"They think it's..." Bobby Horan pauses to consult his phone, where he's obviously taken notes. "Transient global amnesia."
Harry crosses his arms and listens patiently as Bobby explains what that means. It wasn't caused by an accident or a stroke or epilepsy. It's temporary. Niall just doesn't remember the last year spontaneously, and that's why he's in the hospital.
When Bobby finishes, Harry exhales hard, playing with his hair. He misses the longer locks at a moment like this. The weight was comforting.
"Yeah," Bobby agrees. Harry's not sure he's seen Bobby look as old as he does here, in the fluorescent hospital lights.
"But..." Harry shakes his head and asks what he's been thinking since he got the call from Bobby. "Why me?"
He's the only one at the hospital besides Bobby and one of Niall's cousins; Harry hasn't seen which one is there yet, but Bobby mentioned it casually when Niall's security guided Harry to his hospital room. Liam and Louis aren't here even though they're both spending a lot of time in Los Angeles these days.
Harry's gone over the possible answer over and over. He's the only one available, is one that came to mind. Another is that the doctor requested one of their bandmates, but not too many, so as not to overwhelm him. Or maybe Bobby requested him. They'd always gotten on well.
But no. Bobby just smiles and says, "He asked for you."
Harry's first sight of Niall in months is Niall in a hospital bed, watching telly.
He doesn't look poorly, at least. Harry's seen Niall that way many times, in and out of hospital. Niall's had knee surgery and panic attacks and the flu, and in those situations, he looked particularly pale or thin or sweaty. Here, Niall looks tired, but far less so than when they'd been on tour.
He smiles broadly when he sees Harry, and. He looks older. It's not that he hasn't seen Niall since the hiatus - he can't think the word without hearing it in Niall's voice - but there's something mature in Niall's face that wasn't as visible to Harry in pictures. It stings a bit to see. He hasn't seen so little of Niall since they were put in a band together.
"Well, get over here," Niall says, waving his hand. "I'm supposed to stay in this fucking bed even though I'm fine."
Harry complies, letting himself be pulled into a hug. He stays in the hug, and Niall makes no effort to break away. Harry's eyes sting, but he doesn't let himself cry. It's silly, anyway. Niall's fine. He remembers Harry. He's going to leave the hospital soon.
He only leaves the hug because his back's protesting, and even then, he holds Niall's hand as he takes the chair right next to the bed. Again, Niall isn't pulling away.
"So aren't you going to ask?"
Harry frowns. "Ask what?"
"What the last thing I remember is."
There is nothing in the world Harry wants to know less. Just Niall saying it makes Harry's blood go cold and his throat go thick, and he drops his gaze to the floor so he doesn't have to look at Niall.
But Niall obviously wants Harry to ask, so he says, "Don't leave me in suspense."
"The Sheffield show. All them people, stomping around to our songs."
Harry risks a look at Niall, who's grinning. He's telling the truth. Not trying to wind up Harry at all.
"It was an amazing show," Harry says. He means it, too.
Niall's cousin's filled him in on the Asia trip, and Bobby's shown Niall some of his latest press interviews. Harry's around for the last part, and he gets to see Niall grin with delight as he sees himself sing his own song by himself. It's better than watching Niall perform, probably.
Niall's discharged from the hospital at that point, with strict instructions given to everyone around to bring him in if he shows any symptoms that might point to a bigger problem.
"I'm going to Harry's," Niall tells Bobby and his security as they start to plan logistics. "You take my house."
Bobby looks at Harry, a silent question. Harry nods once. It's a relief, honestly. He knows it isn't true, but there's a part of him that feels like Niall could lose more than a year's worth of memories if Harry isn't around to stop it.
"Nice place you got."
Harry isn't sure how he forgot that he sold his old house in the time period Niall doesn't have. It's kind of important.
"Thanks," Harry says. "You want sleep, or a drink? Can you have a drink?"
Niall snorts. "I'm not in the mood to sleep, and a beer would be great right about now. Can't imagine it'll break my brain much more than it's already broken."
He plops on the couch in front of the biggest telly in the place, and Harry pauses before he goes to the kitchen.
"Let me show you something," he says, grabbing his Macbook from the desk. He doesn't have much Dunkirk footage, but he only needs the one clip of dailies he has.
He plays it on the telly and watches Niall's face closely. His eyes go big first, widening in confusion, and as he starts to understand, a smile tilts the corners of his mouth up.
"So this is how you've been spending your year," Niall says, voice wondering. "I just fucked off to Asia and wrote a song."
"Wrote most of an album," Harry corrects.
Niall waves a hand to shut him up, but he doesn't peel his eyes away from the screen. "Get me a drink, and then I want to hear everything, starting from the beginning."
"Of course," Harry says with a nod, and he goes to comply.
"So the beginning," Harry says once Niall has a bottle of beer in his belly and the footage of him as a soldier has run through its course. "Well, I used to be a baker, if you didn't know."
He dodges a sofa pillow with a cackle.
"You think you're so funny," Niall says, but he's chuckling.
"We went on break. Had a nice send-off on X Factor."
Niall nods, jaw visibly tensing a bit. Harry doesn't call him on it and pauses to give him a moment. He knew Niall wasn't interested in taking a break. Harry wasn't the only one to push for the time off, but he pushed it more than anyone.
"I've been filming a lot of the year. Filmed on location in a lot of places. It was a proper big Hollywood production." Harry hears awe creep into his voice, and he doesn't stop it. He doesn't think the novelty will ever go away. "And I worked a lot to get to a place where I wouldn't just fall on my face."
"Bet you did." Niall sounds admiring. Harry can't bring himself to look at Niall's face.
"And beyond that it was more of the usual. Photoshoots, album work."
"But it was by yourself."
Harry nods. Niall's staring fixedly at the wall.
"I watched some interviews in the hospital," Niall says, scratching at the stubble on his chin. "Of me. Did James's show, Graham Norton. It looked so...empty. I don't know how I did it. Am doing it, I guess."
"You didn't want it to stop," Harry says quietly.
Niall looks at Harry then, and for a moment, it's like he hasn't forgotten a thing. It was the look Niall gave Harry at every opportunity, at the end of it all.
But if he's as knowing as he looks, he doesn't let it on. He just shrinks back, sighs, and says, "I'm a bit tired. I'm supposed to get some rest. Can I take the guest room?"
Harry nods. "First room up the stairs to the left. Sheets in there are fresh. Take a shower, do whatever you need. I'll probably go for a swim."
The room feels emptier with him gone.
Harry keeps swimming trunks by the pool so he doesn't have to go far to change. He changes in the shower by the pool - he has some serious privacy in his yard, but he doesn't want to test it against paparazzi right now - and dives in for some laps.
He swam a lot in the old house, too. Back when he and Niall...
Nothing happened, exactly. Nothing besides Harry falling in love with Niall. The kind of nothing that detonates inside your mind and barely ripples in the world around you.
It had been after a swim that he'd tried to tell Niall. Niall had been napping inside; he was too fair-skinned to try to nap on the side of the pool, but the guest room he'd taken then had been aired out, had one of the beautiful warm breezes Harry always associated with Los Angeles. The sunlight was golden, and so was Niall, in the shade of the room.
Harry kicks to the end of the pool and turns around to do another lap, hands sliding through the water.
He'd sat on the edge of Niall's bed. It had been Niall's bed, even though other people slept in Harry's guest rooms more than Niall. Niall had stirred awake, smiled up at Harry with a sleepy fuzziness, and Harry had never loved Niall more than that single moment. He'd opened his mouth to say as much. It would have been awkward, a clumsy declaration, but honest.
And then Niall had said around a yawn, "Running late, are we? I'll just shower."
Harry turns in the pool again, seeing a flash of the sun overhead before he turns his face back down into the water.
Niall had climbed out of bed at that point, patted Harry's arm, and left. Harry hadn't gone after him. Harry had thought, if he gave it a bit of time, he'd know what to say, how to say it. There had been time, he'd thought.
They'd gone to a meeting together after that. The meeting that had made the hiatus official.
Niall never gave Harry any looks that weren't that particular kind of knowing after that. Every word that Harry had wanted to say shrivelled and died in his mouth.
Harry surfaces and hugs the side of the pool. When he catches his breath, he goes back in the water and focuses on what he's doing.
Niall reappears after night falls and Harry's making himself a shake in his kitchen. He's yawning, but he's awake. Harry's been in close quarters with him for long enough to know what Niall looks like when he's tired.
"Can't believe how rested I feel," Niall says, like he's reading Harry's mind. "Even before, when we had time off, I still felt like I needed a year's worth of sleep."
Harry nods as he shakes the last drips of green from out of his blender and into a cup. He doesn't say that rest is one of the reasons he wanted a break. He wanted to be able to catch his breath, and he has. It's almost worse that way, looking at the decisions you've made fully awake.
"Why did I call you?"
Niall's staring at Harry expectantly when he looks up.
"I..." Harry raises his free hand in an I-have-no-clue gesture. "Bobby told me you asked for me."
"I don't know why."
"Don't you?" Niall doesn't say it accusingly. More like he's genuinely curious. "I woke up and knew that I needed to see you. There has to be a reason."
Harry puts the glass on the counter and leans on it with both hands, staring at the marbled surface.
"Maybe," Harry says slowly, "it's how I would want to see you no matter what happened. You're the first person I would want to see."
He hears Niall's sharp intake of breath.
"When did that happen?" Niall's voice is quiet.
Harry's skin prickles. It's like he can feel everything that Niall can see on him. "Last time you visited me."
"But I remember that." Niall walks a couple paces and then walks back. "You didn't say anything."
Harry nods and hangs his head a bit. Niall's probably mad. Harry definitely deserves it.
But then. Then Niall laughs.
"I didn't say anything, either. We're a sorry pair, aren't we?"
Harry lifts his head sharply. Niall's looking at him a little nervously.
"When did that happen?" Harry says. It's lucky that Niall said it first; he wouldn't know what to say, otherwise.
"That last night, in Sheffield. I knew I'd miss touring and miss the lads, but watching you...I knew it was you I'd miss the most."
Harry's eyes sting. He brushes at them with his hand.
"I asked for you before I thought about it, after I went to hospital," Niall says, stepping next to Harry, "but I realised I wanted you to tell me if I stopped being a coward."
"You're not a coward."
Niall's smile is rueful. "Aren't I?"
"Well, if you are, so am I." And Harry's smiling now, too. He's shaking a bit. The result of holding himself tense for over a year, probably. "I'm in love with you, Niall. I've loved you for a while."
Niall puts a hand on Harry's arm. "I love you, too. I just hope I remember telling you later."
Harry draws Niall into a hug. Niall clings to him tightly.
"If you forget," Harry murmurs in his ear, "I'll tell you again."
Harry takes Niall to the doctor a couple times in the next week. He's fine, as far as they can tell. Niall's memories stay hazy during that time, but he's getting little things from the missing year back here and there.
His label wants him to go back to work as soon as possible, but the doctor won't clear him medically. Harry feels like shit for being grateful that medicine's on his side.
But how could he not be happy? He's spending his days with Niall, watching telly with legs entwined, cuddling in a cabana by Harry's pool, sleeping in the same bed. They share lazy kisses and hug pretty much constantly.
It's the break Harry's always needed. A real break, with Niall.
Two weeks after Niall's first trip to the hospital, he comes out of the doctor's office with an apologetic smile on his face.
"I'm cleared," he says, sitting in Harry's car. "My head's sorted. Back to the rat race."
It's not a surprise; Niall's had all his memories back for a day or two. They could have gone in sooner, but neither of them wanted to.
"I'm glad," Harry says, and he even mostly means it. Niall does best when he's keeping busy. A fortnight off without golf or sightseeing or work is just not who Niall is.
"I had a thought," Niall says. "What are your plans right now?"
Harry postponed all his studio time indefinitely the second he found out Niall was in hospital. He has movie promo, but not for months. He shrugs to convey that much to Niall.
"I have to record in the studio," Niall says. "But I have to take it slow and not overbook. Doctor's orders. Which means I could use help keeping my schedule balanced."
Harry grins. "I think I could help with that."
They kiss, and they drive away.