pining, invariably. (dangerbears) wrote,

sing along and it might just get you through (hs/lt)

title: sing along and it might just get you through
pairing: harry styles/louis tomlinson
word count: ~10,500
rating: R
disclaimer: hilariously untrue.
warnings: drug use. eta: i feel i should mention there are some extreme reactions to amphetamines and the way the entire situation is handled in this fic is purposefully clumsy – nothing is done the proper way, and if you or someone you know overdoses, please contact someone immediately. i obviously don't condone the use of hard drugs.
summary: AU. what happens when a northern indierocker stumbles across a teenybopper popstar in the middle of the street in manchester, basically.
notes: i don't know where this came from, honestly, but it was skylineeee's birthday yesterday and she's the ultimate homie for real and if i was going to write a fic for her, it'd probably be this one, so it's all for you, babe. massive thanks and huge love to the eternal soundingboard and longsuffering estuve, as always. this is pretty much an homage to pulp, and every pulp song ever written and also jarvis cocker in general. pulp's "common people" is directly referenced. have a listen or a look at the lyrics. big love to all of you. xx




It's nighttime. Louis likes that. His skin is overheated and his fingers are trembling and all that blue-coloured blood is rushing too fast, too too fast to be healthy. He stumbles off the kerb and rolls his ankle. Sweat prickles in the hollow of his neck.

He needs to ruin something.

There are pills in his pocket, little orange and white ones, ones Niall got in from the States. He's had five already. This was a bad choice, he knows. He's meant to save them.

"Special occasions only," Niall had said.

Louis doesn't have special occasions. He just makes them. Tonight could be a special occasion. It's nighttime and Louis likes that.

His phone rings. "Hello," he says, falling off the kerb again, landing on his ankle again. The hollow of his neck is glowing in the soft orange of the streetlamp.

"Where are you, Louis," Zayn says. It's not a question. It's not even a frantic statement. It's resigned. Maybe tired. Maybe Zayn is tired.

Louis is tired.

"I want to be called Champion of Death tonight," Louis says back.

There's somewhere he's meant to be, he thinks.

"You missed soundcheck," Zayn says. "You're on in an hour and you missed soundcheck and you're not here."

"Champion of Death," Louis says again.

Zayn sighs. "Is security with you?"

Louis thinks to the white and orange pills in his pocket. "Yes."

"Let me talk to them."

Louis smiles. He imagines blood dripping from his teeth, a grisly smile. Terrifying, maybe. He could terrify everyone, given the chance. He could shock the world. He could give them all PTSD. He could shock. Given the chance.

"Wrong kind of security, I think," Louis says, imagining the blood dripping to the ground, leaving a trail on the dirty street.

Zayn's quiet, until. "Fuck, Louis, what are you doing? You have thousands of girls waiting for you at the Apollo."

Louis could have bleeding fists, too. Blackened cuts over his knuckles, torn edges of skin surrounding the red blood bubbling up. Blood starts out blue, hits oxygen, turns red. Louis thinks it will be the opposite for him, at the end. He started out red, on fire, and slowly the oxygen gets cut off. He'll be blue again soon. But that's too comforting a thought.

Louis wipes his bloody knuckles on his trousers. There's no stain. There's never a stain. His bloody teeth are dripping onto his shirt. There's no stain.

The pills cause small bumps in his back pockets. He touches them with a finger that should be missing a nail. Pushes at one till it rises to the top. Holds it in his bloody fingers. The pill should be dissolving in the blood, just a mess of orange, white, and red. It's not.

He swallows it dry. He hasn't answered Zayn.

"I think. I think maybe. I think I'm not going to be there."

Maybe his ribs are broken, bones popped out of line, scattered between leopard-print blue and purple marble. Maybe one is pushing into his lung, his right lung. Maybe that's why it's so hard to breathe. He raises a bloody hand to his broken ribcage, pressing down.

It doesn't hurt. Nothing hurts when he wants it to.

Zayn's hung up on him by now. He smiles again, that grisly, bloody smile. It's all the same, it's always the same. Zayn's not his mother. Zayn's not his father. Zayn's not his anything. Nobody's his anything. Maybe his left eye is swollen closed, pushed out from his face into a distorted clay-model half given up on. His nose is probably bleeding, too, maybe broken.

"Oi!"

Louis peers over with his one good eye, because there is a loud voice and if someone's found him, they're going to be appalled at his state. No one wants a bloodied popstar.

"Oi!" The voice is closer now. "Hey, mate, are you alright? Shouldn't lay in the middle of the road, yeah? Gonna get run over."

Louis is confused, because maybe he has been run over. Maybe he's got tyre tracks over his thighs, his ribs, his face. Maybe he's been crushed flat by someone in their Land Rover. Maybe he's dead. He could be dead in the middle of the road. Why isn't anyone alarmed?

The voice is above him now. "Hey, you okay? Get up, yeah?"

"I am the Champion of Death, I think," Louis says.

The voice above him doesn't say anything for a moment. And then it says, "Oh, fucking hell. Liam! We've got a situation."

"What's up?" Another voice is coming. Louis thinks maybe this is purgatory.

Louis says, "I'd prefer hell, I think."

Two people are standing above him, staring down at him. One of them, not the first, but the second, says, "I think this is that kid."

Louis closes his good eye. They don't recognise him. No one recognises anyone covered in blood, no one recognises the mutilated. No one sees the before. It's always the after.

"What do you mean?" the first voice says.

"The kid that's playing the Apollo tonight, yeah? The pop kid? Louis something?" the second voice answers.

Louis is somewhat appalled at the state of humanity. If he saw someone dying in front of him, if someone's entrails were spread across a road, he'd probably not stand and chat around. But to each their own.

"What the fuck?" the first voice says. "This kid isn't playing the Apollo, I can tell you that."

"Let's get him inside, I guess. We can't just leave him here."

"We've got a show to play, Liam. I'm not gonna worry about some bubblegum teenybopper. I've got rent due."

"Dante didn't say anything about rent. I read that book," Louis says. It's a wonder he can get the words out, with his teeth sliding into his throat and blood choking down his esophagus. It's a wonder, but then, he's heard that before.

"Fucking christ," says the first voice, the skeptical one.

"Yeah, okay, Harry, we've gotta get him up. Grab his left side," the second voice says back.

"No," Louis says. "Wait," Louis says. He wants to warn them about his punctured lung, the fragments of bone digging into it. He wants to warn them their hands might slip on the blood. He wants to warn them.

He's carried into a pub. It's hot and loud and he's carried past the heat and the noise, quickly. He sees them all staring, all of them, always staring. He sees camera flashes, always. He wonders if his intestines are on display. He wonders if they see the bones sticking out from his skin. He wonders if they see all of it.

He's dropped onto a grimy couch in a grimy room in the back of a pub. "My pancreas has burst," he says into the room. It's too bright in here, but Louis is sure at least four lightbulbs are out. There are no camera flashes.

"I'm pretty sure it's not, mate," the first voice comes from near his ear. A boy is kneeling next to the couch, and he has green eyes and a lot of hair. Louis studies him with his one good eye.

"I want to scare them," Louis says to him.

The boy's eyebrows draw together and he glances toward the door again. Louis glances too. There's no one there. The boy looks back at him. "Alright," the boy sighs. "What have you taken?"

Louis laughs, then, and shows the boy all his bloodied teeth. He thinks three are missing. The blood slicks his throat. He could sing well tonight, words sliding from his mouth, greased by the blood from his teeth. He wants to sing, suddenly.

"I will sing for you," he says to the boy. "What is your name?"

"Harry," the boy says. "Look, I have to get onstage, yeah? Is there someone I can call? Like, to come get you?"

"Onstage?" Louis says. "I'm meant to be onstage."

"I'm sure you are, love." Harry lets out a derisive laugh, sort of. "Okay, so, if I can't call anyone for you, will you be okay here for an hour or so?"

"Onstage?" Louis asks again.

"No," Harry says. "Here. On this couch. Don't take a blacklight to it."

"I want to be onstage. With you, I think. What do you sing? I want to sing. But punctured lungs aren't conducive to singing, I think," Louis says. He wants to reach out and touch Harry's face because it looks tight. Like a guitar string. Louis can't play the guitar but he'd like to try, right now, on Harry's face.

"What?" Harry says, and then big hands are running along his chest, along his sides, his ribs.

"Careful," Louis says, as they come to his broken ribs. Harry's hands slow, become questioning, caressing. It's nice, Louis thinks. Louis doesn't want nice. "You'll get blood on you," Louis says.

Harry sighs and then his hands are gone. Too much blood, Louis thinks. He wouldn't want to run his fingers through someone else's blood either. "I understand," Louis says.

Harry runs his tongue over his teeth. "Right, alright, okay, here's what we're going to do. Aiden's not showed up and we do need someone on backing vocals and, like. Fuck. Can you play keyboards at all?"

Louis thinks. "Are my fingers broken?" He can't remember.

Harry looks at him for a long time. A long time. Louis counts to eighteen billion and Harry's still looking at him. "No," he finally says.

"Cool. I can play keyboards." Louis smiles before he remembers his bleeding mouth. He wonders if, when he kisses Harry, Harry's lips will be even redder.

"Yeah?" Harry looks skeptical. Louis is used to that look. "It's easy. I'll write the chord progressions down for you. Simple stuff. You can sing whatever you want, just like. Make it fit. We're kind of noisy anyway. Just be loud."

Louis nods and sits up, feeling the bite of cold air in the gaping hole of his ribs. "Yes. Loud. Let's scare them."

Harry extends a hand to him and Louis takes it. Holds it. He looks up at Harry and Harry is looking down at him with a strange expression. Louis thinks it might be disgust. Louis isn't used to that. Skeptical, yes. Disgust, no. But then, Louis isn't usually mutilated. He'd be disgusted if someone so mutilated touched him, too. "I understand," Louis says.

Harry tugs at his hand and Louis lets go. He understands. He's disgusting. Harry already told him that with his pretty guitarstrung face. "Get up. Can you stand?" Harry says.

"Yes." And Louis stands. He pushes another pill to the top of the pocket of his trousers. His bloody fingers still won't dissolve it.

Harry grabs his hand again. Bravery, Louis thinks. "What is that? Fuck. Oh jesus shit, how many of these have you taken?"

Louis stares at their fingers. Harry's aren't staining red, they aren't red. His blood won't stain anything. He's so impermanent. It's good, he reminds himself. He can't break anything but himself. That's good, maybe. He wants to destroy too much, but he'll settle for himself.

"Liam!" Harry yells. "Liam, fucking hell, where are you?"

The second boy with the second voice appears in the doorway. "Oh. He's standing. Good. What's up?"

"He's out of his mind, fucking christ. He's on bennies and fuck knows what else," Harry says, holding the pill still in Louis's bloody hand out to Liam.

Liam arches an eyebrow. "We're on in ten. Leave him on the couch. We'll figure it out later."

"I told him he'd take over for Aiden." Harry pulls his lower lip into his mouth.

Liam's eyes widen. "Well done, champ."

Champ. That's right. "I am the Champion of Death," Louis says. "See all the blood? It was blue first, but we turned it red."

Liam narrows his eyes, now. "Bennies don't do that."

Harry shrugs. "Yeah. Alright. Go on, I'll sort him out, I guess."

Liam nods. "Don't let him on if he's going to die onstage. We don't need that."

"I haven't already died?" Louis says curiously. "I could have sworn."

Liam shakes his head, leaves. "Ten minutes, Haz," he calls behind him.

Harry lets go of Louis fully, now. He turns to the dimly lit counter and pulls out a small baggie from his back pocket. Shakes out a bit of powder. Cuts it with his bus pass. Louis can see the transit sticker on the front. Leans down and closes his eyes.

"May I have some?" Louis asks politely. "I'll try not to bleed into it." He wonders if his nose has stopped bleeding. He thinks now he's just excreting blood from his pores. He thinks he's turned inside out. Harry can see everything, now.

Harry looks at him. He shrugs again. He looks a bit distant. Seeing the inside of another person could be off-putting. Louis understands. "Don't die," Harry says. He cuts another line for Louis.

Louis says sadly, "If I haven't yet, I doubt I can." He leans down, breathes in. Fire races through him.

Harry rolls his eyes. "Okay, Sylvia Plath. Are you good to go?"

Louis smiles again, real now, heedless of the blood. "Always good to go, love."

*

The stage is dark. The lights aren't flashing, aren't neon, aren't blinding. Louis is unfamiliar. Louis keeps his eyes on Harry.

Harry glances back to him, to him on the keyboards, blood running down his fingers onto the white keys. It won't stain, so Louis doesn't worry.

"We're the Spiral Agnews. This is Undaunted Chivalry," Harry mutters into the microphone, staring down at his fingers on the bass. "Sing along if you know the words."

There aren't words, Louis thinks. There's some garbled screaming and some melodic moaning. There aren't words. Louis can work with that. He harmonises, takes the descant, wails along. He can do this. The blood slicks his throat.

Liam looks back at him, turns around with his guitar and gives him an impressed look. Louis thinks it's because not many people with broken bodies manage to play gigs. He's a champion.

After the fourth song – and, seriously, Louis can't tell them apart – Harry introduces the band.

"I'm Harry Styles, on guitar is Liam Payne, on drums is Matt Cardle, and filling in for Aiden on keyboards is our very own Champion of Death."

There are dozens of eyes on him now, and Louis is used to thousands so he smiles a bloody smile and winks a bloody wink and lets them look as much as they want. Mutilated popstars on parade. What a comedy. There are camera flashes now, always camera flashes.

There are four more songs and by the end Louis is spinning. His brain might be swollen. He thinks it is, he thinks it's expanding in his skull and soon there could be nothing but a mushroom cloud and a pile of rubble.

Harry's arm wraps around his waist and Louis is being led back to the room with the come-stained couch. He presses his lips into Harry's hair. "It's Chamberlain's fault, you know."

"What?" Harry mutters back to him, hitching his hand up Louis's side, pulling him closer, lining their hips up. Louis follows Harry's long legs with his eyes, tries to follow Harry's long legs with his own legs. It's hard, because they're broken, probably. Crushed under a bus. A bus Harry took with his bus pass, maybe. Full circle.

"If I die. It's Chamberlain's fault. None of it would have happened. Japan would be okay. You know?"

Harry doesn't say anything, and they've reached the room. Louis is led over to the couch and dropped. "Gentle, please. I'm broken," he reminds Harry.

Harry doesn't say anything, still. He turns to Liam. "What are we going to do with him? He hasn't got a phone, and it'd cause a national fucking scandal if we, like, gave him to the cops, yeah?"

Liam eyes Louis. Louis smiles prettily. As prettily as he can, given the circumstances of blood and guts and horror. "Can you take him? If Aiden's gone, you've got the extra room for tonight, yeah? We can figure it out when he's slept this shit off."

Harry looks annoyed, doubtful, and disgusted. Louis is used to two of those three and he thinks he might get used to the third if he spends more time with Harry. This is one of his less comforting thoughts and he tucks it away in his torn-apart chest.

Harry's saying, "What if this is just how he is, though? What if he's just fucking batshit? What if he kills me in my sleep? Christ, Liam, all he's been talking about all night is dying and blood and broken bones, and it's really fucking creepy."

"He's a popstar," Liam says. "He's super fucking famous and he gives interviews twenty billion times a day and twelve year old girls all over the world are obsessed with him. He's clearly fucking batshit. But I doubt in a murdering kind of way. Just let him sleep off the pills, yeah?"

Harry arches an eyebrow. Louis is enjoying this conversation.

Harry says, "You know a lot about him, mate. Are you sure you don't want to take him for the night?"

Liam rolls his eyes. "I've got cousins who don't shut the fuck up. Call me in the morning and I'll come by, yeah? We'll get this sorted."

"Yeah, yeah. See you, mate. Good show."

Liam nods. "Good show." He turns and leaves the too-bright room with the four lightbulbs missing.

Harry looks at Louis. "Can you still stand?"

"The bus hasn't stopped me yet," Louis says.

*

Waking in blood-curdling panic is status quo for Louis. This morning is no different.

Except this morning is different, because he's pressed against a skinny body and he's naked but for his pants and his body is aching and his eye sockets are dry-heaving and every ounce of blood in his body is pounding through his ears.

He jerks away, jerks up, jerks out of the bed. He stands in the middle of the tiny bedroom, the tiny bedroom that could be in fucking Norway for all he knows and he stares around, taking in the posters coating the walls and the clothes on the floor and the tattered sheets hanging over the window.

His hands are shaking and he can't make a sound. He sinks to the floor.

The person in the bed shifts over, turns. Slowly opens his eyes. Blinks. "Alright?" the person says hoarsely.

Louis stares up at him, pulls his knees to his chest. "Where am I?" Louis makes himself as small as possible, surrounded by the piles of clothing on the floor.

The boy rolls his eyes and sighs, sits up against the headboard. He's naked but for pants as well. Louis's stomach churns. He didn't. He wouldn't have. He's too careful.

"Manchester," the boy says. "What do you remember?"

Manchester. He played the Apollo last night, that's right. Louis closes his eyes. "I remember the hotel. I remember Niall giving me Dexedrine. I remember Zayn yelling at me." Fuck. He opens his eyes and gives the boy in the bed a scared look. "That's it. Oh my god. That's all I remember."

Louis's morning panic usually fades, because Louis wakes in panic every morning, because Louis is fucked up. This morning, the panic isn't fading.

"Right. I'm Harry. You were fucked out of your mind last night, laying in the middle of the road outside a pub. We took you inside so you wouldn't die, but I'm pretty sure you thought you had already. You played a gig with us. You weren't bad. You probably helped our careers. You probably shot yours to shit," Harry says, flatly.

Louis rests his head on his knees, focuses on breathing. Zayn always tells him to breathe more. Zayn is always here. Where is Zayn now?

"I need," Louis starts. "I need to make a phone call."

Harry raises his eyebrows and shrugs. "I'm not the cops. Make as many as you want. My phone's on the table."

Louis nods and scoots over, taking it with shaky hands. He dials Zayn's number, the only one he has memorised. It rings once.

"Hello?" Zayn sounds frantic.

"Zayn," Louis chokes out.

"Oh my god. Oh my god, Louis, where the fuck are you? Are you hurt? Louis, holy fucking shit, no, you cannot do this to me. Are you okay? Where are you? Oh my god." Zayn's breath is coming too fast. Louis wants to tell him to breathe, slowly now, love. In and out, that's it, you're doing so well, love.

"I... I'm in Manchester," Louis says, looking up at Harry. Harry rolls his eyes.

"Louis. God. Louis, no, god, I've been out of my mind. Where are you exactly?" Zayn's so panicked, and Louis's muscles tense.

Address? Louis mouths to Harry. Harry motions for the phone. Louis hands it over.

"86 Exeter Way, flat #3H," Harry tells Zayn, and throws the phone back to Louis.

"Who is this?" Zayn's saying. "Why have you got Louis? We have lawyers."

"Zayn," Louis says.

Zayn sounds close to tears. "Lou. We'll be there in ten. Don't move."

"Yeah," Louis says, and hangs up. He looks back to Harry. "Did we...?"

Harry laughs shortly. "No, mate. No. No, no, no. You just refused to sleep in the other bed and I got tired of fighting you. No."

Louis blinks a little. "Just one no would have done," he says. His hands won't stop shaking.

Harry smirks. "Get dressed. Your entourage should be here soon."

Louis looks around blankly. "Yeah. Should I like. Get your number? Like. I'm so sorry. I can make it up to you. However. Do you want money?"

Shrugging, Harry pulls himself out of bed. Louis looks away. "I'll give you my number. Who wouldn't want a famous kid in their phone?"

Louis pulls his lips into his mouth and nods shortly. He finds his trousers and his shirt. His shoes are half under the bed. "Yeah. Well. Thanks. For everything."

Harry quirks an eyebrow. "Like I said, I'm sure you helped my band. I can deal with your incessant cuddling. You're a bit morbid, though, mate. Wouldn't expect that from a bubblegum boy."

Louis lets out a hollow laugh. "Right. What's your band's name again?"

"The Spiral Agnews," Harry says as he pulls a shirt over his head. "Don't worry about it." He scribbles down some numbers on a receipt he finds on the floor and hands it to Louis as he walks out of the room.

Louis shoves it in his pocket. His fingers hit something round. There are three little orange and white pills.

*

Zayn is angry. Louis can tell. Zayn grabbed Louis as soon as he saw him, grabbed him tight and hugged him so hard, held Louis's jaw in his hands and cradled his face and pulled him closer and didn't let go for a long time, but now.

Now, in the car, Zayn is angry.

"I'm sorry," Louis says quietly.

Zayn shakes his head, keeps staring out the window.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Louis says quietly.

Zayn's hands are clasped tightly in his lap. His knuckles are white.

"Please, Zayn," Louis says quietly.

Zayn glances at him. "You never think, Louis."

Louis looks down.

"You never think," Zayn continues, "about how you affect other people. You didn't show up to a show, you scared me beyond belief, and you could have died. You could have died." Zayn stops.

"You scared me so much, Louis. You scare me." Zayn's looking back out the window and he's speaking so softly.

"Me too," Louis says and he's moving toward Zayn, across the slick leather of the seats. He presses his face into Zayn's neck. "Me too, Zayn. I can't. I can't do it. I scare myself so much."

Zayn breathes in shakily. "Okay. Okay, Lou, it'll be okay. What do you need? What can I do?"

Louis's hands haven't stopped shaking since he woke up. "I don't know. I don't know. I need – I need. I don't know."

Zayn pushes Louis's hair back from his forehead and kisses him on the temple. "Okay. We'll figure it out. Do you need a break? I just. After last night, there's already going to be rehab rumours."

Louis laughs a little bitterly. "I don't care. I don't care."

Zayn looks at him carefully. "Do you – do you want to consider rehab at all?"

Louis shrugs and presses farther into Zayn, gripping his thigh tightly to still his hands. "I just want to hide."

Zayn's arms come fully around him and Louis is pulled into his chest, halfway onto Zayn's lap. They sit like that, curled around each other, for awhile in silence. Louis closes his eyes and rests his forehead on the stretch of muscle and bone between Zayn's neck and shoulder, breathing in the remnants of cold sweat and panic. He presses a kiss there and Zayn's hand tightens on his waist.

"I'm sorry," Louis says again. "I'm so sorry. I never meant to do that to you."

Zayn exhales slowly. "We'll figure it out, love. We'll fix this."

The front of the hotel is surrounded by people – girls aged twelve and up and men aged forty and up, no one in between. The men hold massive cameras with massive flashes and the girls hold cell phones and signs. Louis tenses. There are going to be repercussions, he knows. He fucked up, he knows.

"Can we go around back?" Louis asks.

Zayn looks at the crowd of people, looks back at Louis. "I want to say yes, Lou, you know I do. But you have to face this."

Louis nods and Zayn grips his hand and the car stops and they step out. Everything goes silent for two seconds and then the volume amplifies a millionfold and Louis closes his eyes. He feels the pills in his back pocket. He remembers the blood dripping from his smile.

He keeps hold of Zayn's hand tightly as security weaves them through the crowd. There's so much yelling. So much guilt screaming at him in waves, so much nastiness thrown to him. Vitriol fills the air, thicker than Los Angeles smog. Louis holds on to Zayn through it, trusts him to lead.

"We're not answering any questions at this time," Zayn is saying. Zayn keeps saying it.

"We're not answering any questions."

Louis looks up as they reach the entrance to the hotel. He looks up and turns around to the sea of faces. The world explodes in a wave of flashing cameras. That's the moneyshot. Mutilated popstar on parade. What comedy.

*

They reach the suite and Louis's hands haven't stopped shaking. Zayn leads him to the bed and Louis pulls away, sits on the floor against the wall. Pulls his knees up to his chin and rests his forehead on his arms. His hands clutch at his elbows, trying to stay steady.

"Tell me what happened," Zayn says. "I've pieced together a general timeline, but you need to tell me what happened."

Louis breathes in, breathes out. You're doing so well, love, that's it. In and out.

Louis starts, "I don't remember all of it." He says, "I got some pills, some uppers, I don't know. I had some champagne. I had a bump or two. I went for a walk." He stops, looks up at Zayn. Shrugs.

Zayn rubs his hands over his face, presses his palms into his eyes. "Okay. From the gossip sites, what I'm getting is that you were found outside a pub, off your face. You were taken inside. You played a gig with some local post-punk industrial band? What the fuck, Louis?"

Louis puts his head back down into his arms. "I don't know. There was this boy. I woke up with him this morning."

"Fuck," Zayn breathes.

"He said nothing happened. He said I sounded good." Louis looks at Zayn pleadingly.

Zayn's face softens and he sinks down to his knees, crawls over to Louis. "Did you feel good?" Zayn whispers. He curls around Louis again, always protecting.

Louis feels himself almost relax for the first time since he woke up. This is Zayn now, just Zayn. This isn't Zayn, his publicist, his manager, his whatever-the-fuck. This is just Zayn and just Zayn gets him.

"I think I did, Zayn," Louis says hoarsely. "I think. I think I'm just so tired. Of images. Of questions. Of screaming girls. Of thousands of people. Of constant fucking speculation. I'm so tired of it, Zayn, and I'm such a shit for whining, but it's so much. It's too much for me. I never wanted this."

Zayn presses his face into the back of Louis's neck. "I know. Tell me what you want."

Louis snorts a small, cynical laugh. "I want to play shitty gigs in shitty pubs and scream nonsense and pound on an instrument and drink too much and just. It's all about feeling alive, now. I don't feel alive here."

"Okay." Zayn tightens his arms around Louis, pulls at him till Louis is turned to face Zayn. "Okay. I'll get you a month. I can promise a month. Will that be okay for now?"

Louis looks up through his lashes into Zayn's eyes. "Will you stay with me?"

Zayn's lips curl into a rueful smile. "You know that's the only way this will get approved, anyway."

"Thank god I tolerate you, then," Louis says and he rubs a finger over the dark half-moons under Zayn's eyes.

*

Louis sits in the corner, on the floor, hands curled around a glass of water as Zayn calls the label. He listens to Zayn's pleading, Zayn's temper-controlled demands, Zayn's frustrated shouting, Zayn's murmured bargaining. He listens to the pitch changes and the harmonies of arguments. He waits for the middle-eight of compromise, gets the bridge of raised voices on either end. The fade to black of cheap production.

"We got it." Zayn finally turns to him, eyes tired.

Louis smiles wanly. "What are the conditions?"

Zayn sighs. "We have to stay in England. They're renting us a flat in Manchester. No scandals. No appearances. We're laying low. Covert-op."

Louis considers this. "Can I join a band?"

Zayn looks at him. "No appearances," he says again.

"I won't be me," Louis contends.

"You're you even when you don't want to be."

Zayn and Louis grimace at each other.

"We'll figure it out," Zayn says, for the seventeenth time this morning.

Louis nods. "I won't be me."

Zayn smiles. "You're so shit at acting."

Louis looks into his glass of water. "You know I'm not."

"Yeah."

*

The flat is cramped and small and damp and in a shit part of town. Louis wants to laugh. He's being punished, he knows. And it's not even bad. It's not the worst they could do to him. Not the worst they'd be allowed to do to him, definitely. He's got a month of freedom with the only person he trusts. He's fine. He's going to be fine. There are two bedrooms with two full-sized beds. There's a kitchen with cracked flooring and a dirty stove. There's a living room with a couch and a small telly. There's a bathroom with a shower. There's not much else.

Zayn's disgusted, horrified by the way the label is treating Louis. Louis smiles at him. It could be so much worse. They drop both of their bags in one bedroom, giving up the pretence.

Louis has a month. This is approximately three weeks longer than he's had to himself in four years. He takes inventory: Louis has a month and a flat and number scribbled on a scrap of carbon paper and three pills and what's left of his sanity. He's got what feels a little bit like hope.

"What does hope feel like, Zayn?"

Zayn looks at him from the lumpy couch in their shit flat. "You're a twenty year old millionaire, mate. If you don't know what hope feels like, god help the rest of us."

Louis shrugs. "I feel like hope and dread are so entwined, I can't..."

"You're so fucked up."

"Yeah."

Louis pulls out the pills and the paper. He curls up in front of the couch, leaning his head back on Zayn's thigh, and sets it all down on the coffee table. Zayn says nothing.

"I just want some control," Louis says, "of my life."

Zayn waits.

"I don't even get to decide who I kiss, Zayn. Do you understand what that feels like? The most personal part of my life isn't even up to me."

Zayn curls his fingers in Louis's hair.

"I want to do this. I want to call this boy and see him and maybe kiss him and maybe play with his band."

Zayn's fingers tense. "Are you going to be careful?" he asks. It's a genuine question.

Louis waits for a moment, studies his fingers in his lap. "I don't know. I don't want to be."

"It's safer playing with fire, Lou. Fire doesn't have an entire team of lawyers and fire doesn't have you under an iron-clad contract."

Louis smiles. "Fire could also fuck up my face, and then where would any of us be?"

"Ah, yes. The moneymaker." Zayn's tone softens. "Will you listen to me if I say you're going too far?"

"I'll try," Louis says, after a moment.

"Then call him."

Louis picks up the paper and picks up his phone and stares at both. "He wasn't very friendly."

"You can make anyone be friendly," Zayn says simply.

Louis dials. They both wait.

"Hello?" comes a low, slow voice.

"Hi. Harry? It's Louis. The fuck-up from the other night?" Louis says.

There's a pause, then a chuckle, then Harry says, "Ah, yes. To what do I owe this dubious honour?"

"I – um." Louis looks up at Zayn briefly. "Do you want to get lunch with me?"

*

Harry agrees to meet him at a small pub down the road. Louis pulls on black trousers and a white shirt and Zayn laughs at him.

"You're not hardcore, Louis. No one's going to think you are."

Louis gives him a withering look. "I'm going for more of a Jarvis Cocker vibe."

Zayn laughs even harder. "When this all falls down around us, I'll always remember it as the funniest month of my life."

"Fuck off."

Harry's sitting at a booth in the corner when Louis arrives. He's got papers spread out around him and he's wearing black trousers and a white shirt. He looks rough and Louis looks pretty and Louis feels ridiculous.

Harry looks Louis up and down and then smirks. "Hello again," he says.

"Hello," Louis says, and sits down.

The waitress comes by. Harry nods to Louis. "Chips and a pint of whatever, please," Louis says.

Harry says, "The same for me."

"So," Harry says to Louis. "If this is a weird thank you and I'm sorry date, there's no need. We've got more gigs than ever because of you."

Louis bites his lip. "No. I mean, yes, sort of, like. Thank you for helping me, and I am sorry for my shitshow that was thrown at you, but. More like. Do you still need someone on keyboards?"

Harry looks surprised and then suspicious. "Is the little teenybopper going through a midlife crisis?"

Louis sighs a little, glances around the pub, and then back to Harry. He gives Harry a little smile. "That might be accurate, but like. I need something. I need this, I think. And you can say no. I totally understand you saying no. But I feel like it's this or jumping off a bridge, so."

Harry narrows his eyes. "So I can say no, but you'll jump off a bridge? That doesn't sound like much of a choice."

"No, you can say no, and I'll figure something else out. You're my first choice, though," Louis says.

The chips and pints come. Louis and Harry nod their thanks to the waitress. They're quiet until she's gone.

"Our demographic isn't exactly preteen girls," Harry says, "and we're not aiming to go that way."

Louis grins a little. "Me either, mate."

Harry considers him, stares across the table and just looks. Louis straightens up for a moment, aware of the gaze, and slumps back down. He's not fooling anyone.

"Matt and Aiden broke up and Aiden's fucked off somewhere; we haven't heard from him. We do need someone on keyboards, as it were," Harry says finally. "But Liam needs to agree and if you bring along a crazy train, we can kick you out."

Louis nods. "I can't be me. I won't be me. That sounds fine."

"What does that even mean?" Harry asks, skeptical.

Louis picks at his chips. "I need a different name. Different clothes. Different everything. I'm not going to be Louis Tomlinson, yeah?"

Harry pauses. "Are you going to get in trouble for this? I mean, not like I know anything about record deals, obviously, but..."

Louis laughs dryly. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I will. I don't care, though."

Harry narrows his eyes. "I'm not going to care for you. If you're expecting me to stand up for you or some shit..."

"No," Louis says firmly. "No. I want to do this because I need to do this. It has nothing to do with anything else."

Harry nods slowly. "Okay. I'll talk to Liam. We'll get back to you."

Louis meets Harry's eyes gratefully. "Sure. Yeah. Thank you."

"Whatever," Harry says, shaking his head. "You were good, you know. You were blown out of your mind and you were good. That bodes well."

Louis smiles, all self-deprecation. "I do know how to put on a show, mate."

"I'll bet you do," Harry drawls, winking. "We'll call."

Louis tosses down some notes and scarpers before Harry can say anything else.

*

Louis is attempting to cook Zayn dinner. Zayn is sitting at the counter, mocking.

"Do I boil the water before putting the pasta in?" Louis asks helplessly. "And the sauce, do I heat it, or, like... shut up."

"Oh my god," Zayn gasps out. "You're such a princess. It's adorable."

Louis makes a frustrated noise and empties the package of pasta in the pot. "Fuck off, it's not like you're Jamie bloody Oliver."

Zayn's still laughing. "I at least can make a meal an eleven year old can make, Lou, christ."

Louis's phone rings, suddenly. He wipes his hands on his trousers and turns to grab it off the counter before Zayn can.

He glances down at it. It's Harry. He bites his lip and looks up at Zayn. "Fingers crossed, yeah?"

Zayn rolls his eyes. "This is going to fuck so much up."

Louis answers the phone. "Hello?"

"Yeah, hey, Louis? It's Harry."

"Yeah, hey, how are you?" Louis says.

Harry says, "Yeah, fine, so, look, I talked to Liam, and we've decided you should come to a few rehearsals, yeah? Learn the music and see how it goes, alright? Before we give you a definitive answer."

Louis's mouth is dry. "Of course, yeah, that makes sense. When's rehearsal?"

"About ten minutes from now?" Harry says. "By my flat, just come to mine and we'll walk down there together. Can you get here?"

Louis is already across the flat, grabbing his jacket. "Yeah. See you." He hangs up and turns back to Zayn. "They're giving me a shot," he says.

Zayn smiles kind of sadly. "Good luck, Lou. You deserve that, at least."

Harry's smoking outside his flat when Louis gets there. He nods briefly to Louis and motions him down the street.

"How's the slumming going?" Harry says after a few minutes of awkward silence.

Louis almost grins. "Better than anyone expects of me."

Harry snorts a laugh and doesn't say anything else. They reach an old warehouse and Harry shoulders the door open. "We're squatting," he says, grinning wickedly.

Louis's hands are shaking again, this time with nervous energy.

Liam and Matt are there already, waiting. There's a rug and all the instruments are set up around it, the only thing occupying the massive, dirty room. Louis gazes around.

"Not what you're used to, eh?" Harry says. "Bet you've got studios across the world for this shit."

Louis shrugs. "It's never mattered."

"Right," Harry scoffs. "It's all for the love of music," he says, dripping with condescension.

Louis goes cold.

"Harry," Liam says.

"Yeah, alright, sorry." Harry rolls his shoulders back and picks up his bass. He gestures Louis over to the keyboards. After making significant eye contact with Liam and Matt, he says to Louis, "Join in when you can."

They start a familiar bassline. Harry mutters into his mic, "She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge..."

Louis's stomach clenches. He steps back from the keyboards. "Wait," he says.

Harry arches a mocking eyebrow. "Problem?"

Louis's hands are still shaking. He has three pills in his back pocket. His teeth could be bleeding. "I can't do this if you're going to be this way." He glances back at Liam, who's head is bowed. Matt's looking down at his drums, as well.

Harry meets his stare full-on. "Do what?"

"If you don't want me here, just tell me. Don't just. Make fun of me." Louis could have a broken rib, a punctured lung.

Harry eyes him consideringly. Louis could have a blackened eye, Louis could be turned inside out.

"Alright. Okay. You're right," Harry says, finally. He nods.

Louis steps back to the keyboards, blood pouring off his fingers. It doesn't stain.

*

The first gig is in another dark tavern, somewhere in middle Manchester. Louis steps up behind the keyboards, behind Harry, behind Liam. He's introduced as Ace Frehley, which Harry finds hilarious. Louis takes inventory. He's got his hair pushed forward, he's got one of Harry's ripped teeshirts on, he's got three lines of coke thrumming through his veins, and he's not Louis Tomlinson.

He screams and screams and he pounds on the keyboard and his fingers are bleeding now, bleeding blood, and it's staining, it's turning the white enamel red and he's alive. Tonight, he's alive.

Liam looks back, turns around with his guitar, solos at Louis's feet. Liam gives him an impressed look. I'm not even mutilated tonight, Louis thinks. He smiles, and it's not bloody. His teeth aren't stained tonight. There are a hundred people watching them, and Louis is used to thousands. He smiles and screams and his fingers are bleeding.

Harry thanks the crowd in his low growl, turns around and walks offstage. Louis, Liam, and Matt follow. Harry leads them outside, out the back door into the alley that smells like garbage, piss, and vomit.

"Good show," Harry grunts.

"Good show," Liam echoes, looking at Louis. Louis nods, twists his fingers in his trousers. His fingers are bleeding but his trousers are black. There's no stain.

"Fag?" a voice from behind him offers. Louis turns around. Zayn's leaning against the wall, trying and failing to hide his pride.

"Please," Louis says. He gives Zayn a small grin, trying and failing to hide his excitement.

Harry comes up to them, suddenly, grabbing the cigarette Zayn's offering. "Don't want to ruin your voice now, princess," Harry says. "I'm Harry. Are you the boyfriend?" he says to Zayn.

Zayn snorts and looks Harry up and down before arching an eyebrow at Louis. "Excuse me?" he says to Harry.

"All them popstar types have secret boyfriends," Harry says back.

Liam steps forward. "We're not all as rude as him. Sorry. I'm Liam." Liam holds out his hand to Zayn, as if Zayn's the goddamn prime minister.

Zayn smiles. "I'm Zayn. I'm Lou's friend," he says, shooting a look at Harry. Harry gives him a bored, skeptical look back.

"Cute," Harry says, and Louis rolls his eyes.

Zayn gives Louis a sharp glare. "I've never known you to keep your mouth shut like this, Lou," he says.

Harry snorts. "Bambi over here? Does he bite?" He throws an arm around Louis's shoulders. "Would never have guessed."

Louis pulls away, mouth pressed in a straight line. He looks at Liam. "Good show," he says shortly, and grabs Zayn's sleeve. "I'll see you at rehearsal."

"Bye, darlin," Harry calls after them. "Pleasure, as always."

"For fuck's sake, Harry," they hear Liam say. "Didn't know 'massive cunt' was written on your goddamn birth certificate."

Zayn turns to Louis and mutters, "That's the boy all this is about?"

Louis sighs and curls into Zayn's warmth. "I don't know. It's – I don't know. Different."

Zayn sighs. "Different meaning you want someone to be an arsehole to you, Lou? Because I can do that, and it won't run the risk of you getting hurt."

"No," Louis says. "Just. Different. He doesn't let me get away with anything. But he doesn't expect anything, either. He's just. Different."

"It looks to me like he expects you're some kind of rich kid slumming it," Zayn says.

"Yeah," says Louis. "Yeah, maybe. But I'm working on that."

*

He's on the gossip blogs. He's on the gossip blogs behind the keyboards of some unknown Manc band with his hair pushed forward and his shirt all ripped, but still. He's undeniably Louis Tomlinson.

"Even when you don't want to be," Zayn sighs.

The label calls. Zayn answers it, leaves the room for twenty minutes. When he comes back, Louis is curled on the couch and Zayn's hair is sticking up straight with too many stressed fingers clutching at it.

"Well?" Louis says, flatly.

Zayn shakes his head. "Let's just ride out the month, yeah? Enjoy it."

"Will I have a job at the end of the month?" Louis asks.

Zayn bangs into the kitchen and comes back with two beers. "Yeah, but we're going to have some serious grovelling to do. I played up your emotional distress and all that bullshit. Better to let it out in dirty old pubs with a dirty band than in between Top 40 hits at some O2 arena, you know."

"Right." Louis stares out the grimy window of his grimy flat.

"Hey," Zayn says. "Lou. It'll be okay."

Louis gets up and stands over by the window, rubbing at it with his sleeve. He pulls out an orange and white pill and places it between his lips. Takes a drag of beer. "Yeah?" he says. "Maybe it shouldn't be."

Five minutes pass, and Louis's blood rushes, rushes through his ears, in his fingers. "I want to see Harry," he says, suddenly. He turns back to Zayn, trembling on his feet. "I want to see Harry."

Zayn eyes him warily. "Do what you want, mate."

"Yeah," Louis says, and pulls out his phone. He walks toward the door, out into the frigid Manchester autumn.

"Yeah?" Harry says, when the ringing stops.

"Harry," Louis says, gripping the rail of the staircase. "What are you doing?"

"Making pot noodles," Harry answers slowly. "What's up?"

"Can I come over?" Louis asks, kind of frantic.

Harry says, "Are you alright?" like he doesn't really want to know the answer.

"Please."

Sighing, Harry says, "Yeah, alright, door's unlocked."

Louis swallows another pill with the last dregs of his beer and goes back inside. He grabs a jacket. "I'm going to Harry's."

Zayn just looks at him for a beat before saying, "Don't do anything stupid."

Louis laughs hollowly and shuts the door behind him.

The walk is freezing but Louis's blood is pumping bennies and beer and he feels fine. Good, fine, always the same.

Harry's laying on his couch with an acoustic guitar resting on his chest. He looks up when Louis opens the door. "So, what's the deal?" Harry says, focusing back on his guitar.

"Will you fuck me," Louis says, kind of desperately.

Harry's head shoots up at that and he stares at Louis, wide-eyed. "Excuse me?"

"I just." Louis thinks quickly, but his mouth is moving faster than his brain. "I don't know. I think my pancreas has burst."

Harry's eyes narrow. "Oh, are you fucking kidding? What have you taken? More of those magic pills?" He sits up and puts his guitar to the side, walking over to Louis. Harry's hand comes up to Louis's neck and he feels his heartbeat. "Christ, Louis, whatever you're going through, this is not the right way to handle it."

Louis grabs onto the hem of Harry's shirt. "Please, Harry," he grinds out, pressing closer.

Harry's hands fall to Louis's hips, holding him back. "What the fuck? No. No, I'm not going to fuck you, what the shit are you even doing?"

Louis closes his eyes and sways on his feet. "I think. I think I'm not okay." He stares down at his hands, at the blue blood pushing to the surface. His veins are getting bigger and bigger, and suddenly they burst right before his eyes, the backs of his hands splitting open, dripping down his arms, dripping onto Harry's floor. Maggots start crawling from the jagged runs of flesh, piling out of his body, onto his skin, mocking him.

Harry snorts. "Yeah, no shit." He pulls an arm under Louis's and starts tugging him toward his bedroom. "How did I get so lucky?" he mutters under his breath.

"Harry," Louis says breathlessly. "Harry, Harry, look at them, look at what's coming out of me." He holds his arms up to Harry's face.

"Yeah, Lou," Harry says, looking at Louis's face, seeming concerned for the first time Louis can remember. "Yeah, okay, let's take a lie-down, hey." He wraps an arm around Louis's waist and leads him down the hall to the bedroom, pulling him close. Louis feels himself collapsing, feels the bones of his ankles splintering under his weight, feels the skin of his face melting and bubbling; acid burns.

"Harry." Louis is laughing now, leaning into Harry's body, relying on him to hold him up. "Harry, it's all happening." He laughs as the skin melts off his jaw – he'll always be smiling now.

Harry's arm tightens around him as they enter the bedroom. He pushes Louis over to the bed and lays him down, tucks a hand to the back of his neck like Louis is an infant. "Louis, can you hear me? Louis. Christ, Louis, you cannot take uppers if this is how they affect you, you hear me?"

Louis is laughing, still. He reaches out, and his split-open hand finds the softness of Harry's hair. "God, you're beautiful. You're the first person I've ever disgusted besides myself," he says.

Harry's brow furrows. He brings his hands up, again, checking Louis's heartbeat. "Okay, love, just relax. Just breathe now, try to sleep, alright? Let's sleep it off."

"Stay with me. You don't have to fuck me," Louis says. "I wouldn't want to either." He tugs on Harry's hair minutely, before stroking his hands down his cheeks, his neck, his ribs, grasping onto his hips. "Stay, okay?"

Harry bites his lip. "Should I call, like, Zayn or something?"

Louis curls into himself, holding his liver inside with his thighs. He giggles. "Stay here now."

After a cautious glance around the room, as if he expects to be seen and mocked, Harry sighs and lowers himself onto the bed, pressing himself close to Louis.

Louis turns into him, tucks his hand into the dip of Harry's lower back. Harry's hand comes up to rub soothing circles into Louis's hip, pushing his shirt up to get at skin, and Louis moves his hand, as if he has permission now, under Harry's shirt, right up to his unbroken ribs, sliding his fingers over the ridges.

"Thanks," he murmurs, as his eyes slip closed.

*

Louis wakes up in Harry's arms and he's almost happy until he remembers. He begins to pull away, embarrassed, but the strong arms around him hold him still. Harry's looking down at him with dark green concern.

"I want to talk about this," Harry says.

Louis groans. His head is pounding and his tongue feels like a lumber yard and his limbs feel like they've been torn off and reattached haphazardly.

He says, "Talk about what?"

Harry sighs and his grip on Louis's body slackens. He rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. "About why you feel the need to fuck yourself up in the worst way."

Louis closes his eyes again. If he goes back to sleep, it'll all be over. Harry will forget about this brief window of caring and go back to whatever level of disdain he seems to revel in.

"Louis, you need to talk about this," Harry says.

"I don't," Louis contends, like a five year old.

"Okay." Harry sounds half-determined, half-resigned. "Okay, then I'm going to say what I think and you correct me if I'm wrong, yeah?"

Louis stays silent. He's one hundred percent sure he doesn't want to hear this.

Harry starts, "Alright, so I obviously have never had a record deal, and I've never been under contract with any major label, so this is all speculation, right, but I assume that being a normal kid who has to appeal to the squeaky-clean standards of what a popstar should be is a bit trying, yeah? So I'm thinking you're gay and I'm thinking you're tired of presenting this image of yourself that's inherently false? You're tired of being some sort of puppet to forty year old men who are out of touch with reality."

Louis makes a soft noise and rolls to his other side, his back to Harry. He doesn't need to hear this right now. He doesn't want to hear this, ever, especially from some kid who doesn't give a fuck about him. Who doesn't know him.

Harry rolls over too – Louis feels the bed move. He feels Harry press up behind him, spooning around him. He feels Harry's arms come around his middle, elbow resting on his stomach and open palm resting above his heart.

"And," Harry continues, "I think you saw for a second, that night the other week, what it was like to let go of all that and be someone else. Be someone not yourself, but not in a bad way; in a freeing, sort of animalistic way, yeah?" He pulls Louis closer into his chest.

"And that's okay, Louis. It's okay, what you're doing, this escapism thing. I've given you a hard time, like. Well. I've been a dick, yeah, but I mean. I get it, okay? Like, I get it. I've been having a hard time with the whole poor little rich kid thing, but I do get it on some level. But you're not helping yourself, you're not helping anything, by popping those shitty pills and losing your fucking mind." Harry's whispering now, dripping his words straight into Louis's ear, all raspy and breathy low voice, and his hand is rubbing circles into Louis's chest and Louis is having a very hard time not beginning to cry.

"Why do you care?" Louis asks. "You don't care." He's fighting so hard to keep his voice even, to keep himself from relaxing into Harry. He's clinging to the one thing he's sure of: Harry doesn't care.

And Harry sighs and presses a light kiss to Louis's neck, right over his finally even pulse, and he says, "I'm sorry I let you think that."

"What?" Louis says, finally turning toward him, saying fuck it, letting Harry see what's written all over his face. "What? You don't. I've not given you anything to care about. All I've given you is some pathetic, strung-out, rich kid."

Harry rolls his eyes and smiles sort of uncertainly. "It turns out it's pretty hard not to be endeared by you, Lou, even when you're a complete mess."

Louis pulls away now, shaking all over again. He's not going to be sucked into this. He's not going to be pulled into Harry's sudden change of heart, he's not going to let himself hope, because hope and dread are far too entwined. He's not going to let himself get hurt. Zayn's voice echoes in his head, you're going too far, too too far.

"Okay," Louis says, standing. "Okay. I should go."

Harry's smile fades rapidly. "Wait, Louis–"

"I'll see you at the gig tomorrow," Louis calls over his shoulder, letting himself out of Harry's flat.

It's somewhere close to midnight, now, and Louis walks back to his shit flat in his shit part of town, shoulders hunched against the cold. He realises he left his jacket at Harry's. He doesn't care. His skin isn't split open anymore, that's enough to protect him. He wonders, idly, how many times he can be actively rejected by one boy before he earns the title of Complete and Total Tool.

He avoids Zayn that night. He sleeps in the unoccupied room, the cold bed. He's still coming down, he's still shaking, he's still bleeding – minorly, now; just from his eyes.

*

Louis gets up an hour before the show, around 9pm. He gets up and he showers and he styles his hair and he pulls on his clothes – pastel trousers and a tight teeshirt and braces.

Zayn's in the kitchen, muttering furtively into his mobile. He looks up as Louis walks in, eyes widening. "I have to go," he says into his phone. "No, fuck you, I have to go. We'll discuss this later." He hangs up.

"So," Zayn says.

Louis gives him an almost-smile and puts the kettle on.

"So," Zayn says again. "Are we Louis Tomlinson tonight?"

Louis laughs and it's empty, it's just noise. "Turns out I'm always Louis Tomlinson, mate."

"Yeah," Zayn says. "Are you okay?"

"Always." Louis smiles, a big, fake, TigerBeat smile. "I'm Louis Tomlinson."

*

"We're the Spiral Agnews," Harry mumbles to the crowd. "And this is Drunk on V-E Day."

And they burst into life, colours pouring from their amps, swirling around until Louis is drunk on it, high on it, high on it and nothing else, his body intact, and he feels inhuman, he feels separated from himself, from everything, he's screaming now, and Liam's looking at him, impressed, sober and still impressing, Louis is smiling at everyone, teeth bared and they're clean, they're not bloody. He's not bloody tonight. He's playing with fire tonight.

They blaze through their set, their grinding noise pushing through the thick oxygen of the pub, setting everything on fire, everything is fire tonight.

Harry leans back into the microphone, exhausted, drained, burning up. "Thanks, mates. We're the Spiral Agnews. I'm Harry Styles. We've got Liam Payne on guitars, Matt Cardle on drums, and it looks as though we've got Louis Tomlinson on keyboards."

There are maybe two hundred people screaming, and Louis is used to thousands. He closes his eyes and smiles.

Harry leads them offstage, out the back, into another alley. He grabs Louis by his shoulder, fingers digging into muscle, and pushes him back against a dirty wall.

"I'm not," Harry growls, "going to fuck someone when they're strung out on pills."

Louis's shoulderblades dig into the brick as he struggles to hold onto his balance, hold onto Harry.

"I'm not," Harry growls, "going to fuck someone when I think they're only interested in the rebellion of it."

And then Harry leans in and kisses Louis, all heat and frustration and fire, and his hands come up to clutch Louis's jaw, fingers pressing into the soft skin beneath the bone. Louis shocks into this, his hand coming up to rub into Harry's ribs, up and down, like he's uncertain where to touch first. Harry groans and presses him harder into the wall, pressing forward, and hand dropping down to grip his arse through his trousers.

He pulls away, breathlessly, saying, "How much longer do you have?"

Louis stares at him blankly, following his lips.

Harry tilts his chin up, forcing Louis to meet his eyes. "I'm not stupid, I know this isn't forever. How much longer?"

"Three weeks," Louis mumbles.

"Three weeks," Harry repeats. "Okay. It'll be worth it." He leans back in, gentler this time, and touches his mouth in soft kisses along Louis's jawline. "We'll make it worth it."

"I can't promise anything," Louis gets out, thinking of pills, of powder, of lawyers, of suits.

Harry shakes his head and kisses him on his lips again, shortly. "We're all fucked up here."

Louis nods and leans into him. They don't move, now, they just rest against each other, breathing shared oxygen.

After a few minutes like that, Harry whispers into his hair, "I like you better as Louis Tomlinson, anyway."
Tags: why is this my life
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