quiet.

“Harry?”

“Well, yeah,” he admits, voice small.

Nick’s getting there. Good. “Now, about Medicine. Were you planning on singing it again?”

“I mean, I mean, it’s been added to the setlist and all, yeah.”

That’s not what Nick means though.

“When’s the next concert, in a couple days?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“Okay, so you’ve got two days to think about it. Really think about it, if you’re ready for it or not. And if you’re not ready you can keep this a one-time thing, okay, I’m sure the band will understand, Jeff will understand, right?”

“Right,” Harry says, then chuckles, a broken little thing. “Mitch is probably still outside the door freaking out.”

“Good friend, that Mitch,” Nick nods.

“He really is,” Harry mutters. He’s calming down, breathing more even. They’re getting there. It’s not the first time Nick’s calmed Harry down like this, and probably won’t be the last. He has these moments sometimes, has always had, when his thoughts get messed up and emotions flare up and usually what he needs is for someone to sit him down and just talk him through it. And if there’s one thing Nick’s good at it’s talking.

“And, if you decide you do want to do it, you’ll just sing it extra loud and clear next time, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and it seems like he’s already made his decision. “I will.”

“Just as long as you’re doing it for you, whatever you choose,” Nick adds. “It’s your life, your decision, make sure you do it for you.”

“I’m not - “ Harry starts. “I mean I’ve already made the decision, like, time and time again. The Sunday Times thing, for a bit I thought that’d be it, that I wouldn’t have to…” he sighs. “But I guess. I guess this time it’s different still? I didn’t think it’d be, but, tonight, I was just -” He takes a moment to find his words. “After this, it’s not just, just an abstract concept, you know, it’s… I’m singing about actually doing it. And I guess. That’s different.”

“Yeah,” Nick nods.

Harry’s quiet for a bit before chuckling. “You’re a really good listener actually, you know.”

“When I actually manage to keep my mouth shut for more than a second,” Nick grins back.

“Yeah, that.” Harry’s voice is still a bit watery but Nick can hear the smile in it. Relief washes over him like a wave.

“I don’t think I’m even worried about the backlash anymore,” Harry says then. “Like, at some point it used to be all I thought about -,” and Nick remembers that, Harry young and small and so scared, “But… I don’t even care anymore. Or, um, like, of course I care, but. But I know everyone who matters will have my back.”

Nick hums.

“Even the fans, like, I was looking at the crowds in Australia and Tokyo and thinking that all these people… All these people who brought their flags have my back. And that’s. Yeah.”

They’re both silent for a bit.

“Thanks,” Harry finally says, a bit sheepish and awkward like he always gets after a cry. “I don’t… Thanks.”

“Anytime, love.”

“I, um. I’m gonna sing it loud and clear in Paris. Because I want to. I want to make it clear.”

“Good lad,” Nick smiles.

Harry hums. Nick gets an idea.

“And if you still feel like you want to do more you could always do something for Pride.”

“I, I don’t know - “

“I don’t mean lead the bloody parade. A donation event or something maybe?”

“Yeah,” Nick can hear the smile in Harry’s voice. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“You feeling better now?” Nick asks, fighting a yawn. Fuck, he really should be in bed.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m. Thanks. I should -”

“Go find Mitch, poor lad’s worrying himself dead, probably.”

“Sarah’s gonna be so pissed I shut the door on him,” Harry chuckles, then gets serious again, his voice wavering just slightly. “But I, um. I needed you.”

“Yeah,” Nick smiles, something warm settling in his chest. “Anytime, love, honest.”

“Yeah,” Harry says with a smile of his own and for a moment they’re just silently smiling to their phones.

Nick’s the one to break the moment. “So. I should be in bed.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m sorr - “

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll just skip the shower in the morning.”

“Okay, okay, yeah, I’ll just - “

“Go to your band, Harold. Give them a hug.”

“I will,” Harry smiles. “And, thank you.”

“Anytime.”

 

Two days later Nick watches the concert from a shaky live stream on his phone, and this time Harry doesn’t mumble. He sings it loud and clear.