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always holding on to stars

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So this is his life now, A-list parties with supermodels and probably royalty and even Elton John, like, once. He thinks. (But it balances out, he guesses, because the night before he and Louis were in one of his friends' basement passing a joint around.)

It's pretty insane, that he's in newspapers and magazines and stuff now, with Louis, or sometimes even without, because people think he has that indie look that's cute and chic instead of the dirty hipster kind or something. So, yeah, he has fangirls now apparently. Which is more of a curse than a blessing, Louis likes to tell him. Mostly they, as a collective, as Louis&Harry or whatever unfortunate portmanteau they decide to use today, have fangirls.

It's kind of a lot sometimes. But, overall, it's...okay. He gets to meet cool, famous people (and sometimes bring Niall along, which is what he lives for), and go to cool clubs and restaurants and movie premieres and award shows, and answer all kinds of inane questions with Louis from interviewers, and get mobbed by fans occasionally, and deal with the paparazzi... It is what is it, really. And it could be much worse.

It's been six months and he's only now really getting the hang of these kinds of events. Louis has lots of friends at this one, friends he knows well enough, and he's sure Niall is around somewhere either stuffing his mouth with fancy finger food or chatting up a lingerie model (or probably both at the same time).

He still feels kind of alien around them though, like there's some very obvious mark on him that says he doesn't belong. He thinks maybe his feelings for Louis should make all of it more comfortable. But sometimes he thinks they seem to have exactly the opposite effect.

And Louis and Liam have these weird inside jokes that makes him want to watch every video of them on the internet so he can understand them (usually he just ends up asking Niall who seems to know every little-known fact about them).

*

Harry knows they have that curious kind of relationship that had a really rocky start and took a long time to become amicable but is stronger because of it. They hated each other in the beginning, they'd both admit. Not because of the competition, because they're not petty like that, but because their approaches to it - like life - were so entirely different. Louis admits he even tried to start a fight with him once when he was drunk. It was lucky he couldn't even see well enough at that point to land a proper punch, because Liam - trained in boxing which was unknown to him at the time - would've torn him to shreds. And then they would've probably both been kicked out of the X Factor house. Instead they just have a great anecdote and Liam likes to occasionally humiliate him by reenacting Louis' terrible fighting skills in front of large crowds (he actually did it the first time he met Harry; Harry thinks it was the only time he'd ever seen Louis blush).

Up until the finale, they were still slightly at odds, but when Liam won and his eyes filled up with tears, Louis had just looked at him and realised how much it meant to him. He'd just enveloped him in a hug, and Liam had clung on to him, and they'd both realised that they'd taught each other a lot, that they'd always been on the journey together whether they wanted to acknowledge it or not.

Liam's basically one of his best friends now. Harry was actually kind of suspicious about whether their relationship went deeper than that at some point (mostly because of Niall saying that the fangirls were totally into their whole love/hate story, and that such fiery passion is usually sexual in nature - which, just, what?).

When he asks him though, Louis just laughs and says, "Hell no. Plus, he's totally hot for Zayn. He pretty much called me every other minute while we were on tour to ask me if he'd mentioned him. Pathetic, really."

"Aww, that's kind of weirdly adorable though."

"You only think that 'cause you're a sap."

"I'm a romantic," Harry corrects him.

"No, I'm the romantic," Louis says smugly.

After that he tries (unsuccessfully) to sweep Harry off his feet and carry him to the bedroom. Harry just laughs in his face.

*

Looking back at the last (insane) six months though, Harry has to give it to him.

The day after he finished his tour, Louis had just called him up out of the blue and asked him if he wanted to go to Paris for the summer. Usually he'd refuse anything that extravagant from anyone, much less someone he'd only been seeing a couple weeks, but he'd already figured this relationship would be anything but ordinary and he'd best get used to it. If was going to live in Louis' world for any period of time, he'd better start getting acquainted with it fast.

"So how many people have you brought to France?" he teases the first morning they wake up together.

"Only you," he says, and it's quiet and honest, and Harry feels that weird chill he gets any time he learns something new about him, something that's for him alone.

They go for breakfast, and Louis just keeps smiling at him over coffee and croissants, and he holds his hand on the table, and it kind of feels like no one else exists, not in the entire world. Just them and this city.

The paparazzi do catch them a couple times though. And there's a lot of speculation as there's apt to be.

Louis looks kind of strange on the flight back, like he's straining to work something out in his mind. He's always so sure of everything, and Harry usually uses that as his own comfort, so he doesn't really know how to deal with this now.

He goes back home, back to the band, to trying to find a record deal (again, one that will stick this time, he tells himself, but nothing's ever certain - not even the one thing you always think will be -).

Louis calls, sounding strange and distant, but like he's made a decision.

"So, uh, I need to talk you about something."

"Yeah?"

"About - about making this official."

"What? Like Facebook official?" he jokes, because wow, this is a lot, and it's soon, sooner than he'd ever imagined, and obviously they've thought about it, they wouldn't be here if they hadn't, but it's still a big deal, even if it shouldn't be. It is because the world makes it into one. And it's so ridiculous - that if he wasn't who he was, if he wasn't Louis Tomlinson, they could just walk down the street holding hands and no one would give a shit.

"I - I've wanted to, for a while. And I have a reason now."

"Oh," Harry says. "Oh, yeah. Okay."

"Okay? You're not going to run off on me, are you?" And Harry can tell he's smiling that nervous smile, the one that's kind of heartbreaking and ridiculously endearing at the same time. The one no one ever would normally associate with him.

"Yeah...no. I won't."

There's an article in a really big magazine a couple weeks later. There's no mention of his name, just a new relationship that Louis says he's really happy about, but it's not long before the pictures from Paris are pulled up all over again. He holes up at Louis' London flat as the reporters converge on his building, apologises to Niall about a hundred times, although Niall says it's the most exciting thing to ever happen to him.

It blows over.

After the smoke clears, it's not bad.

Louis' fans are supportive, for the most part. Google searches for Harry's band goes up by, like, a thousand percent. They get a bunch of views on their videos, and it feels weird, yeah, but in a good, surprising way, not a resentful one. He's not doing this for fame or connections or money or anything trolls on the internet want to say about him. Maybe he loses a few fans. But they probably never really knew him in the first place.

They get signed about a week later, and it feels like everything coming together. It's definitely not in any way he'd ever planned, but sometimes the best things happen like that.

Louis's in the US when it happens and he kind of hysterically shouts the news down the line at him and Louis shouts back excitedly, and it's basically one of the happiest moments of his life.

*

When they get back to Louis' flat, Louis just toes his shoes off and tugs his braces off his shoulders before sliding onto the bed and making a content noise as he settles into a comfortable position. Harry just smiles before taking off his jacket and bow tie and gently lying down next to him. Louis instinctively rolls over to get closer to him, bodies practically moulding together as Louis mumbles nonsense against his chest.

"I wish it was always like this," Harry whispers against his hair and Louis nods slowly.

When they're together, it feels like the world around them doesn't exist. It's getting harder and harder to hold on to that feeling though.

*

The next morning, it's all over the internet that Zayn broke up with his girlfriend of a couple months (which is basically like a record for him, Niall says). Louis immediately calls up Liam, says, "Mate, this is your chance. Don't argue. Harry agrees with me." Like that settles it.

Harry laughs and yells out, "I do!" in the direction of the phone, arms curling around Louis' waist as he presses a kiss to the back of his neck.

*

They've both been recording, and although they try to spend as much time together, to go back to the flat as often as possible, it's still great to have a couple days off like the last few.

Niall's pretty much saying something to that effect, and Harry just nods distractedly.

"Did you have a good time last night?" he asks, because he figures he should.

"Yeah. Heard you didn't though," Niall says bluntly.

"From who? Not -"

"No, not Louis. He remains oblivious. Liam told me."

"Seriously? You've been talking about me behind my back? And how'd he know I wasn't having a good time?" It's probably a bit too defensive.

"Because he's not an idiot. And he's not blinded by epic love for you the way Louis is."

Harry sighs, defeated, before saying, "I just feel ungrateful. I mean, I know I don't owe him anything, but I feel like I do somehow. And I can't help feeling all of it's just so fake."

"It is though," Niall agrees. "But he's not. That's the important thing. And he'll get it if you tell him. That you don't want it or whatever."

"But it's a part of him. Giving it up means giving him up. And I can't - I can't even think about that." Harry grimaces, and Niall just pats his shoulder sympathetically.

*

When he gets back to the flat, it's pretty late. He figures Louis's already asleep, lets himself in quietly (and it's always weird, having keys to his ridiculously posh place, even though they'd decided that this was the best way for them to see each other as much as possible with their crazy schedules).

Louis's up and watching TV in bed though, but he looks tired.

"Hey, you didn't have to wait up for me," he says, shrugging off his jacket.

"Wanted to," Louis says, smiling contentedly at him.

Harry gives him a quick kiss before he goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth, gets ready for bed.

As soon as he gets into bed, Louis snuggles right up to him, their legs getting tangled up under the covers.

"How was your day?" he says, settling his head on Harry's chest.

"Mm, good. We're trying to take it slow, you know, careful. But I'm happy with what we have so far. What about you?"

"Oh, it's awesome. I heard this amazing new track today. It's - well, it's different. But you'd like it."

"A pretentious twat like me?" Harry teases.

"Yeah, even a pretentious twat like you. I think it's the direction I want to go in. I can't wait for you to hear it."

"I can't either," and he means it.

He loves how enthusiastic Louis is about music, and how loud and obvious that enthusiasm is. It just pours right out of him, his passion and excitement, and that's why people love him so much. Sometimes, Harry believes it, that music can bring the entire world together, that it can become more than what it was written to be because of all the different things it can mean to different people, that it can do all the things Louis wants it to. He's always thought of his music as this intensely private and personal thing - for himself, for people listening; it's like he's been singing to one, specific, nameless person his entire life, telling them his story, asking them to understand it and keep it safe - but Louis makes him feel like he's been selfish.

It's been hard, trying to let go of it, his reservation and caution, the way he always holds back too much, feelings and words and truth, but it's worth it. Worth it for Louis. Worth it for other people who can probably see into the soul of his words the way Louis did.

"So any news from Liam on the Zayn Situation?" he asks, trying to forget about other things, things he should be saying, at least for now.

"He says he called him up to 'offer his apologies,'" Louis says, air-quoting. "I think they're meeting for coffee tomorrow."

"Great. Keep me updated. Mostly for Niall. He'd practically die if they didn't get a happy ending."

"Like ours?" Louis asks.

"Mm," Harry agrees, closing his eyes, trying to ignore the slight note of uncertainty in Louis' voice. And maybe he's actually been noticing more than he wanted to let on.

*

Liam calls while Louis's in the shower the next evening.

"Hey, sorry, he can't talk. What's up?"

"Oh, that's okay. Kind of wanted to talk to you anyway."

"Really?"

"Yeah. But first - you can send out the mass texts that our first date, or whatever, went really well."

It's always kind of surprising how shy and awkward Liam can really be. You'd never tell from the way he performs, the confidence he exudes when he's in his element. But Harry knows better than most that those two personas rarely ever are one and the same. (Louis's kind of the exception to the rule.)

"Oh, that's great, man."

"Yeah, he said, uh, he said he knew it wasn't working out ages ago. But you know the press has been on him for apparently just using girls until he got fed up of them or whatever, so he stuck it out, and then...it kind of turned into a huge mess by the end."

"I guess that's how it usually goes," Harry says sardonically.

"Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of, you're not going to stomp all over Louis' heart, are you?" And he has to give it to him for cutting to the chase. Because Liam's almost unbearably polite until he has a reason not to be.

"I... I'd rather die than hurt him." His words come out kind of choked. "You know that. But you know how fucked-up things can get."

"Yeah, I know. I know a lot of people think they can handle it until they realise they can't. You just have to figure out if you're one of them. And Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"If there's anyone in this insane world worth it, it's Louis."

"I know that. I know."

"You make him really happy. I've literally never seen him like this." And Harry knows he's being completely earnest. Maybe that makes it even harder.

"Thanks, Liam. And if Zayn rejects you, Niall and I will personally kick his ridiculously gorgeous ass."

They laugh for a long time until Louis comes into the room and says scoldingly, "Hey, you don't get to have fun without me. I thought we agreed on that."

*

They go to the BRITs a couple weeks later, and his band's there which is really awesome, and Louis's nominated. He and Louis pose for pictures on the red carpet, and that's still really weird, but Louis keeps holding his hand the entire time.

He doesn't win, but Zayn picks up one, and when Harry looks over at Liam, he's smiling up at him throughout his entire acceptance speech.

*

The afterparty's kind of crazy. Both Liam and Niall are staring at him like they're wondering if he's going to have a meltdown or something, so he figures it's probably time.

"Hey, I need to talk to you," he says quietly. "In private."

"Okay," Louis says, sounding less concerned than he should be, really, and he grabs his hand.

They end up in the bathroom.

After making sure they're alone, Louis just looks at him and says, "So, is this about you having second thoughts about all of this?"

Harry bites his lip. "I guess I'm really obvious."

"I get it," Louis says, almost soothingly, and he takes his hand, and looks at him like he really understands, like he'd do anything to make it better (even though he can't, he can't) - and that just makes it worse.

"I knew what I was getting into," Harry says, shaking his head a little.

"No, you didn't. You don't ever really know."

"You said it didn't matter what happened. And I agreed with you. But it's just a lot to deal with. I feel like I'm letting you down somehow."

"God, Harry, you could never. You've been amazing. Even when you didn't have to be." He smiles at him, like he genuinely means it, like he wants him to believe it too.

"You should've picked Niall instead. He's great at this," Harry says and laughs dryly.

"You know why you're not good at this?"

"Because I hate bullshit?" Harry jokes.

"Exactly," Louis says, seriously. "You don't know how to be dishonest, you don't know how to not be you, and this - all of this thrives on lies."

"What about you?" Harry says quietly, head bent, not meeting his eyes, but stepping closer to curl his fingers around one of his braces before letting go again. "You're great at this."

"I do my fair share of lying. You know that. It's the game. And I hate it sometimes, but I'm honest when it matters."

"I know," Harry says, looking up at him. Then he pauses for a second before he says, "I love you, you know." It's the first time he's said it, and it feels right at that moment.

"Yeah. I love you too," he replies, smiling harder than Harry's ever seen.

"I'm glad I met you," Harry says, because he means it, because he's grateful for him for bringing real joy to his life, for making him revisit all the old dreams he had that he'd given up on ever coming true.

"You too," Louis says, brushing his lips over Harry's.

*

When they go back to the party, Liam and Zayn are tucked in a very private corner. Zayn's holding his hand as he speaks to him, standing really close and leaning in even closer. Liam's smiling as Zayn presses a kiss to his cheek, like a promise.

Louis reaches across to take his hand, and as he looks at him, he thinks maybe out of all the lies, there can still come some truth. Bright and shining and undeniable.