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set all my regrets on fire

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Harry's never wanted to be anything but a musician.

He starts writing songs when he's fourteen, starts learning guitar with Niall when he's sixteen, starts the band when he's eighteen.

And maybe on paper, it looks like he's accomplished a lot, but he's still so incomplete somehow, and it's utterly frustrating.

*

He thinks the record deal will solve everything, but it doesn't. They're still nobodies, just nobodies with a couple EPs and one full-length that no one's heard besides some weirdos on the internet and some teenage girls who think listening to them improves their indie cred or something.

It's not about the money. It's not about validation, about attention, about fame. He just needs to feel like he's doing something more, like it's worth something, like they mean something, like they're not just another set of guys in a garage covering Beatles songs.

He just needs that feeling for one second of his life.

*

The tour hasn't done terribly, but it hasn't done great either. They're on their last show, in Manchester, and it's a small venue, with a couple hundred people at least and that's decent, he guesses. But they're probably still going to have to deal with questions from execs and Harry can't even handle that, gets a headache just thinking about it. He just wants to be surrounded by the music, the crescendo, until it evens out, and he can close his eyes and sing. He lets the real world slip away a couple minutes at a time until it's hard to catch up to it anymore.

They're just getting ready to play their last song when Niall's hand drops from his guitar's strings and he just stares out at crowd, to the very back.

His mouth kind of falls open comically as he says, "Holy shit. That's Louis Tomlinson."

*

Harry doesn't know much about Louis Tomlinson, apart from the things Niall likes to rant about. He's a self-confessed X Factor addict, and he's convinced Louis should have won, although, okay, he'll grudgingly admit Liam's a decent guy too.

They've both been doing really well though. And they've remained good friends.

Louis's opening for Zayn now, a critically-acclaimed debut album and a top-ten single already under his belt.

And okay, Harry might admit under duress that he thinks he's sort of cute too.

*

Niall insists they go talk to him afterwards. But then he just kind of gapes, so Harry explains, "He's a really big fan."

"Oh, wow, that's cool," Louis says, and his smile is even warmer than on telly. "And I'm a really big fan of you guys."

But he's looking straight at Harry when he says, and Harry's wondering what his life has become.

Niall finally comes out of his trance to say, "No fucking way."

They all laugh.

*

Louis invites them out for drinks after.

"So how did you even find out about us?" Harry has to ask.

"YouTube," Louis answers simply. The way he's smiling suggests there's more to it than that though.

"Wow. The power of the internet, man," Niall says, and then someone yells, "Let's drink to that," and they all do.

Harry doesn't take his eyes off Louis though.

"The show's tomorrow night. I can get you guys in if you want to."

"Are you serious?" Harry asks bluntly.

"What? I came to yours."

"That's hardly the same thing," Harry points out.

Louis looks at him the way people size up a challenging problem they think might be interesting to break down.

"We're all the same underneath the lies we speak," Louis sing-songs, and that's a line from a song Harry wrote when he was sixteen. It's kind of hard to argue, or breathe, after that.

*

They don't get to talk much after that, but Harry spends a lot of the night awake and staring up at the ceiling, thinking about it.

*

They decide to go to his show. The tour's over, and they have a bit of free time for now, and the guys agree that there's pretty much no better place in the country to pick up girls than a Zayn Malik concert. They get backstage passes and everything and even Harry has to admit it's all pretty cool.

Louis has that natural charisma and stage presence, and it's hard to keep your eyes off him. Harry notices that he seems to always be looking directly at you when he's singing, even if there are thousands of people in the crowd. Harry's always sang with his head bowed, eyes shut.

*

They meet up with him backstage after, and he introduces them to Zayn. They congratulate them both, and then Zayn heads off. Harry just kind of lingers behind Niall as he gushes about his performance to a delighted-looking Louis.

It's only when they're leaving that Louis calls out to him. "Hey, Harry?"

Harry turns around, finally steps closer, looking at him questioningly.

Louis' face gets really serious as he speaks.

"Do you know how sometimes you hear a band or a song and you just want to keep it? Keep it for yourself. At least for a moment."

Harry understands completely. It's why he started writing songs in the first place.

"Your songs make me feel like that," Louis finishes.

Harry's kind of given up hope of it all paying off, at least not anytime soon, but this - this comes pretty close.

*

It's not anywhere fancy or anything, but Harry still feels really self-conscious. He has a genuine fear that some teenage girls are going to mob them at any time, or paparazzi are going to appear from under the tables or something.

Louis seems totally calm about everything, though. Maybe he doesn't get it yet, this sudden fame that's been thrust upon him. Or maybe he's just too nice to be bothered by it.

He just smiles across him as they order, and there's something in it that makes Harry feel really relaxed. And for a while, he's not sitting having lunch across from Louis Tomlinson, national pop sensation; he's just talking to a guy he met at one of his gigs, a guy who likes his music and isn't put off by his personality. Not just yet anyway.

"I was kind of in a bad place for a while before I auditioned," he starts explaining. "And one day, I just clicked on some random video someone posted on my wall. And it was one of your acoustic videos. And I realised I just had to do something. Or I'd go crazy."

"So, basically, I saved your life," Harry says, half-jokingly.

"Yes," Louis says, and it's completely sincere.

*

Harry tells him a lot of stuff he's never told anyone. Well, apart from the people who were there. How high school sucked, how it felt like this trap he'd never get out of, how he knew he just had to do something about it, too. Louis nods, and Harry can tell he can truly relate.

When he gets to being signed, he says, "I thought it was just a fluke or something. I still think that, sometimes."

"You worked really hard to get here," Louis says, like he knows. Like it's an absolute truth.

"But it's just..." And he's probably going to regret saying any of this. "There's so much talent in this country. I mean, you know. You've seen it. Thousands and thousands of people queuing up, dreaming of getting their big break... How many of them do?"

"Harry..."

"Do you ever wonder why you?" And this is it. This is probably when Louis's going to realise he's not really that guy who wrote those songs that are so full of clarity and conviction. That he's bitter and awful and actually so, so conflicted. About what he wants. Who he is, who he wants to be. It's not entirely his fault though, because sometimes the world gives you these explicit choices, and you can either be on one side of the line or the other. There's no middle ground.

Louis's on the other side.

He just sighs, though, before he says, "Every day."

*

Louis calls him again, and Harry can tell something's changed, something's shifted or maybe fallen into place. Maybe they see each other clearer now.

"Hey, want to go for a walk or something? Sightsee? You can show me around this grand metropolis of yours?"

Harry bites his lip to not smile at the phone like an idiot.

"Yeah, sure. I'll get my tour guide shirt."

*

They end up just walking around aimlessly, commenting on buildings in fake-posh accents, though Louis tells him his real accent is pretty posh as it is.

They end up at a small park, watching some kids play footie.

"I like this place," Harry says, and Louis just looks at him strangely before he sits down on a bench next to him.

"What?" Harry asks.

"Nothing. You're just...surprising sometimes. It's hard to read what you're thinking."

"While I can pick up a magazine and find out everything about you," he teases him.

Louis doesn't respond though. It's a weird kind of silence before he speaks again.

"Did you ever, you know, think about auditioning?" It's a bit cautious.

"A couple times," he admits. "But I guess I wanted to make it on my own. Or fail on my own, I guess."

"Your pride is going to be the death of you," Louis says, and he means it.

"Yeah," Harry agrees. "Yeah."

*

Louis's just in town for a couple days, doing promotional stuff, signings, interviews.

Usually, Harry takes a long time to warm up to people. But this feels like an accelerated, almost intense, start to a friendship. And maybe it's because of the world he lives in now, everything fast-paced and transient. Maybe relationships have to keep up with that too.

Either way, Louis calls him whenever he has downtime, whether it's to meet up or just to pass the time between interviews, making fun of the stupid questions they asked him.

"They asked me what I thought about people wanking to my songs."

"What did you say?"

"That it was the best compliment I could get. I mean, I only wank to the best stuff."

"Yeah? So have you ever wanked to any of our songs?" Harry asks, honestly curious.

"Yeah, absolutely. All the time," Louis answers, his tone not faltering for a second.

"I think Niall's been getting off to your voice for, like, months," Harry says seriously.

Louis laughs really loudly at that though.

*

Maybe it's way too forward, but he feels like he has this weird connection with Louis now. He feels like Louis understands what he's been trying to say, what he feels like he's been screaming at the top of the lungs without anyone really hearing, for years and years.

"It's, um, some of our new stuff. They're really rough right now, but I just wanted to maybe see what you thought?" He's starting to think this is a mistake when Louis doesn't respond immediately.

He just stares at it like it's something rare and precious. "No way. You're giving me this?" he says looking up at him, eyes wide with disbelief.

"They're really not that great," Harry says, threatening to go red.

Louis looks like his day is made though.

*

Louis sends him messages throughout the day while he's at his interviews and photoshoots and whatever else a big-time pop star like him has to do.

your voice sounds so great on track 3 wow

fuck, the end of 5 is gorgeous

He kind of can't stop reading them over and over.

*

Harry's sitting on the living room floor, trying to figure out the bridge of this one song that just keeps eluding him. He knows what he wants it to be, but it's just not getting there.

Niall comes in, looking at him in that suspicious way of his when he's sure he hasn't caught on to something but doesn't know what it is yet.

"Don't hurt yourself, love," Harry says, not bothering to look up.

"So, you...and Louis. What is that about?" It's taken him a long time to ask. Maybe he's been waiting for Harry to bring it up. Or maybe he's just as confused by it as Harry is.

"I don't know," Harry says, plucking some random strings, hair falling into his eyes, blocking Niall's face from his view.

"No, seriously," Niall says, looming over him now, apparently trying to be intimidating.

Harry sighs, puts down the guitar, looks up at him.

"He just likes our music," he says, shrugging.

"Bullshit. I was looking at him during our show, you know. He couldn't keep his eyes off of you."

"He doesn't even know me," Harry protests.

"I think he knows a lot more than you'd like to think," Niall says ominously.

It has to be hard to keep a hold of your soul when you give it away every night, to strangers, to people who don't care, to people who hold onto it for you.

Harry didn't know how to stop staring at Louis either.

*

It pretty much feels like hitting rock bottom. He's been trying to deny it, but it's been a long time coming. They didn't do enough. They're not good enough. Harry can't look at Niall and the other guys who are going through similar phases of realisation.

He just really needs to be alone for a moment.

He locks himself in the bathroom. He perches on the edge of the sink for a while, surveying the shower and wondering if it's possible to drown yourself in there.

It's his greatest fear come true. They're right back where they started. All their hard work down the drain. Everything Harry's wanted for years and years slipping even further from his grasp.

Then his phone is ringing, and his sight is kind of blurry as he looks down at the display, and fuck, it's Louis.

He must sound as emotionally drained as he feels, because Louis asks, "Hey, what's wrong?" almost as soon as he answers.

"We got cut from our label." It just comes out of him in a flood, and it's real now. The failure's real, and he's saying it to Louis fucking Tomlinson, and it should feel worse than this, but now it's just a dull throbbing underneath the numbness.

"Oh, Jesus, Harry. That's...that's awful. I'm really sorry," and it's so, so genuine. It kind of makes him angry how earnest he is, just all the fucking time. He really has no reason at all to be nice to Harry, or to any of them, and Harry's always needed reasons to care about people, so he doesn't get it.

"So, uh," he starts awkwardly. "I guess I can't meet you tonight. I just...I need to figure some things out. And I'd be shit company right now anyway. Sorry." He feels guilty suddenly, burdening him with his own shit when they were just having fun, when Louis isn't even really his friend yet.

"Oh, yeah. No, it's fine," he says quickly. "It's fine. Do what you have to do."

They're just silent for a while, and Harry thinks about hanging up, but then Louis' voice is coming over the line again, almost desperate.

"Hey, wait. I know you're just going to wallow in self-pity, and that's not a good idea. Trust me." And Harry does. It's kind of stupid of him, but he does. Even though Louis doesn't actually know anything about him, or his life. But maybe he knows the important parts, like Niall had said.

"So, if you don't want to go out, how about you come to my hotel?" he continues and he sounds like he thinks he's going to get shot down but he's trying his luck anyway. "We can, I don't know, eat ice-cream and watch rom-coms and paint each other's nails?"

Harry can't help but laugh. Being alone with Louis actually sounds perfect right now. It should be kind of troubling that he's only known him for a few days, but his presence is already so familiar and comforting.

"Can we having a pillow fight too?" he asks, fake-excited.

"Will you come?" Louis asks, hopeful.

"Yeah, okay." There hasn't been a lot of good things in his life lately, but he's starting to think maybe, just maybe, Louis's one of them.

*

So, it's kind of crazy that on the night they get dropped, he's standing at the the door of a pop superstar's posh hotel suite.

"Hey, come in. Make yourself at home."

It looks like he's hurriedly cleaned the place up by throwing things haphazardly into the less conspicuous corners of the room.

"Not too shabby, Tomlinson," he comments, sitting down on the couch.

Louis sits down next to him, and he looks like he's torn between asking a million questions and reaching out and hugging him.

Harry wants to tell him that he's not here for pity. He just wants a distraction from his sucky life.

"So, what are we watching?" Harry asks. He picks up a DVD from the coffee table. "Ooh, Princess Diaries."

Louis' face kind of falls for a second, but then he smiles, says, "Yeah, whatever."

*

Harry wakes up to Louis' snoring. He looks over and the entire bowl of popcorn is pretty much occupying Louis' lap now.

He starts giggling so loudly that Louis jerks awake.

"Ah, crap, I'll clean this stuff up tomorrow. We should go to bed."

Louis gets up, but Harry just shifts his position on the couch awkwardly and doesn't look at him.

"Oh, come on, the bed is huge."

"I'm fine here," Harry insists.

Louis sighs, and ends up grabbing his arm, and half-dragging him to the bedroom.

He leaves him in there and goes back to turn off the TV and the lights.

When he returns, Harry's just standing in the dark near the foot of the bed, waiting for him. He doesn't know exactly what he expects. He just knows that he's tired of being alone, tired of thinking so much about what he wants but being too scared of failing to actually do anything about it. There's a sick part of him that's relieved that it didn't work out, because he knows that he'd probably fuck it all up eventually anyway.

Finally Louis says what he's probably wanted to all night, what Harry's being trying to not hear during all their silences. "You know, I could - I could give your songs to someone - I could -"

"No," Harry says sternly. "I don't want anything from you."

"Are you sure about that?" Louis says, so quiet, quieter than he's ever been. He steps closer, kind of hesitant at first, but then Harry just lets his guard down completely, lets all the walls he's built up fall.

"No," he whispers, just a release of heavy breath, and Louis is standing so close now that he can probably feel the vibration on his lips.

Louis' hands finally reach his waist, and he walks him backwards to the edge of the bed. They fall onto it in a tangled heap. Louis just hovers over him for a second, knees bracketing his hips, staring down at him. Harry stares right back, not blinking.

When he kisses him, Harry just leans his head upwards into it, the rest of his body moving instinctively in one wave-like motion, arching up against Louis.

"Fuck," Louis says when he pulls away, like it's suddenly overwhelming, so much heat and desperation and need between them.

Harry take the opportunity to flip him over then. He sucks a bruise into his neck, hands finding their way under his shirt, and Louis is breathing so hard beneath him, just wanting, wanting so much. Wanting as much as Harry does.

It feels good, to stop thinking and start taking.

*

Louis gets an early wake up call, because he's on some radio show or the other that morning. Louis kisses his cheek, and then rolls out of bed. Harry can hear him padding to the bathroom, hears the shower doors slide open then shut, hears the water start running. Louis starts singing some stupid song and he can't help but smile. He has to bury his face in the pillow to stop.

He just lies awake listening to the sounds of Louis going about his routine, acquainting himself with them, wondering what it'd be like to have this all the time. He's never really thought about that with anyone else before.

Then Louis is looking down at him, dressed, sunglasses on and phone in his hand.

"I'll be back in a couple hours. Don't just run out on me, okay?"

"Okay," Harry promises, but he's not sure if he can keep it.

*

He thinks about getting room service, but freaks out in the middle of ordering, and just stops. He thinks about where he is, what he's done, everything that's happened in the last twenty-four hours. He thinks about what Louis probably sees him as now. Someone with a lot of potential. Someone that could be something in the future. But right now...right now he's probably just a pity-fuck with low self-esteem. And he appreciates Louis being nice to him, he really does, but they're both really fucking deluded if they think any of this is real. Aren't they?

He doesn't allow himself to answer the question. He puts down the phone, gathers all his clothes, finds his left shoe where it ended up under the bed.

He calls Niall to pick him up a fair distance away from the hotel. He's pretty sure it's obvious he's doing the walk of shame, but he really doesn't care.

As soon as he gets in the car, he knows Niall can tell everything that's happened.

"You're such a mess," he says.

"Just drive."

*

He doesn't know if he expects him to call or not. Maybe he'll take the hint.

But being Louis, he doesn't.

"So are we talking or deflecting today?" he says dryly when Harry picks up.

"I'm sorry. I just - I have to go home for a few days. To my parents', I mean. And I don't know when I'll be back."

It's probably easier this way. Probably easier to just lose touch because of the way their lives have to go right now, instead of something more complicated, something messier.

"Yeah, yeah," Louis says. "I get it. You have things to sort out. And I mean, we've both been touring and stuff. We can't just - yeah."

Harry kind of wants to say, Yeah, you're touring out of five star hotels and I've been touring out of a smelly, old van. And that's the problem.

"Who knows?" Louis is saying. "Maybe our paths will cross again."

"Yeah," Harry says. "Maybe."

Maybe if the universe is really intent on screwing him over. Maybe if there's some luck left out there for him still.

*

He's been home for a much longer than he ever is, so his mum has taken to looking at him worriedly and asking too many questions. He's taken to avoiding her and spending most of the time outside in the garden. There's a swing under his favourite tree that's been there since he was a kid, and he's always written his best stuff there.

His thoughts are all disjointed and unclear now, though. He's always known how he felt about things, about people, in exact, precise ways. He's not so sure anymore. Not about anything.

*

He's thinking about leaving. Maybe tonight. Or tomorrow. Maybe he'll go to Niall's. Maybe they'll just get out of town fast. Maybe he needs a change of scenery, of pace, of mood, of something. He looks up from his notebook.

And Louis is standing a couple yards away from him.

He slowly gets up, walks towards him, wondering if he's hallucinating or something.

"Louis?" he says disbelievingly. "What - what are you doing here? You're supposed to be in Dublin. You have a show in -" He checks his watch. "Eight hours."

"Fuck it," Louis says, grinning.

"Fuck it?" Harry repeats, just staring at him.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. And then I ditched my tour manager, and I got on a plane out here."

"How'd you even know where - Niall, right." And he feels kind of stupid for a moment, caught so entirely off-guard. He's probably about to flee again. Like the coward he is, has always been.

"Why'd you come though?" Harry asks, because he just has to know.

Louis just laughs. "Jesus. You really don't know, do you?"

Harry gives him a quizzical look, trying to convey to him that doesn't know much of anything anymore. And it's all his fault.

"Harry, it doesn't matter. Not what happens tomorrow, or a year from now. I just know that I've never felt like this before about anyone. And I - I want to be with you."

"You want to be with me?" Harry echoes. He feels like the last few minutes have all been some ridiculous dream or something.

"Yes. Yes. And I know the timing is fucked-up right now, but when is it ever not going to be, so -"

"So fuck it?" Harry says, and Louis' smile intensifies even further.

"So fuck it."

They just smile at each other for a moment, and then Louis is reaching up to kiss him, one hand at the base of his head, tangling in his hair. Harry's still kind of smiling against his mouth, but then he pulls Louis in by his belt loops to kiss him properly.

They just rest their foreheads together when they pull away. Louis looks so happy that Harry thinks he wants to make him look like that always. He wants to keep his promise this time.

"How much trouble are you going to be in for this?" Harry asks when they're walking back to the house, hand in hand.

"Doesn't matter," Louis says, looking across at him so, so tenderly. And he'll have to get used to that, to try to not be too scared by the weight of it. "It's worth it."