Once, when Harry had been about eight, his mother bought him a balloon from a seller in the park, and she had told him he could have any color he wanted. To Harry Styles, this was a wonderful privilege, and he couldn't place why, exactly. But he could take any one he wanted, so he asked for red.
"It's so bright!" he had told his mother, who warned him, amusedly to keep a tight grip, or else it would fly away. He had told himself then that he would never let the balloon get away; he would take it back to his flat, would keep it in his room for as long as possible.
But the problem became that no matter how much he loved that balloon, no matter how bright it was, he lost his grip, and his mother stopped with him and they tilted their heads up, watching the balloon slip further and further out of reach.
"I'm sorry, love," she said, "but sometimes you can't just hold onto good things. Sometimes they slip away."
It hadn't been in his mind frame, back then, to think about those words, not even to commit them to memory, but as he grew older, as he became a part of the whole that became One Direction, he thought more and more of that red balloon, isolated, picked out from the other colors.
Destined to be lost.
And he was thinking about it when they told him they were placing him sending him to rehab.
"That's ridiculous," Louis snapped at the doctor, who looked rather out of place in their hotel room in scrubs, clipboard clasped under his arm. "He isn't going anywhere."
The doctor-his name tag read Wilson- shook his head sadly.
"Look, boys, I know it's entirely inconvenient-"
"Do you think that?" Niall interrupted, incredulous, "Because I would have to say you're spot-on."
Liam placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him and asked, "You are aware of what this means for us? We'll be missing a very crucial part of the band, but more than that, you're taking away one of our best mates."
Dr. Wilson frowned, entirely unconcerned
"He needs to go, and everyone but the four of you agree, but that doesn't bother me in the least. I don't need your consent. I just thought you might like time for a goodbye. I'll give you-"he shook back the sleeve of his jacket, peering at his watch. "Until six. Then I need to take him off. The institution will want to get him settled in before it gets dark."
He spun on his hill, slamming the door behind him. Faintly, they could hear the sound of another door being closed, but no one moved for several minutes.
"Well," Zayn said at last, clearing his throat, "I don't suppose we have a choice, do we?"
Liam shook his head, sinking down onto the couch and gazing up at his band mates, the guys who had become his best friends, who knew him better than anyone, and he just wanted them to have an answer.
"How could we let such a thing happen?"
They didn't seem to have the answers he sought, but Louis sat beside him, looking towards the bathroom, where Harry had barricaded himself in that morning, only letting the doctor in briefly.
"It's my fault," he said, talking mostly to himself, but Niall answered.
"No it's not. He needs real help and we couldn't give that to him," and then, he added in his bluntly honest way, "Not even you, Louis, though if anyone could have come close…"
There, he trailed off, leaving Louis a bit pink around the ears for no real reason and Liam watching him curiously. Zayn didn't notice anything, only sitting in the nearby chair and turning the TV on, flipping through talk shows and music channels.
"Well," he said, appraising a Lady Gaga music video before changing it to Spongebob, "The last thing we should do is force him out. Wait until he's ready, and then we can say goodbye."
As Louis looked at him, distressed, he added hastily, "Just for now. He'll be better in no time, I'm sure."
Liam gave a fractional nod of approval, and Zayn felt as though he were a dog who had just jumped through a hoop.
"We're waiting, Harry!" Niall called towards the door before he disappeared into the kitchen.
"Don't you dare cook!" Liam called over his shoulder. "I'm ordering pizza."
Niall's response was lost on Louis, who watched the door, mesmerized, and he wondered what Harry was doing in there, exactly. Was he sitting as he had been lately, dimly staring at nothing and mumbling to himself every now and again?
The thought of him alone with his thoughts hurt Louis a lot more than it should have.
Louis had the gift of seeing into people, of knowing them, not just by words, but by their movements and actions and those thoughts that rested just beneath the surface of their eyes, and with Harry, he felt like he were looking at an old picture, one he remembered clearly taking. He would think to himself, 'I know what is going on, because I know that moment.'
'I know him.'
But Louis couldn't see this Harry. The old one, Hazza, as he called him sometimes, was all but glass to him. He knew exactly what lay behind him and beneath him. And this new Harry, the one who staggered in the hotel rooms drunk late at night, was a concrete wall, a dead end for him.
In the bathroom, Harry sat in the bathtub, for no reason other than it felt almost safe, like barrier from him and the reality of what was going to happen to him. He would have to go to rehab, where celebrities that couldn't handle the pressure ended up. Not him.
In his hands, he played with an empty whisky bottle, and he thought to himself about how terrible it had actually started tasting lately, but it didn't matter how it tasted because it took him a few feet off the ground, healed him for a brief while. He had seen himself sinking in the past few months, but he had clung stubbornly to this anchor, and he couldn't let go now.
"No one understands," he muttered. "I need this."
The question of why he needed it plagued his friends, because Harry wasn't the type of person to be like this, but he didn't exactly volunteer to share the answer, so they waited, because they were sure he would share with them before he had to leave for rehab for a two month stay.
Except that he didn't.
As six o' clock rolled around, they became more and more anxious, knocking on the door, begging him to come out and talk to them, one last time.
Louis, ironically, didn't do anything, save for watch the t.v. with glazed over eyes, hardly noticing it had been turned on mute. He was lost on a guilt trip, and the longer he thought about Harry locked up in there, the more he became closed off, the more he hurt.
They were asked to leave the apartment shortly after 6:30.
They didn't get to see Harry off.
The first balloon came two days into his stay at the facility, among good wishes card from the rest of the band, but that helium balloon meant the most. The nurses were kind, knew his face, and they let him tie the balloon to the end of his bed, telling him how nice it looked, talking to him like he was a child. There was a card attached, but Harry felt nervous simply looking at it.
"Aren't you going to read it?" asked his roommate, Derek.
"I guess," Harry sighed after watching the balloon sway distractedly, hovering near the ceiling. Derek was almost done with his stay here, and he had apparently become a saint; he would report it if Harry were being broody or down.
Harry tugged the card from the string, unfolding it and then finding himself grinning foolishly at Louis's handwriting.
Remember last December?
Harry did, and he knew the thoughts on his friend's mind must be directed to one day in particular, when all the others had gone out to the store, had left Harry to babysit a sick Louis.
"You have utterly failed," Liam had teased him later, but they were all in such high spirits, the words were not harsh.
Louis had actually been the one to wake him up, shaking him roughly and screaming again and again that it was snowing. Harry had peeled his eyes open to see his friend watching him eagerly, snow dusting his hair and coloring his cheeks.
"Lou!" he cried, fumbling with his mass of covers to sit up. "You're ill! Tell me you haven't been outside?"
"I haven't been outside," Louis chimed obediently. "Now come and not be outside with me!"
Harry groaned, trying to think of an excuse not to, but his warm bed wasn't much of a competition than one of Louis's adventures, so he clambered out, eagerly wrapping a scarf around his neck, all that Louis would allow before he took his hand and dragged him outside, where he promptly gathered some snow and threw it at it him.
"Hey!" Harry protested, shaking it from his face in alarm. "That's foul play. I wasn't even ready!"
Louis laughed, falling back into the snow with a muted thump. He sighed, placing his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.
"I would dump snow on you, but I still don't think you should be out here. You're sick, Lou."
With that said, he lay down next to his friend, ignoring the aching cold that bit at his skin, and he turned to admire the way Louis smiled, blissful despite everything.
"I like the nicknames," he said dreamily, eyes still closed. "Especially when you use them. Dunno why."
He sighed, his breath misting the air, and Harry felt his own face warm up a little bit.
"You really need to get some rest. Why did you come out here? Couldn't you just wait until you got better?"
Louis rolled over, fixing his friend with an even stare before saying, "But why should I wait for good things when they're right here?"
A car door slammed. Niall gave a cry of delight, his rapid footsteps signaling his approach, but Louis ignored him and cocked an eyebrow almost challengingly at Harry.
"What are you guys doing?" Zayn asked, exasperated, but his job of mother was taken over as Liam stomped over, clutching a bag and his mouth set in a firm line.
"What the hell, mates? Get inside! Now! We can't have you both sick with shows coming round the corner."
They both relented, laughing as quietly as possible, as to not upset Liam further, but once they were all inside, Zayn offered to order some food and Liam found himself relaxing. A few rounds of video games and tub of ice cream, and Liam had relaxed considerably.
"You shouldn't have dragged him outside though, Harry," Liam said, not as chiding as he had been earlier.
"I made him go outside," Louis interjected quickly. "We need to have some fun every now and again."
At that, he broke off, coughing. Harry shrugged at Liam's disbelieving gaze, patting Louis on the back.
"I wanted to go outside," he declared.
And Louis smiled, clearing his throat and wincing.
"What does it say?" Derek asked in the present world, taking in Harry's smile with genuine surprise and curiosity.
"Oh, nothing. Just an old friend reminding me of some of our jokes."
But as the night wore on, Harry watched the red balloon, enticed, and whispered, "Of course I remember."
His therapist was a stout woman they called Nicky, though her real name was Anita.
"Too formal," she had said to him brusquely upon their first meeting. "We need to be friends for this to work, and it's as simple as that. So tell me dear, do you know why you are here?"
And that made Harry think, for the question sounded horribly routine, and he wondered if anyone had sat here and said 'no' while thinking of drinking as he was right then. How could anyone deny their problems so blatantly?
"Why are you here?" she repeated, a bit more gently. "Do you know, sweetie?"
'She thinks I'm mental. Of course I know why I'm here.'
He had spent a lonely night in a bar one night in April and now he couldn't stop drinking, or thinking about drinking. That's why they had chucked him here, to get his head on straight before he did something stupid. He opened his mouth to say, 'Yes, I know why I'm here, thank you very much. I'm here because apparently I'm an alcoholic, and I understand I need to suck it up and get better.'
Instead, he said, "I'm in love with my best friend."
Another balloon came the day after the first, this time by itself, another card attached. Harry sat down in his room, mercifully alone, and read the card to himself, heart throbbing painfully.
'Oh, Lou. Are we going to do this, step by step?'
Scribbled on the card was this:
I didn't mean to get you sick.
"I told you!" Liam growled, hands on his hips in a very sassy manner. "I told you not to go out in the snow, Louis, and I told Harry to look after you. Now you've gotten him sick as well!"
Zayn and Niall sat close together on the couch, munching chips and watching the row like it were a ping pong match, their heads whipping back and forth to stare at Liam, who stood blocking the t.v., and Harry and Louis, who sat close on the couch, swathed in blankets. They had the same red noses and glazed over eyes that told of sickness.
Harry promptly sneezed.
"I didn't mean to!" Louis protested, looking rather put-out. "I thought we were just going to have some fun in the snow. I didn't want him ill any more than you!"
Liam huffed and fled to the kitchen, where Niall followed, talking soothingly to him a moment later.
"You really shouldn't piss off Mom," Zayn remarked, speaking of Liam. "But he doesn't mean any of it. He'll be begging me and Niall to go outside later on when his pride allows it."
That said, he left to his room to take a nap before they began a movie marathon that night.
"Sorry," Louis said, looking away. "I should have let you get dressed properly before I dragged you out. I just thought it would be fun, you know?"
"It was," Harry said hastily, hating the sight of his friend crestfallen. "We just need to be sure to bundle up next time, alright?"
Louis nodded, still pouting a bit.
"I hate it when Mom yells."
He nodded to the kitchen, where Niall had moved on from comforting to insisting that they order Chinese food instead of the usual pizza. Liam liked routines, but if Niall bugged him enough, he could deter him from the usual every now and again.
"Niall's going to win," Louis said, yawning. He let his head fall on Harry's shoulder; his fever-warmed cheek sent shivers down Harry's arm. "Niall always wins."
Harry hummed in agreement, looking down at Louis's tousled brown hair, thinking of all the times he had seen him style it just so, and he found himself abruptly overcome with affection.
"We're getting Chinese!" Niall called excitedly a few seconds later, running into the room and snatching his cell phone from the table.
"Good," Harry said. "I don't want to eat pizza again for a long while."
Nicky didn't ask him anymore about his best friend, but instead about the drinking, when it had started.
"Feburary," Harry answered dully. "I just went to a bar for one drink but I couldn't stop going there over the next few days, and then I needed it all the time, wherever we went."
Nicky pursed her lips and scribbled, waiting a long moment before continuing on.
"Why did you go that one night?"
In his lap, he had been turning a card over and over again, his most recent note from Louis, with yet another red balloon. He was two weeks into his stay, and he couldn't entirely admit to getting better, but Louis's notes were working like stitches, healing him bit by bit, just as much as Nicky's therapy sessions.
"Because," he answered slowly, eyes flitting to the card and taking in the words written there.
February. I should have spent that day with you.
"My best friend rejected me."
"Louis!" he blurted out, chasing his friend through the snow, wearing nothing but his boxers and a hat. "I'm sorry!"
Louis sped up for a brief moment before slowing to a walk and whipping around, taking in the sight of his best friend standing almost naked in the snow, shivering.
"You're going to get sick," he snapped.
"You sound like Liam," Harry said, desperately clutching for a light topic, and Liam's parenting style was always something that could cause a laugh, but not this time.
"Go in, Harry. I need to be alone okay?"
He took off, walking faster and faster until he relented and broke into a run, leaving Harry alone. He had no intentions to do much of anything on Valentine's Day, his present attire could attest to that, but when Louis had sauntered up to him just a good five minutes ago, offering him a box, he had been speechless.
"Louis, you are aware I'm not exactly your girlfriend? That's usually who you give the gifts to on days like this."
Louis shrugged, beaming.
"I know. But I wanted to get you something. I knew you'd just lounge around all day moping unless someone did something to cheer you up."
Harry offered him a reluctant smile before pulling the bow off the package, watching Louis through his eyelashes. His friend looked almost nervous, biting his lip.
Amused, Harry pulled the top off and pulled out a knitted hat that looked as through a dog had been chewing on it, some parts a little uneven.
"Your mom showed me how," Louis said anxiously, eyes wide. "I've never knitted before, and I thought I could get the hang of it in time." When Harry said nothing, he went on in a forced, light-hearted tone. "I can go buy you one, mate. I just thought it could keep your ears warm. Wouldn't want you getting sick again, huh?"
Harry held it out and up, turning it over before nodding curtly.
"Perfect?" Louis repeated incredulously. "Mate, you're a bit touched in the head if that's what you think. But I'm glad you like it," he amended, taking it from him. He slid it onto Harry's head, over his messy curls, and leaned back a little, admiring the effect.
"It looks great. I'm a genius."
"Yeah, you are, Lou," Harry said softly.
They stood close, watching each other, Louis with slight bewilderment, and that look triggered a sudden and fierce determination in him. He leaned forward resolutely, placing his lips on Louis's, his heart skipping a beat as he found them the exact way he had always thought them, though they were rough from the cold.
"Harry!" he cried, jerking back after a few seconds of stunned silence.
And at that point, he had stormed out of the door, leaving Harry to trail after him.
That night, after he returned, sneezing, no less, he marched straight up to Harry and said firmly, "It didn't happen, okay? Just…please?"
His tone became pleading, and Harry nodded, mouth dry. "It didn't happen. I'm really sorry. I just didn't want you to leave. I guess I didn't want to spend Valentine's Day alone again."
Louis blinked, not even trying to process all that, and he fled to his room. Once there, he placed his fingers on his lips, a bit distraught, but more than that, his thoughts were on the same page with Harry's: what if he had stayed with him that day?
But they didn't know, and Harry went to the bar to drown out the possibilities, because they hurt more than anything, more than the rejection. He felt he had taken a chance, closed his eyes and jumped, and there had been no one waiting to catch him.
"I kissed my best friend, and he rejected me. I went drinking and the more I drank, the more I forgot about it," Harry said dully, slipping the card in his jean pocket.
Nicky sniffed delicately, laying her pencil down and pulling back the strands of her short, black hair.
"Tell me more about your friend, Harry. She's obviously the root of the problem."
"HE," Harry said defensively. "He's great. He's got the most amazing eyes and he can always make me laugh. I would be lost without him."
Nicky smiled tightly at his correction, but made a sweeping hand gesture that implied that she would like him to go on, and he did. He could go on for hours about Louis, and for the first time a session didn't seem that bleak.
"One time, for my birthday, he sent me a bunch of red balloons-"
"Ah!" said Nicky, this time grinning with her realization. "So all the red balloons at the desks are for you? From him?"
Harry nodded, wavering between pride and despair. Louis's notes were reminding him of all the times that they had shared one of those moments, those moments that had driven him to the kiss, but what did he mean by it?
"He's been sending me notes, about the moments we've had. I don't know what he's trying to say to me."
Nicky, folded her hands, rolling her eyes to the ceiling and thinking for a couple of seconds.
"He could be saying a lot of things, but most importantly of all is the fact that he is thinking of you. You will not resolve your drinking problems unless you resolve your problems with him. And honestly, I have seen progress in you, but I urge you not to base your recuperation on him alone. Tell me-have you had the urge to drink these past couple of days?"
"Of course," Harry said immediately, then winced at his eagerness. He really could go for one, though. Not several bottles as he had been, drowning out Louis's rejection, but maybe a glass, to celebrate that, no matter what happened, Louis was still in his life, still thought of him.
"But I think I can overcome it."
"I think you can, too," Nicky said in a fond sort of way, and then she sent him to the recreation room where they were showing movies until that night, but he found himself aching more and more for that moment at ten o' clock, when the balloon would arrive. The delivery had been so meticulous, he wondered if perhaps Liam was helping Louis, but he couldn't ask. Gifts could come in, but no notes could go out, so he had no way of telling Louis what it meant to have a light in a place like this. Sometimes, the residents went a bit mad, and Harry found himself painfully sane in comparison, a term he would never have applied the past few months, but not it was entirely fitting.
The next balloon didn't make him smile, awash with pleasant memories, but instead robbed the smile from his face for the entire day.
February-the night I woke up and found you.
"Harry! Are you alright?"
Louis flung himself to the floor beside his friend, who had just stumbled in, clothes mussed up and dirt smeared on his face.
"Don't wake the others," he slurred in reply. "I've just been out for a little stroll."
"You're entirely wasted," Louis hissed, grabbing him under the armpits and dragging him up. "And why are you dirty?"
Harry offered no help to Louis, becoming a dead weight against his friend's shoulder.
"Took a nap in the park after the bar. Was just too tired."
Louis groaned, dragging him into the bathroom and placing him on the edge of the bathtub like he was a child. He pulled out a towel and dampened one end, holding Harry's head still with his hand. Scrubbing gently, he found scratches under the patches of dirt, startling him.
"I might have fallen a bit," Harry admitted, taking in his expression. "Just once or twice."
Louis grabbed him by the shoulders roughly, shaking him, trying to reach any sober part of his mind.
"Harry! You idiot!"
And Harry fully intended to answer, but he succumbed to sheer exhaustion and promptly fell asleep, falling against Louis shoulder.
When he came to, he was in his bed, changed into pajamas. A glass of water and two pain relievers sat on his nightstand, a very welcome sight to his throbbing head. He had just swallowed them when Louis stalked in, his face dark with anger, but his voice was almost friendly as he asked, "Did you have a good sleep?"
"Kind of," Harry replied, his voice cracking a little. He took another greedy gulp of water.
"What were you thinking, really? I was worried sick. I didn't know where you had gone. I sat on the couch waiting for you to return my calls and you never did. You could have been kidnapped-"
"No one wants me," Harry interrupted, trying to lighten the mood, but the words had the opposite effect as Louis's eyes flashed with pain, and they knew then that the kiss would have to be addressed.
"I'm sorry but I've got a girlfriend, and I care about her a lot. And…I think you're just mixed up, Hazza."
Harry flinched involuntarily, but Louis plowed on with his monologue.
"You've always been a tad fond of drink and I know you get a bit overwhelmed and all, but please don't get yourself in a situation where you could get hurt."
Harry pulled himself into a sitting position, so that he could look into his best friend's eye and hopefully impact him further.
"Would you hurt me?"
Louis retreated back a few steps, looking rather cornered.
"Hazza-Harry-I'm certain I would."
With that, he retreated, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Derek left on the day of Harry's one month mark at the facility. He had confessed that he had been there for six months, and was ready to get home to his girlfriend. His drinking problem must have been rather severe, and Harry felt guilty for not trying to make a connection with his roommate.
"What's she like?" he asked, hoping to fix that before it was too late. His mood could be determined by the red balloons, which now consumed his side of the room. Today, he was in a good mood.
"She's sweet, got big baby blues. Hair this really pretty brown color. I was a blond chaser through and through before her, but she was just different from everyone else I had ever met. I love her a lot more than I thought I could. You gotta girl waiting for you?"
Harry laughed, turning the newest note over in his hands while he lay on his bed, waiting for the nurses to come and escort them to the farewell party.
"Something like that, I hope."
Derek smiled, tugging the zipper on his small pack.
"I'm sure she'll be waiting when you get back. It's a nice step coming here, and I'm sure she's going to appreciate the change you made in your life. Come on, let's go gorge ourselves on the cheap, fat-free food."
Harry slid the note in his pocket, smiling in agreement.
The party couldn't really live up to its name, because the facility wasn't exactly a cheery place, but Harry had a good time, his mind for once not filled with thoughts of where Louis's notes were heading.
"How are you getting on, dear?" Nicky asked, handing him a glass of fruit water.
"Very well, thanks."
"Have you tried those yoga stretches to calm your mind?"
Derek sauntered over, laughing hysterically.
"Yeah and he looked like a prat doing them, but I wasn't going to say anything. I knew they worked for me personally, but I hope I didn't look as ridiculous as you did."
They all laughed, and a few other residents drifted over, drawn to their mirth, and Harry felt particularly good, perhaps the best he had since before he kissed Louis and ruined everything between them. But maybe Louis was apologizing through the notes, or maybe even offering him something. Harry couldn't be sure, and that had been the reason for his drinking.
But that night, as he sat his room, now alone, he turned Louis's latest note over and over, trying place where it was his best friend was going, what he wanted him to know. He was almost caught up to speed with Harry's predicament after all.
March-I broke up with her. And you were there, like you always are. I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me most.
"Why are you so miserable?" Niall asked, prodding at Louis's side, trying to provoke a laugh. "You're the one who broke up with her."
"Why did you do it? I mean you guys seemed so hap-HARRY! Sit down!"
Harry growled, but obeyed Liam's order and flopped back down at the couch, looking longingly towards the kitchen where a bottle of wine waited for him.
"No, let him go get his drink," Louis said, rather nastily. "He hasn't walked a straight line for almost a month, so why start now?"
"Louis!" Zayn exclaimed, eyes wide. "That wasn't very nice. We're just trying to help. Even Harry, I think."
Harry slid off his couch and joined Louis , throwing his arms around the older boy's shoulder comfortingly.
"I am. I'm sorry, Lou. I should be more sympathetic. Forgive me?"
Harry nudged him, and Louis finally smiled.
"Thanks. I just-it doesn't feel right between me and her anymore, ya know? I don't know where the spark went. I've been trying to make it work, because I hate the thought of not being with her any longer. But it kinda felt like I was leading her on."
The others nodded sagely, and Harry said, "You did the right thing."
Louis looked at him, almost wonderingly, eyes flashing with a thousand emotions.
"I know I did."
He leaned his head on Harry's shoulder, sighing.
"Even if it hurts."
As he neared the day he was to leave, Harry found himself thinking less of alcohol and more and more of the guys, of singing again, or performing and being fools at the hotels.
He missed them all terribly, and whether or not Louis finally came to a point about the notes or not, Harry resolved to be there for him, to rekindle their friendship that had faltered since the first kiss.
The next card was dated for the day he had first arrived here, funny enough, and it came on a bleary Sunday, a week before he was to leave.
April-The day they took you away from us. From me.
Harry had smiled at the last part, had pictured Louis's almost bashful grin, pictured him in the snow, almost challenging him to do something.
Louis had woken him up that morning with a glass of water and something for his hangover. This had become routine, and as he became more and more involved with his escape from reality, the band sunk away from him, watching him as though he were an animal, waiting for him to lash out at them. Their fear bothered him, but nothing bothered him more than the fact that Louis seemed to grow closer to him while growing farther and farther apart at the exact same time.
He had become more friendly, but more distant in his words. Kind, but painfully cautious.
The last day before he had to leave, Louis crept in and sat on the edge of his bed, wringing his hands nervously and waiting for him to take his pills before speaking.
"Harry, listen. A doctor wants to come see you. Liam has been worried and he's talked to your mom and everyone else and agrees that you may need some therapy."
Harry's head snapped up, mouth dropped open.
"We're worried about you!" Louis said defensively. "Have you realized how much you've been drinking? All the times we've tried to stop you? You punched Niall last night!"
Harry closed his mouth then opened it again, confused.
"Please tell me I didn't," he said at last.
Louis looked away, but reached out and took his hand, squeezing it lightly.
"Hazza, we need you to stop. And I know why you're doing it-"
"Oh, you do?" Harry said, pulling his hand away. "You don't know me as well as you think you do."
He tugged the covers, lying back down and closing his eyes, hoping Louis would take the hint and leave, but instead, his friend gave a laugh, tugging the covers back and crawling next to him.
"I know you well enough. And I didn't want this to happen."
The mood turned somber again.
"If I had known-well…Harry, I don't like what you've turned to, and I think it's my fault. But it's all going to get better, I swear."
Zayn knocked on the door, nudging it open a little and squinting in-Harry kept his room dark lately.
"The doctor's here."
And then, Harry recalled, Louis had kissed him, right in front of a startled Zayn. Harry wasn't expecting anything, and as Louis swept in he thought it might be a peck on the cheek, as it always tended to be, but Louis grasped his face in both his hands, bringing him close and kissing him right on the lips.
"It'll get better, Hazza. I swear."
And Harry had fled to the bathroom, bottle in hand, and sat there, on the floor before scrambling to the tub, where he felt more protected.
What had Louis meant by it? Rejecting him and then leaving him alone for months, and then kissing him like that out of the blue. He let the doctor in, and him sitting there, bottle in hand, probably didn't do much for him when he tried to convince the doctor that he needed no help.
The last week worth of notes went together, and Harry spent those days sick with anticipation, waiting for the phrase to be completed on what he knew would be Sunday. His last day.
I shouldn't have led you on only to push you away, said Monday's note.
Tuesday: And I hope you've started to forgive me
Wednesday. Because I've thought about it every day now
Thursday: And I miss you so much
Friday: I've been thinking about what to say to you
And the sickness in his stomach grew and grew as he waited, all but shaking as he took the balloons from the receptionist.
On Saturday, the day before he left:
And once you went away, I realized.
Then Sunday rolled around.
Nicky hovered in the doorway, her eyes brimming with curiosity at his enormous grin, but she said nothing, only giving him a smothering hug before bustling out, saying in a tearful voice that he must keep in touch.
Harry sat down on his stripped bed, staring at the bed that had been Derek's, and tried to imagine another guy here, another guy struggling. He hoped that guy got a happy ending. The red balloons had all been deflated, save for the last one, and rolled into his pack.
The time he was to be picked up and taken to the studio was almost upon him, but he took out the last card one more time.
"You need to get right back to work," they had said. "Get back to singing and doing what makes you happy."
And Harry had agreed, because he missed singing, and he realized that he had hardly even talked the past two months, save for the sessions with Nicky and with Derek.
But more than that, he wanted to be happy again, to see his best friends.
To see Louis.
The letters were shaky on the paper, but Harry could almost see him writing them, face scrunched up with determination. And it meant everything.
"Mr. Styles, are you ready to go?" asked a nurse, smiling kindly at him, as though he were a caged animal finally being released that needed to be handled with great care.
"Yeah," Harry said, untying the final balloon from his bed; he would carry it with him like that, but perhaps tied around his wrist so that he wouldn't lose it.
"I'm ready," he told the empty room, for the nurse had already disappeared down the hall.
He slid the note into the front pocket of his button-up shirt, almost feeling the words searing themselves through skin, directly to his heart.
One last confession in the forsaken place, one last confession before Harry would walk away a different person. But Louis must have known that Harry walked away very different because of that last note than he would have if Louis had not had the nerve to write it.
But maybe it didn't matter to Louis anymore, if he and Harry were together, because the band would still be there, the earth wouldn't shake from that declaration, and they would all still be going in one direction, together in at least a single sense of the word, but perhaps two for Harry and Louis.
And the note was like a final promise before he walked out of his old life, opened a new door for them both.
Scrawled in a typical Louis fashion, dotted by a resolute period, but still filled with so much of EVERYTHING were the final words, the final stitch in the wound.
I'm in love with my best friend.