"They're never going to go for it," Liam said.
"Course they will," Louis retorted. "It's foolproof."
"They have met you before," Liam pointed out. "And they own calendars and things."
"Which is why you're the one who called the band meeting," Louis said. He was twisting the ring on his left hand around and around but otherwise seemed completely unbothered. "Like I said, foolproof."
Liam wasn't sure why he was bothering to argue. They'd both known he'd go along with it from the moment Louis had stopped in front of a jewellery shop a few weeks back, a mad glint in his eye. It had taken Liam a solid fifteen minutes to convince him not to go into the shop right then and there, and to order the rings online instead; single or not, the last thing either of them needed was the paps (or their fans) snapping pictures of them buying wedding rings.
Now, though, staring down at the platinum band on his own left hand ("only the best for you, Liam," Louis had said, smirking as he slid the ring on Liam's finger), he wasn't so sure any of this was the best idea for an April Fool's prank. But he was certain Louis was wrong, and it would be a quick prank, anyway; Liam might once have been the sensible one, but surely Zayn at the very least would still see through it immediately.
There was no more time for second thoughts though, the car pulling up in front of the rehearsal studio. Louis reached over and gave his hand a brief squeeze. "Just keep your left hand in your pocket while we're with the fans, okay?"
Liam nodded, feeling oddly nervous as he opened the door and stepped out of the car, shoving his left hand in his pocket and waving with his right to the fans who were waiting for pictures.
* * *
Niall shouted, "Congratulations!" while not budging at all from his spot on the sofa, phone still in hand.
Harry ambled up to them both, clapping his hands on their shoulders and staring at each of them in turn. "You had me a bit worried, Liam," he said solemnly. "Calling a meeting like that and not saying why. But I get it now, you couldn't just email." He dragged them in for a hug.
"We should've had a vote, Payne!" Niall called out. "I see how it is now. You two making unilateral decisions all over the place. Tearing the band apart."
Harry finally let them go and Liam grinned over at Niall, who beamed back at him. It was so nice to have a bunch of lads who supported him in everything. Even when they shouldn't, he thought, glancing over at Louis and sharing a secret smile.
Only Zayn hadn't said anything, like Liam had half-expected. But when he did speak, it wasn't according to plan at all. "Just decided to get married, just like that?" he asked quietly. "Didn't even bother telling any of us?" Liam realised, with a sinking feeling in his belly, that Zayn was hurt.
He wasn't the only one to pick up on it, though: Louis hurried over to where Zayn was sat with his ankle crossed over his knee, all his focus on his hands in his lap. "Hey, no, you're the first ones we've told," Louis said, sitting on the arm of the chair and throwing an arm around Zayn's shoulder.
"Imagine if me and Pez got married and didn't even tell you," Zayn said softly, and his voice was gut-wrenching. Liam wanted to kill the idiot who'd made him sound like that, wanted to chuck himself off a ledge. This wasn't what they'd intended at all.
He watched Louis with Zayn closely, hoping that maybe Zayn was in on it, that Liam was the actual victim of this prank. He'd have to get Louis back for that, of course, but it was still better than thinking the hurt on Zayn's face was real.
He knew it was real when Zayn finally turned and looked at Liam, though. "Hey no, it wasn't—it wasn't like that," Liam said, going over to Zayn's other side. He looked at Louis, not knowing whether to give it all up or to somehow try and make it better. Louis stared back at him like Liam should have all the answers. So he told the truth, or as near to it as he could. "It was just a lark that we did it now."
"Those rings aren't a lark," Zayn said, nodding his head at the gleaming platinum on Louis's hand.
Liam was racking his brain for why he would have done this, what he could tell Zayn that wouldn't make him seem like the worst friend in the world. "Because Louis told me to" was the actual answer, but he was fairly certain that wasn't good enough right now. He looked over at Niall and Harry, who had put their phones down and were watching them.
"So much of our lives is out there," Liam said finally. "We just wanted this to be ours."
No one said anything for a moment, and then Harry said, gesturing to himself and Niall and Zayn, "Aren't we part of ours, too?" Liam hadn't known he could feel worse.
"Of course you are," Louis said firmly.
"I was joking, earlier, about the two of yous being your own thing," Niall said. He looked down for a moment and then back up. "I don't think you'd ever do that to us on purpose, but—"
"We won't, we couldn't, you guys are everything," Liam said, a little desperately. He looked over at Louis, who was twisting his ring again and not saying anything. Up to Liam, then.
"We're doing a proper wedding with all of you there, of course," Liam said, just as Louis said, "Listen, guys," before cutting himself off, staring at Liam.
Liam soldiered on. "This was just the piece of paper, but it'll be that day, the one with all of you and our families, that'll matter."
"Still could have told us," Zayn said finally, but he sounded more grumpy than hurt now, and Liam relaxed immediately.
"Didn't want to upstage you and Perrie, did we?" Louis said, sounding cheerful again and winking at Liam. "You can have the first band wedding, it's fine."
"Feel free to jump the queue, everything's taking forever," Zayn said, finally smiling, and at last everything was okay again.
* * *
Liam blinked at him. "That was rehearsal?"
Louis waved his hand at him. "Not that part, the bit with the future wedding!"
"It's not like you were helping," Liam shot back, stung. "You could have stepped in any time. A prank's one thing, but not if it makes Zayn look like that."
Louis looked down at his hands and shrugged, but didn't say anything.
Liam took a deep breath. "And you were the one who figured out what to do with the rings. I wasn't the only one playing along," he said, nodding at where Liam's ring was now on Louis's right thumb.
It had been Niall who'd brought that up, during a break while they were rehearsing Better Than Words. "So what are you doing with the rings, then? Unless you're planning on telling everyone."
Liam had glanced at Louis. "Erm. We hadn't really thought that far ahead."
"If you wear them like that, the fans'll be on you in a second," Harry had said, tying his hair back with what looked to be an old t-shirt of Louis's.
"It's not like they match. I can wear Liam's on my thumb, and he can put mine on a chain or something," Louis had chimed in suddenly. "Problem solved."
It didn't seem solved right now, when Liam stared down at the metal on Louis's hand; but it had to be. Much of Liam's life in the band felt like one of those improv games Louis had taught them on X Factor, only it never seemed to stop, really.
"Look," Liam said. "It'll be fine. We'll go along a bit longer, and then when they're not cross at us anymore for lying to them, we'll tell them the truth."
"Won't they just be more cross later?" Louis asked, but he already looked less pinched, so Liam carried on.
"Yeah, but then they'll know it was a prank, not us being thoughtless or whatever, so it'll be okay," Liam said, with more confidence than he really felt. He wasn't sure when he had become the mastermind of this particular prank, but that was what made him and Louis such a good team. They always took turns taking the lead.
So when Louis didn't argue, Liam finally began to relax. Everything was going to go back to normal.
* * *
"Niall let the cat out of the bag," Paul said with a fond smirk. "Can't make our newlyweds sleep in separate rooms, now can we?"
Liam took the offered key card automatically, needing a nudge from Louis before he managed to reply. "Thanks, Paul. That's. That's really thoughtful of you."
"Well." Paul cleared his throat, his cheeks a little pink. "Wouldn't want you to think we're anything less that thrilled for you lads," he said gruffly. To Liam's horror he looked about ready to cry.
"And we appreciate it, we really do," Louis said, in that startlingly sincere manner he had buried underneath all of the jokes. He clapped a hand on Paul's shoulder and gave a little squeeze. "Means loads to us both. But we're knackered, need to kip for a bit, I think."
Paul nodded and took a step back, running a hand over his face. "Off with you, then."
The room was amazing, up high and overlooking the city centre with a massive king size bed in the middle of it. Louis smiled at Liam before calling out, "Bagsy the left side!" Liam's stomach unclenched a bit. Things might be a little weird, but nothing could really be wrong if Louis was being bizarrely competitive for no reason. Liam flopped onto the clearly superior right side of the bed and fell asleep immediately.
It went like that with all the crew. Caroline found out from Zayn and vetoed the idea of the ring on a chain for Liam. "It's not your style, love," she said, and Liam had to agree. "What about just wearing it on your right index finger? Much more subtle."
"We could both start wearing dozens of rings like Zayn and Harry," Louis said. "Cover our entire bodies with metal so no one notices these two little rings."
Caroline ignored him entirely. "Just the one ring on one hand and your watch on the other wrist is perfect. It's a shame that some day you'll wear your ring properly, it'll throw the whole balance off," she said with a wink.
"Well, that won't be for a long time," Liam said, smiling.
Caroline patted his shoulder. "I hope that's not the case," she said, her eyes bright, and Liam stammered something about needing to go over Happily with the band and ran away. Making their entire crew cry was just not on.
The streak of almost-tears broke with Lou, thank goodness, who'd got the news from Harry. There was something nice about that, the other lads taking care of spreading the news to people who deserved to know. It was a bit awkward in this particular situation, of course, but Liam felt the love underneath it anyway.
He'd actually thought that maybe Lou would see through the prank, but instead she just wanted to discuss hairstyles.
"You're married men now, might want a bit more sophistication or summat, maybe a bit shorter all around," she said to Louis, looking at him in the mirror while she ran her hands through his long hair. She sighed a bit when Louis smiled and shook his head; it seemed that was an argument that would continue on.
"We're men enough. You saw that beard I had, Lou," Liam said. He missed that beard.
"You looked like a grizzly bear come out of hibernation," Louis said.
"Oh, someone wasn't a fan of that look. Didn't like kissing a bloke with bristles, then, Louis?" Lou asked, busy trimming the ends of Louis's hair.
"Liam can do whatever he wants with himself, I like him no matter what," Louis said firmly. It made Liam's cheeks heat up a bit, even if Louis didn't mean it the way Lou would assume. "Clean-shaven or mountain man or anything in between."
"I'd no idea you had a thing for bears, Louis," Lou said, the giggle in her voice and Louis's answering blush enough to alert Liam to the fact that he was missing something. He knew better than to risk asking about it, at least not in front of Lou. But something about the way Louis was avoiding his eyes in the mirror made him wonder how good an idea it would be to ask Louis about it at all.
He put it out of his head, instead watching Louis move with Lou's hands like a cat, his eyes half-closed, all three of them going quiet until finally Lou was satisfied.
"You're up," she said to Liam, and he slid into the chair. She looked at him expectantly in the mirror, and he glanced over at Louis for a moment.
"Um, trim the length up top, but maybe keep the sides a little longer?" he half-asked, half-said, feeling much more certain about his choice when Louis smiled back at him.
* * *
"It's just such a big continent," he said one afternoon in Chile, he and Louis curled up together on their latest king size bed. The curtains were mostly drawn, just a sliver of light let in, and Liam's brain was muddled and fuzzy, not convinced it wasn't half two in the morning.
"Yup," Louis said, his voice containing a hint of judgement on standby, just in case he needed it.
"I mean, obviously, I knew it must be when we're flying everywhere. But knowing is different from feeling it—"
"Liam." Louis shuffled across the bed until he was draped over Liam's chest, his head a heavy weight on Liam's shoulder. "Shut up and nap, yeah?"
Louis was already half-asleep as he said it, his breath beating a soft, steady rhythm against Liam's neck on every exhale. The travel seemed like it had been especially hard on him, dark circles already cropping up under his eyes. Liam ran his hand through Louis's hair to help him drop off completely and wound up falling asleep himself.
* * *
They all had dozens of kits with their names on them from clubs all around the world, but it never seemed to get old, walking into a locker room and seeing a new set of jerseys made just for them. He was ready to get up there, to go out onto the pitch and get a feel for it, maybe work out some of the nerves before the charity match in a few weeks' time. Today was mostly for fun and to meet fans, obviously, but there was nothing wrong with getting some practice in as well.
"Can't believe we're here," Niall muttered as they walked over to the sideline.
"Do you suppose we'll ever get used to it?" Liam asked, draping himself over Niall's back.
Niall shook his head firmly. "Nah. And I never want to."
Liam knew what he meant, even if he was pretty sure they all had got used to it, a bit. "Don't you think you have to, though? You can't be Messi and still be bricking it every time you step on the pitch, can you?"
"Fancying yourself the next Messi, Payno?" Louis said from behind them.
Liam groaned. "Yes, that's it, I'm leaving tour and staying in Brazil to play in the World Cup. Sorry, lads."
"Always so selfish," Louis said, shaking his head.
"I do know what you mean, though," Liam said to Niall, ignoring Louis's contribution. "I don't want to take it for granted, either." He kissed the side of Niall's head, feeling unbearably lucky.
"Course you don't," Niall said. Liam gave him a squeeze and then stepped away, about to head over to where Zayn was stood with a bunch of children in the middle of the pitch, when Niall caught his arm. "Mate, you know you two don't have to hide it now, yeah?"
Liam blinked at him and then glanced over at Louis, who looked as confused as Liam. "Hide what?"
"You two, you know. Around us three, and the crew, like," Niall said earnestly. "We're not going to flip out if you kiss in front of us."
"What?" Liam felt like he was five seconds behind the beat.
"I mean, keep your pants on, no one needs to see that," Niall continued. "Don't go having a shag where I can see it. But if you're thinking you can't kiss each other or something, don't worry about it." He smiled over at Louis, his hand still on Liam's arm. "We're really happy for you."
Liam looked at Louis, waiting for him to say something. But Louis didn't, so Liam went with the first thing that popped into his head. "It's not about you lads, we promise."
"What's it about then?" Niall asked, not a hint of suspicion in his voice. A thread of guilt wove its way through Liam's belly, but he pressed on.
"It's just," Liam started and then stopped, trying to find the words. "It's too hard. Being able to be that way in front of some people, but not everyone. Better if it's just while we're alone," he finished, looking over at Louis again and relieved that he just looked considering and not cross.
"We're not everyone," Niall said, but Louis finally came to Liam's rescue and jumped in before Niall could get too upset.
"But it's a slippery slope, isn't it? Obviously you three are fine, and everyone else on the crew, but if the wrong person sees a kiss, it's all over the internet," Louis said.
"When it's time for us to come out, we will," Liam added. Which was the truth, in a way.
Niall was frowning at them both now, arms crossed over his chest. "Doesn't that get hard, though? Keeping apart?"
Louis barked out a laugh and crowded up behind Liam, sneaking a hand up to tweak one of Liam's nipples. "Not when I can do that without anyone batting an eye."
Liam laughed; everything felt like a proper game again. "Get off me, you prat," Liam said, catching Louis's wrist and twisting them around until he had his arm over Louis's shoulder, his grip on Louis's wrist crossing Louis's arm across his own chest.
"Just because I don't snog him in front of you doesn't mean I don't sit in his lap, or hold his hand, or do loads of things," Louis pointed out. "I don't feel like we're hiding anything from you lot."
Niall didn't appear to be listening. "You can kiss in the dressing room! And then when we're touring across Europe, you'll have the tour bus. Guaranteed safety. See, you do have places you can just be yourselves with no worries," Niall said, beaming at them. "It'll be great."
This was the trouble with pranking his mates: half the time they just took it as an opportunity to be lovely people and left Liam wondering what the point even was. "That's—it's really nice to know you have our backs, Niall," Liam said quietly.
"Right, now that's settled I think I'm going to go join Zayn before he thinks we've abandoned him. Catch up," Niall said, taking off at a run and leaving Liam alone with Louis.
Liam cleared his throat before letting Louis go. "That didn't go too badly, I guess?"
"The game's been upped," Louis said softly. Liam watched as he drew himself up and let out a deep breath. "Ready for some snogging in the dressing room, husband?"
"I was born ready," Liam said grandly
"Ha!" Louis said, punching Liam lightly in the arm and jogging off. After a moment, Liam followed after.
* * *
Everything else disappeared once he was out in the water, just him and Louis in the ocean (and what felt like half their security team on the beach waiting for them), the sun beating down on them, salt in his hair and on his skin. He didn't manage much in the way of good rides, content if he kept his feet at all, and too busy laughing with Louis to care about much else.
He spent a lot of time just drifting atop his board, looking out over the beach, at the crowds of people covering the sand.
That was the other reason he liked Brazil, if he was honest: everyone was beautiful. He felt like he was walking through a modelling shoot when he walked back up the beach, and he was the clear interloper. If Sweden had Harry's favourite views in the world, Brazil was definitely Liam's number one.
Even the fans at their sound check were absolutely gorgeous. Generally Liam tried not to think about their fans that way, safer to slot all of them into the same category as the one Gemma was in: attractive but completely off-limits for him.
But so many of the girls were so perfectly his type, long dark wavy hair and beautiful tan skin and legs that went on for miles. And they were all smiling at him so sweetly, laughing at whatever dumb thing he said in response to the questions they asked. He found himself more tongue-tied than he'd been in ages in front of fans, which was ridiculous. He should be over all that by now, but he was still relieved to finally get off stage to wait for the show. Surely it would be easier during the actual concert.
He collapsed onto the sofa in the dressing room and tried not think about turning into a total lemon mid-song because he happened to catch the wrong girl's eye in the crowd.
"Well, that was a bit of a mess," Louis said as he sat down next to Liam. Liam groaned and tipped his head back on the sofa. It had been too much to expect that no one had noticed, but Liam had held out hope. No such luck.
"I was a complete idiot," Liam said plaintively.
"Nah, nothing that bad, mate," Louis said, nudging at Liam's shoulder until Liam got the hint and put his arm around Louis's shoulders. "They probably thought it was sweet."
"Why would they think it was sweet?" Liam asked, embarrassed like he hadn't been since their first tour.
Louis pinched his leg, hard. "Because fans generally take it well when a pop star is flustered by how fit they are."
Well, if the fans weren't upset by it, it wasn't so bad. "I guess," Liam said.
"Trust me," Louis said firmly. "They thought it was charming."
Liam started to relax. He still felt like a numpty, but that was okay.
"You might want to tone it down, though, if you can," Louis said then.
Liam turned to look at Louis, but he was looking down at his hands. "Okay?" Liam tried.
Louis huffed a little. "Just, it's pretty unseemly for someone who's still a newlywed to be drooling over other people."
Fuck, everything was messed up. He wasn't even actually married and he was already a crap husband. "I'm sorry?" Liam offered, feeling even more off-kilter. He tried to tuck himself even closer to Louis.
Louis snorted and shook his head. "I don't care, you git. Just, you might want to spend the rest of the day making it up to me, because if I noticed, the other lads did too. We've got appearances to maintain and a prank to pull off."
He said that last part right up against Liam's ear, his breath making Liam squirm a little. He wasn't entirely sure how they would know when they had succeeded with this prank, to be honest. But Louis always seemed to know.
"I'll make it up to you," Liam promised.
"You'd better," Louis said, with a sharp jab to Liam's stomach for emphasis.
That night during the concert Liam kept almost all of his focus on Louis. The show was still new enough that all five of them were still thinking their way through the evenings, getting it into their bodies. But tonight was the first time Liam just let himself go with it, confident that it would all be okay. Suddenly this tour felt like theirs again, not something too big and too important that they were trying to expand into. The stage was bigger, but in the end it was just them and the band and the crowd, like always.
It felt easier to look out and see the fans like he wanted to, as friends. He glanced over at Louis during Strong and found him already watching Liam, the two of them alone in a stadium with tens of thousands of people. Liam smiled and shrugged back at him, and Louis broke out into a grin for a second before he started his solo, his voice carrying over the din.
* * *
"This is getting a bit weird, lads," Louis said after a moment. "Do one of us have something on our face?"
"You're both safe here," Harry said earnestly.
Louis huffed out a sigh and dropped his head back against Liam’s arm. "Okay, your interest in our sex life is definitely creepy."
"No, it's not," Niall protested just as Zayn said, "It's not really about sex though. It's not good to keep normal affection all bottled up."
Liam's heart was beating faster, certain they were about to get caught out. Even though he had no idea where the finish line was, he couldn't seem to stop running. He didn't want to be the weak link in Louis's pranks.
Luckily, while Liam was sat staring at the other three with no clue what to do next, Louis was on it. "Listen, lads, I'm knackered and don't have time for this bullshit. Liam, you coming back to the hotel with me and Paul?” He was staring hard at Liam's face like he just needed to hear the right words from him.
After a hard think, Liam shook his head. "Think I'll have a drink or two with Paddy first, maybe answer some twitter questions.”
He must have got it right, because Louis's face softened a bit. "Remember to ignore the dickheads," he said, and before Liam could say that he never meant to pay attention to people being nasty, only sometimes he couldn't help it, Louis was leaning in, one hand soft on Liam's cheek, and Liam was being kissed.
It lasted for just a moment, the feel of Louis's lips on his fading to a ghost of a memory almost as soon as it was over. Louis pulled away with a soft smile, his thumb drifting over Liam's cheek. “I’ll see you back at the hotel,” he said softly, and Liam tried to remember how words worked.
He was still struggling with that when Louis made his way over to Paul. The only consolation was that the other three looked just as gobsmacked as he felt, which cheered him immensely. He and Louis were back on track, then.
Niall recovered first. "I meant it when I said no shagging in front of us. Keep it in your pants!”
"Stop trying to destroy my marriage, Nialler!" Louis called from across the room. Paul put his hand over Louis’s mouth and guided him out of the room.
Liam laughed and attempted to focus on anything other than how soft Louis’s lips were.
* * *
He blamed the excitement and the exhaustion both for how fast he got drunk, but it was possible it had more to do with how much alcohol was in each caipirinha he downed. The hotel bar was taking good care of all of them. “It’s fine, though, you’re all drunk too,” he said without any preamble to the lads, finishing off the drink in his hand and grabbing another.
They laughed at him, Niall loudest of all, and Liam grinned brightly and took a healthy gulp from his new drink. It was still amazing, saying things that made his mates laugh and knowing that, even if he was being a bit of an idiot, it was nice laughing. He had used to wonder how you ever really knew the difference between nice laughter and mean laughter; now it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“You know I love you lads more than the world,” he said. It wasn’t enough to just say it on stage.
“Here we go,” Louis said, just as Zayn smiled softly at Liam and said, “We know, Liam.”
“Good,” Liam said happily, hooking his arm round Louis’s neck and pulling him close to kiss his head.
“While we’re on the topic of love,” Niall said, his cheeks red and eyes bright, “how’re the wedding plans going for you two?”
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Niall, but we’ve been a bit busy with a world tour,” Louis said tartly, and Liam couldn’t help laughing and tugging him closer.
“Got some time off now,” Harry said, delicately taking a sip of his drink. “Time for the mums to get involved.”
“I’m sure Karen and Jay are dying to get started on the planning, my mum and Pez’s can’t stop talking about it. On the phone with each other practically every night,” Zayn added.
Louis took a step away from Liam; Liam frowned and followed him, getting his hand on Louis’s waist. “I’m going to be busy all the time with Rovers business, you guys know that,” Louis said, not looking at Liam.
“Yeah, but I’m not,” Liam said reasonably. “I can talk to my mum. And yours, if you like, Jay’s always telling me not to be a stranger.” What an idea, them being strangers. It felt weird trying to think back to a time when they weren't all like family.
He was broken out of his contemplation by Louis pulling away and shoving Liam’s arm off him. “You’re not talking to my mum about it,” he almost yelled, staring at Liam like he’d never seen him before. It felt like one of their play fights on stage, only Louis didn’t look like he was about to steal Liam’s snapback or bandana. He looked more like he was a second away from lamping him.
“Okay, Lou, I'm sorry,” he said finally, the silence from the other boys loud in his ears. “I was only playing.”
“Didn’t fucking seem like it,” Louis spat out, and he pushed past Liam and left the bar.
Liam’s head suddenly hurt like it was already tomorrow morning, and his stomach felt queasy. He never liked fighting with Louis, even though Louis’s anger always burned off like an early morning fog. Usually Liam had some idea of what he’d done wrong, though. “I guess I’d better go find him,” he said after a moment to the others.
“He’s probably just anxious about the wedding,” Harry said, and Niall nodded. Zayn looked at him and smiled with what Liam hoped was encouragement. Suddenly Liam hated having a prank with him and Louis on one side and everyone else on the other; he wished he could talk to these three and figure out what Louis was on about. He wasn't looking forward to possibly getting yelled at again, either. But he had no real choice, so he sighed and finished his drink and went to find him.
He had no real idea of where he’d look if Louis wasn’t in their room, but when he opened the door Louis was sat on the edge of the bed, watching a football match on the telly and not looking up when Liam came in. “Hi,” Liam said finally, letting the door close behind him. “You feeling alright?” He had to almost shout, the volume was turned up so high.
“Are all four of you just pranking me, then?” Louis asked with no warning.
Liam blinked and put his hand on the wall; he was too drunk for this, he was fairly certain. “I wouldn't do that,” he said after he felt a little steadier.
“You say that but you'll prank them,” Louis said. He still wasn’t looking at Liam.
“But that's different,” Liam tried. He moved slowly into the room, feeling like he was on a safari and trying desperately not to spook a wild animal. “That's you and me against the world. I wouldn't gang up on you alone,” he said firmly, sitting down next to Louis at the foot of the bed.
"You sure about that?” Louis asked sharply.
Now Liam was certain Louis was trying to trick him or confuse him or something. He was bad at this sort of thing sober, but after he didn’t even know how many drinks on top of an insane concert he had no hope at all. “What are you on about, Louis?” he asked bluntly.
Louis jumped up off the bed and stomped over to the windows. “I’m not telling my mum,” he said, and Liam wished Louis would even look at him. “I’m not lying to her about this for you. We're not—we can't prank my mum.”
“What do you mean, for me? We're in this together I thought,” Liam protested. He stood up again, feeling ridiculous sat on the bed while Louis stared out the window.
He regretted that decision when Louis whirled around and glared at him, looking more cross than Liam could remember him being in years. "I thought so too," Louis said, a thread of bitterness winding its way through his voice, "but obviously I was mistaken."
Liam hated it when when Louis sounded like that, and he especially hated it when it was directed at him, for no reason he could figure out at all. "Lou, I'm too drunk for this shit, will you just tell me what this is about," Liam said, all out of patience or anything approaching a soft touch. If Louis was going to be impossible to deal with, Liam wouldn't work so hard to smooth things over, especially since he had expected to be out celebrating with his lads tonight and not having a fight he didn't even understand.
"Don't talk to my mum about this," Louis said fiercely, as if Liam were dim.
"Yeah, I got that, Lou, I won't be calling up Jay and telling her her son is being a right knob," Liam shot back. "I think she might already have a clue about that, if you're planning on being mental like this once you get home."
"Well, fuck you," Louis said, grabbing his leather satchel and sweeping all of his things that had wound up on the bedside table into it. It didn't matter how short a stay they had at any hotel, Louis always managed to spread his belongings over every single surface top in approximately five seconds flat.
"We're not leaving until tomorrow morning," Liam said stupidly, watching Louis fill his bag with reckless imprecision.
Louis nodded. "I'm not a fucking moron, Liam," he said, already at the door. "I don't need you to remind me of every second of our schedule, thanks."
"Where are you going?" Liam asked. Even if Louis was going to insult him every two seconds, he still wasn't going to let him sleep out in the hallway or something. The fans would be on him in no time, for one thing.
"Kipping with Preston. Don't worry, somehow I’ll survive without you,” Louis said. He smiled at Liam with such nastiness that Liam almost asked if Louis and the rest of the lads were pranking him, because that felt better than believing Louis would actually look at him that way. But before he could say anything, Louis was gone.
The hotel room suddenly seemed pointlessly huge, the sound of the football match loud and obtrusive. He flipped off the telly, his thoughts causing enough of a din in his brain without commentary in a foreign language adding to it. Things were confusing enough already.
He regretted it a second later when there was nothing to focus on but his thoughts, still muddled from the alcohol and Louis being angry and then gone for no reason that Liam could piece together. He didn’t want to be alone, but joining the rest of the lads at the bar didn’t seem appealing, either. Especially if they had questions he couldn't begin to have answers for.
Luckily there was always one person he could text, no matter what. He somehow managed to send a text that he thought at least made it clear he was in his hotel room, and then he turned the telly back on. By the time Paddy came in, knocking softly before using his keycard, Liam had found a telenovela.
“You just made it in time for the good part,” Liam said, patting the bed next to him. The weight of Paddy sprawled out over two-thirds of the bed didn’t quite make him forget about Louis, but at least he wasn’t alone.
* * *
It was a break full of free time and options, wide open days that he could spend doing absolutely nothing if he wanted, no deadlines or responsibilities or anything at all. He had earned that, or so he'd been told over and over again. Time to relax.
Liam was always terrible at relaxing.
London was supposed to be a lovely bit of rest before starting up on the European leg, a chance to breathe. But after sleeping for eighteen of the first twenty-four hours, Liam found himself at an absolute loss.
He was never good with time off, that was the problem. Idle hands and all that; he could never quite understand what that expression was supposed to mean, but he was certain it applied to him. It was different to have time off with other people, to go exploring or spend all day on the beach learning to surf, not this empty expanse of time when he didn't have a plan.
He managed to fill up the time alright, like always, heading into the studio with Ben and getting some progress made on half-written songs, figuring out the production. And for the evenings he said yes every night to Andy and the other lads, because getting sloshed definitely passed the time like nothing else.
It was ridiculous to be lonely, especially given that he and the boys were still in constant touch, the group text making his phone buzz in his pocket every fifteen minutes or so. There was nothing odd about it at all, aside from the fact that Louis hadn't spoken to him since he'd left their hotel room in a huff, and Liam didn't know what to do.
This was so unlike Louis, to get cross and stay cross, especially like this. Usually Liam knew how much he'd mucked something up by how much of an utter tit Louis was to him before he forgot or decided that was it, they were done fighting. This radio silence was something else altogether. And it had been a long time since he'd felt this lonely and couldn't immediately count on Louis to help distract him.
It had been even longer since Louis was the cause of his loneliness.
Liam thought about phoning Louis himself, ringing him when he thought he had cracked a song they'd written a melody for months ago but which lacked a backbone. But he didn't want to push Louis, especially while he was so busy trying to arrange things with Donny, and they'd see each other soon enough, anyway. Besides, if Louis wanted to talk to him, he could reach out just as easily.
Every day that went by without talking to Louis made it clearer that Liam was just a coward, and no amount of work or alcohol would fully dull that fact.
The first week of their break dragged on, Liam sleeping too much every night and still waking up exhausted every morning. He was still half-asleep when the doorbell rang one morning, his cup of tea getting cool while he flipped through his mentions on his phone.
His building knew better than to let anyone he didn't know up without alerting him, so there could only be so many people on the other side of the door. He was still a bit anxious when he made his way over to the door, anxious and a little excited. It was only when he looked through the peephole to see Harry and felt a tiny jolt of disappointment that he realised he'd been hoping that Louis had decided he was done being angry.
Shaking his head at himself, he opened the door. "Haz! You're a bit lost, aren't you, this isn't LA," Liam said, stepping back so Harry could come in and hug him.
"Just got back, direct from Heathrow," Harry said as he pulled away. He still had his bags with him, a leather satchel and larger bag both slung over his shoulder. "Thought I'd come see you first."
"You can crash in my spare if you like," Liam offered, heading back to the kitchen. "Tea? I haven't got much in the way of food, unfortunately."
'Tea's fine," Harry said, voice muffled. He'd flopped himself down into a chair at Liam's kitchen table and dropped his head against his arms. It didn't matter how much sleep they got on the long haul flights, Harry still needed a nap at the end of them.
A cup of tea and then he could push Harry off to bed, Liam decided, already feeling better. "Here you go," he said, setting the cup down in front of the cloud of hair that was hiding Harry's head.
"Thank you, Liam," Harry said into his arms, taking another moment before sitting up and drawing the tea to him. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Liam watched Harry while he sipped his tea, noting the creases in his face. Harry always reminded him of a baby bird at the end of a long flight or day, his eyes all scrunched up and a bit bleary, looking like he needed someone to care for him. Liam was happy to take on that role.
Midway through the cup Harry seemed to come more into himself, looking less like a bird and more like a person again. "So have you spent this entire break in the studio, then?" Harry finally asked.
"Not the entire time," Liam hedged.
"Okay, so the studio and Funky Buddha, is that it?" Harry continued.
"More or less," Liam said, running his fingernails across the table and not looking at Harry.
"No wedding planning?" Harry asked, and Liam looked up at him in a panic, completely uncertain of what to say.
His panic must have shown on his face, because Harry's face immediately softened. He put down his mug and leaned in toward Liam. "We know, Liam."
"Know what?" Liam tried, although a part of him hoped that Harry's knowledge extended to knowing what was going on in Louis's head. Maybe he could explain things to Liam.
"You and Louis. You didn't get married. You couldn't have."
"We might have done," Liam protested, feeling perversely offended that Harry apparently hadn't fallen for a prank Liam had been certain would never get past any of them in the first place.
"Nope." Harry took another sip of tea while Liam attempted to sort through his feelings. "Zayn looked it up, you've got no marriage certificate."
"You can look that up?" Everyone knew everything these days.
Harry nodded. "Public record. Zayn and Perrie were thinking about eloping, but shelved it since it wouldn't stay a surprise for long even if they did."
Liam laughed hollowly. "Just think if me and Louis really had got married, and a fan uncovered it."
Harry grinned, finally looking completely like himself. "The boy band scandal of the century."
"I'm so sorry for breaking your heart, Harry," Liam bantered back, but it was a poor effort. He hesitated, then made himself be brave. "Why didn't you tell us you knew?"
Harry shrugged. "It was fun. Became something of a prank chicken, or something like it. You know it's a prank, and we know it's prank, but you don't know that we know—"
"—and now I know that you know, but the others don't know that I know that you know," Liam finished. He and Harry grinned at each other, and for the first time in a week Liam began to feel a bit like himself again. That was his favourite Friends episode, but he never thought it was going to be his life. It would feel like another improbable success if Louis was in on the secret with him; as it was, the pit he had momentarily forgotten about promptly reformed in his belly. "But Louis still doesn't know."
"Yeah," Harry said softly. "Have you talked to him since Brazil?"
Liam shrugged. "Of course, in the texts," he answered only semi-truthfully, since Louis certainly hadn't said anything directly to him in any of those.
Harry didn't fall for that, either. "This prank has been going on for ages, Liam. Why didn't you just end it?"
"I don't know," Liam said. "I just—I kept feeling like we were waiting for something, like something would happen and then I'd know it was done, the joke was over, but like, I never felt that? And I didn't want to let him down, and so we kept going, and I know I never know when to quit, but Louis usually does."
"Louis only knows to stop when someone sits on him until he gives in," Harry said.
"Well, yeah," Liam said, helplessly fond, and then he remembered the way Louis wouldn't even look at him in the hotel room and felt wretched again. "I guess. I never thought you guys would believe it in the first place, and then you did, and it wasn't that hard to keep it going, not really. Did you guys never believe it? Because I told Louis you wouldn't," Liam said, determined to salvage some pride from this if he could.
Harry shrugged. "I knew that either you were pranking us, and the only way to get back at you was to make it seem like we believed you and see how far you'd take it and then suddenly reveal that we had known all along. Or you actually had got married, in which case nothing would irritate Louis more than to take something like that in stride." He grinned at Liam, but Liam was too gobsmacked to smile back.
"You thought we might actually be married?" Liam repeated. Harry nodded, his smile disappearing. "But why?"
"Why did you decide to prank us into believing you were married?" Harry asked back.
"Because Louis asked me to," Liam said, feeling bewildered when Harry's face got soft again.
"That's why," he said simply.
Liam could only stare at him. "Do you—do you all think I'm in love with him, then?"
"Not so sure it's only a one-way thing, there," Harry said.
This was far too much to take in on only one cup of tea. Liam stood up abruptly and went over to the kettle and flicked it back on. The entire idea was mad, but well. It did seem in keeping with the rest of his unfathomable life that he would only realise he might like men in the context of possibly being in love with his best mate, who wasn't currently speaking to him.
"What if I'm terrible at blow jobs?" he finally wondered out loud, glancing over when Harry made a choking sound. "I mean, from my previous vantage point they always seemed like quite the challenge."
"I would think you might be more concerned about possibly being in love with Louis than how you'd be at sex," Harry said once he'd stopped coughing.
"Yes, well, thinking about that makes me panic, so I thought I'd better focus on the practical aspects instead," Liam said. "So don't say that again or you'll make it worse."
Harry held up his hands in defeat. The water had just shut off, but when Liam offered him another cup Harry shook his head. "Think I'm ready for a bit of a nap, if you don't mind."
"Course not," Liam said automatically. "Bed should be made, but if you need anything, I'll be around."
"We can talk more about this later, if you want," Harry said, and Liam smiled and nodded and generally tried not to reveal his utter terror.
As soon as Harry was off to the guest room, Liam rang Zayn.
“Hi, Liam,” answered Zayn, sounding relaxed but definitely awake, even at this hour, so Liam didn’t bother with any small talk before jumping in.
“Has Louis talked with you about anything?” he asked, curling himself up into a ball on one end of his sofa.
There was silence on the other end, and then finally a sigh. “Anything meaning your fake marriage?” Zayn asked, a note of caution in his voice that Liam didn’t like at all.
“I guess,” Liam said. “Or like. Me in general.”
“Sorry, mate. He hasn’t mentioned you since Brazil.” Liam nodded and tried unsuccessfully not to feel hurt. “Which was how I knew something must be up, but you know what it’s like trying to get Louis to talk about something he doesn’t want to.”
“So then what do I do?” Liam asked plaintively. If Zayn couldn’t help him fix this then he was really up a creek without a paddle.
“Maybe don’t try playing pranks about being married to Louis in the future?” Zayn suggested.
“Yeah, that’s what Harry said.”
“Harry say anything else?” Zayn asked.
Liam hesitated and then made himself say it. “Just that maybe there was a reason it was so easy to pretend.”
“And we’re getting there,” Zayn said. “Look, I love you, mate. But I’m not the one you need to talk to.”
“I know.” Liam really did. He just didn’t think he could bear it if he phoned Louis and Louis ignored him. Better to do it in person, probably. “Did you and Pez really think about eloping?”
“Just for like a day. But it wouldn’t have been a real elopement, just like a real small thing, immediate families and you lads and the girls and Danny and Ant. We wouldn’t sneak off without telling anyone.”
Liam winced at his faint accusatory tone. “I’m really sorry I told you we got married without any of you there.”
“You’re lucky it wasn’t real,” was all Zayn said. Liam believed it. It took a lot to get Zayn upset, but he never forgot, even after he had forgiven.
“We wouldn’t do it without you all there, promise,” Liam said.
“I know, Liam,” Zayn said. “Besides, I think we got you back enough.”
Liam nodded. “Yeah, it was brilliant. Or at least, it was for a while,” Liam said, trailing off. That was enough of that, now. He just had to talk to Louis, and then everything would be fixed. It had to be. “How’s Perrie doing?” he asked, in the least subtle change of topic ever.
Luckily, Zayn was always happy to talk about Perrie. “She’s amazing, what do you think?” he answered, pride running through his voice, and Liam settled in to hear all about the Little Mix tour.
* * *
“Have you talked to Louis or not?” Niall asked when Liam opened the door.
“Is he here yet?” Liam asked back, and Niall huffed and walked past him into the room.
“If you idiots think you can ruin these shows, I’m here to tell you differently,” Niall said, pointing at Liam.
“We would never,” Liam protested.
“Oh, so you’re just in a fake fight to go along with your fake marriage, then, is that it?” Niall asked, and Liam looked down. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You need to fix it.”
“I’m planning on it, but I’ve only been in the country for an hour and a half, give me a minute, alright?” Liam said. He sighed and flopped down onto his bed. “Why did you even go along with the prank, anyway.”
“Dunno,” Niall said, sounding less like an angry puppy now, so maybe Liam was on his way to being forgiven. “We knew you were doing something, calling a band meeting on April Fools and all, so like. Guess we figured we’d beat you at your own game.”
“By pretending you believed us? That's the worst prank I've ever heard of,” Liam said, still grumpy that he’d been right all along and yet somehow everything was his fault.
“Oh, but pretending to elope with your best mate, that's a corker,” Niall said incredulously.
“Blame Louis, not me,” Liam said.
“I’ll blame you both for being right idiots,” Niall corrected him, and Liam couldn’t really argue with that.
“It’ll be fine,” Liam said firmly.
“Okay,” Niall said dubiously.
“It will,” Liam said, because it had to be. “We’ll get on the stage tomorrow for sound check and it’ll be like nothing happened."
"Oh no," Niall said, grabbing Liam by the arm and pulling him out into the corridor. "You're not waiting until tomorrow to talk to him." He frogmarched Liam down to the end of the hall and stopped at the last door. "Zayn told me Louis got here fifteen minutes ago, and you're going to talk to him now, before you can slither away."
"Niall—" Liam tried, but Niall shook his head firmly.
"Time to be a man, Payno," he said, and Liam looked down, well defeated.
"I'll do my best," he said, knocking on the door before he could lose his nerve.
Niall punched him in the arm and ran off down the corridor. "That's the spirit."
Liam sighed and stared at the closed door. Every second that went by kicked his anxiety up even higher. Maybe Louis had gone, had somehow snuck out without Zayn noticing. He was trying to figure out where Louis might be, and debating whether asking Jay or Lottie would be worth Louis's inevitable wrath, when the door finally opened.
"This isn't your room, Liam. They've put us in separate ones now, thank god," Louis said, his gaze flicking up at Liam's face for a moment before he looked away again.
"I know, Niall dragged me over here," Liam said in a hushed voice, feeling awkward and exposed.
"Why did he do that?" Louis asked, sounding genuinely surprised and almost angry, and Liam couldn't bother keeping his voice down any longer.
"Because if we're not going to ruin our fucking tour, we need to talk. Will you let me in, or are we doing this out here?" Liam asked bluntly, fully prepared to push his way in if Louis attempted to shut the door.
He was glad he didn't have to, though. Louis stared at him for a moment longer before sighing and stepping back from the door, somehow inviting Liam in with sarcasm and exasperation.
Now that Liam was here, he didn't know where to start. All the imaginary conversations he'd had with Louis in the past ten days had gone flying right out of his head. Louis was leaning up against the desk, his arms crossed over his chest and a challenging look on his face. It was clear that Liam was getting no help from him at all, so Liam started with the question he wanted to ask the most and hoped it wouldn't ruin everything.
“Why did you kiss me?" he asked, forcing himself to keep his eyes on Louis's face.
He saw Louis flinch away from the question before he went still and stoney-faced again. "Because it was the prank, why else."
“We could have stopped it,” Liam said. “Just gave it up and gone back to normal. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Liam, I’ve ate four different chilies at once to win a dare,” Louis said, his voice withering and harsh. He was glaring at Liam, his cheeks red and his hands clenched around his arms. Liam hadn’t seen him try this hard to shut him down in ages. “Compared to that, kissing you was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing to me,” Liam said, surprising himself with the truth of it. “It wasn’t.”
“It was just a prank,” Louis said a little desperately. “Sorry you couldn’t take it—“
“I want to kiss you even when you’re yelling at me,” Liam interrupted, not letting himself hide any longer. He felt like he was floating above the conversation somehow; from that distance he noted Louis’s open-mouthed shock and went on, feeling a bit smug at shutting him up even while his stomach felt like it was trying to jump out of his throat. “So you’re right, I did take the prank too seriously, I know, but to be fair to me I didn’t exactly know how I felt beforehand.”
Louis was still staring at him. “Is this a prank?” Louis demanded finally, his voice cracking on the words.
“No, but I am sorry,” Liam said. He hesitated, and then made himself continue. “I didn’t mean to ruin the prank, or whatever, and I’m sorry if I’ve mucked it all up now, but I promise I’ll get over it. I’m not going to let it ruin the band, and you’re not allowed to let it ruin these shows for Niall,” he finished fiercely. That had been the main point. “So don’t be a knobhead out there.”
“What do you mean, you’ll get over it?” Louis asked, sounding bewildered.
“Well, over you, I guess is more like it,” Liam said, but Louis barreled over him.
“You’re not allowed to get over it,” Louis said firmly.
That wasn’t fair at all, but before Liam could make his feelings on the subject known, Louis had marched up to him and put his hands on Liam's face and kissed him.
Liam kissed him back for a moment before managing to pull himself away. “Louis, don’t, I’m sorry—"
Louis shook his head and followed him for another kiss. “You said you want to kiss me, and then before I could even cash in on that, you told me you’d get over me,” Louis said between kisses. “Like I’d give you the chance to get over me.”
Liam was lightheaded, from the kisses and from Louis finally looking at him again, his eyes completely focused on Liam’s before they flicked down to Liam’s lips. That was all the warning Liam had that he was going to be kissed again, but Liam decided quite quickly that he didn't mind not knowing what was going on if it involved Louis kissing him up against a wall.
He pulled Louis closer, clasping his hands around the small of Louis’s back, holding him between the V of his legs. It felt so good, Louis so comfortable and right in his arms; even the happy sounds he made when Liam did something with his tongue were familiar. But the insistent, growing press of Louis’s dick up against his thigh was new, and the way Louis shuddered when Liam let his hand slide down his arse and lifted Louis up against him far surpassed anything he’d let himself imagine.
They should probably talk a little before anything else happened, but every time Liam pulled back Louis made a desperate noise and leaned in for another kiss. It didn’t make talking seem very important at all, but Liam finally twisted his face away, feeling mildly triumphant at his self-control. That pride evaporated when Louis started kissing his neck up to his ear, his stubble brushing against Liam's skin in a way that should have felt irritating but actually made words seem impossible.
He swallowed hard and tried his best. "Louis, I think—"
"Shhh, I'm busy," Louis said, biting down on Liam's ear, first gently and then a bit harder after Liam moaned.
It was like Louis chased away every word that came into Liam's brain with his mouth and hands, fingers skimming up his back under his t-shirt. But Liam knew he had to say something, and he eventually made himself push Louis away so he could speak.
That turned out to be a bit of a miscalculation, since Louis stared back at him, looking flushed and distracted and so, so beautiful, eyes bright and mouth open and pink. His face said everything Liam needed to hear, his own desire echoed in Louis's eyes. "What?" Louis asked finally, his voice raspy and a little uncertain.
Liam just shook his head and gripped Louis's arms and turned them around, until Louis's back was up against the wall. "I haven't done this before, and I thought we needed to talk first, but maybe we don't."
Louis looked a bit puzzled, and Liam had to kiss him again. "Liam, what are you talking about?" Louis asked fondly, once Liam finally pulled away.
Liam dropped to his knees and started undoing Louis's jeans.
"Oh god, okay," Louis said, one hand resting gently on Liam's head.
"I know I won't be any good at this just yet," Liam said, taking a deep breath and tugging Louis's pants down until his dick sprang free. "But I did watch some gay porn, to see if lads do it different or something, so I'm not flying completely blind."
"You watched porn for research?" Louis asked, his disbelieving voice so familiar and loved that Liam looked up at him and grinned, pleased he could make Louis sound like that even about sex.
"Well, yeah, and I figured if I could stand watching two random blokes fucking or whatever, then having sex with you would be a no-brainer."
"And could you?" Louis asked, sounding accusatory and uncertain all at once.
Liam decided that under the circumstances Louis deserved some cheek. "Wouldn't you like to know," he said, wrapping a hand around Louis's dick and giving him a firm stroke.
"Seems promising so far," Louis said back in an unsteady voice, his hand sweeping over the side of Liam's head and brushing down his cheek. Liam figured he'd waited long enough and leaned in and took Louis into his mouth.
Liam hadn't known exactly what to expect. It felt thicker in his mouth than he had anticipated, and the scent and taste of Louis was inescapable, taking over everything. He had a moment of panic when he didn't know what to do, how to begin, and then Louis's hand tightened in his hair.
"Fuck, Liam," he heard Louis say above him, sounding overwhelmed already, and suddenly Liam wasn't nervous at all. He just had to make Louis feel good, and Louis had never been shy about letting him know when he had done things right in the past. Sex couldn't be that different from everything else.
He swirled his tongue around the head of Louis's dick, adjusting to the feel of it in his mouth before he let himself sink down slowly until his lips met his hand. He didn't try to take much more of it into his mouth, certain that choking wasn't a good plan, just focusing on the head and letting his hand do the rest of the work.
That seemed to suit Louis just fine, judging by how loud he got. "Oh, fuck, Liam, just like that," he moaned, his hand firm in Liam's hair, not pushing him, but keeping him right where he was. Liam tried to focus on Louis's voice, telling him how good he looked, to make it a bit messy—"I like it sloppy, Liam"—that his mouth was perfect. He closed his eyes and let himself feel it, breathing in and out through his nose, keeping a steady rhythm, his left hand gripping Louis's thigh for balance.
It felt a little like floating, like he could do this for Louis forever, rocking on his knees and making Louis feel so good. Louis's hand tightened in his hair and Liam moaned, sucking harder, his own dick pressing up against his jeans when Louis started to come in his mouth. He didn't want to stop, wanted to keep hearing Louis make those noises above him while he swallowed what he could and let the rest drip down Louis's dick, wanking him through it.
When Louis pulled him away, Liam blinked open his eyes, feeling a bit dazed and like the room was too bright. He looked up at Louis, who was staring down at him, and touched his mouth with his fingers. His lips were swollen and his entire mouth felt stretched out and a bit raw, and he never wanted Louis to stop looking at him like that.
"Decent first effort, I guess," Louis said finally, and Liam grinned and then pinched Louis's thigh.
"More than decent, I'd say," he retorted, and Louis rolled his eyes and somehow dragged Liam up off his knees and over to the bed.
"'This is my first time,'" Louis mimicked him. "'Please be gentle, I don't know what I'm doing.' Please, Payno."
"I didn't, though," Liam protested.
"Such a bloody show-off," Louis said, sounding genuinely put out until he managed to get Liam's jeans undone and a hand on Liam's dick, making Liam gasp. "Not so smug now, are you?"
"Louis, please," Liam begged, and Louis shook his head, still stroking him so slowly that Liam thought he would explode.
"No, I think you're doing just fine," Louis said, leaning in close until at last Liam could kiss him.
Liam's lips felt strange, but all he wanted to do was kiss Louis. It was a bit overwhelming, dealing with Louis's hand tight on his dick and kissing Louis at the same time. His desperation was coursing through his body, and he tried to push up into Louis's hand, but Louis made a grumpy sound and swung a leg over his thighs.
"Stay still," he muttered, and Liam would have protested except that Louis's hand started to move faster on him, his thumb flicking up over his head, and Liam couldn't do anything other than hold on and try to kiss him as he came.
He felt absolutely knackered afterward, like he'd been running for miles, and also like he could finally relax after being tense for weeks. Liam hugged Louis to him, the sweat and come cooling on his skin, but Louis was warm against him.
The first thing Louis said after was directly into Liam's chest, and he didn't catch a word of it. "What was that, babe?" he murmured, wanting to preserve the quiet moment for as long as he could.
Naturally Louis had no such impulse. "I said," he huffed loudly, propping himself up on his elbows and staring determinedly at Liam, "that I didn't want to tell my mum because then it would have been really fake. But I'm sorry I yelled at you and ignored you and was a prat."
Liam was still caught on one thing. "But it was fake."
"I know," Louis said grumpily.
"So then how would telling your mum—"
"It didn't feel fake," Louis continued on over him. "Not to me. But it would have if my mum knew. So I didn't want to tell her. But then it got all shitty anyway, so possibly I shouldn't have thrown a strop."
"Louis." Liam didn't know what to say to make Louis stop looking so embarrassed and uncertain when he was lying naked and sweaty next to Liam.
Louis kept talking before he could figure it out. "I didn't think it would last so long. I thought they would all see through it, or you'd get sick of me, or think it was too weird or gay or whatever, and you'd call it off. But you didn't," he said quietly. "Instead you were just such a lovely husband. And I thought, it couldn't hurt to pretend just a little longer."
"I'm sorry," Liam said, grabbing Louis's hand and holding on when Louis reached in for a nipple grab. He stroked his thumb over the soft skin of Louis's knuckles. "Didn't mean to mess it all up."
"Well, everything turned out alright in the end," Louis said, voice loud and full of forced cheer. But he also pressed closer to Liam, so things were probably actually okay.
Liam kissed the top of his head. "It did," he agreed.
Louis humphed against Liam's chest. "Still don't know what the lads were playing at, though."
"They were expecting us to pull something that day, from the moment I called a band meeting," Liam explained, refraining from actually saying I told you so out loud. He was pretty sure Louis heard it in his voice anyway when he got a sharp poke in the belly for his trouble. "So they decided they'd prank us back by going along with anything we said, until they won."
"Well, they clearly didn't," Louis insisted.
"Didn't they?" Liam asked.
Louis huffed. "Well, they shouldn't have. Obviously we just need to go bigger the next time. Maybe we can find a baby and say we adopted her—"
Liam slapped a hand over Louis's mouth. "We're not doing pranks about our relationship anymore. Especially not with a baby, Jesus. Harry would kidnap her and we'd never get her back to her real family."
Louis pulled Liam's hand away. "I'd rescue her," he said, but he didn't mention the baby idea again. Liam was grateful, because he wasn't at all sure he was any better at telling Louis no now than he had been before all this started.
But Louis had just moved on to other terrifying ideas. "So, relationship, huh?" he asked, and Liam went still. "You my boyfriend now, Payno?"
Liam felt like he was taking an exam he was typically unprepared for. "I think so?" he asked tentatively.
Louis hummed and kissed Liam's neck, and little by little Liam relaxed back into the bed. "Feels a bit like being relegated," he mused. "Going from husbands to boyfriends."
"More like a promotion: from fake husbands to real boyfriends," Liam said. "We're in the Championship now."
"After a challenging yet successful campaign," Louis said, and Liam hugged him close, not sure he had the words to say what he was feeling. He just had to hope that Louis understood, but Louis held him back just as tight, so Liam thought he probably did.
"I wouldn't have let it ruin the concerts," Louis said eventually. "If you hadn't come by tonight, I mean. I wouldn't have done that."
"What were you planning to do?" Liam asked, sweeping his hands up and down Louis's back, still finding it a bit hard to believe that they'd ended up here.
Louis made a small noise against his chest. "Dunno, just figured I'd stop being angry at you by tomorrow night."
Liam waited another moment or two, but Louis didn't seem to have anything else to add. "That was your grand plan? You'd wake up and suddenly be over it?"
"My plan might have been missing a few steps in the middle, but I was right, wasn't I?" Louis protested. He poked Liam in the stomach. "Those details were just your job, clearly."
"Clearly," Liam said. He could pretend to be mad about always being the one to clean up all the messes, but it was hard to feel anything but relieved and happy right now.
"Mostly I want to tell the lads exactly how we resolved our differences," Louis said with relish.
"Oh, Louis, no," Liam said, with little hope of having any effect. "We've put them through enough."
"Serves them right for trying to out-prank us," Louis said. "We'll see how they like what their meddling has produced."
Liam, for one, was quite pleased with the results, and couldn't help kissing Louis's cheek and hugging him closer. From the insistent way Louis turned toward him and gave him an answering kiss, he wasn't the only one.
Louis's plans might be terrible, but Liam went along with them for a reason.