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"Hello, Liam Payne," says the boy in front of him. Liam frowns a little bit, but then he feels rude and so he says instead, "Hello." It sounds a lot more solemn than he meant it to.

"Hello," the boy says again. "I'm Louis. I'm from the newspaper. The university newspaper, I mean, not the actual one."

"I didn't even know we have a newspaper," Liam says, a little bit lost. The boy --  Louis, he corrects himself mentally, because it's rude not to use someone's name -- nods vigorously. It's also possible that he's bouncing on his feet a little bit.

"We do," he informs Liam. "I actually half-joined because I thought you'd be on it. I thought you seem like the sort of lad who'd be on a paper. Writing -- I don't know, not exposés on the shameful world of the university society system, you're too nice for that, maybe you'd write literary analysis or something. But you don't, anyway." He peers at Liam, a little suspiciously. "Or do you, and I just don't know about them?"

"I don't," Liam says, although Louis still looks like he maybe doesn't entirely believe him. "I don't like writing that much. I don't like reading that much, either." He shrugs a shoulder. "I study music."

There's a silence, as though Louis isn't entirely sure what to do with this information. Liam has the feeling that maybe he should do something else -- or say something else, but he doesn't really have anything else to say, not unless Louis wants him to elaborate on what he's studying and Liam doubts that.

"Well," Louis says eventually, shoving his hands into his pockets and still bouncing slightly. "You are breaking down all my false perceptions, Liam Payne. Everything that I presumed to be true about you. And," he adds wisely, "you know what they say you do when you presume."

"Er, no, I don't," Liam replies.

Louis frowns. "Me either, actually, I think I got mixed up with something else. Either way, I think the gist of it is that you shouldn't do it. It's bad."

"Right," Liam says, just for lack of anything else. "Um. That's good."

"It is," Louis agrees. He doesn't say anything else. It's times like this that Liam wishes he was more like his sister; Ruth can talk to anyone about anything and she never has awkward silences -- or she doesn't notice them if she does. Liam has too many awkward silences, and he's left frantically searching his brain for something to say. He doesn't really want Louis to leave, even if he doesn't know why he's here which is stupid, because he doesn't even know Louis but he knows that he does like having him around.

Luckily, Louis speaks again before Liam does. "Anyway! I'm from the newspaper, which we've established, and I'm here to tell you, Liam Payne, that I'm doing a profile on you."

"You can just call me Liam," Liam says, before he catches up to the rest of what Louis's said. "Hang on, what? Why are you doing that?"

"Because you're the team's star runner," Louis insists, striking a ridiculous pose. "The people want to know. I am here to serve the people. Serve them up a nice dish of Liam Payne."

"You can call me Liam," Liam repeats hesitantly. "I mean, my surname, you don't -- you don't need to add that. All the time, I mean."

"I am a reporter," Louis says grandly. He's still posing. Liam isn't sure what to make of it. 

"Sorry, I thought there was going to be more to that," Liam says. "But apparently not. Um." There's another few seconds of silence and Liam kind of maybe wants to die a little bit, because he can't shake the feeling that he should be doing or saying something. It makes it easier if Louis has to be around him, or maybe it makes it worse. Liam's life sucks. 

"Well, I am going to watch your morning practice tomorrow and then follow you around all day," Louis says, and adds quickly, "for the paper. A day in the life. Maybe more than a day, who knows, it depends how busy the day is and how busy your life is. Or how interesting those are. Either. Both."

"My morning practice is at six," Liam says, and thinks miserably that his life is also not interesting at all. It doesn't help that Louis's face falls when Liam tells him the time and Liam is basically just thinking at this point that he might never have to see Louis again, once Louis decides that Liam is not the sort of person that should have a profile on them for the school paper, and that's probably a good thing all in all because this has been one of the worst experiences of his life so far. 

"That's not a time," Louis says. "Is that a time? I don't think I've ever seen it from the right side. Or the wrong side, the early way of seeing six a.m. is the wrong side, and the late way of seeing it is the right -- you know, the way where you stay up all night and drink vodka Red Bulls until you're vibrating so much that you can't go to sleep."

"Er, I don't think I've ever done that," Liam says and is seriously unprepared for the way Louis slings an arm around his shoulder and says, "Ah, then you have never lived, Liam. Li. Young Liam Payne."

"I thought you were going to stop using my surname for a moment," Liam says, but he can feel his mouth quirking at the corner in spite of himself and it must be enough of a giveaway for Louis to see it too, because he slaps Louis on the chest and steps away grinning. He also hooks both of his thumbs into his belt loops and sticks his pelvis out. It's the kind of thing that should look ridiculous -- everything that Louis does is the kind of thing that should look ridiculous, and yet instead it sends a flash of heat through Liam. 

It's gone too quickly for him to really worry about though which is good -- Liam is of the belief that he has more than enough things to worry about, and yet he still usually finds more. Or they find him. Either way.

"Never," Louis says cheerfully, and pats Liam on the shoulder before turning and skipping off -- literally skipping, literally. It takes Liam a few moments to realise that he's still staring after him.

-

"We have a university newspaper?" Niall says in amazement, over his pint. He's drinking Guinness, because he says he has to because he's Irish. Liam isn't sure why, as he knows that Niall really doesn't like it, but neither him nor Zayn say anything because it's kind of hilarious to watch Niall make himself drink it. "I didn't know that. Are you sure he wasn't lying? I don't think we have one."

"Right?" Liam says. "I'm sure we don't."

"We do," Zayn says, and shrugs when they both turn to look at him. He's the only one who doesn't have a drink at all and, judging by how dusty the glasses are, Liam thinks that's probably a good idea. Still, he's paid for this glass of Red Bull now and he's going to drink it. He can't really afford to waste his money. He wouldn't do even if he could.

"How do you know that?" Niall demands, and takes another sip of his Guinness. They both pause to watch him grimace. Still funny.

"Because unlike you two, I pay attention," Zayn says, which is blatantly untrue. "Also they did a profile on me a few months ago."

"Ohhh," Liam says. "Is that -- that clipping was your profile picture on Facebook for, like, ever, is that what paper that was from?"

Zayn frowns at him. "Yes."

"But that wasn't really a profile," Niall says, ignoring Liam's signals to not say that, because he knows it'll just piss Zayn off. "That was just one of those things where they take a photo of someone in the street and you have to tell them about what you're wearing."

"Originally it was," Zayn says, in the tone of voice that suggests he's had to explain this before. It's a little bit weary and condescending. Liam suspects that Zayn has practiced this. "But then they liked it so much that they profiled my style instead. In the street section."

"Well, I'm going to be in the sports section," Liam interjects, before they can get into an argument over what exactly constitutes a profile. "I think."

"You think," Zayn repeats dryly, and refuses to take it back when Liam gives him an injured look. "That bodes well."

"I don't know, the reporter was kind of..." Liam casts about for a suitable description and settles on "bouncy."

"'Bouncy,'" Zayn repeats, again. Liam needs better friends.

"Ah, that was Louis, then, am I right?" Niall says suddenly and beams at them. "I didn't know he wrote for the paper!"

"You know him?" Liam says. "Is he actually, um. Like that? All the time?"

"Yep," Niall says and manfully takes another sip of his pint. They both pretend not to notice that his eyes are watering. "Nah, he's a mate, is Louis. We had a drama module together last year."

"But you don't take drama," Liam says and Niall waves a hand. 

"Expressive performance art or something, I don't know. But I got 20 credits and I couldn't be arsed doing any business modules, one of them involved putting a project together. Most of the drama one just involved watching The Wizard of Oz, and Louis brought us brownies and made us listen to Dark Side of the Moon on his iPod. It didn't match up though."

"Brownies?" Liam says. "I didn't think he was the baked goods type. Were they nice?"

This time Niall and Zayn laugh so hard that Liam actually considers leaving the pub, only he hasn't finished his drink. Red Bull isn't really his kind of thing. Maybe it tastes nicer with vodka in it, but Liam thinks that his life is difficult enough without adding alcohol into the mix, even now that his kidney's fixed itself. 

"Oh, Liam," Zayn says eventually, and pats his shoulder patronizingly. "Never change."

-

Louis shows up halfway through Liam's morning practice, which is offputting enough that he trips and falls over a hurdle. He wasn't even supposed to be on the same track as the hurdles, so that's awkward. If Louis had shown up on time, it maybe wouldn't have been so distracting, but Liam had just about resigned himself to the fact that Louis wasn't going to show up and then the next time he looks up, there Louis is, with a coffee and what looks like it could maybe be a hipflask. Liam isn't sure. He doesn't want to be sure.

By the time he's picked himself up, Louis is waving madly at him and cheering, and the other runners can't seem to decide whether to give judging stares to Louis, Liam, or whether to just ignore them both completely. Liam is avidly hoping they'll all come down on the ignoring them completely side of things, but he's pretty sure that Max in particular is judging Liam. Max is Liam's least favourite of all the runners, and it's not just because Liam's completely envious of the way Max has a shaved head and Liam knows he'd look ridiculous if he did that. 

(Liam's always wanted to shave his head but one time Ruth put a pair of her tights over his hair to stretch it flat so he could see what he looked like. Once he managed to ignore the hosiery and the feeling of being a bank robber, they could both admit that it would be a terrible idea.)

Liam manages two more laps before the coach pulls him aside and says, "Look, it's not just you that he's distracting so please, please go over there and get him to stop."

"But practice isn't over for ten more minutes," Liam says, confused. Harris rolls his eyes.

"I don't care. You've finished early today. Call it a reward or whatever, just don't have your boyfriend show up here again, okay?"

"Okay," Liam says automatically, then his brain catches up and he says, "Wait, what?" It's too late. Harris has already turned away and started to bark orders at everyone. Max smirks at Liam in a way that suggests he knows exactly what just happened. Well, not exactly, but that he gets the general tone of it. Liam doesn't hate anyone but if he did, Max would probably be a contender. Instead, he takes a drink of water and makes his way over to Louis, who is now draped all over the railing and grinning.

"Hi!" Louis says delightedly. "Look how early it is! I think I saw the sunrise this morning! I'm not sure, because I was throwing things around my room and complaining about how early it is, but I checked on my phone after and apparently sunrise was at six, so I probably did and just didn't realise."

"Probably," Liam agrees, because it seems easiest. "I need to go have a shower."

"Can I sit in the locker rooms while you do?" Louis asks, jumping up and swinging his bag onto his shoulder. He's holding an actual pad of paper and a pen, like a plucky boy reporter, and Liam can't believe he actually just thought that. He's willing to bet that it's what Louis is going for, though. "You have locker rooms, right? I've never done sport apart from footie, well, I say footie and I mean kicking a ball around. Sometimes while drunk."

"We have locker rooms," Liam says. 

"Cool!" Louis says, and gestures ahead of them. "Lead on, MacDuff."

Louis is stupidly amazed by the locker rooms, even though Liam is willing to bet that he's been in one before. He hangs his bag on the peg next to Liam's and says, "Oh my God, do we get to talk about our conquests? That's pure lad banter, isn't it, that's what we should talk about in the boys' locker room."

"I... don't do that," Liam says slowly. "And even if I did, I don't want my, er, conquests, in the paper."

Louis looks blank for a moment, as though he's forgotten that he even writes for the paper, but then it's gone in a flash and he laughs too loudly and elbows Liam in the side. "I bet you don't, you rogue, you. You're a heartbreaker, Liam Payne, I can tell."

"Please don't write that," Liam says hopelessly. "Also I've got to get in the shower now, you're okay here, right?"

"That I am, Liam, that I am," Louis says. "I kind of feel like I want to start singing 'Summer Lovin'' from Grease but I don't know why, they weren't in a locker room."

Liam says, "Okay," and goes to take his shower.

The thing is, Louis doesn't stop talking. He keeps up a stream of chatter that can somehow be heard over the running water, and it's just -- it's kind of weird trying to have a shower while Louis is talking to him. At him. It doesn't really require answers, but still -- Liam doesn't usually think about anyone in the university showers, because -- well, it would be weird. Other people use those showers. Liam's willing to bet they wouldn't want to use them if they knew that Liam had been standing around and thinking about people in them.

"..and so that's how we became best buddies for life," Louis finishes, when Liam is out of the shower and dressed (he'd left his clothes just outside of the cubicle so he didn't have to get dressed in front of Louis). "And you didn't hear any of that story, did you?"

"No," Liam admits, and resists the urge to shake his head like a dog to dry his hair off. "That's what happens when you talk to people while they're in the shower. Also it's kind of weird."

Louis beams up at him, handing him a towel. "I know. That's why I did it. I thought it was something we should experience together. We bonded. Now my profile of you will be better than ever, because I feel we've reached a new and deeper understanding."

"Okay," Liam says, once he's finished drying his hair. "What do you want to do now, then?"

"Hey, no, this is your life, not mine," Louis says immediately. "What do you usually do? Act as though I'm not here."

"I don't usually have a conversation while I'm in the shower," Liam grumbles, but it's obvious how little he cares.

-

Louis has procured a dictaphone from somewhere and is currently narrating every aspect of Liam's movements into it, much to the amusement of their waitress. He also started the narration by saying, "Captain's log, star date 41153.7," so Liam's not sure how seriously Louis is actually taking this. So far, Louis has reported that Liam likes mayonnaise  and  ketchup with his potato wedges and also that he mixes them together, and appears to be having a heated debate with himself about whether or not that is gross or inspired.

"Inspired," Liam says helpfully, and swirls the mayo and ketchup together some more with the top of a wedge. "Anyway, what do you study?"

Louis frowns at him and turns off the dictaphone, stealing a wedge. The fact that Liam is marginally surprised that Louis only takes one probably means that he spends too much time with Niall. " I'm  profiling you ," he says.

"Does that mean I can't talk to you?" Liam asks. He means it as a genuine question -- Louis seems to come with his own set of rules and Liam is willing to bet that a reporter does as well. Maybe you can't talk to them like you can a normal person, or maybe Louis just isn't a normal person. Maybe both are true. Liam is currently trying not to think about it too much, because he very much likes doing the done thing in terms of social interaction and Louis kind of makes his head hurt. 

"I suppose not," Louis says, after a while. "I study English and Drama."

"Oh, that's how you know Niall, then," Liam says without thinking. "He did a drama module the other year. Although he said you just ate things and watched movies."

"Pretty much," Louis agrees. "That was in first year, though, there's a lot more essays now. A lot more than you'd think there would be for a course that should really just involve acting, English part of the degree aside. I just want to roll around on the floor all the time, if I'm being honest."

Liam doesn't doubt that he is. "That's like music," he says. "You'd think it would just be playing music, but it isn't. There's reading involved."

"Oh no, not reading," Louis says. "We know how much you hate reading."

"I do," Liam says, and eats another wedge. "Are you making fun of me?"

Louis shrugs, but his eyes soften and he takes off his beanie hat to scrub a hand through his hair. "A little bit," he says. "Affectionately, though, so it's okay."

Liam wasn't really bothered anyway. He would be if it was anyone else, because one of the things that Liam hates the most is being made fun of -- he never knows how to react and he definitely doesn't know how to play along so he usually just stands there like a lemon while everyone laughs at him and he pretends he doesn't mind. It's different with Louis, though; he's not doing it for an audience and it seems -- well, affectionate, almost. Not quite because that would maybe be weird, but more along those lines.

"So what are your essays about?" he says instead, because he knows that's guaranteed to get Louis talking, and Liam likes listening to him -- Louis makes a lot of hand gestures, and it's entertaining to watch. It also means that he inadvertently throws Liam's potato wedges about, particularly when he uses them to demonstrate some play or other, but Liam can't quite bring himself to care too much when Louis's eyes are bright and he's so animated and genuinely excited by what he's saying. 

-

Liam doesn't usually get bored in class. He actually really likes his classes, and Music in Film is one of his favourites, but for some reason he just can't concentrate. It's partly because he keeps thinking of Niall and Louis watching The Wizard of Oz which is really stupid and he's not even jealous, as much as he does like The Wizard of Oz. Maybe he is a bit, because Niall met Louis first, and Liam had kind of liked feeling like Louis was -- not  his , a person can't belong to someone, that's stupid, but. Kind of like Liam had him first. Not that Liam has him at all.

Liam slides down in his seat a little bit, pushing a hand through his hair. He's still not used to having a quiff thing -- Zayn made him change the style after Liam messed up his old hair too much and constantly looked like he'd just got out of bed but not in a good way. Not in an artfully messy way, more a genuinely just got out of bed and hadn't brushed his hair way. Which isn't fair, because Liam brushes his hair every morning . Niall is the one that doesn't even own a brush, and  his  hair always looks fine. With a start, Liam realises that he's missed the last  fifteen minutes  of the lecture, this is terrible, and now he has little to no idea what the lecturer is even talking about. He'll need to go to Johnson's office hours and try and ask subtlety about the entire lecture.

His phone buzzes against his leg.

hiii

Liam frowns. He doesn't recognise the number. He's about to text back when it vibrates in his hand again.

Is there anything better on TV than Friends ???

Liam glances at the lecturer but now he's talking about an extended case study of Magnolia as a film script and Liam doesn't know what Magnolia is, so he figures he might as well text back. Besides, he's got an idea of who it is.

Louis hw did u get my numberr? ? im in schoolll 

The reply comes almost instantaneously;  niall gave me it also i thought youd be a better texter than this i dont know why .

Then:  spellingwise i mean. you never answered my qestion anyway xx

The girl next to him is giving him a dirty look and Liam feels like he should apologise, but he switches his phone to silent so really he's not bothering anyone. If she's looking at him while he's texting then that's her fault really and anyway, for all she knows, Liam could be taking notes on his phone.

i like friends , he writes laboriously,  i like ross because im like him haha :) .

Louis calls him after the lecture -- Liam doesn't know how Louis knows what time it's over but he's absolutely not going to ask, because he's not certain that he wants to know the answer. Still, he answers without thinking about it and only realises afterwards that he hates talking on the phone. It's too late by then.

"Ross?" Louis says. "Really? You're like  Ross ? You actually want to be like Ross Geller?"

"Dinosaurs," Liam says, and concentrates on trying to close the flap of his satchel with one hand. "I like dinosaurs."

"There is more to Ross Geller than  dinosaurs ," Louis says loftily. "I don't think you quite understand the complexity of Friends, Liam. There is more to Friends than just dinosaurs."

"Right," Liam says, and tries to pretend that he isn't smiling stupidly at the phone. Honestly, he thought Louis would have got bored of him by now. He definitely didn't think that Louis would want to talk to him when he's not even around him. Having a conversation face to face is different, because if the person is boring than you can look at other things or text people under the table -- not that Liam would do that, because it's really rude, but some people do. But if you call someone on the phone then you've got to at least concentrate on the conversation a little bit, especially if you're not calling for any reason other than to talk to them. Liam didn't think -- but anyway.

"There  is ," Louis insists. "And Ross is almost the worst character. You might as well be Gunther. Besides, I don't think you're a Ross. Maybe you're more of a Monica."

"I'm not Monica," Liam says firmly. "Who are you, anyway? Chandler?"

"I like that you associate the wittiest character with me, Li," Louis says. Liam would be mildly pleased that Louis seems to have dropped his full name, but he's pretty sure that Louis called him 'Li' just to make his sentence sort of rhyme. "But no. I think I'm Mike. Maybe."

"Mike?" Liam doesn't remember a Mike.

"Paul Rudd," Louis explains. "I think you need a rewatch if you don't know who Mike is. Phoebe's erstwhile boyfriend. Is erstwhile a word? I feel like it is but now I've said it I'm second guessing myself. Hang on."

There's a clacking sound and Liam gives up on trying to walk and pay attention at the same time and sinks down onto a nearby wall instead. He feels like the people who walk past are judging him, but they're also not on the phone to Louis Tomlinson so they can't really understand. Ill-informed judgement. "What are you doing?"

"Googling 'erstwhile'," Louis says, as though it should be obvious. "Good news! It's a word. Bad news, it means 'former', and Mike isn't Phoebe's former boyfriend so I guess I used it in the wrong context. Disappointing. It seemed like such a good word though, I was really excited to use it in a sentence, but now it's just upsetting because it didn't make sense."

"That is disappointing," Liam agrees inanely. He's lucky it's a really nice day today. It's a bit  too  nice actually, he's kind of too warm. There should be more of a breeze. "I'm sure you'll have another opportunity to use it though."

"I will make sure of it," Louis tells him. "What are you up to, anyway?"

"Sitting on a wall," Liam says. "It's a nice day today."

"It is," Louis agrees. "Why are you on a wall? Are there no -- actually, no, why am I conforming to the idea that people should sit on benches? Sit on all the walls you like, Liam Payne. Rebel against benches. I might put that in the profile. Liam Payne chooses to sit on walls. Walls are good, I like walls. They do a job that needs doing. Feel free to tell me to shut up at any time, by the way."

"I like listening to you talk," Liam says before he can help it. He doesn't wish he hadn't though -- it's a bit embarrassing but he  does  like listening to Louis talk and it also seems like maybe Louis needs to know that.

"Oh," Louis says, as though he wasn't expecting that. "Well. Good. Because I talk a lot."

"I had noticed," Liam says. Zayn walks past him and does a double-take, walking backwards a few steps until he's stood in front of Liam. There's cherry blossoms in his hair from the tree, which is the best thing. Whether Zayn knows or not, Liam isn't going to point it out to him. "I have to go, though."

"Of course you do," Louis says, regaining his momentum. "Because you are a busy person. I know this because it's in my notes. Which I have, because I'm doing a profile on you."

"You are," Liam says. "Bye, Louis."

"Until next time," Louis says ominously, and hangs up before Liam does. 

"Well," Zayn says, and shoves his hands in his pockets, staring at Liam. "You don't usually talk on the phone. Not unless it's your family. Everyone okay?"

"Everyone is fine," Liam says. He's still got butterflies in his stomach from talking to Louis, though, so he's not sure it's true. "Just. That was Louis."

" Oho ," Zayn says (which he strongly denies later) and takes the opportunity to sit down next to Liam and elbow him in the side. "Well. If it was  Louis ."

"It was," Liam says. "It is."

"You two are getting pretty friendly," Zayn continues. "You know I'm going to have to meet him sooner or later. Have a word, man-to-man, like."

"No," Liam says, and very carefully doesn't point out that, hello, they're pretty much the  least manly  people ever. Zayn has  cherry blossoms  in his hair. Maybe even on purpose. "He's just doing a profile on me."

"And that requires phone conversations, does it," Zayn says. "That probably weren't anything to do with sports, I reckon."

"We were talking about the tv show Friends," Liam says and kicks his heels against the wall. "That could be to do with the profile."

Zayn starts to say something then stops, and smiles at Liam instead. "Right," he says, and jumps off the wall, brushing his pants down before holding out a hand to Liam. "C'mon. Niall's probably thinking we've abandoned him, we're supposed to be having a game of pool in like ten minutes, don't tell me you've forgotten."

"I haven't," Liam says. (He had.)

-

"So I'm not allowed to sit in on your classes," Louis says conversationally, sliding into the seat opposite Liam at their cafe.  The  cafe. Liam definitely didn't just think of it as theirs. "Which is sad."

"Which is good," Liam corrects him. "Did you order the wedges?"

"No, we agreed we were going to try the curly fries, remember?" Louis says, and rolls his eyes. "Yes, I ordered both. You eat tons, it's stupid. And wait, what do you mean, 'good'?"

"You're disruptive enough in your own classes, I doubt you'd be any better in mine," Liam says, and reaches for the ketchup bottle in anticipation. Louis stops him with a hand on his wrist and -- there's that flash of heat again, and there's Liam supressing it again.

"How would you know? Have you been sending spies, no, a  mole  into my classes, Liam, because I thought that Nathan looked shifty but then I thought maybe that's just how his face looks."

"Well, I don't know," Liam admits, and waits until Louis lets go of his wrist to lift the ketchup bottle out of the condiment basket and set it by his plate instead. It never hurts to be prepared. "But you got banned from my practices so I thought--"

"Wait, wait, wait," Louis interrupts, and slams both his hands down on the table. "I'm  banned ?" He looks almost hilariously indignant.

"I thought you knew!" Liam says, and reaches for the mayonnaise. "You haven't been to any after that first one."

"That's because they're at  six a.m. , Liam," Louis says. "Which we have already established is not a time to be seen from the wrong side."

"We did establish that." Liam has realised that he spends a lot of time agreeing with Louis, but he figures it's usually just buying enough time for him to mentally translate whatever Louis says into almost-normal-person-speak. "But you're still banned."

"Oh." Louis makes a face, and steals the mayonnaise back, spreading a napkin out on the table. "My cheering was too much for them, I see."

"Something like that," Liam says, and tries his hardest to pretend that he can't see Louis uncapping the mayonnaise bottle to start emptying it onto his napkin. At least, Liam supposes, it's on a napkin and not the actual table. "Oh! But I mean -- no, but you don't have to, but if you wanted to, I've got a concert coming up. Not a proper one or anything, it's more an assessment, but we're allowed a guest and you can't go to my class -- but I doubt you'll need to, it's not really to do with sports." Sometimes Liam isn't certain why he's allowed to talk, or even be around other people.

Louis peers at him suspiciously, reaching for the ketchup bottle. "Hang on a minute, Liam Payne, are you inviting me to your concert as a special guest?"

"I think so," Liam says.

"I feel like a Band Aid," Louis announces. "Have you seen Almost Famous? It's really good. It made me want to do drugs. Have you ever done drugs? I feel like you'd be like Will from The Inbetweeners, don't be offended."

"I'm not," Liam says, and doesn't mention that he hasn't seen The Inbetweeners, except for the dance they do in the movie which Zayn and Niall made him learn because they thought it was hilarious. "Is that a yes?"

Louis doesn't answer, but he does slide his napkin across the table to Liam. There's a mayonnaise smiley face on it, and 'YES' is written sloppily in globs of ketchup next to it. Liam, in spite of himself, digs his phone out to take a photo.

"Are you Instagramming it?" Louis asks delightedly and Liam flushes, fumbling with his phone and almost dropping it.

"No," he says. "I don't -- I use twitpic, I think. What's the one that comes with the phone? Y-frog? Anyway, I wasn't putting it on Twitter, I just wanted a photo."

"Understandable," Louis says, and doesn't even sound sarcastic. "My mate Harry Instagrams everything. He likes being really cryptic though so all the girls think he's deep and meaningful."

"Does it work?" Liam asks and Louis narrows his eyes and says, " No , and you don't even have Instagram so you couldn't do it anyway."

"I wasn't going to," Liam says, a little taken aback by how forceful Louis's reply is. "I was just asking." Louis looks slightly mollified, and leans back in his chair.

"Well, it works for Harry, actually, but it wouldn't for you," he says, in a way that makes Liam think this is Louis trying to be helpful. "You're more the mysterious type. All stoic and silent."

"I don't think I am," Liam says doubtfully. "I just don't really have anything to say."

"You say loads to  me ," Louis says and then the wedges arrive, and they're so busy eating that there's not really time to say anything else.

-

Louis doesn't actually invite himself to the pub, but he shows up anyway halfway through the night. Liam was just starting to feel triumphant because he'd remembered not to order a drink and Niall had actually given in and got a Carlsberg for once, which is actually just as bad, from what Liam can tell, but it's something that Niall can actually drink so Liam is counting it as an improvement. Zayn has a glass of water, but he'd brought his own glass and transferred it. Liam can't decide if that's hilarious or just a really good idea, so he's reserving judgement.

All in all, everything was going entirely too well so he wasn't overly surprised when a hand landed on his shoulder and Louis said, "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello. What's all this then?"

"Hi, Louis!" Niall says loudly, beaming at him. Niall is also not on his first pint, or even his second or third. "Mate, I haven't seen you in ages, pull up a chair."

"Don't mind if I do," Louis says, and straddles a chair backwards. Liam still isn't surprised. He is, however, a little bit worried that maybe hanging around with Louis has made him lose the capability to be surprised. "What are you boys up to then? Breaking hearts, I'll reckon."

"Oh, is Harry with you?" Niall asks. 

"Ah, Harry, old mucker, old pal," Louis says, and pretends to swoon. "The greatest heartbreaker of them all. Yeah, he's at the bar, getting the drinks in. You two not having anything?" This is directed to Zayn, who actually deigns to grace Louis with a smile and lifts his glass of water in acknowledgement. Louis nods, and then elbows Liam in the side. "Same question to Blind Date Number Three."

"Oh! No, I don't drink," Liam says, and ignores the way Louis makes a show of digging his pad of paper and pen out of his bag to write that down importantly. "Um, I don't have two working kidneys."

"You do now," Niall chips in. "You didn't but then it fixed itself."

Louis is still scribbling things down. Liam is willing to bet that it isn't about his kidney.

"I don't want to risk it," he says instead, and then another boy joins them. He's really incredibly pretty.

"Hey, I'm Harry," he says, and pushes a pint of something towards Louis. "I'm guessing one of you is Liam Payne."

Liam starts to raise his hand but manages to stop himself -- judging by Harry's slight smirk, he didn't stop himself soon enough. "Er, I'm Liam," he says. "You don't need to use my surname all the time though, I usually just go by my first name."

"I'm Niall," Niall says, determined not to be left out. "And this is Zayn."

"Nice to meet you," Harry says, in a way that only sounds a little bit sarcastic.

"Louis says you're a heartbreaker," Niall says, and he only sounds a little bit like he's meeting a celebrity or something, so that's good. 

"Louis says you Instagram pictures of your food," Liam says, as drily as he can. It just comes out sounding curious, which -- he isn't. Liam doesn't even like Instagram. He doesn't really see the point in it.

"All true," Harry says, nodding. "I feel like a living legend, this is cool. What else does Louis say about me?"

"That you're an idiot," Zayn says and Louis looks up and says, "Ah yes, all true. Who could forget when you dropped your sunglasses in the toilet on more than one occasion?"

" I  could," Harry says and pokes Louis in the side. "And I had done, until you reminded me again."

"More than once?" Liam says, before he can help it (and he's not jealous of the way that Louis's attention is focused on Harry, not at all). "Didn't you, you know, learn?"

"I did," Harry says. "I learned how to drop my sunglasses in the toilet two different ways. I was actually wearing them the first time but then the second I remembered to take them off, and I did that thing where you hook them on the collar of your shirt like a wanker."

Liam very carefully doesn't look at Zayn, who does that with his sunglasses  all the time .

"Anyway, it didn't help," Harry carries on, happily unaware of the silent conversation that Liam and Zayn are having. "They still fell in."

" My  sunglasses have never fallen into the toilet," Niall says, sounding jealous. "I dropped my phone in my beer once, though."

"Well, we've all been  there ," Louis says. "Who hasn't done that? Par for the course on a night out, I reckon."

"I haven't," Liam and Zayn say at almost the same time, and Niall points an accusatory finger at them.

"That's 'cause you're both boring and you don't drink," he says. "It's not right. I don't know why I hang out with you."

"I don't either," Zayn says, but he kicks Niall's ankle under the table which means he cares.

-

"So do you always do this?" Louis says conversationally. Liam admires him; it's very difficult to carry on a conversation when you're carrying half of Niall Horan's body weight and he should know, being on the other half of it and all. Niall has an arm wound around each of them and is currently struggling to put one foot in front of the other; Liam thinks it's likely that Niall actually isn't walking at all and is just letting his feet skim over the ground. He's also singing what he swears down are Irish folk songs but this one sounds suspiciously like 'C'est la Vie' by B*witched. 

"Define 'this'," Liam says, and squeezes Niall's hand where it's draped around his neck. "Come on, at least pretend you're walking."

"Some people say I look like me dad," Niall informs him, and cackles.

"Is that from B*witched?" Louis asks, and Liam hisses, "Yes, but no, shut up, or he'll start trying to I-R-I-S-H D-A-N-C-E in a minute."

"I, R..." Louis mumbles, and his forehead wrinkles briefly then clears. "Oh! Right. Why'd you spell it out?"

"Because if I say it out loud then he definitely will," Liam says, "and considering the fact that he can barely walk, it'll end with a trip to A&E and they already think we're mental from when Zayn got the back of his earring somehow welded shut and had to have it surgically taken out." And he'd cried, but Liam doesn't add that part because he was sworn to secrecy. It was brilliant, though.

"He didn't," Louis says with horrified glee, and Niall chooses this moment to stop mumbling under his breath and say, "He did, and he cried and all."

" Really? " Louis says delighted, and Liam kicks Niall and says, "No he didn't, stop making things up just because you're drunk."

"Say you will, say you won't," Niall sings instead and Louis cracks up laughing.

"Oh my God, he's my favourite drunk person ever."

"You say that, you're not the one who usually has to get him home," Liam says darkly as Niall stumbles over the cobbles. "If I didn't already have a reason not to drink then he'd be one all on his own."

"Doesn't Zayn help?" Louis asks, sounding genuinely curious and Liam laughs without meaning to and says, "No, he always disappears before he has to. This probably counts as manual labour, that's not something Zayn ever does."

"Let's just get a taxi," Louis says, and rolls his eyes at the look on Liam's face. Liam's got no idea how he can even see him in the dark but then, he can just about make out Louis's expression so it's probably something like that. "It's fine, Liam, I can see you worrying about money already. I'll just claim it as expenses from the paper."

"Can you do that?" Liam asks and okay, maybe he's a bit relieved, but Niall is a lot heavier than he looks, especially when he refuses to walk. 

"No, but Harry can so it all works out the same," Louis says and manages to flag down a taxi in  record time . Liam is impressed. "C'mon, before he starts dancing."

"Dancing?" Niall says, perking up, and Liam says, "No, oh my God," and manages to bundle him into the taxi. The taxi driver turns around once they're all in and fixes Liam with a glare.

"If he throws up, you're paying extra," he says and Liam recognises the driver from a previous time. He's slightly impressed that the driver recognised  them , but then there probably aren't too many drunk Irish boys that get taxis regularly. Or not regularly anymore, because he'd stopped putting Niall in taxis after the last time he threw up in one. Liam can't afford that sort of expense.

"He won't throw up," Louis says, with more conviction than Liam could manage. "He's Irish, he can hold his liquor."

"He really can't," Liam mumbles, but Louis pushes his hand over Liam's mouth and hisses, "Shh, I've got this," in his ear. Liam would point out that between the two of them, he's the one who has more experience with a drunk Niall Horan, but he's too aware of the way Louis's breath tickles his ear and how warm his palm is over Liam's mouth. Louis holds it there a beat too long before dropping his hand awkwardly, sitting back in his seat.

"Ah, Louis, you should come out with us more often," Niall says from the front, twisting around in his seat. 

"Put your seatbelt on," Liam tells him, and then looks at Louis. "You too. If there's a crash--"

"I know, I know," Louis says, and rolls his eyes. He puts his seatbelt on though. Whatever, they might think that Liam's boring for insisting on seatbelts but they won't when it  saves their life  in the event of a car crash.

Niall lives with Zayn, which is why it's doubly unfair that Zayn always sneaks off before they have to get Niall home, but it also means that Zayn's looking sulky on the doorstep when the taxi pulls up. He brightens slightly until Niall stumbles out and giggles at him.

"I thought that the taxi meant he wouldn't be this drunk," Zayn says grumpily. "You usually make him walk home to sober up when he's like this."

"Louis's paying for the taxi," Liam says, as though that explains everything, and Niall pushes his shoulder and says, "Yes, because Louis likes you best of all."

Liam is really thankful that Louis is still in the taxi and also that it's dark enough that they can't see him blush. He's willing to bet that Zayn knows anyway, though. "Make sure he drinks lots of water," he says instead and Zayn rolls his eyes and says, "I know, it's not my first time dealing with him. We should just let him get a really bad hangover, he'd learn soon enough."

"He wouldn't," Liam says, "it just means that you'd have to put up with his moaning about how much he wants to die all day instead."

"I'd go out and leave him," Zayn says, but they both know that it's an empty threat and that Zayn will probably even bring Niall toast in the morning. Even Niall knows it, and he's had the best part of a brewery tonight.

"Anyway," Liam says, just as Louis hangs out of the taxi window and shouts, "I'm pining for you over here, Liam Payne, get back in the taxi!"

"You heard the man," Zayn says, and pushes Niall into the house before Liam can reply.

-

The taxi ride is silent, but not in an awkward way which is a new one to Liam and results in him spending the entire time wondering if it  is  awkward, just not for him, and also being quietly amazed at every second that goes by without Louis actually speaking. He is looking out of the window and humming 'C'est la Vie' under his breath though, so it's not entirely silent. More just devoid of conversation. 

"Well," Liam says finally, when the taxi pulls up outside of his house. "This is me."

"Eight pound, mate," the driver says and Louis says, "Nah, I'm going on to Crookes, you know where that is, right?"

"That'll be another fiver!" Liam says in horror. "Also it's like  twenty minutes away , Louis, it's already three a.m."

"Twenty minutes is not that long," Louis says, his mouth crooked into a smile but Liam has made his mind up because he can't expect Louis to spend  thirteen pounds  on getting them all home, especially when he's doing it as a favour to Liam.

"No, you're staying at mine," he says instead.

Louis stares at him for a few minutes but Liam is very definitely not budging on this one. "I can't do that."

"You can," Liam insists. "Also it'll be good for the, the profile. Because you'll get to see where I live. Like... Like MTV Cribs or something, you can see my crib."

"Your crib," Louis repeats, eyes dark and amused. "You're inviting me to see your crib."

"Yes," Liam says firmly, and is glad for the second time that night that it's dark enough that no one can see him flushing. "Thirteen pounds, Louis, that's too much. This is like -- five pounds can buy you a, a vodka and Red Bull."

"With some left over," Louis says solemnly, and shrugs. "Alright then, if you're sure." He digs in his pocket for money -- and those pants are  so tight , how can he even get anything in there, Liam absolutely doesn't think. Because he's not noticing how tight Louis's pants are. Because that would be weird. "Eight pounds, mate, there you go. C'mon, then, Liam, show me to your crib."

"I said that one time," Liam mumbles, and ignores Louis all the way to the door. Dani's got the dance class that she teaches early tomorrow, so she'll probably be asleep, but it's incredibly likely that Aiden will still be awake and Liam doesn't want to have to explain why he's brought someone back with him. Especially because it's not like that. "We've got a spare room, because we're awesome and also it was meant to be a four person house but we didn't -- anyway, you can stay in there."

"Okay," Louis mouths. He's probably trying to be quiet but the fact that he just walked into the table kind of cancels it out. Also the way he yelps, "Ow, shit! Liam, this is a stupid place for a table."

"In the kitchen," Liam says. "Okay. Right. It's actually a good place for a table, because this is where we have breakfast, but okay."

Louis grumbles under his breath as Liam carefully puts his keys in the key bowl and leads the way upstairs. The house always feels different at night; not quiet but hushed, and Liam feels sort of like an intruder but he's not. Besides, he never usually gets back this late except on weekends -- today was a special occasion, because Niall and Zayn wanted to interrogate him about Louis, but it's not his fault that they got distracted and spent most of the time talking about The Lorax instead. Niall thinks that it would look scary without a moustache, and Zayn wanted to dress up like The Once-ler for Halloween. Which would be okay, except that he wanted Niall to be the Lorax and Liam to be Ted. Which is a stupid idea, because no one would even know that Liam was dressed up, and Niall refused to dress up as the Lorax anyway.

The door to the spare room is closed, which isn't a good sign, but it's even worse when Liam hesitantly goes in and Matt's asleep in there. They really need some sort of rota for the spare room and shit, Liam doesn't know what to say now because it's all his fault that Louis is here. He made Louis stay and now he doesn't even  have a bed to offer him . This is probably Aiden's fault as well, but mostly Liam's. He closes the door and looks at Louis, who is hovering behind him.

"Um," Liam says, and exhales noisily. "So Matt Cardle is currently staying over, which I did not know."

"Okay," Louis says. He looks like he's trying not to laugh. "I can sleep on the couch, Liam, it's fine. I can already see you having an aneurysm over being a good host, don't worry about it."

"No,  I'll  sleep on the couch," Liam says horrified. "I wouldn't make you -- oh my God, no." He hurries up the next set of stairs to his room before Louis can argue -- Louis just trails after him, but Liam can tell that there is arguing in their near future. "Do you want pajamas?" he asks. "I have spare ones, if you do. Only it's pretty warm at the moment, so maybe you don't, I don't know. It's up to you. I have Superman ones though. Not that -- I mean, let's pretend I didn't say that, I don't even wear pajamas, I just sleep in a tshirt like everyone does."

"I would quite like Superman pajamas," Louis says solemnly. "Also is that your bed? Jesus, Liam, that's massive, why would any of us sleep on the sofa? We could share that. Niall and Zayn could share that with us and there'd still be room left over, it's like a desert."

Liam's bed is not like a desert. It is quite big though, and for some reason his stomach does an excited skip at the thought of sharing it with Louis, which is exactly why he shouldn't do that.

"I can see you thinking too much," Louis says decisively, and pulls his shirt over his head. Something pools in Liam's stomach -- except maybe a bit lower, and it's a cross between the flash of heat and the excited skip and this is the worst idea either of them have ever had,  ever . "It's too hot for a shirt though, but I want your Superman pajama bottoms, please. I can't sleep in these pants. I can barely sit  down  in these pants."

"They are quite tight," Liam says inanely, and busies himself finding his Superman pajamas. He should really have let Louis wear the Batman ones and then he could've worn the Robin ones except no, because that's the second worst idea ever and he shouldn't put them in matching pajamas. At least nothing matches with Superman except for Lois Lane and Liam isn't Lois Lane and he doesn't have Lois Lane pajamas anyway because they don't even  exist . He finds Incredible Hulk ones instead and hopes that Louis doesn't comment on the wide range of superhero pajamas that Liam owns. He only bought a couple of pairs before his family latched on and then that was all he got for Christmas and birthdays.

Liam keeps his shirt on, because he wants to keep skin to skin contact to a minimum. He's aware that he's already too hot. What would be worst, awkward skin touching or Liam being all gross and sweaty? This is like Sophie's choice. This is the worst night of Liam's night, no matter how much it kind of also feels like the best. 

"You're going to be too hot like that," Louis says and glares at him. "What if you get a fever?"

"You can't -- that's not how fevers work," Liam says, but Louis doesn't stop glaring at him until Liam gives in and pulls his shirt over his head. Louis looks away abruptly, and starts poking through the things on Liam's bedside table.

"You do like dinosaurs," he says, as though he'd suspected Liam of lying. "I still don't think you're Ross, though."

"Well, I don't think you're Mike," Liam says, and stands awkwardly at the side of the bed. "Um. Shall we. I mean."

"I  am  tired," Louis says, climbing into bed with no reservations and pulling the covers up to his chin. "Yes, I believe we shall. This is kind of like a slumber party, isn't it? Sleepover, even, I'm not American, I don't know why I said that. I never went to a sleepover, anyway. Lottie had them all the time but she wouldn't let me join in which wasn't fair but also a little bit fair, because it would've been weird. I wanted to watch Bring It On and paint my nails though, and it would've been even weirder if I did that on my own, so I never got to."

"I don't own Bring It On," Liam says, and slips into the bed next to Louis. It's a lie because he does but he left it at home and didn't bring it to uni with him. "Also I've got to be up at seven, I'm going for a run."

"That's fine," Louis says sleepily. "As long as you don't expect me to get up with you."

"I don't," Liam tells him, but Louis's yawning and pretty much already asleep so Liam closes his eyes. He feels like he'll never be able to fall asleep when every inch of him is so aware that Louis is right next to him and opens his eyes again, but then they fall closed on their own and Liam slips easily into sleep.

-

When he wakes up, he's got his arm slung over Louis and there's a moment where he can't remember what happened but he feels all contented and nice and Liam is so fucked, seriously. He manages to let go of Louis without waking him up which is a plus, because he wouldn't be able to deal with Louis this early in the morning, maybe (and Liam determinedly doesn't think about how nice it would actually be to wake up next to Louis every morning because that's stupid and also not going to happen). It's easy enough to change into his running stuff and he gets Louis a glass of water in case he wakes up when Liam isn't there. He's almost out of the door when a thought strikes him, and he goes back into the kitchen to write a note on the pad of paper they keep for reminders.

He leaves the note next to Louis with the glass of water.

Then he adds his name in brackets, just to make sure Louis knows it's from him. And a smiley face, because -- well, everyone likes waking up to a smiley face.

Running usually helps Liam clear his head but today it just means he doesn't have to think about anything except the way his feet feel pounding the pavement and how windy it is. It's nice, but he was hoping for a little bit more clarity. Maybe that would involve him having to actually think about things though and he's trying to avoid doing that because he's pretty sure that he has a massive crush on Louis and -- oh. Well. That probably counts as clarity, because it's pretty clear to him. It's okay though, Liam thinks, in the rhythm of his run. Because it doesn't have to change anything. All it means is that Liam's going to be more aware of the heat flashes, and that's -- fine, really.

Louis isn't in when he gets back, but there's a 'thank you!!!' scribbled across the note and some eyebrows added to his smiley face. The glass of water is empty.

-


-

With everything that's going on (okay, there's not really anything important going on but Louis and Harry keep coming to the pub and somehow they all become a  group , or at least Liam figures that's what has happened because they're all Facebook friends now and Harry keeps leaving videos of cats on Liam's profile) Liam forgets that he invited Louis to the concert. It's a good thing, really, because that would be an extra thing to worry about on top of everything else that he has to worry about with the concert coming up. Liam has to have an  individual performance  and just because he's been rehearsing since he pretty much read in the module outline at the beginning of the year that would happen doesn't mean that he feels ready for it. Liam never really feels ready for a performance until he's actually on stage singing, and he's sure that's only because his brain switches off when he sings. That's part of why he likes it so much.

Zayn and Niall don't come, mainly because Liam didn't really want them to, but he still gets good luck texts from both of them and Niall sends him a picture of a pint and writes  it's waiting for u UP THE LADS as long that makes any sense at all. As though Niall could sit in front of a pint and  not drink it  and Liam isn't even going to the pub after this anyway. Instead, he concentrates on his breathing exercises and runs over the music in his head. Maybe Michael Bublé is too ambitious? Maybe he should be wearing something fancier than a tshirt and jeans (his nicest jeans, but still) in order to distract from his singing in case it's really bad. They were told casual, but maybe if Liam wore a suit then it would've helped.

"Payne!" Johnson hisses, and nods sharply at him. "You're up next."

Liam remembers to breathe. In and out. He can do this. He does this all the time, this breathing thing, it's easy. Simple. Simples, like the meerkat on the car insurance advert. Oh God, he's going to fail.

Except he isn't, he doesn't, because he steps out on stage and it's even better than running, the way his head clears and there's nothing there except singing -- the notes ringing through him and the music starts and Liam has got this. He has  totally  got this. The music builds to a crescendo and then -- Liam sings.

Halfway through he catches sight of Louis, right in the middle, with the electricity sparking from him and Liam striding around like he owns the stage -- which he does right now, and Louis smiles at him and --

"Now you say you love me," Liam sings. "Well, just to prove that you do..."

Liam's always been the best that he can be on stage. He gives 100% but something about the way Louis looks, sat right in the middle of the front row and beaming up at him like Liam is really and truly the best thing he's ever seen, bumps him up to the extra 110% and Liam is sure -- he just hits this, this moment, this energy in him and he draws on it and it's like nothing he's done before and he's flying because holy shit, this is amazing, this is the best that he has ever been and his focus has narrowed to nothing but the song and the way that Louis is looking at him.

He's not sure that his feet even touch the floor as he makes his way off stage to rapturous applause. Johnson congratulates him, a hand on his shoulder, but Louis is already backstage and before he knows it, Liam is almost knocked off his feet as Louis barrels into him and hugs him tightly.

"You were amazing!" Louis says and Liam can almost hear the extra exclamation marks. "Oh my God, Liam Payne, you have the voice of an angel, except it was kind of dirty in parts so maybe a fallen angel if you know what I mean. But seriously, why didn't I know you can sing like that? Why didn't you  tell me  you can sing like that?"

"I forgot you were coming," Liam says stupidly, and Louis's expression flickers for an instant as he steps back.

"Oh. Sorry, I mean, if you didn't want me to -- you did ask me a while ago, I didn't mention I was still coming, I guess."

"No, I didn't--" Liam says, because he's not really very good at words after singing, it's like his brain gets stuck on onstage. He grabs Louis's hand before he has time to think about it and pulls him closer again. "It was good. I saw you and it was really good, it made me better."

"Oh," Louis says again, and bounces a little on his feet. "Well then, that's okay, isn't it. You were so good! If it's because of me then I'm taking all the credit, though. Don't you have any flowers? I was going to bring you some like you do for people in a play but then I didn't."

"I'm just glad you're here," Liam says honestly, and something changes again in Louis's expression. For someone who seems to be incapable of not showing all their emotion on their face, Louis can be really hard to read sometimes.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," he says softly, and Liam can't stop smiling the entire night.

-

"So, you and Louis," Zayn says and then smiles beatifically when Liam frowns at him. "You got in his pants yet?"

"I -- no," Liam says. "Have you got in Perrie's?"

"Like I'm telling you that," Zayn says, which means that he'll probably call Liam at two a.m. to angst about his fear of commitment. "And no changing the subject."

"I wasn't," Liam says, which is a blatant lie and he's pretty sure that even the barman just glanced at him reproachfully and he doesn't even know the situation. Liam's life is ridiculous. "I was just saying--"

"Well, don't just say," Zayn says, and makes an aborted gesture to push his hands through his hair. "Unless you're just saying that you want in Louis Tomlinson's pants."

"Obviously I do," Liam says, because he learned a while ago that he's a shitty liar and also, even if he wasn't, there's never been any point in lying to Zayn or Niall. "But he's not interested."

"You've been almost inseparable for months," Zayn says. "He came to your concert. I don't get your lack of perception, here."

"Big word," Niall says, and cracks up laughing. "He is into you, though, Li."

"It's the paper," Liam says. "The only reason he even -- it was for the paper."

"Yeah, keep telling yourself that, mate," Niall says. "If that's true then why's he still hanging around you?"

"Because... it's true. That's why he's still hanging around me. Because of the paper," Liam says, and can't quite shake the feeling that he's not following the conversation. Zayn catches his eye just so he can shake his head sadly at him, which doesn't help. 

"No, but listen, right, it's not," Niall says excitedly, and Liam and Zayn automatically move their drinks out of the reach of Niall's arms. Niall tends to flail more than a little bit when he gets overexcited, and they've all learned the hard way how far he can accidentally reach. "Because Zayn was reading the paper and your profile was in there months ago."

Liam says, "What."

Zayn is nodding sagely. "It was three paragraphs," he says. "Just about how long you've been running, when practices are, a quote from Harris about you and that was about it, mate. It was a sports profile, not a double spread."

"But," Liam says, his mind working overtime to try and understand, like, the past few months of his life. It doesn't leave much room for articulation.

"Exactly," Niall says, and nods his head up and down as well. He's a bit too enthusiastic though, so it looks less wise buddha and more nodding dog on the dashboard of someone's car.

"That doesn't make sense," is the response that Liam decides on and Zayn shrugs a shoulder at him, although there's a sense of wicked laughter in his dark eyes.

"Talk to him, then, mate," Zayn says.

Liam lifts his elbows from the sticky table and puts his hands in his lap instead, before reaching for Niall's Guinness. "Maybe I will," he says, and drains the last few drops because if he's ever, ever needed to drink alcohol then it's definitely after making a decision like that.

Then he has to go to the toilet and throw up a little bit, because Guinness is actually disgusting and he now has a lot more understanding of the faces Niall always makes while drinking it.

But still. His decision is made.

-

Liam arranges to meet Louis at their cafe automatically, and realises afterwards that when this inevitably goes horribly wrong then he'll never be able to go back there because of all the bad memories. Which is a pity, because they do really awesome potato wedges, but then his brain gets stuck on all the ways that this  can  go horribly wrong and Liam almost has a panic attack. Louis arrives at just the right time to do give Liam a weird look and say, "Breathe, Liam Payne, don't tell me you've forgotten how to do that."

He sits opposite Liam and picks up a napkin, followed by the ketchup and mayo, which is never a good sign and Liam doesn't want to be left with napkin memories so he figures that he'd better say what he's got to say as quickly as possible. Then he can run away and hide under his covers in bed, and Zayn can come over and make fun of him and Liam can want to die in peace. Anyway. Talking. Louis's already eyeing him like he knows something is wrong, like everything is  going  to be wrong, and Liam makes himself take another deep breath.

"So I don't actually read the newspaper," he starts and Louis interrupts him almost straight away, his voice brittle and too bright.

"That's it?" he says. "That's your big confession, well, Liam, you have cut me to the quick." His hand is already over his heart and he's almost manic which -- as though this isn't hard enough. Is it hard? Not in a bad way, maybe, just in a way where Liam struggles to talk about things sometimes and it's not any easier when Louis seems like the last thing he wants to do is hear what Liam has to say.

"No, just -- that's not," Liam says and tries not to get frustrated. "I meant, I'm sorry but I don't, I told you I don't like reading and I tried once, and I read one of your articles and it was funny but I didn't really pick it up after that again."

Louis opens his mouth and closes it again without saying anything. Liam's relieved, in spite of himself. He tries to remember what came next and can't help thinking that he should've written bullet points down like he wanted to, and Zayn and Niall shouldn't have stopped him. People usually have note cards when they make speeches, and there's no reason why this should be any different. He doesn't have note cards, though, so instead he just has to remember.

"Zayn reads it, though," he says eventually, and tries not to notice the way Louis's hands are compulsively clenching and unclenching into fists by his side. "And he said, the other day -- I mentioned you and he said, oh, are you two hanging out now then, and I didn't know why, but then he told me that your profile on me actually went into the paper last month, and it was only about three paragraphs."

He thinks for a moment that Louis is going to walk off, or at least not answer him, but then Louis says "Yes," so softly that Liam barely heard it. 

"Oh," Liam says, a little surprised. "Well. I just -- I'm sorry, but I just -- why..."

"Why am I still hanging around?" Louis asks, in that brittle, horrible voice and laughs. There's no humour in it. "Good question, I've been asking myself that."

"Was it," Liam starts, and stops, and then changes his mind and carries on. "Are you writing something else making fun of me?"

"What?" Louis says, and he seems genuinely surprised. "God, no! Is that really what you think of me, Liam?"

"I just don't understand why else you want to be around me," Liam says, and he's desperate enough that it's the truth. He can't think of any other way to ask it -- he's not good with words, he's  not , and he didn't mean to insult Louis but he just needs to know.

Louis eyes him and then says emotionlessly, "I told you, Liam. I only really joined the paper because I thought you'd be on it. And then I actually wasn't supposed to do the profile on you, I don't really write for the sports page, but I asked Olly to let me and he did. I thought -- after that, I mean, I thought we were mates."

Liam thinks that he might be sick. Mates. Of course. "But why didn't you tell me the profile was in then?"

"Because what if we  weren't ," Louis says, in the same toneless sort of voice. "I like you, Liam, and I thought that I'd made that obvious by now but you didn't seem to -- so I thought I'd just keep my excuse, so you'd keep me around. Sorry about that."

"But," Liam says desperately, "none of this makes any  sense , because I'm the one that neeeds to keep  you  around."

"No you don't, I'm annoying," Louis says. "That's why I needed the excuse, keep up, Liam."

"You're not annoying," Liam says desperately. "You make me better at singing and I want to wake up next to you but I was scared you'd go after the, the profile thing, but apparently it's not and you haven't and I don't understand because I'm  Ross ."

"I don't like Ross," Louis says and he's hesitant, like he finally understand what's going on. This is especially good, because Liam still doesn't. "But I like you, if that's what you're getting at. I told you, I only joined the stupid paper because of you and I don't -- I'm confused as well --" oh great, Liam thinks miserably, so maybe neither of them understand what's going on "--but I want to wake up next to you as well. But I didn't think  you  wanted that."

"I do," Liam says. He understands this bit. "I want to date you. That's what I'm getting at."

"Oh," Louis says. He sits back in his chair and pushes his napkin towards Liam. "I want to date you too, Liam Payne."

"You can't call me by full name now that you're my boyfriend," Liam says firmly and Louis grins at him, pushes his foot into Liam's crotch under the table and says, "I think I can manage that."

It's a bit of an anti-climax, after all that, but Liam is so happy that it doesn't even matter.

This time, he posts a picture of the napkin on Twitter.