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Zayn calls him at four in the morning, just when Liam's decided he's going to go to bed. Coincidentally, it's the same time that Zayn usually gets up; for a run and the gym or some pretentious form of yoga (yes, Liam  is  aware of the inherent irony in calling someone  else  pretentious) so the timings work out pretty well. He sets his laptop down and allows himself a yawn, rubbing at his forehead with one hand and half-wishing that he wore glasses just because he feels like he could quite happily take his eyes out right now and set them on the bedside table.

It's only when Zayn starts laughing that Liam realises that he's said most of that out loud. "Liam,  mate . How many hours of sleep are you on right now?" Zayn asks and, before Liam can lie, "In proportion to how much caffeine is in your system."

"I don't know," Liam grumbles, going for honesty over thought, and pushes his hair out of his eyes. "Was there a point to this phonecall?"

"Apart from me feeling totally happy with my life choices in comparison?" Zayn asks and starts laughing again. "I was actually going to make fun of your latest blog but you're making this too easy for me. What does half of that shit even mean?"

"It means that it's a good album," Liam says, because four in the morning is never a good time for this discussion, not when he's poured his heart out through his fingers. "You know what my writing's like, I don't get why..."

"I know," Zayn says, distracted, and he sounds like he's trying to tie his shoes one handed. He probably is. "Niall wants you on his podcast, by the way."

"I don't want to," Liam decides. "No. You know I don't like speaking, I don't -- I'm not  articulate , I'd be stupid."

"You're articulate enough when you're talking about music," Zayn says, and Liam can hear him swear as he sets the phone down in order to tie his shoes successfully. "I think it'd be good, you know, get you some more exposure."

"I had thirteen thousand hits last week," Liam points out and moves further into his bed. "I'm making a living. It's fine."

"Louis Tomlinson had nearly a hundred thousand views on his last video," Zayn says quietly and Liam rolls his eyes, forgetting Zayn can't see him. "You could be getting those sorts of figures--"

"No, I couldn't," Liam cuts him off irritably. If he had glasses, he could rub at the bridge of his nose right now. "I don't make videos, for a start. More people will take five minutes to watch someone than they will to actually engage their brains and read. Besides, Louis Tomlinson only gets those because he's pretty and inane. Half of his videos are taken up by prank calls and rambling about vegetables, it's not like he's talking about music, and if he was, it'd probably just be the latest Lady Gaga video."

"Alright, calm down," Zayn says, sounding more amused than anything. "I just think you could do better."

"I'm  happy ," Liam says firmly. He is.








Liam's phone number is on the contact section of his Wordpress site but he's never really given it much thought; it's usually just used by PR people, if that. Most business goes through emails or just when promo copies of albums arrive at his door so when his phone rings at one o'clock in the afternoon, he's actually asleep. It wakes him up, though, the opening to Sonic Youth's  Scooter + Jinx  digging into his brain until he flips it open and croaks out a, "Hello?"

"LIAM PAAAAYNE," says an obnoxious voice, that Liam feels like he recognises (but he must be wrong, because he doesn't know anyone that  noisy ). "OH MY GOSH, I'M, LIKE, YOUR BIGGEST FAN."

Liam rolls over in his bed and weighs the values of hanging up the phone against not hanging up the phone. "Who is this?" he asks finally.

"MY NAME'S JACQUELINE," screams the voice (which is undoubtedly male, and undoubtedly not Jacqueline). "THAT'S SPELLED J-A-C-C-C-C--"

"How many -- look, you know what, I don't want to know," Liam says tiredly. "You woke me up, can you just -- go away? Please?"

"Oh," says the voice, and sounds almost disappointed. "But -- don't you want to know how you could win a year's supply of carrots?"

"Not really," Liam admits. "I gather that this is a prank call and I'm sorry, but frankly I don't think I'm interesting enough for anyone to enjoy this. And I'm not really in the mood to play along."

" Well ." There's a moment of silence where neither of them hang up. "I'm disappointed in you and your life choices. I hope you give this phone call at  least  a 4.2."

"I'm not actually Pitchfork, I do have a different rating system," Liam says, because that's honestly the most annoying part of all this, and whoever-it-is simply blows a raspberry at him before hanging up. Liam sets his phone down and is asleep again in minutes. When he wakes up, he's half-convinced it's all a dream.








Liam spends most of his days in his house, wandering around barefoot, listening to music and updating his blog. Sometimes Zayn will drag him out to the pub and he goes to see local bands play a lot. Sometimes if they're drunk enough, and Niall is there, they do karaoke. The whole blog thing is Niall's fault, really; he started doing a podcast and soon got inundated with fans (mainly because of the accent, Liam thinks, but partly because of his charm.) It's not really about anything at all, but Niall loves it and Liam can't deny it's fun to listen to.

And when he was drunkenly rambling about music one time, about how much he knows about it and how unfair it is that hardly anyone  else  knows about it, it seemed like the easiest thing in the world for Niall to unscrew another bottle of wine (because that's how classy they were being) and say, "Why not do a podcast as well then?"

Only Liam hates the sound of his own voice and videos were out, because he doesn't particularly like staring at his own face either, but a blog was fun and easy. Zayn writes for it, sometimes, but his bad spelling and grammar makes Liam's head hurt when it comes to editing it. The worst part is that he knows that Zayn  can  spell, he just chooses not to. It's not like Zayn doesn't have a fanbase; he himself has a Lookbook account, and a Flickr account linked to his Tumblr with hundreds of followers, even though it mostly just seems to be pictures of Zayn posing or on a night out. Looking at it always makes Liam feel tired and a little like a social hermit, but the kids flock to Zayn's oversized glasses and baggy cardigans and they all send traffic to each other so it works out well.

It's just  weird . Liam doesn't even really like the internet that much, he's no idea at all how his life ended up revolving around it. And he's got no idea why so many people seem to care about him as a person, either, some of them care about him even more than his opinions on  music ; he's got around 395,000 followers on Twitter. None of them know what he looks like, because he goes out of his way to avoid that, making his Twitter profile a blurry shot of the side of his arm.

"It's  artistic ," he mumbles when someone asks and changes the subject.

When he gets a text from Zayn --  mate, check out louis tomlinson's new video... can't wait to hear the fallout  -- he's not entirely sure what Zayn is talking about but he's already online so it's easy enough to go to Louis's Youtube account. The bright colours immediately jump out at him alongside Louis's grinning face and Liam wishes not for the first time that his life revolved around anything apart from the internet, where people gather to seek attention from strangers. Still, he'd probably have to leave the house a lot more if it didn't and, while he likes the  idea  of an office job, he definitely likes the reality of being able to sleep til noon a lot more. 

Louis's latest video is a montage of prank calls in amongst him making animal noises at the camera, eating carrots and rambling somewhat endearingly about various anecdotes. It passes the time well enough and Liam's almost beginning to change his mind about him when Louis brings a screenshot of Liam's website on the screen and makes a face.

"I have no idea who this guy is," he begins, "but apparently a lot of you do. Maybe he's from Narnia, but he seems very serious... serious business. I don't know. His was the most popular name in my formspring when I asked who I should prank call." He makes another, more ridiculous face at the camera. "You defectors, you! All... serious. I NEED A NEW VOCABULARY. And," he adds, holding his phone up to the camera (and Liam doesn't even want to  think  about how many phone numbers Louis's probably inadvertently given out that way), "this guy --  Liam Payne , Liam Payne has a very big vocabulary."

He grins charmingly at the screen and then screeches, "LIAM PAAAAYNE," into the phone. Suddenly, things start to make a lot more sense.








"He was making fun of me," Liam says grumpily into his pint and Niall laughs. Niall  would  laugh. Niall is a total fanboy for Louis Tomlinson and Liam either never knew this before or just didn't pick up on it, because he's pretty sure he wouldn't still be friends with Niall otherwise.

"He wasn't," Niall says, when he's finished laughing. "He prank calls everyone, you should feel honored."

"I really don't," Liam says. "I'm not fodder for his Youtube viewers. I'm nothing to do with him and now he's dragged me into this and I've had to start approving comments because I'm sick of people asking me to review Justin Bieber."

"I like Justin Bieber," Niall says mildly.

" Liam  likes Justin Bieber," Zayn says, who seems to find this whole thing nothing short of entertainment, and Liam glares and says, " Ironically ."

Zayn waits until Liam's had his fifth pint to say, "You know, there's this meet-up thing happening soon, you should come along."

"But I don't really like people," Liam points out and Niall digs his elbow in Liam's side a little too hard and says, "You like us! You like everyone, you just don't know how to show it. It'll be a laugh, come on."

"Your adoring hipster fans would love to meet you," Zayn says and Liam buries his head in his hands and says, "But I'm not  interesting , they'll -- what would I even  say  to them?"

"No, come on, Zayn, stop teasing the lad," Niall says, and pushes at Liam's shoulder until he raises his head. "They won't even recognise you, you've never shown your picture, have you? So you've nothing to worry about."

Liam actually thinks he has a lot to worry about -- it's not that he's actually a social hermit, because he's not. He does have a life and friends, not just Zayn and Niall; there's Aiden, who does an independent radio show and Matt, his boyfriend, who's in a band (a  decent  band; Aiden asked Liam to review their EP a while ago as a favour and Liam was so relieved when he listened to it and realised he wouldn't have to deal with the conflict of being honest or pleasing a friend). And he does like the idea of the "meet-up"; he likes being able to see bloggers and v-loggers and listen to them talk, it's just the part where people are going to want to talk to  him . Liam can't really be bothered with it.

"There'll be an open bar," Zayn says slyly and Liam makes a face, but still drains the last of his pint.

"You're not going to leave me alone til I say yes, are you?" he says but it's not really a question, and Zayn and Niall don't seem to think so either, judging by the way Zayn slings an arm around his shoulder and says, "That's my boy."








Liam gets a name-tag, but it doesn't have his blog title on which he's glad about. Niall writes  Podcasts  under his but Zayn doesn't add anything either -- although to be fair, Liam isn't exactly sure what Zayn would write. Tumblr/Lookbook/somehow randomly internet famous? He distracts himself by looking around the room -- it's busy and filled with people and it's really interesting, actually. No one even seems to know each other but everywhere he looks, someone's grabbing someone's arm and saying, "Sorry, but are you..?" or "I think I recognise you from..." and in spite of himself, Liam's enjoying just watching everyone interact. He can pick out quite a few people that he recognises himself, and makes a note to maybe go talk to one or two of them. Later.

Zayn steers him over to the bar and says, "Matt and Aiden are coming along later, if you want to look like you're socialising without actually speaking to strangers." He grins at Liam, who rolls his eyes, and hands him a beer. "What do you think?"

"There's a lot of people," Liam says, at a loss. Niall's already been waylaid by three fangirls and it's just -- it's weird. Nice, but weird, and he's kind of glad to be a part of this even if no one really knows.

"There are," Zayn agrees, and takes a drink. "We should make a drinking game. Drink every time the word 'epic' is used, drink every time someone screams..."

"I don't want to end up in the hospital," Liam says, but he's smiling and when Zayn says, "But mate, this is  epic ," it's easy to take a drink.

A pretty dark-haired girl comes over to them not a few minutes later, widening her eyes at Zayn and saying, "Are you -- I just, I follow you on Tumblr," as though that's a sentence, but Zayn seems to understand because he sets his drink down and smiles at her. Either that, Liam thinks a little bitterly, or he just wants to get laid. Either way, they end up wandering off together and Liam doesn't mind, really, because he's busy counting the number of cameras and phones out in the room. It's probably the most awkward social get-together he's been to, that's for sure. Maybe he'll blog about it later.

"Hi." Liam jumps more than a little, because he'd totally not been paying attention, and the first thing he sees is a smile. Then he focuses properly and it's Louis Tomlinson. Of course. "I'm--"

"Louis Tomlinson, I know." It comes out a little ruder than he'd intended, and Liam bites his tongue so as not to apologise.

Louis's smile dims slightly, and he awkwardly rubs the back of his neck, which -- is not something that Liam expected. "Uh, yeah, I forget about that. People knowing who I am."

"It happens when you post your face all over the internet," Liam says dryly, and he's surprised (again) when Louis laughs, bright and easy.

"I like that! I'm not all over the internet, I'll have you know." He leans on the bar next to Liam, as though they're all old friends, and Liam is more than a little confused as to what's going on. He's half-convinced it's a set up but Louis doesn't have a video camera. "Although the porn sites -- yeah, that was me."

"And that was inappropriate," Liam says, and it's almost worth it to hear Louis laugh again.

"So was what I did with the carrot."

"Oh, God," Liam says before he can help it and Louis winks at him, overexaggerated and dramatic.

"So, why are you here? Are you one of my stalkers? I bet you are, right?" and it strikes him for the first time that Louis doesn't actually know who he is. Of course he doesn't, no one really does here, and Louis probably wouldn't be talking to him if he did.

"I'm not, actually," Liam says, and he takes a drink because he thinks he needs one, and nods over to where his friends are. "I know Niall and Zayn." It's not technically a lie, anyway.

"Oh! Niall does that podcast, doesn't he? And Zayn..."

"Zayn doesn't really do anything," Liam admits and he meets Louis's eyes before they both start laughing. "So, like..." He gestures around the room, suddenly anxious to continue the conversation but not entirely sure how to. "Who are you here with?"

"My bromance partner, young Harold over there," Louis says, and nods at a curly-haired guy who's currently surrounded by what seems to be half the girls in the room. "He makes videos sometimes, we live together."

"Oh," says Liam, and then, " oh . Are you--"

"No!" Louis says, and starts laughing. "Oh shit, no, although the internet would have you believe it. No, I'd never -- he'd break my heart, let's be honest. What about you, anyway?" He eyes Liam suspiciously. "Are you sure you're not from the internet? You're not just here to support your friend, surely? Are you sure you're not my stalker? Please?"

"You ask a lot of questions," Liam says, desperately trying to deflect Louis from his interrogation. "I mean, um, I've seen some of your videos, I saw your latest one?" He realises what a mistake this is as soon as the words are out of his mouth.

"You did!" Louis says, and lights up. "Did you like it? What did you think? Do you think I got the giraffe noise right because I thought it was like..." He makes a noise that sounds vaguely like the noise the pipes in Liam's house make just before something goes wrong, and then bats his eyes at Liam like that was somehow attractive. "But Harry thought I was wrong, and it was like... meep."

"I don't think giraffes make noises," Liam says, because somehow Louis has dragged him into this insanity, and Louis frowns at him and says, "Well, clearly you are wrong, how else would they mate?"

"You don't need noises to mate," Liam points out, because, really,  someone  has to, and Louis lets his smile turn slightly dirty and says, "Are you sure about that?"

"Yes," Liam says firmly, and Louis shrugs and says, "We'll have to find out then." 

He smiles at Liam and Liam can't help smiling back and they're just stood there like idiots, smiling at each other, when someone slings an arm around his shoulder and says, "Who's your mate, then?"

It's Matt, with his stupid hat on and grinning at Liam, with Aiden by his side looking like he's trying to hide inside his own cardigan. Louis frowns at Aiden and then makes finger guns and says, "Aiden Grimshaw! I know your radio show!"

"Yeah, you're the little twat who always rings up and tries pranking me," Aiden says, but he's smiling and Louis just looks ridiculously pleased that Aiden even knows who he is. "What're you doing with the king of hipsters over here, then? Would've thought our Liam would be too high brow for your tastes."

"We were talking about animal noises," Liam says quickly but Louis's staring at him now and says, "Wait,  Liam ?"

There are lots of Liams on the internet and probably lots  more  Liams in the world, so there's absolutely no reason why Louis should assume that he's Liam Payne. But something about the way Louis is looking at him -- plus the fact that Liam knows Aiden, Matt, Zayn and Niall -- means that Liam can tell Louis's already figured it out and for some reason this leaves him with a heavy weight in his stomach. 

"Um," Liam says, to buy some time, and then, "Yeah, I know, you prank called me, ha ha, hilarious, I'm such a loser, right?" It's really not what he intended to say, at all, and Matt's looking at him with a small amount of concern. He tries stretching his mouth into a smile but Louis clearly just wants to get away and Liam can't blame him. He picks up his drink, mumbles an excuse and heads straight to the bathroom where he spends the next half an hour refreshing Twitter on his phone and thinking of anything except what an idiot he just made out of himself.

He hopes Louis doesn't make fun of him in his next video, but Liam wouldn't really blame him if he did.








"It can't have been that bad," Zayn says, when they're in their shared hotel room and Niall's snoring on the floor (they could only afford a two bed room, and Niall drew the short straw by being drunkest out of all of them). "Maybe if you'd stuck around--"

"He didn't want me to," Liam says firmly. "I'm not stupid. Besides, even if I had stuck around, I really doubt that we'd have had that much to talk about."

"You were doing just fine before he knew it was you," Zayn points out and Liam wonders if he could get away with stealing one of the drinks out of the mini-bar.

"You didn't see the look on his face," Liam says, and he's glad that it's dark so he can't see the way Zayn's probably rolling his eyes. "We were chatting and then Aiden told him it was me, and Louis just froze." He doesn't mention the way Liam had wanted to throw up, because not only was that incredibly stupid and something he doesn't like thinking about, but it was clearly an overreaction. He doesn't even care  about Louis, with his dumb animal noises and lack of anything to say in his videos that isn't completely mundane. 

"I think you were stupid," Zayn informs him, and Liam can hear the blankets rustling as Zayn shifts to get more comfortable. "I'll talk to him tomorrow--"

"No, you won't," Liam cuts him off. "At least, not about me. You're not my mum, I can make friends on my own, thanks."

"You clearly can't," Zayn says but he subsides anyway, which Liam is thankful for.

Except that leaves Liam alone in the dark with his thoughts, and he's not really very happy with that either. He should, he thinks now, have taken more advantage of the open bar but he knows what he's like when he's drunk, and he didn't want to risk making even more of an idiot out of himself than he already had.

He manages to get some sleep and in the morning, he pushes the incident to the back of his mind. It's fine. None of them will ever mention it again and they'll all pretend it never happened and everything will be  fine .

-

"Louis keeps asking about you, by the way," Niall says unexpectedly, glancing up from the sound levels on the screen. "He said you ran away from him."

"I," Liam starts, then catches Zayn's eye and drops his head into his hand. "Yes, I ran away from him."

"You shouldn't have, he's really nice," Niall carries on, seemingly oblivious to Liam's humiliation. "I'm--" he starts to say, then stops, as though something's just occurred to him and seriously, can Niall just hurry up and finish editing this podcast because Liam has a hundred and one things to review right now, not to mention Pitchfork asked him to cover one or two reviews for them. 

"I need new friends," Liam says pointedly, but Zayn slings an arm around his shoulder and says, "Mate, maybe you could get some if you didn't just run away from people."

" One time ," Liam says between gritted teeth and Zayn tightens his hold on him, smiling blithely when Liam attempts to level a glare in his direction.

"I want you to be one of the guests on the next one," Niall says and Liam is about to say no when Niall does that stupid face and says, "c'mon, Liam, you know I've helped you out on a time. I had a decrease in traffic for the last one and people loved it the last time you were on."

"You're going to guilt trip me until I agree, aren't you," Liam says and Niall makes a ridiculous pout and says, "Yes, but I shouldn't have to! We're supposed to be friends, Liam.  Friends ."

"Supposed to be," Liam echoes but they all already know that he's going to say yes, as much as he absolutely detests it. "Whatever. Fine. What's the theme?"

"Spoken word versus the written word," Niall says, already turning back to Adobe Audition. "I'll send you an outline over later with the kind of questions I'll be asking, I know you hate going into this shit unprepared but I would like  some  semblance of speaking naturally so I'm not sending you it word for word."

"I am terrible at improvising," Liam says miserably. "Not on your podcast, even, I just mean in day to day life." He ignores the way Zayn is taking this as a cue to ruffle Liam's hair. "I run away from people. That's not a thing that people should do."

"You're a person and you did it," Niall says, less concerned about Liam's infinite problems now he's got what he wants. "Besides, it was an internet convention, mate, you won't have been the most awkward one there."

"I will have," Liam says with conviction but apparently everyone is now bored of listening to him whine about his life. Even Zayn's opening his Macbook to launch FinalCut Pro. "When did people become more interested in technology than their  friends ?" he asks, in a last attempt, but they both ignore him so Liam slips his own headphones on and starts listening to the new Vondelpark.








He's a little late for Niall's podcast recording but he figures it's not really a big deal; he had to grab a coffee to even be able to think about facing Niall's particular brand of Irish cheer and it's not his fault that Louis Tomlinson was (for some reason) right at the front of the line. And okay, he could've maybe gone to a different coffee shop but the nearest other one was a  Starbucks , and Liam actually drinks  coffee , okay, so he really had no other choice than to duck into the bathroom and sit in the cubicle until he figured Louis had left. (He passed the time by searching #louistomlinson on Twitter and reading the livefeed. It really wasn't as creepy as it would probably sound if he ever told anyone.)

And yes, maybe he 'ran away' from Louis again but Louis hadn't even seen him that time so that doesn't make it running away so much as avoiding him and people avoid people  all the time , it's a perfectly logical reaction, especially if you don't want to talk to someone. Still, it doesn't put Liam in the best mood -- he's an awkward mixture of embarrassed and annoyed -- and he's deep in his own head when he pushes open the door to Niall's recording booth and realises two things -- first, he never actually got around to reading the outline that Niall had emailed him and secondly, that Louis Tomlinson is sat directly in front of him with a smile bright enough to rival the sun.

( A smile bright enough to rival the sun , Liam thinks dismally, because who even  thinks  things like that, and this is why he doesn't like to do spontaneity.)

Niall turns to face him with a smile of his own, both of them nice enough to ignore the fact that Liam's still stood awkwardly in the doorway, one hand clutching his rapidly cooling drink. "Hey, Liam," Niall says and Liam is going to -- well, he can't think of anything right now, but. Realistically he'll probably just sulk. Still, he'd asked Niall if there were any other guests -- had he? He distinctly remembers waking up in the middle of the night, morning, whatever, and thinking  oh, I should email Niall and ask about other guests , but he's unsure as to whether he'd picked up his Blackberry and sent the email.

Either way it doesn't really make any difference now, does it, because he's stood here and Louis is sat there and all he can do is slide into the seat next to Louis and concentrate on ignoring the abject humiliation he can feel. 

"I hope you're not going to run away this time," Louis says, and Liam knows that Louis is being nice or something but he just remembers the way Louis  looked  at him when he found out who he was, and so he just shifts awkwardly in his seat and says, "Well, no. I'm -- not really."

"Good, because I've got your phone number and I know where you live," Louis says, in the same tone, and Liam frowns at him and says, "Well, I know you've got my number but you don't -- do you actually know where I live?"

Louis taps the side of his nose knowingly, as though that's any kind of explanation, and so Liam picks up his coffee and takes a sip because he's at a loss as to what else he could do. It's cold now but he swallows it anyway, figuring he's going to need a lot of caffeine to get through the next few hours. He's tempted to ask Niall if he's got any Red Bull and mix it in, something that he's done before at two or three am when he's got a deadline, but he remembers in time that that's not really something which is acceptable under normal circumstances. And also, if he did that, who knows what weird things he'd end up saying?

"Alright," Niall says, pushing a few sliders around on the soundboard and looking knowledgeable. "Headphones on, lads."

Liam slips his headphones on (and maybe he's careful not to mess up his hair, but whatever). "Okay."

"Okay!" Louis says, in an over-the-top American accent, and he shoots Niall a double thumbs up as well. 

He holds the pose for longer than is necessary and Niall shakes his finger at Louis warningly. "No making me laugh when we're recording, Louis."

Louis drops his face into a pout and seriously, Liam is so in over his head now because he recognises that objectively, Louis's behaviour is incredibly annoying and yet for some reason he's beginning to find it  endearing . Liam is fucked. He is so so fucked.

-

"Well, that wasn't that bad!" Louis says cheerfully, slinging an arm across Liam's shoulder as though this has been some sort of bonding experience and now they're somehow friends. "Pub anyone? Niall, yeah? I'll buy you a pint if you promise not to use the soundbite where I tried drinking Liam's coffee."

"I actually need to clean the mic that you spat Liam's coffee all over," Niall says. "I really don't know why you thought that'd be a good idea."

Louis shrugs a shoulder and says, "Well,  Liam  wasn't drinking it at the time," as though that makes  complete sense  and Niall just rolls his eyes at him and says, "You go on, I'll catch you up."

"Um," Liam says, before it's just somehow accepted that he's going to the pub. "I actually have a lot of work to do."

"Liam  Payne ," Louis says immediately, in a voice of utter and total betrayal. "Are you saying that you're going to make me go sit in a pub on my  own ? Like some sort of YouTube video making alcoholic?"

"You're not making a YouTube video at the pub, are you?" Liam asks warily and Louis bats his eyes and says, "Not if you come with me. I'll be distracted, I'll have company, I won't have to relegate myself to the denizens of the Internet. Internetopia is a land, Liam, and I am their king."

"I can't believe thousands of people listen to your inane rambling," Liam says. 

Louis looks delighted and says, "And now you're one of them! And listen -- you're getting the original, unedited version. You get to hear all my thoughts on carrots and sugar and pig ice cream. Don't you think pig ice cream would be fantastic? Not bacon, that would be ridiculous, but actual ice cream that tastes like pig."

"If you don't mean bacon, then what exactly does pig taste like?" Liam asks slowly and Louis licks the side of Liam's face and says, "Like it would if you licked a pig, obviously. You need to think outside of the box, Liam, I read your reviews, you are too  grounded . Use more metaphors! Use similies! Write your reviews in the form of acrostic poems."

Liam doesn't trust himself to drink around Louis, so he's not entirely sure how he ends up a little bit drunk by the time Niall shows up. It's probably something to do with the smiles Louis keeps shooting him when he thinks Liam isn't looking; soft and real and like he's altogether surprised at the fact that Liam is actually here and sat with him and every time Liam catches one, he finds himself smiling into his own drink. Talking to Louis is every bit as easy as it was the first time, even when Louis pulls a napkin across the table and starts writing a review in what he claims is free verse and is really just Louis being entirely ridiculous.








"People are shipping us!" Louis says delightedly, and Liam blinks at his phone and says, "Okay, not only do I not have any idea what that means, but do you know what time it is?" It's been over a month since their pub visit and he's still not used to Louis's constant insane phonecalls, to be quite honest.

"It's the  middle of the afternoon ," Louis says, before pausing and saying, "oh no, right, that was an actual question. Yeah, it's like two pm, have you only just woken up?"

Liam weighs the pros and cons of lying but figures it's easiest just to tell the truth and he says, "Yes. I don't know, I stay up pretty late. Um. But what do you mean, with the -- what did you say?"

"Shipping us," Louis repeats promptly. "It means that the internet thinks we're in love. You've never read fanfiction? You know that your friends, Matt and Aiden, they've got the biggest following."

"They're actually going out, though," Liam says and wishes people wouldn't call him when he's still half asleep. "So is that still a thing?"

"That's what you choose to focus on?" Louis asks, sounding amused. "Not the tale of our epic love, as told by the internet? Seriously, I mean, I know this exists for me and Harry, but there's really no wonder. But now you as well! It's like I'm irresistable, people just believe that I surround myself with people and then they fall in love with me."

"You mean that's not what happens?" Liam asks dryly and Louis blows a raspberry down the phone, which is pretty disgusting. "It's still a bit early for this to make any sense to me, I'm sorry."

"It's  two in the afternoon ," Louis says, again. "I'm shaking my head at you right now in disappointment at your life choices. Also I'm going to forward you the fanfiction. And the mix tapes. You can review the mix tapes! It can be a theme! Also apparently we need a celebrity name smush, I'm thinking of Paynelinson myself."

"I think I need to go back to sleep," Liam says and Louis makes another interesting noise.

"I am going to call you in an hour and we can discuss this thoroughly." He pauses. "You'd block my number if I posted the fanfic stuff in your comments, wouldn't you?"

"I would," Liam confirms and is about to end the call when another thought occurs to him. "Don't write any of it, either."

"Would I," Louis says, in tones of saccharine innocence and Liam rolls his eyes, forgetting Louis can't see him.

"Yes. You would. So don't do that, it'd be weird."

"You are a hard man, Liam Payne," Louis says solemnly, and Liam makes a face at the phone before hanging up properly. He intends to go back to sleep but the conversation is only just beginning to filter through his mind properly, so when his phone beeps with an acknowledgement of a new email, he doesn't really hesitate before reading it.

The thing is, it's -- he's not going to say it's weird, because he is 'from the internet', so to speak. And also, like, people should express themselves creatively however they want and they probably never intended for him to see this. Liam's self-aware enough to recognise that these are people who are interested in their internet personas and so writing about those, moreso than them as actual people. But maybe a better word for it would be 'surreal'; surreal that people care enough about any facet of him to spend their time writing about him being in love with Louis.

The worst part is that some of it isn't even that far off. Because yeah, Liam realises that Louis's probably sent him the worst of it (and he can't help forwarding one to Zayn that's more about him being in a weird love triangle with Harry and Niall than about Louis and Liam, who are just sort of bobbing about in the background) but some of the bits -- he's not having an epiphany over fanfiction, because he was already aware of the fact that there's something about his feelings for Louis lately that are more than just friendly. But the way that they describe Liam feeling, or the way Louis slowly wins him over -- it's not far off, that's all that Liam is going to say.

And if he feels a little smug when he reads one where Louis leaves Harry for him, well. That's entirely normal.

The thing is, Liam isn't emo or anything ridiculous. He's perfectly happy with his life; he makes money from doing what he loves and he has good friends and Louis, who somehow forced his way into Liam's life and calls him all the time and sometimes they hang out. And yes, he has a stupidly big crush on Louis but how can he  help  it? Louis leaves him voicemails of animal impressions and seems genuinely interested when Liam rants about some album or another in a way that Niall and Zayn have long since stopped even pretending to be. Louis's really intelligent, even if he doesn't show it, and they have actual discussions  and so yeah, maybe Liam's more than a little bit head over heels for him.

But Louis's clearly not interested -- seriously, he can have  anyone he wants . Liam's seen Louis's formspring.me inbox and it's full of people begging for his number, for a message, telling him how hot he is, and okay, Louis clearly doesn't even believe any of them but it's still  true . So why would he like Liam, who is boring and who, to be fair, Louis probably thinks of as a bit of a joke?

"Oh, fuck," Liam says out loud because he has got to stop getting lost in his own head. Instead, he gets up and heads downstairs, opening a bottle of wine and settling down to write his reviews (because half past two in the afternoon is definitely not too early to start). He determinedly does not think of Louis. He doesn't.








Liam wakes up to the sound of his Blackberry incessantly buzzing and flashing. At first he thinks it's a phone call, so he rolls over to pick it up but a quick glance says 432 new emails. Which is really fucking weird, actually, because he doesn't get comment notifications on his blog to his phone and yeah, he gets emails from other things and his contact email is on his page, it's just... 432 is quite a lot, especially when he's not sure why he'd be getting them. (His second thought is that maybe Louis signed him up for some spam site as a 'hilarious' prank.) He opens the first one but it just says 'OMG CAN YOU TELL LOUIS THAT I LOVE HIM??' and it only serves to confuse Liam further and maybe he should really start trying to get into a normal sleep pattern.

He decides to go take a shower, in the vague hope that maybe it'll make more sense when he's woken up a bit, and when he gets back his emails have climbed to 508. He opens the latest one again but all it says this time is LILO IS REAL and it still doesn't make any sense at all to him so he decides to call Zayn. Zayn is definitely the one who understands the internet the most, after all, seeing as how he's on nearly every social networking site out there and Zayn picks up on the second ring.

"What is going on?" Zayn says straight away and Liam frowns and says, "Uh, I was going to ask you that, actually. I've got a ton of emails, I don't -- did something happen?"

"'Did something happen?'" Zayn repeats, and huffs a laugh down the phone. "Liam, mate, how much did you have to drink last night?"

Liam isn't sure because he doesn't exactly remember, but he has got a killer headache and it's entirely possible that he drank that entire bottle of wine to himself, but. "I don't know," he says slowly (and okay, now the panic is beginning to set in). "Why? Did I do something?"

"Did--" Zayn starts to repeat again, then cuts himself off. "Okay. This is what you're going to do: look at your blog, and then call someone. I'd suggest Louis. Okay? Can you do that?"

"I can do that," Liam says irritably, tucking the phone in between his chin and shoulder as he opens his laptop and waits for it to load. "How bad is it though?"

"That depends on your ideas of bad," Zayn says carefully, "but I really do think you should talk to me again about this once you've spoken to Louis. Assuming this is about Louis."

Liam's about to ask what exactly 'this' is, but then his blog loads and he maybe drops his phone in horror because -- first of all, this is not how he meant to come out, he never meant to come out on his blog at all  for the same reason that he never posted his pictures; it's got no bearing on his music opinions. But most of all, this is not how he meant to tell Louis -- or  anyone , for that matter -- that he likes him.

"I hate the internet," he says unhappily and Zayn's voice crackles up from the speakers, "I'm going to go now. Call him."

Liam stares miserably at the blog post for a while longer and wonders if there's any possibility that maybe Louis hasn't seen it -- but even if he deleted it right now (which he will actually have to do), there'll still be screen caps and Google cache and probably a million people have emailed Louis already, anyway. He's tempted to search his messages for Louis's name but he'll just freak out more, so he reluctantly scrolls down his contacts list to Louis's name and presses the call button.

Louis picks up on the  first  ring, sounding breathless and like he's just run a mile and doesn't even wait for Liam to say hello before he demands, "Was that about me?"

There's none of his usual humour in his voice and he sounds more serious than Liam's ever heard him, so it's not entirely out of nerves when he swallows and says, "Um, yes." Louis doesn't say anything so Liam takes this as his incentive to keep talking. "I've deleted it now, don't worry. So you can just ignore it. Or make fun of it, I guess? If you --" He concentrates, tries to focus. "So I understand if you don't want to talk to me anymore, and I'm sorry that it happened so publicly. I was going to tell you just not like this. Not involving the internet."

"You're an idiot," Louis says firmly and Liam says, "Yes. I. Sorry."

"Stop saying sorry," Louis says, and exhales noisily over the phone. "All that stuff about not being funny and not having anything in common, did you mean that?"

"I'm not particularly funny," Liam allows, trying to gather his thoughts. "And I meant that you have terrible taste in music, I wasn't apologising for that, but I more meant that I know you wouldn't want to go out with me because you get on with Harry and he's funny and, you know, interesting, and I'm just sort of. Here."

"You're an  idiot ," Louis says again. "I know you're from the internet but me and Harry aren't actually in love, I told you that the first time I met you, why did you think I told you that?"

Liam's not entirely sure what to say so he just makes a vague noise of acknowledgement. "Mmm."

"Lilo is  real ," Louis says and Liam has a brief moment of  what, why is he talking about lilos , before his mind catches up and he says, "Wait, what?" which is really not that much more of a sentence.

"I like you, you twat," Louis says. "Why do you think I got Niall to introduce us again? You're so stupid, really, should I have emailed you an update? Should I have changed my Facebook status to 'in love with Liam Payne'?"

"That's not that far off what I did," Liam says and Louis says, "Yes, because you are stupid and also an idiot, I believe we have covered this. But you are also my boyfriend." He hesitates and says, "I mean, assuming you're okay with that."

"I am  so  okay with that," Liam says and Louis laughs and says, "Good, otherwise it'd be significantly more creepy that I already printed out a screen cap of your blog post. Also I joined a comm about us. I mostly talk about how attractive I am, though."

"You are not writing fanfic," Liam says and Louis says, "You are such a buzzkill, Liam Payne, oh my God. I hope you know this means you have to be in my next YouTube video. Make Niall and Zayn join in as well! It'll be like a collective."

"It will be terrifying," Liam says.

Louis's voice softens. "It'll be glorious."

Liam doesn't think he's just talking about the YouTube video but either way; he agrees.