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needing is one thing (getting's another)

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It’s hard not to stare at your wrist when there is a small, futuristic, piece of metal imbedded in the skin there, like something out of a science fiction novel. Louis’ TiMER has never changed: four sections of dashes blinking the seconds away, completely blank until his soulmate gets their TiMER too.

He thumps his TiMER, as if maybe it’ll do something. Maybe there’s a disconnected wire or some tiny component that’s malfunctioning. He doesn’t really understand how they work apart from the whole “being powered by body heat” thing, which doesn’t even make total sense either. He feels like he should know more about it considering how long he’s had it.

“Does it feel like you’re wearin’ jewelry all the time?” The Irish one -- Niall, Louis’ brain supplies -- asks from his seat across the small fire they’ve got burning. It’s silly; they’re all sat here around a campfire, and none of them know each other. He’s the only one with a TiMER, he’s checked -- it’s a bad habit of his, really nosy on his part.

“Nah,” Louis grumbles, tucking further into his hoodie and hiding his TiMER under his sleeve again. “Feels weird at first, yeah, but after a while it feels like it’s meant to be there. Would be weird if it wasn’t now, I should think.”

Zayn grins, “Can’t wait ‘til we’re rich and famous, gonna get me one of them fourteen karat gold ones with diamonds around the edges, like Jay-Z.”

Liam laughs, “Jay-Z is probably my favourite rapper. Proper love, innit? How he went with Beyonce to get her a matching one and it went off directly after.”

They all smile and nod. It’s quiet for a moment and then Harry tips his head onto Louis’ shoulder and mumbles, “Do you think we’ll be that famous? Like, Jay-Z famous?”

Louis laughs, bringing his knees to his chest. “No way, absolutely not,” he answers, pulling a curl. “As if we’ll make it past judges’ houses.”

Zayn frowns and digs deeper into the chair, kicking at a log on the fire. Sparks fly into the air in a dizzying display. Louis catches Liam eyeing him with a sour expression and Liam looks away, picking at a piece of plastic coming off of his chair. He frowns and mumbles, almost shyly, “What if they made TiMERs for, just… like…. Nevermind, it’s silly.”

Niall grins and sits up, leaning in to warm his hands by the fire. “Oh, no, now you’ve got to say it, Liam!” Louis pretends he isn’t listening and pets Harry’s head a bit, looking down his nose at the ground between their chairs.

“It’s just dumb and really specific, I mean,” Liam says, frowning harder.

“Oi, come on then! Out with it!” Harry says, crossing his arms and digging his head into Louis’ shoulder when Louis absentmindedly stops running his fingers through Harry’s hair.

“No, really, forget about it!” Liam sighs, ducking his head.

Louis gives an exasperated sigh back and kicks the fire like Zayn had, hoping his shoe won’t catch on fire or anything. He quite likes his feet and he would quite like for them to be around long enough for him to make it to the judges’ houses.

“Fine.” Liam is watching him closely, Louis can feel Liam shooting daggers at him, and then he clears his throat, quick and quiet when he says, “Just, what if they made a TiMER for, like, bands?”

Niall cackles next to Harry. “What, like, all of Dave Matthew’s Band had TiMERs and ten or twenty of ‘em went off all at once?”

“Th-there aren’t twenty people in Dave Matthew’s Band,” Liam says, sort of shocked. Niall just shrugs and sits back in his chair. “No, I mean, like, when you’re musically compatible with someone and it would just -- look, I told you it was stupid,” Liam says and Louis can see the exact second before he’s about to shut everyone out forever.

But Zayn interrupts that moment, cutting off whatever it was that Niall was going to say. “I think, if they made TiMERs for bands,” he says, all slow, like he’s trying to choose his words carefully, “ours would all have gone off when we met at bootcamp.”

They sit quietly for a really long time, Liam glances over at Zayn, who gives him an encouraging smile.

“Cher’s would’ve gone off when she met Sonny,” Harry mumbles. They dissolve into giggles, Niall clutching his stomach and throwing his head back, Liam chuckling and Zayn smiling wide. Louis laughs and pats a frowning Harry on the head. “What, it’s true!”

“TiMERs weren’t made back then, love,” Louis says and then loudly adds, “Maybe you’re too young to remember.” Harry pinches him for that and, yeah, he probably deserves it.

“Thought you meant Cher Lloyd at first,” Niall says with glee. “Imagine Cher going to Sonny’s grave and her TiMER chimes.”

-

“Am I late?” Zayn asks, pulling Louis by the hand into a hug.

“Five minutes,” Louis answers, hugging him back. “But who’s counting?”

“Well, we are, right? Or I will be and you already are.” He taps his wrist, where a TiMER would go. Will go, that’s why they’re here. A spur of the moment decision in the middle of the tour, a free day between their two shows in Canada.

Louis tries to laugh but it comes out forced, “Right. Are you ready?”

“Does it hurt?”

“Like getting a tattoo, not that I remember, considering it’s been ages since I got mine.” Louis grins, pulling Zayn by the wrist into the small shop on the corner of a street in Toronto. He’s surprised they haven’t gotten recognised yet, especially with Zayn sleeping in (Louis can tell because his hair is sticking up in weird directions).

“Then, yes, more than ready, I’d say,” he answers, jiggling his arm in Louis’ hand, like a reminder.

Louis eyes the “ZAP!” and winces. “Well, not like that, probably. Don’t know, don’t have any tattoos. More like getting a piercing, I hear.”

Zayn rolls his eyes and uses his free hand to grab at his earlobe where it’s gauged. “Got that down too. I think you’re more nervous than me.” Louis definitely laughs too loudly at that and Zayn gives him a weird look. “What it’s not like our TiMERs are gonna line up or anything, that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?”

Louis lets go of his hand with a squeeze and claps Zayn hard on the back, “Weird. It would definitely be weird. Not that you aren’t a catch, Zayn, being a world famous popstar and all, but I don’t think I could bear spending any more time with any of you twats than I already do. I hope none of the others ever get theirs, it could be a PR nightmare, think of that.”

Zayn chuckles and bumps their shoulders together, mumbling, “Fans would love it though.”

“Just, what if it’s blank, like mine?” Louis splutters before he can stop himself.

Zayn’s face goes soft. “Is that what you’re worried about?” He swings an arm around Louis’ shoulder and they walk past all the different TiMER device options, to the counter. “Think I’ll end up an old spinster with a blank wristlet like you? Twiddling my thumbs, wondering if I’ve already met The One and missed her?”

Louis shoves Zayn, who laughs and tugs him closer. “Come on, mate, don’t worry about it. You’re happy with El, right?”

“Well, yeah, but her TiMER--” Louis stops himself from saying it, promised he’d stop thinking about it.

“Yeah, it’s already counting down, we know,” Zayn says, a little more serious. They reach the counter and Zayn grabs one of the fliers, leafing through it. “Look, you’ve gotta live in the present, mate. Not in the future. Your One will come along when the moment is right, I believe that.”

Louis rolls his eyes, shoving his hands in his pockets while Zayn scans the pamphlet. “Look,” he laughs and points to the list titled The Path Through Love. “Opposites attract, enemies as lovers, love at first sight, and friendship blossoming into romance. Different types of Ones.”

“That’s just a bunch of bull they feed you to keep you from getting upset if you aren’t happy with your One,” Louis says with a shrug. “They’re having a special today, look.” He points to the sign where it reads:

$79.99 - Installation AND Device! Just $1.99 a month!

Zayn ignores him and keeps looking at the flyer. “Isn’t it, like, guaranteed that I’ll like my One? Isn’t that the point?” He flips it over, reading the terms on the back.

“I don’t know,” Louis sighs. “Stan didn’t like his One at first, they fought all the time. But they’re inseparable now. Can’t get a hold of him without her being on the line too. Guess that falls in the opposites attract category.”

Finally, someone pokes their head around the back door. “I’ll be right there,” she practically yells, even though the shop is smaller than the hotel rooms they’re sharing tonight. She disappears again and Zayn starts humming, wandering around the store to see the different options he has for TiMERs.

Louis taps impatiently at the glass at the front counter, looking down at the most expensive looking TiMERs he’s ever seen, far fancier than his: they glint in the light, gold and silver -- a titanium one that he thinks Liam would probably like. There are thin ones with diamonds at the corners and thick ones with beveled edges.

He looks at his wrist, the four sets of dashes still flashing as the seconds march past. His is simple steel, a small and tight loop around the sensitive flesh of his wrist. The digital numbers look odd and squarish compared to the ones in front of him, the nice fonts counting down a demo in smooth curves and crisp pixels. His looks like one of the first digital clocks, it’s so ancient.

“Harry’d like that gold one,” Zayn says, suddenly close. Louis jumps a bit but looks down at the thin TiMER with a brushed gold frame. “It’s simple and understated.”

“It would match his necklace,” Louis comments.

A bit of noise and the small older woman is back, dressed in black trousers and a bright red shirt. A badge swings around her neck proclaiming “WONDERING WHEN YOU’LL FINALLY BE HAPPY? I CAN HELP: Amy Hamilton”. Louis scoffs.

“Hi hi hi!” She says and quickly crosses the store, her hand outstretched. She turns to Louis to shake his hand after she shakes Zayn’s. “I’m Matchmaker Amy, how can I help you today? Looking to see if he’s the one?” She asks, eyeing Louis’ wrist.

Zayn sort of chuckles and shakes his head. “Nah, just here to get one myself. He finally talked me into it.”

“Please, Jay-Z talked you into it in the tabloids before I even met you,” Louis complains.

Zayn shrugs and turns back to Matchmaker Amy, “Can I have a closer look at that row?” He points to a spread of white gold framed TiMERs.

“Ooh, big spender,” she says with a smile and takes the row out for Zayn to get a closer look. He picks one up and places it against his wrist as best he can with the security tag on it.

“What d’ya think, Lou?” Zayn asks, extending his wrist for Louis to see.

“I think you should get a giant one that takes up your whole arm, with a joint that swivels so you can still bend your elbow and flashing neon lights and gemstones everywhere,” Louis prattles on, bored. Zayn elbows him in the gut. “What? We could tell Harry you got the gemstones in honor of his sister, who you were hoping is your One.”

Zayn rolls his eyes and looks back down at the demos in front of him. Amy smiles, patient. Almost too patient and too smiley; it’s weirding Louis out. Finally Zayn picks up one with a slim white gold frame, a cluster of diamonds at the top, in the middle of the length of it.

“This one,” he says, placing it down and pushing away from the counter in satisfaction.

“Very nice choice!” She puts them back in the case and locks it. “Give me just a moment and I’ll get it from the back, if you want to follow me, I’ll show you to the installation room.”

They follow her through the door she had originally appeared from, and gestures for them to sit. Louis’ on a stool next to the reclining chair where Zayn sits with his wrist extended onto a small tray. Matchmaker Amy leaves and Zayn wiggles impatiently in his seat.

“Nervous?” Louis asks, flicking Zayn’s cheek.

“Look, Lou,” Zayn says seriously, touching at where his wrist would soon have a TiMER. “I’m really happy you came here with me. I didn’t ask the others ‘cause, well, you’re the only one of us that has one. And if mine is blank, I know you’ll be here for me and stuff, as cheesy as it sounds.”

Louis’ chest immediately aches and he reaches forward, grabbing at Zayn’s hand where it was drawing patterns into his wrist. “Zayn, I’ll be here for you if it isn’t blank. Either way. I’ll be here if you’re supposed to meet them tomorrow or if it’s when you’re an eighty year old has-been. You’re gonna be fine.”

“I know that,” Zayn sighs and then laughs nervously. “Just worked myself up over it last night, couldn’t believe I haven’t told Liam yet, or any of the others. He’s gonna scold me when we get back, askin’ why I didn’t tell him and wonderin’ if I’m mad at him or something.”

“Just cry a bit and tell him your wrist hurts and he’ll wait on you hand and foot,” Louis says with a reassuring pat.

Amy comes back then, a fancy black box in her hands. She sets it down and turns to the computer that’s across from them. “Just need a photo ID, drivers license or passport, and a credit card to get you started. Would you like to know the price of the device you’ve picked? I’m afraid it’s not the one that’s on special.”

Zayn grins and digs in his back pocket, producing a credit card and ID. He hands them over and confidently says, “Would rather not know, wouldn’t matter much anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s not out of my price range.”

She looks a little skeptical at that, what with their age and devious-looking appearances. Then she takes a look at his ID and her face does that thing that a lot of older people they run into do, just before the realization sets in.

“Oh my,” she mumbles and types his information into the computer. “You’re one of the direction boys, aren’t you?”

Louis just grins and allows Zayn to confirm for her. “One Direction, yeah,” he answers, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.

Louis wonders if the pride of getting recognised in some place as far away from home, like North America, will ever wear off.

“That tune of yours is always on the radio,” she smiles happily while continuing to enter information in the computer and then, suddenly, looks stricken. “Do I need to sign some form of secrecy contract? I’ve never done one for a celebrity before. It’s usually just thirteen year olds and their parents.”

Zayn gives her a lopsided grin. “Don’t really care much. And I can’t see why it would matter either.”

She nods and goes back to scanning his ID. “By the way, how did you get to be nineteen without a TiMER? Most people nowadays get them when they start puberty!”

“Late bloomer,” Louis tries to joke and Zayn punches his shoulder.

“Parents couldn’t afford one,” Zayn answers with a shrug. “Not when they first came out. Bought one for my sisters though, first thing I did after getting paid.”

“Awwww,” Matchmaker Amy says, going all soft. It’s just like every interviewer Zayn has said this to. Even Louis still finds it adorable and he’s heard it a few dozen times.

She starts to set up, getting on gloves and setting out the gauze and bandages, the gun to implant it. “I know this all looks very serious, like I’m going to operate on you, but it’s just for safety. Most people don’t even bleed, just following regulation though.”

He signs some electronic forms, saying he won’t sue if the wait is too long or too short, or if he’s unhappy with his One. Louis barely remembers this part since his dad had done the signing off as his guardian, back when he was still around.

She hums as she finishes setting up and it sounds vaguely like “What Makes You Beautiful.” Louis kicks his feet together happily, slumping forward to get a better look at Zayn’s wrist where she’s cleaned around the skin and marked dots in blue dye to show where it will be.

She sticks the TiMER Zayn’s picked out to the gun that implants it in the wrist and starts to line up the pins with the blue dots on his skin. Zayn’s face screws up like he’s waiting to get a tooth pulled by a doorknob and string. “Oh, nearly forgot,” Amy laughs. “Gotta run your credit card, first.”

She sets everything down and slides the card through the machine to the side of the computer. Zayn lets out the breath he was holding and his whole body relaxes. Amy turns back and, quick as a bullet, presses the TiMER into Zayn’s wrist with a quiet pop of the trigger on the gun.

“Fuck!” Zayn shouts, but he knows well enough from his tattoos that it’s best not to move in the middle of the procedure and stays perfectly still.

She smiles, apologetic. “That trick works on everyone.” She wipes an alcohol swab around the edge of the TiMER, peels the plastic off the front as it slowly starts to light up. “Newbies are always so tense, best to do it while you’re relaxed.”

Zayn nods, “Understandable.” But he’s wincing and his other hand is digging into his jeans. “Didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, so that’s nice.”

The TiMER beeps to life, split into four sections: Days, Hours, Minutes, Seconds. The flashing dashes showing for a minute before the device gives a small and calming beep. Louis holds his breath, getting off of the stool and twisting his head to get a better look. Ten zeroes flash across the screen five times before a countdown starts.

 74 days, 12 hours, 32 minutes, 34 seconds

“That’s,” Zayn starts, breathless. “So soon.”

 “Two and a half months. We’ll be done with the tour then,” Louis says, reasonably. “That’s good, means it probably isn’t some weird fan or a fan’s mum or something. I mean, not that there isn’t a chance it could be too.”

74 days, 12 hours, 32 minutes, 21 seconds

“Hmm,” Amy comments.

“What?”

“Well, it’s just that I haven’t seen it do that in a while,” She adds. “You saw it flash zeroes before. They only flash zeroes before countdown when it’s someone you’ve already met and…”

They’re quiet and Zayn sort of slumps, “She got away.”

Amy shakes her head with a quick, “Oh no! No, no, definitely not.” She taps the glass of his TiMER. “This is when you’ll see her next. Or, I should specify--”

“It times out at midnight the day you’ll see her,” Louis cuts in. He knows how this part of the whole TiMER thing works, he’s got it down pat.

“It’ll chime when you see each other for the first time, or, well, second or third or millionth time maybe.” Amy pats his shoulder with an encouraging smile.

“It’s someone I’ve already met?” Zayn repeats, still breathless. “So it’s a friend into lovers thing?”

“Unless you’ve fallen for someone at first sight or bickered with someone and can’t get it out of your head.” She starts to clean up, taking her gloves off and putting out new, sanitised supplies. “The possibilities are literally endless. Fate has a tricky way of dealing cards for us. You think you’re playing Go Fish and find an Old Maid in your hand.”

“That’s a terrible metaphor in this situation,” Louis says with a nervous laugh. Trying to get Zayn to take his eyes off his wrist for a few seconds, to at least stand up and exit the room. “Don’t worry Zayn, she didn’t mean it. If anyone ends up with an old maid it’ll be Harry, obviously.”

Amy tries to laugh. Zayn just blinks a bit and stands up, unsteady on his feet. “Wow,” is all he says, eyes still glued to his wrist.

They wave goodbye to Amy and duck outside, Zayn gripping Louis’ shoulder a little too tight. They walk down the street and around the corner, a few blocks left between them and the back entrance to their hotel.

Zayn mumbles something unintelligible and Louis barely gives him a second glance.

“‘S that?”

“Think I know who it is,” Zayn repeats, a little stunned.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” He’s starting to sound more like himself and he’s smiling quite big. “Can’t get her off my mind since the second I saw her.”

“Who is it?” Louis asks, as they reach the edge of the parking lot to the hotel.

“Can’t tell you,” Zayn replies dreamily. “Would ruin the surprise.”

-

“You did WHAT?” predictable Liam predictably yells. And Louis loves Liam, he really does, and he’s been working on corrupting him bit by bit, but there are just some times when Louis gets really fed up with it. The predictability.

He flops down on Niall’s bed where Harry is texting, curled up under the puffy duvet.

“Who are you texting?” Louis asks, ignoring Liam, who is wrestling with Zayn, trying to get ahold of his wrist.

“Louis did you encourage this?” Liam asks in his stern voice.

“Niall,” Harry answers, also ignoring what’s happening in front of them.

“Leave Louis alone, I decided on this myself,” Zayn says, clutching his wrist to his chest, blocking Liam by twisting away. They fall into a pile on the floor. “If you blame anyone, blame Jay-Z,” Zayn shouts with a giggle.

“Why are you in Niall’s bed texting Niall? Where’s Niall?” Louis asks, looking around the room.

“I swear to god, you two are going to get in so much trouble,” Liam grunts, flipping them over so he’s got Zayn pinned to the floor. Louis’s belly does a little flipflop at the sight and he tries to ignore it and focus back on Harry. “I’m not going to help you deal with Paul. You’ve brought this on yourselves,” Liam continues.

“Niall’s bringing me pastries and coffee from the lobby,” Harry answers, thumbs still tapping away.

“Ow, Liam! It’s still sore!” Zayn shouts.

“Coffee? It’s nearly noon,” Liam grumbles. “You idiots’ll be up all night.”

“Like the tour we’re currently on,” Niall yells loudly as he enters the room with a tray of coffee and a bag of food. Harry puts down his phone. “Sorry, Tommo and Zayn, didn’t know you’d be here, would’ve got you something. I already ate mine while I was there. So, I guess you can share the second helpings I got for myself.”

“Bless you, Niall, was gonna have Harry text you to grab me something,” Louis says, flicking Harry’s ear. “Since he can’t seem to look away from that thing for more than a second when he’s talking to you.”

Louis is pretty sure he catches Niall blushing as he turns to put the food and drinks on the tiny table next to the television and dresser.

“Zayn got a TiMER,” Liam announces loudly.

Louis, Zayn, and Harry sigh. Niall freezes, and then starts to unpack everything and hand them out. “Right on! Got your time of death?”

Zayn grins, pushing Liam off of him. “Seventy-some odd days.”

Niall whistles and Liam gapes and looks around with an expression that says he can’t believe nobody else is reacting to this news the same way he is.

“That’s too soon!” Liam yelps. “Paps are gonna get ahold of this. Twitter is going to go crazy. Fans are gonna stalk you that day just to… Zayn! That’s way too soon to meet your One!”

“He’s already met her,” Louis says, tearing a piece of his croissant and throws it, aiming for Liam’s head.

“What?” Liam squeaks.

“Besides,” Louis continues. “You could argue that he was gonna see her that day anyway, so it isn’t like he can control whether it’s too soon or not. It’s destiny or whatever.”

“You’ve already met her?” Liam repeats, ignoring Louis’ sound logic.

Zayn just shrugs and flops down on the other bed. “My, whatever it is, thingy, flashed a few times before the numbers showed up and the Matchmaker told me it meant that I’d met her already and that this countdown is to the day I see her next.”

“Matchmaker,” Harry snorts, sitting up when Niall hands him coffee and a danish.

“What if it’s a really dedicated fan?” Liam asks, clearly defeated. “At a concert or something. That could be bad.”

“Or romantic,” Niall mumbles, sitting on the edge of the bed next to Harry. Liam flops down face forward onto the bed Zayn is sitting on.

“Probably not a fan,” Zayn pats Liam reassuringly on the head. “It’s after the tour.”

“Shit,” Liam says into the blankets, Louis smiles to himself at the curse. Liam turns over on his back and stares at the ceiling. “Don’t think I’d ever get one.”

“What?” Louis asks, sitting up straighter. “Don’t you want to know if Danielle is your One?”

Liam makes a weird face. “I’m happy right now,” he answers after a moment. “Why would I want to risk ruining it just to know what I already know?”

“And what is it that you know?” Louis asks sharply. He can feel the heat rising in his face, because he hates getting into these arguments with anyone, but especially Liam.

“That I love her,” he answers simply, shrugging one shoulder.

“And if her TiMER started counting down tomorrow?” Louis says viciously, realizing belatedly how damaging a question that could be. Liam frowns, makes a face like Louis’ just kicked a puppy, and that Liam is actually the puppy.

“Lou,” Harry says with a hand on Louis’ wrist.

“No,” Louis says, jerking away. “That’s stupid, Liam. It’s a fifty-fifty chance she’s your One. And, if she isn’t, your One could be walking around out there, right now, and you don’t know it. So you’re probably making her life miserable, because she knows you’re out there and she could know when, but she doesn’t. It’s selfish.”

Liam sits there like he’s letting it sink in and then without a word he gets up and leaves, the door clicking quietly behind him.

“I’m just being honest,” Louis says to the quiet room, staring at his hands. “I don’t want him to be unhappy later in life.”

“He’s happy right now, Lou, he said it himself.” Zayn sighs and scrubs a hand over his face. “Just because you’re miserable doesn’t mean everyone with a blank TiMER -- or without one at all -- has to be too.” Zayn leaves, cradling his wrist to his chest and follows after Liam.

Louis digs himself deeper into the bed, feeling sorry for himself. Niall reaches over Harry and pats Louis on the head. Louis knows that he’s trying to comfort but it just feels patronizing.

He huffs and rolls off the bed and lands painfully on the floor face first.

“Is it that bad that I just wanna know who my One is?” Louis asks finally, propping himself up on his elbows to see Niall leaning over Harry, watching him play a game on his phone.

“‘Course not,” Niall answers immediately. “Liam’s a romantic, though, you know that.”

“Back in the day, though, like, before the TiMERs, didn’t they believe that destiny and fate was romantic? How is just the fact that you know that you have a-- a soulmate less romantic?”

“It’s mysterious,” Harry says slowly. “Like, proper mysterious. And that’s sexy isn’t it. Appealing or whatever. The not knowing. Or taking the risk to not know even if you could. I think it’s brave.”

“Sometimes you’ve gotta let yourself have a little mystery,” Niall agrees, glancing at Harry’s face. “Not everything needs to be drawn out in a straight line.”

“Not knowing is not sexy,” Louis says with a grunt as he stands up. “It’s frightening. Like jumping out of a plane and not knowing if your bag actually has a parachute. I just want to know if my One is out there.”

“Well, Liam doesn’t, mate,” Niall answers with a sad shrug.

“She’s got a blank TiMER!” Louis yells, frustration coming off of him in waves. “Argh, I can’t deal with this mentality. This whole ‘being too good for true love’ thing. Not knowing doesn’t make him better.”

“Hate to point it out, Lou,” Harry sighs. “But you don’t know either.”

“Not knowing and not wanting to know are two different things, you know what I meant!”

“Louis--”

“No, I’m done with this conversation. I’m going to go back to my room and play FiFA. Do either of you want to sit in silence and play with me?”

Harry doesn’t answer and Niall looks guilty when he tries to get out of it with a, “You’ll just beat the shit out of me, you always do, it’s no fun.”

The next day, before the show, Louis drags Niall to play actual football. It’s not quite the same as FiFA, as far as mind-numbing activities go, but it definitely helps him relieve stress.

Niall only lasts five minutes before he’s ripping his shirt off and jogging around the field with his arms in the air like an idiot. It definitely has the desired effect: cheering Louis up.

The girls that are standing on a hill, being shepherded by security, cheering in shrill screams and Niall laps it up. It almost takes Louis’ mind off of his argument with Liam, but there’s still something bugging him about it all.

Niall throws the ball in the air and yells, “Keep ups!” But Louis reacts a second too late, flailing his arms a bit before slapping it to the ground by accident. Niall puts his hands on his hips, shirt hanging out of his back pocket, and gives Louis a look.

Louis shields his eyes from the sun. “That wasn’t fair! I wasn’t ready.”

“When have I ever had to warn you for keep ups?” Niall asks, still staring at Louis. “Man, Liam is really gettin’ to ya, isn’t he?”

Louis sighs angrily and kicks at the ground. “Well, it wasn’t. Then you went and brought it up, thanks.”

“Yeah fuckin’ right,” Niall laughs. “It’s written all over your face.”

“Whatever, I just,” Louis turns and starts walking back towards the goal. Niall sets the ball down on the ground and takes several steps back and to the left. “I feel like I missed something.”

Niall’s got his hands on his hips again, clearly not about to make a goal attempt. “No, really?” he says sarcastically. “Look, after you left, Zayn came back and said something. I mean, he insisted that Liam didn’t say it, but. I don’t know.”

“What?” Louis asks, forgetting the stance he’d had between the goal posts.

“Well, it’s just,” Niall starts, scratching at the back of his neck. “You’re with El.”

“And?”

“And, it’s kind of shitty of you to judge Liam’s relationship when yours is…”

“Doomed,” Louis finishes, shoulders slumping as he realises Zayn’s right.

“Well, Zayn kept saying ‘moot’.”

“No, he’s right,” Louis yells, throwing his hands in the air in defeat. “It’s doomed!”

“I mean, he was really specific about it being moot, but whatever you say, mate.”

Louis walks over to one of  the goal posts and lightly bangs his head against it three times. “Ow,” he rubs at his forehead. “I have to apologise, right? I should probably apologise.”

Niall walks over, forgetting the football, and brings Louis into a tight hug. Louis can see Paul and Preston are walking over to round them up for the gig. “I think you might want to apologise,” Niall says. He squeezes Louis tight, and that’s always Louis’ favorite thing, Niall is a great hugger. “But you should probably wait until after the show, Zayn says Liam’s not angry just, I don’t know, you know how sensitive he is. But, it’s a bus night, so maybe you’ll get a chance to.”

Louis clings to Niall the entire way back to the hotel.

-

They haven’t said a word all night and Liam some how kept ending up on the opposite side of the stage. It’s no surprise after the show, when they’re all piling into the vans to head back to the hotel to shower and pack, that Liam chooses the van that Louis isn’t in.

What is surprising is that Zayn and Niall are here with him, and Harry is riding with Liam. Zayn’s glaring at Louis a bit and it’s frightening, of course, because he’s seen Zayn angry, but usually Louis is the one to calm him down with a joke. Now, though, Niall is the one trying and failing to get Zayn’s out of his funk.

They’re bumping along the road and Louis can’t take any more of Niall attempting to get Zayn to harmonise on another Michael Bublé song. “Look, I was thinking about it and I realised I didn’t even think about how my relationship with El would look to Liam,” he says, trying to stare anywhere but directly at Zayn. “Niall said that you pointed out it was doomed and you’re right. It is. I’m going to apologise to Liam as soon as I can.”

“Moot,” Zayn says. Louis finally looks up at him and sees that Zayn’s expression has softened. He lets out a sigh of relief because he didn’t mean to cause any sort of rift between the band. But, he figures if it were anyone, it’d be him -- Zayn’s keeps to himself, Harry is too soft and cares about everyone, Liam would never raise his voice, and Niall just loves them all too much.

“Doomed, same thing right?” Niall says from his seat. Louis nods his head.

Zayn sighs and says, “Moot is making a better point.”

“I’m not sure moot is a word, Zayn,” Louis answers, patting Zayn’s knee, hoping that it will clear up all the weird tension.

“Yeah, don’t think so,” Niall agrees, throwing his arm around Zayn’s headrest.

“I’m sure moot is a word,” Zayn sighs again, hiding his head in his hands, dramatically. “Can’t believe I’m in a band with so many idiots --”

Niall puts his hand up for a high five and Louis takes it, even though he’s not exactly sure why they’re high fiving, considering Zayn just called them idiots.

“-- That smell so awful,” Zayn continues, shoving at Niall, who laughs and takes his arm off of Zayn’s headrest. But, it’s too late, Zayn’s already got his hand under Niall’s armpit, tickling him, and laughter spills out of Niall.

Louis is lucky tonight because he usually ends up with his own hotel room; it can get a little lonely, but he’s fine being the odd one out this time around. It gives him a minute to breathe again.

A quick shower, and he’s packing up his bags, making sure he’s remembered to grab the stray shoe he’d tried to throw at a moth that’d somehow gotten into the room two nights ago. The only thing he can focus on right now is the speech he’s going to recite to Liam. Liam, I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve said and… going over and over it in his head, tweaking the phrasing so it sounds sincere. Liam, first of all, I’m very sorry…

He feels like he’s trying to convince himself that he’s sorry -- and he really is sorry, or he really wants to be, at least. But there’s part of him that’s been holding out on the whole destiny thing for so many years, and the idea that he should feel sorry for believing in it feels like defeat.

He’s just not ready to give up on fate yet.

And that makes him wonder if maybe he really can’t be sincere. It puts a knot in his stomach, because Liam deserves sincerity and Louis knows it. He’s standing in his empty room, bags nearly ready, holding a single sock and staring at the piece of art hanging next to the bed, thinking himself in circles over this, when someone knocks on the door.

“Louis?” Liam’s voice jolts him out of his stupor and he dashes across the room gathering his phone charger and the other sock, stuck halfway out the bedside table. “Everyone else is downstairs already, we’re just waiting on you.”

Louis shoves his toothbrush into his bag, digs around in another for his beanie. Another knock. “Lou?”

“Coming,” Louis squeaks, shoving the beanie on his head. He zips his bags up and slings one over his shoulder and opens the door.

Liam’s already turning away when Louis looks up from where he’d been trying to adjust the height of the suitcase’s handle. Louis kicks the door further open with his foot and wheels his suitcase out, following Liam to the lift.

The button is already pushed when Louis catches up. He scuffs his shoe on the patterned carpet and tries to look at Liam without being too obvious.

“I’ll wait for the next one if you’d prefer,” he says quietly, trying to joke. Liam flexes his jaw and looks like he might turn and give Louis a black eye right there. “Only kidding.”

“Zayn and Niall sent me up here to get you,” Liam says after what feels like forever.

Louis doesn’t know what to say, but he’s saved because there’s a ding and the doors open and they shuffle through. He hates being in a lift at this exact moment, feels like there isn’t enough air for the two of them to breathe.

“They said you had something to tell me?” Liam asks when the doors close.

“Oh,” Louis mumbles, adjusting the strap on his shoulder. “I- yeah- I just. Well, I was planning on telling you on the bus. Not in a three floor ride.”

Liam’s mouth twitches like he’s trying to keep from laughing and Louis feels a heavy weight lifted from his shoulders. Both figuratively and literally. Liam grabs the bag that Louis is struggling to keep on his shoulder and swings it over his own as the doors open and they step outside.

They finally make it to the bus after waving to fans and smiling for the cameras. When they get there, Niall and Harry are both nearly naked by the bunks, pulling pyjamas on. Apparently Louis is the only one who had thought to put his on before leaving the hotel. Zayn is already passed out in his bunk, fully clothed, trainers poking out from behind the curtain, Liam’s got on a button up plaid shirt and jeans. Louis is the only one who has come prepared in jogging bottoms and a soft, too-big t-shirt under the dark red hoodie he loves.

He tugs his beanie down and over his ears, proud of himself, and then the bus doors close and Liam’s dropping Louis’ bag on the bench at the very front, taking a seat and unlacing his shoes.

The bus starts to move and Louis wobbles for a second before taking a quick seat next to Liam. Harry and Niall aren’t as quick thinking. Harry’s got weak knees, Louis has always said. It’s no time at all before Harry is tumbling into Niall, taking them both down in the middle of the floor between the wall of bunks.

“Christ!” Niall laughs, rubbing at where his head has bumped against the floor. Harry is giggling splayed out on top of Niall, the two of them still down to just their pants.

“Sorry,” Harry says slowly, picking himself up off of Niall and offering Niall a hand up. Louis feels weird watching this, like they don’t know he and Liam are there. Niall grins up at Harry, the happiest Louis has ever seen him, before taking his hand and standing up, pulling Harry with him to the back of the bus.

“Er,” Liam says.

“Yeah,” Louis comments.

“That was a bit weird.”

“Definitely,” Louis agrees. Liam goes back to taking his other shoe off so Louis clears his throat and studies his hands. “Look, Liam, about what I said the other day.”

Liam lets his other shoe drop to the floor. The bus is rumbling its way out of the parking lot and down the street towards the highway.

“Well,” Louis continues, unsteadily. He can feel Liam staring at him and it makes his brain go in circles again. He continues without knowing where he’s going, “I’ve been thinking a lot about it…”

“And?” Liam says leadingly, after Louis has gone quiet.

“And,” Louis starts. He heaves a sigh. “I really am very sorry, Liam, but I still think I’m right, and I think you’re right, too. It’s just, you just have to see it from my perspective. Like, you know how when you think back really hard and you remember things from when you were little but you can never remember certain details? Like what your mum was wearing or if your dad was happy? Of all those memories, I know at least one detail and it was that I had this TiMER. I’ve had it forever.”

Liam is quiet and unmoving next to him. Louis feels like he should probably look Liam in the eye, but he can’t.

He’s had this TiMER right up to the memories where his mum wasn’t wearing her wedding ring and his dad wasn’t happy. That’s when they first came out with TiMERs. “My dad insisted that their marriage was over and got them both TiMERs, like it would prove something. I guess it did. Got me one too, when I was old enough, just asked him for it in a letter. I hadn’t even seen him in years. But all of the cool kids at school had them and my mum couldn’t afford one on her own. It’s the only thing he ever really gave me.”

He realises that he’s been rubbing his thumb around the edge of it now, in circles, like his thoughts. Liam still hasn’t said anything. Louis isn’t even sure if Liam’s breathed since he’d started rambling.

“Only thing he gave me and it’s such shit, isn’t it?” Liam’s breath hitches and he reaches a hand over to rub Louis’ shoulder. “But, you know what, even if it’s a burden, it’s the only thing I can rely on. The only thing I can know for certain will be there for me no matter what. Do you understand what I mean? It’s a guarantee, not yet, but it will be.”

He doesn’t know why, maybe Liam’s suddenly turned into a magnet, but when he leans into Liam’s shoulder, Liam doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arm around Louis and drag him closer. Louis feels relief immediately and takes a deep breath; Liam smells like mint and fresh soap and something else altogether unfamiliar.

“But, I do think you’re right,” Louis says again, into Liam’s collarbone. “You’re happy and it isn’t selfish if Danielle is happy too. My mum was in love once before she met her One. It’s just, I don’t want anyone to hurt you. You’re one of my best friends, but it made me feel weak and embarrassed trying to explain it in front of everyone, I guess.”

Liam runs his hand through Louis’ hair and down his back, starting a slow circle from the bottom of his spine and back up in at a soothing speed. Neither of them say anything, Louis doesn’t mind much, but he would like for Liam to say something, at least. But Liam just stays quiet and maybe that’s what Louis needs right now because he feels like his heart is about to burst.

It always takes a lot out of him when he has to drag up the memories of his dad, back when he thought they were all happy, and he’s worn out from the show. He’s emotionally and physically exhausted. He doesn’t really notice when his eyes start to feel heavy and he drifts into sleep.

When he next opens his eyes it’s to the entire cabin lights dimmed, Harry and Niall shuffling in from the back room, and Liam’s arm still around him, rubbing his thumb up and down Louis’ side.

“Mmm?” Louis lifts his head from Liam’s shoulder and stretches his back a bit. “How long was I asleep?”

“Little more than three hours,” Liam answers, taking his arm back and Louis regrets moving at all. “We’re almost there.”

“Oh.” Louis stands, because he feels like he should, catching himself on the armrest when the bus bounces unexpectedly. 

The overhead lights come back on, signalling that they’re a few blocks away from the hotel and that they need to start the process of waking up and getting their things together. Louis watches as Niall and Harry both look to Zayn’s bunk before their fingers fly to their noses, Harry nearly poking himself in the eye.

“Lou?” Louis sleepily focuses back on Liam and hums. “I did a lot of thinking while you were asleep, I mean, I nodded off a bit myself, but I did do some thinking. And I should apologise to you.”

“No, Li-”

“No, I really should, I didn’t know all that about your mum and dad. But, she’s happy now, right? With your stepdad?”

Louis nods. “He’s her One.” 

“Your dad loved her enough to let her be happy, even if it meant leaving. And you’ll be happy too, when yours starts to countdown. And he’ll have made that possible too, right?” Liam looks at him hopefully, behind him Niall and Harry are both climbing into Zayn’s bunk to try waking him. “Your One will show up one day and you can slap ‘em and say ‘What took you so long, you beautiful, dumb imbecile?’ and you’ll be happy.”

“I’ll be happy as long as I’ve got you,” Louis says, reaching a hand out for Liam’s elbow. “All four of you lads, right?”

Liam leans into the touch and takes a step forward, wrapping his arms around Louis’ waist. And if Louis thought Niall gave the best hugs, he’s never been on the receiving end of Liam trying his best, because he feels the air leave his lungs and he groans, “Liam’s trying to murder me!” but nobody seems to care.

Liam laughs, but his face goes serious when he pulls away. “I am sorry, Lou.” and presses his lips to Louis’ temple before he lets him go completely. “We’ll all be happy as long as we’ve got each other, right? Band TiMERs for life.”

Louis snorts and Liam ruffles his hair. “I’d forgotten about that!”

Zayn’s finally clawing his way out of the overcrowded bunk, Niall and Harry’s bare feet sticking out and knocking into each other. Zayn just grunts at Liam and Louis, hair a mess, and then turns around, headed for the loo.

-

With the way the news outlets of the world react to Zayn’s TiMER, you’d’ve thought he’d tattooed his entire face or declared war on a particular species of endangered lemur. According to some sources, the numbers of teenage girls getting TiMERs skyrocketed. Reports of girls too young for a TiMER attempting to get one without their parents surfaced all around the world.

Rumors about Zayn’s wrist being blank finally clear up after their shows in Detroit and Chicago; they’ve got a book signing and a press day before they fly out for their two shows in Mexico City.

Louis is sitting in his chair next to Harry trying to remember that he’s supposed to be focused on wrestling the interview back to what they’re trying to promote, which is their book and the tour DVD. It’s difficult, though, with the thousands of screaming fans surrounding them.

He desperately hopes that whoever had the idea to do the interview for Good Morning America outside has been properly sacked without severance.

Thankfully, the reporter, doesn’t lead with Zayn’s TiMER. He’s clearly a professional, Louis thinks, asking Liam about a story of his from the book, the one about the girl he’d asked out twenty-two times.

“Yeah! That happened when I was in school, yeah,” Liam says with a laugh.

“And then, finally, she said yes, right?” Louis hasn’t heard this story and he turns to Liam who is standing behind him. “But dumped you the next day!”

“Yep, it’s a terrible story!”

Louis looks back at him and laughs. “Twenty-two times?” he asks in disbelief.

“Her TiMER went off the next day,” Liam says without thinking.

And it takes Louis a minute to realise the damage has been done because he’s finished laughing with Liam and turns back to the interviewer who has a glint in his eye. He’s suddenly too tan, has far too many teeth, and looks like he’s just struck oil. Louis takes it all back, he should’ve seen all the signs -- this guy is hardly professional.

“I, myself have one,” he says, baring his wrist. “Who else has got one? Louis you’ve had one for a while now. Zayn you just got one, right?”

Louis and Zayn both raise their hands, showing off their wrists, they turn to each other and bump their wrists together, their TiMERs clinking where they hit.

“Yeah, well,” Zayn speaks up. “Lou and I went to get me one of ‘em a few days ago. It’s taken some getting used to.”

“I can imagine!” The too-smiley-too-tan man says. “Have either of you started counting down?”

Zayn pauses for a moment and glances at Louis. “Mine’s still blank,” Louis fills in quickly. “Frankly, I’m just a little jealous it didn’t cause the same amount of mass hysteria as Zayn’s did.”

“Yeah,” Niall pipes up. “If Zayn’s was blank when he got it, it probably isn’t now.” That gets a lot of screams from the girls surrounding them.

Harry nods, frowning in thought when he contributes, “It’ll be weird going back a few years from now, I expect. Looking at the photos in the book or watching the tour DVD, and seeing that it’s not there. The strangest thing...”

Louis looks around and they’re all sort of staring at Harry a little puzzled, but Louis recognised his failed attempt to get the conversation back to talking about the book and DVD.

The reporter finally turns back to Zayn. “So, Zayn, the whole world is dying to know when you’ll meet your One,” He grins and Zayn shifts uncomfortably. “Tell us, does your One have a TiMER too?”

Zayn looks like he’s trying hard not to grimace when he says, “Yeah, yeah, it’s counting down.” The audience erupts and Louis is fairly sure they’ll try to storm the stage. “Not until after the tour though,” Zayn adds quickly, receiving a massive, drawn out  “AWWWW” from the fans. Luckily, though, they seem to calm down a bit.

The interviewer looks gleefully over to the producer and cameraman, giving them a thumbs up. After that they continue to talk about the book -- he’s gotten all that he really wanted out of the interview so he’s finally, and politely, getting on with it. He asks about Harry liking to be naked and Liam having boxed when he was younger.

Overall it’s not terrible, but afterwards Zayn is clearly uncomfortable. They’re back at their hotel, having finished with book signings, and Zayn’s peeling off the long sleeve shirt he’s been wearing to hide the actual countdown from view.

“Didn’t think the fans would like knowing the exact date,” he says with a shrug.

“Don’t think I’d like the fans knowing the exact date,” Paul grumbles. He takes the pile of shirts on the armchair in Harry and Zayn’s hotel room and throws them on the bed, so that he has a place to sit where he can easily boss them around. “What are you three doing in here, go and get packed. Need to have a chat with Zayn here about all of this.”

Louis looks at Zayn’s wrist and giggles, pointing it out.

 69 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes, 01 seconds

 “Sixty nine days, mate,” Louis laughs. Paul shoots him a look and he, Niall, and Liam unanimously decide that it’s probably a good idea not to put up a struggle or take the piss out of Paul right now. They leave peacefully to their respective rooms so they can pack.

Louis had a room to himself again, so he’s packing his things up quietly and patiently. He can’t exactly recall why all of his pants are lined up on the floor by the back wall and organised by colour, but he’s pretty sure it had something to do with Harry.

He ignores them in favor of packing up the rest of his clothes. It’s strange how easily things seem to spread out even on the shortest of stops, and they’ve only been in Chicago for three days -- his room is a disaster.

His brain wanders to some of the best moments of the two concerts they had in Chicago, but the longer he shuffles around the room, tidying up, more of the memories leave him with an unsettling feeling.

Something about his talk with Liam didn’t sit right with him before he’d fallen asleep, but he couldn’t figure out what exactly it was. He looks down at his wrist, at the flashing dashes on his clock, and it hits him:

Zayn had mentioned Eleanor, but Louis hadn’t in his rambling. He thinks about it now, worrying himself over whether or not he should bring it up again. He feels a little guilty when his tummy flips at the memory of the way Liam had hugged him afterwards.

How long did El have left on her TiMER, anyway? He couldn’t remember now. It’s been more than a month since he last saw her and it had either just rounded the four month mark or was a little bit shy of climbing down to three back then.

He tries to think back on their phone calls, whether she had mentioned it or if they talked about it at all. It wasn’t really like them to talk about it, but he knows, back when they first started dating that they had drawn the line at the two month mark.

They got together in the first place almost by accident. Louis was definitely a little drunk when he walked up to her at the bar and tried to sneak a glance to see if she had a TiMER -- which she did, already counting the seconds. He was, of course, incredibly obvious, although he had thought otherwise at the time.

She just smiled and watched him for a minute before looking down at his TiMER and tsking. She leaned into him, aiming for his ear to yell over the music, “Blank TiMER?” He nodded and she ducked back in, “Sweating the future? Such a shame when you could be having a much more exciting present.”

Then she’d winked at him and walked away. It was a one night stand that turned into a multiple-night stand, which then turned into something of a relationship, just one with very strict boundaries. He’d known what he was getting into, but he’d just needed the physicality of it all.

Now, though, something tightens in his chest when he realises he’s going to have to break it off with her. Almost like relief, immediately flushed out by guilt.

He realises he’s frozen halfway through matching up socks, staring at the ugly tapestry hung in front of the bathroom door, when there’s a knock at his door and Liam calls out, “Lou?”

This feels like deja vu. Maybe he’ll open the door and Liam will still be angry with him, maybe this was all a dream. Maybe he’s still packing in Toronto and, when he zoned out holding the sock, the last three or four days unhappened and he’ll have to apologise all over again. Maybe this go around, he’ll actually mention Eleanor.

“Louis?” Liam calls out again. “If you’re in the shower quack three times.”

Louis snorts -- okay, so everything is fine. He pads across the room and opens the door. Liam is grinning and leaning against the door frame and Louis gives his best attempt at a quack.

“You’re not in the shower!” Liam says, sliding between Louis and the door and into the room.

“I only quacked once,” Louis answers, letting the door close. “It’s code for ‘Help! I’ve been attacked by a mountain lion in a suburb of Chicago!’”

Liam is looking around the room and frowning. “You are a mess, what will we ever do with you?” He waves a hand to the line of boxer briefs lining the floor with a confused frown. Louis shrugs.

“You’ll fan me and feed me grapes and clean up after me, obviously,” Louis says, snatching a handful of them off the ground. “Not that you’re much cleaner yourself, despite how much you try to convince everyone otherwise.”

Liam huffs and throws himself on Louis’ bed, jostling the bags Louis is trying to pack.

“Say what you want, but I’ve already finished packing,” Liam says and shrugs. “Niall is being boring. He’s just texting Harry to see how badly Zayn’s getting scolded.”

Louis quirks an eyebrow and an idea pops into his head. “So, Paul’s busy having it out with Zayn then?”

Liam plays with the edge of the rumpled blanket on Louis’ bed. “Yeah, expect he’ll probably also be commending Harry for the next half hour since he was the only one that tried to keep the interview on track.”

“Next half hour, you say?” Louis says with a devious grin. He sweeps up the rest of his pants and shoves them into a bag.

Liam looks up at him, immediately suspect. “Oh, no. Lou, no, get whatever idea it is you’ve got out of your head, Paul is already livid.”

“I was just thinking of running down to the ice machine to get some ice to pour down Harry’s trousers,” Louis says with a shrug, zipping up his packing. “Or just visiting the girls outside the hotel to sign some autographs and take photos.”

“Lou,” Liam warns, but he’s biting his lip, as if he’s trying to hide that one of the two options might be tempting.

“I’ll corrupt you yet, Liam.” Louis grins, grabbing Liam’s wrist and pulling him off the bed and out the door.

They look out the windows when they reach the lift and realise that it’s probably not a great idea to go outside for a few photos because there are probably around fifty or so people down there.

Instead, they jog down to the opposite end of the hall where there are vending machines and a large cooler of ice.

“We haven’t got a bucket,” Liam says when Louis lifts the door to look down into the cooler. “They’re in the rooms, next to the telly.”

“Put your hands out,” Louis orders, and Liam does without much thought.

Louis takes a chunk of ice and drops it into Liam’s hand.

“No, Louis! That’s freezing,” Liam laughs and tosses it back into the freezer.

“Liam! Gross, your hands have touched that.” Liam giggles again and it sets Louis off too. He picks up the piece that Liam threw back. “You’ve contaminated all of it now! We’ll have to find a way to use all of this ice.”

Before Louis thinks about what he’s doing, he reaches a hand forward and grabs the hem of Liam’s jeans and shoves the piece of ice down his front. With anyone else he probably wouldn’t have immediately started to worry about this course of action, but with Liam it’s always been different.

Liam yelps and jumps back, sticking his hand down his trousers, he digs the chunk of ice out of his pants and looks at it for a minute like he doesn’t really know what to do with it. Liam’s cheeks are pink and Louis’ heart is racing.

Then Liam drops the piece of ice onto the floor by the wall and uses his other hand to take a new chunk of ice. He steps forward and Louis doesn’t move, can’t move, even though he’s fairly sure he knows what’s coming.

Liam always surprises him though.

Liam is strangely quiet and takes another step into Louis’ space. He’s so close, Louis could stick his tongue out and lick his chin. Not that he wants to, he just could is all.

He takes a hesitant step back and hits the wall at the end of the hallway and Liam takes another step forward. Louis’ brain is sending mixed signals because he gasps and closes his mouth at the same time and puts a hand on Liam’s elbow.

Liam, for his part, doesn’t peel his eyes away from Louis’.

It’s a sudden flurry of arms and hands and Louis tries to wrestle the piece of ice away from Liam. He tries to grab with both hand, but Liam pins both of his arms to the wall, laughing, eyes going all crinkley.

Louis cackles and Liam is attempting to shove the ice down Louis’ shirt while trying to keep Louis pinned. Since Liam is on the offensive, Louis takes his chance and bites at Liam’s neck, sharp and sure. Liam yelps and presses his hips into Louis’ trying to keep more of him pinned to the wall. Louis’ breath hitches, taking his teeth away from Liam’s neck, resisting the urge to press a kiss to the soon-to-be bruised skin.

The ice is somehow forgotten on the floor next to their feet and Louis can’t remember when Liam might’ve lost his grip on it. He doesn’t pay much attention to the ice, though, because heat is pooling where Liam’s hips are still pressed against his.

Liam breathes out a ragged and unsure laugh, pressing his thumbs into Louis’ wrists. But his thumb must brush against Louis’ TiMER because he stills and goes rigid.

“I’m breaking up with Eleanor,” Louis blurts, before Liam can pull himself away. He’s not sure if it’s because he doesn’t want Liam to pull away or if it’s the guilty look Liam is giving him now, swallowing hard.

It doesn’t matter, Liam shifts back anyway, letting go of Louis’ wrists.

They’re both breathing hard and Liam is looking at him like he’s trying to decipher a map, but Liam’s never been very good at geography.

Liam clears his throat and squares his shoulders. “Why?”

And to Louis it sounds like two questions at once, “Why are you breaking up with her?” and “Why are you telling me?”

Louis looks down at his feet, leaning against the back wall, he can still feel Liam’s thumbs at his wrists. “Ehm,” Louis starts stupidly, trying to decide on which question to answer. “Well, she’s near her two month mark.” He shrugs and looks up at Liam, whose face has a sort of pinched look of sadness.

“Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry about that Lou.”

Louis shrugs again and coughs. “Knew what I was getting into, didn’t I?”

Liam just nods, eyes unfocused, and rubs at his neck where Louis had bitten him. It’s bright red. Liam winces when he touches it, but then he grins and looks back up at Louis.

He opens his mouth to say something but Harry interrupts down the hall, slipping out of his room. He doesn’t notice them but he’s walking towards Liam and Niall’s room whistling.

Liam sighs, “Well, looks like I can’t go back to my room for a while.”

Louis laughs, “Are they...?”

Liam just rolls his eyes and nods. “Kissing in the bathroom yesterday, they aren’t very subtle about it. Apparently it’s been going on for a while.”

They stay there for a minute, watching Harry stop at Niall’s door and knock, their voices must carry a bit because he turns and sees them, waving sheepishly. They wave back and then Niall is popping his head out the door and waving too as Harry pushes him back into the room, letting the door close behind them.

Liam’s head is still turned, staring at the door they’d disappeared through, and it’s whisper-quiet when he says, “Bet their TiMERs would chime.”

Louis winces and pushes off the wall, wrapping his arms around Liam’s waist. Liam startles but puts his arms around Louis too, squeezing him tight.

And again, Louis is wondering why he doesn’t just spend all of his time hugging Liam, because it is definitely the best. He still smells like mint and fresh soap. Louis doesn’t try to figure out what else because it makes his head feel dizzy just breathing it in.

“You could always get one, you know,” Louis says, trying to hide how wistful he feels saying it. “I’d go with you, if you wanted. Hold your hand an’ all that.”

Liam doesn’t say anything, just presses his nose into the space where Louis’ ear meets his neck. Louis can’t help but shiver.

-

After their two shows in Mexico City, there’s a show in San Diego with a travel day in between. Niall and Harry aren’t even trying to hide their affection anymore, by this point. They cuddle in a single bunk together, whispering and kissing all night.

Zayn has thrown his pillows at them plenty of times, which Liam then has to pick up and return to Zayn because they’re the only ones Zayn’s got for sleeping, which, he whines, he isn’t getting much of, anyway.

Zayn starts sleeping in the back room, so watching a movie or playing video games aren’t options. Liam and Louis decide to sit up front and play Words with Friends on their phones together, Louis laughing at Liam’s attempts at spelling and his continuous guffawing that, “It’s totally a word!”

Louis gets a moment to be by himself, somehow, and his talk with Eleanor goes over as easily as they had always planned it would.

She sighs when he asks her how much longer she’s got. Her answer isn’t a surprise.

“So,” he mumbles. “Guess it’s time to call it, then.”

She’s quiet, “You were great, Lou. Everything would’ve been easier if it had been you.”

Louis smiles and tries not to feel sad, “Love you, El.”

“Love you too,” she answers.

“If it doesn’t work out with him, you know where I’ll be.” Louis grins and she laughs.

They hang up and Liam comes back from the bathroom and gives him a weird look. “Why are you smiling at your phone like that did Harry send you a picture of Niall’s behind again?”

After their show in San Diego, there’s a show in Las Vegas. Harry and Niall offer to switch with Zayn, and everything is fine for a while until Liam and Louis are distracted from their game when Zayn yells, “Stop moaning so loud, Harry! I just want an hour of sleep, for Christ’s sake!”

Liam raises an eyebrow and grimaces at Louis who immediately cracks up. “That face you just made,” He wipes away a fake tear. “Priceless. I want a photograph of that, do it again.”

He goes to the camera on his phone and points it at Liam who is struggling to make the face through giggles. It takes a few attempts until Louis is satisfied.

“I’m going to tweet that,” Louis sighs happily, digging himself back into the seat so that he’s comfortable again. He doesn’t tweet it though, keeps the outtakes for himself.

Liam just rolls his eyes and tries to play the word “definetly”.

After their show in Las Vegas, they’ve got another in Phoenix, then a few days off before they get to San Jose, and that’s when Harry kidnaps Louis.

It’s strange because Louis is usually the one doing the kidnapping of other members of the band. He’s more likely to be the one dragging them into trouble. Harry is leading him, two or three steps ahead, and Louis has no idea what they’re doing until they round a corner and see the bright red sign that reads:

TiMER: Take the Guesswork Out of Love

Louis gasps. “Haz?” He reaches out to stop Harry’s determined march towards the store.

Harry turns around in his grip and he’s smiling dopily. “I’m getting it as a surprise for Niall.”

Louis hesitates, trying to focus past the signs that are flashing BAD IDEA in neon lights in his head. He opens his mouth, trying to form an argument that this could be a Very Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad decision.

But Harry can read him like a book -- one that’s only two pages long. “I’ve already decided.” He pulls his hand out of Louis’ grasp. “It’ll be blank and then we’ll go and get him one tomorrow before we leave for wherever we’re going next.”

“San Jose. Harry,” Louis says seriously. “I just really think you ought to think this through a bit.”

“You’re the one that’s always yelling about how people who date without TiMERs are doing mankind a huge injustice,” Harry says, clearly hurt.

Louis sighs and bites his lip, looking past Harry at a sign in the window that says, “True Love on a Schedule!

“I’ll do it, with or without you,” Harry threatens.

“Fine, fine,” Louis says, sliding his fingers into Harry’s hand. “But I won’t kiss you if you turn out to be my soulmate after all of this. Don’t know where that mouth of yours has been on our Nialler.”

Harry grins wickedly. “Oh, lots of places--”

“That I’d rather not know about!” Louis yelps, dragging Harry along faster. Harry just smirks and lets himself be pulled into the shop.

When they enter, it’s much different from the small one they’d been to in Toronto. It’s got more of a franchise feel to it, like walking into an Apple store. There are a bunch of hip-looking youths in the red company shirt with badges swinging around their necks.

Everyone sort of stops and stares for a minute -- one of the red-shirted employees that isn’t with a customer comes up to them quickly and shakes their hands without introduction. “Big fan. I’ll get the manager.”

A kid who looks no older than Louis comes out and brings them to the installation room. He’s got bright red hair and big black framed glasses. His simplistic TiMER says he’ll meet his true love in roughly four years.

“Hi, wow, hello.” He starts to look sickly at the sight of them. “Are you here to….?”

Harry hops onto the metal chair and extends his arm. “I’m right-handed,” he says happily. “I’ll just take whichever is the one you sell the most of.”

The manager hesitates, like he’s not sure if Harry’s joking. Louis leans forward and squints to look at his name badge. “Will. You heard the young man,” Louis snaps, getting out the inner pop star that he only uses on special occasions. “Off with you, William.”

Matchmaker Will leaves and comes back in no time at all, doesn’t even really leave a gap for Louis to ask Harry if he’s absolutely, one hundred percent positive about this or to maybe talk him out of it entirely.

“Uh,” Will says.

Harry hands over his ID and credit card.

William -- Louis tries not to think about how Liam is a nickname for William -- turns round to the computers and starts putting in all of the information. He glances at them every once in a while. Harry’s sitting happily in the chair, knocking his boots together and Louis is pretending not to text Zayn by mumbling, “Just gonna play Fruit Ninja while we wait.”

“Don’t you guys have, like, security? Or something?” William asks as he slides the credit card. Louis decides he likes Matchmaker Amy lots better.

“Or something,” Louis says flatly.

His phone buzzes just before he puts it away, Zayn replying with a simple, “fuckin a”. Louis pockets his phone again. He’d warned Zayn so that maybe they could triage this mess before the tragedy even hits. Zayn will hopefully have sent Liam out to get Niall’s favourite foods and, fingers crossed, already stolen Niall’s mobile.

Harry just grins at everyone like absolutely nothing could go wrong. Matchmaker Will measures against Harry’s arm a few dozen times, double and triple checking, and Louis can only hold his breath for so long.

Ten minutes later, after an argument with Matchmaker Will that they are fine to do what they like and Louis making a few worried temperature checks of Harry’s forehead, Will is shooting the TiMER into Harry’s wrist.

It slowly comes to life, but nobody touches it. Harry swings his legs over the side of the chair and Louis pushes him bodily back into the chair. “Oi, no moving,” Louis practically yells.

“Lou, I told you--” Harry starts, but he’s interrupted when his TiMER chimes.

They all look down at his wrist, which flashes ten zeroes five times before displaying what Louis had dreaded it would:

54 days, 12 hours, 5 minutes, and 22 seconds. 

Harry doesn’t move, his face doesn’t move an inch either, he doesn’t make a sound. Louis feels like he’s swallowed a wad of old chewed up bubblegum and it’s caught in his throat.

“Haz,” he tries, but it comes out a little too hoarse.

Harry just shakes his head. “No.” He looks like he’s about to break, eyes watering. “This is wrong,” he taps the TiMER and looks up at Matchmaker Will who looks like he wants to start a new life in Central America under a pseudonym and pretend this never happened.

Will shrugs, “It monitors your body’s level of oxytocin and--”

Louis shoves a hand in Will’s face. “Go away, I’m tired of you.”

“There’s no refund--”

“Shut up and leave.”

Louis shoves Will out the door. When he turns back, Harry has got the palms of his hands shoved against his eye sockets and looks like he’s about to crumble into a million pieces.

“Shit, shit, shit,” is all Louis can think of saying before stumbling over and wrapping Harry up in his arms. “This isn’t fair, Harry, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s Niall, it’s supposed to be Niall,” Harry finally sobs, clutching at Louis’ jumper. Louis presses his lips against Harry’s temple. “I love him.”

Louis is definitely taken aback by that, he honestly didn’t know how far back things went with Niall in the first place. “This doesn’t mean you don’t love him,” Louis tries, aiming for comfort. “I still love El and Liam loves Danielle. And I’m sure Niall loves you.”

“There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love,” Harry says sharply, referring to Louis’s relationship with Eleanor, and Louis goes stiff. It’s barely a second later when Harry is apologising repeatedly and sniffling. Louis reaches and gets him some tissues and then wraps him back up in a tight hug. “I didn’t mean it like that, I just...”

“Why do you think Liam’s so scared to get his TiMER,” Louis says softly. “You’re so brave, Harry. So brave. I really am very proud of you. I think what you just did was amazing.”

“Niall won’t like it very much,” Harry says with a sad smile.

“Suppose he won’t, no,” Louis says, smoothing down Harry’s hair.

“At least I wasn’t your One,” Harry mumbles and extricates himself from Louis, standing up and straightening his shirt.

“You’re tellin’ me,” Louis says, playing it up in the hopes that Harry will stop crying. “I’ve lived with you already, I know how much of a slob you are.”

Harry laughs and hiccoughs. “You were the slob! I had to clean up after you all the time!”

“And you were shit at it,” Louis retorts. “Number one reason we could never work. Number two reason is that you’re always walking around without any bloody pants on.”

“I organised yours by colour,” Harry grins.

Louis laughs and wipes at Harry’s cheek affectionately. “You did, you were always very good at sorting my pants by colour.”

Harry laughs and smiles at Louis but then it quickly goes sour and he sniffles and breaks down into crying again. He leans against Louis’ shoulder and Louis runs his hand up and down Harry’s back with quiet, calming shushes.

When they open the door to leave, Harry’s dried his eyes and Louis’ dabbed at the wet spot on his shirt to little success. Everyone in the building goes quiet and Harry and Louis duck their heads ignoring the whispers.

When they make it to the street Louis swings an arm around Harry’s shoulder even though he’s much too tall for this nowadays.

“I’m glad you were there with me, Lou,” Harry says quietly, as they make their way slowly back to the hotel.

Louis squeezes his shoulder and knocks their hips together. “I’ll always be there for you, mate,” Louis says. “Always. Even if your One turns out to be Susan Boyle.”

Harry giggles and takes in an unsteady breath. “I don’t know how Niall’s gonna take this,” he mumbles.

“I’ll tell him if you want?” Louis offers quietly.

Harry shakes his head. “Nah, I really ought to do it myself.”

Louis’ phone buzzes, forgotten in his pocket, he pulls it out and winces as he types out a message for Zayn: Less than two months and it blinked like yours. I don’t think he knows what that means though………

They reach the street the hotel is on and, of course, since there’s only one real way this could have gotten worse, it does: there’s a barricade of girls lining the front entrance of the hotel.

“Fuck,” Harry says gruffly, looking like he’s about to cry again. Louis grabs him and they duck behind the side of a building.

His phone buzzes again and Louis’ heart drops when he reads the message: Niall knows. And again: should’v got em to sign that confidentialityy thing this time round

“Harry, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this.” Louis holds his phone up for Harry to read. “Unfortunately, Twitter got to Niall before you could.”

Harry’s face crumples and he leans his head against the wall of the building and kicks at it, and kicks at it again. Louis grimaces and puts a placating hand on Harry’s shoulder, starts to dial Paul’s number. Harry draws to him like a magnet, back to crying on his shoulder, hands tugging at Louis’ jumper.

Thirty minutes later, a mob of screaming teenage girls, and a scarily quiet lift ride with Paul and Preston and they are finally back in their hotel rooms. Zayn is pacing back and forth in front of his bed, phone in his hand, biting at the nails on his other.

“Fuckin’ hell,” Zayn mumbles before pulling Harry into a tight, one armed hug. “What the hell were ya thinkin’?”

Harry gives a half-hearted shrug and starts to get all teary-eyed again, chin going wobbly. Before he can start to cry Zayn is frowning at him. “None of that,” Zayn throws his mobile on the bed and roughly wipes at Harry’s face. “You just found out you’re going to meet the love of your life. You should be happy. Niall’s happy for you.”

Louis knew, as it was coming out of Zayn’s mouth, that it was the wrong thing to say. Harry throws himself onto one of the beds, burying his head in his arms, shoulders shaking.

Zayn grimaces. “I’ll go get Nialler,” he says and walks past Louis.

Louis isn’t sure what to do so he pets Harry’s hair, ducks down and whispers, “I love you, you idiot, you’ll be fine,” kisses the top of his head and somehow convinces Paul and Preston to leave Harry alone.

They pass Niall in the hallway, being led by Zayn, he looks like he’s in shock, completely lacking any emotion. His red rimmed eyes and patchy cheeks are telling enough, though.

Louis ditches Paul and Preston to go and find Liam. He ducks into the room before the door closes behind Zayn and Niall.

Liam’s got his phone pressed against his cheek and is surrounded on the bed by half eaten plates of food and bags of crisps and biscuits. He smiles sadly at Louis and Louis wants to know why everyone is pretending to be happy while sad at the same time. It’s not like anybody died.

Can you get them removed?” Liam asks into the phone, surprised, making a face like he’s just smelled something foul. “No, babe, don’t get yours removed. It wouldn’t make a lick of difference.”

Louis rolls his eyes when Liam looks away, piling the plates on top of one another, one handed. Louis shoos his hands away and starts to pick up, careful not to get any crumbs on the bed. Liam looks thankful and settles back into his conversation with Danielle.

“Well, it’s just a bit sad, innit?” Liam says. “Harry was really hoping it would be this one person and it can’t be, cause his person doesn’t have one yet and Harry’s is counting down.”

Louis makes faces at him, finishing up with the tidying and grabs an unopened pack of biscuits before bouncing onto the bed beside Liam.

“Yeah,” Liam says. “Yes. I know. Well, I still don’t think it would matter if I got one or if you got yours taken off. That’s an awful lot of money to get something as trivial as that removed. Plus, it’ll scar.”

Louis leans his head onto Liam’s shoulder, eating a biscuit, hoping that Liam takes this as a hint that he should get off the phone and pay more attention to him. He tries to feed Liam a biscuit. It’s an unsuccessful attempt because Liam purses his lips and the cookie crumbles into his lap. Louis cackles in delight.

“Yeah, babe, I oughta go,” Liam rolls his eyes, trying to sweep the crumbs off of the bed and himself. “Louis is getting into one of his needy moods. Yeah, I’ll tell him. Dani says hi,” Liam says with a happy smile.

Louis tries not to sulk but it must come off as a pout because Liam says, “He says hello too, but now he’s pouting. Always wants my attention, the needy bastard. I’ll talk to you later, babe. Love you too. Bye.”

They hang up and Louis picks through the biscuits, not really sure what he wants to talk to Liam about anyway. Liam bumps his shoulder into Louis’ after he sets his phone on the bedside table.

“You alright?” Liam asks quietly, watching Louis shuffle through the cookies for no particular reason.

Louis feels like he’s going to unravel and blurts out, “This is all my fault.”

“I thought it was Harry’s idea,” Liam says with a confused frown.

“It was, but I like,” Louis can feel the tears stinging the corners of his eyes. He’d been able to keep it together for Harry, but Liam’s concerned face is drawing it out of him. He pinches at the cookies, crumbling them into pieces, making them as tiny as he can. “I don’t know, I feel responsible. With all my talk about dating without TiMERs and junk. He even said that.”

“I’m sure that’s not what he meant,” Liam says, quickly adjusting himself so that he is face to face with Louis, trying to catch his eye. “He would never say it was your fault.”

Louis shakes his head. “He didn’t, like, say it was, but I know he must think it. He even said I was always saying it was a big injustice to the world to date without TiMERs.”

Liam takes a steadying breath and Louis can feel the tears rolling down his face. He glances up and Liam looks legitimately worried and upset. “Well, you are always doing that.”

“You’re not helping, Li,” Louis says, sniffling. “I did this to them. I did this to us, what if they can never look at each other ever again and the band breaks up? You go on and have a Justin Timberlake solo career and Zayn marries his One and retires to the countryside and becomes a famous artist and Niall starts using drugs and Harry starts dressing up like KISS, because his One is a groupie, and we all never see each other ever again and I die alone never knowing who my One is because you--” He hiccoughs, panic rushing through him. “Because, you know, they never get a TiMER and I die surrounded by my prized parakeets, twenty, all named after exes who weren’t my One.”

Liam’s eyes crinkle up and he puts his hands on Louis’ elbows, and it’s weird how small of a gesture can come as so comforting from Liam.

“You think I’d be like Justin Timberlake?” Liam asks grinning.

“You’re missing the point, Liam! I’m going to die alone surrounded by parakeets,” Louis pushes Liam’s shoulder and he smiles wider.

“That won’t happen because I’ll take you with me,” Liam says, taking Louis’ wrists in his hands. His fingers slide up the sleeves of Louis’ jumper and it calms his racing heart. “If I'm JT, you'll be my sidekick. Wherever I go, you go, deal?”

Louis lets out a shaky breath, eyes following Liam’s lips around the words. “Yeah,” He says after a moment. “Deal.”

“Good. Also the band’s not going to break up.” Liam’s finger runs across Louis’ TiMER, back and forth, absentmindedly. “The band’ll never break up. Even Zayn’s going on about how in ten years time he hopes we’re all still tourin’.”

Louis nods, still focused on the way Liam’s finger is rubbing back and forth across his TiMER.

“You’ll meet your One and I bet they’ll be absolutely stunning,” Liam continues, eyes falling away from Louis’ and to where their knees are touching, both of them sitting legs akimbo, across from each other. “You’ll settle down and have children and be an amazing dad. One Direction reunion tour when we’re in our early thirties, young enough to still be attractive to audiences, before all the joint pain and yearly prostate exams.”

Louis laughs and Liam smiles like making Louis laugh is the best thing he’s ever done. Louis wants Liam to make him laugh everyday for the rest of his life. His heart aches knowing that Liam is happy with Danielle in ways that he could probably never be with Louis.

“Thanks, Payno,” Louis huffs out, quietly.

Liam lets go of his wrists and opens his arms wide, unfolding his legs. “Come on, bring it in, Tommo.”

Louis feels terrible because he wants to hug Liam but he wants more than that, he knows this now. He’d thought about it the entire time he was with Harry, all of the time that Liam was talking. He thought about it while playing Words with Friends and while trying to fall asleep at night. At the shows and on the road. In the shower and when he wakes up first thing in the morning.

But he falls into Liam, hugging him and pushing him over onto his back. They have a little cuddle, Louis sniffling and Liam petting his hair.

“Love you, Lou,” Liam says quietly.

Loving someone and being in love are two different things Harry’s sharp voice reminds him. It’s probably better for his mental well being that Liam not get a TiMER, as much as Louis longs for him to, how much he wishes Liam would realise that Louis has been impatiently waiting for him this whole time. To slap him on the cheek and say, “What took you so long, you beautiful, dumb imbecile?

Zayn walks in then and he sighs loudly, falling into the armchair. He glares at Louis, who is wrapped around Liam. Louis feels small and weary.

Liam’s arm tightens around his shoulder. “Don’t look at him like that, Zayn,” Liam says quickly. "Not now.”

Zayn sighs and sinks low into the chair, “Sorry, Lou, I know it’s not your fault.”

“I tried to stop him.” Louis twists so that he’s facing the ceiling instead of Liam’s body. Liam knocks their feet together, and Louis bumps Liam’s gently back.

"Niall said he was thinking of getting a TiMER too. He didn’t say that to Harry, just to me, but," Zayn shrugs and closes his eyes. “Guess you'll be the only one of us without one, Li,” Zayn says and Louis feels Liam get sort of prickly, so he pats Liam’s forearm.

“You can take over as the mysterious one for Zayn,” Louis says brightly. Zayn groans and Liam chuckles. They’re all quiet for a moment and Louis lies back down next to Liam, running a hand across Liam’s broad chest as he curls inward again, on his side. “Are they okay?”

“They’re just talking now, lots of crying though,” Zayn says, picking at his jeans. “Niall didn’t even yell, just said he felt like he’d been cheated on. I couldn’t take much more after that though, I felt like I was intruding. They talked like I wasn’t even there.”

Louis and Zayn sigh at the same time and, a second later, Liam sighs because he must feel he has to. Zayn stands up. “I need to be alone for a bit, can I just chill in your room, is that alright, Lou?” He reaches his hand out and Louis shifts his hips forward, reaching in his back pocket for his room key.

He blushes when he realises he’s pressing his crotch against Liam’s hip and quickly hands Zayn the card, straightening himself out. “You can take it for the night, Liam and I will share with the other two.”

Zayn sighs again, but this time out of relief. “Thanks, mate.”

He leaves and Louis settles his head back against Liam’s shoulder.

“You tried to stop him?” Liam asks evenly.

Louis nods. “Didn’t want it to end badly,” he answers.

“And me? Do you still want me to get one?” He sounds nervous for the answer and Louis feels like he might throw up.

Louis swallows hard and wishes he didn’t have to lie. He was never a very good liar. “Uh, well not so much, after that,” and that’s as close as he can get to the truth. Liam swallows, Louis watches his adam’s apple bob.

“Not so much,” Liam repeats, staring at the ceiling. Louis doesn’t reply, just wiggles a little bit closer to Liam.

Liam’s hands pulls Louis in tight.

They fall asleep like that.

When Louis wakes up, it’s around half five in the morning, and Liam is still sleeping next to him. In the dark room, Louis can just make out Liam’s shape, arm still thrown across Louis chest.

The outline of Liam against the pale grey beginnings of a sunrise that are starting to pour through the window blurs away the finer details of his features. But even now, Louis can tell that he has his mouth hanging open and is snoring a little bit. And he knows he should roll his eyes and turn around and go back to sleep but Louis can’t help but feel fond, squinting against the light to see where his eyelashes fan out, dark across his cheek.

Louis takes a deep breath and props himself up on his elbow, trying not to move too much so as to not wake Liam. From this angle his jaw is a soft curve and Louis wants to rub his thumb across it to feel if there’s stubble. He doesn’t, just looks instead.

He folds his arm back down and rests his head on it, tries to close his eyes and fall back asleep. It’s useless though because he keeps peeking to make sure that Liam is still there.

Liam mumbles, sounds that aren’t words, and rolls onto his stomach, closer to Louis, but he’s moved his arm and Louis decides he’ll just use the restroom and maybe brush his teeth and change into pyjamas now that he’s got a chance to do so without waking Liam.

Louis’ got his shirt off and is pulling off his trousers when he hears the door click. Niall walks into the room, as quiet as he can, but sees Louis sitting at the edge of the bed and freezes.

“Eh...” he tries to whisper, “Sorry, just wanted to get my phone charger from my bag. Are you--” He points to Louis, halfway through getting undressed, and then to Liam.

Louis shakes his head. “No, no,” he whispers back, quickly. “Just changing into some pyjamas. We fell asleep and I woke up to take a piss.”

“Oh,” Niall says, almost sounding disappointed. They’re both quiet, Niall sort of standing awkwardly, scanning the dark room for his bag. Louis kicks it with his foot. “Thanks,” Niall says, reaching for it. “I guess I’ll just--”

“Are you and Harry going to be okay?” Louis asks at the same time.

It takes a minute for Niall to come up with an answer. “‘Course,” he shrugs. “We have to be.”

“No, that’s not fair,” Louis says and it doesn’t come out as a whisper. Niall shushes him and Louis growls, angry.

“Nothing changes,” Niall says, slinging his bag onto his shoulder, turning to leave. “Between me and Harry, that is. The band neither. We’ve already talked ourselves hoarse about it. Get some more sleep, we have press tomorrow and you already know how shite that’s gonna be.”

Niall leaves and Louis sits there for a minute, head in his hands.

“I think that it’s nice that you care so much,” Liam says, voice croaky with sleep. Louis sighs. “About everyone. The band, your sisters, your mum.”

“Clearly, I’m pretty careless,” Louis mutters, getting up to go to the bathroom. Liam sits up, rubbing at his eyes.

“Lou, you care about everyone you meet more than anyone I’ve ever met,” Liam says, tugging his shirt off. Louis scoffs and runs the faucet, finding a toothbrush and some toothpaste (he sends a mental apology to whomever it belongs). “It’s true,” Liam continues, shucking off his jeans.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” Louis says around the toothbrush. He spits, brushes some more, spits again and rinses. When he looks up, Liam is standing in the doorway, reflected in the mirror.

Liam is all sleep soft and smiley, leaning against the frame, down to his pants too. Louis feels flushed and wipes at his mouth. “Nobody thinks it’s your fault, Louis,” Liam goes on. “We all care about you, too.”

Louis stares at the floor. “I know,” he mumbles.

“I’ll show you one of these days,” Liam says. “Come on, back to bed.”

Louis lets himself be dragged back to the bed, Liam lifts the blankets and sheets, motioning for Louis to crawl in.

“I’m -- I haven’t got --”

“You sleep in your pants with Harry, don’t you?” Liam says with a shrug.

“Well, usually I’m the only one with pants,” Louis stutters. “But, this is different.”

“How?”

Well for one Harry is in love with someone that isn’t me, he thinks and then blinks and oh, right. Liam is too. But Louis isn’t in love with Harry. And it’s not like he’s in love with Liam, either. He just… It’s different.

Instead of arguing, he climbs into bed, curling into himself, pulling the covers to his chin. Liam wanders back into the bathroom, brushes his teeth too, and then crawls into bed behind Louis.

Liam has his back turned to Louis and Louis has his to Liam. It’s weird and Louis feels like if he breathes it’ll be too loud.

“You be the big spoon,” Liam grumbles, reaching his hand back to blindly pat Louis.

Louis sighs like it’s an inconvenience and makes a big show of turning around and scooting over to Liam, who laughs and sighs happily when Louis wraps his arms around him.

He swallows hard, tries to keep the bottom half of his body as far away from Liam without him noticing. But it’s… well, difficult. Awkward. Hard. Whichever word you prefer to use in this situation.

“I’m cold,” Louis announces a little too loudly. He jumps out of the bed and Liam grumbles. “Just going to put some sweatpants on. Off to sleep with you.”

The truth, however, is that it’s ridiculously hot in this exact room at this exact moment. He’s sweating, but stumbles through the dark room in search of someone’s track pants or flannel pyjama bottoms. Whatever he can find. Preferably something thick and padded. Maybe something scratchy.

The problem, of course, is that he isn’t in his own room. With his own things. And his own bathroom. Or even his card to access those sorts of things.

Instead, he pulls on some bottoms he’s found, probably Liam’s considering how tight he has to tie it at his waist. When he ducks back under the covers and slides up against Liam, he feels more at ease knowing that his dick isn’t pressing almost directly against the swell of Liam’s arse.

Liam falls asleep fairly quickly, takes after Zayn like that, but Louis can’t sleep because his nose is buried in the hair at the nape of Liam’s neck, breathing in the scent of mint and soap and something like… boy.

-

Liam is awake when Louis next opens his eyes. Liam is watching him, amused quirk on his lips. “Did you know you hiccough in your sleep?” Liam says as soon as Louis’s eyes open.

“Eh?” Louis says, stretching his legs out. It must be later in the morning because the room is filled with orange light. Liam’s arms are wrapped around his waist and he wonders when they became this physically comfortable with each. It’s not like it happened overnight, the past few months have definitely been a slow buildup to this.

He drinks Liam in, hair falling every which way, going a little curly at the end where it’s starting to get long. Lou -- ‘nice little lady with a dirty mouth and the most adorable child alive’ Lou, not him -- is probably going to start insisting they cut it and Louis feels weirdly protective of Liam’s curls.

Liam is smiling at him dopily. “Why are you so far away?” And then he tugs Louis back into him, burying his nose at the juncture where Louis’ jaw meets his neck, and takes a deep breath in. “I’ve missed sleeping with someone,” Liam mumbles into Louis’ skin.

“Buy me dinner first, Payne,” Louis tries to joke.

Liam nips at his neck and Louis’ heart races. “You know what I mean,” but it almost sounds dirty the way he says it.

“Do I?” Louis asks. He’s quick when he reaches up and goes to pinch Liam’s nipple. Liam reacts fast enough, pulling away and grabbing Louis’ wrist.

They’re inches apart, nose to nose, and Liam’s eyes flicker to Louis’ lips. Louis lets out a harsh breath and he can feel it bounce off of Liam’s face and back towards his.

Louis swallows hard. “Are you going to kiss me?” he asks, breathless and unsteady. Liam’s grip on his wrist tightens.

“I can’t,” Liam whispers, but he’s leaning closer. “I would, though.”

“Why?” Louis asks, dropping his voice quieter than Liam’s.

“Why can’t I or why would I?”

“Both,” Louis mumbles. “Neither. I don’t care.”

Liam swallows hard. “Do you want me to?”

“Do you want to?” Louis retorts.

“You’re so stupid,” Liam says.

“You’re stupid.”

“Shut up,” Liam says, hands sliding down Louis’ back.

“You’re shut up.”

Liam’s smile is so bright it could power New York City for five days and still have some energy left over to power an oven for about three minutes to make perfect toast for the eggs that Louis wishes Liam would make him right now, naked in Louis’ kitchen back home, with a nice cup of tea and maybe a flower in a vase next to a selection of jams. Served in bed of course.

Liam’s hands stop short at the waistband of the pyjamas, hands pulling the curve of Louis’ spine so that they’re hip to hip. Louis feels like his heart is beating right out of his chest and right into Liam’s. He figures Liam shouldn’t be too surprised later when there’s a weird shaped bruise there from the insistent pounding his heart is stuttering out.

Danielle, Louis wants to shout. “Press day,” he says instead.

“It’s going to be a clusterfuck,” Liam answers.

Louis grins wide, “I love that you say the word fuck now.”

“You’ve corrupted me.”

“I love that I’ve corrupted you.”

“I love you,” Liam says in the same tone of voice he’d used when he’d said it before Zayn had come in yesterday afternoon. Louis doesn’t say anything this time either, just focuses on each word as a separate thing in the sentence.

“Liam,” he says instead, peeling his eyes away from Liam’s and looking down between them. He starts to pull away slowly.

Liam’s grip loosens and he sighs. “I’m sorry, I didn’t --”

“I’m going to shower. Better make sure Zayn wakes up,” Louis says and extracts himself from Liam’s comforting heat and from the soft and sleep warm bed. It would be so easy to duck back in and plant a chaste kiss at the corner of his mouth or just on his cheek, he resists the temptation. “Doubt Niall and Harry slept much, so might as well check on them too.”

He doesn’t look back when he walks into the bathroom and closes the door because fuck.

The shower is still just a touch cold when he gets in, probably for his own good. He tries not to think about what just happened, tries to quell the pressure in his chest and the feeling that his stomach has just been shaken around like a martini tumbler. Tries to ignore that his head feels like he’s just had three or four of those to drink. Definitely needs to ignore the heat pooling below his stomach.

And, of course, the problem with showering in a room that isn’t his own is that his soap options are Liam’s or Niall’s. A limited selection. The wise choice would be to go with Niall’s.

Louis was never very wise.

When he gets out of the shower Liam is gone, so he gets dressed, pulling on yesterday’s jeans. Louis picks one of Niall’s clean tops and slips it over his head. He smells like a mixture of mostly Liam with just a thin covering of Niall, all fabric softener and boy, but still overpowered by mint and Liam’s soap, which smells cucumber-y, if Louis had to guess.

He isn’t really sure what to do with himself now. He’d really like to be able to go through his own bags, so, maybe, he’ll go and bother Zayn to let him in.

Except that, well, Liam’s probably in there.

His options are to either stay here, bother Zayn, go and find some food, or bother Niall and Harry. He isn’t exactly hungry even though he knows he should be, but nothing sounds appealing right now.

He decides to suck it up and go and see if Zayn will let him get his bags, his phone is dying and he would like to wear his own clothes. His deodorant and hair product. He’d like to change his pants for Christ’s sake.

When he knocks he’s surprised that it doesn’t take more attempts to wake Zayn up. He appears at the door almost instantly.

“Hey!” He opens the door and let’s Louis shuffle in. Liam isn’t here and Louis feels relief flush through him.

“Hey, just wanted to grab a few things, gotta look nice for the cameras,” Louis says, looking around his mess for the things he’d listed off a few minutes ago in his head.

“They cancelled press,” Zayn says nonchalantly.

“Thank god,” Louis sighs. “What’s the internet saying?”

Zayn’s got his laptop open on the bed. “That Harry’s cryin’ ‘cause it wasn’t you or Caroline or whoever else he’s been spotted with in the last two years. The usual.”

“They have pictures of yesterday?” Louis asks, sitting down and taking a closer look at the articles that Zayn has open.

“Yeah, looks like it,” Zayn shrugs. “Even before you called Paul. Look at this one, of Harry kicking a wall.”

Louis frowns, he didn’t remember seeing anyone following them. He scrolls through the dozens of photos, some even showing grainy closeups of Harry’s countdown.

“Jesus,” Louis grumbles. He closes the laptop. Zayn is texting someone when he looks up. “Where’s Liam?”

Zayn shrugs. “Came to wake me up, but I’ve been awake for a while. I slept better than I’ve slept this whole tour -- thanks, by the way. Said he was gonna go for a run, seemed distracted.”

Louis frowns. Okay. “When’s the flight for San Jose?” He asks, instead of continuing to ask after Liam like he wants to.

“Uh, think we’re doing the bus instead,” Zayn says, pocketing his phone. “No one wants to deal with paps at the airport, I think.”

Louis nods, ok. It’ll be a long drive, so they’ll probably be leaving soon. “Guess we should start getting packed?”

“Don’t know, I’m starvin’, wanna order some food with me and I’ll help you pack?”

“Not hungry,” Louis answers, shaking his head. “And I don’t need help packing.”

Zayn raises and eyebrow and looks around the room. Louis’ things are, some how, thrown all about the room. Three mismatched socks are hanging over the lampshade.

“Fine, fine,” Louis grumbles. “Order me a bagel. Egg, over medium. And bacon. Crispy.”

Zayn nods and goes to the phone next to the bed. Louis starts to gather his things and organise them. When Zayn finishes he comes over and starts folding up Louis’ shirts neatly.

“Usually I just throw ‘em in,” Louis says fondly.

“Well I wanna wear this shirt tomorrow so I’m gonna fold it,” Zayn says bumping his shoulder into Louis’.

Louis goes to grab the socks off the lampshade, looking up at the framed painting of a bouquet of flowers above the bedside table. Zayn is humming behind him and Louis nearly tunes out, nearly gets into his head again, letting himself get distracted by his thoughts. Instead he blurts, “Liam told me he loved me this morning.”

“Well, I should hope he loves you,” Zayn laughs. “We’ve only known each other for two whole years. We all love each other, yeah?” Louis doesn’t say anything, just sort of stares at the socks and picks at where there’s a hole in one of them. Zayn continues humming and folding Louis’ shirts.

“We almost kissed,” Louis says. Zayn stops humming and Louis scrambles to fill the silence, “I think someone has kidnapped our Liam and replaced him with a phony, possibly more handsome, look-a-like. It explains everything, obviously. We’ll get a ransom note soon or maybe he’s actually dead and management replaced him without us knowing and we’ll have to write a song and backmask, so that when you reverse it, it’ll say ‘Liam is dead’. That’s surely the next logical step, right, Zayn?”

Zayn doesn’t answer.

“Zayn?” Louis tries again. “I could really use your help right now, I’m kind of freaking out. What if Liam’s dead?”

Finally Zayn turns around with a look on his face that screams How Fucking Dare You: And Other Conflicting Emotions: An Autobiography by Zayn Malik. “You tried to kiss him?” He sounds incredulous and absolutely furious.

“No! No,” Louis starts to say, eyebrows shooting to his hairline. But then he thinks about it and realises that, yeah, there’s still the little Danielle thing going on. “Well, yeah, no. We didn’t -- I wouldn’t -- No.”

“He tried to kiss you?” Zayn asks in complete disbelief.

Louis shrugs and looks back down at the socks in his hands. He’s pretty sure one of them belongs to Niall. “I’m pretty damn handsome, myself, right? Who could blame him.”

“Shit,” Zayn mumbles.

“I stopped him, of course. Not that--” Louis swallows, slightly embarrassed. “-- Not that I wanted him to stop. I just knew he shouldn’t.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, not you two as well.” Zayn rolls his eyes and goes back to folding things up neatly.

“It doesn’t matter, Danielle is his one, right?” Louis tries for subtle and misses it by a mile.

“You’d have to ask him, mate,” Zayn sighs. “Yeah, he might tell me pretty much everything, but he really doesn’t talk about you that much.” That would hurt to hear if about an hour ago Liam hadn’t tried to kiss him. “Not even at the beginning, when we all knew you two didn’t like each other, he talked to me about everything, but he never talked about you, even when I asked him about it. I think he knew, even back then, that in order for us to get anywhere, he had to make it work with you. Even if you were a prick about it and did the exact opposite for the longest time. ‘Prick’ being my choice of words, not his.”

Louis chucks the wadded up socks at the back of Zayn’s head.

“He’s not going to get a TiMER,” Louis says. And he tries his hardest to keep it from sounding like a question.

“Nah,” Zayn shrugs. “Would you want him to? What if it says he’s Danielle’s or even some random stranger’s and not yours?”

Louis grumbles and sits down on the bed next to the folding. Zayn’s fitting everything into the bags now. “I guess I’d rather just know one way or the other,” Louis says. “No stone unturned, and all that.”

Zayn zips up the bags and gives Louis a look.

“I know that’s selfish. But just… say… say he is my One,” Louis postulates. “Wouldn’t I already know? Wouldn’t I know for sure. Without a doubt?”

“What makes you doubt it is him?”

“Well, he’s with Danielle.”

“He tried to kiss you, bro.” Zayn isn’t helping very much. “Look, that’s the whole controversy about the TiMERs. That’s why, what, like, only fifty percent of the population has them, right? Is it telling you who to love or is it just confirming what you already know? Enemies as lovers, opposites attract, friendship blossoming into love. You and Liam could be any of those.”

Louis hadn’t really considered that. He’d always been so focused on the Love At First Sight, considering that’s how the whole thing is always advertised, how it always plays out in films.

“Harry’s blinked five times,” Louis says, changing the subject.

“Has anyone told him what it means?” Zayn asks easily, like he’s already forgotten the previous conversation, bless him.

Louis shrugs and Zayn sits down on the opposite side of the bags. The room is spotless now and Louis barely did anything. He’s going to end up owing Zayn forever.

“Who do you think it is?” Louis asks.

Zayn hums and his eyebrows draw together. “Well, who has he been hanging out with, recently that he’ll see again when the tour is over?”

“Uh.” Louis tries to think the question through but the only answer he comes up with is, “Well, us.”

Zayn smiles. “Well, we can count that as a no, considering.”

“Maybe someone from home?”

“Ooh, maybe. Would be interested to see that happen.”

“Well, wait, isn’t he going home for the break after Anaheim?” Louis realises. “Probably won’t be someone from there, then. Too soon, his countdown is much longer than that.”

“Could be, still,” Zayn says.

Louis shrugs. “I guess we’ll know when we’ll know. That’s how they work right?”

“And what about you?”

“Oh,” Louis grins. “I’ve already decided that I’m going to die alone, TiMER still blank, surrounded by my prized parakeets, all of which are going to be named after exes who were not my soulmate.”

“You have parakeets?” Zayn asks with a laugh.

“Not yet,” Louis says. “But I’ve been meaning to pick up a new hobby.”

-

The one hour, private jet, luxury flight from Phoenix to San Jose, is swapped for a ten hour, bumpy, and cramped bus ride.

Zayn gives him a weary look when Louis yells, “Niall, Haz, let’s watch that Chronicle movie, we’ve had it for like a month and I’ve been wanting to see it for ages.”

He drags the two of them to the back of the bus despite Zayn’s disapproval and leaves Liam for Zayn to deal with. Liam’s already looking at him like a kicked, wet, sad puppy. It isn’t fair. Louis just wanted to kiss Liam, he didn’t want Liam to want to kiss him too. Or, well, it’s probably fair to say he wanted that too. But not like this.

Harry and Niall sit curled up together on one of the benches in the back. Harry’s pillowed against Niall’s shoulder and Niall keeps leaning down to whisper into Harry’s ear. They’re holding hands and it would be adorable if it were any day before yesterday. Now it’s just heartbreaking.

When the movie is over and they’re all in tears, arguing about whether or not the main character deserved what had happened to him, Zayn and Liam come back and kick them out, Zayn yelling that they didn’t wait for them so now it’s their turn to watch the movie.

And Louis kind of sighs in relief, that’s four hours out of ten that he won’t have to look directly at Liam or talk directly to Liam.

It’s painful, really, it’s not like he wants to avoid Liam. He just knows he needs to. Doesn’t want to be led on, doesn’t want to lead Liam on. It’s all fucked.

Niall and Harry take a nap in one of the bunks and Louis goes to the small kitchenette, makes himself a quick sandwich and grabs two bottles of water.

After eating and finishing off one of the bottles, he spreads out across the bench up front, pulling out his phone and calls his mum.

“Hello, sweetheart!” She answers on the first ring. It must be around dinner time because he can hear the girls in the background trying to talk over each other. “Quiet, girls, your brother is on the phone.”

There’s a lull in the noise and then it gets louder, he laughs. “Hi mum, tell them I said hello and that I’d love to talk to them once I talk to you, ok?”

She relays the information and then the noise gets distant, he can tell she’s trying to find a quiet spot in the house to talk.

“How’s it going, love?” She asks.

“Really, really great,” He says immediately. “We’re driving ten hours instead of flying though, so, could be better.”

“Quit complaining,” She chides. She’s right. “How is Harry? Send him my love won’t you? Why is he crying in all of those photos?”

Louis sighs, he should have known that she would be aware of that current situation. Even if he keeps forgetting himself, but he does, of course, currently have his own things to deal with. “Yeah, um, well he was upset that the one that he wanted to be his One ended up not being his One.”

She repeats that and then, “Oh, oh, I’ve deciphered that sentence. Oh, poor babe. I’m sure he and his not-One one will work it out. I’m assuming they know each other already?”

“Yep, intimately.”

“That boy, I swear he has a way of getting everyone to want to know him intimately. Not that it’s his fault of course, I know he’s a good kid.”

“I just wish I could have talked him out of getting it,” Louis says, without really thinking.

“What?” His mum says, surprised. “You? Talking someone out of getting a TiMER?” She laughs and Louis grumbles. “I’ve just never known you to be against them. Are you against them now? Has your blank one made you reactionary?”

“No,” Louis says sternly. “I’m not against them, I just. It was the circumstances. It was the not-One. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“All’s fair in love and war, sweetheart,” She answers, almost absentmindedly. It sounds like such a generic mum response.

Louis picks at the hem of his shirt, frowning. He’s quiet and he can hear her, she must be cleaning or cooking. “It was Niall,” He says quickly. Decides she would understand if she knew. Besides, it’s his mum, of course she’ll keep this secret.  “His not-One was Niall.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, shit,” She says. “Is everyone alright?”

“Uhm, I’d say a little shocked. But Niall and Harry are going on like it didn’t happen so now I guess we all just follow their lead.”

“But Harry’s is counting down?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s none of my business.” His mum hums in agreement.

“You’ve all grown up so much,” She says, suddenly. “Your generation is lucky, you know. You lot, you get to skip out on most of the heartache that comes with unrequited feelings or the embarrassment, not to mention the possible venereal fallout--”

“Ew, mum!”

“I mean, obviously not entirely. But your generation won’t have to deal with the financial and emotional burden of divorce ever again. Did you know that something like seventy percent of people over the age of fourteen -- and under the age of twenty -- have TiMERs now?”

“Didn’t know that,” Louis replies, sort of bored by the lecture.

“Speaking of which,” She says, suddenly peppy. “You’ll be home next week right? Between shows? How many days do you have off?”

“Well, six,” He says. “But two of those will obviously be for travelling.”

“Alright, well, good. That gives us enough time to plan around your schedule, Matchmaker Tom is coming over to give Lottie her TiMER.”

Louis groans. “Are you serious? Isn’t she, like, eight still?”

“You’re all growing up so fast!” She squeaks, and he can hear the tears forming in her voice. She goes wobbly when she says, “I can’t wait for you to be home again. We’ve all missed you so much.”

“Eugh, don’t cry,” Louis replies. “I’ve missed you too. I’ve missed all of you. Eugh, feelings. Let me talk to the little ones. Start with Little Miss TiMER. We’ll work our way down in age. I’ll scare her into never wanting to date boys, considering that all boys are stupid. I should know.”

“Alright, alright,” His mum says. “You are stupid, but I love you. Tell everyone else I send my best. Here’s Charlotte. Love you!”

“Love you too.”

There’s a shuffling around and then Lottie’s on the line with a bright, “Hello, Lou!”

“Hello, bug,” He replies. “I hear someone in that god forsaken house is allowing you to get a TiMER. I don’t remember approving of this.”

Lottie giggles, “I’m old enough now! Mum’s said so. I hope it’s Anthony Christopher, his TiMER’s blank, but Mum says I shouldn’t hope it’s him because he’s starting sixth form next year and I’ll still be in secondary for two whole years before we can be together. How tragic is that?”

Louis laughs. “Romeo and Juliet tragic,” He replies.

“Yeah,” she sighs wistfully. “Will you be here for when I get my TiMER? Mum’s said Matchmaker Tom is going to do it, he’s the one that always smells like the potpourri that nan has in her diningroom.”

“Yes, I will be there, love. I’m so excited for you.”

“Yeah!” She says happily. “Want to talk to Fizzy next or one of the twins?”

“Give me Fitz,” He answers. “Love you!”

“Love you too,” He hears distantly at the same time as Fizzy yells, “HELLO LOU!”

“Hullo monster, what are you doing?” This is his favorite part of any day. He already feels ten pounds lighter.

“I’m following Lottie around the house, she keeps yelling at me to stop,” she says, darkly. Felicite has always taken after him in more ways than any of the others.

“Try stepping on the back of her heals every time she takes a step,” Louis advises. “Don’t tell Mum I’ve suggested that.”

“Ooh, good idea!” Fizzy whispers happily. Then he can hear Lottie in the background yelling. “I gotta go, Lou,” Fizzy whispers quickly. The phone is dropped and there’s lot of clatter and noise. Finally his mum picks the phone back up. He’s patient and used to this. “Which twin would you like to talk to?” She asks.

“Whichever is your favorite,” He answers.

“Alright, here’s Daisy.”

“Mum!” He hears in the background

“Only joking, she’s just the one that’s closest. Don’t think you’re not in trouble, young man. Felicite gave your name like it’s the only word she knew. You can’t get away just because you’re halfway across the globe and famous, alright. I expect you to clean the garage when you get home. I mean proper clean, too. No half-arsing it. Anyway, here Dais, give that to Phoebe when you’re done, alright?”

“Louis?” Daisy yawns.

“Hello sugar, what are you up to?”

“Watching the telly,” She answers.

“Anything good on?” He asks.

“Nah,” She says.

“Alright, anything else?”

“Lottie is getting a TiMER, like you,” She states, matter of fact.

“I know, exciting, right?”

“Not really,” She answers. “Everyone’s got one it’s not like they’re all that interesting.”

“You haven’t got one,” He points out.

“Yeah, but I will when I’m that old. Mum’s making us dress all formal for Lottie’s. You know how much I hate dresses.”

“Well, I’ll be home for it, so I can convince her to let you wear some trousers, alright?”

“Ok,” She replies happily. And then decisively, “Here’s Phoebe.”

“Hi, Louis!” Phoebe breathes into the phone, boredom clear in her voice.

“Hiya, peanut, how are things?”

“Alright,” She answers. “I got in trouble, so Mum is making me do lines.”

“Oof,” Louis says in solidarity, but still laughs. He remembers having to sit at the kitchen table and write the same thing over and over again. “What did you do?”

“I accidentally bumped into a girl at school and she fell and scraped her knee on the sidewalk.” She doesn’t sound at all upset about it. “She was standing in my place in line, though, so she deserved it. She cried like a baby.”

Louis shakes his head. “And what is good ol’ Mum having you write?”

“‘My attitude smells like rotten fish and I should remember to fridge my emotions to keep them fresh’,” She recites, like a computer.

Louis laughs. “That’s a new one! How do you spell attitude?”

“A-D-D-I-T-U-D-E,” She answers. He has to cover his mouth to keep from laughing.

“Good job, if you get it wrong she’ll make you start over from scratch, make sure to double check the dictionary.”

“I know how to spell, Lou, I’m eight years old,” She says.

“Of course, I forgot,” He says. “Well I’ve got to get going now, but tell everyone I love them and don’t forget to put the phone in the cradle so it can charge or Mum will get mad at you for forgetting.”

“Alright, bye, Lou,” She says, the sound of the chair scooting back from the table in the background. “I love you.”

“Love you too, babe. See you soon.”

He hangs up and sets his phone on his chest. Content, he closes his eyes, focusing on the bumps of van and the way his body shakes with it, doesn’t let himself think about anything else. He always feels so much better after getting to talk to his family.

And Lottie getting a TiMER, he is actually very excited for her. Nervous, but excited. It’ll be nice to get to spend some time at home. It’ll be easier to breathe.

He’s halfway to sleeping, drifting in and out of consciousness for what feels like both a short and long time, when he realises that he’d forgotten to tell his mum that he’d broken it off with Eleanor. And like dominos, everything falls back into place, playing over in his head, but, at least he still feels much better.

He looks at the time on his phone. They’re, at best, halfway there. A rest stop should be coming up soon. Refueling time for both the bus and the boys.

And like magic the bus starts a slow rumble and then comes to a full stop, before finally groaning into a right turn. It’s perfect timing, really, not just because he’d guessed right, but because those two bottles of water have definitely made their way south.

The gas station is disgusting, of course, they always are. But when you’ve gotta go, you gotta go. He hits the head and wanders around looking at the different snacks and candies. Gummy bears sound good so he grabs a bag of Haribo.

Liam is walking at the back, looking through the different drink selections. Louis’ heart feels light, and he’s still in such a good mood from talking to his family that he decides to go over to where Liam is browsing.

“Hey,” He says tentatively.

Liam glances at him and the looks away, cheeks going a bit pink. “Yeah?”

“Look,” Louis tries, ducking into Liam’s line of sight. “I just wanted to say sorry for this morning, yeah? I get that you’re lonely and you miss Danielle. I just didn’t want you to mess up what is clearly a good thing in your life, because I was there and I had lips or whatever.”

Liam sighs, “I want to talk about it, but not here. Not in a gas station somewhere in California or Nevada or South Dakota, whatever, I don’t know where the hell we are. Let’s just get back on the bus.”

He takes Louis’ gummy bears and grabs a bottle of Coke. He drops them both on the counter to checkout and pays, handing the gummy bears back to Louis. Finally they walk slowly back to the bus.

They barricade themselves in the back room, sitting down on the furthest back couch which pulls out into a large bed. They all like to get it out and pile on it for movie nights and such. Right now, though, Louis curls up into one corner of the sofa and Liam on the opposite side, they couldn’t sit further apart if they wanted.

“It isn’t that I miss Danielle,” Liam says, picking up on what Louis had said in the gas station. “I’m lonely because I’ve been stupid over you since I can remember. Just like when you were talking about how you’ve had a TiMER since you can remember. It’s exactly the same.”

Louis can’t breathe.

Liam doesn’t look up to see Louis’ reaction, instead, he just continues, “My family couldn’t afford getting me one of them when I was old enough. I was made fun of a lot.” He pauses and opens his Coke, taking a swig. “There were people in my classes with countdowns that were just a few days long. There were kids with thousands of days, but they all knew. Sometimes there would be a party if someone’s went off while we were in class. I never got any of that.

“And then I met you and there wasn’t anything I could do. We were supposed to be in a band together and I’d never liked boys before.” Liam shrugs. “Andy kept ribbing me about it--”

“Andy’s a douchebag,” Louis says easily.

“Yeah, well Andy was still nice to me when you were being a prick--”

“I knew you had called me a prick, Zayn said it was him, but I knew it was--”

“Louis.”

“Sorry,” Louis mumbles.

“It’s just, you were with Hannah anyway, it didn’t really matter,” Liam says.

“She didn’t have a TiMER, I went with her to get one and it was blank too. She’s getting married in a few months,” Louis says quietly.

“I know. But, then I decided to just get over it,” Liam continues. “Started dating Danielle and you broke up with Hannah and I thought, maybe. But, I knew you’d want to know... if I was your One. So I stayed with Danielle and you started dating El.

“And it made me so angry. You were with someone who had a TiMER and it was already counting down and you were still with her. You were in love with her and--”

“I wasn’t,” Louis interrupts. “There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love, Li.”

Liam pauses and looks at Louis curiously. Louis shrugs and digs deeper down into the corner of the couch like he’s trying to get away from the way Liam must be judging him.

“You were with her for so long,” Liam says, like it should negate what Louis had said.

“It was easy, there wasn’t any pressure.”

They’re both quiet again. watching each other shyly. Liam takes a deep breath.

“These last few weeks have been amazing,” Liam says, finally. “I don’t know what’s changed. But I know that my feelings haven’t. These past few weeks haven’t been much pressure, yeah? I mean until I messed it all up. But, you said you wanted to kiss me too. It’s just, I finally talked to Zayn about it and he said I should tell you everything. So that’s what I’ve done.” Liam looks away and scratches at his hair. “I like you, Louis, there’s no other way to put it.”

Louis can feel his heart breaking. “You’re with Danielle.”

“Yeah,” Liam sighs, like it’s not the thing he was hoping Louis would say next. He stands up. “Well, at least you know now. I’m going to go to the bathroom and throw up and make Zayn give me a cuddle. Maybe find some gum or brush my teeth in between.”

“Li--”

Liam leaves, closes the door behind him and Louis is sat alone on the couch. He doesn’t know how long he’s been crying but he’s wiping at his eyes and finding them wet. He sniffles pathetically and lies down on the couch, face first, letting it out.

He yells into the cushion until Niall comes back there and lies down half on top of him, kissing his cheek and petting his hair. He hears Harry come back at some point but by then he’s back to drifting in and out of sleep, emotional exhaustion wearing him thin.

-

It changes the way Louis looks at everything that’s happened. When Liam walked out after their argument in Toronto. All the times he and Liam had argued, it was all sort of eye opening. Especially the way that Liam had always been reserved when it came to affection with him but never with any of the other boys.

It’s all he can think about for the next two days. He spends all his time going over and analysing everything they’ve done in the past, whether it was a good memory or bad.

Liam hardly looks his way, doesn’t speak to him if he doesn’t have to. All of the other boys tiptoe around it all, even though Louis is well aware that they all know by now.

They play the show in San Jose and Liam spends most of the show running away from Harry, who’s got it in his head that his hand should always be around Liam’s crotch. Louis isn’t particularly jealous. Maybe something closer to envious.

Oakland is a quick show because they’re all a little too excited to get to Los Angeles. They’ve got two days there, one free day to roam around and do whatever they’d like and then the show on the next day. And after that is Anaheim, which basically gets them a third day in Los Angeles.

The shows go fine and everyone is fairly happy. They decide to take one extra day in Los Angeles after their final show in Anaheim. After this, they’ve got a long break where everyone has got their own plans to go off to various places around the world. And then, in six days, it’s back to the grind for the final seven shows.

It’s the middle of June and California is all sunshine and unrelenting heat. Liam and Niall go off to do some shopping and Harry says he’s going to stay in and relax, have Lou come over to do his hair and have a nice talk with her. So Louis nabs Zayn to go off and do some exploring of their own.

As for TiMERs, the countdowns are as follows:

Zayn: 55 days, 10 hours, 45 minutes, 3 seconds

Harry: 47 days, 10 hours, 45 minutes, 3 seconds

Louis: ---- days , -- hours, -- minutes, -- seconds

They’re sent photos of Time’s Square, where there are two large countdowns next to blown up pictures of Harry and Zayn. If they thought it was weird having their love lives out on display for the whole world to see in tabloids and online, this is a whole new level, well beyond weird.

He and Zayn stop off at a food truck and sit outside to eat, Paul watching them from a few dozen feet away. Louis got carne asada tacos and Zayn’s eating a chicken ‘burrito bowl’, they’re arguing about whether or not it should really be called a burrito, because that’s clearly misleading when it is obviously a salad.

“It’s not a salad, it’s got hardly any lettuce,” Zayn says, stabbing another forkful. Louis is about to argue that if you put lettuce in a bowl it automatically becomes a salad but Zayn pulls out his phone and puts a finger up. “Just a sec, it’s Niall.”

“‘Lo?” Louis watches, taking another bite of his taco. Zayn’s face drops within seconds. “What happened?” There’s a pause and then, “What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Wha’s goin’ on?” Louis says around a mouthful of food.

Zayn doesn’t answer. “Can you put him on the phone? Why? Ok, get him back to the hotel, we’ll be there. Tell Preston to get him some water or something?”

“What the hell?” Louis says, motioning for Paul to come over. “Is it Harry? I thought he was staying in.”

“Alright, see you soon, Nialler. Keep him calm,” Zayn says and hangs up.

Paul comes over, arms crossed. “What’s up?” He asks. Louis shrugs and turns to Zayn.

“Niall called, said Liam was--”

“Liam?” Louis asks, stricken.

“--really upset and couldn’t breathe or something. Said he was on the phone with someone and happy one second and then passing the phone to Niall and hyperventilating the next.”

“Shit,” Louis and Paul say at the same time.

“Did he say why?” Paul asks, and they all start to head back to the car that had taken them here. Zayn shakes his head.

“Did someone die?” Louis asks, honestly concerned.

Zayn shrugs. “I really hope not.”

They get back to the hotel and get upstairs as quickly as possible. Harry isn’t anywhere to be found but Niall is waiting outside of his and Liam’s door. He sees Louis and Zayn and looks relieved, jogging to meet them halfway.

“So?” Zayn asks.

“Eh,” Niall looks over at Louis, sort of hesitant, but turns back to Zayn. “Well, we went through his phone and figured out he’d been talking to Dani. There’s not much else. His face just keeps doing that wobbly sad thing it does, like his mum’s, every time we ask him about it.”

“Is he talking to anyone?”

Niall shakes his head, looking grim. “Asked Preston for some more water but that was about it. At one point he started laughing and said, ‘It would happen now’ and wouldn’t explain. It creeped me out, to be honest.”

“Will he be ok for the show tomorrow?” Paul asks. He receives three glares in response.

“I dunno, Pauly, let me go an’ ask him,” Niall says, with a frown and a flick on the arm.

“You probably shouldn’t see him,” Zayn says, turning to Louis. “If it’s about Dani, I mean. Not yet.”

Louis’ face crumples but he nods. Niall looks at his feet, awkwardly. Zayn knocks as he goes into Liam’s room and disappears.

“Fucking hell,” Louis says.

Paul gives him a look and disappears to find Preston, leaving Louis and Niall alone.

“This is such shit.”

“Lou, for what it’s worth he didn’t start crying,” Niall says. “From what I got, and, I mean, I wasn’t with him, I was off looking at shoes. But, from what I got, I think Danielle thought Liam was tryin’ to surprise her by getting a TiMER. Think her's started counting down.”

Louis takes a sharp breath. “No,” He says shaking his head. “They were… She was his…”

Niall shrugs and shakes his head. “Doesn’t seem that way anymore, mate.” Louis is quiet and Niall waddles over and gives him a tight hug. “Like I said, though, he didn’t cry.”

Louis clings to Niall for a really long time and tries not to cry himself. He feels personally responsible, like him wishing for a sign or for Liam to be for him has resulted in this.

Harry shows up out of nowhere. “I’ve brought Liam a cupcake from a bakery,” He says, holding up a fancy pink box, tied with a bow.

“How’d you hear about it?” Louis asks, still hanging over Niall’s shoulders.

“Was here when they got back,” Harry answers, walking past them to the door. “Told him I’d go and get him whatever he wanted. He said something sweet. I told him I was already there but he didn't laugh, so.” He shrugs and walks into the room.

Niall gives Louis a pat and a sad, sorry smile. “I’ve gotta go in too, Tommo. I’ll let you know if he asks for you, ok?”

Louis huffs and nods, leaning back against the wall. Niall leaves him too and he slides down the wall, sitting in front of Liam’s door. He stays there for a long time, watches the window down at the end of the hall where the sun arches down, thinning into shadow against the floral carpet.

He hugs his knees to his chest and waits, eyes drifting closed.

He opens his eyes and stares at the door, chin resting on his knees.

He folds his knees towards the floor and stretches his neck to look at the ceiling, picking out patterns and connecting lines through the texture.

Finally the door opens and four boys shuffle out. Louis stands to his feet as quick as he can, nearly falling, arms flailing trying to catch his balance.

The three of them hug Liam who’s eyes, nose, and cheeks are all red. Liam is watching Louis, half weary and half curious.

Harry looks over his shoulder and see’s Louis standing by himself, “Oi, what are you doing, Lou? Get over here, can’t you see we’re trying to have a band cuddle.”

Louis looks at Liam who smiles weakly and jerks his head in a Get Over Here motion. Louis lets out a breath and takes the two steps to fall against Niall and wrap his arms around the rest of them. Zayn’s hand finds his shoulder and Harry’s pats his bum.

Liam’s forehead rests against his for a brief second and then Niall is squeezing out between Louis and Harry’s arms and jumping on top of them all.

“Lets all go get pints,” Niall says happily.

“None of us are old enough in the States, sunshine,” Zayn reminds him and Niall’s face falls.

“I’m too tired,” Liam says, and they all disentangle. “And, plus I don’t dri-”

“Drink!” Harry yells. “We know you can, Liam. We’ll get you one day. After the tour is over.” Liam rolls his eyes. “Come on Niall, let’s go raid the mini-fridge in Paul’s room.”

It’s Zayn’s turn to roll his eyes as Niall and Harry skip down the hall towards Paul’s. Then he turns and looks at Louis and then at Liam and sighs. “You two idiots need to talk,” He says. Louis starts to protest, but Zayn puts a hand over his mouth. Louis licks it but Zayn doesn’t react. “That is absolutely disgustin’, but you are not going anywhere until you and this other idiot talk your feelings out. Now go, shoo.” He removes his hands and pushes them both back into Liam’s room, taking an extra moment to wipe his hand on Louis’ shirt in revenge.

The door swings closed and he and Liam are alone.

They stare at each other, there seems to be a lot of that going on so he blurts out, “I’m sorry.” Although he’s not sure what for.

“She’ll be happy and I’ll be fine,” Liam says with a tired shrug. He turns away and goes to sit on the bed. And, yes, right, Louis can tell Liam he’s sorry for that even though he was thinking more along the lines of I’m sorry that I feel ecstatic that the girl you thought was your One isn’t actually your One or I’m sorry that all I can think about is when it would be more appropriate to kiss you on the mouth.

“You’re probably sick of talking about it,” Louis offers.

“Yeah,” Liam says with what is almost a laugh. He rubs at his eyes, one handed. “I’m all talked out. I could sleep for the next hundred hours, probably.”

“I’m not tired at all.”

“Hm.” Liam nods and looks blankly at the painting of horses running in a field that is hanging on the wall in front of him.

They’re both quiet.

“Is it bad that I just want you to kiss me?” Liam asks, wincing.

“It’s all I can think about,” Louis replies. “It’s probably bad, we’re awful.” Danielle’s body isn’t even cold yet, metaphorically speaking.

“You can, if you’d like,” Liam says, sounding almost hopeful.

“Is it less romantic if you ask me to?” Louis takes a step closer to the bed.

Liam hums and reaches a hand out, pulling Louis by the hip. He’s another step closer and he puts a shaky hand on Liam’s cheek. He settles between Liam’s legs and brushes Liam’s fringe away from his face.

Liam’s looking up at him like this is the best way to fix his broken heart and Louis wants so badly to do that but he knows that there’s no possible way this could help.

On the other hand Liam is biting his lip and looking up at Louis and giving him all of the control in this situation. And giving Louis that sort of power in any situation always ends in trouble.

He leans his body against Liam’s and Liam wraps his arms around Louis’ hips and presses his face into Louis’ stomach. Louis tugs at his hair a bit, and Liam tilts his head up, nose tugging Louis’s shirt up to expose skin and Liam’s breath is hot against it.

Liam leans back on both hands and Louis follows, a knee on either side of Liam’s hips. Liam lies all the way down and Louis places both hands on either side of Liam’s head and they look at each other for a long minute.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” Louis whispers. Liam sits up on his elbows, getting his face as close to Louis’ as he can without stretching.

“No, no, it’s a great idea,” He mumbles. “It’s up there with, um, gravity or cold fusion. It’s a really, really good idea.”

Louis leans in the rest of the way, deliberately slow and delicate when their lips finally find each other’s. It’s perfect really, as much as Louis is familiar with first kisses usually being the opposite.

Liam’s lips are soft against his. He takes a harsh breath through his nose and pulls Louis in closer to deepen the kiss.

And all at once Louis is acutely aware of how much he’s missed sex while on the road. Yeah, his hand had gotten him by, but nothing compares to the slick wet heat of someone’s mouth opening up against yours.

Louis makes a pathetic whine in the back of his throat and Liam grins against his lips, biting at one playfully and that only makes it worse. Louis sinks against Liam, pressing against him. He can feel Liam, half hard in his jeans already, and Louis moans.

He pulls away embarrassed, but Liam’s cheeks are pink too. “God,” Louis says, breathless. “Do you even know what cold fusion is?”

Liam smiles and his fingers dig into Louis sides, making him yelp and struggle away from being tickled. Liam uses this to his advantage and flips them both over, pinning Louis to the bed. He kisses him again, mouth getting rough and needy.

Louis lets Liam do what he will. His heart beats faster when Liam grinds his hips down, cock dragging heavy against Louis’. Liam is mouthing at his neck and Louis closes his eyes, breathing hard, and thrusting back up against Liam.

Liam’s fingers flicker to Louis’ flies, hesitant.

“Please,” Louis pleads, broken.

Liam bites at his shoulder, sucking at the skin, and shakily unfastens Louis’ trousers. He palms at Louis through his pants and he presses his own cock down harder as he thrusts up against Louis’ hip.

Louis’ hands slide up Liam’s shirt, rucking it up, and then back down to his jeans, slipping past the hem and underneath Liam’s pants to palm at his arse, dragging him down harder.

Liam kisses back up Louis’s neck and jaw, finding his lips again.

“Fuck,” He breathes, and finally digs his hand underneath Louis’ pants and wraps his hand around Louis’ cock.

Louis hisses and Liam drags his hand across the slit, spreading precome down his length before going back up with a twist of his wrist. Louis falls to pieces at that, forgetting how to kiss him back.

Liam’s grinning, proud, dragging his hand back down and finding a rhythm and Louis still has his hands digging into Liam’s arse. He focuses his attention back to Liam, stretches forward a little, and lets his fingers just barely glide across the back of Liam’s balls, pressing in and dragging up, until he finds what he’s really looking for.

Liam gasps against his neck, his hand stutters in it’s rhythm.

“Lou,” Liam groans.

Louis pulls his finger away. “Not good?”

“Really good, actually,” Liam says with a shaky laugh. Louis kisses him, biting and pulling at his bottom lip, and lets his hand dip back down to where it was. Liam pauses for a moment, completely embarrassed, and reaches off of the bed to where his bag is lying on the floor and hands Louis a small bottle.

“Lube, Liam?” Louis asks, impressed.

Liam goes pink and he whispers, “Shut up,” against Louis’ mouth and kisses him again.

Louis opens the bottle and watches Liam open his own flies, drag his pants down, then Louis’ in turn. He takes both of their cocks in one hand, and Louis’ breath hitches and his hips canter up when his dick slides against Liam’s.

Louis presses his finger in experimentally, and Liam lets out a string of curses against his shoulder, rocking back into the touch and forward again so his cock drags against Louis’. He uses his other hand to spread Liam wider and lets his finger slide further in.

Liam is pumping them both at the same time, rocking his hips so that Louis’s finger fucks into him deeper and deeper each time. Louis kisses him hard and slowly adds a second finger, leaving Liam moaning loudly.

Louis can feel his orgasm starting at the base of his spine and roll through his stomach, his hips jerk up and he comes into Liam’s hand with a shout.

“Fuck,” Liam hisses against his cheek. “So good, Lou. So gorgeous.”

Louis crooks his fingers as Liam fucks back into them, hand still sliding up and down his reddened cock. Liam moans again and again and Louis kisses his chin, down his neck, and sinks his teeth into Liam’s shoulder. Liam shudders, come hitting Louis’ thighs in streaks.

Liam kisses him chastely on the mouth, and it quickly turns rough and competitive again. But he’s shaking, trying to hold himself up over Louis so he finally gives up and rolls over.

“Think you can take more, next time?” Louis asks waggling his eyebrows.

Liam grins happily and reaches to grab tissues from the bedside table for them to clean up. “Next time,” He repeats dazedly.

Louis reaches out and pets Liam’s arm, taking a few tissues from him, wiping gently at his thighs first. Once they finish cleaning themselves, he leans over and kisses Liam between the eyes. He pulls Liam’s shirt over his head, and then stands up and pulls Liam’s jeans and pants off all at once. Then he takes off his own clothes, Liam watching him with a lazy grin on his face.

“I just want to sleep right now,” Louis says, crawling to the pillow he’s decided is his, and gets under the blankets. Liam turns off the lights and follows his lead, taking the other side of the bed. Liam curls around him and it’s easier than anything else they’ve done.

Liam bites his ear and mumbles, “I just want to sleep forever.” Louis hums. “That was perfect,” Liam says and kisses the back of Louis’ neck.

Louis settles against him and they fall asleep.

They wake up to a persistent, sharp knock at their door.

“Eugh,” Louis says, suddenly conscious. “Stop that!”

“It’s just Harry, I have my card for the room, so you don’t even have to get up,” Comes Harry’s voice from the other side of the door. “Just want to make sure nobody’s in any compromising positions before I come in to get my things.”

“What time is it?” Liam croaks from next to him, and, oh yeah. Louis smiles and leans over, kissing Liam’s nose.

“No dicks are visible, you may enter,” Louis calls.

There’s a click and then Harry is walking in, holding his phone up and grinning wide. “Just taking a video for the inevitable documentary.”

Liam laughs and hides his face with the blankets, Louis rolls his eyes. “Can you imagine how boring a documentary would be about us,” Liam says, peeking over the blankets. “Oh, here’s Niall, lost in an arena, trying to find the toilets. For the third time. That day.”

Louis cracks up and digs his hands under the blankets, wrapping his fingers around Liam’s arm, to pull him closer.

“Heeey,” Harry drawls. “Hands where I can see them! No funny business.” He puts his phone in his pocket, apparently satisfied. He spins around dangerously, looking for his bag and says, “Cheers to the happy couple, by the way. Welcome to the party.”

“Cheers,” they both reply.

“Not that we’re a couple,” Liam adds quickly, looking to Louis for reassurance.

“Right,” Louis says. “We haven’t really had time to talk about it yet.”

Harry gives them a skeptical look. “Riiiight,” He says, and then finds his bag. He grabs it and waves as he leaves, calling over his shoulder, “Might want to have a talk about that, then.”

The door clicks closed behind him and Louis turns on his side, watching Liam, who turns on his side and watches Louis.

“Hey,” Louis says after they’ve watched each other for a good while.

“Morning,” Liam says very seriously. Then his face breaks into a smile, eyes going crinkly and it sets Louis off too. Liam wraps his arms around Louis and pulls him in close, kissing him sweetly. Louis hums against Liam’s mouth.

“We don’t have to talk about it now,” Louis says cuddling up against Liam’s broad chest. He tangles their feet together under the covers.

“Well, I did just get out of a serious relationship,” Liam says with half a laugh. Louis winces. “I’m fine, Lou, swear.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t do this again for a while,” Louis says. “You and I, we’re the same, we both go from one long relationship to the next long relationship. You two were together not even a full day ago. Maybe take some time to figure out what you want?”

He pulls away from Louis with a frown, eyebrows drawn together. “I want you,” Liam says very seriously. “What is it that you want, Louis?” He asks sharply.

Louis sighs and pulls away, reaching for the first article of clothing that he recognises is his. He pulls a shirt on over his head. “I don’t know?” He shrugs his shoulders and lets them drop pathetically. “A- a guarantee. I’d want you to get a TiMER.” He doesn’t even think before he says it.

Liam’s face closes off entirely, shutting Louis out like he should have done that first night around the campfire at the bungalow. He shakes his head and sits up straighter. “No, you know what, Lou. It’s not that I can’t give you a guarantee,” Liam spits. “It’s that you can’t give me one.”

Louis flinches. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I’m in love with you.”

“I don’t,” Louis tries. He can’t look at Liam and instead his vision drifts into the middle distance. “I don’t know what that means.”

“How can you say that?”

“I’ve never been in love before,” Louis says, voice cracking. He pulls on his pants and stumbles around to find his trousers.

Liam gets up slowly and starts putting his clothes on too. “You’ve dated plenty of people, surely you must have fallen in love with one of them?”

Louis laughs. “There’s a difference between loving someone--”

“Don’t say that to me, not after last night, Louis.”

“Liam, I love you, I do. But I don’t know what being in love feels like,” Louis says, exasperated.

Liam is quiet and when Louis looks over at him he can tell Liam is really fucking angry. He’s never seen Liam so angry, actually. Liam stands up and walks to the door.

“I’ll see you in a few days,” Liam says, opening the door, gesturing for Louis to leave. “Maybe by then you’ll have figured it out yourself.”

Louis walks over to him and puts a hand out to touch his cheek, but Liam pulls away.

“Have a safe trip,” Liam says, patiently.

Louis feels like he wants to cry again but instead he takes a deep breath and walks out the door, doesn’t look back as he hears it click closed.

-

Louis had promised his mum he’d be home for Lottie’s TiMER party, or whatever it was she had been excitedly texting him about all week. So he flies back home by himself.

Being home now is always strange. His room as been kept exactly as it was, and sleeping there gives him a sort of calm. And, despite how much fun his job is, he really does enjoy being home. It’s funny how, especially now, the madness that goes on in this tiny house is considerably more quiet compared to the rest of his life.

He’s great at pretending he isn’t miserable, considering he’s fucked up the one good thing he thought he might have. There’s curiosity and then there’s selfishness and he knows which one it is and he definitely isn’t proud of it.

The first day back is slightly hectic with planning for Lottie’s TiMER installation.

It’s relatively easy to fall back into the swing of things. He wakes up that morning and helps with bacon and eggs for the girls like he did when they were all in school. His mum goes off to work and he and the girls have a nice time watching movies and making lunch together and planning for Lottie’s special dinner.

Phoebe jumps on him trying to flick his ear when he asks if she remembers how to spell attitude. “Mum made me write it fifty more times! And you knew she would, didn’t you!” Daisy just rolls her eyes and pulls Phoebe away to go back to playing in their room.

Louis gives Fizzy ideas on how to mess with the rest of the girls all day and they slyly high five after each successful prank. Lottie spends the day trying to decide on what to wear for that night.

After a lazy day around the house, their mum comes home and, shortly after, Matchmaker Tom arrives. Lottie decides on a pair of black jeans and a cropped top, makeup and hair done up even more than usual. Louis calms Fizzy down and rounds up the twins. They all stand around where Lottie is sitting at the head of the dining room table.

Matchmaker Tom is wearing the TiMER company’s red shirt under a black dinner jacket. It almost makes him look like a priest. He’s balding and smells of his nan’s potpourri and Louis feels bad for being bored by the whole thing.

Finally, the magic words are said:

“I, Matchmaker Tom, certify that you, Charlotte Tomlinson are of TiMER eligible age.”

Their mum starts clapping and Louis goes along with it, elbowing Fizzy to join in too. And it couldn’t come soon enough, he’d really just like to get this over with.

Matchmaker Tom attaches the pink TiMER to the piercing gun and they all lean in to get a better look as he gets it aligned properly.

“Like an ear piercing, right?” Lottie asks, taking a deep breath.

“Yes. It’ll hurt, but only briefly,” Says Tom.

He squeezes the trigger and they’re all quiet, leaning in to get a better look at her arm. The twins shove at each other for a minute. It blinks to life with a chime and they watch the numbers appear on the tiny screen:

4 days, 8 hours, 12 minutes, 58 seconds

“That’s bullshit, four days?” They all look at him and only then does he realise that he had been the one to shout that.

“Lou,” His mum says a little sadly. “Four days…”

“I need to…” He throws his arms in the air and walks out of the dining room.

“I know this must feel unfair,” His mum calls after him. He hears her apologise to Matchmaker Tom as he’s taking the stairs two at a time to get to his room.

He closes the door and lies down in the middle of the floor, spreading his arms and legs out on the carpet and watching the ceiling fan rock as the blades spin.

It’s a long time before anyone comes to check on him. He hears them all thanking Matchmaker Tom for his time and showing him to the door. And then Lottie walks past his room talking on the phone with a friend about having a party to invite all the boys from school and the surrounding neighborhood over on the day her TiMER zeroes out.

His mum comes in quietly, slipping into the room and shutting the door silently behind her. She sits on the edge of his bed and looks down at him with a sad smile.

“Oh, Louis.”

He doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare at the ceiling fan.

“You know, sweetheart,” She starts, folding her hands in her lap. “You were my One, you’ve always been my One. Long before these TiMERs showed up and long before I even knew your name.”

“Mum,” He groans in embarrassment, throwing an arm over his eyes. He peeks at her and she is smiling, like saying the cheesiest things to her children and waiting for their reactions are what get her through the day.

“It’s the truth,” She says.

Louis hums and sits up. He pays very close attention to his fingernails and fails to keep the emotions from playing across his face.

“Dad was a mistake right?” He says. “My dad, I mean. Wouldn’t that make me a mistake?”

“No,” She says with conviction. “Absolutely not and you’re a fool for making such a ridiculous conclusion. Your father,” She sighs. “It was different before TiMERs. You wouldn’t remember. And I’m happy for that. You’ll never be unhappy.”

“I don’t feel very happy,” He says quietly.

“Why’s that, love?”

“My One won’t get a TiMER,” He says with a shrug. “Says it wouldn’t change how he feels about me.”

She raises her eyebrows, “He?” Louis groans again, head in his hands, and lies back down on the floor. “Not that it matters. You’re certain he’s your one?”

“Yes, no. I don’t know,” Louis whines. “He’s certain.”

She’s thoughtful before she asks, “Do you trust him?”

Louis frowns hard and answers easily, “Yes, but I don’t like what you’re implying.”

She smiles, face going soft, and stands up. “I didn’t imply anything, you just inferred, which means you know what it is that you want to do now.”

“That was completely unhelpful,” Louis calls as she leaves his room. “Close my door!”

“Not unless you say please!”

“Please!” He shouts.

She sticks her head back in and gives him a meaningful look. “You’re welcome,” She says with a wink and closes the door.

He stands up and paces back and forth for a while, thinking about what she’s said. What did he want to do now? It’s not like there are that many options. Beg Liam to get a TiMER? He has to have some pride. Ambush him in the middle of the night? He has to have some morals. He can’t just ignore his own TiMER. If he’s going to be with Liam, he wants to be with Liam and not staring longingly at his wrist from time to time, living in a daydream.

That really only leaves him with one option, then.

Harry comes round the last day before they have to fly to Dallas. They had made the plans over the phone. He feels confident in this choice. He feels like this is a big Fuck You to The Man. Old Man Time or something along those lines. He’s taking control of his own destiny, etcetera.

He’s going to get his TiMER removed.

Harry is buzzing next to him as they walk down to the small shop in Doncaster. “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this sooner,” He says, pumping a fist in the air.

“Yeah,” Louis says distractedly. He feels jittery.

“Grand romantic gestures,” Harry says wistfully. “Liam is going to absolutely love it. Niall will just roll his eyes and kiss me anyway.”

“I hear it hurts worse,” Louis says as they round the corner.

“Meh,” Harry replies. “It can’t be too bad. I’ve got like, ten tattoos, I think I’ll be ok.”

“‘Like ten’? Do you even know?” Louis asks, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Harry shakes his head with a grin, fixes his hair and holds the door open. Louis is on a mission. He walks directly to the red-shirted employees standing around.

“You,” He says, pointing to one of them. “Matchmaker whatever--”

“Georg--”

“Yeah, don’t care,” He says loudly. “We want to get our TiMERs removed.”

The shop goes completely quiet, a clatter can be heard behind them.

George laughs, “Removed?”

Louis doesn’t laugh.

George looks stricken. “A-alright. I’ve never done a removal before. Let me get the manager.”

It takes a few minutes, but soon enough he and Harry are sitting in the installation room, this time for the exact opposite of what the room name suggests. George comes back with another employee, this time in a red polo.

Harry sits down first. “Alright, get this bugger off me,” He says, extending his arm onto the tray.

The woman in the polo, Matchmaker Amelia, gives them both a sad look. “Are you sure you want to make this mistake?” She asks seriously.

“Made many of them before,” Harry says tapping at the TiMER as proof.

“Alright,” She says. “There will be a one time fee of seventy-nine, ninety-nine for removal. Now, the process is far more painful than installation procedure, which is why we high recommend against it.”

Harry nods. “Let me sign whatever release it is I have to sign.”

Harry signs and reaches for Louis’ hand, giving him a big grin. “You’re a smart one, Lou. This is perfect.”

“Ready?” Amelia asks. Harry wiggles in his seat, getting comfortable and takes a deep breath, finding something to stare at on the wall in front of him.

“More than I’ll ever be,” He says.

“It will scar,” She advises.

“We’re warriors,” Louis says with a shrug. He squeezes Harry’s hand. Harry squeezes back.

“Alright,” She says, taking a steady breath. She puts the gun to Harry’s TiMER and counts to three. It sounds like wallpaper being ripped off in pieces.

“Motherfucker’s shitting hell of a god damned BITCH!” Harry shouts. She quickly covers his arm with a bandage, but Louis can see the two dots and round red edges of what will be scarred skin.

“One down!” Harry breathes excitedly. He stands up, a little wobbly and Louis takes his place. Harry sits down heavily at his side, hands at Louis’ shoulder.

“Now,” Pipes up Matchmaker George from behind Amelia. “You do know, if you remove your TiMER, er, sir, that you will never be able to get another one again.”

Louis feels his stomach sink. Harry behind him says, “Uh, hello, where was that warning when I was getting mine removed?”

“What?” Louis asks dazedly.

“Well,” Amelia says. “You get it on the inside of your wrist on your dominant hand. No other place on the body has tested well with the technology and--”

Harry interrupts her, “It’s ok. Lou, think of how happy it’ll make Liam.”

Louis stares at his TiMER for a long moment. The blinking dashes stare back at him like they have since he can remember. “Right,” He mumbles. “No, right, you’re right,” He says a little more firmly. He shakes his head and sets his wrist down on the tray.

Amelia looks at it and laughs, George leans in and whistles.

“Wow, that is old.”

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

“Oi!” Louis says angrily. “Right here.”

They go back to being serious. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Harry squeezes his shoulder. He feels the cold press of the gun to the skin around his TiMER.

Someone’s cell phone chimes.

They’re all quiet and nothing is happening. Louis opens an eye and looks around the room. “What?” He asks, they’re all staring at his wrist.

He looks down.

0000 days, 36 hours, 17 minutes, 23 seconds

“That was…?”

“Your TiMER started to countdown,” Harry says quietly.

“My TiMER?” Louis asks uncertainly. But, yes, the numbers are marching down the seconds in front of his own eyes. “How? Did you do something? Or… something?”

“Somewhere in the world,” Amelia says with a bright smile. “Your One just got their TiMER.”

He frowns and shakes his head. “No, surely you just shorted it out. A wire was disconnected.”

She shakes her head. Harry’s hand is on his shoulder again. “Lou,” He says quietly. “You’re still going to get it off right?”

Louis stares at his wrist. “I don’t…”

“It’s all destiny anyway, right? You’re going to see your One no matter what. It’s just a self fulfilling prophecy,” Harry rambles on slowly.

Louis shakes his head and finally pulls his eyes away from his wrist. “I can’t,” He says, broken. “I have to know.”

Harry frowns and shakes his hair out, fixing it again. He nods, though, and gives Louis a sad but understanding smile.

“You’ve made an excellent decision,” Amelia says.

Louis stands up and grabs onto Harry to pull him out the door.

“We still have to charge you for the removal, sir,” George shouts. “We still did the one.”

“You have my credit card on file,” Harry shouts back over his shoulder.

“Wait,” George shouts and runs after them out the front door of the shop, grabbing onto Louis’s shoulder. “I have… I have another question.” Harry sighs and raises his eyebrows, waiting.

“I -- This is stupid I already know what you’ll say but... I was thinking of auditioning for The X Factor and, I don’t know, I thought maybe you could, just, like… Give some encouraging words?” Louis frowns and George rambles on, “I don’t know if I’ll be good enough and I just. I don’t think I’ll go, but I want to, but I’ll just make a fool of myself. And --”

Harry ruffles the hair on the kid’s head. “You only get to live this life once.” The bandage on Harry’s wrist catches a bit and Louis watches Harry swallow and his eyes drift away. George nods and mumbles a thanks before turning and going back inside.

They walk back to Louis’ house in silence. Harry holds a hand over his bandaged wrist, applying pressure. Louis feels dizzy and light-headed and like the world has flipped over. Perhaps gravity has stopped existing. Or maybe he understands cold fusion now.

He bumps his shoulder into Harry’s. Harry bumps his back.

“The papers are gonna have a field day with you,” Louis says quietly.

“‘Harry Styles: Allergic to TiMER?’” Harry says with a laugh.

“‘Harry Styles: TiMER on Fritz: Too Many Ones’,” Louis adds.

“‘Harry Styles: One Died, Too Old To Wait’,” Harry says and Louis cackles.

Louis brings Harry in by the waist and rests his head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry pulls him into a half hug and pats his head. Louis is struggling in his attempts to stop looking at his wrist.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get mine taken off,” he says into Harry’s shirt.

Harry shrugs. “If our roles were switched I would’ve done the same thing,” he says.

“And I would be in bed with Niall right now, not here with dumb little ol’ me.”

“I’m exactly where I want to be,” Harry says happily.

They walk along, coming to Louis’ street. It’s an overcast day and everything is grey and the air feels heavy with the promise of rain later. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like this was how it would be when he found out.

“So,” Harry says slowly. “Day after tomorrow, then.”

Louis nods, “Yeah, apparently.”

“You’ll see Liam the day after tomorrow,” Harry says hopefully.

Louis shakes his head. “We’ll be in Dallas, I’ll see him tomorrow,” he says and feels a little sick to his stomach. “Liam’s always said he’d never get a TiMER, anyway.”

“You could text him?”

Louis shakes his head again. He doesn’t really want to deal with it or think about it or actually have to go through it. He feels like his chest is going to tear itself in half and figures this must be what heartbreak is like. This must be what his mum is always referring to.

“If any of us get stuck being destined to spend the rest of our lives with a strange fan, it’s probably me. She’ll cook me carrots every night,” Louis laughs. “I’ll regret my entire life for the rest of forever.”

Liam is going to be devastated.

They get to the house and decide that it’s just easier to go to the airport together tomorrow so Harry stays the night. He can’t even begin to imagine how he’d start with telling his mum. So instead he and Harry hide in his room. They eat dinner and play video games until they pass out.

The next day he’s woken up to Harry jumping on the bed and shouting, “Tour day! Tour day! Back to the tour! Tour day!”

“I’ll kill you, Styles,” Louis answers after giving Harry a loud shush. “If you don’t get out of bed and make me breakfast.”

The threat has no effect. It isn’t until Louis puts his cold toes against Harry’s that Harry falls out of bed. He comes back ten minutes later with eggs and toast.

“For the record,” he says, balancing the two plates while trying to close the door with his foot. “You are a terrible host. Daisy had to show me where everything is.”

“Don’t care,” Louis says, grabbing the plate from Harry and sitting up to eat.

“She kept asking me about why I got my TiMER removed,” Harry continues, sitting down. “She said she doesn’t like them.”

Louis considers this for a minute, mouth full of toast. He swallows and says, “Well, it’s up to her anyway, isn’t it?”

Harry laughs. “Wow, you really have changed your tune.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I still think everyone should get them. But I have also learned and recognise that it is a person’s choice.”

Harry looks at him for a minute, smiles and goes back to eating his eggs.

They get on the plane together later that afternoon and all goes well until they arrive at the receiving airport and are greeted, not by the rest of the band and crew like they’d thought, but only by Zayn, Lou, Lux, and Paul.

Louis doesn’t want to ask so it’s almost a blessing when the first thing Harry says is, “Where’s Niall?” He wants to jab Harry in the gut with his elbow so he’ll add “And Liam?”

But it doesn’t matter because Lou responds, “He and Liam weren’t feeling very well so Pres and Tom went with them to the hotel.”

“Oh,” Harry says with a frown and takes Lux from Lou and bounces her as they walk towards baggage.

Zayn’s giving Louis a weird look so Louis gives him a questioning one back. Zayn shrugs and catches up with Harry and Lux. Louis decides, alright then, is there a better moment to jump on Paul’s back?

Paul carries him to baggage and Louis almost convinces him to carry him and the baggage all the way to the car but then Harry complains about how heavy Lux is getting and Louis takes his turn to happily carry her through the parking lot.

When they finally make it to the hotel, Niall is sitting with his legs pulled to his chest in the suite’s livingroom. Harry skips across the room and comes to a halt in front of him, looking like all he wants in the world is to pounce on Niall but can’t.

Louis comes closer and gives a quick, “Hey Nialler,” before reading the sorry expression on Niall’s face and the worried look on Harry’s.

“What’ve you done now?” Harry says quietly.

“I can explain,” Niall says immediately.

Louis takes his leave to go to his own room. He’s jetlagged and couldn’t sleep on the plane and he’d just like to ignore the rest of the world for a little while to deal with his own problems and not everyone else’s for once.

-

Louis wakes up briefly when he hears his TiMER chime as the zeroes flash across it when it hits midnight. Some time, later today, he’s going to see his One. He wonders if it’ll be worth it. If he’ll be as happy as he’s always been promised he will be.

He doesn’t know how long he stays up thinking, but eventually he must fall back asleep because when he wakes up the curtains are wide open and the sun is starting to peek over the Dallas skyline.

It’s early morning and he wants to turn over and go back to sleep, skip the whole day and stay in his room until he can’t stand it anymore.

Instead he does something he rarely does and gets up and starts looking for his trainers and shorts. He’s throwing things out of his bag, looking for the matching sock, and gives up. He sits down heavily on the bed and stares at a screenprinted canvas of a Klimpt painting and stares at it for a moment, not thinking of anything except that maybe one day he should see the real painting in person.

He sees the sock hanging off the corner of the top of the canvas and grabs it before he can talk himself out of what he needs to do.

He finally heads downstairs and hops onto a treadmill in the empty gym and starts slow, cracking his neck. He looks at himself in the wall of mirrors that are across from him. His eyes have dark circles that Lou will be complaining about later when they’re getting ready for the show. His face looks paler than usual and he’s pretty sure his hair might be falling out or something.

Even if he does see his One today, of all days, they’ll take one look at him and demand a refund. He’s not particularly a catch or at least he doesn’t feel like one. His heart’s in too many places and his life is kind of fucked.

He thinks back to that first night around the campfire and how innocent they all were. Thinks about, if he could go back to past them, how he would warn everyone else to never get a TiMER. To just avoid ruining all of their careers and lives and friendships.

Then he’d rip the TiMER out of past him’s arm and save everyone the trouble.

He ups the speed of the treadmill to a jog and begins to wonder back to the previous afternoon and tries to imagine what Niall could have possibly done. It seems like he and Harry covered every fuck up in the book by now.

He’s lost in his thoughts, imagining Niall buying Harry’s TiMER on eBay or something else particularly strange, when he hears the door open. He turns the treadmill to a slow run and keeps his eyes down, watching his feet pound against the machine.

There’s a long series of chimes behind him and Louis would recognise that sound anywhere.

His eyes dart up and find Liam’s watching him in the mirror.

He hears a matching chime coming from his own wrist and looks down at it, nearly slipping as the rubber on his trainers catch on the rubber of the treadmill.

“Fuck,” he says loudly and jumps to turn the machine off. He comes to a slow stop and turns around to look at Liam directly rather than in the mirror.

“I didn’t think it was going to be you,” Liam says, eyes going watery.

“Fuck,” Louis repeats.

“I thought I was going to see you yesterday and that it wouldn’t be you,” Liam practically whispers. He’s taking long steps across the room and grabs Louis by the wrist, dragging him off the treadmill and into his arms.

Liam squeezes him tight against his chest and Louis takes a moment before he sinks into the hug, returning it with an even tighter squeeze. Liam huffs out a laugh and pulls away to bring Louis’s lips to his.

He hadn’t even thought about the fact that he hadn’t seen Liam at all the day before, that he had slept through it. His heart feels light and his chest feels tight.

“Oh my god,” Louis say. He can’t think of words to express the confusion and the relief. “Fuck. You had me scared, Li.”

“I know,” Liam replies, kissing him again. “Me too.”

-

It’s not until later that night that they leave their room and see the other boys.

Harry gives him a sad smile in the dressing room while Liam and Niall are off with Lou and Caroline. Zayn is sleeping on the couch.

“Hey,” Louis says, patting the spot on the floor next to him.

Harry flops to the ground and sighs, clenching his hands together tightly.

“I’m sorry about Niall,” Louis says after a moment.

Harry shrugs. “It’ll all work out, we’ve talked about it already.”

Louis nods. “Liam said It’s not for another thousand or so days right?”

Harry laughs, “Five thousand and thirty seven days.”

Louis gapes at him. “That’s like…”

“Fourteen years,” Harry answers and smiles. “It’s a long time.”

“Too long,” Louis says, imagining his TiMER counting him into his thirties.

“Not long enough,” Harry sighs.

-

It was announced with a photo on the cover of Teen Vogue, Liam’s hand reaching across Louis’ lap and holding onto Louis’ right hand with his own right hand. The two of them are lost in each other’s eyes. Their TiMERs, next to each other on Louis’ lap, are the focal point of the shoot.

Louis can’t even think of when he could’ve possibly looked at Liam like that in the middle of the hectic day. Liam is smiling in the photo, eyes crinkling around the edges.

Moments before the shoot they’d had an argument over whether or not Louis should or shouldn’t have hit Liam ‘round the head with a shoe for taking Niall to get a TiMER. They bickered between shots. They bickered afterward.

There was a brief interview with all five of them, questions about Harry’s missing TiMER and Niall’s new one. A moment where Zayn revealed the way the girl he thought might be his one would look.

Then Louis and Liam were taken away and interviewed for their featured article. It was a tense conversation, awkward and stilted after the fight, but also because they’d only zeroed out less than a week ago.

On the way to the hotel Niall kissed them both on the mouth with lots of saliva and told them to shut the fuck up before folding himself back into his seat between Harry and Zayn.

A year later, Louis gave Liam framed copies of the photoshoot for their anniversary and drunkenly climbed on top of their kitchen island to quiet the party guests and tell the story of how he had sorted through everyone’s shoes that morning to find the perfect one to hit Liam’s head with. How he’d come close to using one of Caroline’s high heels, but decided, instead, on one of Paul’s sandals because he didn’t exactly want to kill his soulmate after waiting so long to find him.

In the end, no one could quite put a name to what it was that their love had evolved from. Friends to lovers or opposites attract. Liam continues to claim it was love at first sight which Louis refuses to agree with but secretly adores.

They remove their TiMERs instead of getting rings.

Louis never watches another pot boil.