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my hands, your bones

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the last thing harry expects is niall showing up at his doorstep, six months into the hiatus and six more to go.

“let’s go on a road trip,” niall says, almost as a greeting.

“okay,” harry answers without thinking. he actually hates the idea; he’s spent way too much time on the road, sleeping in strange beds or in the backseat, endless days with only the pavement as his only constant. he gets enough of road trips when they’re working, and they’re supposed to be on a break.

but looking at niall with his tanned skin and tattered rucksack, stories of backpacking across asia hidden in his palms, harry thinks it might be different.

“okay,” he says again, just to watch the skepticism slide off niall’s face. it’s replaced with excitement, a childlike glee that makes harry feel like a better person for saying yes.

“sick,” niall breathes and he leans forward to smack a kiss on harry’s cheek. “start packing, yeah? we’ve got a ways to go.” he pushes forward into the house, a bemused harry following behind him.

“where are we going?”

“dunno.” he pauses as he gets to the bedroom, looking back with a faint frown. “north, i think.”

“alright.”

he pulls out a suitcase from his closet, stepping around the piles of clothes. it’s half full still; he hadn’t bothered unpacking all the way from his last trip. pointless when he was going to leave just as soon.

“pet,” niall says, and it’s fond and exasperated all at once. “not that.”

harry’s hands freeze over the zip and he hangs his head down to stare at niall.

“what do you mean?”

“not a suitcase.

“what am i supposed to use, then?”

niall taps on his leg for a second and then disappears into harry’s closet, emerging later with a duffel. “here.”

harry takes it without arguing. there’s no point. “okay.”

“you can’t go on a road trip with a suitcase. pack that as light as possible, yeah?”

“m’not like you. i don’t wear the same outfit six times in a row.”

“fuck off,” niall says easily. “pack a few white shirts, and a few black ones, and one of your crazy ones for when you get bored. and then let’s go.”

harry does, and his glittery-est boots out of spite. niall rolls his eyes but doesn’t comment, handing him his toothbrush and toiletries. snagging an extra pillow and a blanket off the bed, he wraps them up neatly.

“what now, fearless leader?” he asks niall, hands on his hips. niall laughs warmly and reaches forward to pat at harry’s side.

“we eat lunch, and then we go.”

“and then we go,” harry echoes, a little bit glumly. he flashes his best smile at niall, though, when he glances over. it’ll be fun, the two of them. easy, like.

“we’re not taking that car.”

harry blows out a sigh, shaking his head at niall’s snobbery.

“it’s a perfectly good car.”

“it’s flashy. what’s the point of a road trip if everyone knows where we’re going?”

i don’t even know where we’re going.”

niall wrinkles his nose a little bit, like he’s trying not to smile. “that’s the point, innit? c’mon, i’m going to call for a rental.”

“that’s going to be bloody expensive, and we’ve got a perfectly good--”

but niall’s already dialling, crooking an eyebrow at harry before he starts to talk. minutes later, they’ve got a little audi on the way and niall’s very smug.

“you’re the most ridiculous person i’ve ever met,” harry complains, but he tucks himself into niall’s side anyway. niall snorts.

“no that honour goes to you, styles. and then maybe louis.”

“fair. you’re a bit boring.”

“i am not!”

“you’re not,” harry agrees, ghosting his fingers over niall’s ribs. “but you are particular.” niall grabs his hands and holds them. it’s a well-used tactic in the band.

“is that a bad thing?”

“not at all. it’s sweet.”

you’re sweet,” niall grumbles and he blows air into harry’s ear. it makes him wriggle, but niall’s got his hands so he can’t get away. it’s very frustrating.

“i don’t like this,” he says with his best pout. it doesn’t work, never does on niall. liam’s a sucker, and louis gives in more times than not, but niall won’t ever. he just sticks his lip out too. “stop making fun of me,” harry whines, and niall’s mouth smoothes out into a grin.

“stop being a twat, then.”

“you could start being nice.”

“i am nice. i’m the nicest. the paragon of nicety--” his phone rings, breaking his monologue. the car’s here and it’s… cute. a tiny little car, silver, and not flashy at all. harry heaves a dramatic sigh.

“how am i supposed to retain any rock n’roll credibility when i’m forced to drive around in this?”

“you’re in a boyband, styles. don’t have very much credibility to start with.”

“so it’s sacred, y’see? i’ve got to maintain it.”

“shut up and get in.”

“shut up and dance with me,” harry mumble-sings as he slides into the passenger seat. he props the pillow up against the door and sets the blanket at his feet. “where we going today, niall!”

niall laughs hard at that as they peel out of the driveway and down the road, sweating in the sticky heat.

“san fransisco! san fransisco!” he says in mark’s voice. it’s uncanny, really. niall’s the best at impressions.

“lovely. wake me up when you want me to drive, alright?”

niall hums, playing with the radio. harry tips his head back against the seat and falls asleep to the eagles filling the car.

 

“wake up,” niall says, shaking harry awake. harry mumbles something and smashes his head back into the pillow. “harry, it’s time to eat.”

“wanna nap.”

“yeah, but i’m hungry and we’re not going to stop again.”

harry squints an eye open and peeks at the world around them.

“where are we eating.”

“just a mcdonald’s,” niall says with a shrug. he leans forward and starts fixing harry’s hair, fingers gentle. harry nearly falls asleep again at the feeling until niall gives a strand a sharp tug. “c’mon, let’s go.”

“how long was i asleep?”

“ten minutes.”

harry stops in the centre of the sidewalk and glares. “you woke me up after ten minutes.”

“no, of course i fucking didn’t. honestly, h, it’s been two and a half hours.”

“oh.” time flies when you nap, apparently. “why can’t we have gone through the drive-thru?”

niall rolls his eyes and tugs on harry’s sleeve. “because you’re going to need a wee as soon as you wake up properly, and we’re not going to stop again. i told you that already.”

“we’re going to get papped,” grumbles harry, but he shuffles after niall anyways.

“we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere, california. we’ll be fine.”

harry’s still grumbling when they get in line, pulling a beanie over his hair and slouching next to niall. he drops his head on niall’s shoulder, pressing his forehead into niall’s neck. he’s already regretting this road trip, and they’re not even three hours in. only god knows how long they’ve got left. well, god and niall.

“what are you ordering?” niall asks, and harry jumps at the american-ness of it. he’s put on an accent for a better disguise and it’s… strange.

“ummmm,” he drawls, thinking he really should’ve looked at the menu before this. “a big mac? yeah, and a coke.”

the cashier types it in with a bored look. harry can sort of relate.

“i’ll get this, you go to the bathroom,” says niall. he gives him a shove in the direction of the doors, playing with the receipts and giving him a little smile. harry follows orders.

he really did need to wee, not that he’ll admit it to niall. it’ll only make him more smug and more insufferable. he spends a minute fixing his hair in the mirror; it’s all over the place and tangled from where he pressed it against the seat. he runs his fingers through it as best he can.

“thought you fell in,” niall says calmly when harry slides into the seat.

“mm, one of them rats, y’know? the huge ones.”

“that’s in new york, i believe. but nice try, pet.”

harry pulls a face, taking a bite out of his burger. niall pulls one back.

“remember the sandwiches sarah would make us on show days? in the beginning?” harry asks after a few minutes, and niall lights up.

“the ones on homemade bread? and she wouldn’t really make them for us, she’d just set out a spread.”

“you could eat all you wanted.”

niall swallows his last bite and crumples up the wrapper, tucking it neatly into his chips box.

“glorious, eh? now are you finished yet? we’ve still got a ways to go.”

“yeah, i’m good.” they throw away their rubbish and duck out of the restaurant, keeping their heads low as they cross the pavement.

“nialler, i can drive for a while. if you wanted to, like, sleep.”

niall looks at him for a moment before shrugging. handing over the keys, he slides into the passenger’s side.

“don’t feel like sleeping, but i wouldn’t mind not driving for a while.”

harry starts the car and niall fiddles with the radio, landing on one playing justin bieber’s newest song.

“classy,” comments harry and niall laughs as he slips on his sunglasses.

“i’ve heard you humming “what do you mean” back on tour, don’t pretend you don’t like him.”

harry presses his lips together and shakes his head. niall laughs again, propping his legs up on the dash and lolling his head over to grin at him.

“how’ve you been, h?”

“bored,” he says after a moment of thought and niall scoffs.

“when are you not?

“that’s not nice.”

“you’re right,” niall says immediately, his hand warm on harry’s arm for a second. “that was mean. why’re you bored?”

“no one’s around to like, make a schedule. i don’t know what to do after a month of not having anything scheduled.”

“s’why we’re on a road trip.”

“maybe.” he flashes a grin at niall, one that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “i’ve been writing, a bit. thought about acting, but that’s even more hectic than touring, y’know. i like writing, though. i can do it the way i want.”

“i do know. i’ve been doing some meself.”

“anything good?” he glances at niall out of the corner of his eye, watches him stare up at the roof of the car.

“not yet,” niall says finally, and it doesn’t quite feel like the truth. harry lets it go. pushing niall for his music won’t do anything but shut him down, and harry doesn’t like that himself. he’s not curious enough.

they drive in silence for a little while, the radio filling the spaces between them until it’s comfortable and warm.

everything about niall’s comfortable and warm. it’s one of harry’s favourite things about him, that he’s always willing to be quiet, always willing to just sit, always willing to be silly. he’s just niall, and lets harry be harry, and not harry styles of one direction.

he reaches over and runs his fingers through niall’s hair, messing with the style with one hand. niall lets out a little noise in protest, but doesn’t push him away.

“you’re awful,” he mumbles, and harry tugs extra hard. “truly awful.”

“i try.”

the radio shifts to an older taylor swift song, and harry groans as niall sits straight up in his seat.

“aw, don’t be like that, h! have a little fun.”

“it’s hard to have fun when this one’s about me,” he grumbles and niall turns up the volume.

“don’t be conceited.” he’s got enough time to chuckle, and then he’s launching into the verse with entirely too much enthusiasm.

“i hate you,” says harry but then he scream-sings the chorus when it comes around. niall’s dancing in his seat a little, leaning over to yank at harry’s hair when taylor croons about long hair slicked back.

“what a damning song,” niall says when it’s faded out, a cheeky smile set firmly on his face. “i’d hate to be the one she’s talking about in this one.”

“dick,” he mutters and starts humming and i never saw him as a threat until you disappeared with him to have sex.

“alright, alright,” niall shouts, batting at him and choking on laughter. “pot calling the kettle black, i get it!”

“poor ed.”

“poor, my arse. i bought him a couple beers and it was fine, besides.”

“are you still saved under ‘slag’ in his phone?”

“nah, that’s you,” niall teases. “i was ‘dickhead’ for a while. and ‘fucker’ in ellie’s.”

“dickhead and knobhead,” harry says thoughtfully as he switches lanes. “what a great combination.”

“why’re all the songs always written about us? why aren’t there any about tommo and payno?”

“‘cos they don’t sleep around and their girlfriends aren’t famous.”

“lou’s dating that actress now.”

harry gives him a look out of the corner of his eye. “yeah, but she’s an actress, not a songwriter. maybe that’s our problem, we’re dating the people in the wrong industry.”

“does radio count as being in the same industry?” niall asks innocently and harry punches his shoulder, landing it squarely in the middle without looking. he’s only a little pleased at that.

“dick,” he says again. “that was a long time ago, a long time ago.”

“dunno, you and nick seemed pretty cozy that night of tour,” niall says easily and harry rolls his eyes at the road.

“we’re friends, and that’s all.”

now you are.”

“we’re not even a day in and i’m already regretting this roadtrip,” harry mutters. it gets niall to stop teasing almost immediately.

“oh, come off of it. you don’t mean that.”

“i don’t. not yet, anyway. maybe tomorrow.”

“probably when you get hungry and there’s nothing for miles.”

“yeah,” harry says, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. “probably then.”

it doesn’t sound very convincing.

 

niall makes him pull into a party shop before they check into the hotel.

“what are we doing?” he whispers as they slink around the aisles.

“we’ve got to get a disguise, harry. otherwise we’ll be seen,” niall says, plunking a wig onto harry’s head.

“i don’t think a cheap wig is going to disguise anything.”

“hmm, you could chop it? or dye it, maybe.”

“like yours?” except niall’s hair’s not dyed anymore, just a little blond at the tips. the bottom is dark, dark, dark. it shouldn’t suit him, shouldn’t suit this sunshiney lovely person that niall is, but it does somehow.

niall picks up a box of dye, almost like he’d read harry’s mind. it’s platinum, almost difficult to look at.

“no, niall.”

“i like it. it could be like in the you and i video, yeah?”

“get lou to do it, then,” harry says and nicks the box from his hands. “don’t muck it up with cheap colour.”

niall gives him a funny look, one that nearly makes harry wriggle, but nods. “okay, if you’re so worried about it.”

they gather some shoddy disguises, ones that will stand no chance if someone looks closely, but they’re fun. harry puts on a giant cowboy hat and some sunnies. niall’s got a black wig and a pair of fake glasses. they put them on in the car, and niall directs them to a little hotel he’s booked on his phone.

it’s some sort of chain, and harry laughs a little at the contrast between what’s in front of him and the hotels they used to sleep in. he prefers these, actually, but it’s strange.

“you’ve only got us one room?” harry asks when niall opens the door. it’s a standard hotel room, with two beds and a telly and a fridge and a chair. it’s too dark, they always are, and harry clicks on the lamp. “you do realise that we can afford two of them. could afford this whole building, probably. we’re millionaires.”

“yeah, but we’re on an adventure. that’s not how you do it on roadtrips, harry.”

“fair enough. are you going to make us share one bed as well?”

niall throws a pillow at him and harry manages to catch it out of the air. “you and your octopus arms can stay over there, in your own bed.”

“sorry, i think you’ve got me confused with you. i don’t have octopus arms!”

“i have no idea what you’re talking about,” niall says with a completely straight face.

“remember that time when you smacked me in the face?”

“honestly, i’ve done that too many times to just remember the one.”

harry throws niall’s pillow back at him and it hits him in the face. letting out a whoop in celebration, he collapses on the bed just as niall collapses on top of him.

“oof, you’re heavy.”

“you’re bony and uncomfortable.”

“s’because i’m a human being with bones. two hundred and seven of them.”

“two hundred and eight; you’ve got that little extra one in your foot, remember?”

“don’t know if that counts as an extra bone.”

“we can look it up. but i want to go out first, yeah?”

“you want to get drinks in our costumes, don’t you?”

niall pauses and thinks it over for a second, eyeing their mess of wigs and glasses on the table. “nah,” he says, fishing a hat out of his bag and jamming it on his head. “let’s just go find a little bar and lay low, yeah? no one’s expecting us to show up in san fransisco.”

“very true,” agrees harry and he grabs his coat.

 

harry wakes up with niall wrapped around him, even after all the teasing about sleeping separately. he’d expected as much, really. they both like to cuddle too much.

but right now, his bladder’s the most pressing issue, followed by the pounding in his head. when he tumbles out of the bathroom and starts rummaging around for paracetemol-- tylenol, he reminds himself, we’re in america-- niall’s blinking up at him from the bed.

“shouldn’t have had that last drink,” harry says, voice rough from sleep still. niall groans and rolls over to bury his head in the pillows.

“shouldn’t have had those last five. christ, harry, why’d we drink that much?”

“cause we’re idiots.” he fills up two glasses from the tap and downs the first one. “up you get.”

niall groans again as he pushes himself up. harry hands him the pills and then the glass of water, pressing a quick kiss to niall’s forehead.

“let’s go out for breakfast.”

“as opposed to cooking in the kitchen?” niall asks dryly, grinning at him over his glass. harry wrinkles his nose at him and starts packing.

“no, instead of the complementary one downstairs.”

“if it’s complementary, though--”

“it’s just muffins, i’ll bet. not worth it. we can go to an ihop or summat instead.”

“pancakes sound nice,” niall muses and then he’s searching for new clothes. “hurry up, i’m hungry.” he jumps into the bathroom before harry can get in there, and harry raps on the door.

“wanker! i was going first!”

“snooze you lose,” niall calls back, muffled through the door. he’s quick, though, and harry doesn’t bother washing his hair. just rinses off the day old sweat and the smell of the bar still lingering on his skin.

the restaurant they find is full, but not crowded. perfect for two former boybanders to blend in. niall orders for both in an accent that’s as close to american as he can get, and the older woman jotting down notes doesn’t give them any strange looks.

harry’s still a little hungover, the smell of pancakes around not really helping his stomach, and he sips at a diet coke. niall raises an eyebrow at his choice.

“this early?”

“shut up, it’s good for when you feel sick.”

“who said that?”

“grimmy did,” harry admits. “but it’s worked every time i’ve tried it.”

“don’t think i could stomach that this early in the morning. doesn’t it make your belly ache?”

“nah, not any more than it is already.”

niall makes a surprised face and folds his hands in front of him, slouching in the booth. “fair enough.”

their food comes and harry drizzles blueberry syrup over his strawberry pancakes, to niall’s horror.

“an outrage. you can’t just mix your fruits like that. where’s the sanctity of the strawberry pancakes?”

harry takes a bite and chews noisily, smirking at niall.

“stop judging my food and eat your own, fucker.”

“i will,” niall tells him snottily, and pours out a puddle of normal syrup to dip his banana ones in.

“you’re so particular,” he says, mostly to himself, but niall glances up from his plate.

“what does that mean?” he asks sharply. harry blinks at him for a moment.

“nothing, just an observation.”

“is it a bad thing? you said it like it was wrong, and it’s the second time you’ve mentioned it.”

harry shakes his head, fiddling with the straw in his cup. “not bad at all, i promise. it’s good, actually. you’re very careful about certain things that are important to you. i like it.”

niall’s shoulders drop at the assurance and he pokes at his food for a second.

“i like what i like how i like it.”

“and it shows that you care. not a criticism.”

niall doesn’t look convinced, but he doesn’t press any more.

“what do you want to do today?” he asks instead, draining the last of his coffee. “the whole of the city for us to explore.”

harry thinks about it for a minute. “reckon i’d always wanted to see alcatraz.”

 

they don’t end up seeing alcatraz in the end, too busy walking around the city. they keep a low profile and no one stops them. it’s bliss. niall gets them a sourdough bowl with some clam chowder and they eat it at a tiny table crammed in the corner of a busy restaurant.

“you ready?” niall asks when they’re done, wiping his mouth with a hand.

“yeah,” harry says.

“m’kay, then we’ll swing back to the hotel for our things and be off.”

“wait, what?”

niall pauses, glancing at him with a raised eyebrow. “time to leave. we’re going to move on.”

“done with san fransisco already?” harry asks, amused. niall gets a little bit of a faraway look in his eye and nods, tapping his fingers on the table.

“ready not to be in one place.”

 

it’s not until they’re zipping down the interstate, going towards fuck knows where, that harry turns towards him.

“i thought we’d had enough of being all over before. isn’t that what the break was for?”

niall hums absently for a second.

“kind of hard to get used to staying in one place when you’ve been on the road for so long.”

“on the road again,” harry muses and niall snorts.

“sure, h.” he adjusts the mirror a little and sighs. “i get bored, i guess. we didn’t see anything, harry, nothing but hotels and stages and it was fucking fantastic, yeah, but what was the point?”

“we had fun.”

“yeah, and now there’s nothing and i just want to see again.”

“alright,” harry says quietly. “and that’s what we’re doing.”

niall glances over at him, all lit up from the sun seeping in through the window and harry’s heart jumps a little.

it’s a normal thing, that little heart jump. sometimes, it’s more of a wrench, and sometimes it feels like his heart’s trying to escape.

it’s just… niall is lovely and warm and beautiful, and harry would maybe like to see what his mouth tastes like, and the feel of his hands on his waist, and how his eyes look when he’s in love. harry would like that a lot, enough to make his chest ache when niall smiles.

it’s dulled a little, not because his pining has gone away, but because he’s gotten used to it. he’s in love with niall. it is what it is.

harry snorts to himself at that, shaking his head at louis’ ability to be ridiculous even when not present, and jumps when niall’s hand falls on his knee.

“thanks for coming with me,” niall says quietly. harry pushes away his morose thoughts, pushes away everything that is more than “we’re best friends”.

“anytime, mate. me n’you, always.”

“me n’you,” niall echoes, squeezing harry’s knee. “love you.”

harry has to swallow around the lump that’s suddenly in his throat, blinking against the sun that’s currently shining in his eyes. “yeah. love you too, nialler.”

 

niall drives and drives until it’s long past dark, until harry’s given up hope of them stopping for the night. he buys an energy drink at the second petrol--no, gas-- station and drains it down.

“you don’t have to stay awake.”

“i know,” he says, and it sounds tired without his permission. “i’m going to, though.”

“we can stop if you want.”

“it’s your trip, niall. i’m just here for moral support.”

niall nods, and turns the key to the car. “right then. on we go.”

 

they sleep in the car that night, chairs leaned all the way back and sharing the blanket harry had brought along, parked in a field somewhere in nevada. maybe it’s nevada, or maybe it’s idaho, but it’s a long way from l.a. either way.

harry groans when he wakes up, cracking his back and wincing.

“oh shit, i forgot,” niall slurs, his arm thrown over his face and one eye cracked open. “your back, that couldn’t have been good for it.”

“s’okay.”

“remind me next time--”

“niall. one night’s not going to hurt me, don’t worry.” niall squints at him and then smiles, slow and sweet and sleepy. harry smiles back, he can’t help it, and then presses a quick kiss to his shoulder.

“christ, i’m knackered.”

“sleep, and i’ll drive. where we going this time?”

“dunno. i was thinking north dakota, maybe.”

“interesting choice.”

“they’ve got them presidents. in the stone or summat. i don’t know, i just want to go.

“budge up, then, and let’s go.”

they’re quiet in that early morning way, too fragile to talk, watching the road light up under the sun. they pull over in a sleepy town to order breakfast at the first fast food restaurant they can find. harry eats his muffin with one hand, cramming it in his mouth and washing it down with coffee. he grimaces at the taste.

“that’s fucking horrible,” he mutters.

“hmm,” niall hums and harry shakes his head, pulling into the nearest starbucks instead. it’s an hour later, but it’s worth it, so worth it.

“you’re turning into an american,” niall tells him when he gets his venti soy vanilla latte.

“i’d drink tea if someone--” he glares at niall pointedly. “--didn’t make me sleep in a car all night.”

“alright, alright, fair,” niall concedes with a laugh. “give it here, then.” he sips at it and makes a face. “too sweet.”

“just like me.”

“nutter,” niall says fondly, shaking his head at harry’s grin.

 

three hours in, and niall shifts.

“did that sign say denver?”

“yeah.”

“is that the one in colorado? with the mountains?”

“dunno. maybe?”

niall goes quiet for a minute, tapping on his phone. at the next fork in the road, he tells harry to go right-- away from north dakota, and towards denver.

 

it seems like they’re the only ones on the road. harry presses his foot further and further down, watching the miles tick farther up. soon, they’re doing ninety and niall rolls down the windows. the wind is in their hair, too loud to hear anything, and the mountains are cresting over the horizon. it feels a whole lot like freedom.

 

they pull into a petrol station when harry can’t ignore the meter any longer. niall gets out and stretches, the first time in hours.

“going for a wee, you fill up the car,” he says but harry’s already pulling the nozzle out. he wanders into the shop when it’s full, not really looking for anything but needing something. he picks out a can of crisps and a bottle of coke, a packet of gummies and a bar of chocolate before he notices the slushies in the back.

“hell yes,” he breathes. he gets blue raspberry for himself and a cherry for niall, feeling pleased with himself. niall’s pleased too, gives harry a loving look when he gets handed the cup.

“you’re the best, harry,” he says, kissing his cheek lightly. harry doesn’t blush, he’s too used to the little touches niall gives him, but his skin feels like it’s burning for a second.

“mind saying that in the group chat?” he asks lightly, tonguing at his straw. “i need written evidence.”

“yeah, sure. whatever.”

“so affirming.”

“hush, pet. it’s classic rock for the next hour on the radio.”

he shuts up obligingly, sipping at his drink and watching niall do the same. niall’s lips are stained red and harry wonders if they’d taste like cherry, if they’d end up stained purple from harry’s blue raspberry mouth.

“you were red, and you liked me cause i was blue,” harry mutters, grinning to himself. niall doesn’t notice, too caught up in listening to the eagles play.

 

they pull into a hotel in denver around three in the morning, leaning on each other at the check-in desk and trying not to fall asleep on their feet.

harry nearly cries when he lays down on the bed, joints aching from two days of travel and a night of sleeping in a chair. niall laughs weakly at him, but he lets out a long sigh when he lays down next to him.

he doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he wakes up around seven groaning. his jeans are still on, pressing into his stomach and it’s uncomfortable. he wriggles them off and crawls back into bed.

niall turns towards him instinctively when harry lays down, snuggling into his back and winding an arm around his waist. it feels good, so good, and harry turns into it.

they wake up spooning, niall curved around harry’s back.

“we fit,” harry says, a little nonsensically and niall huffs out a laugh against harry’s shoulder blades. he presses a kiss there, just a little brief touch of his lips at his neck, and it gives harry a shiver. niall kisses his skin again and moves up to kiss at harry’s jaw.

“niall--” harry whispers and he feels frozen and still stupid with sleep.

“yeah?”

“what are you doing?”

niall hums a little, and harry can feel it vibrate against his back. there’s an ache in his chest, and he can’t decide if he wants to stay or escape far away.

“tell me if you want me to stop, okay?”

harry doesn’t want to tell him to stop, wants to stay here forever, but.

“do you want to start?”

“i started it, didn’t i? idiot,” he says fondly, and harry shifts away from him, onto his side.

“what are you doing?” he repeats. niall rolls his eyes.

“isn’t it obvious?”

“but…” harry’s at a loss for words; he genuinely can’t think of anything else to say.

“just, shut up and kiss me. or let me kiss you. don’t really care as long as there’s snogging involved.” harry frowns and niall reaches out to press at the lines on his forehead. “c’mon, harry. stop thinking.”

he tips their foreheads together and rubs his nose a little against harry’s, enough to make harry smile.

“make me.”

 

“you’re staring, harry.”

“you’ve got something on your neck,” harry says in lieu of an apology. niall’s gives him an amused look.

“yes, i know. it’s a lovebite, and you gave it to me.”

harry brushes a finger against it, pressing a little. niall squirms and jerks his head away, laughing.

“cocky arse.”

harry doesn’t even try to deny it, too satisfied with himself.

“where are we even going? i thought you wanted to be in denver.”

niall’s quiet for a moment. “how do you feel about hiking?”

“a hike?”

“just for a night.”

“yeah, okay.”

the smile spreads across niall’s face until it’s almost blinding, until harry has to fidget with his seatbelt to stop himself from kissing him senseless.

niall pulls into an outdoors store, one big enough so they can be anonymous, and they grab a tent and some supplies. niall lets harry pick out a tin cup for each of them, and niall chooses harry’s sleeping bag.

“this is grossly domestic,” harry says, wrinkling his nose. “we’ve only kissed once.”

niall snorts. “honestly, this is typical for us, innit? when have we been anything other than grossly domestic.”

“very true. we’re awful.” he taps harry’s dick so he jumps, and harry tries to retaliate. he fails, but gets him in the thigh pretty hard instead. “you missed,” niall says with a grin.

harry tugs on his shoulder so niall’s facing him and kisses him hard, but brief. they’re smiling too hard to make anything of it, really.

“no i didn’t,” he says smugly.

their hike isn’t long, only a few hours, before they land at the campground. it’s surprisingly empty, but that’s good.

“are we going to put this up the tommo way?” harry teases.

“definitely not. m’pretty sure liam was the best at this, wasn’t he?” niall asks as he smoothly sets up the tent. harry watches him for a moment.

“you seem pretty decent at it.”

niall glances up with a smile, eyes shining, and harry can’t help but smile back. “got some practice when i was abroad.”

“are you ever going to tell me about that?”

“maybe. dunno.” he hesitates for a moment, fiddling with the tent edge. “i kind of like having something to myself. y’know.”

“yeah.” harry knows. harry knows how nice it is to not have to share everything with people, how fame tends to rip out parts he’d rather keep hidden and the fight to keep them away.

niall stands up and brushes his hands off, tilting his head at the tent.

“it’s done.”

“beautiful,” harry says dryly. “what now?”

“another hike?”

“or, i could suck you off in the tent.”

“christ,” niall mutters, the muscles in his back twitching. “warn a guy before you say things like that, wouldja?”

“it’d be less intense if i did.”

there’s a pause before niall groans, dropping his head onto harry’s shoulder.

“fucking christ,” niall repeats and he bites lightly on the curve. “that was an awful pun.”

“it was amazing, thank you very much.”

niall mumbles something that sounds like you’re amazing, but then he’s kissing him on the mouth and harry loses track of what he was thinking.

 

the stars are bright up on the mountain, and niall tells him the constellations quietly, like they’re a story. they pass the bottle of whiskey back and forth between them, getting drunk and tactile and sleepy.

harry turns on his side so he’s tucked into niall, and niall wraps his arm around him. they’re warm, despite the little chill in the air. niall smells like whiskey and outside and clean clothes, and it’s so comforting.

“are you falling asleep on me?”

“no,” harry says, muffled against niall’s shirt. “maybe.”

“oh, pet.”

harry shifts a little so he can tuck a smile away, kissing niall’s chest. niall runs his fingers through his hair, gently tugging.

“you’re my best friend,” he says softly and niall pauses.

“you’re mine too.”

 

his phone vibrates and it’s honestly the first time he’s looked at it in a while. he’s not sure why he does, but it’s just his luck. it’s jeff, reminding him of a meeting he committed to being at ages ago.

“uhhh…” harry says, still a little drowsy on sex and sleep.

“styles, you didn’t forget.”

“i might have?”

“did you double book again?” jeff asks, and his voice is filled with a familiar sort of exasperation and fondness. harry stares at the ceiling of the tent, vaguely wondering where niall fucked off to, and sighs.

“sort of,” he mumbles. “i’m sort of in the middle of the mountains. in colorado.”

colorado? jesus, harry.”

“i forgot.”

“yeah, obviously.” it’s quiet for a moment and harry can imagine jeff shuffling paper on his desk, kneading at his forehead. “can you get back, or do i have to make more excuses?”

“no, no. i’ll be there. promise.”

“see you tomorrow, then.”

“yeah, see you.”

he clicks off his phone and drops it on the floor beside him, rolling onto his stomach with a groan. niall unzips the door of the tent and crawls in, collapsing on harry with a sigh.

“good mornin’,” he says quietly and noses at harry’s ear.

“where were you?”

“needed a wee.”

harry wrinkles his nose as best he can when it’s pressed into the pillow. “sexy.”

“that i am. hey, i was thinkin’— what about that big national park next? yosetime? i think?

“niall,” harry says but he gets talked over.

“they’ve got a geyser that like goes off on the hour, and bears too—“

“niall, i can’t. i need to get back to l.a.”

“what? why?”

“i’ve got a thing that i promised i’d be at.” he reaches for his phone again and pulls up flight information. he can get one out of denver tonight, and sleep in his own bed. it sounds nice, honestly. really nice. he books it.

“you’re just going to go? like that?”

“i sort of have to.”

“what about--” niall cuts himself off and harry glances back to see him frowning. he brushes at the lines on his forehead.

“come back to mine, yeah? we can laze around, have a cheeky snog. it’ll be great.”

niall’s quiet for a minute, long enough to make doubt settle in harry’s stomach, but then he relaxes.

“i’ll drive back. we can’t just leave the car here, s’not nice.”

“come back to mine,” harry repeats and niall nods once. “now that we’ve got that settled, care to get me back to an airport?”

 

his house is musty with the smell of loneliness, and he’s grateful for the balmy weather when he throws open the windows at midnight. he leaves his bedroom to air out a minute and wanders down to the kitchen for a snack.

his fruit’s looking sketchy, so he goes for the box of granola bars he knows is in his cabinet, sending an annoyed thought toward niall for showing up just after he’d done his shopping. a lot of it’s gone off now, he’s sure, including his milk. he’ll have to run by a cafe in the morning, then.

he finishes the granola and goes for a shower, enjoying the perfect water temperature and pressure, and sighing as he uses every product lining the tub.

his bed is too clean, too cold, and too empty. he’s gotten used to the stiff feeling of hotel sheets, the hard car seat under his body, the gentle breathing of his best friend right beside him. this here is too much, and not enough.

wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, he wanders down to the lounge and curls up on the sofa instead.

 

for all the importance jeff put on him being there, harry doesn’t actually do much in the meeting. doesn’t say much, isn’t really talked to. he doesn’t remember most of it, honestly, and he leaves the building with a vaguely dissatisfied feeling. he left sleeping in the woods for this.

“dinner, harry?” jeff asks and harry agrees because he doesn’t know what else he’s going to do that day. putter around his house, maybe, and try not to call niall.

he shoots niall a text with a question about when he’s coming. there’s no answer when he checks his phone that night.

 

it’s only days later, when pictures of niall in london pop up on his twitter feed, that harry realises niall’s not coming.

 

he rings taylor because he’s bored and she’s always good for a laugh. sure enough, she picks up with a sunny hello like nothing ever went sour between them.

“are you in town?”

“might be,” she says lightly, carefully. “why would you want to know?”

he smiles into the phone. he’s missed her, he really has.

“i wondered if you’d fancy getting dinner sometime.”

there’s a pause as she thinks it over, always calculated. he’d loved that and hated it in equal measure, when they were dating.

“i’d fancy it, yeah,” she answers finally, “but i can’t. i’m leaving tomorrow afternoon for new york.”

“oh. that’s alright then.”

“maybe next time?” she offers and he can picture her expression, soft and apologetic. he nods once before he remembers she can’t see him.

“give me a ring when you’re back. we can do coffee or summat.”

“see you later, harry.”

“bye, taylor,” he says softly and listens to the beep as she hangs up. the house still smells like it’s been closed up too long, and it’s driving him mad. he snatches up his helmet and keys and goes out to ride around, just to have something to do.

 

he ends up at louis’, of all places. there’s no rhyme or reason to it, just does. maybe they’re not so close anymore, but they used to be best friends.

“christ, harry,” louis says when he opens the door, sounding vaguely annoyed. “are you drunk?”

“no,” harry says honestly. louis looks at him for a moment, face softening a little.

“well, do you want to be?” he walks away before harry can answer and leaves the door open so harry can come in. “payno’s here, by the way.”

“liam?” harry asks just as liam pokes his head out of the kitchen.

“what’re you doing here, styles?”

“dunno,” he answers, a little dully. “bored. where’s freddie?”

“at briana’s,” louis tells him as he rifles through the cabinets. “i’m picking him up tomorrow for the day.”

“that’s fun.” harry accepts the glass louis shoves at him and lets himself be pulled into liam’s side.

“are we getting smashed?” liam asks, rubbing his hand up and down harry’s arm. it feels nice and he leans into it a bit.

“harry looks like he needs to get blackout drunk for a while.” he sends harry a significant look and harry startles at how well louis knows him, even after years of distance. he’s always been able to read harry like a book, for better or for worse.

“and you don’t need any more excuse than that,” liam teases and dodges louis’ slap, jostling harry in the process.

“excuse you, payno,” louis says a little loftily, “but i’ll have you know that i am a responsible parent now.”

“right,” liam says amusedly and holds up his glass. “to responsibility.”

louis glares at him but clinks his own glass against liam’s, harry following just a beat later.

 

the alcohol doesn’t help like harry’d hoped. in fact, it makes him worse— morose and quiet. liam and louis hang on each other and chatter loudly, but he just curls up into the corner of the sofa with a little smile.

he doesn’t realise he’s crying until louis pokes at a tear. liam’s gone by now, asleep on the other sofa and snoring. louis pokes at him again.

“what’s up, then?”

“nothing,” he mumbles, shoving a little so he’ll go away. louis doesn’t listen, typically, and clambers into his lap instead.

“c’mon harold, you’re all weepy. why’re you weepy?”

“why doesn’t anyone ever come back?” it slips out before he can stop it and louis’ face goes blank in shock, before furrowing into a frown.

“what do you mean?”

harry closes his eyes and shakes his head, not knowing how to explain to louis that everyone always leaves. leaves, and then leaves him and he doesn’t know why he’s got the reputation for being flighty when it’s other people who don’t come back.

louis runs his hand through harry’s hair, tugging a little so harry looks at him.

“who was it this time?”

harry peers at him for a second, chewing on his lip and sighing when louis’ gaze doesn’t grow any less intense.

“niall,” he mumbles, and louis’ fingers grow still.

“niall,” louis repeats finally, carefully. “like our niall?”

harry nods, wishing they weren’t having this conversation when they’re both drunk and he’s feeling like he might cry. if louis yells, he’ll most definitely cry.

“and he left.”

“he’s in london,” harry says. “but he was supposed to come to l.a. with me.”

“oh, love.” it’s gentler than harry expected and he’s grateful for it, feels a bit like his emotions are sore.

“everyone leaves and no one comes back. not even you.”

louis freezes again, confusion and wariness and some anger playing over his face, and harry really didn’t mean to say that. people change, and friendships end or grow less close. that’s normal, and harry knows that it’s normal, but it doesn’t change the fact that louis was the first one in the line of friends he’s lost, and that hurts.

“harry…”

“no, i’m sorry. i didn’t mean that.” he manages to slip off the sofa and stands in the lounge, feeling quite cold. “i’m going to go home.”

“you can’t drive like this,” louis calls and harry shrugs.

“i’ll call someone.”

“i’ve got a guest room you can use, yeah? it’s too late to get anyone up.”

it’s a lie, but harry doesn’t call him at it. he’s tired, so tired, and he just wants to crash into unconsciousness.

“yeah, okay.”

 

for all his exhaustion, he wakes up with the sun and can’t fall back asleep. he tries for a while before getting up and slipping out, closing the door quietly behind him.

he tries yoga to get rid of his restlessness, and then boxing when that doesn’t work, but he can’t shake the feeling crackling along his skin.

“mum?” he says into the phone. “can i come and visit for a while?”

“of course, love. what kind of question is that?”

“i know, i know. i was just checking that you weren’t like on holiday with robin, or summat.”

“nah, we’re here. when are you thinking about coming?”

“tomorrow, maybe?”

“are you tired of the sunshine that much?” she teases and he laughs a little, already feeling better for hearing her voice. he just wants to get wrapped up in one of her hugs.

“just miss you, really.”

“mama’s boy, aren’t you. send me your flight details and i’ll make your bed up. sounds good?”

“perfect.”

“alright, i’ll see you soon. love you,” she says and he echoes her, thankful she didn’t ask him what was wrong over the phone. there’ll be questions when he gets home, but he just wants to be babied a bit.

 

gemma’s there to pick him up at the airport and he gives her a tired hug, jetlag pulling on his limbs.

“what’s up?” she asks, ruffling his hair like she always does. he shoves her away and pouts a little. she just laughs, grabbing his suitcase for him. “mum said you sounded down a few days ago.”

“just tired,” he mumbles, feeling like he hasn’t slept in weeks. honestly, he hasn’t been sleeping well since he left the little tent in the mountains.

“you can nap in the car if you want.”

“might do.”

she kisses the side of his head and squeezes his shoulders.

“how long are you staying here?”

“until i feel like it, i guess?”

“look at you, the popstar with no schedule. does it feel nice?”

he nods, dropping his head against the headrest. “so nice.”

she chuckles but doesn’t talk anymore, letting him doze in the passenger’s seat. it’s fitful and light, his nap, and he can hear her humming along to the radio every once in awhile. but it’s comforting, familiar, and he feels better when they pull up to the house.

“mum’s making your favourite, but tomorrow i think. at least that’s what she told me when i left.”

“what are you doing around here, anyway?” he wonders sleepily as she shuts off the car. gemma shrugs.

“olivia missed her friends.”

“and you got tired of eating takeaway, didn’t you?”

“a little,” she says with a cheeky smile, and he chuckles. “i had a long weekend, so i decided to come and see them for a bit. i was quite enjoying being an only child; it’s just my luck that you decided to come home as well.”

“you love me,” he complains and she tickles his side, just briefly, to make him squirm.

“don’t.”

“you’re a liar. mum, did you know your daughter is a liar?”

anne laughs, pulling them both in for a hug.

“what is she spouting this time?”

“said she doesn’t love me,” harry says, muffled by anne’s hair in his mouth.

“oh, well. that’s not a lie then?”

they laugh at his sputtering and he can’t help but grin back at them, dropping his offended expression almost immediately.

“c’mon, love. i’ve made tea, and then you can sleep.” anne tugs him into the kitchen, sits him down at the table.

“where’s robin?”

“he had to work tonight, he’ll be back soon.” she glances at him with a smile. “you might be dead to the world by then. you look knackered.”

“am, a bit.”

anne drops a kiss to the top of his head and slides a sandwich under his nose. it’s nice, light enough that it doesn’t make his stomach churn. he’s always a little off after flying.

he snaps a picture of him mum grinning and posts it to his snapchat. he gets a text back from liam almost immediately, saying that she looks fit. harry flips him off and puts his phone away.

you’re at home?

the message comes in as he’s just getting into bed, not really feeling like a person but rather a puddle of tiredness and food. he stares at it for a moment.

yeah, he texts back. niall doesn’t answer, and harry tries to forget about it all.

 

jeff’s not particularly happy that harry’s fucked off to london, not in the middle of ironing out his album, but harry convinces him to let them continue the post-production here.

he stays with nick even though he’s got his own place, because it’s too empty and he reckons he starts hearing voices if he’s alone enough. also nick’s flat is nice and warm, and pig jumps up into his bed every morning when nick leaves to natter on the radio.

he’s back in the studio to clean up some of the songs when he hears niall’s familiar laugh, and he barely has time to brace himself.

niall’s laughing to himself when he rounds the corner and almost collides with harry.

“jesus,” niall mutters before he catches sight of him and his face goes blank. “harry? what are you doing here?”

“the usual,” harry says with a shrug of his shoulder. he hates that he’s able to slip so easily into the comfortable friendship he has with niall, he’s mad at him for fuck’s sake. “could ask you the same question.”

“i’m helping out ed with some, like, background vocals and guitar playing and stuff.”

“oh.”

“yeah.”

there’s a bit of quiet for a moment, harry completely at a loss for what to say. he can’t decide if he’s upset or happy or annoyed or what and it’s driving him a little mad.

“are you done for the day?” he asks finally and niall glances over his shoulder.

“i, uh-- yeah. yeah, i’m done.”

“alright then.” he grabs niall by the wrist and tows him out of the building, back to where he’d parked his car. “get in, please.”

“what are you doing, hazza?”

“just--” he sounds desperate, and he knows it, but whatever’s between them is unfinished and he’s ending it now. “please.”

niall only hesitates a second before getting in the passenger’s seat. harry takes a deep breath before he gets in, starting the car and pulling out into the street.

“where are we going?” niall asks softly after ten minutes of driving.

“dunno,” harry answers, just as softly, and he doesn’t. he’s just trying to get away, away from the city and to some place where they can think.

“you know kidnapping’s a crime, right.” he glances over at niall, who’s smiling at him. the corner of harry’s mouth tugs up.

“i’ll bring you back. promise.”

niall makes a sound in the back of his throat and settles into his seat. harry drives and drives until they’re out into the quiet parts of the city, drives until there are only houses and no shops, and then he drives until there’s nothing but grass.

and then, when there’s nothing around them and they’re simultaneously open to the world, and trapped by their car, harry speaks.

“why didn’t you come back?” he says quietly.

“harry.” there’s frustration in niall’s voice, and it’s tinged with exasperation as well. harry keeps talking.

“i asked you to come, and you didn’t. why didn’t you come back?” his knuckles are white on the steering wheel. “i don’t understand.”

“did you really want me to come back?”

“what? i wouldn’t have asked if i didn’t.”

“really.” niall doesn’t sound convinced and it’s that that makes harry pull the car over to the side of the road.

“what does that mean?” he asks, twisting around to fully look at niall, sitting nearly sideways in his seat. niall looks straight ahead.

“you kiss all your friends, harry,” niall says a little bit helplessly, bringing a nail up to chew on. “you bring them all home, because you can’t bear it to be alone, and i just don’t think you wanted me there. not really. you just wanted someone. and i don’t--didn’t. didn’t want to go through that.”

“through what?”

niall finally turns to look at him, shrugging a shoulder.

“through being the person you use to keep yourself entertained.”

it takes a moment for harry to breathe again, to have enough breath to form words. “i wouldn’t do that to you.”

“okay.”

“i wouldn’t,” he says hollowly, bringing a hand up to knuckle at his face. “god, niall. god. if you only knew. i couldn’t do that, alright?”

“why not?” niall asks, almost timidly and harry freezes. “knew what?”

“because--” he growls low in his throat, unable to unravel the mess that’s in his head, so he leans forward. pushing at niall’s face to get him to turn, harry captures niall’s mouth and kisses him as fiercely as he can. niall kisses him back, maybe only as a reflex, and harry forgets about everything for a second.

they break away, but not far, and harry leans his forehead against niall’s as they pant.

“i like you a whole fucking lot,” he whispers, eyes closed. “i have for a while, and then you didn’t come back.”

niall catches harry’s hand and winds their fingers together, smoothing his thumb over harry’s.

“i’m here now.”

it’s not enough, not really, but it is for now. harry can feel a smile spreading across his face, and there’s one spreading across niall’s as well and harry loves him so much it kind of hurts.

“hey, h?”

“yeah?”

“can we go back to the city now? i’m fucking starved.”

harry laughs as he starts the car up again and keeps one hand in niall’s.

“unbelievable. i poured my heart out to you and you ask for food.”

“don’t think you poured your heart out. more like let it trickle, a little bit.”

“whatever.”

niall pokes him in the side and giggles when he jumps.

“so, stop for a burger and then back to yours?”

“yeah,” harry says warmly. “and then back to mine.”

 

it’s only when they’re pulling into harry’s complex that he realises.

“niall,” he says, a little nervously. “niall, do you like me?”

niall blinks at him for a moment, frowning. he’s playing with harry’s fingers, almost unconsciously, and harry wants to kiss him. again.

“the hell?”

“you never said.”

he laughs and brings their hands up to kiss at harry’s knuckles.

“i did kiss you first.”

“yeah, but…” harry shrugs and feels his frown melt into a smile.

“fishing for assurance?”

“maybe a little,” he admits. niall rolls his eyes and leans over to kiss him soundly on the lips.

“you’re a fecking idiot, but i like you in spite of it.”

“heyyyy.”

“don’t ‘heyyy’ me, you deserved that.”

harry wrinkles his nose and niall taps it, wrinkling his nose back.

“you’re an idiot too, so i guess it’s alright.”

“there we go. idiots together,” niall says fondly. “everything we do.”

“m’n you. always.”