Harry stares at the backs of the four red chairs that will decide his fate and waits for the music to start. His heart feels like it’s in his throat and it’s beating at a hummingbird’s pace at the applause from the live studio audience.
Suddenly, Harry’s very glad he wasn’t able to eat anything all day, otherwise it would be coming back up.
The music starts and Harry takes a deep breath, the band around his chest loosening at the first chords. He mentally counts himself in, head bobbing slightly as he waits out the intro. The track is a guitar and banjo driven acoustic arrangement that’s more folk rock than the original record’s pop. It’s a risky move, changing the arrangement, but Harry loves the song and knows that it can play to his strengths, but only if the judges--and the audience--like it.
A measure to go and Harry opens his mouth, licks his lips, stares into the camera with the red light that means ‘look here, please,’ and reminds himself not to over-sing, to hold the notes delicately until he reaches the chorus.
“We clawed, we chained our hearts in vain. We jumped never asking why,” he starts and his finesse pays off. The audience, which had been politely reserved and clapping at behest of the cue cards and flailing arms of the assistant producer, comes alive, giving Harry a reason to smile through the next line. “We kissed, I fell under your spell. A love no one could deny.”
With the first verse finished, Harry’s nerves disappear and he lets himself play to the crowd. It’s bigger than the few dozen he’s played before at small pub and coffee house gigs, but he doesn’t think about that. Instead he focuses on performing, on the music, on making a connection with the people he makes eye contact with.
He also refuses to stare at the back of the judges chairs, knowing it won’t make a smidgen of difference. Because of that, he doesn’t actually see when the first chair turns around only one phrase into the chorus.
Harry’s belly swoops from relief when the sound of the buzzer plays and the crowd erupts. Feeling lighter than air, he turns to see the base of Louis Tomlinson’s chair lit up with big white letters, spelling out ‘I Want You’ like a message from above.
Louis is staring at him like he can’t quite believe what’s in front of him, eyes bright with excitement and smile wide. He’s sitting cross-legged in the chair and bouncing along to the beat, mouthing along to the lyrics like he’s some average bloke in a car and not a rock band that’s already managed to receive Grammy nods left and right while only two albums in. He has sheer, unadulterated joy on his face and Harry put it there.
It’s a heady feeling. It’s also one that makes it difficult to emote properly about a painful break up.
Harry forces himself to look away, to perform to the crowd again. He’s secure to the next round so now he can put his effort in showing Louis that not only he has a voice worth turning his chair for, but also he’s a showman. He’s not just standing in place like a stick in the mud while belting out some notes. Harry doesn’t want to do that. He never wants to do that. He want’s to perform, to give the audience something to not only listen to, but to experience.
Louis’ eyes follow him across the stage and Harry swears he can feel them on his skin. He tries to keep himself from grinning like a fool, but he can’t help himself when it comes to singing the bridge. He slows down his movements, no longer leaping across the stage, he softens his voice much like he did in the beginning, and lets himself make real eye contact with Louis for the first time.
Louis stares right back at him before looking down, breaking their eye contact for only a second before his eyes are back on Harry. This time, there’s a softer smile on his face and Harry would swear there’s a flush in the cheeks if it wasn’t for the fact that he knows that Louis must be wearing makeup to combat the harsh spotlights. The soft look lasts the rest of the bridge until the chorus starts up again and Harry’s jumping away, singing his lines for all he’s worth.
Harry can’t decide if he wants to hope the camera got that so he can watch it over and over again or if he hopes they didn’t so that look will only be for him.
Letting himself get lost in the music, Harry registers the next two chair turns in some distant part of his mind. Sir Tom turns his some time after the bridge and spends the rest of the song exchanging pointed looks with Louis across the back of Kylie’s chair. Hers remains unturned until the song ends, but Will.i.am hits his button during one of the very last phrases. The look on his face when he turns around and takes in Harry makes it seem like it’s almost a perfunctory gesture and he knows there’s no point. It’s like he’s certain that Harry will be going with Louis or Sir Tom.
Harry could swear that the applause is the loudest thing he’s ever heard, and he’s been to a The Rogue concert, and it’s all for him. People are on their feet, and the one guy with the headset isn’t even waving his hands to encourage it, he’s just standing back, cue card tucked under an arm and applauding along himself.
Harry never wants the moment to end.
“Thank you,” he says into the mic. He’s not sure if it’s still being streamed to the speakers, but he has to try. “Thank you all. Thank you.”
The applause keeps going down and Kylie’s chair has been turned around. There’s no lit up ‘I Want You’ at the bottom of it, the letters still dark and a bit sad, but she has a huge smile on her face and is clapping her hands with the rest of the judges while Louis--
Louis is giving him a standing ovation.
Harry ducks his head, trying to compose himself so he doesn’t do something stupid like throw himself at Louis’ feet in thanks.
“What’s your name, love?” Kylie is the first to speak.
“Harry, Harry Styles.” Harry swallows, not sure if his mouth is dry from nerves or singing.
“Sounds like a popstar already,” Kylie smiles. “And what brings you to The Voice today, Harry?”
“Well,” Harry says, “to be honest, it’s because of a bet I lost with my mates.”
“Oh really?” Louis asks leaning forward in his chair like Harry’s answer is worth a million pounds. “What was the bet?”
“Umm,” Harry stumbles over what to say, not quite sure how to talk about strip poker, too much liquor, and a loud know-it-all Irishman who could charm a leprechaun out of his gold. “I’m not sure that I can say it on the telly, actually.”
If possible, Louis perks up even further in his chair and looks like he just might start levitating right out of it. “Now that’s a story that I want to hear.”
Harry laughs and for a second he forgets that he’s on the stage. Louis next question brings him back a bit. “Does that mean you don’t want this?” He has a frown between his eyebrows like he’s trying to decipher a puzzle.
Harry nearly clubs himself in the face with the microphone while shaking his head. “No, not at all. This is something I’ve always wanted. I’ve been gigging and playing pub shows for years. I just.” Harry looks down at his feet, not really ready to admit his lack of confidence. “My friends just had a lot more faith in me than I did, that’s all.”
The frown between Louis’ eyes smooths out and gives Harry an encouraging smile. “Your friends were right.”
Harry opens his mouth to thank Louis but before he can get a word out, Kylie is talking. “I agree. Your friends are keepers. I’m wish I had a spot on my team for you, because you’re amazing. Your voice has so much potential. Plus, I just think you’re the cutest thing ever. I think you’ll go far in this competition.”
Torn between being stunned at the compliment and relieved that the reason she didn’t turn around was because her team was full and not because of something lacking on his end, Harry stutters out a thank you. He doesn’t even have time to process what Kylie said before Will.i.am is speaking up for the first time.
“You took something that started out as synthpop and turned it into a track that would be at home in a Mumford and Son’s album,” he says. “I think that’s a sound that suits you well, but I think that you could do so much more. That’s a song that’s is inarguably Miley’s, but you really made it your own.”
“Thank you so much.” Harry thinks he’s starting to sound like a robot but he’s doesn’t know what else to say. Everything that’s happening is so far beyond his biggest hopes and it’s not even close to done yet.
Will continues. “I think we’d could be a great team and that we could do a lot awesome things if you chose me.”
A breathless, “Thanks,” is all Harry manages, his mind whirling at the possibilities of what what just offered to him. His mind is so busy playing catch up that he nearly misses the Sir Tom starting to speak.
“It was a tad pitchy in the beginning,” he says and Harry can’t even be upset about the first bit of criticism because he’s getting it from Sir Tom Jones, “but I think that must have been because of nerves, because once you found your groove it was near perfection.”
There’s a squawk from Louis who looks at Sir Tom like he’s grown a second head. “Pitchy? Near? Harold--do you mind if I call you Harold?” he asks Harry, eyes bright and full of mischief.
Harry shakes his head, a barely contained smile on his face. “Umm, not really, but my name’s Harry. Just Harry.”
“Are you going to tell us you’re a wizard next, Just Harry?” Louis waves a hand before Harry can reply. “Anyways, as I was saying, please ignore everything Tom just said, his ears are starting to go, you see. The song wasn’t near perfection it was perfection. You were perfection. In fact, I think the only thing that could have made that song better is if we had turned around and you were on a wrecking ball and bursting through some foam walls.”
“Swinging around in just my pants?” Harry holds the microphone in both hands like it will prevent him from doing something stupid like throwing himself into Louis Tomlinson’s lap and professing his undying love.
“Well, if you insist, Harry, I’m not going to argue with your artistic vision.” Louis grins at him and Harry never wants to look at anything else for the rest of his life.
“Now, now, now,” Sir Tom says, arms spread wide like he’s physically separating the two of them and Harry’s forced to look his way. “Look here, I know that Louis here is easy on the eyes, but it’s not like I’m troll. Plus, I do have experience on the lad.”
“Next you’re going to say that you keep up with what all the kids are saying, Tom and that will be just downright embarrassing for all of us.”
“Excuse you, you infant. I’ve been down with all the kids since before you were born,” Sir Tom says to Louis which leaves him nearly sideways in his chair and slapping at his thigh before turning to face Harry. “Now, Harry, the obvious answer is to go with the one person who has won this show before, which would be me. I think that you have a lot of potential and could really have a shot at winning.”
“Don’t trust him, Harry! He’s a vampire, he just wants you for your youthful looks!”
“I swear, Tomlinson, if you make me get out of this chair…” Sir Tom is grumbling and trying to look at Louis like he’s an insolent child, but Harry can see the fondness on his face. It's not hard to see the way the two get on even though it’s Louis' first season on the show.
Will.i.am and Kylie laughing and Harry can feel his face turn scarlet. He hides his face in his elbow for just a second, unable to stop his face from turning bright red because Sir Tom Jones and Louis Tomlinson are fighting over him on national telly.
Harry looks back to to see Sir Tom wagging his finger at Louis like he’s a naughty schoolboy and Louis looks beside himself with glee.
“So,” Kylie’s voice cuts through like cool water on a hot day. “Who’s going to be your choice?”
“Well…” Harry’s eyes dart between the three men in their big reg chairs and tries to remember what he told himself he’d do if he got this far.
Louis looks so happy that it almost changes his mind.
“Thank you all so much, but I think that as much as I want to experiment, I think I have a lot to learn first. So, I’m sorry, but I’m going to go with Sir Tom.” Harry manages to say it like he’s excited about working with an absolute legend and not torn up by how Louis looks like someone kicked his puppy.
“Yes!” Sir Tom’s says, his hiss of satisfaction is barely audible over the applause that has once again started up.
That’s not a problem for Louis though. “Damn it!” he shouts, completely unrepentant in the face of the producer’s glare. “I really thought I had him.” He shakes his head, his lips pursed and shoulders shrugged. “You had me, Harold. You really had me.”
Harry mouths, “Sorry,” as he makes his way down the steps to shake Sir Tom’s hand and be welcomed to his team. Sir Tom greets him warmly with a hand on the shoulder but Harry still makes a detour on his way off the stage to shake hands with the other judges.
If his fingers linger a second longer on Louis’ hand before he makes his way off the stage, well, that’s not his fault.
It seems like days later, but it’s really just a couple hours when Harry’s finished up with yet more paperwork and shooting a few video treatments for the show including his reunion with Gemma, his parents, and Robin in the family waiting area. It had been really good seeing them and being hugged to near death while the congratulated him. What had been even more ace was after they were done filming, Sir Tom came and introduced himself to Harry’s family and took Harry on a short tour of the studio. Winding their way through the halls, Sir Tom told Harry how he really liked how Harry had sounded and thought he had the greatest promise of the artists he had managed to add to his team so far.
Yet again, Harry was reduced to a blushing mess, not quite sure what to say other than a heartfelt thank you. Luckily, a woman wearing a uniform polo and a headset attached to a walkie, had interrupted them. Sir Tom had to beg off after that, but had given Harry another warm handshake and promised to see him soon before going on his way.
That left Harry where he is now, following yet another uniform and headset wearing assistant out of the maze that is the backstage so he can get in his car and leave when he sees a now familiar back walking down a hallway to the right of him and stopping at a door to punch in a code.
Harry doesn’t even think before he’s turning down the hall, thankful that the woman escorting him out was a few feet ahead of him and his less than stealthy limbs.
By the time he makes it to the door, it’s shut again with the person he’s after on the other side, so Harry gathers up his remaining courage of the day and knocks softly below the brass name plate.
Even after watching him walk in and reading the engraved plate on the door, it still feels surreal when the door opens and Harry’s greeted by the sight of a softly puzzled Louis. The entire day has felt like an out of body experience or a dream, if he’s honest with himself.
Harry watches as Louis’ face goes through a laundry list of emotions. Surprise and happiness are followed by confusion, suspicion and hurt, finally topped off with a dash of curiosity that has Louis crossing his arms across his chest and raising an eyebrow like that’s all the prompting Harry will be getting.
Harry takes a moment to appreciate the way that Louis’ crossed arms stretch the thin material of his shirt over his shoulders and makes the muscles in his arms pop with that ‘just enough’ level of definition that had been hidden previously in the day. Harry can spot the blazer Louis was wearing for the auditions laying haphazardly on the sofa just over Louis’ shoulder. He finds himself torn between gratitude that he hadn’t interrupted Louis taking off more than just his jacket and disappointment that he could have.
“Excuse me,” Harry starts when it’s obvious Louis won’t say anything, instead he’ll just let Harry continue standing in the hallway like a knob until someone from security trips over him like errant puppy. “I just. I wanted to explain why I really went with Sir Tom.”
Louis smiles, sad and a touch hurt still, but he nods like he understands. “Yeah, don’t worry about it, I get it. I’m just the new kid with something to prove. I wouldn’t have picked me, either.” His tone at the end is more than a little self deprecating and Harry can’t let him continue thinking that’s what went on.
“No, you don’t get it,” Harry says, shaking his head no before having to shove his hair out of his face when it gets in his eyes. “Like, yes, I mean. Who wouldn’t want to work with him, he’s Sir Tom, but really, I didn’t. Well. I didn’t pick your team because I really wanted to do something and didn’t want everything to go completely up in flames if I made a mistake.”
Louis is staring at him like he’s a puzzle again and Harry has an illogical fear that he’ll conclude that he’s lacking. He gathers the last few crumbs of his courage. He’s gone through a years’ supply in a single day but he’s pretty sure he won’t need anymore after this if this goes well. Mind made up, Harry steps forward into Louis’ space and into the shadow of the door jamb.
“This,” Harry says, leaning in. His hands slowly come up to cup the sides of Louis’ face, giving him the opportunity to pull away if Harry’s reading his signals completely wrong.
Louis doesn’t pull away. If anything, he rocks closer up onto the balls of his feet and meets Harry’s lips with his own. His eyes shut and Harry can see the way they brush against his skin right before he closes his own.
Louis’ lips are wet against Harry’s own chapped ones and when Louis brings his hands up and puts them on Harry’s chest, they’re perfect points of warmth, seeping into Harry’s skin through the thin cotton of his shirt. Harry keeps the kiss light, restraining himself to just barely tracing the edge of Louis’ lips with his tongue before slowly pulling away. Louis huffs as if in disappointment at the kiss ending so soon and nips at Harry’s lip with sharp teeth, but lets him pull away. Harry waits a second before opening his eyes, more than a little bit nervous at what might greet him.
Harry opens his eyes to see Louis own blue ones studying him again. “You’re giving me that look,” he says softly. The moment hangs like snowflake between them and anything louder than a whisper is the breath of heat that will melt it forever.
“Which one?” There’s a thin line of a frown on Louis’ forehead, but his eye are still bright from curiosity.
Harry wants to kiss the small smile that’s still on Louis’ face. Instead, he contents himself with resting his forehead against Louis’ for now. It’s a little gesture, but he can’t bring himself to let Louis go yet unless he makes him. “The one where it’s like you can’t quite figure me out. Like I’m a puzzle,” he explains.
Louis smile turns bashful and he turns his head just enough to press a kiss against Harry’s wrist. “I am.”
Louis doesn’t say anything else and Harry’s content to stay in the moment. They stand like that forehead to forehead for a few long breaths, Harry curling down to be closer and Louis tilting his head up to meet him like a flower reaches for the sun. They’re barely inside the doorway, visible to anyone who might happen past, but Louis doesn’t seem to concerned with anyone seeing them so Harry doesn’t either.
They only move when a burst of radio static and garbled voices goes off a little ways down the hall, by where Harry turned to head towards Louis’ dressing room. The loud noise makes Harry jump for a second and Louis shakes himself like he’s coming out of a daze. Reaching up he takes Harry’s hand in his and steps back just enough to lead Harry into the room and shut the door.
There’s more distance between them when the door closes, but it just means Harry can lightly rest one hand on Louis’ waist. Louis for his part doesn’t let go of the hand he had taken to lead Harry. Rather he turns it around in his own and rubs his thumb across Harry’s knuckles. It’s a soft repetitive motion and it makes Harry wonder if Louis even realizes he’s doing it.
Standing in the middle of the room, Harry thinks about how the whole situation should be awkward. Harry knows this on some level, but it’s not. It’s like it doesn’t matter that they are practically strangers and standing close enough that it would be no effort for Harry to reach up and push the stray bit of Louis’ fringe off his face. It feels like everything has clicked, just slotted into place like it’s been there forever. Like the heat in Harry’s belly has always been there, burning for Louis.
Harry gets only a second to ponder if Louis would mind if he played with his hair before the option is taken away. As if reading Harry’s mind, Louis reaches up and tucks his hair back in a practiced motion.
“So, let me get this straight,” Louis says, breaking the silence.
“You decided to go with Sir Tom because you wanted to kiss me?” He sounds nervous, like he’s not really sure of the answer and that he’s ready at any moment to make a joke at his own expense rather than have Harry laugh at him.
It makes Harry’s heart clench when he thinks of why Louis might have learned to make others laugh with him just so they don’t laugh at him. “Well, It’s not the only reason,” he starts keeping his tone lighthearted and gently squeezing Louis’ hand in his own. “I mean. He’s yeah, he’s Sir Tom, but have you seen the guy? He’s well fit. I figured if you didn’t want to kiss me, than maybe he’d want to be my sugar daddy.”
Louis laughs. This time its something soft and private and Harry knows that it is something that not everyone gets to hear. “It’s a bit early for roleplay, Harold, but I wouldn’t be against more kissing.”
“That’s good, me neither,” Harry says, pulling Louis closer until they’re standing chest to chest.
Louis winks and his eyes sparkling with mischief and happiness when he says, “Then tell me about it, stud,” in a poor impression of Olivia Newton John.
Harry can’t stop himself from throwing his head back and barking out a laugh. He’s still laughing when Louis threads his fingers through Harry’s hair and pulls him down for a kiss. Their second kiss is nothing like the first, the hesitancy and chasteness gone, leaving in its wake a kiss that’s full of tongue, flashes of teeth, and laugher pressed against mouths.
Louis starts walking backwards, pulling Harry with him. His knees give when they hit the couch and it sends Harry and Louis tumbling down. Before Harry loses himself completely in the kiss and the feeling of Louis laying below him, his hands clutched in Harry’s shirt and pulling him closer, Harry spares a thought for what got him here. His mates were right. The Voice really did have more to offer more than he could ever expect.