If Zayn had to pick out a reason why this works so well, this thing they have going, he'd have to put it down to the way they operate in total complicity. Each of them has a well-defined role to play, something that separates him from the rest and yet complements the other boys' talents so they come together as a perfect whole. It's the only way they've been able to get this far without going mad under the pressure. They were a bit of an experiment, Simon had said. He mostly signed solo performers, but there was something about them as a group that was really promising. Since then they've delivered ten – fifty – times what he's expected of them, and it's all due to their innate sense of teamwork.
"Stop it," Louis says softly one evening after a show in Chicago, pulling the cigarette from Zayn's lips and crushing it under his shoe, careless of the hotel's carpet. "Your lungs will thank you."
"Fuck off," he says. "It helps me think."
"You smell of it afterward," Harry tells him. Zayn doesn't think Harry minds the smoking the way Louis does, he's only being practical. If he's caught out by scent, it's going to make things unpleasant for everyone. He pulls out a bit of the gum he always has with him and chews for thirty seconds, then swallows it.
"That's disgusting," Louis says.
"It's so the back of my throat is minty," he replies indignantly, "and I've seen some of the things you put in your mouth, so shut it."
Harry smiles sidelong at Louis and says nothing, heading toward the west staircase.
Tonight's client is an Alabama Senator named George Falk. Before they left their room, Harry read the dossier. He always reads them cover to cover. Zayn doesn't, because he doesn't want to know any more than he has to. Louis doesn't because he doesn't care. Harry cares. He has to feel justified with every client. "Child prostitution ring," he'll say, or, "slave trafficking," with a satisfied nod. He's rarely dissatisfied. The clients who come up on their list aren't good people. Sometimes they're pillars of their respective communities, but there's always a vast graveyard full of bodies under those pillars. Zayn's life is better when he doesn't know the secrets underneath. The only thing he wants to know is exactly where George Falk will be from two to four in the morning, and how much he weighs.
Falk's room is seven floors up from theirs. They take the stairs, never the elevator. Zayn did the scouting for this job the night before and discovered there were only three cameras in the west staircase instead of the nine in the north, east, and south stairs. Not that it matters, after all; Liam has had control of the hotel's dedicated line since they arrived and all the data streaming in is under his watch, from the cameras to the doors opening and closing to the pornography being watched ("Eleven hundred porn sites yesterday," Liam told Zayn in the morning, horrified. Privately Zayn thinks that's a rather low number in a hotel this size, but they're off-season).
George Falk is likely to be awake still, which is fine as this job requires a certain amount of off-the-cuff, an au naturel sort of thing if you will, which is why it's Zayn doing it and not, say, Niall. Niall's great when you want information, but the code they received two days before was blue for finish, natural causes if able, not red for interrogate and finish, pain applicable. Blue is Zayn's code, or sometimes Liam's if they want poison.
"This had better be smooth," Louis says when they've got to the tenth floor and they're a bit warm. "I'm sweating my balls off."
"Easier if I could just –" Harry mimes pulling a trigger. This is why Harry's codes are never red or blue. His are always green for finish, long distance or yellow for finish, medium distance. Never orange (finish, short distance); that would be for a last-ditch scenario like an extraction, and they don't do extractions. Harry's only along for the ride because Louis is on backup. Nobody goes in alone, and Harry and Louis never go in without each other.
His hotel bump key, which is just a piece of cardstock with a magnet on the end, doesn't work on every door, but it does on the doors in the Omni, he's checked. Regardless, he knocks in case the senator has a visitor. Easier to slip out of B&E charges if you're not actually B, anyway.
George Falk is in his sixties and doesn't look like someone you'd expect to have to assassinate. He looks like a kindly grandfather, someone who'd give you sweets and tell you bad jokes. When he opens the door, Zayn pauses to ascertain whether he knows who Zayn is and, seeing the little spark of recognition, smiles brightly and angles his body so he's almost all the way through the door already when he says, "Hi! I was just wondering – I'm so sorry to bother you, but one of the boys kicked our ice bucket out the window and we wondered if we could borrow yours."
He knows he's charming when he can be arsed to smile, so it's no wonder that although Falk looks uncertain for a moment, he gives way and nods. "Of course."
Harry and Louis, who have been standing unseen on either side of the door, slip in after him silently when Falk turns around, and skulk through checking for other people in the suite, open windows, breakable objects, all the things they might have to clean up afterward. If they've learnt anything over the last couple of years, it's that you can never think any job is really done. There will always be a loose end. For perfectionists like himself and Harry, it's a hard thing to accept. It doesn't seem to keep the others up at night.
"It's not very big," Falk says, coming back into the room from the kitchenette. Zayn catches him off guard and the bucket drops to the ground with a ping and then a clatter as the tongs skitter across the floor. His preferred method is always chloroform followed by a plastic bag over the head. It's the quietest, the cleanest, the most humane, and the blame can always be placed on heart failure, or Louis's favourite setup, autoerotic asphyxiation. He and Harry have done that to so many clients, however, that Liam's banned it for at least another year.
Zayn has the chloroform rag halfway up to Falk's face when Falk panics and flails backward, his elbow hitting Zayn in the throat. The moment Zayn loses contact and staggers, clutching his throat and spluttering, Louis springs from the shadows, scrambling up Falk's back until he's sitting on his shoulders like the largest toddler known to man. In one fluid motion, he hooks his gloved fingers under Falk's chin, puts the other hand behind his head firmly, and snaps Falk's neck to the right with a flat crack that reverberates off the wooden floors.
In the dim light from the single lamp Louis's eyes are all pupil and when Falk falls to the floor Louis smiles in satisfaction and goes with his body gracefully. It never fails to surprise Zayn how Louis takes to the job. They all rather enjoy it – in fact, Zayn would go so far as to say Niall loves it – but Louis is just good at it. He's sharklike, watchful, a narrow-eyed predator. He has never had to abort a job.
When Falk is down, done, and has stopped twitching, Harry stalks over to Louis and pats him over, looking for fluid or anything out of place whilst Zayn checks Falk's pulse with the back of his knuckles. He puts his glove back on, satisfied Falk is dead, and Harry checks him as well before they both stand and look over the scene critically. Harry is the situation man. He's the best at seeing the whole picture and manipulating it.
"It's going to need to look like he fell," he says after a moment's contemplation, and he and Louis pick up Falk's body, drag him to the kitchen, stand him up and let him go to bash the side of his head against the counter. Zayn fills the tumbler that was sat on the counter with the bourbon beside it, and drops it on the floor. The three of them step back and observe as if they were a police team, circling around the body. Does it look, Zayn asks himself, as if Falk got dizzy and fell, hit the side of his head on the counter, and broke his neck? The angle is a bit off, but Zayn knows there's no real way to prove that. It's not like on telly. The policemen will come to the logical conclusion, that George Falk is an older gentleman with high blood pressure, and the likelihood of any further investigation is very low.
They spend another few minutes looking over the suite, but they know the dangers of over-thinking and over-tidying. The best, cleanest job is the one where the adrenaline doesn't make you fumble but instead makes you clear and slow and deliberate. His first several jobs were the shaky kind, but after that he learnt to push through it and make the nerves work for him.
"We're done here," Louis says. Zayn wonders if he's ever had nerves. He claims he does when they're singing, but even Louis would say he's a better killer than he is a singer. He doesn't need the rest of the group on a job, just Harry.
Later, in the shower, Zayn goes through the evening moment by moment, from the concert earlier in the night to the dead senator upstairs. He'd like not to, but this is the way his brain processes. If Harry's the situation man and Louis is the best overall, Zayn is the detail man. He'll go over every piece again and again, finding faults, until he can sleep, and then he'll never think of it again. They each have their little ways, their rituals. Zayn always likes to send his clients off with a few soothing words, and he's a bit upset he didn't get to do the same for George Falk. Everyone, he's discovered, is scared when they die. No one is prepared. He can't fix that, but he can be there with them, totally present, in those last moments so they know they're not alone. His murmurs are always some form of it's all right, don't be frightened, you're going to be fine. Harry teases him about it a bit but not too much. Zayn doesn't think Harry even knows he always apologises before he pulls the trigger.
When he gets out of the shower, Harry's asleep on the couch. He's got his arm curled around a lovey Louis gave him ages ago, which used to be a plush pokemon and is now a matted ball with no eyes. It's a bit difficult to believe he's one of the top snipers in the world when he snores and sometimes chews on his pillow whilst he's sleeping. Louis is padding around the kitchenette, shirtless in a pair of Harry's sweatpants. He pulls two pasties out of the toaster and pops them onto a plate, hissing at the heat and licking his fingers, then wanders back into the living area. Zayn pulls out a Red Bull and watches, idly, as Louis puts the plate down on the coffee table and rearranges Harry so he can slide behind him on the couch and spoon him. Harry mumbles but doesn't wake as Louis eats his pasties and, no doubt, gets crumbs all over both of them.
Liam comes in from the room on the other side of the suite and nods. "Howsit," he says.
"Good." He sips. "All done. Bloke hit me in the throat and Louis took him down."
"Love it," Liam says, pleased. "Where is he?"
Zayn lifts his chin toward the couch, where they can mostly just see Harry's hair and Louis's feet, and they grin at each other wryly. They've all given up trying to figure out Louis and Harry. They're not sleeping together, Zayn knows that much for sure because it would have come up at some point, but neither are they exactly not sleeping together. Zayn is no stranger to cuddling with Harry – nobody is, Harry's a cuddling menace – but there's a force-field around Louis and Harry that excludes even the rest of them, no matter how close they are. Tonight, after Louis is finished eating and watching telly, he'll get up and lead Harry to their room. On another night, when they don't have a client, they might both bring girls back, or just Louis, or just Harry, or Harry might bring a boy into the room. Zayn and Liam and Niall have had a hundred frantic whispered conversations because what are they doing in there? "Them and their weird vicarious fuck-fests," is what Liam calls it. Zayn calls it homosexual and wishes they'd get on with it, but what does he know.
He makes tea with honey and a bit of vodka to soothe his throat, which aches a little bit. He closes himself off in his and Niall's room and sings a bit. Finally he's satisfied that the blow didn't damage his voice, and that the bruise is easily covered by makeup, and goes to bed before Niall returns with bags of food, the leftovers of which he always stashes under his bed and forgets.
Being paired with four other boys was not exactly on his agenda when he signed up for X-Factor. He'd not even got over his disappointment at being rejected when he was called back and given the choice to be part of a group, and as much as he'd wanted to hate it he had to admit it was kind of a clever idea. Still, he stayed wary longer than the other boys, mindful of the fact that they had once been competition.
"Come on, you do smile once in a while, don't you?" Louis asked him the first afternoon when they got together for a little practise. "You're ticklish, yeah? Like kittens? Like Harry?"
Harry, absorbed in his DS, meowed. Zayn didn't reply.
"You unfeeling man," Louis said, stroking Harry behind the ears. Zayn found Louis a bit annoying to be honest, and would have put money on Harry swatting him away. But Harry drowsily pushed into the touch and Zayn had to reevaluate. Niall and Liam were more Zayn's speed. He liked Liam, sensible and kind and calm, straight away, and Niall was daft but Zayn could handle daft as long as it came with a good dose of normal. Not daft like Louis. Louis and Harry got on from the moment they saw each other and Zayn was glad to leave them to each other. Good, he thought, Harry can keep Louis in line. It was a long time before he realised it was Louis keeping Harry in line and not the other way round.
The next day, they were put in a car and told they were going to see Simon in a private meeting. In their other interactions, there had always been such a crowd they could hardly hear each other. Everyone was so busy. Zayn didn't mind. He sat back and watched, texted his mates, who were all so excited for him they kept ringing him until he had to silence his mobile. But that afternoon they were led into an unassuming building in a section of London Zayn had never seen before, mainly residential but with a few rundown businesses here and there. It was not glamourous, and there was hardly anyone around when they were sat in front of Simon in a dingy office. There was one security bloke by the door and Simon's assistant, who left the room at Simon's nod. Then Simon was coming out from behind his desk and sitting in a chair in front of them, bent forward with his elbows on his knees, staring at them from under thoughtful, almost angry brows.
"All right boys, I want you to listen carefully," he said. His voice was soft but not kind, and Zayn felt small and stupid. "You've all signed on for a competition, but there's another step to this competition you don't know about quite yet, nothing we could put in the paperwork. You need to know, before we continue, that what I need from you is unpleasant, possibly life-threatening. You can leave right this second if you're not willing to go any further, no harm done."
Zayn was afraid to move, not even to look at the others. He could not think of a single thing Simon could propose that would make him leave. No one spoke.
"All right then," Simon said. "What I'm about to say goes no farther than this room. If it does, I will know. This is the last warning you'll get. If you decline my offer, you and your families will be removed from this country, and if you speak about it you will not be heard from again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
Zayn nodded. He heard Niall swallow beside him and choke a bit on it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two of Harry's fingers slip under the sleeve of Louis's jumper.
"You're going to have about five weeks to see how well you work as a group, and then we'll reevaluate," Simon went on. "But in addition to the singing and the choreography, there will be some extra training you're going to have to do. You'll understand more when the time comes. I expect you all to work as hard on one thing as the other. You're all talented boys, and ambitious. I don't see myself having much trouble from you, but we've never done this in a group before and it could all go to hell. It's up to you to make it work. If any of you back out, you will not continue in the competition. If you go on, you all go on together. If you fail, you fail as one. But from this point on, you work for me."
He paused for a moment to let them absorb the statement. Zayn stared at him so hard he could feel the rest of the room going white around the edges, as if he were entering some kind of warp speed like in films and the only focal point was Simon's face.
"And we work for the government," Simon said, and Niall burst out laughing.
"I thought he was joking like," Niall said defensively when they were back at the hotel.
"How could you even laugh?" Liam said, scrubbing his hand over his fringe. He stalked around the living area, sitting down occasionally for a moment before he stood again and paced. "I honestly thought I was going to piss myself. That man is terrifying."
"What kind of work do you think it is?" Louis asked from his position curled deep into the couch. His eyes were bright. "Sounds like spy work to me. MI6 kind of shit."
"You think he's an espionage recruiter," Liam scoffed. But his face changed after a moment. "Actually, that's pretty clever if it's true."
"I'd be a spy," Harry said.
"You'd have to kill people," Liam said doubtfully.
"Bad people," Niall said.
"Not always," Harry said. "I wouldn't want to kill anyone who didn't deserve it."
Niall fiddled with the laces of his shoes compulsively. "If they did, though."
"I could do it, I think, if they deserved it," Harry said, and Zayn was hit by the situation again. He kept getting bowled over by bursts of surreality. In the car he'd nearly had to put his head between his knees, but there was something about Harry, little Harry with his glossy curly hair and his kitten face, talking about killing people who deserved it, that made the shock even worse.
"You all right, mate?" Louis asked. Since the morning he'd not been nearly as obnoxious as the day before, and now he was as sober as if he'd never shoved a piece of pipe in his pants and pretended to piss out of it onto anyone's head.
"Yeah," he said shortly. "Fine. It's weird is all."
Louis's eyes were trained on Zayn's face and Zayn felt slightly specimenlike. "What do you reckon?"
He took a deep breath and let it out like he would before he started to sing. "I think," he said, "this is an opportunity we can't really pass up."
They sat for a few moments in silence before Liam's stomach growled and they laughed gustily at his startled face. "It's settled then," he said. "The stomach has it."
The next morning they were woken at five, told to wear comfortable clothing, and brought out to the same part of town as the day before. But there was no sign of Simon, and although the office building they went to was nearly identical, it secreted a series of enormous concrete rooms with targets and punching bags and tables. A tall, slim black man in a dark training suit looked them over and said, "Hello boys. How are you this morning?"
"Good!" Louis piped in, cheerful. He was brimming with excitement. The rest of them mumbled their responses.
"Good, good," the man said. "I'm Reynold. I'm just going to lead you through some exercises, nothing too strenuous, but first, can any of you tell me if you've ever shot a gun?"
Niall raised his hand. "Nerf," he said promptly, and they all laughed so hard Zayn was afraid he was going to throw up his tea.
"All right, settle," Reynold said, smiling. "Other than toys?"
They shook their heads. Louis gripped Harry's elbow and Zayn heard him whisper, "Told you."
"What about knives or other kinds of weapons? Knives or fencing?" They shook their heads again. "Archery?"
"Oh," Louis said, then waved his hand back and forth. "A bit."
"Good, good," Reynolds said again. "Any kind of hand-to-hand combat?"
"Boxing, yeah," Liam said, and when they stared at him he crossed his arms over his chest. "What, I did. I was good, too."
Reynolds turned to the table behind him and motioned them over. On it was a set of small knives, a long gun, and a pistol that made Zayn breathless.
"We're going to go through each of these," Reynold said. "First, the knives. Don't worry about being perfect at anything. You won't be. I'm here to judge your raw aptitude, not your current skill."
Harry volunteered to go first. They all stood behind a little barricade in case he swung wide. Zayn watched Reynold position him, memorising the proper stance. "Hold onto the handle with your thumb and fingers right in the middle of it. You want to stick both arms out straight, right at the target, and throw the knife hard once your throwing hand is lined up with your other hand," Reynold said. "Follow through, like you would playing tennis."
Harry nodded and stuck both arms out straight, took a breath, and threw. The first knife didn't hit the target at all, and struck the wide wooden plank instead before clattering to the floor. Harry glared at it and threw the second knife, which hit almost the same spot. Zayn could almost see him trying to self-correct. The third, fourth, and fifth knives struck the side of the target, but they all hit broadside rather than pointy-end out.
"It's all right," Louis said softly when he had come round the barrier again. "You did really well, you hit the target three times."
"I'm terrible," Harry muttered.
Louis went next, pulling faces at Harry over his shoulder until Harry finally stopped looking sulky and smiled a bit. Unfortunately, Louis hit the target every single time, still with the knife flat against it rather than stuck into the wood, but his aim was excellent, and by the time he was finished Harry was frowning again. Zayn was next and wiped his palms on his shirt so the knives wouldn't slip, and when Reynold had placed all of them on the table and nodded, he picked up the first one and tried to follow the instructions. Grip with fingers and thumb in the centre of the knife, line arms up with the target, snap fingers together after letting the knife go, follow through. He still felt as if he were throwing blind, and his first hit was too high and the second too low. The rest were roughly around the target but didn't hit it, and he shrugged as he rounded the barricade. Harry squeezed his shoulder.
Niall picked up the first knife and rolled his shoulders hard twice, looked at the target with the tip of his tongue stuck out of his mouth, and threw. Zayn felt a little zing of pleasure as he realised Niall's form was perfect – he knew nothing about throwing knives, but you recognised when someone was doing a thing just right, didn't you – and the knife smacked the target square in the middle. When Niall threw the second, there was a warbling thwank and Louis clapped his hands together and gave a little cheer, and Zayn realised the knife was actually stuck out of the target. The next knife went wide, but the fourth was dead in the middle again and the fifth stuck right into the wood beside the second.
"You're bloody phenomenal, Niall," Louis said when Niall turned and looked toward them, smiling gormlessly. Harry scowled at the floor.
"Not bad," Niall said, looking a bit dazed as if he'd just surfaced from a trance.
"Now I have to follow that," Liam grumbled. But he was good, actually. Not as good as Niall, but he managed to hit the target four out of five times.
"Good job, boys," Reynold said. "Exceeds expectations all around! Well, not you so much, lad, but you're not awful."
He patted Zayn on the back, and the other boys laughed. He rolled his eyes and smiled, but hoped he was better with guns than knives.
The pistol was next. Zayn wasn't quite sure why it made him more nervous than the other guns – perhaps because the business end was closer to him – but when Harry volunteered first again Zayn felt his palms sweat even more than they had before, tingling as if he were on the edge of a tall building.
"This," Reynold said, picking up the stainless steel pistol, "is a SIG Sauer P228. I'm going to load it for you this time, but later today you'll learn how to load it, take it apart, clean it, and put it back together."
He tapped the side of the pistol. "This has no safety lever, but it has a decocker. There are fifteen bullets in this cartridge. Each of you will get three bullets, and when you're done shooting, I want you to push this button down. Do not, under any circumstances, point it anywhere near a person. Cradle it with both hands, set it down gently, behave as if it is always loaded, no matter what. Someday you'll be more comfortable with guns, but for now you should be delicate as a daffodil with them, you got me?"
"All right," he said. "We're going to move back to a different mark, farther away than the knife mark."
When they had reached the second mark, he held the pistol up with his left hand cupping under the right. "It's just like you see in the movies, only you never aim sideways. Line up the sight so it's level and centre of the target. Don't hold your breath, it'll make your hands shake. Just breathe slow and natural and pull the trigger when you're ready. There will be a bit of recoil. Your hands are going to come up. Allow it to happen, but keep control of it in your elbows."
Harry rubbed his hands together eagerly and put on the yellow glasses and noise-cancelling headphones, and lined himself up behind the red tape as the rest of them filed behind the barricade again.
"Singing boy with a gun, watch out," Louis called to him. Harry glanced at him and smiled with one side of his mouth, as if he couldn't help it. Reynold pushed on his lower back to get his stance right, kicking his legs apart. Harry looked strange with the pistol for a moment, as if it were too big for him, but he stretched his fingers out, wiggled them, glanced at Reynold, and nodded, licking his lips, and then it seemed the gun was part of him. They put on their headphones and Harry shot once, twice, three times. He looked around to the side of the pistol and pressed down the decocker, then gingerly set it on the table.
"Good job," Reynold said, coming around the barricade. "Let's check your target."
They all bounded excitedly toward the target, except Zayn, who stayed where he was. Reynold whistled high and piercing.
"What did I say?" he asked furiously. "Every blessed one of you's standing right in front of this loaded gun. You wait until the range has been cleared, then you can go anywhere you please."
Abashed, they waited until Reynold said, "All right, clear," and then only Louis ran; the rest of them walked sedately. Reynold pulled the target paper from the wooden backdrop. It was a simple one with just a black outline of the head and shoulders of a man against a white background with a grid. He held it to the light and they saw there were three holes in a small triangle, near where the neck would be and a little to the left.
"I didn't hit the centre," Harry said, biting his lip.
"Everyone's alignment is different," Reynold said. "If this were your own pistol, you'd have corrected the alignment and you'd have got him right where you wanted. You've got amazing accuracy. You're sure you've never done this before?"
Harry ducked his head. "Never," he said.
"Watch out for you, marksman Styles," Louis said, and Harry turned pink and beamed. Never had Zayn seen anybody so dead chuffed about anything. Louis shook him gently by the back of the neck. It was a pleasant, quiet moment, but Zayn was beginning to understand Louis had no ability to leave pleasant, quiet moments as they were. Sure enough, he suddenly hooted, "Me next. Out the way, Irish."
"Fuck off," Niall said affably. "Like you're going to do better than me anyway."
"Won't do better than Harry, but you're hardly competition. Knives are knives, but these are guns," Louis said with an exaggerated American accent. "These are for manly men."
"Not for you at all then," Liam said, but before Louis could reply, Reynold gave him a shove toward the mark.
"Go shoot your gun, manly man," he said, and Louis skipped off laughing and flipping two fingers at Niall.
An hour later, they'd gone through the pistol and onto the rifle. Zayn was beginning to be really discouraged, enough that he almost didn't want to continue. He hadn't even hit the target with the pistol, and when his turn came around with the rifle he didn't expect to do any better. They knelt behind a street barrier to prop the rifle up, and were carefully tutored on how to ground the stock in their shoulders to absorb the shock. Niall, who was left-handed, didn't fare as well with the guns as he had with the knives, but he made a good show. Liam was tolerably good at everything, and Louis and Harry were ace with the guns. Harry had shot out the middle of his target, and Louis was close. When Zayn was done with the rifle and the range had been cleared, they went to look at the target and he saw he'd got one shot off in the corner near the head, and nothing else.
"Well," Liam said awkwardly.
"You're not very good at this, then, are you?" Niall asked.
"Nah, he's rubbish," Louis said, but clapped Zayn on the shoulder. "But I bet there's loads of things you're good at. This is all just targets."
Reynold returned from putting the rifle away and led them out of the range. Harry and Louis were already ahead of them in the hall, whispering to each other, and Zayn felt a bit as if he wanted to cry, because this was their first trial as a group and he was just – not as good as the others. Liam gave him a look like he knew what Zayn was thinking and smiled encouragingly, which helped a little.
"Very promising start, lads," Reynold said. Louis tilted his head as if he'd known all along he'd be brilliant at this spy thing, and maybe he had. "You've all got some great material to work with. Especially," he paused and turned to Zayn, "especially you."
Zayn froze, waited for the embarrassing punchline. "How do you figure?" he said when it didn't come. "I hardly hit any of the targets. At all."
"You're the only one who followed my directions to the letter. That's more important than anything else. The ability to pay attention to every single detail, not to get distracted or wander off and do your own thing like Miss Butterfly here," he pointed to Louis, who looked only mildly offended, "is the most valuable talent you want when you're in the game."
The game? Liam mouthed, and Zayn was confused too, but Reynold had already headed back into the range to prep for their next segment. The five of them looked at each other and he thought for the first time that perhaps they could really be a team, not a band of individuals but an actual group.
"EM. VEE. PEEEE," Louis bellowed so loudly his voice cracked, and he stomped down the hallway with his knees up high, pretending to play a trumpet and making noises that didn't sound remotely trumpet-like.
"Idiot," Liam said, but he was smiling, and when Niall and Harry followed Louis, each of them banging an imaginary drum, Liam threw him a wink and a salute.