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One Night at the Club

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It was already 10 a.m. and Liam hadn't made a complete fool of himself yet. On his first day at a new job, he was considering that a success.

He hadn't expected his orientation to be led by the big boss in charge, but then everyone said that Harry Styles ran his company a bit differently than most label heads. So far Liam had seen nothing to dispute that.

Of course, given Harry's reputation in the entertainment world, he could do anything he wanted and no one would say a thing. He hadn't developed a reputation for landing the best new artists in the business out of nowhere.

Liam still couldn't quite believe that Harry had thought Liam might have something to bring to the table, but he seemed very confident about it.

Still, it was all a bit unnerving, having his morning tea in a massive conference room with Harry fucking Styles focused entirely on Liam, asking him what his goals for the future were, how he envisioned making a name for himself. It felt sort of like being interviewed all over again, except that Harry seemed openly thrilled by every idea Liam managed to offer.

Liam had spent most of the weekend either drunk or hungover, hoping that the alcohol might drown out his nerves to no avail. When he woke up this morning still feeling queasy and anxious, he had worried he was about to make a terrible first impression. But given how fascinated Harry seemed to be by every answer Liam gave, he might need to pinch himself to believe he wasn't dreaming. It was all going better than he could have imagined.

That plus his Saturday night adventures at the club made him less and less certain he was actually awake.

He forced his attention away from remembering what had happened in the toilets of that club with some effort. "Yeah, I really do think that Niall Horan's got the potential to be the next big thing," he said. "He's absolutely brilliant, and the nicest bloke you could ever meet on top of that. Pair him with the right single and he'll shoot straight up." Talking about his potential artists was easier than talking about himself, always.

Harry nodded. "He's out in LA at the moment, right?"

"Yeah, he's been writing with some producers out there. I've heard some of his stuff, but I'd like to get more hands on with the writing and production if I can," Liam said, feeling a bit brave.

"That's why I've got my place out there," Harry said, which didn't make all that much sense to Liam. Before Liam could ask what he meant, Harry buzzed the conference phone. "Preston, can you send Louis down to the conference room? Cheers." He looked back at Liam. "You probably know of him as Tommo, but we actually call him Louis in the office, most of the time."

Huh, Liam thought. He hadn't realised Louis was such a common name; that bloke at the club on Saturday had been a Louis as well, if the alcohol hadn't completely pickled his brain and destroyed his memory.

His brain function was further tested when the man who joined him and Harry in the conference room looked distressingly familiar. "I'm Louis Tomlinson," he said, hand held out to Liam, his voice unmistakably belonging to the last person who had said very flattering things about Liam's mouth. While Liam's memory was apparently fine, his composure was rather less steady. Somehow he made himself shake Louis's all-too-familiar hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Liam said, waiting for a spark of recognition from Louis.

It never came.

*

Liam was drunk. Or at least, drunker than he had planned on being, but not like falling over or anything. Just drunk enough to be having a good time at a club, instead of feeling like there wasn't enough alcohol in the world to make talking to another bloke not scary.

"I mean, look at all of them," he said to Jade, possibly louder than he needed to.

"Yes, it's a gay club, Liam. That means there tend to be a lot of men around. Gay ones," Jade clarified helpfully. He loved Jade.

"I love you," he said earnestly.

She patted him on the shoulder. "I know."

"I love you and I love Danielle," he went on. "Where did she go?" He had initially been quite upset when Danielle had broken up with him last year. They'd known each other for ages, and she was still close friends with his sister Ruth. But then it had occurred to him that perhaps most straight men didn't think about what it would be like to give a blowjob while they wanked, and Danielle had shown up with a girlfriend at Ruth's wedding six months ago, and well. It had been an illuminating year.

"She's just in the loo," Jade said. "Like she was the last time you asked."

Right. He remembered that now.

"You feeling less nervous?" Jade asked, nodding at the drink in his hand, which was mostly ice at this point.

Liam thought about it. "Yeah, I guess so. I mean, why shouldn't they love me?" he asked, trying that fake it 'til you make it confidence thingy Ruth was always telling him about. "I'm great, and I know a lot of things about music, and I mean, Harry Styles seemed to like me enough to hire me."

"Eventually you might even start just calling him 'Harry,'" Danielle said, reappearing like magic.

"Dani!" he said happily. "But yes. That's step number one. Or at least it's on the list. Probably there will be other things I need to do on Monday that I haven't even thought of," he said, taking a swig of his drink and then frowning down at it. How was it all gone?

"Time for another round, I think," Jade said. She was tucked in under Danielle's arm, nose pressed against her neck. Liam remembered that spot, nice and soft. Danielle always smelled so good, clean and a little fruity.

"It's my turn!" Liam said. "You just enjoy her neck, Jade, I'll be right back." He grinned back at them when they both laughed, faces bright and fond and god, he loved them. Nothing said love like bringing another round though, so he made his way through the crowd to the bar.

He finally managed to squeeze between two male couples who were pressed up against the bar, both couples making out like there was nothing odd about it at all. Liam reminded himself firmly that there wasn't anything odd, really. It was perfectly normal for two men to be wrapped up in each other like that, hands cradling each other's faces.

He caught himself staring and turned toward the bartender, who was in a vest that showed off some very impressive arms and the tightest pair of skinny jeans Liam had ever seen on a man. "What'll it be, duck?" he asked Liam, somehow looking at him like Liam was simultaneously the most attractive man he'd ever seen and also just his job.

"Uh. Three vodka and cokes, please," Liam stammered, feeling the blush rise up on his cheeks. Hopefully the light was low enough that the bartender couldn't tell.

From his look, Liam was pretty sure he'd noticed straight away. "Coming up," he said, swishing off to mix them.

Liam wanted to put his head down on the bar. At the last second he realised just how sticky it looked and decided against it. Why was he such a lemon? Bartenders flirted as part of their job. If Liam couldn't even handle that, how was he ever supposed to talk to an actual boy who might be flirting with him for real?

"First time here?"

Liam startled and looked to his left. The enthusiastically snogging couple had been replaced by a slight man with scruffy facial hair that was trying to be a beard, a shaggy mop of hair that was veering dangerously close to mullet territory, and the most gorgeous blue-green eyes Liam had ever seen. And of course he could guess that Liam was completely out of his depth.

"God, is it that obvious?" Liam said. "My friends said no one would be able to tell, but I guess not."

The bloke stared at him for a moment, his look of confusion suddenly shifting into a blinding smile. "Actually, that was just my attempt at a line."

Liam stared right back. "What, really?"

"Really," he confirmed. "Normally I'd just ask if I could buy you a drink, but I saw you order already." Liam was still trying to process that when he leaned in close and added, "I don't think you look out of place here at all," his lips brushing over Liam's ear.

Liam went from feeling moderately buzzed and full of potential arousal to being completely desperate in about half a second. "Oh," he breathed out.

"Yeah," the bloke said, his hand suddenly resting on Liam's lower back. "If you don't mind me saying so, that is."

Liam was about to tell him just how much he didn't mind when the bartender suddenly showed up with three drinks. "That'll be fifteen altogether."

His heart pounding, Liam pulled back and fumbled his wallet out. It was hard to do when he couldn't take his eyes off the man grinning up at him.

"So who're those for?" he asked, nodding at the trio of drinks.

Liam swallowed, his throat dry. "Oh, Jade and Danielle, they're over there," he said, trailing off when he spotted them in the crowd, dancing and making out and looking like they weren't missing their drinks at all.

"Eagerly awaiting your return, I see," the man said, smiling like he and Liam were sharing a joke.

And maybe they were sharing a joke, actually, even if Liam was completely uncertain what the punchline would be. Still watching Liam, the man reached over and snagged one of the vodka and cokes, cocking an eyebrow at Liam while he drank it down.

"Oh, um, can I buy you a drink?" Liam asked after he had finished it, his eyes caught on his wet mouth.

He laughed. "Thought you'd never ask," he said, and he leaned in for a kiss.

*

As terrible as the idea of working with a drunken club hookup was, it was nothing compared to the humiliation of not even being remembered.

He tried to focus on Harry’s story about Louis’s last trip down to Australia, but it was hard when all he wanted to do was crawl under the big conference table and hide.

“Louis’s work with Five Seconds of Summer really paid off in the end, though,” Harry said finally.

“Definitely worth the three months I spent there, at least,” Louis added.

“Must be nice to finally be back in London,” Liam managed to choke out. Louis gave him an odd look, which Liam both deserved and felt was unfair, given that it was Louis’s fault he couldn’t speak properly in the first place.

Not that Louis seemed aware of that fact.

“Well, it’s just a short stop here, for me. I’ll be out in the States for most of the autumn,” Louis said, staring down at his hands.

At last, a bit of good news. “Oh, really? Who’re you working with?” Liam asked as politely as he could.

“Ah, Niall Horan? Singer-songwriter type,” Louis said, finally looking at Liam and smiling a bit.

Liam turned to stare at Harry. "What?"

“I knew I forgot to mention something!” Harry said cheerfully, and Liam stopped breathing altogether. He took a big gulp of tea while Harry continued, "Louis's one of the writers I wanted Niall to work with."

“Oh, do you know him as well?” Louis asked Liam, not sounding quite as casual as he just had.

“Liam's the reason we signed him. Package deal,” Harry answered for him, while Liam drank down his whole cup of tea, his heart still pounding.

“Oh wow. I see why you brought him on board, Harry,” Louis said, and that was really more than Liam could deal with.

“Sorry, you’re going to be out in LA, too?” he asked, proud that he at least sounded slightly less mad than he felt inside.

Louis nodded. “For at least two weeks. But Harry’s house is nicer than any hotel.”

“Harry’s…house?” Liam asked, sure he was misunderstanding.

Harry nodded. “That’s where everyone from here stays whenever we’ve got business out there.”

“But I can’t stay with him!” Liam exclaimed before he thought the better of it.

Both of them stared at Liam, Harry with a look of worry that shifted to embarrassment, and Louis with a blankness that made Liam want to scream. I know what you look like when you come, he thought fiercely, which was not at all the sort of thing he should be dwelling on if he didn’t want to blush red as a beetroot in the office. Trouble was, Liam had thought of little else for the past two days.

*

If anyone had asked Liam's opinion prior to Saturday night, he would have said that hooking up in the toilets at a club with a man whose name he didn't even know would probably feel seedy and a bit naughty, at best, or humiliating and disgusting, at worst.

Neither were accurate, as it happened; all he felt as he was tugged by the hand and then pushed toward the toilets was excited and a bit thrilled and almost embarrassingly turned on.

"What if someone else needs to use this toilet?" Liam asked after the bloke had locked the door behind them and pushed him up against the wall and kissed him again.

"They can wait," he answered, biting at Liam's neck and laughing softly when Liam gasped.

Feeling a bit brave, Liam slid his hands down until he was holding the bloke's arse in his hands, grinding their hips together while they made out. Liam had been out on a few dates with men since he'd come out, and had gone home with two of them, but none of them had made him feel like this.

None of them would have tempted him to join them in a club toilet, the bass of the house music pumping through his body.

"I don't even know your name," Liam gasped, sliding his hands back up and into the bloke's hair, kissing him fiercely.

"It's Louis," he said against Liam's mouth while riding Liam's thigh, his hands tight on Liam's shoulders. He felt so good against Liam's body that Liam forgot to offer his own name in exchange, dragging him in for another kiss, hands drifting back down to support him while he rubbed up against Liam's leg.

Liam was so hard it was almost painful, the intensity rising the longer they kissed. And yet when Louis pulled away he gasped in protest at the sudden absence of friction.

"Shhh," Louis said, brushing his hand over Liam's lips for a moment before he sank down to his knees.

"You don't—" Liam started to say, because the tiled floor must have been hard and was probably filthy. Louis's hands quickly undoing his jeans and pushing them and his pants halfway down his thighs shut him up fast.

"Stay still, will you?" Louis asked, giving Liam's dick one firm stroke and then sucking it down.

Liam's head snapped back against the wall, the pain at the contact the only thing that kept him from immediately coming in Louis's mouth. Because it felt so good, the firm suction, the almost delicate way he traced under Liam's foreskin with his tongue before taking him down further. One of Liam's hands had found Louis's hair, gripping him tight, just following Louis's rhythm, not pushing.

He tapped his thigh with his free hand, needing to move something if he couldn't thrust forward into the wet heat of Louis's mouth. His arse was cold out in the air, only his shoulders and head against the wall, and his legs started to tremble.

Just before he came his hips started snapping forward, so that when he filled Louis's mouth he was chanting, "Sorry, sorry, I'm sorry," which felt a bit weird. If Louis noticed or cared, Liam couldn't tell from the way he moved with Liam, staying with him until Liam collapsed against the wall. He panted up at the ceiling while Louis got back to his feet and spat out Liam's come into the sink. "Wow," Liam said weakly when Louis came back over and stood between his legs.

"Yeah," Louis said, his grin smug yet friendly. "Care to give me a hand?" he asked, dragging Liam's hand over Louis's crotch where he was hard in his jeans.

Liam shook his head and kissed Louis. After a startled breath, Louis kissed him back, his arms winding around Liam's neck. Liam pressed down on Louis's dick with the heel of his hand, loving the small sounds Louis made into his mouth. He managed to turn them around until Louis had his back to the wall, just barely catching himself from tripping, his jeans still undone around his thighs.

"Careful," Louis cautioned him. "Wouldn't want to fall on your bare arse in this room."

"Wasn't planning on getting on my arse," Liam answered, kissing him once more and getting on his knees, not bothering to pull up his jeans first.

His hands were shaking a bit as he undid Louis's jeans, but finally he managed the zip and got his cock out of his pants. He wrapped a hand around the length and stroked, still not over how it felt to touch someone else's dick, how much he loved watching to see how he could make them respond. He rubbed the head of Louis's dick with his thumb, feeling how wet he already was, and when he couldn't stand to wait any longer he leaned in and took him into his mouth.

He kept one hand wrapped around the base of Louis's dick and focused on the head, letting his eyes fall shut when Louis slid his hands through Liam's short hair. When Louis pressed the back of his head he went down further, but put his free hand on Louis's thigh to control the pace.

"Knew just from kissing how good you'd be at this," Louis said, his voice halting between every few words. The praise made Liam's head float, his mouth sliding down a bit further, taking more of Louis in with each stroke. He always thought that blowjobs were just like an advanced version of french kissing or something; or at least, kissing always made him think about having a dick in his mouth, too. That was the first time someone had told him that just kissing him made them think of sex, though, and he wanted to make it good.

The more of Louis he could take in, the louder Louis moaned, so Liam tried to relax and take him all in. He couldn't quite swallow him all down, but as he came back up from one particularly deep stroke, his tongue pressing up against the underside of Louis's dick, Louis shouted and held Liam's head steady while he came, jerking and pulsing on Liam's tongue.

Liam's heart was pounding through his skull, feeling a bit like his ears were full of cotton, until Louis finally dropped his hands to his sides and Liam let Louis's dick slide out of his mouth. The idea of standing up was too much to contemplate, so Liam swallowed and then took a ragged breath, leaning forward and resting his head against Louis's thigh.

"Fuck," Louis said above him, and Liam could only nod. Louis patted the back of his head, and Liam tried to breathe.

The sound of someone knocking loudly on the door startled him out of his daze. He pulled away from Louis's grasp and looked up at him. "Guess we should leave, huh," Liam said, his voice sounding distant in his own ears.

'Yeah," Louis said, supporting Liam with hands under his arms as Liam got to his feet. They both did up their jeans in silence, Liam chancing a glance at Louis once or twice. He was trying to figure out what to say now—he'd learnt that 'thank you' was almost certainly the wrong thing in this situation—but before he did, Louis was pulling Liam's phone out of his pocket.

"Type your passcode in," Louis commanded, showing Liam the screen. Liam typed it in and then watched while Louis opened his contacts and added a name and number. "There," Louis said. "Text me sometime. I'll leave first, okay?" Not waiting for an answer, he put the phone back in Liam's pocket and kissed him in one move, his lips sweet against Liam's.

He was out of the loo in the next moment, leaving Liam with a pounding heart and a new number in his phone.

*

Harry didn't seem to notice how distracted Liam suddenly was. He was too preoccupied with a completely different concern, apparently. “My house is quite—there’s plenty of space for both of you,” Harry said awkwardly. “It’s not a small house. Not that it’s massive! But—”

“Harry, stop stammering, we both know you’re loaded,” Louis said, apparently not at all bothered by the fact that Harry was his boss and probably deserved a bit more respect than that, and oh god, Liam had just insulted Harry on his first day.

“No no, I’m sure it’s lovely! I just,” Liam started and then stopped, trying to come up with any sort of explanation for why he wouldn’t want to be put up at Harry Styles’s no doubt fabulous home. “I get homesick when I travel, that’s all,” he finally came up with.

For some reason Harry brightened at that. “Well, I know you’ve only just met, but what could be better than getting to bring some of England over there with you,” he said, gesturing to Louis.

Liam nodded, completely at a loss. “That’s. That’ll be a real comfort.” He was going to die.

“Louis’s flying out tomorrow morning,” Harry said.

“I have a thing for my sister tomorrow night,” Liam blurted.

Harry nodded and acted like Liam wasn’t being a complete weirdo. “So you’ll go out Wednesday or Thursday. That’ll give Louis a chance to get the house ready.”

"Not that you'll want to spend all your time at the house, nice as it is," Louis said. "There are some great clubs out in LA."

"Oh, I expect I'll spend most of my time in the studio," Liam said quickly. The last thing he wanted was for Harry to think he didn't take this seriously.

"Well, sometimes you need to be seen by the right people," Louis said dismissively.

Liam bristled; he wasn't new to this. "I'd rather build the reputation of my artist and Harry's company through the music we produce, but thanks for the tip," he said coolly.

"Both are important parts of the business!" Harry said, a bit too bright.

"Of course," Louis said. "I wouldn't want our artist to be thought of as a homebody. Listen, Harry, if that's all I've got a call scheduled for 11." He walked out of the conference room without waiting for a dismissal.

Harry turned back to Liam, a smile plastered on his face. "Well, I think that's a good start."

Liam nodded, misery settling in the pit of his stomach.

*

Liam hadn't texted or phoned Louis on Sunday. After years of being overeager with girls, texting the second a date ended and generally displaying the opposite of chill, he had been determined to wait at least a day. Scaring Louis off was too real and too terrible a possibility to risk.

Besides, he had spent most of Sunday either moaning on his sofa or in the toilet, regretting the many rounds of shots he'd bought for himself and the girls in apology for abandoning them for ages. He thought it was a better plan to call Louis when he had a prayer of sounding smooth and not like he was dying.

He'd thought it best at the time, and on the walk back to his office after his meeting with Harry, he told himself over and over again that waiting had clearly been his best move, although not in the way he had thought. It was bad enough Louis didn't seem to remember him, but at least he hadn't embarrassed himself by revealing that it had meant something to him.

He was still trying to convince himself of this when he opened his office and discovered it was already occupied.

"You never texted me," Louis said from behind Liam's desk.

"Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me," Liam stammered, his heart still pounding, and then his brain replayed what Louis had just said. "You did recognise me!"

Louis rolled his eyes and dropped his feet from Liam's desk, but he didn't get out of the chair. "Of course I recognised you." He gave Liam a little smile and suddenly looked much more familiar to Liam. "You were pretty memorable."

Liam felt his cheeks heat and he quickly closed his office door. That felt a little dangerous when he turned back to Louis, who had stood up and was coming around Liam's desk. When Liam had first seen his office this morning, it had felt quite spacious and he had wondered how he would fill it. Now it felt intimidatingly small. "Why did you act like you didn't know me in the meeting?"

"Because our boss was there? Unless you wanted to explain to him how we'd met before?" Louis asked. He was staring at Liam's face like he was studying him, and Liam wanted to both hide and also tell him anything he ever wanted to know.

"No, of course not," Liam said, his back pressed up against his closed door. Louis was near enough to touch now; if Liam reached out, he could grab his hand and pull him closer, find out what it would be like to kiss him while sober. He didn't move.

"That's what I thought. I figured we'd have time to catch up later," Louis said, his eyes flicking down to Liam's mouth. He was smiling like he had when Liam offered to buy him a drink after he'd already downed a vodka and coke, and Liam knew he was in trouble.

"No," Liam said, and he moved along the wall until he was stood behind his desk. Louis had turned with him, frown lines forming between his eyes. "I mean, I'm looking forward to working with you. But I don't think we should 'catch up' again."

Louis was still smiling, although it looked a little forced now. "Oh. Well, I guess I shouldn't keep waiting for that text, then."

"No, that's not—" Liam tried, but Louis had already turned and opened the door.

"I'll see you in California, Liam," Louis said, halfway out the door already. He stuck his head back in. "Nice to finally meet you and all."

*

"It's going to be fine, Dani," Liam told her the next night, his phone held between his ear and his shoulder as he packed for LA. "I'm going to be fine."

"Mmm-hmm." He knew that tone; it was one he remembered all too well from their relationship. It meant she thought he was full of shit. "So being in LA with him will be no problem."

"LA is a very big city. Urban sprawl," he added, repeating something Harry had said about southern California.

"Yes, but how big is Harry's house?" she asked knowingly.

Liam concentrated on choosing between hoodies. "Huge, probably. I'll barely even see him anyway."

"Aren't you both working with the same musician?" Danielle asked, and Liam sighed.

"Dani, stop. We're just colleagues. We've always just been colleagues, really. It would be inappropriate to want anything more, and this is better, anyway."

He was relieved when Danielle didn't press it and just said, "Bet you can find a cute guy out there."

Liam tried to imagine it and couldn't even think of a thing he would say to someone cool enough to live in LA. "Maybe," he said, trying to humour her.

It was going to be fine, though. Liam would make sure of it.

*

The house itself was a good deal more than just fine.

Liam felt disoriented and a bit overwhelmed after he landed at LAX. When he had left London, it was mid-morning and grey and rainy; he arrived in the early afternoon to bright sunshine and clear skies.

The drive to the house was gorgeous, like something out of a film instead of his real life. Liam hadn't got into the music business for the glamour of it, but sometimes he still felt like pinching himself. Somehow he got to go to these amazing places and work with artists who wanted to make incredible music, just like he'd always dreamt of. It was certainly more than he could have imagined back when he was getting the stuffing kicked out of him in Year 7.

When Liam pulled up to the gate of Harry's house, his heart was pounding in his chest. From the neighbourhood alone, he knew it must be nice, but after entering the gate code and pulling up the driveway, he saw it was more than he ever could have expected.

It was large and sleek and modern, all glass and metal and sharp angles. The front garden was full of plants and flowers Liam was certain he'd never seen before. The sense that he was living someone else's life only got stronger as he walked up the smooth stone path to the front door.

He opened the door with the set of keys Harry had casually given him the day before he left, like it was standard business practice. His jaw dropped at what he saw. Even the foyer was incredible, with soaring ceilings and the light from all the windows filling the space and refracting off the glass and metal.

Liam walked through the ground floor with a growing sense of awe, each room more spectacular than the last. The house managed to be simultaneously impressive and well lived in, the sitting room both inviting and casually posh. He made his way upstairs and turned right down the hall, opening a door to what was clearly Harry's bedroom, boots littering the floor and shirts strewn over the bed, like Harry hadn't had the time to clean up in his rush to pack the last time he left. Liam quickly closed the door and turned around, following the hall in the opposite direction until he found two bedrooms with open doors next to each other. The first one was empty and neatly laid out, while the second one had a messy unmade bed and an open suitcase with clothes overflowing from it on the floor.

Liam took a deep breath. He had known Louis would be here as well. This shouldn't be so distressing a development.

He made a final sweep of the top floor just to confirm what he had been fearing: it was just the master bedroom suite and the two guest rooms right next to each other, with the bathroom directly across the hall from both of them. Unless Liam attempted to squat in Harry's own space (he recoiled from the very thought), he was going to be sleeping one wall away from Louis for this entire trip.

Squaring his shoulders, he walked decisively into his room. He dumped his bags onto his bed and made himself breathe. This would all be fine. Liam would barely even be at the house for most of the trip. And surely he and Louis wouldn't be expected to work together with Niall for the entire time. What did it matter where he slept, or who else was nearby?

He had almost convinced himself of this by the time he made it back to the ground floor, walking to the back of the house in search of the kitchen. There he found both the kitchen and a half-naked and wet Louis in the same moment.

"Oh!' Liam said, almost stumbling over his own feet. Louis was stood in front of the open fridge, a beach towel wrapped around his slim hips, drops of water clinging to his chest, his hair damp and sticking out in every direction like a hedgehog. In an instant Liam was thinking about what it had felt like to hold Louis in his arms, the shape of his body known so intimately and yet never seen like this before. It was the most overwhelming part of what had already been a pretty disorientating day.

"Oh, hi," Louis said casually, grabbing a bottle of orange juice and taking a swig straight from the bottle. "Didn't realise you were getting in this early. I've just had a swim."

"I hope there's more juice," Liam said unthinkingly, commenting on the only part of any of this that felt safe.

Louis blinked before looking down at the bottle and then back at Liam. "Yeah, you might want to order more. Harry's got a grocery delivery service, it's all there," he said, nodding over at what looked like a very detailed list on the island. "Sorry, like I said, I wasn't expecting you yet."

Apparently, Liam was out of sight, out of mind to Louis. "It's fine, I wanted to check out the studio now anyway." He angled himself toward the list, hoping to see directions or at the very least an address he could google.

Louis nodded and put the lid on the juice, placing it back in the fridge and finally closing the open door. "I'll show it to you, if you'd like." He walked past Liam, looking back at him when Liam didn't move at all. "Unless you're still cross about the juice."

"But you're not dressed," Liam said stupidly. He had heard that LA was quite a casual town, but surely people didn't go out in their swimming trunks and not even a t-shirt.

Louis rolled his eyes. "It's just down the hall, and I promise I won't get water on anything. Come or don't," Louis called back over his shoulder, and Liam hurried to follow.

He led him to a door that Liam had assumed went to a home theatre or game room or whatever else people would have in home like this, one he'd not bothered to investigate during his brief poke around the ground floor. That had been a terrible oversight, as it turned out to be a full studio instead. Liam forgot all about the damp half-naked Louis who had led him here once he stepped inside, staring in awe at the state of the art equipment surrounding him. He suddenly felt itchy to get started, desperate to get his hands on all of it.

"This is wicked," he breathed, knowing how desperately uncool he must sound but not caring at all. "I can't believe he has this in his house."

Louis was actually smiling at him, arms crossed and leaning up against the doorway. The attention made Liam's entire body light up. He was used to feeling like his enthusiasm was dreadfully unattractive, but Louis seemed to like it. "Nothing like being able to come down here in the middle of the night if you get a sudden burst of inspiration."

The idea of being here alone with Louis late at night made Liam panic. "You're probably getting the wall wet," he said quickly.

The smile fell off Louis's face. "I think it'll survive," Louis said, but he stepped away from the doorway, at least.

"Sorry, I just, this is too nice to mess up," Liam said apologetically, not that it did much good.

"Yeah, I'm aware. Well, I assume you've seen what you need to of the house. Have fun," Louis said, swiftly turning and walking away.

Liam watched him as he left, feeling like he was trapped in a house with someone who didn't seem like either a colleague or a friend at the moment. He wished that made him think about that night at the club less, but if anything it only made him remember it more. Luckily, there was nothing that distracted him quite like playing around in a studio, and he was determined to focus on his job and make sure Niall had the right single that would make him a star.

He got lost in the studio for hours, only dipping out to grab something to eat in the kitchen and then heading back in. The jet lag plus the melodies and rhythms still flowing through his head conspired with his need to avoid Louis and kept him awake and working until the early morning. The sun was starting to lighten the sky outside his bedroom by the time he made it upstairs, and when he fell into his bed he dropped into a deep sleep.

*

It was late morning when he woke up the next day, groggy and disoriented after not nearly enough sleep. For a moment he couldn't figure out what had jolted him awake, and then he heard another peal of laughter from downstairs and Louis's answering shout. Liam considered simply staying in bed for the rest of the day in order to avoid him, but then his stomach growled.

"Get up, you coward," he told himself, throwing back the sheets and frogmarching himself to the bathroom. After having a wee, he splashed some water on his face and took a good look at himself in the mirror. He looked exhausted and a bit worried, with bags under his eyes and a few lines creasing his skin from where his face was smashed up against the pillow while he slept. But what did it matter what he looked like? This was a business trip, not a romantic getaway.

He threw on yesterday's jeans and dug a clean t-shirt out of his bag before heading down to the kitchen for breakfast. This was Harry's house, not Louis's. Liam had nothing to be intimidated by.

He was still feeling strong and determined when he got to the kitchen and saw Louis doubled over laughing and Niall Horan wearing nothing but a pair of briefs and some sunglasses.

He was stood in front of the refrigerator on one side of the enormous island, a huge smile on his face while he did some sort of dance. “Come on, Tommo, get it together!” he called, and then sang something about Rory McIlroy. Louis sang back at him about pigs, for some reason, his tenor clear and expressive. Niall responded with a verse about sausages, and Liam had never been more confused in his life. Then they both turned and looked at him expectantly, Niall shouting out, "You finish it, Payno!"

It turned out everything in this house was confusing. “I don’t. I don’t know the song?” Liam said finally. He didn’t know where to look, not wanting to focus on Louis particularly but feeling unable to look at Niall head-on, like he was back in the changing room during PE, not sure why he felt the need to keep his head down all the time, but equally certain that actually looking at the other lads was a terrible idea. He settled for looking vaguely in Niall’s direction but never letting his gaze drop below his hair.

“Ah, well, worth a shot. Although if he can’t help us, maybe we need to give up on it altogether,” Niall said.

“We’re not declaring defeat so easily,” Louis said cheerfully, humming the same melody under his breath.

“I didn't realise you were coming over today,” Liam said to Niall, desperately trying to get back on footing he understood.

“Louis called me yesterday, said we could work here instead of at the main studio in Silver Lake.”

“Right,” Liam said, glancing over at Louis.

“Since this place is so nice and all, the music just flows," Niall said, spreading his arms out wide. "And of course you don’t know the song. We haven’t finished writing it yet,” Niall continued, going back and singing through the pigs and sausages section again before stopping at the same place. “It’s getting there, though.”

“Should try putting it together with the guitar bit,” Louis said.

Niall brightened. “I’ll go get it. Liam, help us figure out the bridge, will ya?”

“I was just going out for a run,” Liam lied. He flushed when Louis looked at his jeans and raised an eyebrow. “Wanted to have a banana first, that’s all.”

“Well, enjoy the sunshine!” Niall said, either not noticing or caring about Liam’s obvious fib.

Liam grabbed a banana and fled.

It was a beautiful day for a run, sun bright but no humidity to weigh him down. He took the hills hard, pushing himself until his lungs were burning and his legs felt like jelly. He ran and ran, seeking the oblivion of physical exhaustion, the moment when the pounding of his feet became the only thing he could hear.

He began to hear something else, though, a melody playing on top of the rhythm of his feet, something he hadn’t created but had caught hold of him anyway. Normally he loved it when he unlocked a song during a run or a hard lifting session, but he shook his head to attempt to dislodge it now.

The new melody was still running through his brain when he arrived back at the house, his pace not fast enough to outlast it. He stood outside the front door for a few moments, hunched over, hands braced above his knees while he tried to get his breath back, sweat dripping from his forehead. Finally he made himself go back into the house, hoping that they had either finished or at least gone into the studio like any normal people would, but they were still in the kitchen, Niall now sat on top of the island, looking naked save for the guitar on his lap. Liam hoped he was still wearing pants.

"Have a good run?" Louis asked, his eyes hot on Liam as he walked over to the fridge.

"Yeah, it's gorgeous out," Liam said, trying to ignore both the song in his head and Louis's focus. He was rubbish at both. "Hey, who got the Capri Sun?"

"I did," Louis said, sounding a bit wary.

Liam nodded. "That's ace, mate, cheers." He hummed a bit as he got the straw out of its wrapper and punched it through. "Capri Sun, you are the one. The one I need, the one I waaaaant, oh, Capri Sun!" he sang, not looking at either of them.

"Do that again," Niall demanded, strumming his guitar.

So Liam did, singing it through once more and then harmonising when Niall went back to the line about Rory, through the pigs and sausage, and then linked it up to Capri Sun. "Not sure about the lyrics, but I like that build," Liam said finally, looking over at Louis.

Louis was staring back at him, head tilted like he couldn't quite figure Liam out. "Lyrics can come later."

Usually Liam liked to have his lyrics sorted from the beginning, or at least have a theme down. "Well, I'll leave you to it, then," he said, finishing his drink and binning the trash. "Let me know when you're ready to get into the studio with it."

"I will!" Niall said, the heels of his feet thumping against the island while he continued to work out the chords.

Liam slipped away upstairs. Surely a shower would help clear his head.

He hadn't counted on how his mind would wander back to the look on Louis's face when he sang through the end of the chorus with Niall, his expression considering and quite possibly pleased. He turned the hot water down, feeling overheated already, but that did nothing to stop the drift of his thoughts, remembering how startled Louis had been when Liam first dropped to his knees in the loo at the club. It made his belly warm thinking about it, how much he liked surprising Louis.

His dick was taking a decided interest in his thoughts as well, and Liam gave in for a brief moment, running his soapy hand over himself, dragging his fingers up his inner thighs and over his balls. But he stopped himself there, making the spray even colder and speeding through the rest of his shower, not letting himself linger at all as he got himself clean. That wasn't what he was here for, and there was no point in dwelling on someone he wasn't going to get to have again.

He was still telling himself to stop being silly and to focus on his job when he walked out of the bathroom and straight into Louis, almost losing the towel around his waist in the process. He managed to grab hold of it before it slipped off completely while reaching out to help Louis catch his balance. "Oh, shit, sorry!"

"It's fine, no harm done," Louis said, both of his hands gripping Liam's shoulders. He gave Liam a brief squeeze before dropping his hands and taking a step back. Liam caught Louis's eyes dipping down over Liam's torso before they snapped back up to Liam's face, and he hoped Louis would just think the flush on his face was from the shower.

"Is Niall still here?" Liam asked, desperate to shift the focus away from being stood mostly naked in front of Louis.

"No, he had to leave for a meeting," Louis said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Oh, okay then," Liam said. He was still attempting to map out his escape route to his bedroom, Louis currently blocking the way when Louis spoke again.

"Why did you leave the kitchen?" Louis asked.

"I was all sweaty," Liam said.

Louis rolled his eyes. "Niall had nothing but pants on, and we're all lads. You still could've stayed. The song was getting somewhere."

Liam gripped his towel tighter. "I don't really like to write with other people."

He hadn't considered how rude that would sound until Louis scowled at him. "What kind of producer are you, then?"

"That's not—usually I get the bones of a song down before I start working with the artist on what they want to do with it. I'm not good at riffing with others."

"Well, that's a load of shit," Louis said.

"Hey," Liam protested, but Louis wasn't done yet, apparently.

"You figured out the end bit for us right there," Louis said, somehow looking even more scowly. "That's not writing by yourself."

"Yeah, but that's not how writing with other people is supposed to go," Liam tried to explain, but from Louis's snort in response he'd only made things worse.

"Well, I've certainly been doing it wrong this whole time, then. Are you planning on standing around in your towel all day? You should get dressed, mate," he said, turning on his heel and heading down the stairs and leaving Liam wondering what just happened.

He tried to put Louis out of his mind, throwing on some clothes and texting Niall to see when he wanted to come back to do some tracking before heading out for meetings. His schedule was busy enough without fitting in thoughts about Louis.

*

By the time he got back to the house late that night, he was so knackered he could barely get himself to eat a sandwich before heading up to bed. The meetings had taken twice as long as he had thought they should, and getting around LA was just as bad as he'd been told. He'd indulged himself by getting a sporty little rental for his time out here, but it was almost worse to be driving a nice car in bumper to bumper traffic for hours. He was certain he would pass out as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Instead he found himself staring up at the ceiling, feeling exhausted yet wide awake, the jet lag apparently finally hitting him. Even worse than being tired but unable to fall asleep was how bored he was. Playing with his phone killed about five minutes, but Jade was already at the office and Danielle was busy and he didn't have too many other friends who would react well to a slew of texts at the beginning of a work day.

All his phone did for him was make him fully aware of how lonely he felt, in a strange house in a strange city doing exciting work that was still a bit scary. He hadn't actually been lying to Harry when he said he got homesick when he traveled for his job, even if that hadn't been his main objection to the trip. But that just led his thoughts back in the direction of Louis.

He forgot to be lonely when he was around him, somehow. Of course part of that was because it was hard to be lonely when he was busy thinking about the way Louis had pressed him up against the wall of the loo, or how easy it had been to kiss him, like singing along to a song he hadn't realised he knew. Even when it felt like he didn't understand a word Louis was saying, he was too distracted trying to figure him out to feel anything like loneliness.

Now, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, fingers drumming on his stomach, he felt it in full force. Which was made even more ridiculous by the fact that Louis was still right there, on the other side of the wall, close enough that he could probably even hear Liam. He stopped his fingers at the thought, straining his ears to hear if he was the only one in the house still awake. He had mostly convinced himself that Louis was surely already asleep when he heard what sounded like a muffled moan.

He stilled, certain he must be imagining things. But that didn't stop him from listening harder, wishing his heartbeat didn't sound so loud in his head as he waited to see if there would be more. Surely this was just the result of a restless mind and thwarted libido.

Liam had just told himself firmly that of course he was hearing things when a second sound broke through the stillness, this one higher pitched and more urgent. He didn't dare move, feeling completely paralysed even while his dick got hard in his pants, trapped at an uncomfortable angle. The urge to give in and push his pants down and jerk off was nearly unbearable, made all the worse by the knowledge that if he let himself do it, Louis might hear him through the wall just as easily. He waited as long as he could, the pressure building up close to the point of pain, until finally he reached down just to shift himself so his dick was lying flat against his stomach, trapped under the waistband.

That had been a mistake; even that simple touch made his hips arch up toward the ceiling, the draft of the sheet over his dick a terrible tease even through his pants. He thought about taking another cold shower, but he was certain all his willpower would desert him once he was naked. It was already next to impossible not to give in and picture what Louis must look like right now. Liam hadn't been able to see what he looked like when he came in the club bathroom, too busy sucking his cock. His belly got hot at the thought of it, how it had tasted when Louis came in his mouth. And Liam had swallowed it all, the greedy slag. Liam whimpered, the sound escaping his lips before he could stop it. He dug his hands into the sheets and tried to breathe, willing his dick to go down.

It was a very long night.

*

The next morning Liam made himself get up by nine, even though his eyes felt gritty and tired. When he went downstairs the house felt empty, which he was determined not to dwell on. It was past time for him to get on with this and adjust and do what was best for Niall, first and foremost.

He kept thinking about that during his morning run through the hills, his mind keeping pace with his steps. By the time he got back to Harry's house, his legs wobbly and vest soaked through, he was set on how he needed to fix things.

He had thought he might have a bit longer before having to act on his decision, but when he went into the kitchen Louis was sat at the island eating a giant bowl of what looked like frosted flakes mixed with coco pops.

"Hi," Liam said in as bright and casual a tone as he could manage. He didn't wait for any response before pulling out the blender and some fruit and yogurt to make a smoothie. The protein powder wasn't where he'd thought it would be, but he finally found it in the cupboard next to the dishwasher.

"That looks healthy," Louis said finally, a bit of a smirk on his voice.

Liam refused to be baited. "I don't do hills like that at home, so I'm knackered," he said, adding two scoops to the mixture and some ice.

He couldn't hear whether Louis said anything next over the motor of the blender, and he used the time to prepare himself for what he needed to do next. Once the smoothie was done, he poured out a glass for himself and sat down next to Louis, who gave him a questioning look.

No use delaying any longer. "Look, I'm sorry for what I said yesterday."

Louis paused, holding a spoonful of his cereal mixture inches away from his mouth, milk dripping back into the bowl. "For what part, exactly?"

Liam had sort of been hoping that Louis would just accept the apology and they could both carry on like nothing at all had happened, but that had clearly been too much to expect. "For being a dick about how you and Niall were writing together. I haven't done much collaborating with people like that before, and it made me feel off-balance. But it obviously works for Niall, and for you, and I'd like to do more writing like that with both of you, if you don't mind."

He took a big swallow of the smoothie while he waited for Louis to stop chewing his cereal and answer him. It felt heavy in his stomach until Louis finally nodded and said, "Yeah, alright. It seemed to work out pretty well, didn't it?"

Liam nodded, taking another gulp of his smoothie, this one going down easier.

"Don't know how you write alone, to be honest," Louis added, staring at him while he shovelled in another spoonful of his breakfast.

Liam shrugged. "It's just how I've always done it. I'm not great with change," he confessed. He felt as boring as that probably sounded, but he was trying this honesty thing with Louis now, so in for a penny and all that.

"I love switching things up," Louis said, confirming all of Liam's fears. "It drives Harry mad, though."

"You seem pretty good at it, though," Liam offered. "That's why I was wondering if you wanted to get into the studio with me and Niall tonight."

Louis looked up from his cereal. "You recording something?"

Liam shook his head. "Just playing him a demo of a song I was thinking could work for him. But I thought you might have some pointers on it."

Louis looked thoughtful. "I'd be more use if I could hear it before we play it for Niall."

"After breakfast, then," Liam said, feeling warm and satisfied. He hesitated, then figured he deserved a bit of a reward. "Any of those coco pops left?"

Louis raised an eyebrow at Liam's half-drunk smoothie and Liam shrugged, his face growing hot. But all he said was, "In the cupboard above the fridge," and Liam felt like maybe he'd managed to fix things.

*

His nerves came back after he showered and spent far too long pretending not to think about what to wear for the day. He didn't want Louis to think he was trying to dress up for him, but he didn't want to be too casual in front of Niall, even if he seemed to prefer to wear as little clothing as possible while writing. After ten minutes of staring at his suitcase and wondering why on earth he had packed what he did, he finally settled on a white henley and dark rinse skinny jeans, foregoing any shoes since he wouldn't be leaving the house again today. He let his hair air dry, the curl coming out and falling over his forehead.

Louis was still in a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up a bit and sweatpants when Liam came back downstairs. He would have felt more awkward about being overdressed if Louis's eyes hadn't flicked down over Liam's body before coming back up to land on his hair, a look of approval mixed with something else Liam couldn't decipher on his face. "Curly," he said at last.

"Yeah, if I don't blow it dry it springs back like this," Liam said, smoothing a hand over the top to no effect.

"You should leave it like that more often," Louis said. Before Liam could figure out how to respond to that, Louis had already started walking toward to the studio. "Come on, let's hear this track."

Liam was so busy wondering about Louis's reaction to his hair that he'd already got the demo cued up and pressed play before he began to feel nervous about what Louis would think of it. He bit his lip through the first verse, sneaking glances at Louis and then looking back down at his hand when he felt like he was being too obvious. But once the chorus kicked in he gave up and just watched Louis openly, too eager to see his reaction to attempt to be subtle.

Luckily he didn't have to wonder at Louis's feelings, the grin on his face getting bigger and bigger throughout the second chorus while he nodded along to the beat. The only moment his grin dropped off was during the bridge, his head cocked to one side. But as soon as the final chorus came back around, his shoulders dropped again as he bounced to it.

"You don't like the bridge, do you," Liam said as soon as the song ended.

"No, it's fine, I just don't think it fits this song," Louis said.

"That means you don't like it."

Louis sighed, but somehow it sounded fond rather than exasperated. "It's not always about good or bad, Liam."

Liam wasn't sure about that, but they could come back to that later. "Well, if that doesn't work for you, what should go there instead?"

"What key is it?" Louis asked, already at the keyboard, and off they went.

By the time Niall got there that night, they had written a completely new bridge and thrown out half the lyrics. It felt manic in the best way, like they just had to get it all out there as quickly as they could, throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what would stick. And all that changed once Niall got into the mix, putting his own mark on the track and making it well and truly his own.

It was like nothing Liam had ever done before, and it was the best song he'd ever written.

The next day he discovered he wasn't the only who felt that way about it, coming downstairs to find Louis on a video conference call with Harry in the media room, his head projected across an entire wall.

"I'm telling you, Harry, we've found the single. Liam, tell him!" Louis commanded when he caught sight of him in the hallway.

"Um—"

"It's the right song for him," Louis said before Liam could even try to contribute. "The hook sticks in your head like glue and then the lyrics break your heart, it's perfect."

Liam frowned; he hadn't meant it to be a sad song. "It's more about love—"

"Of course it's about love, but when Niall sings it, you just want it for him so much, and he's not sure if he's gonna get it, and that's why it's gonna go number one," Louis finished, his eyes intent on Liam.

Liam looked up at Harry; it felt safer, somehow. "It's a great song, Harry. I don't mean to be cocky or whatever—"

"If you say it's great then I believe you, Liam," Harry interrupted him. Liam glanced back over at Louis, who looked bizarrely satisfied. "And I can't see you, come further into the room."

The tech set up was beyond anything Liam had seen before, so he wasn't sure how close to Louis he would need to be before Harry could see him. Sighing internally, he walked all the way in and sat down in the chair next to Louis's, trying not to feel hopelessly awkward.

"Now, when can you record it with Niall?" Harry asked.

Liam looked at Louis, who just shrugged. "I'd like to get it done while we still have momentum, so maybe tomorrow?" Liam offered.

"We should lay down the tracks tomorrow afternoon and then take Niall out that night to celebrate," Louis said suddenly. "Show him off a bit, see if we can't get a buzz going."

Thinking back to his first meeting with Harry and Louis, Liam kept his mouth shut. He was glad he did when Harry immediately agreed. "He deserves a night out on the town, and so do you two after all the hard work you've put it."

"You up for it?" Louis asked Liam, a weirdly challenging note in his voice.

Liam swallowed hard and nodded. "Sounds great to me. You'll have to pick the club, though, I don't know LA well enough."

Louis smiled. "Oh, I know just the place."

*

Apparently the place Louis had in mind was one of the trendiest locations in West Hollywood.

When they'd walked past the people lined up behind the velvet rope, Liam hadn't even been sure how they were going to get in. But Louis just waltzed right up to the door, with Niall at his side, and suddenly they were through.

"How did you do that?" Liam half-yelled once they were in the club.

That felt like a mistake when Louis curled into his side, lips brushing his ear as he answered, "Harry called ahead and put us on the list."

"Oh," Liam replied dumbly, feeling silly for not thinking of that. Liam tried not to shiver when Louis's thumb brushed over the side of his neck for a second before he pulled away, giving Liam a look he couldn't figure out.

"Come on, I need a pint!" Niall shouted, pulling them both toward the bar.

Liam tried to refocus on the actual point of this evening. "You deserve more than just one pint after today, Nialler!" he yelled back, hooking an arm around Niall's neck.

Recording the tracks had been a dream, Niall working beautifully with his session musicians to create something that was gonna go places. Liam had tried to keep his cool and not get too excited, but it was everything he'd hoped it would be and exactly why he had wanted to bring Niall to Harry's label in the first place.

By the end of it he had definitely been ready to go out for a drink or seven to celebrate, confident he'd finally sorted everything out with Louis. Clearly it was time to just let the past live in the past and focus on their future together in a professional capacity. Making great music together as a potential partnership like that was more important than any shag in the loo, surely.

Liam just needed to get over it already, and relax and have a good time, like Ruth and Danielle and Jade were always telling him to. At least he didn't feel like he stuck out too much in terms of what he was wearing, his black dress shirt and jeans paired with boots blending in with the crowd. Niall looked a bit more current than classic in a plaid shirt with what looked like fringe at the bottom hem going well with his skinny jeans. He stood out the way a pop star should, Liam thought.

So did Louis, to his eye, but he was trying not to notice. It was hard to keep his thoughts away from him though. Liam would have felt hopelessly underdressed in the t-shirt and jeans Louis wore with a pair of Adidas on his feet, but on Louis it looked cool and casual, like he knew he didn't have to try too hard to look good. Liam was at the bar to get a drink for Niall, but clearly he needed one just as bad.

He smiled at the bartender and gave a little wave that he immediately regretted. "Um, he'll have a pint of..." Liam trailed off, looking to Niall.

"Give me a lager!" Niall yelled, already looking out over the dance floor.

"And we'll each have a vodka and coke," Louis added, that challenging expression back on his face when he looked at Liam.

"And make them doubles," Liam said finally, because if it was going to be an evening of forgetting he might as well get started early. That seemed to satisfy Louis though, judging by the smug little head nod he gave Liam in response.

"To the single!" Niall shouted, holding his glass up for Louis and Liam to toast him.

"I think we've got a top ten on our hands, boys," Louis said before downing half his drink in one go, and Liam followed suit.

After that the night became something of a blur, one round blending into the next, Liam finding himself out on the dance floor with Niall and a million anonymous people. He couldn't tell if they were at a gay club or if all men in Hollywood looked this good at clubs, and he hadn't wanted to ask Louis and seem like an idiot. But plenty of men seemed perfectly happy to get a hand on Liam's hips and dance with him, so he tried not to worry too much one way or another.

Gay club or not, Louis certainly hadn't wasted any time finding a bloke. He'd gone back to the bar for a drink ages ago but seemed to lose interest in more alcohol once a tall, dark-haired man came up to him. Liam tried to ignore them and just focus on dancing, but his eyes kept being drawn back over to where Louis was laughing at something the guy said.

"Everything alright?" Niall shouted into his ear, and Liam tried to snap out of it.

"Yeah, fine!" he yelled back.

"You've been staring at them for ages."

It was true, Liam had been trying to ignore him and focus on the men there who seemed perfectly happy to give Liam the time of day if Louis wouldn't. But his eyes kept getting drawn back to Louis, at the way he laughed up at the bloke and tilted his head, a gesture Liam recognised and wanted back for himself. He didn't want to remember it, but all he could think about was how Louis had tasted when they kissed, the sound of the club bringing him right back to that night a week ago. How had it only been seven days? It felt like a lifetime to him.

He tried to pull himself back together. "I just think it's rude for him to be talking with someone else instead of you," Liam shouted finally, aware that he sounded crazy but too drunk and frankly fed up after a week of seeing Louis constantly to censor himself. He looked back over at Louis and saw the guy's hand at the small of Louis's back, and that was it.

"Nah, he's just trying to pull, leave him alone," Liam heard Niall call after him, but by that point he was already shoving his way back through the crowd, because Liam had put up with a lot but this was a step too far.

"I hope you're not planning on bringing him back to the house!" Liam shouted too loudly when he made his way back to the bar. He flushed red when everyone within earshot turned to look at him, but he just stared at Louis.

"Not your business who I bring home, is it?" Louis demanded loudly.

"It's my business when I'll be there too!" Liam yelled back.

"Hey, whoa, I didn't know you were taken," the guy said to Louis, his hands held up in apology.

"Like I'd be tied down to this," Louis said, his eyes raking over Liam with contempt, and Liam took a step back in shock.

"Yeah, well, as cute as you are, I don't do drama. So have a good rest of your night," the guy said before slipping into the crowd.

By now Niall had come over to them, his eyes wide and mouth open, and Liam felt sick and exhausted. "God, just do what you want, Lou, I'm going home," he shouted, rubbing a hand over his face. "Sorry for ruining your night out, Niall." He turned around and left before he could make a worse mess than he already had.

*

He began to sober up on the way back to the house, the back window of the Uber rolled all the way down to dilute the heavy aftershave of the driver. The air helped to clear his head, but he wished it didn't, the scene he had just caused playing out over and over again in his head. On top of showing Louis exactly how desperate and jealous he was, he'd made an idiot of himself in front of his client. A perfect end to the night.

He was still in the kitchen drinking Powerade and brainstorming plans for apologising to Niall and avoiding Louis as much as he could for the rest of the trip when he heard the front door slam. Louis came storming into the kitchen and then stopped short when he saw Liam.

"Thought you might not be staying here tonight," Liam said, a touch unwisely.

Louis snorted and brushed past him to get to the fridge. "Fat chance of that after your antics."

"Look, I'm sorry," Liam tried, but his heart wasn't in it and he was fairly certain Louis could tell.

"Yeah, you seem really broken up about it," Louis said.

Apparently Liam hadn't sobered up quite as much as he'd thought he had, because he snapped back, "Yeah, well, it was totally professional of you to spend the big night out with our client trying to pull."

That seemed to be the excuse Louis was looking for to let loose. “What the fuck is your problem!” Louis shouted. “I was just letting off a little steam and flirting with a guy." He slammed down his bottle of Powerade and added, "Like you never get drunk out at a club.”

“Whenever I do, I regret it!” Liam yelled back.

Louis looked like he’d been hit. “Fine. Fuck you then, I’m going to bed,” he said.

Oh shit. "Louis," Liam said weakly, but Louis flipped him the bird behind his back as he stalked out of the kitchen.

He'd royally cocked that up, no doubt about it.

*

It took Liam ages to fall asleep that night, sobering up completely before he finally dropped off just before five in the morning. He woke up for the first time right around ten, groggy and heavy-limbed, and he gave himself another hour to attempt to sleep off the night a bit more.

When he woke up again, the sun was baking his bedroom and it was past two in the afternoon.

"Oh, fuck," he said out loud, rubbing his hand over his face. He wasn't hungover, but he was exhausted and starving and disoriented from sleeping too late. He made himself get out of bed and face the day, taking a quick shower before throwing on jeans and a t-shirt and heading downstairs.

He'd been hoping he was up late enough that he'd be alone in the house, but when he went into the kitchen Louis was sat at the island eating a sandwich.

"Alright?" Liam said, hiding his face in the fridge while he considered his options. Louis didn't respond at all, which probably served Liam right.

He had just decided on making the closest thing to a cheese toastie he could manage in this kitchen when Louis said, "I just don't get you," his voice so uncharacteristically soft Liam could barely hear him.

Liam looked over at Louis, but he was staring down at his sandwich. "What's not to get?"

Louis snorted and then finally looked up. He looked tired and worn out, and Liam felt a pang of guilt over his likely part in that.

"I try being nice and you're a dick to me. So then I try ignoring you and that's when you can't seem to get your nose out of my business."

LIam stared at him in disbelief, too exhausted to attempt to be polite. "You think I'm a dick? How many times have I said I'm sorry to you since we've been out here? I guess nothing I do is good enough for you, is it?"

“I’m not the one who’s been an utter arse over a couple of stupid blowjobs! I'm so sorry you had such a shit time with me, but you can't fucking cockblock me on top of it!” Louis yelled.

“I loved blowing you!” Liam yelled back, and Louis snapped his head back. Liam hadn't meant to say that, but things could hardly get worse at this point, and he was tired of hiding the truth.

"Then why the fuck didn't you want to do it again?" Louis asked after a moment, looking wary.

"Because you're my colleague, and I've only just started here, and probably you can go out with anyone you want anyway so why would you want to bother with me when it'd be so complicated?" Liam said in a rush, hoping it sounded less dumb to Louis than it did to him.

No such luck. "Well, I did actually say we could hook up again, so you might have taken that to mean that I did want to bother," Louis said. "But instead you shot me down.” Louis sounded incredulous, but not actually angry anymore, so Liam would take it. “And so I thought, clearly he’s in the closet, or he had a terrible time at the club, so I’ll just drop it. But since we’ve been out here, you’ve been hot and cold with me this whole time, and I just can’t, Liam, I won’t go through this bullshit anymore. It was bad enough dealing with this sort of thing in uni, but I’m a grown man now, and I won’t be someone’s crisis.”

“I’m not in the closet,” Liam said, still stuck on that part.

Louis snorted. “Okay.”

“I'm just a bit new at this. And that night in the club was one of the best nights of my life,” Liam went on. He couldn’t look at Louis for this part of it. “Pathetic, I know, but it’s the truth.” He waited for Louis to mock him for that, or start shouting again. But when he finally glanced over at Louis, he just looked gobsmacked.

“I really liked you,” Louis said finally.

Liked. Liam shrugged, trying not to let his disappointment show on his face. “I know I messed up.”

"You messed me up," Louis said, and Liam felt his stomach drop.

"I didn't mean to, I just wanted this job to work so much," Liam tried to explain, but Louis kept going.

"First you reject me, and then you have the nerve to be great at songwriting. And on top of all that, I totally could have gone home with that guy last night if it hadn't been for you,” Louis said, edging closer. He nudged Liam’s arm. “He just got a guest spot on a CW show and everything. Could have been the one, Liam.”

Just that small contact was enough to make Liam flush. He wasn’t completely sure, but it felt an awful lot like Louis was flirting now. Which didn’t make any sense at all. "I couldn't stand to watch you flirting with someone else," Liam confessed, deciding that Louis deserved total honesty at this point, no matter how embarrassing.

"You have a funny way of showing that," Louis said, staring intently at Liam, walking his fingers up Liam's arm to his shoulder.

“I'm sorry?” Liam tried.

“Don't be,” Louis said, and leaned in and kissed him.

It was everything that he remembered from the club, only better. Because now instead of kissing an absurdly attractive stranger in a loo that smelled a bit, he was kissing Louis, in the kitchen of a gorgeous house they were staying at, and Liam’s bed was just one flight of stairs away.

He wasn’t too eager to leave the kitchen though, pressing Louis up against the counter and holding him there. Louis’s body fit against his perfectly, his hands remembering the feel and shape of Louis's arse. His cock gave a twitch when Louis made a little noise into his mouth. Louis shifted his hips against Liam’s, and Liam groaned, his desire to never stop touching Louis warring with his feeling that this was a bit naughty. Having a snog was one thing, but maybe he shouldn’t actually have sex with his colleague in his employer’s kitchen.

“Louis,” he tried saying against his mouth, but Louis shook his head and kissed him again, winning that argument handily. Liam lost himself in the kiss again, only to be broken out of his haze by the sound of Harry shouting, “Ha!”

Heart pounding, Liam pulled himself away from Louis, who seemed more disgruntled than terrified. "I thought you were still in London until Wednesday, Haz," Louis said, his hands still tight on Liam's hips.

"I wanted to come out here sooner so I could see the magic at work," Harry said, his eyebrows waggling.

Neither of them seemed to notice that Liam was quietly panicking. He wiggled further away from Louis and desperately tried to think of any explanation for what they were doing other than the truth. “Harry, it’s not what it looks like—”

“You’re a terrible liar, Liam,” Louis said, and Liam was about to tell him off when Louis slipped his hand into Liam’s and squeezed.

“Not what it looks like, eh?” Harry repeated, looking far too delighted given the situation at hand, in Liam’s opinion. “I find that hard to believe.”

“That’s because it’s rubbish, and if you think you’re keeping us down here with some sort of corporate meeting, you’re mad. We’ll be down in a couple of hours,” Louis said, pulling Liam behind him.

“Give yourselves until dinner,” Harry said, still sounding cheerful.

“Good man, just for that we won’t use your bedroom,” Louis called out over his shoulder.

“He didn’t seem very upset,” Liam ventured. He could barely keep up, Louis was going up the stairs so fast.

“Yeah, well, I’ve been complaining about you and your dumb face for ages, so I think he’s probably happy that’s done with,” Louis said, sounding out of breath as he opened the door to his room.

Liam frowned. “That doesn’t sound very professional.”

Louis swung him around and up against the closed door. “I’ll show you professional,” he said, getting his arms around Liam's neck and kissing him hard.

Liam forgot to think or care about Harry or anything else other than the taste and feel of Louis's mouth on his again. He had almost convinced himself that his memory had exaggerated how good it had been to kiss Louis at the club, certain that a snog and a couple of blowjobs in a toilet couldn't have actually been so mind-blowing. But now that he had Louis pressed against him again, his hands tight in Liam's hair as they kissed, he suddenly knew that if anything his brain had protected him against the truth, dulling the memory of how incredible it had really been.

And now it was even better than his alcohol-fuzzy memories of that night could have prepared him for, to have Louis kissing him slowly but thoroughly in a room in a house with an actual bed it in. He slid his hands down Louis's back, following the curve of his lower back and then the swell of Louis's arse. Liam's dick was pressing hard against the flies of his jeans and he pulled Louis closer, grinding their hips together.

Louis responded by kissing him harder, making it filthy with his tongue and teeth. He didn't give Liam any time to recover from that before going up on tiptoes and thrusting against Liam's hip, his thigh rubbing against Liam's dick. Liam pulled away from the kiss, trying to catch his breath, but Louis started biting and sucking down his neck while all but dry humping Liam up against the door.

"Oh god, I'm not gonna last," Liam gasped, already perilously close to coming and he'd not even got his jeans down yet.

"Eager for me, are ya," Louis teased. He slid his hand down between them and groped Liam shamelessly, his hand on Liam's cock not making it any easier to hold off.

"No, I mean yes, but." Liam cut himself off to kiss Louis again, getting his hand down the back of Louis's pants and gripping his bare arse. "Haven't had a wank all week, so like. Don't expect much."

Louis pulled away, looking incredulous. "Why on earth not?"

Liam blushed and made himself shrug. He tried to pull Louis back in for another kiss, but Louis kept him firmly at arm's length. "Didn't feel right doing that with you in the room next to mine."

"What about in the shower, then?" Louis asked, stepping closer again at last and getting his leg between Liam's. Liam groaned and kissed him again, hands sweeping down over Louis's arse and squeezing hard.

"I'd just want to think about you while I did it," Liam finally confessed against Louis's lips, closing his eyes in embarrassment.

They flew back open when Louis ran his fingers through his hair and tugged hard. Liam gasped and pressed his hips forward, somehow even harder now.

"Oh, you silly boy," Louis chided him, but it made Liam heat all over, his tone making it sound like fond praise. "You've obviously already waited long enough for this, then." And with no further warning he spun them around and pushed at Liam until he collapsed onto the bed, dropping to his knees between Liam's legs in one swift motion.

Louis had got his jeans and pants down before Liam really knew what was happening. The first touch of Louis's mouth on his dick was almost too much, Liam dangerously close to embarrassing himself like a schoolboy. Although if he was honest, he'd never experienced anything like this in sixth form or even uni, the sight of Louis taking him down inch by inch only the stuff of his dreams back then. He tried desperately to keep his hips still, but Louis just moved with him when he couldn't help but thrust up, one hand tight around the base of Liam's dick while he bobbed up and down on the head.

"God, Louis, you're so," Liam cut himself off when Louis suddenly pulled his head back, only his hand still on Liam's dick. "I'm sorry, I'll try to keep still," Liam promised, not at all sure how he would manage it but willing to say anything to get Louis's mouth back on him.

Louis flicked his tongue over his lower lip, his mouth pink and slick from blowing Liam. "Was wondering if you could hold off long enough to fuck me, if you're up for it."

All of the remaining blood in Liam's body left his head at the thought. He felt light-headed and overwhelmed and so turned on he didn't know how he could possibly last, but he swallowed hard and said, "I can try."

He was rewarded with Louis's smile, Liam's entire body flushing hot at the sight of it. "Get naked while I grab the lube, then."

Liam hurried to get his pants and jeans fully off, tugging his t-shirt up over his head before crawling further up onto the bed and flopping onto his back. He twisted his fingers together while he watched Louis dig through his bag on the floor and then undress himself casually, revealing himself to Liam like it was nothing before dropping a condom and lube on the bed next to Liam.

"I should probably tell you I haven't really done this. Or, I mean, I've had sex, just," Liam said, losing the thread of what he was saying when Louis got onto the bed and straddled Liam's thighs.

"Not with a bloke?" Louis asked, leaning down to kiss Liam again when Liam shook his head.

Liam's hands found Louis's hips and held them steady while they kissed. His nerves had the one advantage of taking the edge off a bit, and he no longer felt like a stiff breeze was all it might take to make him come. He tried to focus on what was familiar, the feel of someone's body over his, the taste of Louis's mouth. But he was still painfully aware that he would probably be rubbish compared to what Louis must be used to.

"Just relax," Louis said against his mouth, like he had read Liam's mind. "I got you." He sat up and grabbed the lube, popping the cap open. "All you need to do is lie back and think of England," he continued, grinning down at Liam. His hand disappeared behind him and Liam could see the moment when he must have pressed a first finger in, his mouth dropping open.

Liam had never really been the lazy type. "Sure I can't help you?" He sat up, sliding his hand round Louis's arse and rubbing around the rim while Louis fingered himself, holding Louis steady.

"Yeah, just there," Louis said as Liam's finger slid in, pressed tight against Louis's fingers already inside.

"I have done this bit before," Liam clarified, feeling like he might have sold himself a bit short.

"Have you?" Louis asked. His voice had gone all breathy, eyes slitted as he looked down at Liam intently while their hands slowly opened him up together.

Liam blushed. "On myself, I meant."

"Well, that's something I'm going to need to see in the future," Louis said, and before Liam could figure out how to reply to that Louis pulled his hand away from his arse and grabbed the condom. "Now this part should be just like riding a bicycle," he said while rolling the condom on Liam's dick.

"Looks more like you'll be the one doing the riding," Liam said, unable to stifle his giggle, feeling a bit overwhelmed that this was all happening.

"Oh, now he's a joker," Louis said, but Liam didn't think he really minded, since the next thing he did was position himself over Liam's cock and slowly sink down.

All thoughts of laughter or anything else other than the feel of Louis around him left his mind. He steadied Louis with his hands firm on his hips, Louis's palms flat against Liam's chest while he worked his way onto Liam's cock, and Liam tried to breathe and just hold on. And then Louis began to move.

"Oh, fuck, Louis," he gasped, letting his head fall back onto the pillows and then lifting it up again, because he needed to watch Louis fucking himself with Liam's dick. He was beautiful, biting his lip while he rocked forward and back, his hair falling in front of his eyes. Liam reached up with one hand and pushed his hair back, tangling his fingers in it and then tugging hard.

Louis's eyes dropped closed and he leaned closer, bracing his hands on either side of Liam's chest. Liam got his feet flat on the bed and started to thrust up into him at the same pace, holding him open with one hand on his arse. "Thought you were going to make me do all the work," Louis panted out, and curled over further to kiss Liam before he could answer.

Liam could feel the slide of Louis's dick against his stomach on every thrust now, pre-come slicking his belly. He let go of Louis's hair to get both hands on his arse, holding him steady while he pounded up into him, Louis's face tucked against his neck. "I can't, are you going to—"

"Don't stop," Louis begged, and Liam gritted his teeth, keeping a steady pace while Louis gasped and moaned into his ear, his entire body moving with Liam's. He felt Louis clench down around him a second before Louis began to come on his stomach, his dick sliding through it while Liam continued to thrust into him, his control almost gone.

"Louis, can I," he gasped, barely waiting for Louis's nod before he flipped them over, getting Louis's feet up over his shoulders before fucking back inside, his hand curled up under Louis's shoulders holding him steady. He tried to stifle his moans a bit, but it was impossible to keep quiet when Louis's hands were on his arse urging him to fuck him harder, when this was everything he'd wanted and more for the past week. His orgasm almost took him by surprise, hitting him between breaths, and he collapsed onto Louis, feeling like he couldn't move.

Louis didn't seem to mind at first, his hands sweeping up and down Liam's sweaty back while he kissed Liam as he shook through the aftershocks. But soon enough his fingers started to pinch and poke, and Liam pushed away from him with a groan, getting his hand down around the base of the condom before pulling out and flopping over onto his back.

"Not bad for a first try. We'll give you six out of ten," Louis said.

Liam stopped in the middle of tying off the condom to look over at Louis in outrage. "Only a six out of ten? That's a bit harsh." He flung the condom at the bin, feeling unaccountably grumpy given the orgasm he'd just had.

Louis tugged him back over and hooked his ankle around Liam's leg, pulling him closer for a kiss. "That was me trying to tell you that I want to do this again, you idiot. And I was judging you against your future, not against anyone else."

"Oh." Liam felt himself go a little pink and definitely did not think about how much more experience Louis must have. "Might need to wait a bit, you tired me out."

"Think you'll be ready again after a nap and dinner with Harry?" Louis asked, his fingers idly running through Liam's chest hair.

Liam grabbed onto Louis's hand and held him still. "That's—I wanted to talk to you about that. Are you sure this won't be weird?" Louis blinked at him, looking gorgeous and fucked out, and it was all because of Liam. He gave in and kissed Louis again before continuing, "You know, working together."

"Is that really what this was all about?" Louis asked, looking astonished.

Liam gaped at him. "I told you that!"

"Right, but I thought you were just letting me down easy," Louis muttered, staring down at Liam's chest. "Not many people have been all that interested in a second time, that's all."

"Have you been picking up the dumbest people in London?" Liam asked, frankly baffled that anyone wouldn't beg Louis for more.

"Are you including yourself in that?" Louis asked, a bit of a smile finally crossing his face again.

Liam pinched him, which only succeeded in getting Louis to squirm closer to him. "I don't want this to mess up our work," Liam said finally. He felt Louis go still against him. "But I also don't want our work to mess this up."

"Then we won't let it," Louis said firmly, and somehow Liam believed him without even knowing why. "Harry knows already, so that's fine. We might have to talk down Niall from the ledge, he was a bit freaked out by your display last night—"

"Oh god," Liam said, cringing with embarrassment just thinking about it.

"—but we'll be able to make it up to him. And for everything else, I'm not worried," Louis said, grinning sharply. "I mean, with your looks and my brains, how can we fail?"

"Think it's the other way round," Liam said, but his heart wasn't in it, his body finally giving into the exhaustion now that it seemed like everything would be okay.

"A crushing reply," Louis said, and Liam kissed the side of his head in agreement and promptly fell asleep.

*

Liam felt a bit less certain when he woke up again two hours later and realised he needed to shower the come off his stomach before seeing his boss again. But Louis pulled him into the shower and succeeded in distracting him, telling him in no uncertain terms exactly what his plans were for Liam later that evening. By the time he was clean and dressed again, Liam was half hard but also completely clear on why this was worth it to him.

His confidence faltered a little when they made it back downstairs and found Harry still in the kitchen, doing something on his iPad while the latest release of one of his other artists played over the speakers.

"Have a nice nap?" Harry asked innocently, his face only revealing his amusement when Louis snorted. "At least, that's what it sounded like from down here."

"Oh god," Liam said involuntarily, his face flaming red while Louis cackled with laughter.

Harry laughed with him before saying, "I'm just joking, Liam, I didn't hear a thing. Not that there was anything to hear, of course."

"Right," Liam said weakly. He squared his shoulders and stepped a bit away from Louis. "We're sorry and it won't happen again," Liam said determinedly, dodging Louis's pinching hands even while he attempted to be sincere.

"No, we're not and yes it bloody will," Louis said. Liam had got hold of both of his hands so he was no longer under attack, but now he was holding his probably-boyfriend's hands in front of their boss, so he still somehow felt like he had lost.

"At least not while we're staying here," Liam corrected.

"Be honest!" Louis shouted.

"Louis," Liam tried to whisper subtly. But he was pretty sure he wasn't fooling anyone.

"My bedroom's all the way down the hall and the walls are very thick, so I won't have any idea of what is or isn't happening," Harry said. Liam had just finished sighing in relief when Harry added, "Although I do keep the guest bathroom stocked with condoms and lube for a reason."

"See, it's mandatory, Liam!" Louis yelled in triumph.

Liam was fairly certain all of this was highly irregular and probably broke all sorts of workplace rules. But when he glanced over at Louis and saw him beaming back at him, looking hopeful and happier than he had all week, like there was finally nothing weighing him down, Liam couldn't find it in himself to mind.

"Okay, fine," he said, pretending to be defeated. Louis squeezed his hands hard; he clearly wasn't fooled. "Let's get back to work, then."

*

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

"First time here?"

Liam turned around and saw Louis holding out a drink for him. He took the drink and pretended to think for a moment before answering, "Yes, actually. Not my usual scene, but then it's not every day that I have a number one album to celebrate."

"Oh, and I guess you made that happen all on your own," Louis said. He reached out and got a couple fingers on Liam's nipple, twisting sharply.

"Yes, it was all me, stop that!" Liam hissed, grabbing Louis's hand and just barely keeping his drink upright.

"I'm going to tell Niall you said that," Louis said, somehow twisting their hands around until his fingers were laced with Liam's.

Liam gave his hand a squeeze. "He's already had enough whisky that he wouldn't care even if I was serious," Liam said. He leaned over and gave Louis a kiss on the cheek. "Besides, it never would have worked without you."

"Alright, that's enough of that mush," Louis said. He wiped his cheek off and frowned, but his hand never left Liam's.

"Can't help it, that's what you get for bringing me a drink and pinching my nipple," Liam said cheerfully.

Louis eyed him intently. "How many more drinks before I can get you to find an empty toilet for old time's sake?"

Liam flushed red but didn't look away while he downed his cocktail. "I'm a cheap date," he said, and Louis laughed. "Lead the way."