Chapter 30 ~ Shirtsleeves

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“How is he?”

Louis jumped, eyes wide as he turned to see someone hovering in the door frame of the hotel bathroom he and Harry were sharing.  It was quite late, probably a little past one, and after the nightmarish experience of their first performance on tour, he hadn’t been able to sleep.  Fortunately Harry hadn’t woken since Louis had sent him to bed a couple hours earlier.

“What?” Louis asked groggily, rubbing his eyes.

“Harry,” Zayn said, stepping into the toilet.  “Is he all right?  After tonight, I mean.”

“Oh,” Louis sighed, dragging a damp wash clothe over his face.  “I dunno.  You know how he is.” He set the clothe down in the basin.  “How’d you get in here? What are you doing still awake? We’ve got to be up for the bus tomorrow.” 

“You shouldn’t leave your door unlocked.” Zayn said sheepishly, hands in his pockets.  “Besides, I could ask you the same thing.” Louis shrugged.

“Just... couldn’t close my eyes, I guess,” he said.  “And I didn’t... If Harry woke up, I didn’t want him to have to...”

“Yeah,” Zayn muttered.  “I’ve, uh... had a look at Twitter.”  Louis blanched.  He’d avoided touching his mobile since the end of the show, knowing what he’d find. He didn’t quite feel like reading hundreds of words of hate toward his boyfr- toward... his best friend.  

“Yeah,” he scowled.  “And how is it?  Suppose the weather is a trending topic, is it?” Zayn simply sighed, touching the tile quietly as not to wake Harry, who was still fast asleep in one of the beds outside.  

“No, Lou,” Zayn said, sliding to sit on the edge of the bath.  “Just...people being stupid.”  The two of them were silent.

“How bad is it?” Louis asked, biting his lip.

“It’s... Well, I mean, it’s enough.  You know?” Zayn asked, face darkening slightly, and Louis wondered what on earth he could have read to make him look so piqued.  “Not anything Harry deserves to hear.”  

“No,” Louis shook his head.  “No.” He blinked past the open door, down at the rumpled figure of Harry curled shyly around the blankets.  He’d kicked them off in his sleep, letting them tangle around his feet.  His face was remarkably blank as he slept, his eyes still.  Louis hoped he wasn’t dreaming tonight.  “I’m scared for him,” he admitted, and he couldn’t quite meet Zayn’s eye. 

“I know, bud,” Zayn said quietly.  “Harry’s the baby, in’e?  We knew he’d have a harder time with this than the rest of us.”  

“But Niall and Liam?” Louis swallowed, turning to look him in the face.  “They’re only a couple of months older than he is.  What makes him so vulnerable?”

“You know, Lou.  He’s always been self-conscious, always wanted to please.  Niall and Li are more confident than he is.  Liam reached Judges’ Houses at fourteen, and he’s been offered loads of record contracts.  Niall’s been performing since he was four.  This is the first time anyone’s told Harry he’s got what it takes to do something like this, to be a part of something big.  And now that he has...” Zayn trailed off and bile churned low and angry and sick in Louis’ stomach.  His eyes drifted toward the phone sitting on Harry’s nightstand, lighting every few minutes with another notification.  At the thought of what they might say, the nausea crept up Louis’ throat.

“S’not fair,” Louis muttered, face taut.  “That Harry, of all people, is being treated like this; that people are saying these things about him, when he’s so...” His throat clenched.  “It isn’t fair.”

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