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The Difference Between Knowing and Knowing

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Liam wakes up with his head feeling like it’s threatening to split in two.

“Um,” he tries to say, although afterwards he’s not entirely sure that he was very successful. His mouth is dry and the room is too bright, and his head is just absolutely killing him, making him feel ill; he raises a hand, shields his eyes as he looks around, and he’s not in a hospital, or at his house, or anywhere that he recognizes. Instead, he’s on a couch in what looks like someone’s caravan, and he’s suddenly terrified.

There’s a blond boy sitting on the armrest near Liam’s feet, an open packet of crisps in his lap as he plays a game on his phone, and Liam finds that comforting, somehow, because he doesn’t look like the type of person who would whack Liam over the head and then kidnap him.

Liam shifts, pokes at the boy’s leg with his toe and then immediately wishes he could take it back; he wonders why he even did it in the first place when it’s so unlike him.

“Oh, hey,” the boy says when he looks up. “You’re awake.” Then he stands up, places the packet of crisps in Liam’s lap, and says, “Here. Let me go get the lads, yeah? Zayn’s been losing his head over this.” And before Liam can even ask what’s going on, the boy crosses the room, sticks his had out the door, and shouts, “Oi! He’s awake!” The loudness of it just makes Liam’s head pound more, and he winces.

Then, from behind his head, another voice says, “I don’t think you’re supposed to shout around people with head traumas, you know,” and Liam has to crane his neck to see who’s even talking this time. It’s another boy, about Liam’s age and with a mop of curly hair, and he’s standing by a set of bunks. A bus; Liam’s not on a caravan, he’s on a bus, and that is so unexpected that it almost feels impossible. That, if anything, keeps Liam from panicking: he’s almost sure he’s dreaming.

“Uh. What the hell is going on?” Liam finally asks.

“A bit of the stage design fell on you,” the second boy says, and then the blond adds, “Don’t worry—doctor said you might not remember.”

That doesn’t help Liam at all, doesn’t explain a thing, but before he can even sort it all out, the door to the bus opens and two more boys pile in.

“Our Zayn was in a bit of a rush to get here,” the one in suspenders says, smiling and jerking his chin to the boy with darker skin and darker hair.

“Shut it, Louis,” Zayn says. At least, Liam can only assume that’s Zayn. The way he looks at Liam makes Liam feel a bit out of sorts, and so Liam just sits up and darts his eyes around the bus.

“We’re back in New York,” the blond boy says, and Liam thinks, Back in New York? What on Earth am I doing in New York?

But instead of asking that, Liam decides that he needs to get the important part out of the way, and so he says, “Who are you?”

“Cheeky,” Louis says, laughing, but when Zayn reaches out to put a hand on Liam’s shoulder and Liam shrinks back a bit, everything falls silent. Liam would think that he just did something wrong, but he doesn’t know what that could possibly be; he doesn’t actually know these people enough to have offended them by that.

“I think we might have a bit of a problem,” the curly-haired one says, and Liam realizes that maybe all of this is real. It’s only then that the panic really sets in for him, and suddenly it’s like he can’t breathe, and his head is pounding and he doesn’t know what’s going on and his shirt is just too tight around the collar and the room is way too hot and—

“Someone get him something to drink!” Louis says, and a minute later a Capri Sun with the straw already punched in is pressed into his hands. “I meant water, Niall!” Louis says, and then Niall says back, “Well, I’m panicking!”

I’m panicking,” Liam says, because he is, he really is, and it’s the worst feeling that there is.

“Deep breaths,” Zayn says. He’s sitting next to Liam on the couch, and Liam doesn’t know when that happened. “Come on, Liam, deep breaths. You gotta calm down.”

Liam can’t calm down.

“You know my name,” he says, like maybe Zayn should realize that’s why Liam’s freaking out.

“Yeah,” Zayn says, and he nods once.

“But we’ve never even met!” Liam waves his arms wildly, as if that would help explain where he’s coming from.

“Okay,” Zayn agrees, which neither confirms nor denies anything, and Liam thinks he might actually die, right there on that stupid bus couch, with a game controller digging into his back.

“You did have a stand of lights tip over on you,” the boy with the curly hair reminds him, and then Louis says, “Harry,” and slashes his hand across his throat, like he’s signaling that what Harry’s saying isn’t helping, and so he should just stop talking. Harry holds up his hands in defense, and even though it might look like they’re joking around, something in the way that they’re standing, or maybe in the way their eyebrows are furrowed, tells Liam that they are worried, genuinely.

“This is so messed up,” Liam groans, and he puts down the Capri Sun, rubs at his eyes with the heels of his palms.

“Hey,” Zayn says to him quietly, and Liam doesn’t know why, but something about it grabs his attention. Maybe it’s because he sounds so calm, and Liam so desperately wants to be calm, but then again, maybe it’s because he says it in the kind of voice that one would use if only they knew someone really well, as well as one can know a person. “We’ll call Paul, and he’ll get the doctor back; it’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” Liam says, and he makes a mental note that Zayn is the responsible one, the sensible one of the group. But that doesn’t feel right, even though there’s no reason for it not to, and so Liam pushes the thought aside and just repeats himself, says, “Okay,” and sits there still on the couch. He doesn’t know what else to do.

 

The trip over to the hospital is terrible. They try to sneak Liam out of the bus so that they can shove him in a cab, but there are a bunch of people outside, massive crowds larger than anything Liam’s ever seen, and right before Liam has to find his way through it, Louis claps him on the shoulder and says, “Oh, yeah. We’re in a band!” Liam’s mind stutters on the thought, but then he’s being pushed out the door and people are grabbing at his hands, his clothes, his everything, and he can’t think much of anything for a while after that.

He goes through the motions when he’s actually with the doctors, lies still while he gets his MRI and his physical done. They ask him about his life, about what year it is and what the last thing he can remember is, and he tells them that he is Liam Payne, that he is sixteen, and that he is a music technology student at Wolverhampton College.

As it turns out, Liam’s missing two years of his life, and that’s something he doesn’t even know how to react to. It’s just temporary—he’ll remember, they say; the memories will come back on their own—but that doesn’t mean much, because maybe he won’t remember; maybe he’ll just have to live without knowing anything about what happened for two whole years. It’s a bit hard to swallow.

It makes Liam anxious, makes him nervous, and so he calls his mum before he even leaves the doctor’s office, because he doesn’t know if he’ll get any time to himself later on, once he’s back on the bus.

“It’s called transient global amnesia,” Liam says, even though the doctors already talked to her and explained it all, and probably Paul, too. It’s just—he wants to talk to her, but he doesn’t know what else to say. “The way it happened, it’s not—it’s not usual, but they say everything should come back.”

“You’ll be fine,” she says, and she sounds like she really believes it. “Everything will come back, and in just a few days, according to the doctors. You’ll be fine.” And it’s amazing, how she doesn’t say anything all that special, and yet somehow it’s exactly what Liam wants and needs to hear.

“They say I’m in a band,” Liam tells her. He squeezes his eyes shut, his phone pressed tight against his ear. “I don’t even remember any of it.”

“You are,” his mum says. “You’ve come so far; I’m so proud of you, Liam.”

That makes Liam want to cry, almost, to know that his mum’s proud of him and that he’s finally got everything he’s ever wanted, only he can’t remember any of it. It makes him wish for something familiar, something he knows. But she must be worried about him enough as it is, and he doesn’t want to make it any worse, and so he just asks, “Are we any good?”

“The best,” she tells him without hesitating, “and I’m not just saying that because I’m your mother.” There’s silence after that, and Liam looks up, stares at the paneled ceiling as he tries to get his thoughts together.

“I don’t know anyone here,” he says finally.

“The boys will look after you,” his mum says. “The five of you… It’s like you’ve formed your own little family with them. They’ll make sure you’re alright. And your tour manager, Paul—he’s good, too. You’ll be fine.” She sounds completely sure of that, and if his mum knows them well enough to vouch for them, then maybe it is true. But then again, he doesn’t know them at all, and so maybe it doesn’t make much of a difference after all.

Liam hangs up a few minutes later, and when he opens the door, he sees the guys all sprawled out in the waiting room chairs. Louis is the first one to his feet, and when he gets to Liam, he slips an arm around Liam’s shoulders, places his palm flat against Liam’s chest.

Liam says, “Um.” Just because he knows them doesn’t mean he knows them.

“The doc says we’re just supposed to act normal around you, until you remember,” Louis says. He reaches down to pinch Liam’s nipple, and when Liam jumps, Louis just tsks and says, “The things I do for you, Payne.”

 

It’s a hotel night that night, and Liam doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. They’re at a nice hotel—a nice hotel—and even though they’ve all got their own rooms, everyone piles into Liam’s like they’re not still paying five hundred quid a night for each unused room. Liam’s tired, exhausted just from the crowds and the visit to the hospital, but the lads keep him up, saying that they need to get to know him.

“But you already know me,” Liam says, and he watches helplessly as Harry takes the comforter and half the pillows off of Liam’s bed so that he’ll be comfortable on the floor.

“That’s why it’s funny,” Harry says, and at the same time, Niall says, “Yeah, but you don’t know us.

“I’ll Google you,” Liam tells them, because really, it’s just—it’s awkward, being forced to hang out with four people who are best friends, when he’s just the outsider.

Zayn flops onto his stomach on the mattress, props his chin up on his crossed forearms, and he says, “Maybe you’ll remember us, if we talk to you.” He looks at Liam out of the corner of his eyes, and that—that’s a good point, Liam’s got to give him that, and so he thinks that he’ll just stick it out for an hour or so. He sits down on the opposite side of the bed from Zayn, and then Louis dive-bombs the two of them, sprawls out half on top of them.

“My name’s Harry,” Louis says. “I’m the one that’s good with the ladies.”

Before Liam can stop himself, he says, “I’m not that much of an idiot.”

Everyone laughs and Louis puts his hand to his heart, says, “I’m wounded, Liam,” and then complains about it until Harry throws a pillow at him. “Thanks, mate,” Louis says, and he shifts around, bunches up the pillow until he’s comfortable.

“No—wait,” Harry groans. “No, I want that back.”

“Too late,” Louis says. “Tell him it’s too late, Zayn.”

Zayn nods solemnly and says, “It’s too late.”

Liam watches them the whole time, the quick and familiar back-and-forth that they’ve got going, and he can’t for the life of him imagine what it would be like, to actually be a part of that. Liam kind of keeps to himself, for the most part, and so knowing that these are his friends, and that this is his life… It’s a bit mind-boggling, to be honest.

“We should order some room service,” Niall says, and he looks around for a phone.

“We just had dinner,” Zayn reminds him, and next to him, Louis coughs, “Typical!”

“I don’t want anything,” Harry says.

“Well, I’m ordering some room service,” Niall says, and then he stretches out, tries to reach the phone on the desk without getting out of his chair. It’s a close call, but he makes it, and he orders a triple-decker sandwich, a milkshake, and an extra order of chips.

“You’re really going to eat all that?” Liam asks. He’s pretty impressed.

“I could,” Niall says. “But the chips are for Harry.”

Harry looks at him like he’s crazy and says, “I told you I didn’t want anything.”

“Please,” Niall says. “This is not my first meal with you.” And then, in what is obviously an attempt at speaking in Harry’s accent, Niall says, “Hey, let me steal a chip off you. Can I have a chip? Can I snag a chip? You’re not going to eat all those chips, are you? Just one chip, mate, cheers.”

They all erupt into laughter again, and this time, Liam can’t help but get swept up in it a little, and he laughs, too.

“I am not like that,” Harry protests half-heartedly.

“That’s true!” Zayn says. “That’s so true.”

“It is true, young Harry,” Louis says, and then he turns to Liam, scoots over so that he’s a little bit more in Liam’s space. “Advice: guard your food around these people, and don’t touch Niall’s plate unless you want to lose a finger.”

“Alright,” Liam says, and he feels a bit awkward because he doesn’t know how to respond to that, not really. But then he looks around the room and Zayn catches his attention, rolls his eyes and pulls a face, and Liam doesn’t even try to hold back his own small smile.

It kind of goes a lot like that for the rest of the night, everyone yelling at each other and joking around, telling Liam stories about what they’ve been though—half of which Liam refuses to believe—and how crazy the fans are, and while Liam doesn’t become completely comfortable with them, he does relax a bit. Before he even realizes it, it’s two in the morning and they have to wake up at a decent hour, and Harry and Niall are already asleep on the floor.

“I am absolutely not moving,” Louis says, face down in the middle of the mattress as he slings one arm around Liam’s waist and the other around Zayn’s.

“Is it alright if we crash here?” Zayn asks, and Liam appreciates that, even though he knows that they won’t be moving either way.

So he says, “Yeah, sure,” and it’s not long before he’s asleep.

 

When he wakes up in the morning, nothing’s changed; his head still tells him that he’s going to be late for class even though he knows—he knows—that he’s long past all that. It’s quiet and the lights in the room are off, and so Liam assumes that the others are all still asleep, but when he sits up, he sees Harry cocooned in the comforter on the floor, playing a Nintendo DS.

“Hey,” Liam says quietly.

“Morning,” Harry says back. His voice is still thick with sleep, and it makes Liam wonder how long he’s been up.

“What time is it?” Liam asks.

“Still early,” Harry tells him, glancing up quickly only to look down and curse. “Something like half past seven, last I checked.”

Liam wants to go back to sleep, but now that he’s up, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to. So instead, he asks, “What are you doing up?”

Harry just shrugs and says, “You know,” and Liam doesn’t have it in him to remind Harry that he doesn’t. “Want to order breakfast? We could go to mine and Louis’s room, so that we don’t wake everyone else.”

“Okay,” Liam says. He stands up carefully, trying not to move the bed too much, and then he asks, “You two share?”

“Yeah,” Harry says. When he kicks the comforter off himself, he’s half naked, and has to pull his jeans out from underneath Niall; Niall doesn’t even move. “Sometimes, anyways.”

“Oh,” Liam says. He’s got nothing else to add.

Harry’s room is right across the hall, but it takes them few minutes to get in because the keycard isn’t working, and every time Harry slides it in, the little light flashes red. He does it a few more times, and at different speeds, and then just jiggles the handle a few times, out of desperation.

“I hope I didn’t grab Zayn’s card accidentally,” Harry says. “He’s always leaving his lying around.”

“Want help?” Liam asks. He doesn’t really know how he could help, but maybe he’ll just get lucky or something.

“Nah,” Harry says, and then a second later, the light flashes green and the door opens up. “Ah ha! Just had to do it like, ridiculously slow.”

They head inside and Harry makes a beeline for the desk, and for the drawer that he obviously shoved the room service menu into earlier on.

“You eat healthy, now,” Harry tells him, sliding the menu over a bit so they can both see. “You normally order, like, porridge or fruit or something really boring.”

“That’s what I always eat,” Liam says, and Harry pulls back, looks at Liam as if he’d just grown two heads.

“Even when you were at uni?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Liam says.

“I wish I could say I was surprised,” Harry says, shaking his head as if he had expected something better. He goes back to looking at the menu, and the only way Liam can tell that Harry’s just poking fun is by the way he fights to keep the corners of his mouth down.

“Yeah,” Liam says again, and then because he feels like maybe he should stick up for his own choices, he says, “And you probably order, what? A full English breakfast so you can have a heart attack by noon?”

Harry turns to look at him and then is silent for a second after that, and Liam thinks that maybe he took things a bit too far, especially considering that Harry is a stranger, and Liam would normally never say something like that to someone he didn’t know. But then Harry smiles a slightly crooked grin, and that changes everything.

“Are you remembering already, or have you just always been on the straight and narrow?” Harry asks, and Liam must be missing something.

“Um. What?” Liam asks.

“You always say that to Niall,” Harry tells him. “The thing about the heart attack. He usually just ignores you, though.”

“Oh,” Liam says. “I mean, no. I don’t remember that.”

Harry’s face doesn’t fall or anything at that, not like Liam was expecting. Instead, he just keeps smiling and says, “Good to know you’re still in there somewhere, then. And besides, I’ll be having an omelet today, I’ll have you know, and not the full English.”

Liam just barely bites back his retort about the full English not being served in America, but he doesn’t know Harry, not consciously, not well enough to joke like that. It’s weird, feeling like he knows a complete stranger well enough to poke fun, but then not having any of the memories to back that feeling up.

Harry doesn’t notice Liam’s change in mood—or maybe he does and just chooses not to mention it, Liam doesn’t know—and he picks up the desk phone while Liam moves to sit on the bed, orders Liam his porridge and fruit, and then two spinach and feta omelets, a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, and three fried eggs with sausage, hash browns, toast, and a short stack of pancakes.

“The last, like, twenty things are for Niall,” Harry says, and Liam can’t help but look around the room like he’s missing something; Niall’s still asleep and there’s no one else in the room to order food for except the two of them.

“He’s still asleep,” Liam reminds him.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “For now. But the first rule of One Direction is never to underestimate our appetites, so.” He shrugs, and Liam literally cannot believe it when half a minute later, there’s someone banging at the door. Harry gets up to answer it, and the second the door is open even an inch, Louis, Niall, and Zayn stumble into the room.

“What’re we eating?” Louis asks sleepily, and he throws himself onto the bed next to Liam, his legs stretched out over Liam’s lap. Liam doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and so he just places them on the bed, palms down, and glances around the room. No one seems to regard Louis as acting anything other than normal, and when Zayn notices Liam looking at him, he just waves with two fingers and says, “Morning.”

“I got us omelets,” Harry says to Louis. “Spinach and, um. Cheese.” He pauses halfway through speaking as he tries to remember what the order actually was.

“I like omelets,” Niall says. “I can have a bite, right?”

“It’s got feta cheese in it,” Harry says, and Niall immediately looks towards Louis. Louis shakes his head and Niall lets out a sound like that’s the worst news one could wake up to.

“I hate feta,” Niall says, and Harry just looks between the two of them and laughs. It gives Liam the vague feeling like maybe Harry ordered that type of omelet on purpose, just so that he wouldn’t have to share. He’s not known Harry long, but still, Liam wouldn’t put it past him.

Their food comes a while later, and Zayn answers the door, hands plates out to everyone before claiming the desk for himself. Louis’s still next to Liam, and Harry moves to eat on the floor, leaning back against their shins. Niall’s sideways in the armchair, his legs over the arm rest, and Liam thinks it’s probably a bad idea, the way he’s got one plate on his stomach and the other rested on his knees. Liam wants to say something about it, but he doesn’t.

Instead, Liam asks, “So—what do we do today?”

“Got an interview,” Harry says, and that’s good to know, although Liam was wondering more about what they were going to do with him, and with the fact that he still can’t remember anything.

“I talked to Paul,” Zayn tells him. “You don’t have to come, don’t worry.”

And Liam thinks that’s a relief, to be honest, and he’s glad Zayn was looking out for him like that.

“But what are we gonna say?” Niall asks. “Liam’s kind of, you know—”

“Just say that he’s sick,” Zayn says.

“Yeah, they won’t care,” Louis jokes. “It’s just Liam.” And Liam probably doesn’t respond to that the way he should—it’s not like he knows, maybe that’s the truth—and so Louis adds, “I’m joking, Liam.”

Anyway,” Zayn says, cutting that line of conversation dead, “I couldn’t get you out of the signing in two days, though. Sorry.” And he looks it, looks genuinely sorry, but that doesn’t really do much to help Liam, who goes from zero to panicking in about three seconds.

“I can’t do a signing,” he says. “I can’t even remember who I am!”

“You’ll be fine,” Harry tells him. “It’s not like anyone there will actually be coherent enough to notice the difference, anyways.”

“Hey,” Louis says, and he tosses a balled up napkin at Harry. “Cheeky!”

“No, Harry’s right,” Niall says. “You barely see each person. Just sign your name and ask them how they’re doing, and you’ll be fine.”

“Alright,” Liam says, but it’s not alright; that’s actually a complete lie. He doesn’t know how they can possibly expect him to just deal with everything, with being thrown in a boy band and having people know who he is when even he doesn’t. He tries to play it off like it’s fine, though, and just counts down the minutes until everyone else leaves for a radio interview and he can take a nap, and only wake up when everything’s blown over.

 

When Paul comes for the others and they all leave, Liam does exactly as he had planned to do and lies down to take a nap. His head is killing him, and even though he slept through the night, he’s exhausted. He pulls the covers up over his head to block out the light and then just lies there for at least twenty minutes, eyes closed as he tries to fall asleep.

He thinks about calling his mom again, because she should still be awake even with the time difference, but he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to worry her. Or maybe he usually calls every night, and then he’s worrying her because he’s not calling. Liam doesn’t know, but he figures that he won’t be calling her either way, because he doesn’t actually have anything to say.

He works out a little bit, just in his room, sit-ups and push-ups and things like that, and then he studies himself in the mirror a bit, his new haircut and how his shoulders seems broader and his abs more defined. It’s crazy, how much a person can change in two short years.

He must fall asleep sometime, though, because the next thing he knows, he’s being serenaded awake.

“It’s time to get up in the morning,” Niall sings quietly, playing the guitar.

“It’s the afternoon,” Harry sings.

“Afternoon!” Louis repeats.

They keep going with that, even though Liam puts a pillow over his head, and then they jump on his bed when he still refuses to get up.

“We came back from an interview for you,” Louis sings.

“But also for my phone,” Harry sings, and then he laughs, says, “I forgot it at the hotel. Brutal.

“But how many miles did you drive to get it?” Zayn asks, and then Niall sings, “We drove nine miles to get it—”

“By that he means we drove to see you,” Harry sings.

“Don’t be selfish, Liam!” Louis sings, and so finally Liam just sits up, because he sees no other alternative.

“I thought you were musicians,” Liam says, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “That song was terrible.”

“Yeah, well, you helped write it,” Harry says and then there’s a pause for a second or two.

“Sort of,” Zayn amends.

“We took just a few liberties with the lyrics,” Louis says, and Liam doesn’t at all know what to say in response, so he just stares at them.

“It did work a bit better when we woke Harry with it,” Niall says, and even though everyone’s stopped singing, he keeps quietly playing the guitar.

“It’s ‘cause I’m so charming,” Harry says, and Louis agrees, “You’re a good sport,” like those two things are at all the same. Louis then throws himself down on the bed next to Liam, close enough that their shoulders are overlapping, and Liam sort of wishes that there was some way that he could wiggle away without offending Louis or seeming ungrateful for all he’s done. It’s just—Liam’s never had friends like this before, ones who don’t at all seem to understand the concept of personal space. So he just stays there.

“How was the interview?” he asks, because it’s only polite.

“It was alright,” Harry says.

“Zayn lost a bet and had to tell them that he was afraid of tinned oranges,” Niall says, and he’s laughing by the time he gets halfway through the sentence.

Zayn groans and hides his face in his hands, and says, “It was horrible.”

“No sympathy!” Niall says. “You made me wear dungarees!”

“But did they actually believe it?” Liam asks, going back to the tinned oranges. It seems too far-fetched to him.

“Why wouldn’t they?” Louis asks.

“Because,” Liam says, “saying you’re afraid of tinned oranges is like saying that you’re afraid of—of—of spoons, or something,” and the silence that follows that doesn’t last long; the boys burst out into laughter, and Liam doesn’t need to be a genius to know what that means. “You’re joking,” he says.

“Look at it this way,” Niall says. “At least you still have your memories, even if you don’t know that you do.”

“Yeah, it’s like at breakfast,” Harry says.

Zayn asks, “What happened at breakfast?”

“I dunno,” Harry tells him. “He started like, remembering or whatever.”

“But I’m not,” Liam says. “I’m just… I’m just saying things that I used to say. But I’m not remembering.

“You will,” Zayn says, and Liam wants to ask him how he can sound so sure, if he really is sure of it or if he just wants to be. Liam doesn’t, though; instead, he just shrugs.

“Alright, well, I wasn’t kidding about not having my phone,” Harry says, standing up. “I’m hoping I left it in my room, but.”

He shrugs and heads out, and then Louis runs after him, claiming separation anxiety. That’s alright, though, because then Liam’s space is his own again, and he can relax. A few minutes later, Niall leaves to go find a snack, and then it’s just Zayn and Liam, the two of them alone in the room.

Zayn rubs his hands along the front of his jeans and looks around. He opens his mouth like maybe he’s about to say something, but then he doesn’t say anything at all, and Liam feels the need to fill the silence.

So Liam says, “This is crazy.”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, and then he stands up, digs a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. “I’m actually going to go out and have a smoke by the back door, so.” He waves two fingers at Liam and walks to the door, putting an unlit cigarette between his lips as he does. Liam watches him the whole way until he’s gone, and then it’s just Liam.

He hangs around for a few minutes, mostly just pacing and thinking, and he can hear Niall in the hallway saying, “We can check out back, maybe?” There’s a pause where all Liam can hear is some shuffling around, and then Louis shouts, “Ow! What was that for?” and then a minute later, they must walk away, because Liam hears nothing.

It was weird, Liam thinks, that slight awkwardness with Zayn, right before he left. He can’t help but feel like maybe—maybe he did something that he wasn’t supposed to, especially considering the fact that it’s not like that with any of the other guys, or even with Zayn, before just now. And before Liam even realizes what he’s doing, he slips on his shoes and heads out of his room, making his way downstairs and to the back door that they snuck him in through earlier.

Zayn’s there, his back to the hotel, and he’s smoking, sitting atop an old picnic table with his elbows on his knees. Liam walks over before he can convince himself that it’s a bad idea.

“Hey,” he says, and he sits down on top of the picnic table, same as Zayn. “You okay?”

Zayn takes a drag of his cigarette and when he breathes out, it sounds almost like a laugh. He says, “I should be asking you that.”

“No, its—I mean,” Liam says. “I don’t know. Never mind.” He looks out over the narrow street and the lampposts and the trash bins, just so that he doesn’t have to look at Zayn. This whole situation is kind of embarrassing, and Liam doesn’t know why he thought it would be a good plan to come out here in the first place.

“I just…” Zayn says, and he says it slowly, like he’s testing out the words. “I just don’t really know how to act around you, I guess. Like, when it’s just us, I don’t know what’s too much, or anything.”

And Liam appreciates the sentiment, he really does, but not if it means that someone else ends up feeling wound too tightly because of it. Either Liam gets his memories back, or he doesn’t; people are going to act the way they’re going to act, and they shouldn’t change just because of him.

“I don’t either, if that means anything,” Liam says, and that gets a smile out of Zayn, one that grows larger the longer Liam looks at it.

“Yeah, I guess we’re both pretty fucked then, huh?” Zayn says.

“Kind of,” Liam says, and he laughs, watches the way Zayn still smiles, even as he wraps his lips wrap around the filter of his cigarette; when he realizes what he’s doing, he forces himself to look away. “Have you always smoked?” Liam asks, mostly just for something to say.

“Since before you met me,” Zayn says. “Want me to put it out?”

And Liam thinks, for a second, about what the him-with-memories would say; he hasn’t got a clue, and so he just says, “No, it’s fine.” And then he adds, “Didn’t you already know it wouldn’t bother me?”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, “but you’re you-before-I-met-you right now. Who knows what you were like two years ago.”

Liam thinks about it, about all the ways that he’s supposedly different now, being a pop star and doing interviews and travelling to America. He’s different now in a million ways, but he can’t really picture Zayn ever being anything more or less than exactly the way he is now.

“What were you like two years ago?” Liam asks.

“Boring,” Zayn says, and he laughs. “I mean, we’re all different now, but back then, I think I was just boring. Never really done anything, you know? So all of this was just—I mean, what do you say to something like this?”

“I don’t know,” Liam says.

“Me neither,” Zayn says. “Don’t think I ever will, really.”

And there’s something that’s just so comforting to Liam, the fact that it’s okay that he’s lost, because someone as put together as Zayn is lost, too.

“Can I, um,” Liam says, because he figures that even though it’s more or less humiliating to ask, now is as good a time as any. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Zayn says, and he takes one last drag of his cigarette before putting it out on the underside of the table.

“Are we—” Liam asks. “I mean, Louis and I. Are we dating?”

It’s quiet for a minute after that, Zayn not answering and not looking at Liam, and Liam wants to kick himself, because clearly he asked the wrong question. Maybe it’s just a thing that he and Louis have, the touching and all that, or maybe the lads don’t even know about Liam being gay. And then, just when Liam’s embarrassed enough that he’s about to find a way to take the question back, Zayn says, “Um. No.” He looks out at the side street and rubs his hands together; his shoulder presses against Liam’s, and he laughs a little under his breath.

“Oh,” Liam says, and he can feel his face flush. He just thought that—not that it matters. He actually feels more relieved than he can put into words, and so he just doesn’t say anything.

They don’t really talk much after that, because anything Zayn might possibly want to say, Liam can’t respond to like he normally would. He hates that, being constantly behind on the times, feeling like himself but not being himself. He’s about to say that maybe they should head back, that he should probably lie down for a bit, but then Zayn takes a breath like maybe he’s going to say something, and so Liam doesn’t move.

“Did you want to be?” Zayn asks.

“Want to be what?” Liam asks back.

“Dating Louis,” Zayn says, and he turns around, jerks his chin back towards the hotel, to where Louis and Harry are tumbling out the door, fighting with plastic swords, Niall trailing behind them, laughing and eating a sandwich.

“No,” Liam says, but that’s not an adequate answer at all, and it’s strange, because even though he only remembers two days worth of Zayn, he feels like he’s known him for longer, for entire years. So he says, “It’s just—it’s just the touching. He touches me all the time, I don’t get it.”

“That’s just Louis,” Zayn says, and then he turns, looks at Liam. Liam wishes that Zayn would take his sunglasses off, because Liam’s not wearing any, and it seems somehow unfair, however strangely, to be so open when Zayn’s so closed off. “Do you want me to tell him to stop?”

“No,” Liam says. “It’s just—it’s weird, isn’t it? No one here has any concept of personal space. I’m not used to that.”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, and he shifts so that his shoulder is no longer pressed to Liam’s, and that doesn’t feel right at all. “You’ll get used to it, though.” He frowns a little, bites his lip, and even though he’s more serious than the other three, even though he doesn’t smile half as much as the others, something in the downturn of the corners of his mouth makes Liam’s chest feel tight.

“Yeah,” Liam repeats, and then he steels himself, shifts purposely so that his shoulder is pressed once more against Zayn’s. “No, yeah, I get that.”

Zayn smiles, small but brilliantly, and Liam finds it almost impossible to look away. And that’s new, that feeling, but Liam doesn’t let it bother him for once, just tells himself that this, at least, will sort itself out when he can finally remember everything, and he finds himself smiling back.

 

They head back inside the hotel a while later, Liam with his hands in his pockets and Zayn with an unlit cigarette behind his ear, and it’s comfortable, whatever mutual ground they somehow found themselves on.

"Have you sung since all of this?" Zayn asks, and he presses the button to call the elevator. His jacket has come unbuttoned, and Liam watches as he does it back up, just the top one.

"No," Liam says, and then just because he feels like it, before Zayn can even say anything in response, Liam starts jokingly singing Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon, snapping his fingers in time with the song. Zayn laughs, and Liam is so surprised, how much singing makes him feel like himself again.

"Yeah, yeah," Zayn says, and he tugs Liam into the elevator by the front of his shirt. It's a familiar gesture, but it doesn't make Liam uncomfortable because it feels easy, unforced. Liam can see himself acting like this, with Zayn; it's not as big of a stretch as some of the other things.

He steps out of the elevator when it reaches their floor, and before he even realizes what's going on, someone is jumping on his back, almost giving him a heart attack.

"What're you doing?" a voice—Louis's voice—shouts. "Go!" And then a plastic sword is in Liam's field of vision, pointing forward as if Louis were getting ready to charge.

Zayn's laughing a little bit, and Liam turns to shoot him a look, but when he does, he sees Harry turning the corner down the hall with Niall on his back, and then it's like instinct just kicks in, and Liam runs.

It's hard, carrying Louis, because Louis is heavier than he looks and keeps twisting around to see behind them, and by the time they reach the end of the hall, Harry and Niall aren't all that far behind.

"It's time to stand and fight, men!" Louis says in as deep and as loud a voice as he can, his sword out in front of him. "For your women! And your children! And your—"

"But you're hardly standing, are you?" Liam cuts in, because he really can't believe the ridiculousness of it all.

"Well, no, but—" Louis starts but then the other two are right there, and Louis stops talking in favor of sword fighting.

Liam looks at Harry, who's got his tongue poking out of his lips as he looks up at the swords, and when Harry notices him watching, he smiles a big, goofy grin. Liam tries to smile back, but then Louis leans too far over his shoulders and almost causes Liam to lose his footing.

"You're terrible at this," Liam tells him.

"And that's why you're gonna lose," Niall says. "Eat steel, Louis ‘The Tommo’ Tomlinson!"

And then before Niall can do whatever amazing move one can only expect to follow a cry like that, Liam hooks one of his legs around the back of Harry's knee, and trips him; Harry and Niall hit the ground and Liam takes off at as fast a jog as he can manage, with Louis whooping and cheering the entire time.

"That was dirty!" Harry yells after them, and then Louis shouts back, "Suck it, Curly!" and Liam keeps running.

It's weird, the way all of this is like déjà vu. Not that Liam feels like he remembers any of this, or that it doesn't still feel like he's hanging with strangers, but there, in that moment, it's not awkward; it feels like maybe it could even be normal for him, and that eases a bit of the worry.

"To Zayn!" Louis shouts when they're back in sight of the elevators, pointing again with his sword, and Zayn rolls his eyes, shakes his head.

"You've got to be kidding," he says, but he turns around anyways so that Liam can jump on his back.

It works surprisingly better than expected, if Liam's to be honest, and Zayn manages to stay upright long enough for Harry and Niall to see, and for Louis to shout, "The three person Tower of Doom!"

Then, of course, they all topple.

Niall comes charging at them, and kills Zayn by stabbing him in the space between his arm and the side of his torso. Zayn, for his part, dies with dramatic flair.

"For Queen and Country!" Liam groans, getting into it, and they laugh. And that—it is like déjà vu, only more, because Liam has a memory of them doing something like this before, backstage somewhere—X Factor, definitely at The X Factor—only he doesn't know where the memory came from, because it feels like it never even left.

"Then lie back and think of England," Niall says, putting on a show before grabbing Liam's hair and pretending to slit Liam's throat. "Ireland!" he shouts, and it's only then that Harry gives him a bit of a shove, saying, "Shut up."

"I remember this," Liam says, letting them know that he’s remembered something, because even though he doesn't know how they are, he knows how people are, and if they really are close friends, they've got to be worried about him, at least a little bit. "I mean, at The X Factor."

There's a quick pause where no one says anything, and everyone looks at Zayn, like maybe Zayn's their spokesman or something. Zayn asks, "You remember The X Factor?"

"No," Liam says. "I mean—just that part. Just the sword fighting, after practicing one day."

Harry says, "That's good, though, right? At least they're coming back."

"Yeah," Liam says, because that's a relief. "It's weird, though, remembering it happening but not really remembering you guys." He thinks about it for a second, but then figures that the last thing he needs to do is overanalyze things, and so he says, "But you're right—at least I'm remembering something."

"I knew you would," Louis says, tossing an arm around Liam's shoulders. He smiles politely and then reaches down, pinches Liam's nipple. Liam yelps and Louis pats his chest softly. "Still need to remember that one, mate," he says. "Tomlinson classic," and Liam just elbows him in the side.

 

Later that night after dinner, they all pile back into Liam’s room and fight over who gets the bed.

“I’m fine on the floor,” Harry says, but that only makes Louis say, “Harry and I get the bed!” And it’s interesting, now that Liam’s had that talk with Zayn, how he notices the way Louis acts so much more, the way he practically sits on top of Niall a few times, or slips his arms around Zayn’s shoulders, and the way he constantly hangs off of Harry. Liam starts to wonder how he could’ve missed it before, but he knows: he only really focused on himself because he felt new, isolated; it didn’t even occur to him that maybe Louis was just like that with everybody.

“Uh, it’s my bed,” Liam reminds them as he sits down, because he feels like maybe everyone’s forgotten this fact, judging by the way the conversation’s going.

“I’m still fine on the floor,” Harry says again.

“Well, yeah,” Niall says. “You’ve got four pillows and half the blankets down there with you.”

Harry doesn’t respond, just shoots Niall an overly enthusiastic smile.

Liam gets them all now, he thinks. Zayn is quiet, reserved, not because he doesn’t have anything to say, but because he never really knows if he wants to say it; Harry’s smart and has got the best comebacks of them all, and then there’s Louis, the goofy one who they all gravitate towards, and Niall, the carefree one with an endless appetite, and Liam. Liam doesn’t know how he is, not anymore, but he supposes it doesn’t really matter; it’s been one day, and he’s probably pegged everyone else wrong, anyways.

“Harry and I get the floor then,” Louis says, and Niall shrugs, and dive-bombs the bed so hard that Liam almost bounces off.

They don’t talk too much after that’s all settled, because they’re all tired from the day and Liam’s tired from trying so hard to remember. Louis mentions something about a video for the fans, and Niall accuses Harry of stealing his Ray-bans, but that’s it, and Liam’s already asleep before he even realizes that he’s shutting his eyes.

Only then—

Liam wakes up in the middle of the night, and for a second, he’s not sure what woke him. Niall’s knee is digging into his back, but Liam’s suffered through worse, and so he can’t believe that could’ve done it. And then he hears it: Louis and Zayn, talking quietly on the far side of the hotel room.

“—just feel like shit, that I forgot to ask,” Louis whispers. Liam’s clearly not supposed to be hearing this, and so he doesn’t say anything, just pretends that he’s still asleep.

“Don’t,” Zayn whispers back. “We got Liam to worry about, you know?”

“Yeah, but still,” Louis says.

“But still,” Zayn agrees, and it’s quiet after that for so long that Liam almost falls back to sleep. And then Zayn says, “I’m fine, yeah? I just hate that I can’t do anything,” and Liam doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t have the slightest clue, but he wishes there was something he could do to help all the same.

 

Liam doesn’t sleep well the rest of the night; he wakes up a few more times, even though none of the others are ever awake, and he has these really crazy dreams, really vivid dreams about swimming pools and backyard bonfires.

“That’s not a dream,” Zayn says when the two of them and Harry are getting breakfast. Niall ordered room service to his own room so that he could stream a footie match on his laptop, and Louis’s still asleep in bed. Harry’s more or less asleep, too, his plate half-full and pushed away from him, his head down and pillowed on his arms.

“It’s not?” Liam asks.

“No, that’s Harry’s stepdad’s bungalow,” Zayn says, and Harry’s head shoots up, like he’s finally awake now that they’re talking about him.

“What about the bungalow?” Harry asks.

“I dreamt about it,” Liam says. “You were naked.” Harry lets out a loud bark of laughter at that and then covers his face with his hands.

“Oh, god,” he says, and he’s still laughing.

“Are you embarrassed?” Zayn asks, and he sounds like he can’t believe it. “You still get naked all the time.”

“I didn’t think you noticed,” Harry shoots back at Zayn, smiling a little, like he knows he’s being cheeky. “But it’s weird ‘cause like, he remembers me being naked, but at the same time, he doesn’t even know me.” Then he adds to Liam, “No offense.”

“None taken,” Liam says, because it’s all true.

I didn’t know you,” Zayn reminds him. “Not at the bungalow.”

“Please,” Harry says, and he rolls his eyes, brushes his hair out of his face. “You didn’t care what I did; you were otherwise occupied that whole weekend, anyways.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Zayn says, his eyes darting to Liam, and he throws a grape at Harry, who manages to catch it at the last second and pop it in his mouth. “Did Paul tell you what’s doing today?”

“Interviews,” Harry says, “and signing’s tomorrow,” and then they both look at Liam, like he has anything to add to the conversation.

“Um,” Liam says. “I’m just going to call my mum and get some rest, and that’s it, really.”

Zayn groans and says, “Switch lives with me,” and Liam knows that Zayn’s joking, but it’s still strange, that someone like Zayn could even joke about wanting to switch lives with someone like Liam. Liam’s life isn’t boring, if only because he has no clue what’s going on, but at the same time, he’s just Liam, nothing exciting, and Zayn looks like he’s got everything going for him.

When they finish eating, Liam gets up and makes sure that his mobile is in his pocket, and then he heads out, tells Zayn and Harry that he’s just going to be in his room, if they need him. He heads out into the hall and goes to open his door, but when he does, Louis comes running up and squeezes himself inside before Liam can even get inside, himself.

“Can I hide in here?” Louis asks.

“Uh,” Liam says. And he’s about to say no, because he really does owe his mum a call, but he doesn’t, because suddenly the thought of being stuck in his room, where he spent practically all of the day before, is unbearable. “Yeah, of course. I’m actually just headed downstairs.”

“Thanks,” Louis says. “Ate Nialler’s breakfast when he was in the toilet, and now I’m on the run. Oops!”

“Yeah,” Liam says, and he laughs a little bit like he knows how that goes, even though he doesn’t.

So Liam leaves Louis to it and heads to the elevators, tossing his mobile back and forth between his hands. The elevator must already be there, because the doors open more or less right after he hits the button, and Liam rides it all the way down to the lobby, grabs an open seat that’s off to the side and out of the way.

When he calls his mum, he doesn’t even say hello, just opens up conversation with “They want me to do a signing tomorrow,” because he’s nervous about it and it’s his mum, and so she’ll forgive him for skipping the formalities.

“Alright,” she says to him, taking it all in stride. “You’ll be fine at that; you can still spell your name.”

“But Mum,” he says, and he appreciates that she sees this as easily done, because he doesn’t at all. “Mum, I don’t know anything about the band, or the other guys, or what I’m supposed to say or do or—”

“So ask one of the others,” she says. “I know Zayn’ll tell you, and he’ll take it seriously, too.”

“I know,” Liam says, mostly just for something to say. “It’s just—I don’t know how I do it all.”

“Baby,” she says. “You don’t know how you do it even when you do remember everything.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” he asks.

“No,” she tells him. “But it should let you know that you’re exactly where you need to be.”

He doesn’t really say too much for a while after that, just listens to his mum talk about his sisters and the garden and the neighbor’s cat, and he watches the people crossing the lobby, families and old businessmen and employees. It’s a posh hotel, really, even more so in the lobby than in the rooms, if that’s possible, and Liam feels a bit out of sorts to know that he’s supposed to fit in there.

“I’m remembering things,” he says to her, during one of her pauses. “Not a lot, but some things.”

“I know,” she says. “Paul’s told me.”

And Liam asks, “How does Paul know?” Because he only vaguely knows Paul, hardly ever sees him for more than a second when he’s grabbing the others to head out.

“The boys tell him a lot, and I’ve got him on my payroll,” his mum jokes, before turning serious. “They’re worried, and that makes him worry, too.”

“Oh,” Liam says. He forgets that they’re supposed to be his family, and not just friends, or acquaintances. And he wants to ask her what he should do, or what he’s going to do, if he never remembers the important bits of the past two years, wants to ask if they’ll still feel the same way about him or if he’ll really be a stranger to them, then, only he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to know the answer and feels embarrassed to even be worrying about it in the first place, when no one else around him is.

So instead, Liam says, “Alright, Mum, I’ve gotta go. Sorry,” and she tells him that it’s not a problem, that she knows how it goes, and she asks him to call her if he ever finds any time in his busy schedule. It makes Liam feel guilty, because he’s hanging up for almost no reason at all.

He crosses the lobby to get back to the elevators, and when he does, someone shouts his name, just once, really loudly. He stops where he is, underneath this gigantic chandelier, and looks around for someone he might know.

He doesn’t know anyone, but a young girl is waving to him and walking over, and Liam doesn’t know what she wants, but figures that it’s too late to bail now. It only occurs to him when she gets closer that she’s probably a fan, and he shoves his hands deep into the pocket of his jeans because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Oh my god, hi,” she says when she’s an arms length away. “Oh my god, it’s really you.”

“Uh, yeah,” Liam says. “Hi.”

Hi,” the girl says again, and all of a sudden, she looks like she’s about to cry. She starts rummaging through her large purse, and as she does, she says, “I brought Louis some carrots, if you could give them to him? And I made you this—this drawing thing of you from the One Thing video and I just—I just love you guys so much, you completely changed my life, and I want to marry you, oh my god, you’re gorgeous.

“Oh,” Liam says. “Thank you.” And when the girl’s not looking, he tries to discreetly look around the lobby for an escape route, or for an excuse to get away. She shoves a bag of full carrots and a small canvas into his hands, and he takes them because he thinks he’s supposed to, and that’s what he’d normally do.

“Can I have a hug?” the girl asks, and when Liam says yes, she really does start crying, just these big, heaving sobs that Liam thought people only did at funerals, and he doesn’t know how to handle that at all.

Luckily, in that moment, someone else slides their arm around Liam’s shoulders, and when Liam turns to see who it is, all he can see is Harry’s dimples and his mop of curls. He’s never been so relieved in his life.

“There you are,” Harry says to Liam. “Been looking for you everywhere.” And then he turns to the girl, who is just speechless, standing there crying, and he says, “Sorry to have to steal him away from you, babe, but he’s needed for an interview. That’s alright, yeah?” And Liam just watches as Harry makes his way through this conversation like he could do it half-asleep, and he can’t believe it, how this girl hangs on his every syllable, like what he says really matters, like she wants to commit every last word to memory. “Hey, want a quick hug before we go?” Harry asks. “And a picture?”

The three of them squeeze together so they can all fit in the picture, Harry’s long arm holding out the young girl’s iPhone, and then they’re gone, leaving the girl behind and heading into the open elevator.

The first thing Liam says is, “I can’t do an interview, no way,” because he can’t. He couldn’t even deal with one fan that didn’t ask him a thing; he’s not going to be of any use in an interview, or at a signing.

“We’re not doing an interview,” Harry says, a bit like he can’t believe Liam could be so dense. “You just looked like you might have a stroke if you stood there any longer.”

“Oh,” Liam says. “How did you even find me?”

“You sent out the One Direction distress signal,” Harry tells him, pressing the button for their floor.

Liam watches him in the mirrored walls and says, “But I don’t even know what that is.”

“That’s because it doesn’t exist, you idiot; I was joking,” Harry says, pulling a face and laughing a little. “We went to go hang in your room, and all we found was Louis. That’s like a real life nightmare, I’ll have you know. Anyways, we figured we should look for you; Zayn was doing a search out back, by the picnic table, last I checked.”

“Oh,” Liam says again, like a broken record. “You were really—you know. Good with her.” He waves his hand a little, vaguely.

“You get used to it,” Harry says. “Or, not really, but you learn how to deal with it.”

“Right,” Liam says. “Well, thanks.”

And Harry looks at him for a second with this look that Liam can’t really decipher, and then he says, “Yeah. Of course,” like he can’t believe that Liam’s thanking him for what he did, like maybe he thinks it’s not something that even needs mentioning at all.

The elevator doors open and the two of them head down the hallway and into Louis’s room, and that’s that.

 

Niall’s sitting on the bed with an open pizza box in front of him when they walk in, and Louis’s sitting next to him, an arm around Niall’s shoulders as he tries to convince Niall to give him a slice.

“Didn’t you just eat breakfast?” Harry asks, and he props the door open behind them by sliding over the latch, and then throws himself down into the open armchair in the corner.

“No,” Niall says, and to Louis, “Okay, one slice, you hear?” Niall then turns back to Harry and says, “That was like three hours ago. Besides, gotta eat now or you won’t get to eat until after the interview.”

“Ah,” Harry says, and then he gets up, heads over to the bed. “Can I steal a slice, then?”

No,” Niall says, but he doesn’t stop Harry when he reaches for the box.

Zayn walks in then, and pauses to put the latch back in place so that the door actually closes behind him. He nods his head in hello to the group, but doesn’t say anything besides that.

“So where are you going today?” Liam asks, because he’s curious. They don’t seem as busy as he’d thought, or maybe they’re busier, Liam doesn’t really know.

“Some music show, I don’t know,” Zayn says, and he sits down on the edge of the bed. “It’s on channel, like, twenty-one or something, if you want to watch.”

“You don’t want to watch,” Louis says, picking a piece of pepperoni off his pizza. “It’ll be weird, I’m telling you.”

“Alright,” Liam says.

“Where were you just now, anyways?” Niall asks. “Zayn was looking for you.”

“Oi! I was looking for him, too,” Harry says. “Found him talking to a fan in the lobby.”

“Yeah, it was—um,” Liam says. “It was a bit much.” He scratches the back of his head and looks around the room, and they all laugh at him.

“I know how that goes,” Louis says, and then Liam says, “Oh, right.” He tosses the carrots to Louis, who laughs when he catches them; he doesn’t explain it, and Liam figures that’s because they’re all probably supposed to know already.

Someone knocks twice on the door and then the door opens, and Paul pops his head inside.

“Time to go,” he says. “Grab what you need and let’s his the road, boys.” Everyone groans a bit, and Niall tries to toe his shoes on while holding a slice of pizza in each hand. Paul smiles at Liam and asks, “Feeling any better?”

“Getting there,” Liam says, even though he doesn’t feel like he’s getting anywhere. It’s just the kind of thing he thinks he’s expected to say.

“Good,” Paul says, and he laughs a bit. “I need you back to help me keep these divs in line.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Liam says, and then he doesn’t say anything else because he has to jump out of the way as Louis tries to whip Harry in the back of the legs with his braces.

 

When they're all gone and he finally has a few hours to himself, Liam doesn't know what to do with his time. He goes through all his things, but none of them feel like his things, and so he tries to read a book, but there are corners that have been dog-eared, notes and random bits of paper stuck between the pages, and so Liam chooses not to even mess with it, because he doesn't know if they're marking anyone's spot or not. Then he tries to find something to keep him occupied on his phone, but it's not his turn in any of the games that are downloaded, and the rest of the stuff on there is just picture of the boys, Harry sleeping with an ice bucket over his head and Niall eating pizza and Louis in a fake mustache, and Zayn holding their album and Zayn in front of some statue and Zayn backstage at a concert, and Liam just puts his phone away because none of it means anything to him, and it hurts his head just thinking about it.

When enough time has passed, Liam opens up his laptop, and before he can even get frustrated that he doesn't know the password to his own computer, he sees the sticky note that's placed to the bottom left of the keyboard, password: swagmaster written in mashed-together handwriting.

For a second, Liam can't even believe that would be his password, but he types it in anyways and it works, brings up a background picture of the five of them, smiling like lunatics and holding a Brit Award.

A Brit Award.

Liam can't really believe it, and for a minute or two, he's convinced that he's looking at an edited photo or something, because the thought is just unreal. But then he snaps out of it, reaches for the tv remote so that he can put on whatever show the lads are on, because apparently they're big. And some part of Liam already knew that, because there's always a crowd waiting for them outside their hotel, and that girl stopped him in the lobby, but Liam can't—he just can't process it, that they're Brit Award-big.

He stops flicking through the channels at twenty-one, just as the four of them are walking off the makeshift stage and taking a seat next to the show's host.

"And that was One Direction, with their big single, What Makes You Beautiful," she says to the camera, and then she turns to the audience, asks, "Did you guys like it?"

The studio audience goes crazy at that, and it's packed, maybe a hundred or so random strangers, all there for One Direction. Liam can hardly believe it, even though it's real and he can see that it's real.

"But there are only four of you here," the host continues. "Where's Liam?"

"He's sick," Harry says into his mic.

"He's dead," Louis says, and the boys laugh.

Niall hits Louis on the shoulder and says, "Careful now! Someone'll believe that!"

They're all still laughing when the host asks, "Has that happened before? Have you heard any crazy rumors about yourselves?"

"I heard that I was actually a robot," Zayn says.

"It's kind of true," Harry says.

"It's a half-truth!" Louis corrects, and Zayn just rolls his eyes and tries not to smile. Liam doesn't know why he does that. He's got a good one; a good smile.

"A half-truth!" Niall repeats, still laughing, and then he says, "Hey, hey—remember that time you told that fan in Dublin—"

He doesn't even get to finish before the four of them erupt into laughter, and Liam desperately wants to know what' so funny.

"Well, what happened," Louis says in a voice like he's defending himself, "is that I may or may not have jokingly told a fan that Niall died of yellow fever, and a few hours later, everyone was trending, #RIPNiallHoran on twitter."

"But he wasn't even sick, is the best part," Harry adds. "He was just on the bus, having a lie-down."

Niall laughs again and says, "I woke up like, What's going on? That was a good one, though.”

The host laughs and then turns to the camera. She says, "Alright, unfortunately we have to take a break, but more with One Direction when we come back!"

The camera pans out over the audience and then shows a view of the street outside, and if Liam thought there were a lot of people in the audience, he was completely wrong; outside—outside is an even larger crowd, even more people, all there with signs for them, and wearing their t-shirts, and shouting their names, and Liam can hardly wrap his head around the fact that this is his life now, that he really is living his dream. Things like that don't usually happen to Liam, and he has to shut his eyes for a minute just to catch his breath.

 

Later, when the show is over and the guys are probably on their way back to the hotel, Liam shuts off the tv and climbs into bed with his laptop. It occurs to him that he’s never even heard his own music before—at least, not that he can remember—and so he pulls up his iTunes, searches for One Direction. There are more tracks there than he knows what to do with, things prefaced with DEMO and X FACTOR and LIVE, but Liam just finds the album, the finished product, and presses play. His own voice sings back at him, and Liam puts the entire thing on repeat.

He’s on his third listen through of the album when his hotel room door opens and Zayn walks in, waves and says, “Hey.”

“Hey,” Liam says back. And then, “How’d you get in?” he asks, not because he minds, but because he’d be worried if he ended up with a door that didn’t lock.

Zayn waves a card in the air and says, “We all have each other’s keys.”

“I don’t have anyone’s but my own,” Liam points out, and Zayn laughs a little bit, looking embarrassed.

“Uh,” he says, running a hand over the back of his neck, “I kind of meant that we all have yours. Since, you know.”

“Oh,” Liam says, and he doesn’t bother to argue it because it doesn’t really matter. Instead, he watches Zayn take his wallet out of his back pocket and toss it on the desk before throwing himself onto the couch. “Thanks for writing down my password, by the way. I would’ve never guessed that.”

“S’what you get, when you let Louis set it,” Zayn says. “How’d you know it was me?”

“Recognized the handwriting,” Liam tells him, and Zayn looks so pleased at that that Liam feels momentarily and irrationally proud. “I keep remembering things, I guess.”

“You guess,” Zayn says, and he laughs quietly, like he can’t believe the way Liam’s underselling everything. He jerks his chin to the laptop, which is still playing music, and asks, “Listening to the album?”

"Yeah," Liam says, and he's suddenly incredibly embarrassed, although he doesn't know why. "It's just—I've never heard it before."

"So what do you think?" Zayn asks.

"It's amazing," Liam says, because it is. That's him, on that record. That's him, singing and touring and getting paid for it. "I kind of can't believe this is actually my life now."

That makes Zayn smile, and he says, "Welcome to the club." Liam understands that it's not something he's ever going to get used to, and he's not sure it's something he even wants to get used to.

He could get used to this, though, to having Zayn smile at him and act like Liam belongs, like he actually fits in the same group that someone as charismatic as Harry fits into, or someone as funny as Louis.

"What?" Zayn asks, and he's still smiling at Liam, just a little. Liam wonders if that's normal; he wants it to be.

"Nothing," Liam says. And then before he can stop himself, he continues, "It's just that I don't understand how I—how someone like me—fits."

He wants to take it all back the second the words are out of his mouth, because that's so childish, feeling uncool. But he does feel uncool, that's the truth, because everyone else knows exactly what they like and what they want and what their role in it all is, and Liam's just... kind of just there.

Zayn doesn't say anything for a second, just sits on the couch and looks at Liam, but then he's moving, walking to the bed and pushing at Liam's shoulder, saying, "Shove over." Liam does and Zayn climbs in, the two of them pressed together as if there were no room in Liam's large bed, and Zayn grabs the laptop, shifts around until he can settle it half on his hip, and half on Liam's.

Liam asks, "What are you doing?" and it comes out like a whisper because they're so close to one another.

Zayn searches One Direction on YouTube, and opens a couple of different videos in a couple of different tabs. He whispers back, "I know you don't see it, and I know you still won't, even after you remember everything, but you're the most important one, out of all of us. I don't think the band ever would have gotten anywhere, if we didn't have you."

And it's nice, Liam thinks, that Zayn would say those things, but everyone in the band is so multi-talented that Liam doesn’t for a second think he’s holding any of them up.

"But, I mean, I'm just..." Liam trails off, and he waves his hands vaguely in the air, like maybe that will help Zayn understand. Zayn just shakes his head.

"There's no just with you," he says. "I don't think I'll ever understand how you can't see that, even after everything and all this time."

"It's part of my charm," Liam says sarcastically, and Zayn just smiles a bit at that, like maybe he thinks Liam doesn't know what he's talking about.

It hits Liam like a tidal wave, then, how badly he wants to kiss Zayn in that moment. Zayn talks like Liam means something, like he's perfect, and Liam's never been perfect before, not to anyone in his entire life. And he can almost see it, how it'd go if he kissed Zayn, how maybe, if Liam were lucky enough, maybe Zayn would kiss back and mold their bodies together and trail his fingertips over Liam's skin. Liam doesn't move, though, doesn't lean in or shift so that their hands touch. Liam just lies there, shoulder to shoulder with Zayn, as Zayn shows him clips of how he does fit, of them all go-kart racing and filming their music videos and swimming in the pool at Harry's stepdad's bungalow.

It doesn't go away, the feeling of wanting to kiss him, but Liam doesn't do or say anything about it because he doesn't have all the details, is still missing years of his memory, and he doesn't ever want to get them back only to realize that he made a mistake, or that he ruined everything. He's not sure he can think of anything worse than that, not now that he suddenly has so much to lose.

It would be nice, though, to kiss Zayn and have Zayn kiss him back. Liam tries not to think about it.

 

Paul buys them beer that night, because they tell him that they really need it, and that they think it will help Liam get back to top form. Liam doubts that Paul actually believes it, as Liam’s pretty sure he knows Liam’s only got one kidney and doesn’t drink, but he still goes out and buys them some Carling Black Label from the wine and beer shop across the way.

When Paul finds them all in Niall’s room, he takes the two six-packs out of a plastic bag, and places them on the desk. He says, “You lot owe me about six million quid for this,” and everyone ignores him.

“Good haul, Paul,” Louis says, clapping him on the shoulder as he walks past to grab a beer. He turns back to the lads and asks, “What’ll you have, gents?”

“Hey Mabel, Black Label!” Harry quotes, and he raises his hand, catches the bottle that Louis tosses his way.

“Early call tomorrow,” Paul reminds them, and he picks up to leave. “We got the signing, don’t forget.”

“We’ll be ready,” Zayn says, and then Paul leaves.

Louis hands out more beers, making sure that everyone has one, and when Liam turns it down, Louis says, “Typical Liam Payne.”

“I can’t drink,” Liam reminds him. “I only have one kidney!”

“We’re onto you; we know you can, you just don’t,” Louis says.

“He Googled it,” Harry tells him. “Researched it. He figures himself a doctor now.”

They all laugh and shoot the shit for a while after that, talking and joking around, and they give Niall a hard time over his twitter conversations with Justin Beiber and Demi Lovato, and rag on Harry for always being indiscreet when he gets himself off on the bus. But as it gets later, and as things turn more and more serious, they start to talk about the future, about what sound they want on their next album and what new places they want to go to on tour.

“Well,” Liam says, and then because no one else is willing to say it, he asks, “Well, what if I never remember everything?”

“What d’you mean,” Harry asks, and then Niall chimes in, “You’ve already started to get them all back.”

“No, I know,” Liam says. “But just in case, it’s still best—”

“—Best to be prepared,” Harry and Louis say simultaneously, and then Louis continues, “We know; you say that all the time.”

“That’s definitely good,” Zayn says, like he already believes it and is trying to make Liam believe it, too. “That you still speak the same and everything.”

“I just think,” Liam says, and then he pauses for a minute to sort out what he means to say. “I just think you guys need to plan for what you’re gonna do if I don’t get them back, and suddenly you’re down a voice.”

The silence that follows is so loud that Liam can almost feel it echoing in his chest.

“Are you—” Harry starts, and then he stops, shakes his head. “Sorry, are you quitting?

“No,” Zayn answers for Liam. “Absolutely not.”

“I’m not—I’m just saying,” Liam tries to explain, “I don’t know what use I am if I can hardly remember a thing about us.”

“You’ll learn,” Zayn says, and Niall adds, “You’re stuck with us, mate.”

“Sad but true,” Louis agrees.

And then because there’s nothing else he can do, not in that moment, Liam nods and says, “Okay. Alright.”

The conversation changes after that, noticeably and purposefully, as everyone moves on to talking about videogames and celebrity breasts, and even though everyone denies it, Liam can’t help but feel like dead weight, and he worries about what’ll happen if that feeling never goes away.

“Hey,” Zayn says quietly, kicking his foot against Liam’s to get his attention. “Don’t even think like that.” And it’s almost like he knows what Liam’s thinking, although there’s no way that he does, and even though it’s just a nothing of a sentence—Don’t even think like that—Liam still feels comforted by it, strangely, like something in his subconscious knows what Zayn is really trying to say.

Liam just wishes that his consciousness knew it, too, and when he leaves to head back to his own hotel room to go to sleep, he’s still wondering what it meant, Zayn’s face and the way he looked when Liam mentioned maybe having to leave the band.

 

He wakes up to someone shaking his shoulder.

"Liam," Zayn whispers. "Liam, hey, get up."

Liam opens his eyes and it's dark in the room, just enough light sneaking in from under the door to the hallway so that he can make out the lines of Zayn's face; his eyes are wide and his hair is down, covering his forehead and making him look so much younger, so much more vulnerable, and Liam commits it to memory before he even realizes it.

"What time is it?" Liam asks. He's not sure if that's what he had really meant to say or not, but he's half asleep, and that's what comes out.

"Almost four," Zayn tells him. "Just throw on a sweatshirt or something, yeah? Come on."

Liam thinks it says something, that he doesn't even question it and just does as he's told, stumbles around the room until he finds a sweatshirt and some jeans. He grabs his wallet and his room key, too, and then Zayn's waving him over, and the two of them walk out of the room and into the hall.

They don't take the elevator; they take the stairs instead, and Liam can't help but notice that Zayn sometimes takes the stairs by two, and then waits for Liam to catch up when he reaches the landing.

"Where are we even going?" Liam asks.

"The Brooklyn Bridge," Zayn says, looking back over his shoulder. His voice echoes in the stairwell. "I want to see the sunrise."

"Alright," Liam says, because that makes sense; he just doesn't understand why he needs to come along. "But why am I here?"

"Because you wanted to see it, too," Zayn says, as simple as that. "You'd be ticked off if you suddenly remembered, and I'd taken Harry instead."

Liam doesn't know what to say to that, because it's weird, having other people know him better than he knows himself, but it turns out that not knowing what to say doesn't really matter, because when they reach the bottom of the stairs, Zayn cuts across the lobby and to the back door, and Liam has no choice but to follow.

The nighttime air is cool on Liam's face, and they hail a cab. It's a longer ride than he had expected, to the bridge, and he stares out the window the entire way, in part because he doesn't know where else to look, and in part because New York City does lights like nowhere else in the world.

Ten minutes into it, he looks at Zayn out of the corner of his eye, and sees Zayn looking out the window, too. Even though Zayn doesn't seem bothered by the silence, and even though Zayn's not saying anything himself, Liam feels like maybe he's supposed to say something, only he doesn't know what. Zayn turns his head to look at Liam, and there's this look on his face, one that Liam knows but doesn't know, and his heart beats so hard that he has to look away.

When they get there, Zayn takes his wallet out of his back pocket and pays the driver. The bridge is huge and there aren't nearly as many cars out as Liam had expected. It's almost quiet, considering the city that they're in, and it feels like just him and Zayn, just the two of them alone on the bridge.

"This is crazy," Zayn says, looking out at the water and the way the light from the streetlamps reflects off the surface.

"Yeah," Liam says, because it is. There's nowhere else in the world that Liam would rather be, not in that moment.

Zayn leans forward over the railing and looks down, reaches his arms out over the edge as far as they’ll go as he says, "It's so high up." And Liam doesn't tell him to step back or anything, but he holds tight with one hand to the back of Zayn's sweatshirt, not because he thinks that would save Zayn if anything happened, but because it somehow makes everything easier, makes him feel a little less nervous.

The sky lightens up a bit, loses its dark color as the sun gets closer to the horizon, and Zayn says, "This is good, yeah?"

"Yeah," Liam says, and that's all he ever says anymore, it seems, just yeah, and so he adds, "Maybe you should have brought Harry."

Zayn understands because he always understands, and he doesn't even hesitate, just says, "No, I shouldn't have," like bringing Harry is a thought that doesn't even bear consideration, and Liam doesn't know what to do with that.

"Hm," he says, because it's better than nothing.

"I mean, yeah, you can't remember things," Zayn says, "but you're still you."

Liam thinks that's one of the nicest things he's heard in a long time.

When the sun finally rises, they stand there by the railing and Zayn turns back to smile at Liam. The sun touches his hair and his shoulders and the skin of his face, and for a second he looks so stunningly beautiful that Liam can't breathe, and then the sun continues to rise and Zayn is silhouetted against the sun and the water and the sky, and Liam smiles back, the two of them watching the sunrise as the city wakes up around them. Liam's never really felt like this before, and even though he doesn't know what this is, he doesn't mind it for once, just stands there with Zayn, close enough that their shoulders touch as they prop their elbows up on the railing, and he lets the moment last for as long as he can.

 

The feeling stays with Liam for the entire cab ride back. He’s content, for the first time since he woke up a pop star, although there is a part of him—a very small part—that’s irrationally jealous of himself, of the him-with-memories, for getting to do all of these amazing things all the time, for getting to be with the lads all the time.

“You tired?” Zayn asks him as they pull up to the hotel. There are a lot more people around now, and a few girls that are very obviously fans are waiting by the doors. Liam and Zayn just sneak around back and avoid it all.

“Not really,” Liam says, and Zayn laughs.

“Good,” he says. “Because we have to be ready to go in about an hour, anyways.”

They take the elevator up to their floor and walk down the hall, and when Zayn stops to shove the keycard in his door, Liam stops too, and then follows Zayn inside. Zayn tosses his keycard and his wallet on the desk, and then places his hoodie on the back of the chair.

“I hate getting ready for these things,” Zayn tells him, sitting down on the small couch in the corner, and Liam sits down next to him, close enough that their shoulders touch. “You’d think it’d be easy, but it’s not.”

“Don’t we have stylists and stuff?” Liam asks.

“Yeah, but that just makes it harder, sometimes,” Zayn says. “I mean, they only get us clothes we like, and they make us look good, but sometimes it would be nice to not care, you know? To just go out in jeans and a sweatshirt, without even brushing my hair.”

“We just did that,” Liam points out.

“Yeah, we just did that,” Zayn agrees, and he smiles a little, like a secret, and Liam leans in and kisses him on the mouth. Zayn kisses back, presses his body into Liam’s, and it feels so familiar—so normal—that for a long minute, Liam doesn’t think anything of it. It’s only when Zayn presses him back into the couch that Liam realizes what he’s doing, and he twists himself away from Zayn, stands up so quickly that Zayn face plants into the cushions.

“Liam?” he asks. “What’re you—”

“Sorry,” Liam says, because he is. He just kissed Zayn when he hardly knows anything about him, if they’re good friends or if they’ve done this before or if either of them is dating someone else. He doesn’t even know why he did it, either, just that he did without even thinking about it, and that’s so unlike Liam that it’s making his head spin. “Sorry,” he says again, and he’s really thrown off kilter by this realization that he can’t even explain his own actions anymore.

“It’s alright,” Zayn rushes out, and he’s got his hands up in front of him, palms out, like maybe that’ll help calm Liam down.

“No, it’s really not,” Liam says, and he pushes his hair back off his forehead, paces three steps left and then three steps right, because he doesn’t know where to go. He finally decides to head for the door, and walks out into the hall, still looking back at Zayn and talking as he goes. “Sorry—I didn’t mean to—”

Liam doesn’t finish that sentence because he doesn’t know how. Instead, he apologizes again, and heads down the hall to his room. Zayn jogs after him, grabs Liam’s elbow to stop him, and Liam feels inexplicably like he should have seen that coming.

“Hey,” Zayn says. “Hey, listen. It’s okay, alright, you know, ‘cause—”

“No,” Liam cuts him off, and then he takes a second to calm down and try to figure out what he wants to say. He feels as if everything has been building up to this one moment, although he doesn’t know why, or what that means. “It’s not okay, because I don’t know you. You’re kissing me, but I’m not me right now. None of this is alright.”

“Liam,” Zayn says, and it seems like that’s all he has to say, just his name, just Liam.

“I’m just—I’m gonna go,” Liam says, and then because it’s only polite, he adds, “Thank you for earlier today.”

Zayn flinches like that’s the worst thing Liam could have possibly said, and it only makes Liam feel worse. He heads to his room and doesn’t look back to see what Zayn is doing, if he’s gone back to his room, too, or if he’s still standing there, in the hallway.

Liam knows he doesn’t fuck up often, but when he does, it’s on a pretty massive scale.

 

It’s childish—and he knows it’s childish—but he still goes out of his way to avoid Zayn for the rest of the morning. Zayn tries to talk to him once or twice, walks over to him and says, “Hey, you got a second?” but Liam makes sure that he never does, and he goes jogging off to grab his mobile, or to ask Paul a question about where they’re going. Liam’s not really proud of it, but Zayn looks at him like no one’s ever looked at him before, and it scares the hell out of Liam, knocks him off balance because he doesn’t know what any of it means and because a large part of him still wishes he was kissing Zayn.

Before they head out for the signing, they all sit him down and give him the rundown of it all. They’re eating breakfast in Harry and Louis’s room, and this time Paul’s there, too, not eating, just letting Liam know what to expect.

“Like, there’s a long table that we sit at, and everyone just kind of walks by it and asks for your autograph, or your picture,” Harry says, and he pushes what’s left of his pancakes around his plate with a fork.

“Yeah, it’s easy,” Niall says. “They want a picture or a hug, but besides that, you know—it’s hey, how’s it going, simple things like that.” Liam watches as he reaches his fork out to grab some of Harry’s pancakes as he says, “If you’re not gonna eat that, Haz—”

“Just watch what you’re signing, yeah?” Louis says. “One girl tried to get you to sign a marriage license, no joke.”

And Liam looks at him, and Louis always jokes, but this time, he’s not, not really. Liam appreciates it, even though he’s in a foul mood, how the boys take it seriously because it’s serious to Liam. He’s massively nervous, doesn’t at all know what to expect other than that it’ll be big, if the videos are anything to go by.

They all look to Zayn to see what he’s got to add, but he just takes a sip of orange juice and shrugs.

“You’ll be fine,” he says, and he looks at Liam for so long that Liam has to look away first. It’s not fair, for Zayn to be the way that he is, kind and perfect and completely off-limits because Liam is terrified and can’t remember anything and already likes him too much. “You remember more than you think, even if you don’t realize it. This will be a cakewalk for you.”

And Liam hates that, how Zayn is still being so wonderful to him, except for how he actually doesn’t hate it at all.

Paul says, “There are going to be a lot of people there, a lot of girls going crazy. Don’t eat anything they give you, call for me or for security if something makes you uncomfortable. If you need to get out of there for any reason—” he looks at Liam as he says this, “—pull me aside and let me know, and I’ll do what I can. Alright?”

“Like riding a bike,” Louis says. “We’ve got this, Paul.” He pauses for a second and then, tossing his arm around Harry’s shoulder, says, “Except for Hazza, here; he only knows how to rollerblade.”

And Liam’s not so sure about how he’ll do, either, but he doesn’t say anything because it’s not like he can get out of it now. He’s just got to grin and bear it, and that’s how it is.

 

Their first stop before the signing is at a building that houses some local websites and zines, and they didn’t even announce they’d be going there, which is nice, because it makes getting in and out easy. Everyone there is really friendly, too, really polite, and they more or less flock to Harry and Louis, which is alright with Liam because it makes his day easier.

Paul splits them up, has each of them do a different mini-interview except for Liam, and so Liam just hangs out in the hall and talks with Paul about what they’re doing for the rest of the month. Paul gets a call on his mobile, though, and after making sure that Liam’s fine on his own, he steps away to answer it, and leaves Liam to play solitaire on his phone. It’s okay, actually, and he thinks that he wouldn’t mind being a big pop star if it could be more like this all the time.

A door opens down the hall, and Liam looks up, sees Niall heading out with a woman about thirty years old or so. They’re laughing, and Liam thinks that Niall must’ve had a good one.

“I’m serious,” Niall says. “That’s not even a joke.”

“Sure, sure,” she says, her hands up like Niall could say whatever he wanted. “I believe you.”

“I’m not even kidding you right now,” Niall says, and then he turns to Liam, hollers down the hall, “Hey, Liam! What’s my nickname in the band? Not the Fresh Prince of Mullingar, I mean the other one.”

And Liam just—he just freezes for a second, because he literally has no clue, and Niall knows that. And so he tries not to panic, and thinks of what nickname he’d give Niall, if he was giving out nicknames, only he keeps coming up blank because he never gave out nicknames as a kid, and never really had one himself, either.

But then he thinks back to when he was in year six, and how there was this one kid that everyone called Nick the Prick, and Liam thinks that maybe rhyming is a good thing for nicknames, and he rushes to think of what rhymes with Niall.

And suddenly it’s like he remembers it, so clearly, this one interview where Niall went around, laughing his head off as he introduced them all as Wayne, Barry, Hughey, Ian, and—“Kyle,” Niall had said. “Although sometimes they call me Kitchen Tile. Nail File.”

It’s a huge relief, for Liam to be able to then say, “Oh, you mean Kitchen Tile?”

Niall just laughs up a storm, and says to the woman, “Kitchen Tile. Told you. But Liam’s unlucky ‘cause his name doesn’t really rhyme with anything.”

“What can you do?” Liam asks, and Niall repeats him, “What can you do?”

The interviewer laughs and shrugs, says, “Hey, listen—thanks for the interview,” and Niall waves her off like it was no problem. He heads over to Liam, helps Liam up off the floor with one hand.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Liam says, shaking his head as they start to walk away.

“What d’you mean? I thought it went fine,” Niall says. “Besides, it’s not like you didn’t remember my nickname.”

“Yeah, but what if I didn’t?” Liam asks, because it seems to him like Niall just doesn’t get it. Liam’s barely a part of this band, and yet sometimes he feels like he’s the only one sensible enough to hold it together.

“I’d have laughed anyways at whatever you said,” Niall says, and then he stops, hits Liam lightly on the arm so he stops, too. “Listen, I’m gonna tell you something,” Niall says. “The people out there—the interviewers and the fans and everyone—they already know the facts. They already know everything there is to know about One Direction, so they’re not going to ask you anything with a right or wrong.”

“Then what’s the point of doing any of this?” Liam asks.

“Because they want to get to see Liam Payne be Liam Payne,” Niall says. “They just want to see us being ourselves, because that’s the only thing they can get that’ll be at all new. So you can’t fuck up, or whatever it is that you’re afraid of; they’ll just see it as us goofing around.”

And that—it actually makes sense, is the thing, although it doesn’t do too much to lessen Liam’s nerves over the signing. He appreciates it, though, that Niall’s trying.

“Alright,” Liam says.

“You good?” Niall asks.

“Yeah,” Liam says, and then Niall nods, and they continue on their way down the hall

 

After the interviews, Paul comes around with lunch and coffee for them all.

“Thank Allen next time you see him,” he tells them. “He’s the one who went out and got all of this food for you.”

“He’s a man among men,” Harry says, and Liam honestly couldn’t agree more. He’s starving and exhausted, and so he reaches for whatever Subway sandwich is shoved his way, and whichever coffee Paul tells him is his.

Liam wants to say something, to make a joke about wanting the caffeine through an IV drip, and he gets as far as turning to tell Zayn before he realizes that he and Zayn aren’t exactly speaking, and that Zayn isn’t next to him where Liam had thought, anyways. It’s weird, how quickly Liam got used to Zayn always being there, and how different everything feels now that he’s not.

He shuts his mouth and doesn’t tell the joke, even though Niall and Harry are right there, next to him on either side.

“Alright,” Paul says. “In the van, let’s go.”

“But I’m still eating!” Niall says, holding up his sandwich as evidence.

“You can eat on the ride,” Paul says, and then he gets them going, walks them over to the van before hopping in the front passenger seat himself. “Do I got all five?”

“Present and accounted for,” Louis says, and as the van pulls out from the parking lot and starts to head towards their signing, Liam just takes a deep breath and tries not to be sick. He can feel Zayn watching him as he rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms, but Zayn doesn’t say anything to him, and actually, Liam kind of prefers it that way, considering; it allows him to focus on the signing, on not being sick, instead of on Zayn and how Liam wants him and wishes everything were different.

 

When they first walk out for the signing, the noise is deafening. Liam almost trips, the noise hits him so hard, but Louis helps him out with a hand to the shoulder, and Liam regains his footing. It feels like an out-of-body experience, like he’s not even there, because before he knows it, he’s sitting down in a chair at the end of the table, Louis to his right, and he really has no clue how he got there, doesn’t remember the walk at all.

There are tons of people—tons of people—and they’re all screaming and crying, and there are girls telling him that he is the most beautiful thing that they have ever seen, and that they want to marry him. It is beyond overwhelming and Liam wants to ask, Have you actually seen me? because the thought is just ridiculous, that he’d be that to them. He doesn’t say that, instead just thanks them and smiles and signs their cds and they file past.

“This is insane,” he says to Louis, and behind them, someone who organized the event is placing water bottles on the table in front of the five of them.

“Yep,” Louis says, and he smiles at Liam like it’s a little funny, like maybe seeing Liam freak out is reminding him of his first big event. “But you’re handling it like a pro; like a champion. Eye of the Tiger, Liam, and don’t you forget it.”

“Thanks,” Liam deadpans, because he’s not really sure what that means. He wonders, though, if the others handled things like this at first, if he did when he went through it the first time, or if they were all just ready for it, for the fans and the fame and everything. Liam thinks maybe not; that’s a different situation, and gradual one. Here, he’s just thrown into the thick of it and told not to look back, memories or no memories.

 

When Liam finally remembers—really and truly remembers, everything and not just the little things that he didn’t even realize he was supposed to have forgotten—they’re still at the signing, in the middle of it all, and Liam feels like he’s been hit by a truck, or maybe more like his chest is so light that he might just float away.

“No,” Louis is saying next to him. “I will forever love carrots, I’ll have you know,” and Harry speaks up from one chair over, “It’s true, actually. I caught them in the act, once.” Louis laughs at that, and then Harry starts laughing, too, and Liam rolls his eyes.

“Hi,” he says to the young girl in front of him. She looks to be about fourteen, and she’s crying.

“Oh wow,” she says. “I’ve never wanted to kiss you so badly in my entire life.”

And that—

“I’ve never wanted to kiss you so badly in my entire life,” Zayn says. They’re backstage after their first concert stateside, and Zayn’s got him pushed up against a wall in their empty dressing room, his smile pressed against the skin of Liam’s cheek.

“You can kiss me whenever you want,” Liam tells him, and he grabs at the belt loops of Zayn’s jeans, pulls Zayn’s hips closer to his own.

“No, I can’t,” Zayn says.

“Most of the time, then,” Liam says.

“I can settle for that,” Zayn agrees, and he scrapes his teeth lightly over Liam’s jaw.

—and Liam can’t believe it, that he forgot about that, and it’s like the more he remembers Zayn—all of the sounds and faces that he makes, the way he takes ages getting out of bed and the way he runs his fingers through Liam’s hair—it’s like the more he remembers all of that, the more he remembers everything else, too, The X Factor and recording the album and feeding the pigeons in Italy.

“Oh my god, hi,” the girl in front of him says, and it’s a different girl this time than the one who had wanted to kiss him, and Liam has no clue how long he’s been in his own head for, remembering. Liam smiles at her.

“Hey, babe,” he says, because that’s pretty standard for them, and Louis turns to look at him so fast his neck must hurt.

“Babe?” Louis mouths, and Liam wants to say something back to him, maybe, but he doesn’t. All he can think about is the past few days, and how the guys were all there for him, and Zayn—Zayn—how he was there for Liam, too, and how he told Liam that he belonged and worried that maybe Liam liked Louis more, and how he took Liam to the Brooklyn Bridge even though it never could’ve been the same as it would’ve been had Liam actually been himself. And Liam remembers waking up in the middle of the night, and hearing Zayn talk to Louis, the way his voice caught when he said, I just hate that I can’t do anything.

Zayn helped him more than anyone and anything else, and Liam can’t believe he can’t see that.

Liam stands halfway up out of his seat, just so he can see over the other guys and to where Zayn is, all the way at the other end of the table.

“Zayn!” Liam hollers over the noise of the crowd, although the second he does, he wonders what that’ll accomplish. It’s not like he can say what he wants, not here, not in front of all these people. He can’t say that he remembers or that he’s sorry he forgot; he can’t thank Zayn for being the way he is, or say that Zayn is still the most important person in the world to him.

Liam realizes that he’s still standing, still looking at Zayn, and he scrambles for something to say.

“What?” Zayn yells back finally, smiling vaguely like he’s thinking, I don’t know why I put up with this idiot. But the answer to that is so obviously written all over his face that Liam can’t believe he missed it, can’t believe that everyone else missed it, too.

“Nothing,” Liam shouts, because really, he’s got nothing to say. “It’s just—settling for most of the time is harder than I thought.”

And that’s—Liam doubts it’ll mean anything to Zayn, because it’s not a particularly big moment for them, not particularly memorable, especially considering all the times they’ve kissed backstage after a concert, or the first time either of them said I love you, or I want to tell my parents. But Zayn—Zayn gets it, and Liam gets to stand there, in the middle of their signing, and watch Zayn’s entire face light up, the combined tension of the signing and of not having Liam disappearing as if it were never even there to begin with.

“Welcome back,” Zayn says, his voice light as if it’s a joke. “You’ve been missed.” And everything stops at that, just for a split second, the other three looking between Liam and Zayn like they’ve just been clued in on everything. They all just freeze, smiling like idiots at each other until Paul steps up and says, “Oi! Enough’s enough, lads, back to work!”

And so Liam just—just waves awkwardly, at Zayn and at the crowd, and then he sits back down, looks at the fan in front of him and smiles.

“Hey, how’s it going?” he says. She screams, and Liam spends the next hour wishing he could touch Zayn’s skin.

 

After the signing, they don’t even have time to talk before they’re all shoved into the van, Liam in the back row with Harry and Louis, Zayn and Niall up in the middle. There are tons of fans everywhere, all banging on the car windows and chasing after them, and while the lads would normally comment on that, this time, they all just look at Liam.

No one seems to want to say anything for a long time.

“Okay, then,” Liam says, because someone has to say something.

“So you, you know,” Louis says finally. “Remember everything?”

“Yeah,” Liam says, because he thought they all understood that at the signing. He’d have—he doesn’t know—started a game of telephone or something to let them all know, if he knew they hadn’t. “All of it just sort of—came back.”

“He’s back,” Niall says solemnly.

“He,” Louis says, “is back.”

And at that, everyone in the van starts hollering and celebrating, singing, “He’s back! He’s back! He’s back!” in mock-opera. Liam looks to Zayn in that moment, because he feels good about remembering and expects Zayn to feel the same, only instead of saying anything or smiling or even just looking back at Liam, all Zayn does is slump down in his seat and let out a deep breath. Liam leans over the seat in front of him so that he can see Zayn better, and Zayn is smiling like he’s trying to hold it back. When he notices Liam, he scrubs a hand over his face, probably out of embarrassment.

“Hey,” Liam says quietly.

“Hey,” Zayn says back. “Been weird without you.”

“Yeah,” Liam says. “Been a bit weird for me, too.”

The other lads seem to catch on to the fact that Liam and Zayn aren’t paying them any attention, and in order to fix that, Louis and Niall start making kissy noises at them.

“Wait a minute,” Harry says. “Why is Niall up front?”

Louis looks around the van like he’s trying to understand what Harry’s saying, and when he does, he says, “Niall—Nialler! Switch with Liam. Switch seats, come on, and let the lovebirds sit together.”

And it’s not the biggest of deals, because it’s not like they can really do anything, sitting in the van with people following them and taking pictures, but Niall still throws himself over the back of the middle seat and into Harry and Louis’s laps, and then there are four people in the back and Liam has to struggle to climb over in the opposite direction, just to even things out.

When he’s finally seated next to Zayn, the first thing Liam does is punch him lightly on the arm and say, “You should’ve told me.”

“Yeah, right,” Zayn says. “Like that would have gone over well.”

“What?” Niall asks, and then Harry’s phone goes off, and he looks at it before typing something out rapidly.

“You forgot to mention that Zayn and I were dating,” Liam says, and the others all get very defensive about it.

“Well, I mean, you see—” Niall starts, his point dissolving into useless hand gestures.

“When a man and a man are in love—” Louis tries to explain.

“Not my business,” Harry says, still focused on his phone.

“Really, who are we to interfere?” Louis finishes.

“Plus, that was kinda Zayn’s area, anyways,” Niall says, and that makes Zayn sit up a bit in his seat, just enough so that he can reach over and give Niall a dead leg.

“At least now you can kiss me and not have to run away,” Zayn says, sitting back down, and he’s got this small smile on his face like he’s trying not to make fun of Liam, but isn’t really doing very well at it. Liam just slumps against Zayn’s shoulder and tilts his head back against the seat, groaning.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Niall says, like he can’t believe that Liam did something so unlike him. “You kissed him? Without even first holding a band meeting about it?”

“I know,” Liam groans. “I know. But it’s different, right?”

“No,” Niall says, and he laughs.

“And you didn’t know you two were dating? Like, at all?” Louis asks.

“Not a clue,” Zayn says, and he puts his arm along the back of the seat behind Liam’s shoulders, because it’s all over with now and he can.

“Wow,” Louis says. “That is some romantic stuff.”

“They should sell the story to Beeb Two,” Harry says, not bothering to look up from his phone. “Get a made-for-tv movie out of the deal.”

“I already did,” Liam says, as straight-faced as he can. “It’s expected to air in November.”

Harry’s head snaps up so fast that Liam can’t help it, can’t hold back his laughter, and neither can anyone else in the van.

 

When they get back to the hotel, the lads all go to order room service to Niall’s room, but Zayn and Liam say that they’ll catch up later, and keep walking down the hall. Louis makes a couple of grunting noises as they walk by, says, “Liam, Liiiiiiam,” and, “Oh, Zayn, you’re so hot,” but that’s all normal, anyways, and so none of them pay him any mind except for Harry, who finds it funny every time.

When they get inside Liam’s room, Liam pushes Zayn up against the door and then just stands there, their chests pressed together through their shirts. It feels good, to be close to Zayn again; it’s only been a few days, but Liam remembers each one like a year, and so he stands there, his nose mushed into the side of Zayn’s neck, and he breathes. Zayn smells like the same cologne he always uses, and it’s strange, how the tiniest details are the ones that seem the farthest away.

Liam scraps his teeth over the side of Zayn’s neck and then kisses his skin, runs over the light mark with his tongue. Zayn doesn’t move, and Liam wonders what’s wrong.

“Are you—” Zayn starts to ask, and Liam’s glad he doesn’t finish that thought.

“Are you?” Liam says, and that seems to snap Zayn back into himself, makes him flip them around so that Liam is the one pressed to the door, and Zayn is the one holding him there. He uses one foot to knock Liam’s feet apart, and then slots his thigh in between both of Liam’s, pins Liam’s hands back against the wall as he kisses him, hard at first, and with too much teeth, and Liam can barely hold back his groan. They kiss like that, like it’s been ages, for longer than Liam can say—five minutes or fifty, he doesn’t know—and when Zayn pulls away, Liam follows after him for one more kiss, and one more, and one more. Zayn stops him by placing one hand on Liam’s neck, feeling for Liam’s pulse with his fingertips, and Liam can’t help it, just tilts his head back as far as he can, because Zayn can do whatever he wants, and Liam wouldn’t mind.

“Didn’t actually know if I’d get you back,” Zayn says, moving his hand to brush Liam’s hair out of his eyes in an unexpected moment of stillness.

“Well, I’m here,” Liam says, and pulls his hands away from the wall, slides one up and under Zayn’s shirt, so he can place his palm flat on Zayn’s stomach.

“Yeah,” Zayn says, and then he smiles. “Fuck.”

He leans back in and kisses Liam again, this time slowly, and when he does, he reaches for Liam’s jeans, uses them to pull Liam close as he grinds their hips together. Liam’s halfway hard already, just from that—just from Zayn—and he scrambles to take Zayn’s shirt off, to run his hands over Zayn’s chest and to suck hickies onto Zayn’s collarbones.

“Hey, hey,” Zayn says, trying to tug Liam’s shirt off, too. “Come on.”

Liam pulls back for a second, but Zayn gives up and doesn’t help him take his shirt off; in the end, he just pushes it up until it’s bunched up under Liam’s armpits and he can kiss his way across Liam’s chest. There’s product in Zayn’s hair, but Liam tugs on it anyway when Zayn flicks his tongue across one of his nipples; he can’t help but arch closer to Zayn, and he can feel Zayn’s smile against his skin when he does.

Zayn moves to undo Liam’s belt buckle, to open the button of his jeans, and once he makes that move, Liam reaches forward to undo Zayn’s, to shove Zayn’s pants down his thighs as quickly as he can. He slides their cocks together and then wraps his fingers around the both of them, leans forward to kiss Zayn again, and none of this is new—none of it is new—but Liam wouldn’t give it up for anything. He thinks back to that morning, to when he kissed Zayn on the couch and how he didn’t even think about it because it felt so natural. It makes a lot more sense, now that he can remember everything.

Zayn braces himself with one hand against the wall, and then wraps the fingers of his free hand around Liam’s hand, his fingers fitting in the spaces between Liam’s fingers, both of their hands wrapped around their cocks. Zayn’s hand feels different, better, and Liam’s hips start stuttering embarrassingly fast; Zayn smiles at that like he’s proud of himself, and he nips at Liam’s lips.

“Shut up,” Liam says, but his voice catches in the middle, and it loses the effect. Zayn just laughs and tightens his fingers, and then before Liam can even say anything, he’s coming and struggling to keep his eyes open, just so he can see Zayn through it all.

Zayn comes a minute later, rocking forward on his toes and leaning his bodyweight into Liam’s, pressing Liam into the wall. Neither of them moves for a minute afterward, and they stand there like that, breathing heavily and pressed together from shoulder to hip, before Zayn finally straightens up, leans back in for one more kiss. Their hands are covered in their come, and Zayn reaches forward, uses it to write his name across Liam’s stomach, ZAYN across his pale skin.

“That’s nice,” Liam says, and he laughs a little.

“Yeah,” Zayn says, and then he moves in to kiss Liam again, the skin of their stomachs pressing together and spreading the ZAYN out until it becomes unrecognizable. It makes Liam want to run through a shower, but he doesn’t say anything, just stands there with Zayn a little while longer, just the two of them, just because he can.

 

The boys don’t make any jokes when he and Zayn finally stumble into Niall’s room, and that’s almost worse than if they did make jokes, and they probably know it. Instead, they’ve got burgers and chips waiting under covered plates, and Liam takes one for himself and passes the other to Zayn, before moving to sit in the empty armrest. Zayn sits next to him on the floor, his back resting on the chair just to the side of Liam’s legs, and Liam likes that, that Zayn is close.

“Let’s make sure you’ve actually got it all back,” Louis says, like his own idea is brilliant.

“Alright,” Niall agrees, not even waiting to hear Liam’s thoughts on the subject. “Do you remember that time you ripped your pants on stage and had to stay up there, with everything hanging out, until the next break?”

“Everything wasn’t hanging out!” Liam says in an attempt to preserve his dignity. “It was just sort of—it was contained! But I do remember my ripped pants, yeah.”

“I didn’t really mind it so much,” Zayn says, and Liam flicks his ear, accidentally getting ketchup on him.

“Sorry,” Liam says, laughing a little as he wipes it away.

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Zayn says, and Liam just rolls his eyes even though he can’t see it.

“But what about this,” Louis says. “Do you remember winning at the Brit Awards?”

“And the McDonald’s afterwards,” Liam says around a bite of hamburger.

“Okay,” Harry says, and he straightens up like this is the big test. “But do you remember inviting me into a three-way with you and DJ Malik?”

There’s a silence after that than Liam can almost feel in his bones, and then everything erupts, everyone laughing and Zayn wrapping a hand around Liam’s ankle as Liam says, “Absolutely not! That never happened!”

And Harry just shrugs, says, “Worth a shot, I suppose.”

Louis looks at him with a face that is nothing but bad news, and he asks, “Are you feeling unloved, Hazza?” He dives on top of Harry, knocks him to the ground as he pretends to kiss him and show him that he is indeed loved.

It’s a lot less entertaining than it should be, and Zayn turns around, cranes his neck so he can look at Liam as he asks, “Good to be back?”

Liam runs his fingers over the short hair on the side of Zayn’s head, and he thinks about what it was like, not knowing anyone, and how hard it is now to reconcile the two worlds, the knowing and not knowing. It’s always hard to be away from home, but it was so much more difficult, being away and doing what he does, only without having the lads as his brothers; it makes him realize just how lucky he is, and how good he’s got it.

He looks at Zayn and Zayn looks back at him like he’s the only thing that matters, at least in that moment, and Liam wonders if it’s even possible for him to want anything more than what he’s got.

“Good to be back,” Liam agrees, and he lets Niall grab a handful of chips off his plate.