Searching for the Same Thing
Harry woke in a sea of white blankets, the quiet and stillness of the room filling him with a sense of familiar calm that he couldn’t quite place. He blinked his eyes sleepily as they adjusted to the light, the nearby window bright with midday sun, and once he could see well enough, he noticed that a flurry of snowflakes was falling softly.
That morning’s events flooded back to him in an instant. “Fuck!” he muttered to himself, panicking as he searched the sheets for his phone. Had Jason called him? Surely, someone had to have tried calling by now. Why hadn’t it woken him? Fuck. He’d really fucked things up good this time. “What time is it?! Where’s my fucking phone?” Harry sat up and pushed the duvet off of his body, the room suddenly swirling around him as the pressure in his sinuses and lungs returned, his eyes shutting instinctively, left arm the only thing keeping him steady and somewhat upright.
“I turned it off,” Louis said quietly from where he was leaning against the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. “And hid it.”
Harry opened his eyes slowly, afraid that looking up at Louis would shatter him the way he’d shattered Louis over a year ago. He didn’t deserve this, waking up in Louis’ bed.Their bed. In the apartment they’d picked out together. The one with so much natural light that they’d run out to Bed Bath and Beyond ten minutes before closing the day they moved in to buy blackout curtains so that they could sleep in the next day.
“I know you well enough to know you need rest,” Louis explained as he came to sit on the edge of the bed. “And I know you well enough to know you wouldn’t let yourself have it without an intervention.”
Harry took a few shaky breaths as he tried to comprehend what was happening. He didn’t know what time it was, but he knew he was supposed to be working. He covered his face and tried to think. The interview and Teen Vogue shoot. The parade rehearsal. And he’d just walked out. Harry had never done anything like that during his entire career. He hadn’t stopped there, though. He’d called Lou, the one person he was sure would never talk to him again after everything, after every horrid thing he’d said that day in the hallway of Modest! Management, and Lou had picked him up from a random street corner in the middle of New York City at four in the morning without hesitating. Harry tried to keep the sobs that had been building up for so long inside, but couldn’t hold them back any longer. He sobbed and sobbed, his voice hoarse from his cold as he curled into a ball. Harry was breaking, drowning, in his guilt and fear and loneliness, and he didn’t feel like he deserved a rescue. “I’m sorry, Lou,” he blabbered, snot from his cold and tears mixing and running down his face, body shaking with every sob. “I’m so sorry for everything.”
“I don’t care about any of that right now,” Louis whispered, pulling Harry into his chest and holding him tight. “I’m here, Harry,” he assured, rocking him back and forth, one hand rubbing small circles on his back. “We’ll figure it all out later. You’re safe here. It’s okay.”
“M’not,” Harry sobbed, breaths short and wheezy. “‘M not okay, Lou. I-I should be at work. I should be w-working.”
“You need to rest, Harry. You’ve just about run yourself ragged.”
“I m-messed everything up. I fucked up and I c-can’t fix any of it.” He sobbed heavily, which caused him to coughed and cough.
“Jesus, Harry,” Louis said, his hand feeling the back of Harry’s neck, and then his forehead. “You’re burning up! Were you trying to catch pneumonia out there in that cold this morning?”
Harry responded with a deep wheeze, his hand pressed against his chest as he tried to get a good breath in.
God, he looked and sounded so pitiful. His shirt was wet with sweat and snot, and he could feel the fever burning through his body. He hated being like this in front of Louis, but part of him knew he wouldn’t care. Louis was better than that. He’d always been able to see through Harry’s facade, was always there to help him pick up the pieces when everything fell apart.
Louis lifted Harry’s chin up and brushed his hair out of his face. “Slow, deep breaths, yeah? I’m gonna see if I can find you some meds,” he explained, stacking two pillows against the headboard and gently guiding Harry so that he sat up against it.
“Lou?” Harry asked, sniffling and reaching out, grasping Louis’ wrist to stop him from getting up. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
Louis handed him the box of tissues from the night table.“Because you’re sick and stressed and look like you could really use a friend right now.” Louis flashed his infamous smirk, half-smile, half-flirtation. “I’m gonna get you some tea, too. You like the orange cinnamon blend, yeah? Piping hot? I know the caffeine helps open your airways.”
Louis was gone before Harry could reply, so he rested his head to the side and tried to forget about his work schedule. It was impossible, though. Work was his life, and to rest was a luxury that he didn’t feel he truly deserved. He knew there’d be hell to pay at some point, when he and Jason were face-to-face, but he felt so sick, and the exhaustion, though he had slept some, weighed down on his eyelids and his tired lungs like bricks. How he’d perform in the parade tomorrow with his lungs so tight and irritated, he wasn’t sure.
Performing sick was one of the things Harry hated most. He hated the way management and interviewers asked him if he was okay when his voice started to give, and he hated that he had to lie. Paul used to make him sit with the vaporizer in their dressing room when his sinuses acted up, and always had his meds timed out so that he had a chance at getting better before it got worse. Paul was good like that, and Harry hadn’t realized just how much he had appreciated everything he had done for him when he was ill. Had Jason even noticed Harry’s fever? Would he have taken the moment to stop and make sure Harry was in good shape for the parade? Did he even care? Was it really all about the money for him?
“I found an old inhaler in the bathroom, not sure if it’s expired. Here’s some paracetamol for that fever, and some Sudafed for your sinuses,” Louis said, returning with a tray of medicine, water, and tea. Harry thanked him and went for the inhaler first, taking a quick puff and holding the medicine in his lungs for as long as he could. He repeated it and took a sip of the water, hating the taste of the powdery particles. After downing the two tablets, he picked up the cup of tea, the tendrils of heat meeting his nose.
The tea was Louis’ cure all for Harry. If he’d had a bad day, his stomach was upset, or his lungs were closing on him, Louis would make Harry a cup of cinnamon tea. Louis was obsessed with tea, and the first time he’d made this particular cup was sometime in the beginning of the On the Road Again tour somewhere in Europe. Harry had barely made it off stage before his lungs completely melted down. One second he’d been singing the last verse of “Best Song Ever” and waving goodbye to the fans as he and the guys exited, the next, he was hunched over in the hallway with his hands on his knees, chest muscles so tight he could barely get half a breath in. Louis had been there in a heartbeat, his hand on Harry’s back as he bent down to meet him at eye level. Together, they’d walked to the dressing room, where Harry had sat on the couch, red-faced, wheezing, and coughing. People were talking at him from every direction, and Louis had waved them off. His inhaler hadn’t worked like it usually did, and after a few minutes, he had started to panic.
Louis had made him do a breathing treatment before the show, and though Harry had been annoyed at the suggestion, he had done it. He’d felt winded after sound check, the feeling lingering hours after, through a quick game of football, and dinner. Louis always knew when Harry was struggling, whether it was with fatigue, a cold, or his asthma, even if Harry refused to admit it. The nebulizer had been left out on the table in the rush to get ready, and Louis had filled it with medicine again so that Harry could do another treatment.
“Easy, love,” Louis had coached as Harry breathed in the medicine, but Harry just couldn’t get his lungs to slow down, and the attack left him coughing so hard that he started to dry heave. There was a small waste basket in front of Harry before he could even blink, and as he emptied his dinner into the pail, snot and spit everywhere, he had started to cry.
“S’okay, Harry,” Niall had assured him, and he’d felt a hand on his shoulder as Louis had wiped his mouth with a tissue. “I know how shite you must be feeling, but Liam just went to get a medic and we’re gonna get you all better, yeah?”
Harry could only respond with more coughing, pain searing through his chest with every laboring breath. Louis had pushed the nebulizer mouthpiece back into his mouth, giving Harry a few puffs of the medication before he started dry heaving again.
By the time the medic had come, Harry was sure he was dying. Thankfully, though, two back-to-back breathing treatments and some oxygen via a cannula placed under his nose got his lungs in line and somewhat relaxed. Louis had rubbed his back and wiped his face with a cool, wet washcloth, making sure to scoop his hair back into a neat pony so that it was out of his face. By the time he could sort of breathe, he was weak and trembling, the energy seemingly zapped from every cell of his body. Louis had made Harry tea, the same in the cup before him now, and though he’d shaken his head ‘no’ and reached for the garbage at the scent of orange and cinnamon, the first sip had tasted golden. He’d downed the cup in minutes and had relaxed against the couch, face still red and eyes puffy from crying and coughing, the medic insisting that he keep the oxygen on for a little while longer. Louis had laid there with him on the couch, running his fingers through his hair while Harry closed his eyes and focused solely on breathing.
Louis had insisted on giving Harry a piggy back ride to the bus that night and refused to let him sleep alone. “You scared the shit out of me, H,” he had whispered when he thought Harry was fast asleep, but the truth was, the medicine never really let him sleep. “You’ve gotta let yourself rest when you need it, love. You never let yourself rest.” That awful attack had brought them together after a rocky few months with Paul leaving and Zayn yo-yoing between staying and going. Everyone had tried being cheery and upbeat when Zayn had finally called it quits, but they were all at the point in the tour when jet-lag makes the days blend together and city names get lost in the shuffle. Secretly, Harry missed those days. The tour busses, hotel rooms, and venues. But he only missed them with Louis. And Niall and Liam. He was tired, then, but happy. Satisfied. He and Louis had bought the apartment a few months later, during the North American stretch of the tour. It had served as their home base in a world of planes and interstates, and being back gave Harry some comfort.
Together, Harry and Louis sipped their tea, though Harry noticed a shift in Louis’ body language. He wasn’t stroking his hair, or reaching for his hand, and Harry knew exactly what was on his mind.
Harry took a sip, and then a slow breath, before saying, “You’ve been really kind to me, Lou. Picking me up like that this morning. Letting me sleep. The medicine, the tea.”
“It doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you. I mean, we haven’t exactly spoken about what happened that day. When you just…left.”
The words hit Harry square in the chest, but he took them in and nodded. He knew he could never take back what he’d said to Louis in a fit of selfishness, and he had resigned himself to the fact that the words, and his decision to cut Louis from his life in the manner that he had, would haunt him for the rest of his life.
“I mean, you told me I had just ruined your life and career,” Lou said with a small, sad laugh, a hand running through his hair.
“Before it even started,” Harry finished quietly, looking down at his hands and the teacup in it, recalling how powerful he had felt when he’d first said it. God, he’d left that meeting feeling like he was on top of the world, done with everything and anything that was the band, and Lou, and he wasn’t sure how. Zayn had left months prior, but that had been a long time coming and no one was really that upset once the initial sting wore off. They’d just started talking about touring their new album, Made in the A.M., and things with Louis were as good as they’d ever been. How had things gotten so complicated and crazy so fast?
“You also said, and I quote, “I wish I’d never even met you, you fucking asshole. Thank you for keeping me-”
“From being the best version of myself,” Harry finished, their voices meeting in unison. Harry hated that those weren’t even the worst things that had come out of his mouth that day. The awful, retched words that had further destroyed everything good he had buzzed in his head.
Louis rubbed his thumb against the handle of his tea cup, anxious about how this conversation would continue. “You’ll always be an important person in my life, Harry. There’s no denying that. We had so much history, no pun intended,” he chuckled, but it was guarded, and Harry knew Louis was just trying to be himself, finding humor in a moment of unease. “A kind of friendship that I’ve yet to share with anyone else. But I can’t, in good conscience, just forgive you for what you said to me. And for walking away like that without even discussing our next steps.”
“If I could make it up to you, in any way, I would. I just don’t know how. I was so hurt, Lou,” Harry said, his voice cracking as he held back tears. “Like the rug had been ripped out from under me. Why…why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why didn’t you discuss the hiatus with me first? We always discussed everything!”
Harry had walked into that meeting thinking that they were going to finish planning the A.M.tour, sign some paperwork like usual, and grab a nice lunch. He hadn’t expected Liam and Louis to interrupt the meeting to ask for a hiatus, and he sure as hell had no indication that everything they’d spent years building and sacrificing for would fall apart in less than an hours’ time. Sure, they’d written some songs on the album about some of their difficulties and the pain of Zayn leaving, and they had planned to take a break after a fifth album, but Harry had never imagined it would all happen so suddenly.
To make matters worse, Louis hadn’t ever mentioned that he’d been thinking of a hiatus. Not to Harry, at least. They’d been living together for months, and not one word had been uttered. Harry had never been met with such betrayal, and knowing that Louis had kept such a colossal secret was enough to rip his heart straight from his chest. Because in an instant, Harry had had to rethink everything, and everyone, he knew and loved, and he had had to salvage whatever he could of his future and career, even if that plan didn’t include Louis. He thought he could live with that. In that moment when he stood up and got in Louis’ face and spit those venomous words, he had convinced himself that it was the only way to make it through whatever was happening in one piece.
“The really hard part, Harry, is that I think you meant all of it,” Louis whispered.
“I thought I did,” he admitted, a few tears falling. He wiped them away and took a deep breath. “I thought I was doing the right thing at the time. Obviously, in hindsight, it wasn’t one of my best moments. But you put me in a really shitty spot, Lou. I thought you loved me enough to not put me in the middle like that. We always kept business and our relationship separate, and then you walked into that fucking meeting with Liam-”
“Because I knew how you’d react,” Louis interrupted, “and I figured that maybe bringing it up in the meeting would be the best way. But I was wrong, Harry, and I’m sorry, too.” Tears streamed from Louis’ closed eyes as he held the warm teacup between his hands for comfort. “I thought I was doing the right thing at the time, just like you. I wish I could go back and undo it. All of it. The Zayn stuff, that fucking meeting…”
“For the record, I don’t care about the Zayn stuff anymore,” Harry admitted, sniffling, tears falling uncontrollably now. “We all tried really hard to help him get back on track, but it wasn’t going to happen. Nothing we could have done would have kept Zayn from making the choices he did. I know you guys were close in the end there, and I know it hurt like hell when he ran off and signed with RCA after he begged for us to let him go and have a normal life out of the spotlight.”
“You were quite visibly pissed that I got close with Zayn, Harry. And I don’t blame you.” Louis reached his hand out and Harry took it. “That wasn’t fair to you.”
“I was. But it doesn’t really matter much anymore, does it? Zayn fucked us all over, and now he’s stuck on the outside if we ever decide to go back to it all.”
“He left everything good behind without looking back. And then he fucking fought with me publicly about it.”
“Isn’t that what we did, too, though? In our own ways?” Harry reasoned.
Harry wiped his face and sniffled back any leftover tears. “So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know. Do we have to have it all figured out right here and now?” Louis asked, placing his cup on the night table.
“I suppose not. We never really had it all figured out, did we?” Harry said, chuckling.
“What’s so funny?” Louis asked, sniffling but smiling since Harry had lightened the tone.
“Just that, after all this time, we’re here, together. Even though we didn’t always know what was coming next.” Looking up at Louis, Harry felt a rush of happiness. Of gratitude for this moment that he didn’t think he’d ever get to have. He’d missed this more than he’d let himself admit, and he knew that even though he’d loved the man in front of him from the very start, he’d only grown more in love with Louis over the years.
“I’ve thought about you every single day, Harry. Every. Single. Fucking. Day.” Louis was crying again, and Harry put his empty cup down on the tray, inching closer to put his forehead against Louis’.
“Me too, Lou,” Harry said, a tear sliding down his red, hot cheeks. “Me too.”
“I love you,” Louis whispered, pushing his lips closer to Harry’s, and for a moment, Harry wondered if all of this was too good to be true. If this was all just a dream, if he deserved any sort of forgiveness. He felt Louis’ lips press against his, and in an instant, the electricity between them was reignited.
“I love you,” Harry said, unable to get enough of Louis, rising on his knees and wrapping his arms around his neck. He let out a small groan, and together they rolled over into the sheets, Harry’s fever, and schedule, forgotten.