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just close your eyes and see

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August 13, 1969
(just outside Dayton, OH)

“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name…”

There’s a man walking along the side of the highway.

He’s easy to spot, even from a distance, painting a stark figure against the farmlands stretching out on either side. There’s an acoustic guitar strapped to his back and a large duffel hanging from one shoulder. His jeans are faded, the bottom hems fraying over a pair of scuffed brown boots, and his vest is more fringe than vest. Both of his exposed arms are tanned a deep golden, the left one covered in a clutter of black ink. His mess of long brown curls, gilded in the morning light, is dotted with tiny blue and white flowers.

“Lou,” Liam starts, meaning to point him out, but when he looks over, Louis’ eyes are already locked on the man and he’s smirking around the end of his cigarette. As he blows out the smoke, he glances over at Liam and winks.

The sounds of harmonica from the backseat cut out. Niall leans forward, propping his elbows on the back of the seat between Liam and Louis. It isn’t that hot out, the sun still too low to start baking the earth yet, but Liam can feel the heat radiating off Niall’s bare chest. “Eh?” Niall says, peering out the windows.

Liam points, guiding his vision, even though it’s not really necessary. The man is the only spot of interest on the empty road. Liam gets the feeling their eyes would be drawn to him even if he wasn’t, though. There’s something…magnetic about him.

As they draw closer, the man sticks his left hand out, thumb pointed to the sky. The thick rings on his fingers glint in the light.

“What do you say, boys?” Louis asks, flicking ash out his window. “Shall we give him a lift?”

Niall is already nodding enthusiastically, his crooked-tooth grin on display. “I like the looks of ‘im.”

“Zayn?” Louis calls back.

Zayn, having passed out in the far back row of seats after he handed the wheel over to Louis at the state line, says nothing.

Louis raises an eyebrow at Liam, and he just shrugs. He’s just along for the ride, it’s not up to him who tags along too. The guy doesn’t look too bad, at least. Louis seems to take it for agreement though, and with a grin, he presses on the breaks. He slows the van to a crawl as they draw up next to the hitchhiker, keeping pace with him as he continues walking.

Up close, the ink on his skin takes on more definition—there’s a large, simple heart high on his shoulder, filled in with dark ink, next to script in a foreign lettering; a ship of some kind on his outer bicep, a simple naval star on the inside; a large grey rose sits on the crease of his elbow, while a mermaid (with a vagina) takes up the outside of his forearm, and a large anchor is based on his wrist. There seem to be dozens more, small ones that Liam can’t quite make out, scattered up and down his left arm. It’s a bit impressive, honestly; Liam has a couple of tattoos of his own, but nothing that extensive.

Leaning into Liam’s space, Louis calls out the open window. “Hey, man.”

The hitchhiker turns to look at them, and Liam is immediately a bit taken aback by how striking his features are, his sharp jaw and full mouth and searching, distant eyes. He’s not beautiful like Zayn is beautiful, but beautiful nonetheless.

His open vest also reveals no shirt and even more ink: two swallows under his collarbones, a large butterfly across his lean stomach, a pair of laurel leaves over his hips. His pants are so low, Liam can see the dark shadow of the hair around his groin.

He immediately averts his eyes, finding the hitchhiker blinking up at them, as if he’s surprised they’re actually real. Or maybe he’s just taking in the paint job Zayn (and Louis, and Niall, and even Liam, in the short time he’s been riding along with them) have done to the outside of the van. It had certainly made Liam pause the first time he’d seen it.

“Where you headed?” Louis asks, and the hitchhiker just blinks again, a slow sweep of his lashes. He looks at Louis for a moment like he’s waiting for something from him, but when Louis just quirks an expectant eyebrow, he turns, squinting into the rising sun, pointing in the same direction.

Liam wonders if that’s all they’re going to get from him, but then, with a deep voice that pours out as slow as his movements, the man says, “Woodstock Music Festival.”

“Groovy,” Louis says, the grin evident in his voice, and Liam nods in agreement, smiling too. Anyone else headed to Woodstock has to be good people. Louis brings the van to a full stop, jerking his head towards the back, where Niall is already scrambling for the doors. “Hop on in, man, we’ll take you there with us.”

While the smile on the hitchhiker’s face is slow to form, it’s wide and disarmingly beautiful, dimples creasing his cheeks and crinkling his eyes. “Right on.”

“What’s happenin’?” Niall greets brightly as he pushes the doors open. “Come on in, man. I’m Niall.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the man says politely, slipping the duffel off his shoulder. “My name’s Harry.”

Niall takes the bag, his face falling into a comical grimace as he takes the weight of it. “Jesus, man, what you got in here, bricks?”

Harry shakes his head, staring at the bag as if its very existence vexes him. “The trappings of a materialistic world,” he corrects. Liam raises an eyebrow at Louis, who’s pursing his lips in a way that means he’s trying not to laugh, as Harry continues, “No matter how I try to rid myself of them, I find myself emotionally chained to some objects.”

“Everybody’s got somethin’, man.” Shaking his head with another grin, Niall hefts the bag up, turning to the back row of seats. “Oi, Zayn. Zayn!”

Louis scoffs as Niall keeps calling Zayn’s name, turning back to the front and taking a drag of his cigarette; Liam smirks back, communicating an at least it’s not us with a raise of his eyebrows. Harry doesn’t seem to mind the slight delay, peering interestedly at the paintwork that also covers the interior of the van.

“What, man?” Zayn snaps, after the fifth time Niall says his name. “I’m sleeping.”

“Budge up, man,” Niall says, unperturbed by the dirty look Zayn is undoubtedly giving him, and swings the bag like he’s going to throw it back there whether Zayn’s ready or not, “we got company.”

There’s a bit of grumbling before Zayn’s dark head finally pops up over the seats, his dark eyes narrowed muzzily at Niall; his hair is sticking up some on one side, his mouth turned down in a sleepy pout. Liam is struck once again by how lucky Zayn is, to be able to look so good even so disheveled.

“C’mon,” Niall urges, jerking his head toward Harry, who’s still standing at the doors.

Zayn’s pout turns to more of a frown. “Who’re you?”

“Zayn, this is Harry,” Louis says, catching Zayn’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “He’s headed to Woodstock, too.”

“Hi,” Harry says with a wave, almost singing the word. He’s now staring unabashedly at Zayn. Liam can relate: he’d been a bit awestruck the first time he’d seen Zayn, too. Although that had involved much more sneaking glances than outright staring.

There’s a long moment, Zayn looking blearily between Niall, Harry, and Louis, before he finally settles on frowning at Harry. “The fuck’re you staring at?”

“Sorry,” Harry says thoughtlessly, still staring, his eyes roaming over Zayn’s face. “You’re a very beautiful man, did you know?”

Louis snorts, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, hiding his grin behind his cigarette, but Liam can’t really blame Harry. Louis may be used to how good-looking Zayn is, but Liam is still struck dumb by it every once in a while. The first time they met, he called Zayn the prettiest man he’d ever seen. (Although he’d also been high as a kite at the time. Then again, Harry could be high too for all they know.)

It seems to mollify Zayn, however, and after another long moment of assessing the situation, he sighs heavily and scoots over. He leans his head against the painted window and closes his eyes, presumably to fall back asleep.

“Don’ mind ‘im,” Niall says, drawing Harry’s attention back, as he dumps the bag onto the seat next Zayn, the back storage area packed too tight to accommodate it. “Not the brightest ray o’ sunshine in the mornin’s.”

Zayn raises his middle finger without opening his eyes, and Niall laughs loudly as he turns back to Harry, hand offered to take his guitar. Harry slings it off his back, revealing a large pink peace sign embroidered on the back of his vest, and hands it over. “Oh, she’s a beauty,” Niall says as he leans it against the seat by Harry’s bag with care, patting it fondly. Liam’s not sure he would call it a beauty, but the battered Gibson certainly seems well-loved, what with the wood finish scratched and nicked and drawn on, a psychedelic pattern painted over the pickguard, the strings poking out untrimmed from the tuning keys.

“Do you play?” Harry asks as he climbs inside, tossing his hair out of his eyes to look at Niall as he sits down. He leaves a flutter of petals in his wake.

“Used to,” Niall says wistfully, bumping past Harry to reach for the doors, “’fore I sold it for gas money in Topeka. Still got me harmonica though,” he adds, patting at the back pocket of his jeans, where he’s put his harmonica so many times that it’s started wearing holes.

Just then Louis taps on the gas, jerking the van into motion; one of the doors swings closed, nearly hitting Niall in the face. Liam can’t help but smile at Niall’s outraged expression as he turns on Louis. “Oi!” he says, waving his fist at Louis, who merely cackles. “Almost got me face there!”

“Wouldn’t have been able to tell, with that mug of yours,” Louis retorts; Liam lets out a burst of laughter, earning himself another wink from Louis, while Niall grumbles, reaching for the doors again and quickly shutting them before Louis can pick up much more speed.

Liam turns back to look out the front window as Louis shifts into higher gear, the van beginning to trundle along fast enough to be a bit of a bumpy ride. He keeps his ears tuned to Niall’s Irish lilt and Harry’s low, rumbling responses.

“So where you from, Harry?” Niall asks as he drops into the seat next to him.

“Nowhere, man,” Harry replies with a shrug. “But also like…everywhere?” Louis catches Liam’s eye, making a face; Liam props his elbow on the car window, covering up his smile with his hand. “I’m kind of like…” He trails off, apparently deep in thought, until he finally proclaims, “A leaf. On the wind.”

“He’s a real nowhere man!” Louis suddenly begins singing, as Niall laughs at something Harry does; Niall is quick to join in on the harmony with the next line of the song. “Living in his nowhere land!” Liam joins in to round out the harmonies, while Louis starts tapping out a rhythm on the wheel with his hands. “Making all his nowhere plans for nobody!”

When an unfamiliar fourth voice joins them for the next verse, Liam looks back at the other boys, finding Niall with an arm slung around Harry’s shoulders, rocking them from side to side, while Harry keeps time on his thigh, both of them singing along. Liam finds himself grinning at Louis, who’s already grinning back.

They only get louder as they get to the chorus, the three of them taking the background oh-la-las as Louis takes the main line. “Nowhere man, please listen! You don’t know what you’re missing!” Niall laughs, bouncing forward to ruffle Louis’ hair before moving back to his seat, spreading his arms wide and joining Louis to sing, “Nowhere man, the world is at your command!”

“Please stop,” comes Zayn’s voice from the back as the rest of them burst into laughter before they can properly finish out the chorus. “It’s too early for singing.”

“Aw, don’t be such a drag, Zaynie!” Louis calls back, looking back through the rearview mirror to smirk at them; he catches Harry’s eye and winks.

“I’ll drag my fist through your face if you don’t shut it,” Zayn says mutinously, his eyes still closed. It’s a wonder he can even try to sleep at all with the window rattling under his head.

“Like I said,” Niall says as an aside to Harry, “not the brightest ray of sunshine. Ow, hey!” He rubs at the back of his head where Zayn had smacked him, turning to glare back at him. Zayn still has his eyes closed and head against the window, but he’s wearing a small smile now.

Liam feels a bit guilty, though. “He did drive all night for us,” he reminds Louis. “Maybe we should cool it.”

Louis makes a face, rolling his eyes. “You’re no fun, Liam.” But thankfully he heeds Liam anyway, settling back further into his seat as he brings his cigarette—little more than filter and glowing ember by now—back up to his mouth.

“Got any more of those?” Liam asks, nodding at the cigarette. Louis reaches down to the seat between them, nudging over the crumpled pack of Marlboros they’d all been smoking from for the past day or so.

“Not many,” he says around his filter. Liam swipes up the pack, pulling one out and sticking it in his mouth as Louis flicks his butt out the window. “Need a light?” Liam shakes his head, already fishing for the book of matches from the front pocket of his shirt and dropping the pack back between them.

He can feel eyes on him as he strikes the match, cupping his hand around it as he brings it up to the cigarette so it doesn’t blow out in the wind whipping through the van. Once the cigarette is lit, he looks up to find Harry looking right back at him. They lock eyes, and Liam instantly feels exposed, like Harry’s eyes can see into him.

“You’re a very beautiful man too, did you know?” Harry says suddenly.

Liam balks. “I—what?” He glances over at Louis, who’s making a considering face, then to Niall, who’s grinning and nodding like Harry said a perfectly reasonable thing, like Liam wasn’t a—like he hadn’t—

“Like, inside, too,” Harry continues. Liam looks back at Harry to find him still staring, his face serious, eyes boring into Liam. “You have a good aura about you.” Liam swallows against his suddenly thick tongue, still not sure how to respond. He wants to look away again, but can’t seem to tear his eyes from Harry’s, stuck like Harry’s looking into his very soul.

He’s incredibly grateful when Louis jumps in with a change of topic. “So are you a musician then, Harry?”

It takes longer than Liam likes, but Harry turns his gaze towards Louis, and Liam takes his first breath in what feels like minutes.

“Sometimes,” Harry answers cryptically, and Liam is finally able to look away, frowning at his reflection in the side mirror as he takes a drag of his cigarette. He rubs at his forehead underneath the red bandana tied around his head, suddenly feeling itchy and hot.

He’s just—not really sure what to make of Harry’s comment. Liam isn’t like Zayn, he’s not—he isn’t exactly bad-looking, but he’s not beautiful, not by any stretch of the word, and especially not—inside. To hear a complete stranger say so is flattering, but also feels a bit…hollow. Harry doesn’t know him at all; if he did, if he knew the things Liam’s been through, the things he’s done, he’s not likely to think Liam is very beautiful at all.

“Amen,” Louis says beside him, and Liam blinks, wondering what he’s missed. Louis catches his eye, raising his eyebrow in a silent you all right?

Liam waves off his concern, taking another drag of his cig. He tunes in to the way Harry is talking about the universality of music and tries to ignore the ghosts lurking in the back of his mind.

Suddenly Niall leans forward, wrapping his arm around the back of the seat and Liam’s neck as he says, “Lend us a light, would you?” On instinct, he jerks Niall’s arm away, his grip nearly tight enough to bruise. The force of the pull is strong enough to bash Niall’s head against the headrest. “Ow, fuck!”

Liam drops Niall’s arm like a hot coal, his eyes wide and heart racing, while Niall curses some more, pulling back to rub at his nose. “I’m sorry,” Liam says as he turns to the backseat, maybe a bit horrified with himself, because that wasn’t—that wasn’t normal. “Sorry,” he repeats, trying to ignore the shaking in his hands, the blood rushing in his veins, “sorry, I—I didn’t mean to—”

Niall waves him off. “M’not bleedin’, we’re good.” He scrunches his nose a few times to make sure it’s still in working order.

“Sorry,” Liam says again anyway, just as Louis says, “He’s fine, Liam.” Louis looks away from the road to examine Niall for himself. “You’re fine, right Niall?”

“I’m good, yeah,” he says, looking up at both of them with a grin; his eyes are a bit watery. Liam grimaces.

“He’s fine,” Louis repeats, nudging Liam’s shoulder as he turns back to the road. “Here’s that light, Niall,” he adds, tossing his lighter over the seat. Niall yelps, scrambling to catch it. As Liam watches with concern, he uses it to light the joint he’d been keeping behind his ear. He’s obviously fine, but Liam still feels…off.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. The boys learned early on not to jump up on Liam from behind, because it usually ends up in someone getting hurt. (It usually isn’t Liam.) By some miracle, the boys haven’t kicked him out of the van for being fucked in the head. He thought he’d been getting better; just the other day Louis had jumped on his back for a ride and Liam hadn’t even flinched, just laughed and carried him the rest of the way to the van.

He just feels—stupid now for reacting so strongly, especially in front of someone new. He hadn’t really planned on exposing that bit of himself so early to a stranger.

“Here,” Niall says, smoke trailing out of his mouth, the joint in his hand held out like a peace offering. “It’s all good, man.”

Liam’s eyes flick over to Harry before he can stop himself, only to find Harry staring at him again. Staring into him again. He quickly turns back to Niall, taking the joint with his free hand. He takes a long, hard drag, the smoke entering his lungs with a now-familiar burn, the taste sweeter and sharper than the tobacco lingering in his mouth.

He holds his breath, chest tight, and offers it to Louis, who eyes the joint for a moment in consideration before waving it off. Liam goes to give it back to Niall, only to find him bent over, fussing with something under the seat. Reluctantly, he turns to Harry, silently offering the joint and avoiding his eyes. Harry takes it, his fingers warm and dry when they brush over Liam’s. “Thank you,” he says, slow as ever, before bringing the joint up to his mouth.

All Liam can bring himself to do is give him a tight smile and an awkward nod before turning back to the front, exhaling the smoke with a loud whoosh. He can feel Louis’ eyes on him, but ignores him, focusing on his cigarette, on the repetitive motions of inhaling and exhaling. He’s fine.

He isn’t beautiful. He’s fine.

*

The next few hours pass quickly. Once Niall’s joint is done, Harry rolls one from his own stash and passes it around, too. While the boys keep talking, Liam sits back, watching the endless waves of farmland go by. Louis tries to pull him into the conversation a couple of times; Liam doesn’t contribute much. Ten miles later, Louis stops trying. Liam only half-listens, liking the way their voices all sound together more than what they’re saying.

The golden light of the morning turns into a bright, clear sky. When the gas gauge gets to the point where it starts going wonky, they pull off at the first place they see, some tiny place off the highway.

Louis doesn’t actually make the turn-off until the very last second, taking the turn fast enough to send all of them sliding with the momentum. It nearly gives Liam a heart attack, but he also laughs the entire time, laughing at the face Louis is pulling, laughing at Zayn cursing from the back, laughing at the way Niall yells and exaggerates their momentum, covering Harry’s body with his own, laughing because Harry is laughing, too, a bright loud cackle.

As they pull up at one of the two pumps, Liam’s heart is still racing and his face feels a bit flushed, which he blames on the sun. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way Harry keeps looking at him.

“Hey Niall, pay for the gas, yeah?” Louis says, grabbing Liam’s sleeve as the attendant—an old man with a long grey beard—eyes the painted van warily. “Liam’s gonna help me grab some food.”

“Wha—Louis—” Liam sputters, as Louis practically yanks him across the seats, dragging him out of the car and into the small general store attached to the gas station; he can hear Niall yelling something after them, but is too busy trying to get Louis to let go of his arm to actually listen.

His efforts only make Louis grip even tighter, though, as he continues pulling Liam along once they get inside. Louis also steadily ignores the raised eyebrow of the girl behind the register as she watches a grown man with no shoes or shirt leading another grown man to the one-person restroom. “Louis, what are you doing—?”

Casually locking the door behind them, Louis finally lets him go, but still doesn’t offer an explanation as to what the hell he’s doing as he flips the seat up on the toilet. Liam turns his back as Louis starts unzipping his pants, even if modesty’s not a concept Louis—or any of the other boys, really—is too familiar with.

It’s not until Louis actually starts peeing that he speaks again to Liam. “Do we need to kick him out of the van?”

Liam splutters, turning to look at Louis before he remembered why he was looking away in the first place. “I—what? Who?”

Harry,” Louis says meaningfully. Liam gets the feeling that if Louis didn’t have his hands on his dick, he’d be shaking Liam. “I will leave him here if we need to.”

“We can’t leave him,” Liam says immediately, because that’s really his only reaction. He doesn’t know where this is coming from, or why it’s up to him to decide; he thought Louis liked the guy. They all like Harry, from what Liam can tell. He fits in seamlessly with them, like they’re a band and Harry’s the instrument they hadn’t even known they’d been missing.

Harry and Niall get on like a house on fire, although Liam isn’t sure that’s really saying much; Niall could get on with a brick wall. (He actually had gotten on with a brick wall once.) Louis has already started teasing Harry, a clear indicator that he likes him—and Harry’s been taking it well in stride, already dishing it right back at Louis. (Unlike Liam, who’d been fairly sure Louis hated him when they first met because of all the teasing.) Even Zayn, once he’d woken up and smoked a bit, seems to like him too, or at least likes laughing incredulously at him.

Harry seems like good people, although a bit of an odd duck to say the least. In the hours since he’d joined them the conversation had meandered all over the place, from music to communal living to aliens to astrology, and whether it was spouting off something that sounded like the slip from a fortune cookie, speaking in circles around the same point for fifteen minutes, announcing that he’d met an alien once, or accurately naming all of their signs without knowing any of their birthdays, Harry always had something to say on the topic at hand. He’s interesting, even if half the time Liam isn’t really sure what he’s saying. (Half the time Liam doesn’t think Harry even knows what he’s saying.)

Really, the only thing Liam doesn’t like about him is the way he seems to stare through people. Into people. When he wasn’t staring into the distance like he was seeing something that wasn’t really there, that is. That was…mildly disconcerting.

But even with the whole staring thing, he’s nice enough that Liam doesn’t really mind. Not enough to leave him behind. “I like him.”

“You do?” Louis says sharply, as if he’s surprised, and Liam is almost offended, not sure if it’s on Harry’s behalf or his own. “It’s just—you’ve been a bit weird since we picked him up.”

Liam bites his lip, immediately feeling guilty again as he thinks back to the incident with Niall. He might have been a bit quiet since, but he’s always been a bit quieter than the rest of them, except maybe Zayn. Even if the beautiful comment had been jarring, none of the after was really Harry’s fault. Liam’s just a bit fucked up, that’s all. (As it turns out, Harry has a habit of calling lots of things beautiful—like Niall’s harmonica, and the alien he’d met, and the flowers in his hair. Liam’s still not sure if that makes his comment from before better or worse.)

The toilet flushes, and Louis continues as he zips up. “Now, I like making new friends, but not at the expense of my old ones, ya dig?” Liam turns back to face him as Louis runs the tap, and finds Louis looking back at him through the mirror with an uncommonly serious expression. “So if he’s making you uncomfortable, we’re fine with leaving him behind.”

“We?” Liam raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t remember Louis talking with any of the other guys about this, considering they haven’t had a moment’s privacy since they picked Harry up.

“Yes, me and the guys have all talked about it,” Louis says, waving a flippant hand, spraying water droplets. Liam’s not so sure about that, but then Louis presses, “So are we leaving him, or…?”

Liam shifts uncomfortably, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “I dunno. He’s a bit weird, but.” He shrugs, letting his hand drop, holding both of them out in a helpless gesture. “It’s a good kind of weird? Better than my kind of weird, at least.” Louis’ mouth pinches, like it always does when Liam starts talking badly about himself—even though Louis talked worse about himself all the time—so Liam just repeats, “I like him.” At least that much was true. He may be confused by Harry more often than not, but he’s sure that he likes him. There is something…inexplicably charming about him.

Louis gives him a sharp considering look, and for a second Liam thinks he’s made the wrong choice, but then Louis’s face splits into a wide grin. “Groovy.” He turns the tap off, wiping his hands on his jeans. “I like him too. He seems like a good lad.” Then he adds, mostly to himself, “Nice little body.”

Liam feels his face flush again, because he’s noticed that part, too. Harry’s vest does very little to actually cover his body, and he—well. Like Louis said. Liam’s not as used to openly admiring the male form as Louis and Zayn are, though. The army tended to frown on that sort of thing. (Among others. Like the church. And his father.)

Clearing his throat, Liam raises his eyebrows at Louis. “You done then?”

Giving Liam a winning grin, Louis pats his cheek, almost hard enough to be a smack. His hands are still a bit wet. “Yep!” Liam grimaces as Louis dodges around him, cackling as he unlocks the door and slips out while Liam is still wiping at his cheek.

As it turns out, ‘helping Louis grab food’ is actually Louis grabbing a case of beer and a handful of candy and then standing at the counter to flirt with the girl behind the register while Liam picks out actual sustenance. (Well, Louis tries to flirt; she looks distinctly unimpressed.)

“Can we get a carton of Marlboros too, love?” he says with a wink as Liam gets up to the counter with his armful of food. As she turns away with a roll of her eyes, Louis looks down to judge Liam’s choices. “Bananas?” he says with a scowl, flicking the fruit off the top of the pile.

“Harry said he liked them,” Liam says with a shrug, feeling his face flush when Louis gives him a meaningful look.

Thankfully the girl comes back just then, slapping the box of cigarettes on top of the beer. “Is that gonna be all for you guys?” she says in a bored tone.

Louis turns on her with a bright grin. “Well, here’s the thing,” he begins conspiratorially, leaning over the counter. She eyes his bare chest distastefully. “My buddy Liam here,” he says, pointing over his shoulder at Liam, whose eyes widen as he realizes what Louis is about to do, “was just telling me how pretty he thinks you are.”

She’d been close enough to hear their actual conversation, but her eyes still flick over to Liam for confirmation, a bit hopeful. Or at least, not as disinterested to hear that as she was to hear anything else Louis had said so far. Liam holds his hands up, stuttering as he tries to deny. “I—I, no, I—”

“He’s just shy,” Louis interrupts, slinging an arm around Liam’s shoulders, and Liam wants to punch him. “But he’d really like your number.”

“We don’t even have a phone,” Liam hisses, elbowing Louis away, but Louis just grins like he’d told some kind of joke.

“We don’t,” Louis agrees, before picking up one of the apples Liam had also grabbed. “But I bet she does. You could call her when we get to Woodstock!” He bites into the apple noisily, juice running down and catching in the scruff on his cheek, grinning as he chews. Liam wrinkles his nose.

“I don’t want to—sorry,” he says, turning back to her, “sorry, but I don’t want to call you when we get to Woodstock. Not that you’re not—” He gestures vaguely, and her eyebrow lifts in amusement. “I mean, yes, you’re pretty, but I—”

“See how he gets?” Louis says to the girl, giving her a simpering smile as he one-handedly hauls the beer under his arm, the cigarettes tucked in on top. “Isn’t he just the cutest?” Liam resists the strong urge to smack it all out of his hands.

“Ignore him,” Liam advises the girl.

“I’ve been trying,” she says with a smirk in Liam’s direction. Louis doesn’t even pretend to be offended, just takes another bite of his apple as he heads for the door.

“Thanks, babe!” he calls over his shoulder, and Liam isn’t entirely sure if he’s talking to Liam or the girl.

Liam just rolls his eyes, shaking his head as he turns back to the girl. “Sorry about him.”

She shrugs, bagging up their items in a brown paper sack as she punches them in. “He’s not the worst I’ve had to deal with. Not even today.” Not sure what to say to that, Liam just gives her a tight smile. Then she adds, “And you’re much cuter than most of the friends I get passed on to.”

“Uh. Thank you?”

She laughs at that, bagging up his last item, and then flips her long dark hair over her shoulder as she reads him the total. His eyes catch on the homemade nametag that reads Diana, then on the way her striped t-shirt is stretches across her chest. Liam quickly pulls his eyes away before he’s caught looking. The look on her face when he finds her eyes says he’s been caught anyway, but at least she looks somewhat pleased about it.

“So, are you guys actually going to Woodstock?” she says, leaning over the counter on her elbows as Liam reaches for his wallet. “I’ve heard about it on the radio.”

Liam nods, focusing on counting out the right bills instead of her chest. “Been driving since yesterday. Hoping to get there by tonight.”

“Where’re y’all from?” she asks as she takes his money, the register popping open with a loud ding.

Liam blanches, because that’s a bit of a loaded question. They’re from…all over: Niall from Ireland, Zayn from Pakistan and then Detroit, and he’s never heard Louis call anywhere but the van home. Harry still hasn’t specified anything other than “everywhere and nowhere.”

“Kansas,” he answers finally, because at least he can account for himself.

She nods, counting out his change. “Are you planning on passing this way when you go back home?”

And that is an even more loaded question. They have no destination in mind other than the festival, and no plans for after. Liam doesn’t really mind, so long as they don’t go back to Kansas.

“Maybe,” he hedges as she hands him back his change.

“Well maybe you can come see me again,” she says with a smile, leaning onto the counter again, twirling a strand of hair in her fingers. She has small hands, dainty and delicate. The soft curves of her body should look inviting, but Liam finds himself looking away, back out to the van, wondering if the boys are waiting on him. “You should give me a call, see if I’m working.”

“Uh. Sure,” Liam says, not quite sure what he’s agreeing to, and quickly gathers the bag into his arms, already backing towards the door. “We’ll see?”

“Don’t you want my number?” she calls after him, leaning over the counter even more, and all Liam can do is give her a strangled laugh as he pushes through the door.

He blows out a breath as he approaches the van, shaking his head. He’s going to kill Louis, throwing him to the wolves like that—

Liam pulls up short at the sound of music.

“…Please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend a hand, for the times, they are a-changin’…”

He rounds the back of the van to find the doors swung wide open, Harry and Niall perched in doorway. Harry has his guitar in an easy, practiced grip, while Niall is on his harmonica, the burnished metal glinting in his mouth. Zayn’s back in the driver’s seat, hand dangling out the window, his lit cigarette bobbing along to the song, while Louis’ has stolen Liam’s seat in the front, his lit lighter held aloft as he sways in time.

All of that’s not exactly surprising, but the gas attendant swaying from side to side with his eyes closed, apparently enraptured with the performance, kind of is. Liam hadn’t pegged him for a Bob Dylan fan.

“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be last…”

As Harry continues singing, Liam can’t pull his eyes away. Harry has a good voice—Liam hadn’t really been able to tell how good earlier, when he’d been singing along with them—and he’s a bit mesmerizing when he sings. He puts all he has into it, eyes closed and mouth open wide, his expression wracked with emotion. He relaxes only somewhat when he finishes the verse, his eyes still closed as he puts his entire body into playing the guitar for Niall’s last harmonica solo.

Liam desperately wishes he hadn’t taken so long inside so he could have seen more.

When Niall’s finished with his solo, Harry repeats the last line a few times before ending the song with a flourish of notes; Louis immediately starts clapping and cheering, the old man and Zayn following suit. Liam would have joined if he didn’t have his hands full.

Harry’s face blooms with a bright smile as Niall claps him on the shoulder. Liam kind of wants to poke into Harry’s dimples.

“Thank you, boys,” the gas attendant says, tearing Liam’s attention away from Harry. The man’s voice is dry and crackly, reminding Liam strongly of an old corn husk. “I do love me some Bobby.”

“Who doesn’t?” Louis chimes in, now leaning out of the window, and the old man raises his gas pump like he’s toasting Louis.

“Good show, boys,” Liam says, gathering Harry and Niall’s attention at the same time.

“Liam!” Harry says with a grin, while at the same time Niall shouts, “Food!”

With a laugh, Liam hands the bag off to Niall, then hauls himself up and into Zayn’s old spot in the far back seats, dodging around Harry’s bag. With the windows painted enough to block most of the light, the luggage towering up on one side and the seat a decent barrier on the other, it’s a bit like a cocoon. Zayn loves it back here; Niall hates it.

From here, he can still see the back of Niall’s head, bent over as he rifles through the paper bag, and Harry beside him, twisted around to look at Liam, still grinning. “Niall wanted to see my guitar,” he tells Liam, gesturing with it in his hand. “And then Charlie asked if we knew any Bob Dylan.”

“Can you believe?” Niall said, suddenly twisting to look at Liam, distracting him from asking who Charlie is.

“Everyone knows Bob Dylan,” Harry agrees, his deadpan tone at odds with the smile he’s wearing.

But Niall is still spluttering, pointing in Harry’s direction, “Then this fucker asked if I knew ‘Times They Are A-Changin’! Can you believe?

Liam can’t stop giggling, at Niall’s indignation and Harry’s cool grin. “Everyone knows Bob Dylan,” Liam agrees, faux-sternly, shaking a finger in Harry’s direction.

Harry bites it.

Liam freezes. His eyes are wide, fixated on where his finger disappears into Harry’s mouth. Harry’s mouth, the corners of it turning up ever-so-smugly. Harry’s tongue brushes against the tip of his finger.

“Alrighty then, you boys are all set!”

Liam pulls his hand back so suddenly that he feels Harry’s teeth scrape over his knuckle. “Bwuh?” he says intelligently, clutching his own hand as he turns to look at the man, trying to ignore the sting of Harry’s teeth and Harry’s expression.

“You’re all set,” the man says again, his smile easy as he wipes his hands with a towel tied to his belt.

Liam is still fumbling with himself, but Harry turns to face the man, reaching out to set his big hand on top of one of the old man’s. “Thank you,” he says sincerely. “You’re a good man, Charlie.”

The old man’s face cracks into a huge smile, and then he takes a step back, reaching for the doors, as Zayn cranks the engine. “You boys have a safe trip now!”

“We will!” Harry promises, loud enough to be heard over the doors shutting, as Niall calls out a “Cheers!” Then they start moving; in the front seat, Louis twists around, sticking half his body out the window to wave goodbye.

“Oi!” Niall says, already back to rifling through the bag. “Where’s my fish?”

“What,” Liam said, grateful for the further distraction, because his finger still stings. He leans over the back to peer more closely at Niall. The bag’s cradled between Niall’s skinny knees, half the contents of it tossed onto the seat between him and Harry.

“My Swedish Fish!” Niall says, waving his harmonica around in one hand, digging deep into the bottom of the bag with the other. “I specifically asked—”

Niall cuts off with a yelp when a bright yellow package hits him in the head, thrown by Louis with deadly accuracy from the front seat. Upon realizing it is, in fact, his fish, Niall makes a happy noise, then dumps the brown bag onto the floor to settle himself more comfortably in his seat. “Cheers, lads!”

“Bananas!” Harry says suddenly, diving for the floor and nearly braining himself with his guitar in the process. When he surfaces again, hair and petals flying, he’s wearing another brilliant smile, the small bunch of bananas held aloft like some kind of treasure. “Bananas!” he repeats, showing them off to Niall, who just raises a dubious eyebrow, his mouth bulging with gummy fish.

“You said you liked them,” Liam says quietly, diligently avoiding Louis’ raised eyebrow from the front seat, but that only leaves him susceptible to the radiant grin Harry turns on him.

“You got them for me?” Harry says, clutching the bananas to his chest like they’re something precious. He looks like an overgrown excited child.

Liam shrugs, feeling his face heat up under Harry’s earnest gaze. “You think this lot is gonna eat fruit?” he says, gesturing to the other boys; Niall is still munching happily on his fish, while Louis has draped himself over the front seat, scrounging through the groceries Niall spilled, wondering aloud if there’s any jerky, and Zayn is lighting another cigarette, telling Louis to grab him some too. Not exactly the picture of healthy choices, there.

But Harry is just shaking his head, still grinning, as he sets his guitar down. “You got them for me,” he repeats, and the next grin he turns on Liam is rather smug.

“Of course he did,” Louis pipes up; he’s still half-draped over the front seat, package of jerky in his hands. As Louis turns to Harry, Liam gets the same sinking feeling he had in the shop. The smile on Louis’ face can only mean bad news. “He likes you,” Louis says with a waggle of his eyebrows. “He told me so.”

Zayn laughs, punching Louis in the shoulder, while Niall catcalls; Liam is pretty sure his face is on fire. “No!” He quickly backtracks when Harry’s face falls and Louis’ eyebrow rises, feeling about a hundred times more flustered than he had in the shop. “I mean—yes, I like you—” Harry grins again, the other boys making more noise, “—but not—like that, I mean—”

The more he sputters, the louder the other boys get—except for Harry, who just keeps smiling at Liam, pulling one of the bananas off the bunch. “I was just being nice!” Liam finally manages. “He said he liked them!”

This does nothing to make the boys quiet down—if anything, they just get louder—and Liam covers his burning face with his hands, shaking his head, not sure how he got in this mess. It isn’t like that. It isn’t. He was just—

“I like you too, Liam,” Harry says easily, and Liam’s head shoots up. As soon as his eyes find Harry’s, Harry winks, his smile turning to more of a smirk as he peels his banana. Liam opens his mouth, but whatever protest he had ends up strangled in his throat as Harry—still making steady eye contact—brings the banana up to his mouth, tongue first to catch it. Liam can do nothing but watch, half-horrified, half-intrigued, as half the banana disappears. He tries valiantly not to think of what else Harry could fit in his mouth like that.

He winces only slightly when Harry bites down, his cheeks bulging as he chews. Jesus, Harry’s mouth is—obscene. Harry is obscene.

It takes Niall’s impressed whistle for Liam to realize that the rest of the van has gone quiet, all of the other boys watching the exchange. Even Zayn, staring through the rearview mirror. Louis is still hanging over the seat, his mouth hanging open with his eyes on Harry.

“What?” Harry asks in mock innocence, his mouth still full of banana, and this at least makes Louis blink and shut his mouth.

“You,” Louis says, pointing at Harry as he hauls himself up, head brushing the roof of the van, “are a menace.”

Harry grins.

*

The traffic steadily thickens as they get closer to New York, the highway filling up and everything slowing to a crawl as they come upon the small town of Bethel.

Eventually it gets so slow that they’re pretty much stopped, moving half a foot every half hour, sometimes longer. When it becomes obvious they aren’t really going anywhere for a bit, they all find things to occupy themselves with: Zayn starts smoking cigarette after cigarette, stuck behind the wheel. Louis makes Liam dig out a blanket before climbing up onto the roof to sun himself. Harry digs through his backpack and pulls out a camera nearly as beat up as his guitar, while Niall throws open the side doors, settling with his legs dangling out as he plays Harry’s guitar.

Liam remains in the back, shoving Harry’s bag to the floor so he can lay down and close his eyes, and listens to Niall play, humming along every once in a while as the shutter of Harry’s camera goes off intermittently. It’s warm, a bit humid, and when combined with the quiet rumble of the van and Niall’s soft playing, Liam finds himself dozing a bit.

Then the camera goes off much closer than before. Liam squints one eye open, grimacing when he sees Harry’s camera in his face. “Ugh, what’re you…” he mumbles, bringing a hand up to get between his face and the lens.

“Smile!” Harry sings, and Liam rolls his eyes, letting his hand drop and staring Harry’s camera down in mock-seriousness. The shutter goes off.

Liam flips the camera off. When the shutter goes again, he can’t help but laugh, and then the shutter sounds again.

“Stop, would you?” he laughs, and Harry takes another picture. “You shouldn’t waste your film like that.”

“Excuse me, Liam,” Harry says, finally putting his camera down—just so he can show Liam his offended expression, “you think I’m wasting film?” Liam shrugs, trying not to laugh at Harry’s righteous indignation as he continues, “I’ll have you know, Liam, that I never waste a shot.”

Liam quickly schools his face into a similarly serious expression. “Never.”

They continue staring at each other, but then Liam feels his mouth twitch, and then Harry’s dimple starts peeking, and then both of them burst into laughter.

Then the van jerks into motion. Louis shouts from the roof, Niall curses as one of the side doors starts to swing shut, while Liam slams his hand against the back of the seat to stop himself from tipping to the floor. Harry drops his camera on Liam’s stomach, and Liam scrambles to catch it before it goes tipping, too. Harry reaches for it, but then the van stops again, barely a car length away from where they started, and it sends him lurching back.

Liam takes the opportunity to snatch up the camera, bringing it up to his eye to take a picture just as Harry rises back up over the seat, all wild hair and wide grin. He doesn’t stop grinning when he notices the camera in Liam’s hand, only hams it up even more, until his smile is more just a baring of teeth, and Liam laughs, taking another picture.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Harry says, once Liam has taken half a dozen more pictures of Harry in various poses, and holds his hand out for the camera. Liam just takes another picture. “Heeey,” Harry pouts, reaching for it, and Liam just snaps another picture, laughing, before turning away, trying to hide the camera out of reach.

Harry’s got the advantage though, higher ground and longer arms, and Liam turning into the seat to hide the camera exposes his weak spot—his ticklish sides. Once Harry discovers them, he goes at them mercilessly, tickling Liam until he’s pealing with laughter.

“Okay, okay, uncle, uncle!” Liam cries, breathless, and Harry stops immediately. Liam looks over his shoulder at Harry, a grin lingering around his mouth, and finds Harry looking back, his eyes sparkling with mirth. The sun is shining in, turning the flyaway hairs around his head into a halo of gold, dimples carved deep into his cheeks. Niall is humming something, finger slowly picking at the strings.

On instinct, he lifts the camera to his eye. Harry’s features soften just the slightest bit, but it only makes the moment better, makes something in Liam’s chest clench as he presses down the button. He wishes this wasn’t Harry’s camera, wasn’t his film, because Liam wants to keep this. He wants to hold the proof of this moment in his hands. He wants to remember the way Harry looks in the light forever.

Liam slowly lowers the camera, his gaze locked with Harry’s. He offers the camera back, but Harry doesn’t take it. Instead he props his elbow on the back of the seat, chin in hand, and just looks down on Liam. He’s wearing a Cheshire cat grin.

Just when Harry opens his mouth, Louis starts banging on the roof. Liam jumps, and the moment snaps.

“Zayn!” Louis calls, banging again.

“What?” Zayn calls back, flicking his cigarette. There are more noises from the roof, and then Louis’ head dangles in front of the windshield. His hair hangs down around his head like a shaggy halo.

“There’s a field, just over there.” He points off towards the farmland next to them. “There are some cars parked, people setting up camp.”

Zayn squints for a moment; Liam doesn’t think he can see the parked cars any better than Liam can from the back. But then Zayn shrugs, trusting Louis anyway. “Okay.”

*

It takes another eon, but they finally get the van parked in one of the many haphazard rows that had sprung up. Louis hops down immediately, already running for the copse of trees nearby. “Gotta piss!” he shouts as he goes. Liam is pretty sure Louis either has a bladder the size of a pea or an intense need to mark any territory he comes across.

Niall laughs and points, while Zayn rolls his eyes as he steps out of the driver’s side. He stretches his body out, arching his back until it pops, groaning all the while. Niall hops out at Harry’s urging, working his bum knee a bit as he walks around. Harry follows with all the grace of a newborn colt.

“I gotta piss too,” Niall announces as Liam clambers out. Zayn, already puffing on a new cigarette, nods his agreement. They both start heading after Louis, and Liam makes to follow, even though he doesn’t really have to go.

“Hey,” Harry says, catching Liam’s sleeve as he walks by where Harry is leaning against the van. Liam lets himself be pulled in. Zayn holds back as well, a wary eyebrow raised, but Liam waves him off. With a nod, Zayn continues on, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he trails after Niall.

“Yeah?” Liam prompts when Harry is quiet for a minute, watching the other boys walk off. Harry blinks, glancing at Liam before looking down at the ground. He brings one hand up to his mouth, fingers tugging at his bottom lip, and Liam really wishes he wouldn’t because it makes it hard to concentrate on anything but Harry’s mouth.

“I want to… apologize,” Harry finally says, letting go of his lip, thank God. He’s frowning, a deep wrinkle creasing his brow; Liam wants to smooth it out with his fingers. He doesn’t. “If what I said earlier…” Harry’s hand gestures uselessly in the air between them. “…upset you.”

Liam opens his mouth, ready to deflect it immediately, but Harry apparently isn’t done. He looks up at Liam, looking shy for the first time since he’s gotten in their van, before raising his chin, setting his jaw, and looking Liam straight in the eye as he says, “I meant it, though.”

Anything Liam was about to say sticks in his throat.

“You’re beautiful,” Harry adds earnestly, one hand reaching out to wrap around Liam’s wrist, stupidly effective at trapping him. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but it’s true. I wish you could see it, your aura—”

“You’re wrong,” Liam interrupts, finally getting his mouth to cooperate. “I’m not—” He shakes his head dazedly, looking down at Harry’s hand around his wrist before looking back up to Harry’s face. “I’m not.”

“You are,” Harry insists, eyes locked with Liam’s, and he’s doing that fucking—thing again, staring into him; Liam feels incredibly exposed. “You’re one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, Liam. Inside and out.”

“Why are you doing this?” His heart is racing. He’s acutely aware of where Harry’s fingers are pressing into the pulse point on his wrist, and for a second he swears he can hear the distinct wap-wap-wapping of a helicopter in the distance.

“I’m sorry.” Harry shrugs, his hand squeezing at Liam briefly. “I was just trying to be nice.”

“Well—don’t.”

Narrowing his eyes, Harry looks into Liam for a long moment. “Why don’t you think you’re beautiful, Liam?”

Liam blinks in surprise, hundreds of reasons running through his mind, only some of them having to do with the man in front of him. Where does he even start? He tears his gaze away from Harry’s, clenching his jaw as he looks down at the ground. “I’m just—I’m just not, okay?”

Harry lets go of his arm, only to bring his hand up to Liam’s cheek. “Liam.” He guides Liam’s face up, trying to catch his eye, but Liam just pulls himself up to attention, back straight, eyes distant. He’s well-trained in avoiding eye contact.

“Ah,” Harry says, his eyes widening in a sudden understanding; there’s a sad twist to his mouth as he drops his hand. Liam reminds himself that he’s not supposed to miss the warm weight of it. “I see.”

Liam frowns, focusing back in on Harry’s face as Harry pulls away slightly. “See what?”

“Army, yeah? Or something like it?”

“Army,” Liam confirms, not entirely sure how Harry could tell, but Harry also knew he was a Virgo without asking, so he doesn’t really question it. “Three years.”

Pulling at his lip again, Harry nods. “Were you on the front line?”

Liam shrugs, his well-practiced, sanitized version of the truth already falling out of his mouth. “There was no front line. It was boring most of the time—” He cuts off, hearing the sound of helicopters again, closer this time, but he can’t see any.

He looks back at Harry, finding him giving Liam another considering look. He really hopes Harry doesn’t ask the questions most people like to ask next: Did you get any action? Kill any Commies? He’s not really in the mood.

Instead, Harry surprises him—which, really, he’s starting to think he should just always expect the unexpected with Harry—and pulls Liam into a hug.

Liam sputters a bit, going stiff, but Harry holds on, his long arms wrapped tight around Liam. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Harry says into Liam’s shoulder. Liam doesn’t really know what to say to that, so instead he just pats at Harry’s back awkwardly. He thinks there might be a flower in his mouth.

Finally, Harry releases him, but only just enough to look Liam in the eye. “Listen,” Harry says seriously, and Liam swallows. Harry seems to be searching for something, but Liam doesn’t know what to give him, so he just lets Harry look. “I don’t know what kinds of things you did or saw over there, but no matter how the war changed you, I know that right here, right now? You? Are a good man.” He shakes Liam a bit on those last two words, trying to drive the point home.

Liam just feels itchy and uncomfortable. He finally looks away from Harry’s eyes, down to where the toes of Liam’s dirty Converse are almost touching the toes of Harry’s scuffed boots. “You don’t even know me. I—we only met eight hours ago.”

Harry sounds like some kind of benevolent god when he replies, “I know enough.”

Liam wants to believe him. “Thank you,” he finally says, because if nothing else, he was raised to be polite.

It seems to be the right answer, because Harry smiles. It’s small, and a bit…sad, but it’s a smile nonetheless. Then Harry pulls Liam in for another hug, this one too quick for Liam to really react before Harry releases him. “Come on,” he says, nodding after Niall and Zayn. He smacks a kiss to Liam’s forehead, then skips off after them.

Liam watches him go, brushing his fingers over the spot on his forehead where Harry’s lips had just touched.

*

Liam doesn’t follow them, deciding to start making the tent instead. He could set up a tent in his sleep, but he needs something to do with his hands. By the time he hears Niall’s laughter trailing across the field, signaling their return, he has it mostly done.

“Whoa, far out, look at that!” Louis says loudly when they’re close; he starts clapping, and Niall and Harry quickly join in, Niall giving a whoop.

Liam doesn’t look up, still hammering the last stake into the ground, but he lets himself smile a bit. He likes working with his hands, having something to show at the end of it, feeling like he’s contributing something to the group. It’s nice to be appreciated for it.

“Our little Boy Scout!” Niall says with a laugh, rubbing a hand over Liam’s head as he walks by. Liam scowls and swats at him with the mallet, but he’s already too far away, making a beeline for the van with Louis at his side.

“Nice, Liam,” Zayn says with a grin, settling down cross-legged in the grass, his silver smoking case in his hands.

He feels more than sees Harry come up behind him, stopping just inside Liam’s peripheral vision. Harry whistles, long and low, and settles his hands on his hips. “That’s some nice work, Liam.”

“Thanks,” Liam grits out, giving the stake a few more good whacks, and then he tosses the mallet down. He sighs as he rises to his feet, surveying his work.

“Y’ever time yourself doin’ that?” Niall asks, making his way over to where Zayn’s rolling a joint. He settles down next to him, popping gummy fish into his mouth. “Think you could beat a world record or summat.”

Liam wrinkles his nose. He can be fast, but not that fast.

“Do they even have a world record for setting up tents?” Louis asks, hauling the case of beer over to Niall and Zayn.

“They have world records for everything,” Niall confirms as Louis sits and starts opening the case.

Louis takes the first beer for himself, popping it open and taking a long swig. Zayn rolls his eyes and leans over to grab one while Louis isn’t looking. He opens it, then offers it up to Liam as he walks up to their loose half-circle. “Thanks for setting up the tent, man.”

Liam shrugs. "It was no problem." He usually ends up on tent duty anyway. And fire duty. And food duty. Honestly, he's surprised the other three have managed to survive this long without him.

By the time Louis puts his can down—at least half-empty by now—Zayn has already opened and passed another beer to Niall. Louis narrows his eyes at Zayn, who just looks back at him with a completely unapologetic expression. They have a silent conversation, and then Louis pulls out the next beer and holds it up. “Harry!”

Harry looks over from where he’d been rummaging inside the van, looking a bit like a startled deer. He turns to Louis, guitar in hand. “Yes?”

Louis waves the beer. “You’re staying for a bit, yeah?”

Harry’s eyes flick over to Liam first. Liam tries to keep his face neutral, even though he’s a bit afraid of what Harry’s answer will be. There’s no real reason for Harry to stick around now that they’ve gotten him here, but Liam still finds himself desperately hoping he’ll say yes.

Harry looks away, quickly skipping over the other boys before settling on Louis. “Yes,” he says slowly, sounding a bit unsure. Liam smiles, while Louis rolls his eyes.

“Then get down here and drink my beer before I change my mind.”

Harry doesn’t wait to be asked twice, quickly coming over and settling in the grass between Liam and Niall, completing the circle. “Thank you,” he says politely as he takes the beer.

“You’re welcome. And you,” he says, turning to Zayn, who has already taken another beer for himself. “Wait your turn!”

Zayn says nothing, but keeps his eyes locked defiantly with Louis’ as he opens the beer and starts drinking it. Louis just scoffs, rolling his eyes, and waves him off. Zayn finds Liam’s eye and winks; Liam can’t help but smile back.

As Louis starts to go on about something, Harry settles the guitar in his lap, hands going to automatic places on the strings. Liam finds himself unable to look away. Harry's fingers move gently over the strings, his face an expression of quiet concentration as he starts plucking out a tune, something soft and tender and maybe a little bit sad.

“What is that?” Niall says, cutting into whatever Louis had been saying, before he takes a swig of his beer. Liam takes one too, gaze still stuck to Harry.

Harry shakes his head, and Liam watches the flowers tied into his hair bounce a bit before Harry speaks, still plucking at the strings. “Nothing special.”

“Did you write it then?” Liam asks, leaning closer, watching his fingers move. “I really like it.”

Harry’s fingers still on the strings as he turns to look back at Liam, his smile pleased and maybe a bit shy. “Thank you, Liam.”

Liam beams back, sitting back to listen as Harry picks the tune back up, his eyes closing as he plays.  When Liam looks to the other boys, all three of them are wearing similar knowing grins. He points a warning finger at them, which only makes Louis’ smile grow wicked.

“We should get a fire going soon,” Liam announces before Louis can open his mouth. He stands up quickly, the sudden movement making Harry stop playing. “I’ll go get some firewood.”

“I’ll help,” Harry says, moving to set his guitar aside. Liam wants to tell him no, because Louis is already wiggling his eyebrows, and he’s sure Niall will start making kissy faces as soon as Harry’s back is turned, but the idea of leaving him alone with them, where they could say anything about Liam, makes him even more uncomfortable.

“Okay,” he says, a little too late, but Harry doesn't seem to notice, already rising to his feet, the guitar in Niall's hands. Harry starts ambling off towards the trees, and Liam looks back at his friends. Louis' grin is almost scary, while Niall's kissy face is ridiculous. Zayn's face hasn't changed at all, but is somehow the worst.

"I hate you all," Liam says, and starts off after Harry.

This is going to be a long weekend.