Searching for the Same Thing
Harry shivered as the cool New York City air whipped around him and pulled his scarf so it covered his nose and mouth, the fabric meeting the rim of his aviator sunglasses. Somehow, he’d managed to slip away from Jason, his tour manager, without security, in the dark of the early morning. He was supposed to be at a network studio for an interview and performance, but Harry was done. He was done with Jason’s stupid rules and attitude, and he was done with being scheduled to death.
The thought of his schedule that day, a talk show interview and performance, photo shoot for Teen Vogue, outdoor sound check for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, exhausted him beyond his already heavy exhaustion. Harry’s solo tour had ended in July, but there had still been a calendar of events keeping him booked in Europe and the US through January: Radio interviews, magazine shoots, the parade, producing promotional content for the Grammys. None of that had ever bothered him much before, back when it was him and the guys together. But now it was just him trying on clothes and annoying the stylists, or frustrating writers and producers in the studio with his pranks and jokes, and it just wasn’t the same. None of these people got him the way the guys did, the way Louis did, even after everything that had gone down over the years, and none of the people he was currently surrounded by were willing to put up with his usual antics, which meant Harry had spent the last year learning how not to be himself. His solo tour was supposed to be his time to find himself as an artist and adult, but now, a year later, he felt more lost than ever.
Jason and Harry had been at each other’s throats on and off for the last month, that morning’s fight starting with Jason calling Harry a “pompous asshole” because he didn’t want to go to another 4 am interview and small performance. It was a last-minute addition that Jason hadn’t verified with Harry until the 2 am wake up, and Harry had spent a half hour reiterating to Jason just how much of a toll these early morning events took on Harry.
There’d already been two that week, and Harry was so wiped that he could barely keep his head up. Being up before the sun had always sparked a level of nausea in Harry that could only be paralleled by the flu, yet he found himself sitting in the backseat of a nondescript black Suburban on his way to a morning talk show, the network name lost in the non-stop schedule. It was nearly three in the morning, his sinuses were on fire, and his head was pounding from the cold he was fighting, but he pressed on with the hope that doing the interview and performance would shut Jason up. Technically, he was Jason’s boss, and he needed to let him know that he’d crossed a line. He hated that firing him wasn’t an option without lawyers present and a large settlement deal; that clause had been haunting him ever since he’d signed the damn paperwork, and he knew he’d never make the same mistake again in the future once this current contract expired in two months’ time. In truth, Harry didn’t even care about the money. He was worried that public knowledge of the settlement would destroy his good name in the industry, which was one of his biggest fears.
“You told me to tell you when I’m overwhelmed, and I’m telling you that I am,” Harry had expressed as calmly as possible, which had taken every fiber of his being to do. He was known for being professional, and he wasn’t about to let Jason take that from him, not after a year of dealing with his bullshit. “I need a few hours of rest. You know that I wouldn't usually admit to that.” He could feel tears pressing against his eyes at the request, which so wasn’t like him at all; he knew that letting the tears fall would only make Jason’s attitude, and wrath, worse.
To those on tour with him, reliable was Harry’s middle name. Despite his high energy and impulsiveness, Harry was serious about his work. He always did what was asked of him, often at the expense of his own happiness and well-being. He could get on stage with a 102 fever, puke in a hidden corner, and get back out there as if nothing was wrong. He could perform on autopilot without any sleep and push himself to fake it until he was behind closed doors. Harry could do all of those things because he cared deeply about who he was impacting. Back when it was the guys, and the audience, he cared enough to put himself last. And he’d been doing just that all of his solo tour, following every one of Jason’s ridiculous rules, despite the hollowness it left him with. He’d convinced himself early on that it would all be worth it, but he couldn’t do it anymore.
“You’re doing this interview and the performance. I spent weeks selling your songs to the parade committee, so you can suck it up and show up for a few more gigs,” Jason asserted as he pulled out his phone and began typing. “Do you have any idea how difficult it was to get all of this set up for you?”
“For me? I didn’t ask to do this stupid parade.” Harry knew it was a mistake the moment the words left his lips. Jason was good at getting him riled up, and he hated him for it. “And I don’t need your permission to rest!”
Jason laughed and shook his head. “Once again, proving just how much of a pompous asshole you really are.”
Harry held his tongue as the words stung, afraid to dig himself deeper. Conversations with Jason had only grown more draining as the tour had dragged on, and Harry had reached his limit.
“Beyond “Sweet Creature” there isn’t one family-friendly song on your album,” Jason taunted. “We warned you about that in the studio, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“You told me they invited me to perform,” Harry argued, his voice cracking like it always did this early in the morning, which was why he hated performing before the sun came up. His voice, he knew, would be shit for the interview and performance. His cold, and jet lag, weren’t helping, either.
“You’ve been in this business long enough to know that isn’t how any of this works, Harry,” Jason said, shaking his head with a small laugh.
Harry wanted to respond, but couldn’t form the words. He’d always been so great at comebacks, but with Jason, they only ever seemed to invite more criticism. He got enough of that from the paparazzi and press, and definitely didn’t need it from the one person who was supposed to be looking out for him.
The car pulled into a delivery entrance and stopped, a metal door closing behind them. Jason got out, but Harry just sat there, his eyelids and chest heavy with cold and anxiety. He felt like utter crap and thought about curling up right there in the back seat. He wanted a cup of coffee, but that was against Jason’s rules; he knew it was bad for his voice, but that didn’t make him want it any less. Harry thought about letting Jason know that he thought he had a fever, but figured he’d just get on his case about that, too.
“Are you getting out, or are you gonna keep carrying on?” Jason’s voice was piercing, amplified by the tunnel beneath the studio.
Harry took a slow, shallow breath and bit his bottom lip. He couldn’t get his feet to move. Being asked to make a decision, it seemed, had finally thrown him over the edge. Harry remembered doing this when he was little and knew he was in trouble. He’d refuse to make eye contact and would freeze, hoping that the person yelling would just go away.
“Here we go,” Jason groaned, irritated. “It’s not like there are millions of people who wish they had your life.” Harry didn’t have to look at Jason to know his arms were outstretched, head shaking in disbelief, as he said this.
Was he really being so ridiculous? Pompous? An asshole? Harry knew he wasn’t perfect, that he was so blessed and lucky to have the life he had, but he also knew that he needed to rest, could feel his body running on empty in every capacity possible. He had requested it when he should have demanded it, and now, he wanted nothing to do with Jason, contract clause or not, because after all of this time, Jason didn’t know Harry enough to respect how difficult it had been for Harry to ask for something so small.
“Fine. I’ll give you ten minutes to have your little pity party, but I expect you to be upstairs by 3:20. Understand?”
Harry didn’t move a muscle, just sat paralyzed in the car. He breathed a sigh of relief when Jason got a call and walked away. Closing his eyes, he focused on his breathing, which was starting to grow wheezy.
“Can I do anything for you, Mr. Styles?” the driver, a young man, had asked, and Harry’s eyes snapped open at the realization that a stranger had witnessed the entire confrontation.
“Er, no sir,” he answered quickly, trying to get his brain thinking again. “Thank you for driving at such an early hour,” he added, pulling out his wallet and handing him a $100 as he exited the vehicle. “Be well.”
Harry spotted a door with a red ‘Exit’ sign atop it, and his feet pulled him in that direction without a second thought. Loneliness, Harry had realized, was being surrounded by people whose income depended on your image and performance. Why it had taken him so many months to realize that, even though that had probably been true in some form or another for years now, he couldn’t explain, but he knew, now, that that was the truth. He didn’t know why it made him miss Louis that much more, either, but it did. He pushed the door open and went out into the cold, legs only stopping blocks away when he couldn’t ignore the cold any longer.
He dug his gloveless hands deep into his pockets and rocked on his heels at the curb to stay warm as he waited for the crosswalk signal to turn. It was only November, but the morning sky was a deep gray. An interviewer the day before had mentioned the possibility of snow for the parade, and the thought had made Harry want to do nothing but curl up in his bed in his Tribeca apartment in a jumper with a cuppa, his phone turned off, which was against Jason’s rules, and the curtains closed. He’d owned an apartment in New York for some time, but he hadn’t gotten to stay or walk the city’s streets in nearly a year, and never without a security detail. The thought of such freedom was enticing, but he knew he couldn’t go back there. Not if Jason would be looking for him.
The mob of teenage girls closing in on him that time he’d tried to order Starbucks in Chelsea with security was enough to keep him from ever entertaining the thought of leaving his apartment ever again. It was surprisingly easy in the dark, though. He watched the traffic light to his left turn yellow and counted to five, knowing that the crosswalk would change the moment he stepped his foot off the curb. Taylor had taught him that little trick, and though he thoroughly disliked most things about her, he’d always been jealous of her knack for New York City secrets that made her seem like she’d lived there her whole life. Taylor could demand a rest day and not worry about the slack she got for it from her manager. Taylor could walk the city with her head held high like she owned every street there, and while a part of him cursed her for that very attitude, he also admired it.
His phone vibrated with a slew of texts in his pocket, but he ignored them and kept walking, his exhales through his scarf creating small clouds in the dry air. He could honestly care less about Jason, or any of the other people from tour. They’d had some good times together, sure, but he couldn't help but feel like everyone around him was just there to make money. Off of him. It was true, in a literal sense; the tour, and everything else around it, wouldn't have happened without Harry’s success. But the truth dug deeper than that: With 1D, it hadn’t always been about money, or at least hadn’t felt like it until Zayn left. They’d had a few spats about money in meetings, but outside of that, he’d only ever encountered a few people who he felt truly cared solely about the money, and they’d never lasted long.
Like Jason, who was probably the one calling him incessantly.
He clicked the lock button on his phone from inside his pocket and continued to walk the avenue, trying to clear his mind. Even with the scarf over his nose and mouth, the chilled air was relentless in burning his nose and throat. Harry thought about getting a cab, or taking the subway, but he wasn’t sure where to go or how to read the train maps. Looking up at the nearest street sign, he realized he’d been walking downtown. He could feel his fingertips going numb and knew that finding somewhere warm was probably best. He toyed again with the idea of going back to his apartment, but the thought of Jason forced his nausea to return. Harry just needed some time, away from it all, to gather his thoughts. And his ropy breathing. To have a cuppa. To sleep.
He pulled his phone out, scrolled through his contacts, and clicked on a name. It rang a few times before a sleepy voice picked up.
And then there was a tickle, the same kind that would appear in his throat after he breathed in the smog from the smoke machines on stage. He stifled a cough, and then another one, before he ripped the scarf away from his face. He tried to hold his breath, to swallow slowly and let it pass, but the coughs came anyway, the dry air he couldn’t help but suck in between coughs making them deeper and louder.
It always happened like this: Once he let the first full cough happen, his lungs would take over, muscles contracting and dictating when and how deep he could breathe in. He hunched over and wrapped one arm around his stomach while his other hand touched the wall of a building, willing his lungs to get it together. With every gaspy intake of breath and every chest rattling cough, Harry could feel whatever energy he had left leave his body.
Hey all! This is my first chapter of my new fic, Searching for the Same Thing. I've written in the Teen Wolf fandom under heartofcathedrals on AO3 and Wattpad ("To Build A Home" and "Hang the Moon"). I will be updating when I can, but already have 3K more words written, so please comment and let me know what you think so far!