Louis knows that Liam's taking his breakup with Danielle hard. It's as plain as every single one of Liam's facial features, many of which Louis has seen bright red thanks to all the crying Liam’s done. Louis wouldn't say he doesn't worry, exactly, but hard breakups happen in the same way Louis happens to people: fervently and without apology. The antidote to both is simply enduring, and Louis fretting about Liam won’t make that happen more easily.
But then Liam appears one day at Louis's, and...
"Your hair," Louis cries when he first sees, hands over his mouth.
Liam looks sheepish and...well, kind of pleased when Louis finally gets over freezing in place and leaps forward to brush his fingers over the buzzed locks.
"Do you like it?" Liam asks.
"Do I...I know you're having a rough go of it, Payne, but did your innocent curls have to suffer?" Louis had been so fond of them, to the point where anyone who even so much as hinted it made Liam less of an alpha received Louis's patented Icy Stare of Death. Liam's hair was rough against Louis's fingers where it had slid and bounced before.
This kind of buzz was very much an alpha style, very often that tough sort of look that one cultivated when you wanted to tell omegas you'd throw them across the room in a sexy, consensual way. But Liam looks hesitant under it, and with his general Liamness, it's softer than it should be. He's not the cuddly, curly Liam he was; he's the cuddly, rough Liam, and there's something about the two existing in one place that makes Louis's head spin. And maybe turns him on a little. He's never been turned on by Liam before - to the point where Louis's really thought about it, anyway - but Louis supposes it was only a matter of time.
"Fine," Louis says with a heavy sigh as he steps aside from his front door. "Suppose it will do. Now where are we on the kidney issue? Are we drinking or no? Because a haircut like this deserves alcohol."
There's a beat, and then Liam beams his extremely pleased smile, and the switch nearly knocks Louis on his arse. Liam's like that sometimes. It's very annoying.
The next part starts out innocently. Mostly. Liam's not the tightly-wound prick he was on the show, and Louis has never been happier younger Liam is in both their pasts, especially since Liam has needed the extra distracting. (Louis's very good at distracting, so Liam's going around with a spring in his step again.)
So Liam's seen the alphas Louis's brought in when they're back on tour - Liam's watched more keenly in recent weeks, which hasn't escaped Louis's notice - and Liam knows what it means when Louis strips down to his boxer briefs in the dressing room after a show and yells for Paul to bring ice for his prickly skin. The month after the ice incident – a lot of it ended up down Liam’s trousers, naturally - Liam asks what heat's like.
So Louis tells him. In detail. Liam somehow goes pale and blushes at the same time.
"Have you not brought anyone through heat yet?" Louis asks when his explanation has degenerated into a lot of pleased sighs. Liam's been looking shifty-eyed in the dressing room for a while now, so Louis's sat on his lap to keep him from escaping. "Big strapping alpha like you."
"Haven't always been strapping, have I?" Liam laughs nervously.
Louis tweaks Liam's nipple. It usually gets him to talk.
And sure enough, "I've only dated betas, haven't I? One beta in particular." He stops to take a bit of a rough breath, and Louis holds his own breath for a moment until Liam starts speaking again. "I haven't...it's not as easy for me."
"Hold on, are you calling me a slut?"
"No!" Liam's face screws up with frustration. "I should never have brought it up."
Louis smirks. He can't help it. It's taken a lot of work to get Liam even near a place where he can ask for the things he wants. "But you did, and it's what, oh, two days before I go into heat? Convenient, isn't it."
Liam doesn't say anything, and before he can go all sullen, Louis says, "Look. If you want to come round on our off day, I'll show you. And I'll shove you into the bathroom if you change your mind halfway through so you can shower my stink off and go on with your day. Yeah?"
Liam flushes, but he nods, probably because what Louis suspected is true: Liam's terrified of going into heat, and there's really no preparing for it if you haven't done it before, but he really wants to give it a go.
Luckily for Liam, bringing people in without preparing them is Louis's speciality.
When the knock comes, only twenty minutes after Louis sends Liam the "code omega :)" text, Louis yells, "Identify yourself, intruder!"
"Who do you think?" Liam's voice sounds anxious even muffled through the door.
Louis tosses his phone next to the lamp and climbs out of bed. Probably best he won't be spending his heat tweeting about crap telly again. When he gets to the door, he hovers over the handle for a moment before drawing back his hand.
"You still want to do this?" Louis asks, all seriousness. "It'll be harder to say no once you come inside."
He's close enough that he can hear Liam draw a shuddering breath, and for a moment, he wonders if the seal on the door's working properly. Not supposed to let anything leak out to alphas staying in the hotel, after all. What a bloody disaster that would be.
But Liam takes another breath of the same kind, and Louis grins to himself. Liam still wants it.
And so does Louis.
"I do want you," Louis says aloud, bracing both hands on the door like Liam can see how predatory he's feeling. Obviously he can't, but he thinks it's coming through in his voice, which is really the point. That's the trick with Liam: getting too genuine makes him squirrelly sometimes. "You take such good care of me. Let me do this for you."
"Let me in," Liam says, and his voice is deeper than usual.
Well done, Lewis.
Louis opens the door and tugs him inside with the smoothness that comes from plenty of practise. Can't keep heat space doors open too long. It doesn't take much; Louis has barely pressed Liam against the wall and hasn't even scented him yet before Liam's pupils go big. Louis scents him anyway, just because his skin's always sensitive enough during heat to appreciate the drag of stubble against his cheek. He hums appreciatively.
He tries to pull back to check on Liam, but Liam grabs desperately at Louis's trackies and grinds against him. Half hard already, and Louis's barely been in contact. Lovely thing, scent.
"This'll be better on the bed, love," Louis breathes into his ear. He wants to move Liam before he gets so desperate he forgets how to walk properly. He's had that problem with Harry, and it's hilarious, but Liam probably wouldn't enjoy it as much.
He takes Liam by the hand and pulls him back. Liam stumbles once or twice, but mostly because he can't keep his eyes off Louis. Louis gets him down on his back and starts stripping him, kissing bare skin when he reveals it. He spends extra time on Liam's chevron tattoo, mostly because he's wanted to ever since Liam got the damn thing.
"Wow," Liam says from above him. Louis looks up. Liam's not watching him; he's staring at the ceiling, breathing deep. "I just...wow."
Louis grins and nips at Liam's chest. "Haven't even gotten to the good part yet."
He knows things will need to move along once he gets to Liam's cock, so he takes his time learning Liam: nibbling on his ear, sucking on his fingers (Liam actually whimpers and looks at him for that, good to remember), rubbing his feet. It's actually not that different from what Louis does normally, only with fewer clothes than they wear onstage. So it's like being backstage, only Louis isn't as brazen about licking his lips whenever he catches sight of Liam through his boxer briefs.
Well, he isn't always as brazen, anyway.
When he finally lets himself tug down Liam's pants, Liam does what every other alpha Louis's been with has done: thrust up, moan, grab for Louis. And like every other alpha, Liam's too out of it to stop Louis from straddling him and pinning his hands against the mattress. But unlike the others, Liam's eyes sparkle with unshed tears, and he says, "Please."
Louis freezes. "Please what? Stop?"
Liam shakes his head hard, and Louis sighs with relief. "Please. Need it."
The kind thing to do would be to grab the lube and get on with it. And Louis will, in just a moment. He lets go of one of Liam's hands - which Liam promptly uses to grab at Louis - so he can brush hair off Liam's forehead, and he leans forward to lay a gentle kiss against Liam's lips.
Of course, Liam's hand travels up, trying to hold Louis in place while he goes for a messier kiss, but Louis bats him away and stays gentle for a moment. It's a tease, yes, but it's also Liam. Liam deserves care. Alphas aren't just meant to be ravished, and that's as important a lesson as just how fun ravishing can be.
And somehow, Liam does pull back. Louis would think he was relaxing if he didn't know how much effort it takes an alpha to get control over their limbs.
"Good," Louis murmurs against Liam's lips, kissing him one more time before pulling back. "Let's get on with it then."
The nice thing about heat is that all Louis has to do is line up once he's lubed Liam up a bit and sink down. None of that bothersome prepping that he does when he isn't in heat. He's slick and he's yielding, and Liam’s cock goes right in. Liam makes a beautiful noise when he does, too, something broken and full that he would never dare make usually.
And, okay, Louis makes noise too. It's not like heat leaves him unaffected; he's always hornier and slightly feverish, but it's the kind of thing that an hour with streaming porn and a bottle of lube can take the edge off if he's alone. He can usually get it up again quickly for a beta, too.
But alphas. Well. There's a reason Louis doesn't spend heats alone when he can manage it these days.
Liam's solid inside Louis, big and only getting bigger as Louis rocks to accommodate his cock. Liam grabs at Louis's hip and Louis smacks at his hand. Knotted dicks aren't made for pounding. But Liam tries again, and so Louis has to pinch Liam's upper arm in a way that makes Liam flinch and pull back.
"Stop," Louis says, "or this ends right now."
It takes a moment, but Liam nods, and it's only after Louis's pinned down Liam's free hand again that he gets back to riding Liam's cock.
"Oh god," Liam gasps as his knot swells, and with alpha strength, he breaks free of Louis's grasp. He isn't trying to do anything, it seems; he just claws at Louis's back, and Louis grits his teeth with a grin and lets the pain add to whatever else he's feeling. He wouldn't fuck alphas if he didn't like sex rough.
Liam looks completely overwhelmed, and Louis remembers, even though he never really forgot: this is Liam's first time popping a knot. Louis's seen knots plenty of times, but he'll never know what it's like. Not from that end.
"Yeah," he says, closing his eyes as Liam pulses inside him, getting closer the more he swells. "Fill me up. Come on."
Liam claws at Louis more and does as he asks, coming in a thick, long stream inside Louis. It takes some time, and Liam lets go of Louis after a moment. Louis pulls at his own dick, red against his stomach, and he comes by the time Liam's finishing, slumped against the bed and staring up at the ceiling like he can't see anything.
Of course, being tied like this means Louis can't lie down for a while himself. Shame. But he brushes more hair off Liam's forehead and says, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Liam laughs, high and disbelieving, in return.
Louis's scratching his belly, reading over a notepad with some lyrics scribbled out, when he starts shifting in place. He's vaguely aware that the beanbag chair he's sitting on is rocking with his movements, but he's mostly intent on what he's written and the notes Liam's made and the suggestions Julian's making whenever Louis asks questions.
When Julian leaves the room to go ask the others in the studio what everyone wants for dinner, the prickling of Louis's skin reaches a peak, and he throws off his hoodie, chucking it against the wall. It doesn't help much, though. His skin's too hot for it.
"What?" Louis scowls at Liam as he tosses aside his notepad. He puts considerably less force into that throw - he can moderate his decisions sometimes - and so it's not satisfying at all.
"You, uh. When's your next heat due?"
Louis freezes, which is handy because he was two seconds from snapping his pen in half. "Fuck," he snarls.
He gets a few more swear words in under his breath before Liam cuts him off. "So soon? That’s strange."
"It wasn't supposed to come on for another week, Liam." Louis hates how he sounds when he whines. Doesn't stop him from doing it, of course. "You think I would be here if I’d known?"
Liam shrinks, hands up. "Just asking."
Normally, this is where Louis goes in for the kill, but some of the fire leaves Louis's body, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. "Fucking...I'll miss an entire day's work. This is my free time."
He takes a moment to hate it all. Hate the demands of his body, hate that the suppressants he pays for maybe suppress one potential heat in the course of a year instead of all twelve (or more - when they're busy, Louis tends to go off for no reason a couple times, which is complete shit - shouldn't stress take them away?), hate that he can't just...will the whole damn thing away.
A hand rests on the bare skin of Louis's neck, and even with everything, it feels nice.
"Look," Liam says. "We could go back to the hotel for a bit. See if we can break your fever and take a nap so we can get back to the studio by midnight or so? The whole group never quits until at least four. Usually later."
Louis scowls again and brushes Liam's hand off. "Helpful suggestion. Thank you, Liam. You know there's only two ways to break the fever. Time, and..."
Liam nods seriously.
"Because it's not like you're exclusive with Sophia or anything."
"We've, uh." Liam clears his throat. "We've talked, and...I can ring her if that would make you feel better."
"It's the middle of the fucking night in London, Liam."
"She was awake an hour ago, at least."
Louis throws his hands up in the air. "You don't have to fix everything!"
"I know," Liam says quietly. "There's a lot I can't fix. But I can help with this. I want to, Lou."
The prickling in Louis's skin feels even worse. He buries his face in his hands. If he doesn't go back to the hotel now, he'll start stinking, and there's at least one alpha that isn't Liam in their songwriting team, and Louis likes them too much to make them uncomfortable like that.
"Drive me back," Louis says through gritted teeth. "And maybe we can talk to Sophia on the way."
Liam beams like he just won another VMA and scrambles to his feet. "I'll tell the others. You go to the car."
They're not even in the car five minutes before Liam gets Sophia on the phone.
"Hiya, love," she tells Liam warmly when she picks up, and Louis feels another stab of hate. Not for her - Sophia's lovely, definitely more lovely than Louis will ever be - but that she's with someone like Liam who can be around for her heats. Must be nice.
"Soph," Liam says, and his voice is just as warm. Louis leans his cheek against the somewhat cool window and tries not to despise everything. "I have Louis here."
"Oh! Hello, Lou."
"Sophia." It's a testament to how much Louis likes Sophia that he doesn't sound hostile at all.
"Can we talk to you about something?" Liam asks.
"'Course. Everything all right?"
"Fine." Liam shoots a pointed look at Louis, nodding toward the phone.
"My heat's started early, and Liam's offered to fuck me through it," Louis says, taking pleasure in the small flinch on Liam's face. "He said you said that was all right."
"Oh. Yes, I did."
"I know he's helped you out before," Sophia says, speaking like she's trying to phrase her words carefully. "I have a friend who takes care of me when I'm not with Liam."
Louis's eyebrows feel like they're about to crawl off his face, they're up so high. "Really?"
"Didn't tell him that part, Liam?"
"That's not mine to tell," Liam says. Louis points at himself, frowning, and Liam says quickly, "You told me I could tell Sophia about us when I started dating her. Remember?"
Right. One of the few times Louis had thought things through. He balls his hands up in his hoodie - which he still isn't wearing; he's just holding it in his hands to vent a little steam - and huffs quietly.
"It is all right, Louis," Sophia says. "And not just when there's heat, although Liam told me that's the only time you two have ever..."
"Yes," Louis jumps in. "It is."
Sophia laughs a little. "And that's fine, too. I just want you to know how I feel about it. Call me if you need anything, either of you."
They both give some kind of acknowledgement, and then Liam and Sophia blow each other noisy kisses through the phone, and Liam hangs up. Liam's face is crinkly with his happiness.
Louis doesn't feel particularly annoyed or angry anymore. He doesn't know what he's feeling.
They have just enough time to get into Louis's heat-sealed room before Louis starts to stink. Liam's eyes darken immediately, but when Louis's kicking off his shoes with some force, Liam asks, with slower, more deliberate speech, "You do want to do this?"
Louis's shucking off his jeans and throwing them in the corner, where his suitcase is sitting. "Haven't we gone over this? I do if you do."
"I don't know that I do."
"Then what the fuck was that?" Louis groans, throwing his hands up in the air. "Why would you bother Sophia?"
Liam shakes his head and takes a couple steps back. He seems to partially regain his composure when he says, "It shouldn't just be because you want a few extra hours, Lou. It shouldn't."
"You know how lucky I am that we have any flexibility at all?" It had been Louis's deepest fear, when he'd presented, that he wouldn't be able to work how and when he wanted because of his fucking heat. One of his omega friends at school hadn't been able to use suppressants because of allergies, and she'd dated a complete knob of an alpha just so she could get through A levels.
"I do! I just..." Liam backs up until his back's against the door to the toilet. "But do you want to? Really?"
On another day, Louis would snarl and probably pick a fight about Liam not trusting what Louis says. Today, Louis wants to cry, for reasons obvious and otherwise, but he won't. It's not happening.
He lets his shoulders sag.
Liam might be slow on the uptake sometimes, but he fumbles with the doorknob and says, "Long bath. In here if you need me."
He's gone in an instant, and Louis slumps to the floor, brushing at his eyes with the back of his hand.
Louis watches telly for an hour in his boxer briefs...well, if flipping through the hotel's ten channels for an hour so the background noise varies counts as watching. He doesn't want to cry anymore, but it doesn't settle him or the prickling heat feeling in his skin, either. He tries pulling out his knotting vibrator from his suitcase and turns it on, but he ends up just holding it, feeling the buzz through the handle as the fake knot swells and deflates and swells again. The thought of putting it inside himself doesn't seem remotely appealing right now.
He picks up his phone.
"Bad idea," Louis mutters as he scrolls through his contacts, hovering a thumb over Zayn's picture. "Bad idea, bad idea..."
He opens a text. He doesn't know if Zayn's awake right now, but even if he is, the words aren't coming. He'd laugh at any other time - he’s on this trip so he can set his feelings to music – but the deepest feeling he has won't even result in a i miss you text message.
With a huff that might be a laugh, Louis locks his phone and shoves it in his bedside table.
After more time - Louis doesn't track how much exactly, but it can't be long - spent staring at the ceiling, using the phone list on the bedside table as a fan, little's changed. Hugging his pillow has helped a little, but he ends up rolling around every few moments, looking for a more comfortable place that doesn't exist.
It's only when he hears quiet singing that Louis stills. It takes him a few heartbeats to figure out that it's coming from Liam, partially because Liam's not singing a full song; he's starting and stopping. He's not actually singing a song just to sing. He's working.
Louis laughs quietly to himself and rolls off the bed, taking his cuddle pillow with him. His notepad of lyrics is on the desk by the bathroom door, and Louis sits and grabs a pen.
"What do you reckon are some good words there?" he calls, scribbling what Liam had just been singing. "'Proof' doesn't rhyme with much."
All Louis hears for a moment is the quiet splashing of Liam's bath. After a moment, Liam calls back, "You want to work right now?"
"Keep up, Liam. Maybe we should get the others on speaker."
Liam laughs, delighted, and the sloshes get louder. "You ring them. The acoustics in here are shit."
They end up using Louis's phone for a couple hours, Louis taking notes on his pad of paper and on his computer. Liam hands Louis damp flannels through a crack in the door every so often, and Louis puts them on the back of his neck as he works.
Work continues until sunrise, at which point Liam refuses blankets - "think your scent would be more distracting than helpful," he says apologetically - and Louis, instead of butting heads with him, goes to bed. He's only asleep for four hours, according to his clock, but when he's wakes up with his bladder protesting, his fever's broken.
Louis uses the scent vent in the room to clear things out, and when he can smell himself noticeably less, he opens the door to the loo. The room's dark, but he can make out Liam curled up on the rug in the middle of the floor, using one towel as a blanket and one towel as a pillow.
"Knob," Louis says fondly, and he goes to wake Liam up.