Nick's late. Nick's late, and Fiona and Vic are going to kill him because they've got new interns coming in today and the last thing they need is Nick to not show up on time...and also he burned a tiny patch on his arm making coffee this morning. It's not really related to everything happening now, but it hurts, and it's not making him feel any more positive.
He thanks his driver as he's already jumping out of the car and hurrying inside, doing his best to not actually break into a run, because that will look ridiculous, and as he turns a corner he hits right into something broad and warm. His momentum fires back at him and he ends up landing with a thud on the ground.
"Oh!" says a voice, sounding horrified, "I'm so sorry, are you okay?"
Nick blinks. Winces. He's pretty sure his arse never quite recovered from the whole Sport Relief thing, and it's hurting quite a bit. He looks up to see exactly who he's managed to embarrass himself in front of; figures at least, if it's a celebrity, he's got a good story to tell when he gets into the studio.
For a moment, he thinks it is a celebrity, for the shortest moment he thinks it's literally David Beckham – and then realises that no, it's not. He's faced with very big worried brown eyes, very big worried eyebrows, and very big worried hands hovering nervously in the air near Nick, like this boy was about to help him up and second-guessed himself at the last moment.
"I, uh. Yeah," he manages, "yeah, fine, you?"
"Fine," says the boy, though he still sounds like this is the worst thing that's ever happened to him. "I, you're Grimmy, right? I was actually sent out to – to look for you, I'm sorry, now I'm holding you up."
Ah, that's right. Nick's late. "I'm running late."
"Yeah," says the boy. He looks a little like he wants the ground to swallow him up. "Can you – here, let me -"
His ridiculous big hands are very gentle when they grip Nick's, and he pulls Nick to his feet with frightening ease.
"Thanks," says Nick, very thrown all-round.
"Welcome," the boy answers instinctively. Quickly, he adds, "Hurry! We've got to get back there, c'mon."
Nick wants to ask what he means by 'we', but it would be really pushing it. He simply doesn't have time. He has to jog now.
Of course, this boy keeps up easily, and is even careful not to get too far ahead of Nick, which Nick both appreciates and finds patronizing. He can't decide which.
They reach the studio, and Nick opens the door to a rather stormcloud-ish Vic. He quickly assures her, "I know, I'm sorry, won't happen again, I'll buy you a drink sometime, thank you," and that does the job of appeasing her. A little. He can see the little quirk to her mouth that happens when she inevitably weakens to his charms.
Fiona, on the other hand. "What the hell, Nick?" she hisses as he comes in. "Where were you?"
"Sorry," says Nick. "Things. Life. Ran into someone in the hallway."
"Okay, well," says Fiona, turns to nod at someone over Nick's shoulder, "that's Liam, he's the new intern. He's gonna be with us for a couple of months."
Nick turns around, and. It's the boy from the hallway. Who looks even more embarrassed than Nick feels, which is something.
"Ah," says Nick, "we met. Sorry about that, Intern Liam."
"It's fine!" Liam assures him, too quickly. "Can I – um, can I get you anything?"
"I'm alright, thanks," answers Nick. He's mostly on autopilot. This boy – this really nice, incredibly apologetic, David-Beckham-lookalike boy – is their new intern.
Always an adventure, internships.
It's a weird way to start the show, but not the weirdest ever, and it all goes as well as can be expected. They spend most of the time in song breaks showing Liam the ropes. By they, Nick means Vic and Fiona – he doesn't do an awful lot himself.
(He does show Liam his part of the desk, though; "This is the soundboard, s' got all effects recorded on it so as long as I remember the right buttons, I can just-" He hits the one that sends of the kids cheering effect and Liam smiles, instinctively, almost, in response.
"That's so cool," he says, and his hands hover, half-reaching. "Um. Can I?"
"Sure, go for it," says Nick, rolls his chair a little to the side. Liam hits another button: the recording of Collette saying "Are you joking?!" plays over the top of the new Walk the Moon track, and Liam lets out a delighted laugh.)
Mostly, though, Nick watches the way Liam nods constantly as he listens, how he never touches anything without asking and simultaneously seems to want to touch everything. As far as Nick can tell, he's taking this very seriously. It's a good first sign, but inevitably something they'll have to train him out of.
At the end of the show, Nick leaves alongside Liam, and there's a brief and slightly uncomfortable silence as they walk down the hallway before Liam says, "I really am sorry about before."
"Honestly, don't worry about it," Nick assures him, "all good, aren't we? No broken bones. If I'd had a fracture I might've been cross, but as is."
Liam laughs nervously. "I'm, um, I'm a huge fan," he says, rushed, "of the show, and stuff."
"Oh! Thank you," says Nick. He means it, too; it's always reassuring to hear that his whole Get Young People Listening To Radio thing might actually be working. "You want to work in radio when you're older?"
"Would love to be a producer, actually, yeah," says Liam, and it's the most certain-sounding thing he's said so far.
"Good stuff," says Nick. "A good producer is the saving grace of a programme, yeah? Producer is probably the most important."
Liam grins. He's got a bright, big grin – shiny. It envelops his eyes in the best way. "You think?"
"I know," says Nick. "My old producer – god, let me tell you-"
They talk the whole way out to the car. When Nick has to go, he's a little regretful. "So I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?" he checks, pausing as he goes to open his door.
"Yeah," says Liam, stuffing his hands in his jean pockets, "see you then."
Nick is running far more on time the second day, and Liam smiles at him as he comes in, "Morning, Grimmy," he says, far too chipper for someone who's just started a job this early. "You alright?"
"Yeah, mornin'," says Nick, coming to stand beside him as they walk in.
"Nice weather today," Liam comments. "Clear sky."
"God, don't give me the weather talk," Nick insists. It's too early for that, and Nick wants real summer to get here so badly, but it's not quite there. "Plus, I read the forecast on the way here, says it's gonna rain later."
"Oh." Liam looks considerably crestfallen, and Nick's stomach squirms in guilt.
"Bet we can convince Tina Daheley to change it, though. With all them witchy weather powers she's got."
Liam pauses and then laughs, like it took him a moment to be sure it was a joke. The laugh is worth it, though. "I wouldn't put it past her," he agrees, thoughtful. "Would explain why her weather forecasts are right so much."
"She changes things up when she gets moody. That's when they're wrong."
During Tina's first weather forecast reading that day, Nick looks up and catches Liam's eye, and Liam has to muffle a snort of laughter behind his hand.
On Thursday, Liam unlocks his phone at his desk and Nick sees that his background is a dog; small and sleek, maybe a husky or something similar.
"Nice dog pic," he tells Liam, pushes his rolling chair over closer to where Liam sits. Liam smiles, maybe a bit pleased.
"S' my dog," he tells Nick, a mixture of shy and proud.
"Oooh," says Nick, puts his chin in his hand. Someone having a dog can you tell so much, he's found. It's like a whole new page in the book you could write about them. "Name?"
Liam's gaze flickers down to his desk. "Loki? Like, um –"
"Like Tom Hiddleston, Loki?" says Nick. "S'alright, that. Comics are cool again now."
Liam laughs faintly, says, "S'pose they are."
"He and Pig should totally have a play date sometime," says Nick, "I keep being told I need to socialise her more."
Liam looks at him a little too sharply, like he's not sure if Nick is joking or not. "I – sure, that'd be great," he says, "Any time."
It only takes about two weeks for Nick to decide that Liam is his absolute favourite intern ever. He's sweet and works hard, and he's funny, far funnier than he thinks he is, this dry wit that comes out of nowhere at the best moments. Nick tries to drop by his desk as much as he can, to ask how things are, or to tell Liam about what happened the previous night when he ran into a certain celebrity. After a few days, Liam starts to chatter back, comes into work telling Nick about something his friend Louis did or how much he ended up liking yesterday's track of the day when at the time of the show he'd insisted he wasn't a fan.
They're finishing up the show, and Nick's watching Liam run and get someone a tea, then jog to help Fiona carry a box that's clearly too heavy for her. He tries not to choke on his breakfast laughing when Liam subsequently nearly falls over.
"Oh, very smooth, Intern Liam," he calls.
Liam looks up and flushes red, mouth twists. "Sorry, I was trying to help, I – got carried away, a little, um."
None of that, thinks Nick immediately. No boy his age should have puppy eyes like Liam does. Nick would make it illegal if he had that kind of power. "Don't worry, hun," he says, gently and casually as he can. "Just teasing you. Thanks for all your help today."
Liam's cheeks go darker, but he stands taller, too, and turns to ask Fiona where she needs him to put this stuff.
"I wasn't kidding, by the way," Nick tells him as they're leaving the studio, "about Pig and Loki hanging out. We should make it happen."
"If you're not sick of me yet," Liam shrugs, glancing at Nick out of the corner of his eye.
"Not sick of you at all," Nick answers, more slowly than he would normally speak. "In fact, we're trying to find out if we can extend your month's internship to forever so that we can keep you trapped here. Never had someone actually do the work like you."
Liam ducks his head. "You can – uh. I'll stay as long as they'll have me, I guess. Don't do much, though, really. Not compared to you lot."
"We're getting paid," Nick reminds him, elbowing his side lightly. "So. Friday, after the show sometime? There's a nice park near my place, could take the dogs out."
"Yeah, alright," agrees Liam. "I'll bring something to eat. Text me the details."
Liam brings a rug and a basket and sandwiches.
"Intern Liam," says Nick, trying to hide how delighted he is, "this isn't 'something to eat'. This is a picnic."
Liam looks at the rug, like he's only just realised it's there, and says, "Oh, I – yeah. I s'pose it is." He looks quite pleased with himself. "Thought we could use something to sit on, and the basket was – well, that was kind of deliberate. But I didn't make these," he gestures to the sandwiches, "the cafe around the corner from my place sells them. They're good."
Loki is even more adorable in real life, Nick discovers, a bundle of soft black and cream fur, a cool wet nose and wide eyes not entirely unlike Liam's. He's a little shy, at first, but Pig bounds at him eagerly, sniffing and investigating, and he relaxes soon after that. In no time, they're happily chasing after the ball Nick throws them, side by side.
"Seem to be getting on fine," comments Liam, sitting back and resting on his elbows. The dappled light from the trees suits him, Nick reckons.
"Seems that way." Nick nods towards the sandwiches. "What've we got here, then?"
Liam has a solid selection of different sandwich types, and as they're going through trying all of them, they start talking about Fifth Harmony's newest release, and a rhythm falls over them. It's a different one to the one in the studio, obviously, with Pig and Loki chasing each other in circles nearby, and the fact that the park smells like the outdoors, and the tiny smudge of mayonnaise on Liam's chin that he hasn't noticed, and it's good.
Something about Liam changes, now that he doesn't have a job to do. He loses a bit of that frantic, alert, serious buzz around his edges. He's lain down on the rug, listening attentively to what Nick says, and there's something peaceful in how he looks. Nick wonders how old Liam is.
They hang around there for a few hours, the dogs tuckering themselves out awhile in and lying on the grass near the rug. Liam is a good listener, and a good talker, and conversation between them doesn't really stop more than fade up and down, like bringing in the beginning and end of a song. They talk about music and their families – Liam has two big sisters, so they're youngest children, the both of them – and how Liam's doing a sound engineering course as part of his producing. They touch on other things – things like how Liam ran into his ex-boyfriend at the shops the other day, how it threw him off for awhile, how Nick feels a bit weird not having a similar story to tell – but for the most part, when terrain gets rocky, they turn around and find a safer way through.
"This was fun," decides Liam, clipping the lead back on Loki and lifting his basket and rug. His eyes are all sun-sleepy; Nick thinks his are probably the same.
"It was," Nick says. He nearly asks if they can do it again soon, but the moment passes, and instead he smiles, says, "See you at work," and that's that.
The rest of the weekend, his apartment feels a bit like it's the wrong size.
Nick is not having it on Monday. It's some combination of sticky, humid weather – real summer...he supposes he has to be more careful what he wishes for – and the fact that he barely slept the night before, and that Pig was mopey with him this morning when he was getting ready to leave, and there was something he read on twitter in the car. Something that could have been a compliment, maybe, but he wasn't sure, and that uncertainty lingers. He's had a weird weekend. He was restless.
By the time he gets to work he's feeling all prodded and sleepy and not entirely unlike Oscar the Grouch.
"Hi, Nick," says Fiona, as he comes in. He sits down and sighs. She raises her eyebrows. "Well, you're a ball of sunshine today, then."
Nick looks around, tries to put his finger on what's strange about this morning. "Where's Intern Liam?" His place in the studio looks lonely, messy desk abandoned. For someone who is so neat and orderly in so many ways, Liam makes an awful lot of mess at his desk. Nick relates to Liam's desk, right now.
"Told us he'd be about an hour late today, we were expecting it," answers Fiona. "He's at a thing for his course. I let you know a few days ago. Anyway, you going to be alright on air?"
"I'll be totally fine, promise."
He's not totally fine on air, but it doesn't help that everyone makes a fuss of how he seems not quite himself. He's good at putting the chipper on when push comes to shove, but that doesn't mean he's enjoying it as much as he'd like. There's a difference between being fun-grumpy, the kind he can play up for radio because something ridiculous happened, and real-grumpy, the curl-up-on-his-couch-and-mindlessly-watch-tv-in-dissatisfaction-masking-sadness-grumpy.
They're mid-song, the newer one from Years & Years, when Liam comes into the room, bag slung over his shoulder and a cup of coffee in each hand. He walks over to Nick, barely pauses to say hello to Vic, and just stands there by Nick's chair.
Nick slides his headphones off. "Mornin', Liam. How'd your course thing go?"
Liam shrugs, "Fine, not much to tell, really. I got you this. Dunno if it's right." He puts the coffee down on Nick's desk, and Nick. Nick sits and looks at it for a moment. Ridiculously, a lump forms in his throat. He picks it up, and sips it. "It's right," he tells Liam softly.
Liam smiles. Nick feels like it's been a few years since he saw Liam last, instead of the day before yesterday. Something's shifted.
"You alright, Grim?" Liam asks. He cocks his head, and it reminds Nick of what Pig does when she hears a sound unfamiliar to her; the thought of Pig makes him smile.
"Yeah. Thanks for this – I left the schedule on your desk."
Liam nods and heads that way. Nick watches him until the song comes to an end and he has to shake himself back to earth.
"Intern Liam," says Nick, after the weather recap on Wednesday morning, "has just joined us on the show, and is currently horrified at this misinformation we provided the nation. Intern Liam, would you like to come over and clear things up? Correct Tina?"
Laughter bubbles up in Nick's throat watching the chagrin on Liam's face. Tina has a hand pressed to her mouth and her eyes are half-closed; she's laughing too, even though they can't hear it.
"I only meant that it'll be eighteen degrees today," Liam says into her mic, exasperated and pink and grinning, "and she said nineteen."
Nick looks for a dramatic sad sound effect, and settles for the buzzer they use when things are incorrect. "Absolutely cannot have that type of appalling journalism on our show. Thank you for your thoroughness, Intern Liam."
Liam's eyes are basically vanished in his crinkly smile now, and Nick can't look away.
"For the benefit of the radio," says Fiona, "Intern Liam is making an inappropriate hand gesture at Nick and I think it's the most scandalous thing I've ever seen him do."
Nick doesn't know what it is, but he's aware of Liam over the rest of the week. He's aware of where Liam is, of how he looks, of when Liam's looking at him. They talk more. There's one day where they can't stop giggling during the show and Fiona threatens, "I'm going to have to separate you two," like they're in primary school.
"God, Intern Liam!" says Nick, pushing Liam's chair away. "You're getting me in trouble. As per usual."
Liam looks like he's won a medal as he turns back to the coursework on his desk. There's light pouring in through the window, proper summer light, and it's lighting Liam's hair up all golden-brown. Nick's pretty sure he glows.
Nick doesn't understand how this much time has passed already, but the last day of the internships hurtles towards them, and there's organisation going on behind their backs for a party, something even Nick only hears whispers of, some sort of a send-off. He knows he's meant to bring a gift for his intern. Friends as well as coworkers, that sort of thing. Nick's all for it, if only someone would tell him what was going on with it.
When their last Friday comes, Nick spends a great deal of the show looking over at Liam. It's strange, to think that this is the last time Nick gets to see him do this, this is the last time Liam gets to make a pedantic correction on their weather report, this is the last time Nick can make a jibe at a track of the day based on whether or not it has Intern Liam's approval, and this is the last day he can sneak over to Liam's computer and draw something ridiculous on paintbox in the three minutes he's gone to get something from the next room over. It makes the idea of coming back in for a new week on Monday significantly less appealing.
They've proper decked out the house – Nick doesn't remember whose house it is, exactly, one of the producers, maybe for Adele's show, or for Dev's, he's not sure. Either way, it's covered in streamers, there's at least five balloons in his immediate vicinity, and he's still holding his gift bag in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. He figures they're treating this like a celebration.
"Nick!" says Greg, appearing in front of Nick. Either Nick wasn't paying attention, or Greg has become much more stealthy since they last saw each other. "We're putting gifts over here, on this table, yeah? Are yours labelled?"
Following him, Nick glances down at the bag. "Yeah, is," he says, "had to turn the house half upside-down looking for a sharpie."
Greg laughs. "Course," he says, gesturing to what has become a steady pile of presents. "Just here is fine. The interns aren't here yet, but they should be in about five minutes. Don't know what's going on, of course, I've told them it's only a routine paperwork thing to finish up."
Nick hopes Liam likes surprises.
From the shocked and delighted laughter that bursts from Liam when he walks into the house and is bombarded with half a packet of streamers and party-poppers going off, he does. He stumbles and has to steady himself on the couch, and there are other interns walking in as well, ones from a few of the other shows, but Nick doesn't pay as much attention to them as he should.
Liam looks up and finds him, and his smile gets wider, brighter, until Nick wonders if looking at it directly might be hurting his eyes. He's smiling back just as hard, he thinks.
"This is amazing!" says Liam, when he finally makes it through the room to where Nick stands. "You didn't tell us a thing!"
"I barely knew a thing," confesses Nick. "We each just did a little bit. You're happy, though?"
"It's amazing," repeats Liam, bouncing up on the balls of his feet and looking around at everyone. "I – wow, I wish I could show this to myself back in school."
"How come?" Nick asks. Liam's wearing his intern hoodie, even though he thought he was just coming to sign off on some stuff. He's got proper team spirit, Liam has.
Liam cringes a tiny bit, waves it off, "S' just – no one came to my sixteenth birthday, you know? It was fine," he adds quickly, "stuff's just. It's so different now, is all. Wish I'd known."
Nick's chest catches fire on the inside. Liam looks around, shares his smile with another one of the interns, a short girl with big eyes and a little mouth shaped like an 'o' as she looks around at everything that's happening. Her name is Jane or Jade, or something, Nick's pretty sure she was on Greg's show. He can't believe something like that happened to Liam, and he can't believe this look of gratitude is all Liam has got out of it, and he decides that he's going to do everything in his power to make sure tonight is the most fun Liam has ever had.
"Come with me, there's about eight types of alcohol you need to try," he says, wrapping an arm around Liam's shoulders, and Liam melts into Nick's side, vibrant and giggly and so warm, as he follows.
He only gets more that way as the night goes on. Most of the interns mingle or stick in pairs of their own kind, but Liam is almost glued to Nick; Nick introduces him around, and they dance a bit together to Take That when it goes off as someone's ringtone and no one can figure out whose phone it is. They do a countdown of best pranks involving interns, in Jameela Jamil style, with first place being an incredible story about a live fish and some traffic signs.
Someone pulls out one of those older dancing games, for Xbox or Wii or something – Nick's not sure which – and they all watch and jeer in good spirit at whoever is giving it their best shot. One of the pride and joys of Radio 1 is their staggering number of terrible dancers. Liam sits tight against Nick's side on the couch. Nick's not complaining.
It doesn't take much encouragement for Liam to get up, flush high in his cheeks. Nick gets the idea he's always been a bit weak to peer pressure, both a blessing and a curse. He joins Fiona and does some mocking preparatory stretches before they go into the dance battle. And he's not bad at all, really; his main flaw is the fact that he keeps laughing so hard at what she's doing that he stumbles. His enthusiasm doesn't waver, not that Nick was expecting it to.
Afterwards, when Liam comes back to the couch amongst cheers and slaps to the back, having lost by a decent few points, he's got tears in his eyes from laughter and he flops back down where he was, pressed against Nick. He rests his head back against the couch and mumbles, "I'm dizzy from laughing, christ."
"Best kind of dizzy to be," Nick tells him. He has the strangest urge to rest his face in Liam's hair, which he resists at the last moment.
"Are we going to do cake?" asks Jameela, "should do it before no one's sober enough to light candles."
There's laughter and agreeing noises, and Clara and Gemma get up to go to the kitchen.
"You having a good time, then?" Nick asks Liam, who seems to have more or less gotten his breath back.
"The best," Liam sighs. His eyes are closed, eyelashes brushing his cheeks. He's got short, fine, thick eyelashes. "The best. Let's never not have this party."
Nick laughs a bit. "Don't know how we're going to keep up a steady supply of corn chips, but we can do our best."
Liam leans back and looks up at Nick, opens his mouth like he's going to say something, and it's not Nick's fault if his heart skips a beat or two, being gazed at like that, thoughtful and dazed.
"Here we go! Interns, come up to the table, everyone else, do whatever," says Gemma, coming back in with a huge cake. It's covered in hundreds-and-thousands, scattered over the icing, and has a good load of candles on it. As all the interns step up around the circular table, like a very strange adaptation of King Arthur, Nick gets the idea; a candle for each of them.
"I'm going to count down," says Scott, who Nick hasn't seen all night – Nick has a vague feeling that the whole organising part of this might have been his job – "and when I get to one, I want all of you to blow your candle out, right?"
There's a chorus of "yes"es from the interns. Liam looks so happy just to be standing there, just to be one of them. He makes Nick's chest ache.
"Three!" says Scott.
The interns stop chattering.
They all take a deep breath in. Liam looks ridiculous with his cheeks puffed up and Nick hopes desperately that someone is taking photos of all of this so he can comment on them on social media later.
There's what seems to be an explosion of hundreds-and-thousands, either poorly thought out or masterfully, and the interns jump back as they're sprayed by the person opposite them.
Liam tries to catch one in his mouth and fails miserably, and bumps elbows with one of the others, Adele's intern, Nick's pretty sure. He apologises, not losing his smile at all.
Once the cheering has died down, they're moved to the side so that Nick can be handed a large knife. Nick is at least ninety-nine percent sure this is an awful idea.
"You've got to cut the cake," explains Fiona, with a grin equal parts devilish and delighted.
"Can't touch the bottom or you've got to kiss the nearest boy," adds Scott.
Nick scoffs, but carefully moves forward to the table. "Everyone else has done something, I s'pose, although don't think I don't see you all giving me the dangerous job." He makes a show of carefully figuring out exactly where to put the knife. "I could die doing this. Do I at least get to pick who gets the first slice?"
Scott shrugs. "Don't care, Nick, just cut the cake."
"Fine, fine." Nick adjusts his grip on the handle, glances up at Liam; Liam gives him two thumbs up. Nick looks around him. Liam's the nearest boy.
He cuts down into the cake a little hard, maybe, but pulls it out right before it taps the plate. Chris Stark cheers; Scott boos. Relieved and disappointed at the same time, Nick cuts down into it again a little way over, and pulls the first slice out.
Someone pushes napkins into his hand – Annie Mac, maybe – so he separates one and edges the cake onto it, and it only falls apart a bit, which Nick considers an accomplishment. It's rainbow on the inside, which is pretty cool. He moves to hand it to Liam.
As he offers it out, and Liam sees it, he lights up like nothing Nick's ever seen, lets out an "Oh!" of complete joy. His mouth is open in a huge smile, the kind that looks like it must hurt, like the faces people make in proposal videos on YouTube.
"What?" asks Nick, a laugh crumbling his voice somewhat. He can't seem to stop laughing tonight, none of them can.
"It's rainbow on the inside!" Liam exclaims, voice raised, "That's so cool," and Nick realises, all at once, like someone's dumped a bucket of water over his head, that he really, really, really likes Liam.
Liam takes the cake out of Nick's hands, and the way their fingers brush feels warm, shockingly warm, so Nick can feel it behind his knees even though it only happens momentarily. He feels stunned. He touches his hair to make sure he hasn't, in fact, had a bucket of water tipped over his head.
"You going to cut some for everyone else, or are you shamelessly playing favourites tonight, Grim?" asks Tina innocently, and Nick turns back to the cake. Which is rainbow on the inside, which is pretty cool. Pretty cool. Not radiant. Not fiercely, protectively warm. Nick cuts more slices of cake, and can barely keep his eyes on it long enough to get them even, but everyone is happy for another excuse to tease him. He's happy to give it to them, too, as long as it means he can look at Liam more. Liam who has slid into part of Nick's routine so easily, in such tiny ways, just to leave again. Nick feels like he's barely scratched the surface, like he barely knows the first layer of the millions Liam has. He wants to know what movies made Liam cry as a kid and what music makes him cry now, and he wants to meet Liam's sisters, and let Loki and Pig hang out together all the time.
He wants to kiss Liam, even though he's got icing on his face and probably doesn't know it.
Instead, he cuts more slices of cake, and does his best not to cut any of his own fingers off in the process.
The rest of the night is a blur. Nick has one or two more drinks and referees a headstand contest between Ian Chaloner and Greg – which Ian absolutely won, no matter what other people will try to tell him – and he lies on the couch with Fincham and catches up a bit. He stares at himself in the bathroom mirror for about three minutes nearly unblinking, wondering how this happened to him.
And then Liam looks at the time, says something about how he has a tutorial for his sound engineering course that he has to be at tomorrow so he really shouldn't stay any longer, and a bunch of the other interns come over to say goodbye. Then Fiona hugs him, tells him to take care of himself, that she's proud of him, and Liam says thanks for having him, like he stayed at their house for a few hours instead of working with them every weekday for a month. Producer Vic and Tina say goodbyes too, kissing his cheek and telling him good luck with the rest of his course. It seems to be Nick's turn.
Liam's smile goes smaller, quieter, no less brilliant. "Thanks – um, for everything, Nick. This has been a really amazing experience, and I'm so glad I – that I got to work with you. Thanks."
"You're going to be a bloody fantastic producer, you know that," Nick tells him, firm as he can make himself be. Liam's eyes are wide.
"I hope so," Liam answers, so himself in those three words, meaning each one of them so fully, and Nick can't help himself – he tugs Liam in by the corner of his shirt and pulls him into a tight hug. His arms go around Liam's shoulders, and Liam's arms rest around Nick's middle and squeeze.
They hold there for longer than Nick thought he'd get to, Liam showing no signs of pulling away. This is when Nick could say something, could mention any of what feels like fifty million emotions swelling in his chest, pushing at his ribs.
He pulls back. Liam lets go, too, and they offer each other another smile.
"So, uhm," says Liam. "We could meet up at the park, again. On Saturday. Not tomorrow, Saturday, but in a week? If you wanted. I'm free. Could bring some sandwiches."
There's something in his expression that Nick can't quite read, strange with Liam. "Yeah," says Nick. "See you then."
The next week turns so busy that Nick doesn't have much spare time to think; they have Olly Murs on the show, which Liam would have loved, and Simon Cowell later that week, and Nick's got about eight things to do outside of the show, different events to be at and things for TV to shoot. It feels like he barely has time to breathe, to take Pig for walks, let alone to sort out what's going on with his feelings. It only catches up to him when he's in the car between one place and another and silence falls for a few minutes, or when he's crashing into bed; he has feelings for someone. For Liam.
At first look around, he thinks they've beaten Liam to the park on Saturday morning, so he kneels down to take off Pig's lead. She keeps squirming, making it hard, and it's only when he finally unclips it and looks up that he sees why.
Loki is running at her, full-pelt, a black-and-cream blur of excitement. Following him at a jog is Liam, rug under one arm, basket in the other hand. He runs until he's standing right in front of Nick, and then seems to falter to a stop. There's a moment of silence, like Liam's forgotten one of them is supposed to talk.
"Sandwiches again?" asks Nick.
"Oh! Yeah," says Liam. "Different ones, though. Thought – um, thought we could go for variety?" He seems as nervous as Nick feels, which is reassuring but also makes Nick wish he could fix it.
They spread out the rug between them and sit down on it. Loki and Pig have found some birds to chase, so they're occupied, and Liam starts unpacking the food. Nick's not sure which one to try this time; it feels less like jumping right in is a good idea.
They're quiet for a good while, as they eat, but it fades from awkward to simply thinking alongside each other. His realisation wasn't a fluke, at least. Nick can still feel the powerful urge to reach out and take Liam's hand, and to tell him every detail of the week that he missed.
"Had Olly Murs on," he comments, unable to resist, and watches how Liam lights up. It wasn't a fluke at all.
"Oh, my god, did you? That's awesome, my dad is such an Olly Murs fan. Doesn't normally like modern stuff but he likes Olly Murs."
"Got to perform with him once," says Nick, not known for resisting a chance to brag over ridiculous things.
"No way," says Liam, and shuffles closer on the rug so his shoulder is only an inch from Nick's. "Go on, then, tell me about it."
The chatter they fall back into is more familiar than the silence of before, but it's still different to what it's been in the past. Despite his nerves, and all the newly acknowledged feelings tumbling about inside him, this is still the calmest Nick has been in the whole flurry of this week, like he can finally breathe even with Liam kind of making him breathless. Liam's elbow brushes his, and he moves so that he can look Liam in the eyes more as he talks, but it's a mistake because Nick finds he can't look away. It takes Pig running over in a mischievous attempt to steal the remains of a sandwich to shake him.
"Oi, you!" he says, pushing her off the mat. She gives him a miserable look.
"How can you resist those eyes?" asks Liam's, reaching over with his free hand to pet her ears.
She nudges up into it, and Liam smiles at her, warm and soft, and Nick's chest hurts. "She's not asking for much, Nick."
"No," he says. His voice sounds slightly strangled. "No, I s'pose she's not."
It's a couple of hours later when they start to pack up, Liam heading to a dinner date with his sister. He's telling Nick about how Ruth dogsits for him all the time when he needs her to, though he doesn't like to be separated from Loki long if he can help it.
"Ruth sounds great," says Nick, and he means it. He's fairly certain he couldn't convince his siblings to dogsit.
"She's great, I'd love for you to meet her," says Liam. His ears turn red. "I mean – yeah, sure, if you wanted to, is all."
Nick has no idea what that's supposed to mean. "If I wanted to?"
"Yeah, I mean. You could come with, tonight? That'd be fine," says Liam, and he's rambling now, fingers tightening on the basket. "You don't have to, obviously. You've probably got plans. Just – I've talked about you so much, and things, I'm sure she'd be thrilled." Liam pauses for breath. "I mean – yeah. We could even go out afterwards, if you wanted, to a movie? Or something–"
Nick's heart skyrockets. "Liam," he interrupts. Liam doesn't look up. "That'd... that'd be great."
Liam's face splits into a smile. "Oh. I wasn't – I wasn't expecting you to say that."
Nick laughs; he can't help it, not with the surprise in Liam's tone. "You're asking me on a date, what do you think I'm going to say?"
Liam doesn't respond for a second, and Nick quickly checks, "It. It is a date, right?"
"We're a mess," Liam manages, before he starts laughing, a release of adrenaline. Nick is smiling so hard his face hurts, dazed and confused and happy. The dogs seem baffled, and Nick can hardly blame them.
"You thought you'd ask me out to dinner with your sister as our first date?" Nick asks, when it appears Liam can breathe again.
"This was meant to be our first date, but I wasn't very clear on that," Liam says, and then, painfully sincere, adds, "I really like you, Nick."
"Yeah," says Nick. "Yeah, you too."
Liam checks his watch and starts to walk, his voice rising the further away he gets. "I have to go. I don't even know what's showing tonight, but I'm sure we can figure it out when we get there. I'll be by to pick you up in an hour or so?"
"Yeah," calls Nick, impossibly happy just watching Liam try to walk backwards. Loki and Pig are yipping at each other as they're moved further apart; Nick gets how they feel, but it's only going to be an hour. "See you then."