Prince Harry meeting popstar Louis Tomlinson at the Royal Variety Performance.
Harry scans the receiving line, eyes skipping every other person in order for his gaze not to linger too long. His shoulders are tense, tendrils of nerves snaking their way down his back. If he can keep his nerves there, settled against his spine and belly he’ll be able to keep his face calm at least. He’ll need a muscle relaxer, or two, when he gets home but that’s better than pulling a face in front of the performers and having it caught on film.
He follows closely behind Gemma, the silver threading in her dress sparkling out of the corner of his eye. He keeps his smile steady as she greets the tap dancers and shakes their hands.
“Hello, pleasure to meet, you all, lovely performance,” Harry greets them in her wake, and makes eye contact. Normally he’d do his best to calm each person’s nerves as he speaks to them, but this time he’s too busy trying to calm himself down.
Because less than a dozen people away, Louis Tomlinson stands with his band waiting for his very own handshake and greeting.
Harry nods along to what the third tap dancer is saying, humming his agreement to something he hopes he’s supposed to agree to. It’s easy to get people to talk as long as he keeps smiling and nodding, and from the flushed look on the woman’s face he suspects he hasn’t committed a faux pas. It bodes well for the rest of the crowd. He can hear the snap of the cameras to his left, and he tilts his head in the photographer’s direction so they can get a good shot.
Gemma’s ahead of him and he turns his attention to the next person, and the next, and the next, the commotion around them somewhat comforting. He knows how to behave when he’s being watched, after all. He knows how to shake hands and smile and ask questions without disclosing anything about himself and deflecting any questions he might get in return.
He can handle being face to face with Louis Tomlinson. He can handle shaking Louis’ hand, skin against skin and making eye contact. He’ll be fine. If nothing else because he’s had his freak out already, during Louis’ performance.
Gemma had egged him on, teasing him about each The Rogue poster he’d had up, each concert she’d snuck him into, and how she knew every word to their songs because Harry couldn’t stop playing their music– in other words, she was trying to get under his skin. And she succeeded.
All Harry really needed was Louis appearing on stage against the backdrop, his silhouette alone making Harry’s heart shoot to his throat and his senses sharpening. Each guitar riff and drum beat and vocal line that was sung forever ingrained into his brain, and his eyes nearly burning from staying open and unblinking. He’d wanted to remember everything, not caring that his head trembled slightly, or that he was clutching Gemma’s hand hard enough for her to pinch him so he’d loosen his grip.
“Glad you got that out of the way,” Gemma’d whispered to him as they clapped their hands, and Harry had forgotten in the space of that three minute performance that he was supposed to meet Louis afterward, in front of the whole theatre and the press.
Harry hopes that the combination of getting it out of the way, as Gemma so kindly put it, and being in his public role will help alleviate any remaining nerves. He clenches his jaw, knowing it’ll make it look sharper in photos and has the excellent side effect of keeping him from grinning stupidly. He’s absolutely got this.
Harry’s got it for as long as it takes for his and Louis’ hands to meet and for Louis to pull up his other hand, clasping it around Harry’s.They’re warm around Harry’s hand, a firm solid shake that should ground Harry but instead makes him snap. That’s the point at which he’s quite sure he steps outside of his body and is nothing but an observer.
“Thank you,” Harry and Louis both say at once, and Harry practically squeaks, trying to hold back a laugh and an embarrassed groan. Louis doesn’t seem to notice, which is really good. He seems to try and collect himself, and Harry’s mouth pulls into what must look like a delirious smile. Except he can’t help himself, still stood outside looking on. He blinks rapidly, hoping that it’ll keep it from looking like he’s staring. Even though Harry’s most definitely staring.
“It’s been an honour performing for you, your highness,” Louis says, Harry smiling and nodding along, the only thing he can think to do while stood so close.
“Thank you all for coming,” Harry says, addressing the rest of Louis’ band, making sure they also get their hands shaken. They’d been good, their performance had sounded great, and Harry feels a pinch of guilt that he has no clue what any of them are saying, autopilot completely on as Louis’ presence nearby makes his skin vibrate.
When he pulls away from last of them he expects to give them all one last smile before moving on to the next person in line, except Gemma’s stood there like a statue, keeping them both in place. Her elbow digs into his arm the slightest bit as she turns her attention to Louis.
“Where is the night taking you after this, more celebrating I hope?” Gemma asks and Harry bites the inside of his cheek. Louis shakes his head, tucking his chin down.
“Wherever the lads lead, I’ll follow. S’a big night for them, yeah?”
“For you too, you did splendid,” Harry blurts out and immediately regrets it. He wants to pull his lips into his mouth, wants to sink into the ground and not have to look at Louis’ sparkling blue eyes. But instead he keeps his gaze even as the camera flashes go off.
Louis’ smile is crooked when he speaks, “Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing this for a while. Want to make sure they feel ‘ppreciated, yeah?” Louis pulls at his jacket, and Harry detects a slight twitch of his fingers. Nerves, maybe, which he honestly needed worry about in the slightest. No one could be more nervous than Harry at this particular moment in time.
“That’s very kind,” Harry says, and it’s normal enough isn’t it? That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
What isn’t is what Gemma says next, “Oh, Harry knows, he’s been a longtime fan of The Rogue.”
Louis’ eyebrows shoot up in surprise and he turns his attention towards Harry. “Is that so?”
Harry gives himself two heartbeats to respond, to collect his thoughts and mould them into something acceptable. “Your band were great ambassadors to country and brought us much pride,” Harry sounds stiff to his own ears, but it’s better than the alternative, in which Harry proclaims that Louis has been the background to Harry’s phone, iPad and laptop.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that description before, sounds quite nice though. I’ll pass it on to the others,” Louis says, the lilt of his voice like honey to Harry’s ears.
“Yes, please do,” Harry says. He seems to be in the clear. Even if Gemma wanted to torture Harry more by telling Louis that he’d always been Harry’s favourite their handler was waving them forward towards the head of the line. They were needed elsewhere, and even Gemma knew not to overstep when it came to their schedule.
“Thank you, again,” Harry says before turning away, but before he can help it he feels himself wink awkwardly and his throat closes up. He turns around and walks off before registering the look on Louis’ face. He hopes, sincerely, that the photographers have moved up ahead so that Harry doesn’t have to face the proof of his body betraying him.
That’s definitely not something he can ever live down, otherwise.