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hold you like it's not goodbye (before you fall for someone new)

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He’s not sure how he ended up here.

Or, he knows how he got here. He remembers getting in his car and following the GPS instructions for 10 minutes, before he pulled up to a house that he’s never really been to before.

10 minutes isn’t a long drive, really. Hard to think that someone who’s felt so far away for so long has been this close all along.

But he doesn’t really know why he’s here. He’s been in London for a week now, and it’s been nice – busy, but nice. He’s been to meetings, met some old friends, caught up with his family. But today he had a day off, and he had been planning on just lounging about, catch up on some sleep and listen to some new music. But he’d opened Instagram on a whim, and before he knew what he was doing he was looking up Niall’s profile, looking at his story and… now he was here.

Outside Niall’s door.

At least he’s pretty sure it’s Niall’s door. Niall had moved a couple of years back, but Harry found his new address in the (mostly quiet) group chat with the lads. The thought that he might have the wrong house passes his mind briefly, but his body has kind of been acting on auto-pilot ever since he opened Instagram, so before he can think better of it, his finger has pressed the bell icon on the doorbell, and there’s a loud buzz.

He considers turning around, getting back in his car and driving home. It’s not too late – Niall might not even answer his door. Maybe he isn’t even home – maybe the story on his Instagram wasn’t from his own house, maybe it was –

The intercom crackles and before Harry has the chance to make a run for it, Niall’s voice is filling his ears.

“Come on in, mate” he says, and the door clicks as it’s temporarily unlocked.

Harry’s brows knit together – how did Niall know it was him? As he grabs the door and opens it, he spots a camera in the corner. Ah, must be it, he thinks. Niall didn’t sound very surprised though, mind. Which is odd to Harry, as he’s quite surprised to be here himself.

Once he’s inside, he takes in his surroundings. The hallway isn’t massive, just a small space. There are some jackets and coats, shoes. Just a perfectly normal hallway, to be fair. But Harry feels stuck in place, because there’s a smell that’s so distinctly Niall, and Harry just wants to take it all in for a bit. In the back of his mind he thinks that probably says a lot about how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, but even more about how much he’s missed him. Before he can dwell too much though, he can hear footsteps coming down the stairs and around the corner.

He turns around just as Niall steps into view. Harry’s mouth falls slightly open as his system is overwhelmed with feelings of – he’s not sure. Fondness? Nostalgia?

Longing?

Niall freezes the second he lays eyes on him; stops right in his track, the easy, casual smile on his face dropping slowly, turning into an expression of shock.

So, he hadn’t known it was Harry then. He must have been expecting someone else , Harry thinks, with the small part of his brain that isn’t busy taking in everything about Niall that has changed since the last time they saw each other. He’s got a bit of a tan; his hair is a bit longer. His arms look a bit more toned. There’s some stubble on his chin, like he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days. He looks good .

“You’re –” Niall starts, but he doesn’t seem to know how to finish.

Harry clears his throat. “Surprise?” he tries, and smiles weakly, and prays that Niall isn’t able to pick up on the hundreds of emotions that lie behind that one word.

“What are –” Niall says, and Harry can see the gears turning in his head, the confusion clear in his eyes. “I mean, you’re… I thought you… what?”

“I was in the neighbourhood,” Harry says, as way of explanation. He tries for a light tone; wants it to sound casual. No big deal. Easy. Please let this be easy , he thinks.

Niall’s eyes are still big, filled with questions. Harry knows they’ve not been in touch in a while, and that Niall probably isn’t exactly the same person that Harry used to spend all hours of the night talking shit with, but at the same time he feels like he’ll always know Niall, always been able to read his face like an open book.  

It seems like Niall is just about to try to form a sentence again when suddenly –

“Niall!” a voice shouts from upstairs. And it’s a voice Harry knows, but that’s… what?

“Is that –” Harry starts slowly, brows knitting together, but he’s interrupted before he can finish.

“Niall!” it shouts again, “Where’d you put the new shampoo?”

Niall looks at Harry, over his shoulder, and then back at Harry again. “It’s, err –” Niall starts. Suddenly there are footsteps coming down the stairs again, and before either of them can get out another word, Louis Tomlinson is standing in front of them both, wearing nothing but a white towel hanging low on his hips.

They must paint quite the picture, standing there in Niall’s hallway, staring at each other like three goldfish in a bowl.

It doesn’t take long for Louis to get over the initial shock though, and mere seconds after he stepped into the hallway, his face breaks into a smile.

“Harry!” he says, “I didn’t know we were expecting you!” He looks at Niall, and then back at Harry. When neither of them say anything, both stunned by the pure absurdity of the situation, he goes on. “It’s been ages, mate! I’d give you a hug, but err– ” he gestures to his state of undress, and smiles slightly. “I was just getting ready for the shower.”

Louis doesn’t really seem to pick up on the tension that to Harry is so clearly hanging in the air.

“I was just in the neighbourhood,” Harry says again. “Thought I’d… pop in, say hi.”

Niall is still looking at Harry as if he’s got two heads, but Louis doesn’t seem fazed. He smiles and nods. “Alright, that’s nice! Isn’t it, Niall?” he says, looking at Niall. Niall clears his throat and smiles slightly.

“Yeah!” he says. His confused expression shifts, a bit too quickly Harry notes, into what looks eerily similar to his interview smile. “It’s great to see you, H!” He moves towards Harry, and pulls him into a brief hug.

The hug ends a lot sooner than Harry imagined their first hug in this long would. Not like any of this is anything like what Harry thought it would be like. For one, Louis is there. And he’s half-naked.

“Well!” Louis says, “I really should get back to that shower, I left the water running –”

“Jesus, Lou, I’ve told you to stop doing that,” Niall says.

“But you should stay for dinner! We’ve ordered pizza, should be plenty to go around!”

Harry looks at Niall, for… something. Niall smiles, and nods.

“Yeah, stay!” he says, “We can catch up, swap stories, all that!”

Harry smiles, and nods. “Yeah, sure. Sounds good.” He looks at Niall, and Niall looks back. His face is still carefully fixed with that interview smile, but Harry thinks he can see a hint of confusion still lingering in his eyes.

“Great, that’s settled then!” says Louis, “I’ll just hop in the shower. Niall, the shampoo?”

Niall doesn’t respond.

“Niall,” Louis says, again, more pointedly, and puts a hand on his shoulder. Niall seems to snap out of whatever it was running through his mind, and looks back at Louis.

“Yeah, right, shampoo,” he says. “Should be under the sink.”

“Thanks, love” he says cheerily, and Harry’s eyes go wide at the term of endearment. Louis waves a hand to Harry as he heads back up the stairs.

Once Niall and Harry are alone again, a silence settles between them. Niall scratches the back of his head, and shuffles his feet.

“So,” Harry says, “Louis is –”. He doesn’t know how to finish that, doesn’t really know what he wants to ask, or if he wants to know the answer to any of the questions that are running around his head right now.

Louis is living here?

Louis is walking around your house half-naked as if it’s the most normal thing in the world?

Louis calls you love now?

“Yeah, it’s… a long story” Niall answers, shrugging his shoulders. It’s vague and it doesn’t really explain anything, but he doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes, and that’s all Harry needs. He gets it.

It’s not like Harry thought Niall would never find anyone. Niall is quite possibly Harry’s favourite human in the entire world; he lights up every room he’s in, and Harry’s pretty sure that everyone that meets Niall falls at least a little bit in love with him. But Niall and Louis? Harry had definitely never seen that coming. Never picked up on the slightest vibe between them during the five years they spent together in the band. Was actually pretty convinced that Louis was very much straight. But the current situation is making his head spin, and rethink everything he ever knew and thought about his two bandmates.

Before his thoughts can spiral even further, the doorbell goes off again, and both Niall and Harry jump a bit.

“That must be the pizza, then” Niall says, moving past Harry and towards the door.

Harry draws a breath and tries to compose himself. He can do this! It’ll be fine! He’s known Louis and Niall for most of his life, he can hang out with them for an afternoon. Even if his chest does feel kind of tight at the thought of it all.

***

Turns out, Louis hadn’t been exaggerating when he said there would be plenty of pizza to go around.

“Were you expecting the entire neighbourhood?” Harry asks, as he helps Niall carry the boxes of pizza up the stairs.

Niall huffs out a laugh. “Think you’d need a few more pizzas to feed an entire neighbourhood, to be fair.” He leads the way into the kitchen, and they put the pizzas down on the kitchen island.

Harry hums. “Might do,” he says, his mouth tugging up on one side, “if the slices were small enough. Went to a pizzeria in LA once that specialized in organic, small-sliced pizza. One slice was the size of a thumb. But the flavours were really concentrated, so there was like, so much taste in that one small bite.”

Niall’s looking at him with furrowed brows and a hint of a smile playing at his lips. Harry shrugs, and smiles.

“You should try it, next time you’re in LA” he says. He looks away from Niall’s face in favour of opening one of the pizza boxes. “Ah sweet, pepperoni” he says, mostly to himself.

“No way that’s an actual thing,” Niall says. Harry looks back up. Niall’s giving him a look of disbelief, but Harry can tell he’s amused.

“Pepperoni?” he asks, feigning confusion and trying to hide his smile.

“What?” Niall says, “No, the tiny pizza thing. You’re making that up, you have to be” Niall says. He seems more relaxed now, than he was earlier in the hallway. His smile is more sincere, less of a clear result of media-training.

Harry tries to hold his mask for a bit longer, but can’t stop from smiling as Niall holds his gaze, challenging him.

“Fine, yeah,” Harry says, “it’s not a real thing. With pizzas at least, I have been to a restaurant that does something similar.”

Niall laughs and shakes his head, “Same old Harry Styles,” he says, and it sounds fond. “Remember that time you tried to convince Liam that Saturday Night Live actually aired on Thursdays?”

Harry smiles fondly at the memory. “Yeah, that was a good one.”

Niall scoffs, “It really wasn’t. You’re rubbish at lying.”

“Hey!” Harry says. “I’ll have you know I had Liam fooled for a solid minute and a half.”

“That’s Liam though, he’ll believe anything a pretty face tells him.”

“You think my face is pretty?” Harry asks, without missing a beat. It’s easy, it’s what he would have said to Niall if this was 5 years ago and this was a hotel room, or backstage at a gig. It’s banter, it’s fun, and just a bit flirty. He regrets it the second he says it.

There’s a beat, and Harry is about to take it back, or laugh it off and change the subject, but then –

“Technically,” Niall says, smirking. “I think I said Liam thinks your face is pretty.”

Harry lets out a laugh, and he’s sure Niall picks up on the hint of relief on his face. This is good, Harry thinks. Feels good, being around Niall again. They look at each other and share a smile, and it feels so normal that Harry almost forgets that heavy feeling that he’s been carrying around since he’d heard Louis’ voice.

“So, anyway,” Niall says. He turns around and gets out some plates. “Louis was really hungry when he ordered the pizzas, so your timing couldn’t really have been better.” He hands Harry a plate, before he grabs himself a slice.

“Should we wait for him?” Harry asks.

“Nah,” Niall says, “fucker’s been putting off showering for a couple of hours now, ‘s his own fault if the pizza gets cold while he’s in there.”

Harry hums, and grabs a slice of pepperoni pizza. He’s still got so many questions about the whole Louis situation. The LouisandNiall situation . But he thinks hearing the answers might be too much for him right now, so instead of asking any of them, he takes a bite of his pizza and smiles at Niall. Niall smiles back.

“So how have you been, Haz?” Niall asks. “Not seen you since… Jeez, how long has it been?”

“Dunno,” Harry shrugs. That’s a lie though, he knows exactly how long it’s been. Well, not down to the exact minute, that would be a new level of stalking - and that’s saying something considering he came here today because he saw an instagram story. It’s like I’m one of the fans , he thinks to himself, and can’t help but let out a small chuckle. 

“What’s so funny?” Niall asks, amused. 

“Nothing,” he’s still smiling though. He looks up at Niall and catches his eye. Niall smiles back, clearly still confused, but he doesn’t push it any further. There’s something about this though - seeing Niall, talking to Niall, laughing with Niall - that makes Harry’s chest feel tight. 

Niall’s still smiling at him, a small, almost shy smile. Harry doesn’t really register what’s happening when his mouth opens, and starts speaking. “San Francisco” he says, and Niall’s eyes go a bit wide. Harry clears his throat, “I mean, that’s…” he looks away from Niall, focuses on the slice of pizza in front of him instead, “The last time we saw each other, I think. When we were in San Francisco.” 

And - Harry really hadn’t needed to say that. He’s pretty sure, no he knows , that neither of them had needed the reminder. Niall doesn’t say anything, at first. Harry just takes a bite, so that he doesn’t say anything else that he regrets. Coming here was a mistake, clearly, as his brain and mouth have decided to take some time apart. 

“Right,” Niall says, after a few beats, and his voice sounds strained, somehow. Like he’s not sure how to approach it. “That’s - yeah, that… ‘course it was,” he lets out a breath. “That’s a while ago, then.”

Harry hums and nods, taking another bite. He keeps his gaze soft, and lets it wander around the kitchen - not looking at Niall, but trying to not make it obvious that he’s Not Looking at Niall. 

Niall clears his throat, “Listen Haz, about that” he starts. “About… San Francisco -”

He never gets any further than that, because just then Louis comes wandering into the kitchen, hair wet but thankfully clothed this time. His shirt looks just a bit too big though, which makes Harry wonder if it’s actually Nialls.

“Alright then lads!” he says, all smiles. “Good thing I ordered all this pizza, isn’t it Niall?” He places his hand on Niall’s shoulder. Harry should probably look away, for the sake of his own sanity, but he’s not quick enough, and suddenly he’s staring at Louis rubbing his hand slightly back and forth on Niall’s shoulder. 

Harry’s already impossibly tight chest gets even tighter. 

“This one was complaining we’d have enough to feed the entire neighbourhood” Louis says to Harry, rolling his eyes. Niall dips his head and smiles sheepishly. “Anyway, let’s not stand around here like idiots, let’s grab a box and head over to the sofa!”

Louis grabs a box and starts walking. Once he’s left the kitchen, Niall looks at Harry and he looks like he’s about to say something again, but then - 

“Nialler, grab us some beers would you lad?” Louis shouts. Niall and Harry share a final look and a brief smile, before Niall turns around to grab the beers, and Harry grabs a pizza and heads out to join Louis.