ma petite est comme l'eau
elle est comme l'eau vive
fermez, fermez votre cage à double clé
entre vos doigts l'eau vive s'envolera
comme l'eau vive – guy béart
In the grand scheme of things, Liam would probably be a lake. Louis – Louis would be a river, a clear running stream like the ones in songs, sharp water guzzling as it tumbles on the rocks.
Liam knows water. When he was little, once, his mother told him, "there are things you can't have," and he nodded. He understood, even then.
(He doesn't look at the photos from back then. He doesn't like to see his own eyes looking back at him, the way they seem to say, you never change, do you? and boring, boring, boring.)
The things he can have are enough, most of the time. (Look, he says to himself, and he glances at the slow drag Zayn takes on his cigarette, Niall's mouth, ferocious and greasy. It's more than he thought he would ever have thought, to be honest.) Liam is not one for asking for more, not like Harry. Louis is the exception.
Liam doesn't know what it is with Louis that makes him ache in ways he didn't know he could, that makes him yearn and ask (a mouthful of moremoremore). He could have fallen in love with Harry – everything would have been easier, because everyone is in love with Harry, it isn't unusual or outlandish like falling in love with Louis is. Zayn is probably a little in love with Harry too.
Out of the corner of his eye, Liam sees Harry tug Louis out of the beanbag, grinning from ear to ear. He bends to whisper something in his ear, and Louis throws his head back, laughing. Liam watches.
He watches them leave. He wants to spring up on his feet, say, "don't, you'll get hurt," but he stays firmly rooted to the ground. He's a lake. He can't move. (He's probably a tree, too, an oak tree with a sturdy trunk and nerved leaves that the raindrops don't break.)
And there's a second where they twirl around, and Liam catches the mixed colors of their eyes, Louis's transparent blue and Harry's golden green. It feels like melted gemstones burning his fingers, unable to stay still long enough to form a necklace. A weight settles heavily at the pit of his stomach, this messy treasure tumbling into the lake to drown besides the sunken ships.
In the grand scheme of things, Harry would probably be a flying fish, he thinks: sparkling and dangerous, always leaping out of the reach from the water that runs behind him, trying to catch him.
He's close. Close is never too close for Liam but this is, Louis radiating heat next to him, a scarecrow of hay that a stray sunray could set afire. (Harry is a pyromanic, of course – the lurking angel with the box of matches clinking in his pocket.)
"Do you love me?"
Liam wants to hold him down and teach him the right questions to ask. (Come here.) He won't answer. This feels like a mugging, secrets being forced out of his mouth, jaw held ajar with iron fingers. (Go away.)
"I do," he says with a sigh. Maybe if he pretends to be aggravated, it won't feel so raw, so true, he tells himself. It doesn't work, of course.
"Love me more," Louis whines, in this nonsensical way he has. It's meant as a joke (it must be, but the things Louis says always hover on the edge of truth, especially when he laughs like that, teeth bared) but Liam takes it square in the plexus, a punch that lands right between his lungs and knocks the air out of him.
(It's always like that with Louis. It's always more and closer and louder and Liam is not that person, he can't turn up the volume and sing until his throat aches and not hear himself over the noise. He can't love like they do, so big that there isn't anything else, stifling and smothering. It just doesn't happen for him. Liam is the low thrum, the silence that crackles on the surface of the water, wrapping the stones in soft wool.)
No, he thinks with his eyes closed, no, no, no, and it's not something he says, just like he doesn't lie, but Louis makes him everything he isn't, jealous and bitter and angry and someone who says no with a clenched jaw and grinding teeth one second away from being dust.
But he does.
He loves him more and more, and it's like a big bloodstain spreading on his chest, like an illness growing beneath his skin and threatening to break free. So Liam does what he does best, he ignores it and pushes it all the way down to the pit of his stomach, making bile rise in his throat.
That's better, he thinks, because he's always been an optimist, but it's not better at all.
Liam has a kidney missing. It's been absent for so much time – it's like these missing persons that people stop looking for after ten years, fifteen if their hope is strong and burns high enough. Liam doesn't want to be cured anymore – he grew used to the emptiness in his body, the strange hum of should-be-there. He kind of likes it. He's not sick, per se, but he isn't exactly healthy either.
He likes sports, too. He likes the way running stretches his skin and his muscles, the long breaths filling his lungs, the cold, the exertion that settles in his body and doesn't leave him until he goes to sleep, feeling right. Not a lot of things feel right like that. One Direction certainly doesn't.
He prides himself on being normal – or at least as normal as someone who's a member of the biggest boyband in the world can be. He's average – average height, average good looks, average craziness. (That's another reason he's angry at Louis – because these days he finds himself wishing he were enough, wishing he were like Harry, careless and breathtakingly beautiful. He used to have average dreams – dreams he could see the end of, that he was sure he could reach.)
What he likes in Louis (but who is he kidding – it's been a long time since 'liking' has turned to 'loving', and bickering has turned to open fire) is everything he isn't. It's the red on his cheek, the tussles, the raucous laughter – the way he never trusts but has fallen in love with Harry like you fall off a cliff, flailing, limbs askew. He loves his skin and how careless he is with it – the bruises that mean nothing, the recklessness. Louis says in an interview that he wants to go bungee-jumping and the same wish tumbles out of Liam's mouth, almost clumsy, because he can't resist. He blushes and resolutely doesn't look at Louis, but he feels his gaze boring through him all day long.
(They do it. It's later, after, but it's not the same. There are harnesses and security and cameras, and by then Liam knows that the only thing that would be enough for Louis is flying, wings made of wax dripping on the skin of his back.)
He watches as Louis slips away, fingers too thick, and he thinks that if he were Louis, he would probably jump and try to get him to come back. But he's Liam – he's a lake. That's really all there is to it.
Liam remembers a time –
It wasn't so long ago, now that he thinks of it. Harry was already there (Harry is always there), lurking in the background, an easy arm thrown around Louis's shoulders, but nothing was quite as burning, quite as easy to wreck. Now – but Liam doesn't want to think about it (a flick of the wrist, now – that's all it takes to make the sandcastle crash on its pillars).
He remembers Louis in Australia, the sun shining black in his hair, head thrown back to laugh, a bottle of Corona loosely dangling between his fingers. Liam was quiet (he always is), the buzz of the alcohol running through his veins.
"Ya'll remember this time - -" Niall was saying behind him, raucous and loud, reclining on Zayn's arm. Zayn laughing preemptively. Who would have thought those two would look good together, huh?
And suddenly there was Louis plopping himself down in his lap, long legs stretched before him, and Harry laughing behind them like he was giving them his blessing, do whatever you want, children, I'll have my turn when it's time. And he remembers this time so clearly, so vividly, the green sea surrounding them, the white flank of the boat and the blue blue blue of Louis's eyes, Harry shining golden behind them, and Liam is a lake, but maybe at this moment he let himself believe, and he laid a hand on Louis's stomach, fingers cleanly separated, sun-kissed skin peeking from between his knuckles.
"You smell good," Louis said, sniffing his hair like he does. The other laughed, maybe at them, maybe at something else.
Liam's never been a believer, but even today it's hard to let go of the thought that there was something holy there, in the easy press of Louis's head between his collarbones, their tangled hands, the soft companionship of the others. Sue Liam if he didn't think this can never last but bless.
Liam let his knuckles brush Louis's stomach; he delighted in the shiver it elicited, and in the crumbling heat that they all shared, five boys in the middle of an ocean, each one a bead of their rosary.
Zayn had started Anna Karenina. He was reading in the back – the ashes from his cigarette fell on the pages, but he didn't seem to care.
Liam had been sleeping, but it seemed like such a long time ago now, because then there had Louis tugging on his hand, saying "Let's go to the store" and Liam asking "What do you want to buy" and Louis shrugging and answering, "Let's just buy something", and Liam followed and then there was something with the bodyguards and Louis running between the aisles, and laughing, laughing until his stomach hurt, not a phantom hurt, real cramps contracting his bowels, and then it was all Louis, Louis, Louis...
"You never say no," Zayn said without looking up from his book.
It isn't true, Liam thought. He says no all the time. Everyone always complains about it – he says no all the time.
"Not to him."
Liam wondered what Anna Karenina was about. He thought about Louis's lips, slick and tasting of fog.
"Give me a drag?" he asked, holding out a hand.
Zayn shrugged and passed the cigarette along, burning tip first.
"Don't do that, Liam," he said. His voice was dark, caring.
Liam knew – knows – what to say. He doesn't know what to do, but he always knows what to say, that's never a problem. He took a drag and coughed, the smoke sour and acrid in his throat.
"I won't," he rasped, and maybe he meant it at the time, but when he thinks back to it (and he does – the shadows drawing other tattoos on Zayn's skin, deep dark mystic ink, and a sun ray flashing to bounce on the garbage cans).
Zayn didn't say anything. He shifted closer – had you looked at it like everyone looks at them, from the outside, you could have believed it was cold, from the way they pressed their flanks and breathed in each other's neck, like a peace offering or a declaration of war.
Liam's first kiss with Louis was in an elevator.
It shouldn't be surprising – what better place for it to happen than this cage of moving metal, bobbing up and down, torn between regularity and chaos? But it was. Surprising. It was surprising.
Liam's first kiss with Louis was in an elevator. Louis wasn't drunk.
He was looking in the mirror (why are there always mirrors in elevators? Liam had never asked himself the question before – it's not the type of question he asks himself – but Louis's proximity was making him twitchy). Liam wondered who looked back at him.
He turned around. Cocked his head. Devil, Liam thought, but he couldn't help the undercurrent of admiration, the desire and love, sliding its rope around his neck and squeezing.
"You like me, Liam?"
(Harry – air and fire – would never have pretended not to know. He would've smiled, said something – and maybe it would've been a lie, but he never would've pretended not to know. Liam doesn't know how to lie.)
"What do you mean?"
Louis stepped closer. One of his braces had slid to his hip. He looked beautiful, Liam thought, even under the lurid, yellow light. He made a funny face. It wasn't funny.
"You love me, right, Lee-yum?"
No, Liam thought.
He didn't answer.
What happened after that (Louis leaning in as the elevator screeched to a halt, their noses bumping, Louis kissing his cheek, the sting, the rest) Liam should've maybe expected. He didn't.
So that was his first kiss with Louis – in an elevator, and Louis wasn't drunk, and his chapped lips on Liam's tasted like all the promises to himself that Liam had made and broken.
There's more to this story. There's Liam being happy, and it didn't last long but it did last, the elation, burning scathing happiness running through his unaccustomed veins, his hands twitching with it, head light. There's Louis forgetting to be free, and the others huddled around them like an armor. There's Niall saying that they're cute (and they all know it – it's not what he expected, not what he thinks is right, of course, it won't last, how would it last) and Zayn batting off a nosy interviewer. There's Harry laying a hand on Liam's nape and it not feeling like a threat.
There's Louis relenting, just for this tiny moment and really Liam should have known best than to ask for more because that was enough and it was never going to be more. Sometimes he looks over at them, now, and his gaze crosses Zayn's and he thinks, I should've known. But he didn't.
There were the days of coming to Louis open-handed and barefoot, kissing him on the lips with happiness bubbling out of his eyes and he never regrets this, even when the memory turns bittersweet and a little stale. He remembers feeling like he'd tamed a wild animal, remembers stroking Louis's hair and saying I'm here like it changed anything.
He'd had an inkling, then, at some point – when he saw the others around them and thought, what will happen when we're alone and felt dread pooling at the pit of his stomach. But he forgot about it. He always forgot about everything when Louis looked at him through a crowd, grinning like Liam was the only person he saw.
And hope – who told him he could let go?
Liam sees it happening in increments, each time eroding him a little more. He doesn't do anything to keep him. He's not the type of person who keeps, either.
"Lou, come snuggle!" Harry's voice, laughter, and the contented purr at the back of Louis's throat as he does, curling against Harry's chest. They couldn't be closer, Liam thinks.
Harry and Louis were always something else, and if Liam looks at it with clear eyes, it's evident that he was never going to win. He's not good at this kind of games. From the first minute, Harry jumping into Louis's arms and Louis staggering on the stage, his arms tight around Harry's middle, the rest was sure to follow.
And this something they have is the stuff of fairytales and nightmares – it's the destinies that are frowned upon and dreamed of, the elusive true love that burns too high not to hurt. Liam can't stand in the way. It's a dance, and he's not a dancer – he's the guy that stands back and tries to catch stars.
He watches Harry's fingers trail up Louis's neck, Harry humming a complicated waltz under his breath. Niall is sitting next to him, a hot presence against his flank, but Liam watches, he thinks of Danielle and Louis and the dips and nooks of Louis's body that he'll never learn by heart.
"I'll go get some air, lads," he says. His words fall flat – no one is listening and he slips outside with a sigh, his feet padding silently on the lino. His stomach feels heavy and liquid, nausea climbing upstream in his blood to reach his lungs.
He breathes and breathes until he feels full of air, like if someone stuck a needle in his arm he'd just burst and deflate, silent wind spilled into nothingness.
Their love taste like fire, Louis says to Liam once when he's drunk, the easy excuse slurring his words and making them almost gentle, lips sticky and shiny with sugar – and ours felt like smoke.
"It was love, then?" Liam asks. It's just a question amongst so many others he could've asked (why the past tense and is it an oil fire and aren't you afraid to get burned and do you love me still), but for some reason he feels like he only gets one.
Louis shrugs. "Eh."
(Smoke, he explains after – it's like they'd already had the fire but it had burned out and even the ashes were gone, scattered away by the wind, the embers heavy chunks of black coal. And he goes on – but we never had this kind of love, did we, Lee-yum? We never loved a love that tasted like fire?
Liam wants to say, I did, but then it dies on his tongue, quietly fizzling as it sinks into the water, tangling with the weeds.)
Louis watches Zayn dancing with a girl that'll leave cat scratches on his forearms and Harry half-hidden in the dark, his hands splayed on a brunette's hips. He sighs. He looks content, Liam thinks, with his cat eyes and his ever-moving body so close to stillness. Liam feels like he can finally see him now that he's stopped running, and it's like a punch in the gut.
"We're still friends, though?" Louis says, voice like smoke.
"How could we ever not be friends," Liam answers.
"Yeah," Louis says, sleep weighing on his eyelids. "Yeah, you're right."
He probably thinks it's a good thing, Liam muses, the music beating heavy on his eardrums, red-blue-green-black. Liam's not so sure.
He watches the others until the thumping dies down, and he ushers them home like children, tucking them into bed one by one, Niall first, giggly and half-sick, then Harry, slurring about Louis and clinging to his shoulder, and Zayn, already asleep.
He isn't tired, and he doesn't want to watch Harry and Louis sleep, curled up around each other like nothing else matters in the world but them, so he goes to the kitchen, makes black tea and reads Oscar Wilde, trying to understand.
Niall falls in love in the middle of all that, easy like breathing. The girl is called Salomé and she's not like him at all – she's little and she laughs like she's made of glass, and sometimes she leaves cat nips on Niall's collarbones, as though to say not keep away but look how beautiful mine.
Harry and Louis kiss at a concert, falling into each other the way they do, forgetting about the noise and the fans and their fucking lives, Louis's fingertips pressing at the dip of Harry's spine. They manage to pass it up as a joke, and everyone buys it because they don't want to see.
They're in Italy. The night market is bustling in the street beneath their window, and they can't sleep, so they're all huddled in the covers, shins and arms bumping as they adjust, Harry and Louis wrapped around each other at the head of the bed, Liam sitting cross-legged in the middle, Niall's legs slung carelessly on top of his own, and Zayn's ankle brushing against Harry's back.
The air drifts in from the open window, smelling of oranges and gas oil. They banter and fall asleep one after the other – Liam feels empty and quiet, his fingers still stained with parcels of Louis. The worst thing about this, he starts to think, but then he looks over at them, the tangle of their limbs and Louis's fingers grazing the skin of Harry's throat, and he chokes on the thought. Everything is the worst.
Niall is the only one still awake. His eyes shine like little blue moons in the darkness.
"Love isn't supposed to hurt, y'know," he says, his face devoid of contours.
Liam looks at him (was it love), his love that makes him glow, his pink girlfriend with her thin wrists and bright eyeshadow. "Yeah," he says. "I know."
It does, though, he thinks when they're all asleep. His hand stroking Niall's hair looks like it's buried in sand.
Liam needs a moment.
He needs a moment alone to close his eyes and retch and let the waves of pain overwhelm him – he needs a moment to do diagrams and tell himself that it's not that bad and he's still young and all that plenty more fish in the sea bullshit.
He needs a moment – just a moment, it's not like he's asking for the moon – to stop being sensible, the perfect poster-child of acceptance and grace and whatever the fuck the others decided he should be, need a moment to be delusional and hiss don't you dare write me out at a wall, to believe that if he wanted maybe he still could.
(He can't, of course. It's Louis and Harry, Harry and Louis and they've always been together, Liam can't think of a world where they would be apart, the two of them needy and broken and glorious and fucked-up. Liam wants to hit himself for getting into that mess.
He's angry at Louis for letting it happen, too, for letting him fall into the trap of maybes and what ifs when it was clear from the beginning that there was only one endgame possible and he wasn't in it. He thinks it's cowardice and fear and if he were a better person he would maybe understand but he just feels betrayed and used, dirty like a rag Louis used to soak up his courage before he went to war.)
He doesn't get his moment. His life is a whirlwind and he can't stop, there's no button to press pause and the boys are always with him, not a moment without Niall's hand hot on his shoulder or the silent rise and fall of Zayn's breathing, the raucous, tangled laughter of Harry and Louis.
So Liam takes it all in stride; he takes his heartache and shoves it down his pocket with tight fists, the nasty black blood dripping between his knuckles. As long as no one sees, he thinks, because it's what the Liam they created would think, because he can't think let me leave and fuck fuck fuck.
He has no air left in his lungs to breathe, so he breathes with something else, the texts his mother sends and the books Zayn forgets on the counter of the bar in the bus, pages dog-eared, Niall's insults when he's tired and the smile on Harry's face when he sees Gemma on skype at first, before she starts to annoy him. He doesn't love them because he has a choice – and Louis, of course, Louis and his laughter and his teeth and the way he bites down on an apple and the fucking hole in Liam's heart that's shaped like him –, not anymore; he loves them because it's the only thing that keeps him running, the fucking oil in his fucking tank.
He hates feeling like this.
But it's not like he has a choice, so he sucks it up and tries not to wince when it's sour, he keeps his shoulders straight and he tells himself that someone would have told him if heartache lasted forever.
Sometimes Liam wishes he didn't remember how he fell in love with Louis. He thinks about his life before him, orderly and clean-cut with a smiling Danielle and his band on the front page of all the magazines, and he thinks, why couldn't that be enough.
It didn't happen all that once, either, you know – and maybe that's the worst of it, the torturous, drawn-out falling, arms and limbs flailing to try and catch something before hitting the ground. It's noticing the river in the wisps of hair at the back of Louis's nape and not thinking he needs a haircut and it's wanting to kiss him when he mouths something dirty at Harry.
Harry – Liam hates himself for not being able to hate him. Everything would be easier if he could hate him, someone, but he can't, he can only hate himself for being so fucking stupid and thinking that he had a shot at something so big, so beyond his understanding.
And Harry's the perfect candidate for self-destruction, of course. It's enough to look at his skin to know, the purpling bloom of his bruises, the pale white surface begging to be broken. He has it all – the willowy bones and the slow drawl, the way he always takes everything for granted and then messes everything up, his near-misses and almost-theres and his eyes when he watches Louis and he thinks no one's looking, soft and almost tender, full of the hurricanes that their love can't go without.
Liam doesn't jump when Harry passes him the joint, too close to his face, almost close enough to burn.
"It's not easy, is it?" he says, smoke slipping out of lips like foam.
Liar, Liam thinks.
"It's easy for you," he says, emboldened by the fumes twirling in the air, hiding Harry's eyes in a careful fog.
Harry laughs sharply. Liam hates the way they've all fallen in love with each other and the way it fucking hurts, wishes he could've stopped it before it came to that point.
"No," he says simply.
It's the night when Liam gets so drunk that he passes out on Harry's lap and wakes up at three in the morning with a pounding headache, Harry breathing in his shoulder and love's a right bitch still running on a loop in his head.
It's the red night bleeding into day, one beer too many in their blood, and the red smear of someone's lipstick on Harry's lips. He'll never stop being who he is, it's evident, and Liam would like to tell Louis, stay away, stay away and maybe evencome back, but he doesn't. He's mute, Liam. He's a lake – strong, silent, unmoving. Louis is looking at him with the arrow sticking neatly from his chest, red dripping on his knuckles.
Harry slings a hand around his shoulders and kisses him. He doesn't care about the paparazzi. All the damage control is for him, Lee-yum, damage control even though he hasn't even fixed his own damages and fuck, fuck he feels like spitting blood and being mean.
"You taste good," Harry says, and he makes a porn star noise before pulling away and latching onto Louis's neck, giving him a mouthful of curls to choke on.
Liam stands there, frozen, looking. He feels like a voyeur, but he can't help thinking, that used to be mine, and look how you ruin it. Look how you ruin it. He wonders what the ruins of Louis will look like, red marble still smoking ashes and silver and the slashing onyx.
"You wanna join?" Harry laughs. He knows, he's seen, he was there – he just doesn't care, and that more than anything is what lits the last match and sets fire to the altar in Liam's ribcage.
"Fuck you," he snarls, still reeling. "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you."
There are tears peeking from behind the flesh, the lake overwhelmed by the monsoon, a flood overtaking the shores. Liam is ashamed, and there's nothing more for him here. He didn't sign up for that – he didn't sign up for any of this.
"I'm leaving," he says. The words feels alien in his mouth, because he was never the one that left.
But here it is. He's leaving. It feels like a revelation – that he can leave, that he doesn't have to stay and watch this, watch them fall apart and pretend like he sees nothing. He's never meant anything more, he realizes.
"I'm leaving," he repeats.
He knows that they're watching, that they're waiting for him to turn on his heels, but he doesn't, he doesn't look back, he leaves, veins on fire, feeling blind.
(He comes back.
He looks at them from afar, every press of Harry's fingers on Louis's body that inks a cigarette burn in his skin, and every kiss that makes Harry shudder. He looks at them, wavering like a teeter-totter, never balanced, and wonders who will tip and fall first.)