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soft memories and jumbled nerves

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The nerves in the stadium are higher than usual. They’re more amplified than ever before this far into the tour -- even more so than when Zayn left in Hong Kong -- but Liam supposes that’s what happens when a band that’s always been a five piece is about to put on their first official concert as a four piece.

Liam’s been pacing the hall for the last half hour in an attempt to avoid the furtive looks of their crew, letting the quiet patter of his shoes against the floor calm the nerves he wishes he didn’t have. The silence and emptiness of the hall becomes unnerving after a while, though, and he turns back for the dressing room. He pushes through the door and is met with the sound of Harry’s voice cutting through the room, belting out Zayn’s solo in Diana, but no Harry in sight.

Niall’s lying back on the sofa with his eyes half closed, looking like he’s moments from falling asleep and he only acknowledges Liam when Liam runs his fingers through the hair falling over his face, not yet styled for the show. He points his thumb back over the sofa, mumbling, “He’s not shut up for the last fifteen minutes. He’s about to get on my last nerve.”

Harry’s voice quiets then, scoffing after a beat, drawing out his words in a whine, “I’m practising, Niall.”

“You could call the last few shows practise,” Niall starts, voice edging on unkind. He breathes in and out quickly before sitting up, mouth twitching up in a reluctant smile as he says, “You’re not practising. You’re working yourself into a frenzy over one part in a song that you’ve sung for the last three shows. You’re just psyching yourself out.”

Harry laughs low and hollow, a sound harsher than his usual laugh, and Liam leans forward looking behind the sofa. Harry’s lying on the ground with his feet splayed out and his hands covering his eyes. Niall raises his eyebrows and Liam looks back to him, mumbling, “You see,” and Liam sighs, Harry’s a bundle of nerves.

Niall pushes off the sofa, curling his fingers into the fabric at Liam’s hip for a moment, whispering, “Gonna go find Louis. It’s your turn now. Calm him down, will you?”

“I’ll try,” he says but Niall leaves before he can express any doubt in his abilities and his own nerves flare up, stomach churning uncomfortably and he’s not sure how much help he’ll actually be.

He lies down next to Harry anyway, pressing his shoulder against Harry’s and asking, “What’s got you acting like a nervous Nelly?”

Harry pulls his arm away from his face, turning his head slowly to the side to focus on Liam. There’s an angry red flush dusting the apples of his cheeks and his eyes look a bit glassy and Liam’s heart pulls a bit, wondering if he’s been crying or it’s just from rubbing his eyes in frustration like he so often does. Harry rolls his eyes after a moment though, lips curling up in a soft smile, saying slowly, “Same things that’s had you pacing the hall for nearly an hour.”

“It’s only been half that!” Liam says, defensive, and Harry laughs, lighter and more joyful this time, mouth curling up even further as he says, “Half that is still more than normal.”

Liam shakes his head, laughing at Harry’s attempt to deflect, sighing, “Yes. But I get nervous. You don’t. Not like this. Not for years.”

Harry scrunches his nose up, laughing, “That’s just not true,” and Liam’s reminded so clearly of the first time he ever caught Harry lying on the floor singing like this before a performance.

Liam curls his fingers through Harry’s, squeezing his hand gently, correcting, “You haven’t pulled this particular trick out in years,” and Harry squeezes his hand back, saying, “Haven’t had a reason to until today.”

“No, I guess you haven’t,” Liam says as Harry starts singing once again, and even though lying on the floor together while Harry sings to calm his nerves reminds him so much of being on The X Factor, Liam is overwhelmed in this moment by just how different things have become since then.

Liam sighs, rubbing his thumb over the back of Harry’s hand, laughing at how familiar this is, asking, “Remember the first time we did this?”

Harry stops short, melody falling flat as he inhales sharply in surprise, breathing out with laughter. He turns his face back toward Liam and Liam’s own nerves calm just the tiniest bit at the way the tinge of red around Harry’s eyes has subsided since he’s joined him on the floor.

Harry’s mouth curls up in a small smile, cheek dimpling just the slightest and Liam’s heart flutters with how beautiful he is as he asks, “You mean the first time Savan taught us breath control, or the other one?”

Liam can feel his cheeks burn bright red at the thought of the memory, and how clearly he can recall it after all these years and Harry’s smile only grows wider. His eyes are bright, laughter colouring his entire face as he says, “Yeah, I remember that one. You were furious with me.”

Liam laughs, the flush of his cheeks deepening, “You’re exaggerating!”

Harry sits up, pushing at Liam’s shoulder as he does, saying, “And you’re underplaying.”

“I’ve not said anything.”

Harry purses his lips, tracing his thumb gently over the flush of Liam’s cheek, eyes twinkling with something fond, saying, “You don’t have to. Your face says it all.”

Liam scrunches up his nose, trying not to laugh as he teases, “I’m only recalling a fond memory.”

But he knows that Harry’s remembering it perfectly -- he had been a bit furious.

***
It’s late and the room they share is silent save for Zayn’s breathing and Liam can’t fall asleep, he’s nervous and jittery for tomorrow’s show. He momentarily regrets his decision to move into one of the empty room when he instinctively calls out for Niall and he’s only met with Zayn groaning in his sleep, the sheets ruffling loudly in the silence as he turns over. He lies there thinking about tomorrow’s show and how they’ve made it to the semi-finals for as long as he can stand before his nerves become too much and he has to get out of bed.

He stops at the door to other boys’ room, hand stilling on the doorknob, thinking whether to wake Niall up after all, before deciding better of it. He heads downstairs instead, surprised to find the light in the kitchen on and Harry’s voice quietly filling the room.

He can’t see him though and that makes his nerves flare up even more, too on edge as it is, calling out, “Harry?” in an attempt to locate, but only coming up frustrated when the singing stops but he gets no response.

“Harry?” he asks again, moving further into the room, making his way to the kitchen table. “Aren’t you supposed to be on vocal rest? You really shouldn’t be singing right now.”

He still doesn’t get an answer and Liam gives up, knowing Harry probably doesn’t want to be scolded for practising, and he can’t really be too upset with him when he came down here to do the same exact thing.

After a moment, after Liam gets himself a glass of water, after he settles in at the kitchen table, after his nerves have subsided and he starts to feel sleepy again, Harry finally answers, “I didn’t want anyone to hear me.”

It catches Liam off guard, startling him into jumping a bit in his chair and Harry’s laughter soothes him only a bit.

“Jesus, Harry,” he says, noticing Harry lying on the ground, shrinking himself against the wall to the right of the table with his hands over his face, shoulders shaking with laughter.

“You could have answered me ten minutes ago instead of scaring me,” he says, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says, barely audible even in the silence of the kitchen.
He pulls his hands away from his face to reveal a small, timid smile and Liam feels a bit guilty for being so quick to snap, especially when Harry continues, “I was trying to wait you out. See if you’d leave so I could practise without being told off for disregarding the whole vocal rest thing. But it seems like you’re not going anywhere.”

Liam thrums his fingers against the tabletop, nervous again, mumbling, “Might’ve come down here to do the same thing.”

Harry raises his eyebrows in surprise, mouth falling open just the smallest bit before saying as if he just can’t believe it at all, “Nervous for tomorrow, too?”

“Of course I am. We’re just so close.” Liam says, feeling the slightest bit calmer after admitting his nerves, no where near as wound up as he had been back in his room lying in bed.

Harry extends his hand, motioning for Liam to join him, reassuring smile playing at his lips as if he can sense Liam’s reluctance underneath all his nerves, saying, “If you don’t come here I’m gonna start shouting. I’ll wake the whole house.”

“You wouldn’t,” Liam says, but he finds himself moving, joining Harry on the kitchen floor
anyway, not wanting to risk it just incase he wasn’t bluffing.

“I might’ve,” Harry says once Liam’s settled down beside him, their shoulders touching. “Then you would have had to explain to Mary why we were sabotaging her sleep the night before the semi finals. And even better, tell Simon you were with me when I broke vocal rest and messed up my voice.”

Liam’s eyes widen in shock, heart racing at the thought of Harry doing anything of the like this close to the finals, nervous all over again, rambling, “You’re right. We really shouldn’t be doing this. You’re sick. You’re supposed to be on vocal rest. We shouldn’t be down here singing.”

Harry leans into him, covering his mouth with his hand, soothing, “You’re just a ball of nerves tonight.”

“Shhh,” Liam breathes against the palm of Harry’ hand, making him shrink away in laughter. “No more talking. Let’s just lie here for a moment. No need to disregard vocal rest.”

Harry looks back at Liam, face softening in a way that catches Liam off guard, whispering, “This is the most I’ve spoken all week outside of practise. I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

Liam takes several deep breaths, exhaling slowly, knowing that he’s nervous and that Harry practising, vocal rest or not, is not what is causing him to feel so tense, and it’s not fair to take it out on him. “We’re just so close. So close to the final. I don’t wanna mess it up right at the finish.”

Harry doesn’t say anything at first, he just intertwines his fingers through Liam’s and squeezes his hand, smiling at Liam’s surprise, saying, “You’re not the only one. Why do you think I’m down here half past three practising breath control? It’s apparently the only thing that calms me down now. Tried everything else.”

Liam laughs despite himself, shaking his head, “You’re something else, Harry.”

“Yes, I am,” he says rather proudly, laughing a moment after, continuing, “But you sneaking down here in the dead of night to practise means you’re just the same.”

Liam doesn’t say anything. He’s too distracted by the feel of Harry’s hand in his own and the way his thumb is brushing back and forth across his skin ever so softly, and how it’s replaced the knots in his stomach with something much kinder -- something softer and more pleasant.

“We’re gonna make it to the final,” Harry says after a while and he says it with so much conviction that Liam believes him, nodding his head, looking back at Harry and saying, “Yeah, I think we will.”

***
“Only for a moment, though,” Liam says after a thought. “I had only been furious for a moment.”

“Only for a moment?” he repeats incredulously but his eyes are twinkling with laughter. “There you are underplaying things again! I think maybe at least two moments would be a better description. You thought I was gonna blow the semi finals because I was practising.”

“You were practising in the middle of the night while on vocal rest. Hiding in the kitchen because you knew you were doing something wrong!”

Harry waves his hand in the air, broad smile taking over his face with Liam’s growing laughter, “That’s neither here nor there. I was still practising.”

“Yeah, you were,” Liam says, finally sitting up. “But actually, I wasn’t completely lying when I said it was a fond memory.”

Harry raises an eyebrow and Liam is sure he must know what he’s talking about but he still asks, “Oh really?”

Liam rolls his eyes, knowing just how much Harry loves to hear people talk about memories of him, saying, “I shouldn’t tell you. You already know.”

“I have an idea,” Harry says and Liam laughs in return. “You’re ridiculous.”

And he is. But so is this life. So is one of Liam’s fondest moments with Harry being of them lying on the ground on the kitchen floor the night before the semi finals, both too nervous to sleep, especially when they’ve spent so much of the last five years accumulating extraordinary moments and memories together. But Liam can still remember the feel of Harry’s hand in his, still remember how long it took him to squeeze Harry’s hand back, can still feel the butterflies in the pit of his stomach from that night just as clearly as if it had happened yesterday, and he knows there’s no changing it. This is one of his favorite memories of Harry.

“Yeah,” Liam agrees, pushing softly at Harry’s chest, “But it was the first time you ever held my hand.”

Harry rolls his eyes this time, laughing just the slightest, “You’re a sap, Liam.”

He leans forward, though, whispering against Liam’s mouth, emphasising each word with a kiss, “A big ol’ sap.”

Liam hums his assent. “Maybe so. But you’re the biggest sap I’ve ever known.”

Harry pushes forward, laughing into the kiss, “Yeah, yeah whatever.”

Liam curls his hand around Harry’s neck, deepening the kiss, only pulling away when Niall comes bursting through the room, saying loudly, “I said calm him down not kiss him senseless, mate.”

Louis laughs then, “For Harry, I think it’s the same thing.”

“Hey,” Harry whines, but he’s laughing the next moment with the rest of them and it’s the calmest and most relaxed the atmosphere has been all day and for that, Liam’s thankful.