It's been 31 days, 22 hours and 15 minutes since the last time any of them have seen Harry. The four of them wish they could remember that night more clearly than they do, but you never know which moments are going to end up being important. Perhaps it's a lesson to them to savor each one of them for that particular reason. What they do remember is being at the club, having a good time. Niall, Louis and Zayn were drinking while Liam was happily sober, dancing up a storm with the rest of them anyway. Liam doesn't need to drink to have fun. Nor do any of them, really, but it feels good so they do it as often as possible.
Harry hadn't had much to drink at all when he came to them and begged off early, saying he had a headache and was going to walk home. Louis offered to walk him the three blocks to their flat but Harry refused. He was fine, he insisted, it was just a lingering headache he wanted to sleep off. They do remember the smile he flashed them that didn't quite reach his eyes, thanks to his aching head. They remember watching him turn and leave, wearing his favorite Ramones t-shirt. But it's not enough. They want to remember every word he spoke to them that night, everything he did, so they can cling to their last memories of Harry. Each of them is afraid those will be the last memories of him they'll ever have.
They aren't sure what would be worse; never knowing what happened to Harry or getting a call from the police saying that his body's been found. Though it's only been a month they don't really hold out hope that he's alive. Harry wouldn't have left on purpose which can only mean he was abducted. No one's calling looking for ransom money, which any of them would gladly have given. The police have tried to suggest that maybe Harry was tired of their crazy, busy life and wanted to run away from it. That maybe he's somewhere in another country using an alias and has changed his appearance. The idea is so ridiculous they all burst into laughter the first time it was brought up. Harry loves his life. It's all he's ever wanted. Yeah, sometimes they're so exhausted mentally and physically they feel as if they could burst into tears at any given moment. They get homesick, they have days where they wish they COULD run away. But none of them mean it, not really. And Harry would never do this, would never leave behind the people that love him to worry so much.
As expected, this is hardest on Louis. Louis only remembers to eat if someone puts food in front of him. He gets up each day, goes through the motions just as they all do but there's no life in his eyes anymore. Every smile is faked, stretched so tight he looks as if he might break at any moment. He hardly cracks jokes anymore, his hands shake. Sometimes he'll be mid-sentence and just trail off, staring into space and they all know he's begun thinking about Harry again. And every so often Liam can't help but think that if Harry really did decide to run away from the life of a popstar and not look back, then he hates him for it. It's easier to just be angry at Harry, to pretend he's living in some mansion somewhere in a secret location with his head shaved and going by the name Bruce or something ridiculous like that. It's better than being eaten alive with fear, worrying over what horrible things Harry might have faced or might be facing now. It's better than closing his eyes and seeing the visions that sometimes haunt him.
Niall cries a lot. Despite his display of emotion on the X Factor it still seems to surprise some people that Niall is actually such an emotional person. Maybe it's because of how laidback and carefree he is. He's good at not reacting to things, good at remaining stoic among the screaming and fainting fans. But when he's sad he's not so good at hiding that. So he just misses Harry and cries often. Liam does his best to hold everything together.
Zayn tries to maintain some normalcy. He tries extra hard to be funny during interviews, to pick up Louis' slack. He turns on the charm to make up for Harry's absence. But every now and then when they're alone without cameras his eyes go dark and he sinks into himself for just a little while and Liam knows where his mind's gone.
Zayn comes home so late one night that it's really more like morning. The sun isn't even up yet. Its pouring rain outside, and he's grateful it was so easy to find a cab at this hour. He spends a lot of late nights at the pub these days. He doesn't even drink that much, just sits nursing a drink, thankful when he sees people he knows to talk to and keep his mind off things. Sometimes he goes home with a girl, sometimes he doesn't. Tonight he does and as usual he's only doing it as a distraction, to get his mind off things and because he doesn't want to go back to the complex he shares with the boys. Louis has it hardest, he knows. He's the one who shared a flat with Harry. He's the one who feels the quiet, the emptiness the most. They've all offered for Louis to come stay with them and they've all offered to come stay in the flat with him but he always says no. They think he can still feel Harry there; they think he likes to be alone with Harry. They wish they could feel Harry too, just one more time.
Zayn quickly ducks into the entryway of their complex, digging out his keys. He's cursing the fact that the walk from the cab to the front door has caused him to get wet when he notes a figure at the end of the hall, slumped in front of the door to Louis and Harry's flat. He raises an eyebrow, reaching for his mobile from the pocket of his jacket, just in case someone's gotten in who shouldn't be there. One of the lights is out in the hall, so it's far darker than it should be and Zayn frowns, notes that he's got to have that fixed as soon as possible.
"Hello?" He calls out, unsure. "Lou, is that you? Drink a bit too much mate?"
He's met with a groaning sound that sounds nothing at all like any of Louis' drunken noises. Louis is a happy drunk, and he never drinks so much he makes himself sick. Zayn frowns and starts toward the end of the hall, mobile clutched tightly in hand.
"Who's there?" He tries not to be too loud, doesn't want to wake any of his mates though they're all asleep in bed and won't hear him upstairs in their flats. Whoever it is slinks back a bit until they're pressed flat up against the door and can go no further, trying to shrink away from Zayn. He stops walking, hazel eyes going wide in disbelief. He blinks once, then twice. He must have had more to drink than he realized because he's hallucinating.
There's no answer, no flicker of recognition at all on Harry's face, not even when Zayn crouches in front of them so they're eye-level. His breath catches in his throat when he gets his first close look at Harry. His already thin friend is even thinner now, collarbone jutting out from the collar of the Ramones shirt he'd been wearing when he went missing, now torn down one side. Harry's jeans are ripped and dirty, and he's barefoot. Bruises cover Harry's thin arms, his lip is split and whether that's blood or dirt caked along the side of his face, Zayn can't tell. He's soaking wet and shivering and suddenly a rancid smell hits Zayn and he realizes it's Harry smelling like that.
He doesn't know what to do. He's imagined Harry coming home, loads of times. But never like this. All his daydreams consisted of Harry walking through the door, looking tan and happy, with some crazy excuse for being gone for a month. Never has he imagined this emaciated Harry, dirty and smelly and possibly injured, the Harry that doesn't seem to even know who he is. He takes in a deep breath, feeling nauseated though he isn't sure if it's because of the situation at hand or the smell coming from Harry or maybe both.
"Are you hurt Harry? Shall I call you the medics?" Zayn asks finally and Harry shakes his head quickly, one hand pressing back against the door. Zayn looks up at it, swallows hard. "How about Louis? Do you want me to get Lou?"
He's shaking his head again, this time more insistently, his tangled curls falling over one eye. Zayn thinks he hears a faint whining sound coming from Harry. Helplessly, Zayn asks "Will you at least let me bring you inside?" He gestures just down the hall to his door. Harry's eyes follow, then dart back to look at Zayn. Finally he nods, but he can't seem to get to his feet, his legs don't seem to work.
"Let me help you babes." Zayn says quietly, extending a hand. Harry shrinks back, eyes wide with fear. Zayn tries not to let that hurt, but it does even though he knows deep down something awful's happened and Harry isn't himself. "Babes it's just me, it's Zayn. You know I'm not gonna hurt you, I'd never do that."
Harry eyes him cautiously, hesitating before placing his trembling hand in Zayn's. He lets Zayn help him to his feet, leans heavily on him. Zayn manages to support most of Harry's weight as he walks him down the hall, fishes out the key to his flat and lets them in. He walks Harry to the sofa, cringing inwardly despite himself as he helps Harry sink down onto it. He feels bad even as he thinks it but he wishes he could lay a towel down on the pristine beige furniture without Harry noticing. Here in the light he can see that Harry is worse off than he'd originally thought. There are bruises on his face as well, dark purple one that look as if they hurt, some faded yellow. The mess caked on his face is definitely blood, not dirt.
The boy's eyes flicker toward him briefly, then cast themselves downward again. "Harry," Zayn repeats. "I should call a medic, you're clearly hurt and – " Before he can finish Harry's head starts to shake violently, his greasy mop of curls bouncing around. His hand shoots out and grasps Zayn's, squeezing. There's panic in his big green eyes .
"Okay." Zayn backs down quickly. "Okay." He's not sure what to do though; he wants to call the other boys for help but suspects Harry won't allow it. "Let's clean you up then, yeah?" he asks hesitantly. Harry looks down at himself as if he's just now noticing just how dirty he is. His nose wrinkles and he nods, biting his lower lip.
Harry cries when Zayn undresses him. Zayn almost doesn't notice as first because it's not loud sobs, just fat tears rolling down his cheeks and every so often a hitch of his breath. Zayn doesn't cry often, not if he can help it, but seeing Harry like makes his eyes sting with hot tears. With each article of clothing more battle scars are revealed. More bruises, cuts and wounds. He finds himself wondering what torture Harry's been put through. He wants to ask, but he knows Harry's not ready. He can actually count Harry's ribs, he's that thin. He inhales sharply, breathes out slowly and evenly, trying not to react in front of Harry. If he stays calm maybe he can keep Harry calm too.
Harry's sitting in the bathtub, hunched over as if he'd like to curl into a ball and disappear. He's letting Zayn wash him carefully but Zayn thinks Harry's mentally checked out, judging by the way his green eyes stare vacantly at the wall, as if they aren't really seeing anything. His eyes look dead and that scares Zayn more than anything. He thinks maybe it'd be better if Harry was resisting and making that awful whining noise again, because then at least he'd know that Harry was still with him. Gently he rubs the soapy cloth down Harry's back, careful of the large welts that look suspiciously as if they've been made with a whip. They're raised and they look tender, but Harry doesn't even flinch.
When the blood is washed away from Harry's face it leaves a wound that is probably from a knife and Zayn hopes it won't scar, knows Harry doesn't need a reminder on his pretty face. The emotional scars Harry will carry with him day to day will be more than enough. When Harry is finally clean Zayn helps him stand and wraps him in the largest, fluffiest towel he can find. Harry doesn't look at him as Zayn seats him on the closed toilet seat, taking the time to dry off his shivering body. There aren't any words exchanged between them even as Zayn dresses him in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, carefully pulling a hoodie over his head to keep him warm. Harry doesn't try to help, he lets his body go limp and it's difficult to dress him like this but Zayn manages.
It's not until Zayn lays Harry in his bed and covers him, lovingly tucking the blankets around him that Harry looks at him, eyes red and filled with tears. "Thank you," he chokes out and it sounds painful, the scratchiness of his voice. Zayn briefly wonders how long it's been since Harry's had water, or food for that matter. He tells him he'll be right back and reappears seconds later with a glass, holding it to Harry's lips, slipping a hand behind his neck to help him sit upright. Harry drinks greedily, and Zayn has to warn him to slow down. Harry pulls back, choking and sputtering and Zayn gently rubs his back in slow circles.
"Easy now, you're alright." He says reassuringly. He's not sure when he learned how to be so calm and patient.
He asks Harry if he's hungry. Harry just shrugs. He looks as if he's starving. Zayn thinks maybe he's gotten so used to being hungry he can't feel the hunger pains anymore. He starts small, making some soup. Harry doesn't even try to feed himself. Zayn's not sure if he's too weak or if it's that he has no interest in keeping himself alive anymore. He opens his mouth though after a little gentle coaxing.
"C'mon babes, doesn't it smell good? Here, try it." Harry's barely swallowed the first bite when he starts to gag. Zayn makes a quick grab for the small rubbish bin in the corner of the room, has just enough time to hold it out before Harry is violently sick. Once the water and soup is out of his system he dry-heaves and all Zayn can do is hold his hair back and tell him it's alright.
Harry's exhausted but he won't sleep. His lids are drooping but he fights it, snaps them open again every time they start to close. There are dark circles under his eyes and Zayn wonders how many nights in the last month Harry has lain awake in fear. He drifts off finally, and though Zayn would quite like some sleep as well he doesn't dare. He stays awake, watching over Harry protectively. He's so fragile right now, he knows. Harry doesn't sleep long at all, maybe 15 minutes tops when his eyes shoot open and dart around the semi-darkened room as if he doesn't know where he is. He's breathing heavily, trembling as if he's outside in the cold. He starts to whimper, the sound raw and hoarse in his throat.
"Harry, Harry it's alright." Zayn says in what he hopes is a calming voice, but it's as if Harry doesn't see him, doesn't hear him. He firmly grips Harry's shoulders, placing himself directly in Harry's line of view. "Harry!" He says loudly, sharply. "Harry, look at me. Come on." Harry's breathing is so erratic that he's actually concerned the boy is going to pass out. "Come on, eyes on me, yeah? That's good mate." Zayn says encouragingly, offering a warm smile when Harry's terrified eyes meet his. Harry's hands grip his so tightly it hurts, but Zayn doesn't protest. It takes a few minutes of Zayn coaching him through each inhale and exhale before Harry's death grip starts to loosen and he visibly starts to relax.
"See?" Zayn says with a smile. "You're alright. You're here and you're safe with me."
Harry looks at him and nods solemnly. "Safe." He repeats slowly, drawing the word out as he tends to do.
"You're safe Harry," Zayn says again. "It's alright to go to sleep, nobody's gonna hurt you." Harry's still tense as he lays back down and rests his head on Zayn's chest. Zayn wraps a protective arm around him and before long Harry's eyes close. It takes a few minutes, but Harry's breathing evens out and for the first time since finding him in the hallway, Harry looks at peace. Zayn can't help himself, he presses a kiss to the top of Harry's head, breathing in the now-clean scent of his curls.
He knows he won't sleep tonight – or what's left of the night, anyway. He needs to be awake in case Harry has nightmares or just in case he wakes up and needs something. Part of him knows he should be alerting the other guys that Harry is home but even though he knows how worried they've all been, how much they've been suffering in his absence, it doesn't seem right to let anybody else in right now and there's no way he could convince them to stay away and let Harry have a little space. In the morning he'll ask Harry if it's alright. He'll want to see Louis, Zayn knows, now that he's looking a little more human again. Louis will fuss over him, Niall will hug him too tight and Liam will cry and Zayn worries that it'll be too much. But they'll cross that bridge when they get to it.
The night seems long, though daylight's already breaking. Harry cries in his sleep, soft moaning sobs that break Zayn's heart. He wakes once, looks around and clutches at Zayn, as if to check where he is, to check that he's safe. He offers Zayn a broken smile before drifting into a deep sleep that lasts well into the next afternoon. Zayn doesn't move, ignoring the rumble in his stomach, his full bladder and the restless urge to get up and move around. Harry hasn't made that awful crying sound in hours and Zayn doesn't want to disturb him when he's sleeping so soundly.
The boys will be in for a shock when they lay eyes on Harry. It's not the Harry they said goodbye to in the club that night. But Harry's a fighter and the old Harry is still in there, Zayn knows by the way he can only assume Harry fought to come back home to them. He doesn't know what Harry's been through in the last month and won't ask, he'll wait until Harry is ready to talk about it. But he can only imagine the torture his friend has been put through.
His phone vibrates and he picks up quickly before it can disturb Harry. It's Louis, asking if he wants to grab some lunch. He texts back, awkwardly, because Harry's still asleep on his left arm, saying he has to pass, something important's come up. Louis will be annoyed that he's being so vague and will become persistent but Zayn will leave it at that for now. Let Louis be annoyed. He looks down at Harry, brushes a stray curl from his eyes. He feels so protective of him, like he wants to keep the world away. Zayn knows when Harry wakes up he's got to tell the others, that he has to call doctors and probably a therapist. But for just a little longer Harry can stay here in his arms, where he's safe.