“The fuck do you want, Styles,” he mumbles before smashing his face back into his pillow.
“Oh, wow, I didn’t think you were going to answer,” Harry says around what sounds like a mouth full of marbles. “So anyway, I was out at this pub last night, you know, with friends—”
“Really, really don’t want to hear about who you pulled last night.” Not that it’s ever stopped him before, but at least it makes Liam feel a little better to offer a token protest.
“—and I’d not been to that one before, but they had all these signs posted about a new menu, which is weird for a pub, right? You’d go expecting regular pub fare, you don't want some new guy walking in the back and mucking it all up. But then I thought, no, that’s actually brilliant; what if what the new guy has is really good and you didn't know because you just wanted some regular old chips? You'd never know unless you actually tried, right? You go into the pub just planning on getting chips and end up with something amazing instead. So that’s why I’m going to add a new song.”
Not only is that the last thing Liam expected to hear, it’s also what makes him bolt upright, more awake than he was at any point all of yesterday. “Harry. What?”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line before Harry says, even slower than usual, “A new song?”
Liam takes a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut. “Harry. We’re getting ready to start the masters. We’re almost ready to pick the tracklist. You cannot be giving me a new song right now. You can’t.”
“Please, Liam. It’ll be something totally different. It’ll be great, everyone will love it, everyone loves a surprise. And we have the studio booked all next week.”
Liam lets his head fall backwards and stares at the ceiling. He counts to ten—twice—and sighs. “Fine. Bring it to the studio tomorrow and we’ll discuss it.”
There’s an ominous pause. “Well, that’s the thing. I thought maybe you could write it?”
Harry is disturbingly bright-eyed for it being before noon on their first day off in what feels like weeks. He slides a plate of bacon ("I was going to do sandwiches, but I'm out of bread.") under Liam’s nose, but Liam will not be swayed so easily. He glares a little harder.
“Stop bribing me.”
Harry affects a face and puts a hand to his heart. “You wound me, Liam. The bacon is for friendship!”
Liam pushes the plate away without breaking eye contact. “My day off. You are causing me stress on my day off. My inevitable heart attack will be entirely your fault.”
“In that case,” Harry says, nudging the plate back over and waggling his eyebrows, “you should really have the bacon. Enjoy it while you can.”
Harry furrows his eyebrows and frowns in what he probably means to be an imitation of Liam’s face. “Liam.”
“You can’t reasonably expect me to be okay with you wanting to not only add a new song, when we’re almost done with the entire album, but wanting to add a song that hasn’t even been written yet.”
“I believe in you!” Harry says brightly.
Liam rises slightly off his chair and flicks Harry on the forehead. “That’s the other thing. I’m not a songwriter. I’m barely a proper producer. I just like fiddling.”
Harry heaves a deep, dramatic sigh, as if Liam is being the difficult one here, and levels Liam with a look that's closer to Harry: Actual Serious Recording Artist than Harry: Nearly Always Ridiculous In The Morning. "Can you at least give me the extra song?”
Liam sighs right back at him and does a mental run-through of the completed tracks for the album. Picking the tracklist is always a shitshow, but if Harry can record while they finish the mixes, and guarantee they can have his breaks to choose the songs, they could possibly do it. Possibly. “Possibly.”
“So is that a yes?”
“Christ, you’re a menace. That’s a soft yes. You have to promise—”
“Whatever you need. I swear it, Liam. Hand to God. I want this.”
The thing is, Liam knows Harry has amazing instincts. The industry veterans on his team say he has some of the best of any pop star they’ve worked with. He has a knack for picking singles, and doesn’t hesitate to override a team decision if he doesn’t like it. He’s proven himself, and Liam absolutely trusts him to make his career decisions. So Liam already knows, in the back of his mind, that he’s going to say yes, even if it means going to bat for Harry in front of angry label executives. “I’m not writing it.”
“I haven’t even gotten a chance to convince you!” Harry squawks. “I have all day. I was going to bake you a cake. I was going to write 'I love you Liam' on it. With a Batman logo!"
“Get Ed to write it.”
Harry makes a noise like a dying trombone. “If I wanted to record an Ed Sheeran album, I’d have done it already. Liaaaaaaaaam,” he whines, “If you love me you’ll do this for me.”
“Low, Styles.” God, Liam hates him. He’s quiet for a moment. “I can’t even properly write a song, so I’m not sure how this brilliant idea of yours has taken hold.”
“First of all, you absolutely can, but since you refuse to admit that’s true, I have a co-writer for you. He’s great, been in the industry for ages, and does a bit of songwriting now that his group’s broken up. He mentioned he’s been looking for a new project last night—”
“At this new pub.”
“It’s not a new pub, Liam,” Harry scoffs. “They have a new menu. And that’s not the point! I’ll give you his information, I told him you’d be in touch.”
Bloody overly-confident Harry Styles, a constant pain in his arse. “Fine. But you owe me a cake.”
Louis Tomlinson is scribbled on the back of a bar mat in Harry's looping scrawl, along with an address not terribly far from Harry's flat. No mobile number, but Harry swore up and down that Liam was expected, and he could just turn up whenever. Liam frowns down at the paper; he doesn't quite like Harry's way of keeping appointments, but there's nothing else for it. He'd accidentally managed a glimpse of truly ridiculous blond hair coming from the general direction of Harry's bedroom earlier, which was more than enough reason for him to make a hasty exit. And would explain nearly everything about Harry's night last night and Liam's unfortunate morning today.
Louis Tomlinson. The name sounds vaguely familiar in a way Liam can't determine.
He wants nothing more than to go back to bed and start this whole day over, where Harry keeps his conquests away from Liam's general line of sight and doesn't come up with crazy ideas that cause Liam more work and stress, and Liam doesn't have to struggle with his own issues over his songwriting. Just because Harry thinks he's brilliant doesn't mean the rest of the world will; he's had to handle enough rejection to know exactly how this will play out.
When Harry finally convinced him to take over production duties for Harry's debut, he never imagined himself going this far to make the artist happy. Liam makes a face. Not "the artist". He's doing this for Harry as a friend. The thought alone is enough to spur his feet onward.
The address is on a quiet street of nearly identical houses facing a small park; Liam triple-checks the house number before taking a deep breath and pressing the buzzer.
After a moment, he hears the locks being fiddled with and the door swings open on what sounds like a conversation already in progress. "I hope you're ready to go straight back out, mate, I'm starving and I have to hear all about your night—person who is not Niall."
Liam blinks, a little taken aback. The guy who answers the door is barefoot, with scruffy, soft-looking hair, and an expectant look on his face.
"I'm...Liam Payne? Harry Styles put us in touch?"
"Oh, right! Right, Louis Tomlinson, how are you, come in. Have you eaten? I haven't since last night and right now I could probably eat you and not feel bad about it.”
Liam feels hot up to his ears and a little like he's been run over by a lorry. His mouth drops open a little, but before he can muster up anything to say, Louis waves a hand through the air.
“It doesn’t matter, come in, come in!”
Liam finds himself staring at the inside of the door without any real clue as to how he ended up agreeing to this entire thing. Harry owes him an entire shop's worth of cakes, because Harry never said Louis Tomlinson was ridiculously fit. He takes a deep breath and tells himself it’s one song, and then he’ll never have to do this again.
Louis leads Liam through his maze of a house, which leads to some concerning thoughts about how Liam is going to find his way back out without a breadcrumb trail and a knowledgeable guide. It feels weird and somehow a bit ominous, being taken to some hidden lair to sit down with the express purpose of hammering out a song in less than a week. Like he's Harry's writing minion. A thought he will never, ever utter out loud anywhere in the potential vicinity of Harry; he'd never shut up about it and Liam would have to murder him and then millions of teenage girls would probably murder Liam.
"Music room!" Louis declares, throwing open a door to reveal a large airy room with windows facing the trees in the park. There's an array of guitars next to some recording equipment; half hidden around the door is an honest-to-goodness grand piano, behind which is a large mural of—
"Oh my God," Liam says, his mouth dropping open. "You're Louis from Zap!"
Louis shrugs and gives Liam a small grin. "Guilty. Zayn did the art when I bought the place right after we got signed." He shrugs again, glancing at the art before looking away. "Means too much to get rid of it, you know?"
Liam nods absently, following Louis into the room, feeling a little shell-shocked. He can’t stop staring at the gold and platinum records on the walls, the Brits and AMAs set up like bookends. He remembers Zap! well, anyone who’d ever turned on the radio at some point two years ago has heard of them; Ruth was properly obsessed with them. Liam had rolled his eyes a lot and ignored it like he did most things his sisters did. The ultimate overnight success story, they were all anyone ever talked about as he and Harry progressed through X Factor, and the comparisons increased as Harry continued on and gathered more and more attention.
Louis is puttering around in the corner with the computer, opening the drapes further to let in large swaths of sunlight. “Do you want a guitar, the piano, or a pen?” he calls over his shoulder to where Liam is still frozen to his spot. Louis’s hair changes color in the sunlight.
Liam gives himself a small shake. He absolutely was not staring. He’s here to work. He’s here to work for Harry. He’s a goddamn professional. “Piano, if that works for you.” He wants to get his hands all over that Steinway. He feels a little faint, which is definitely just because of the gorgeous instrument in front of him and not at all because of anyone else in this room.
“Works for me,” Louis says with a grin. “I’ll handle the transcribing for now,” he adds, brandishing a notebook before plonking it and his cup of tea down on the lid of the piano.
And now Liam feels faint for an entirely different reason. He scoops the notebook off the piano, tossing it onto the chair Louis is pushing across the carpet, and holds the tea in one hand, letting the warmth seep into his palm while he waits for Louis to inch the chair into an exact position Liam can’t quite determine. He carefully rubs the sleeve of his jumper across the shiny wood, making sure there are no scratches or water rings left behind.
Louis finally straightens, admiring his handiwork with his back to Liam and his hands on his hips. He nods sharply before turning to Liam. “Oh, cheers,” he says, taking the tea and settling himself in the armchair. “So, Harry..." he starts before trailing off and frowning a little. “Did you need a chair? The bench doesn't bite, I swear, but I can find something else if you need it."
Liam clears his throat. “Yeah, sorry, here, let me just—” he drops onto the piano bench, adjusting it so he can reach the pedals easily, and places his fingers gently on the keys. Without looking at Louis, he says, “So did you get dragged into this by our lovely Harold as well? I feel like I should apologise for that, he gets a little excited about things without thinking them through a hundred percent, which usually means I end up with a migraine by the end of the day.” He looks up at that, giving Louis a wry grin.
Louis shrugs. “I actually asked him to write with me, and he managed to avoid saying no while telling me all about this magician of a producer he has who he wants to see write more and, well, here we are.”
Liam pushes the pads of his fingers across the keys. That does sound like Harry, pushy and endearing all rolled into one stupidly charming package with terrible dimples. “Here we are.” He plays a few chords absentmindedly while he thinks. He doesn't know how he's supposed to write a song with a stranger. This is the worst idea he's ever agreed to take part in, and Harry comes up with stupid ideas all the time. “So are you more of a melody or lyrics man?”
Louis hums a little along with the chord progressions. “Well, the way I see it, songs are like sex.”
Liam blushes to the roots of his hair and stares at the contrast of his fingers against the black and white of the keyboard.
“The melody is the physical attraction - it has to grip you right away. Pull you in. It has to be a...magnetic thing. But the lyrics are that deeper connection, what you come back to again and again. They can make or break the entire song. If the lyrics are shit, who cares what the music sounds like?”
Liam shrugs, still watching his hands on the keys. “Nothing...instrumental for you then? Nothing that’s moved you without lyrics?” He plays an arpeggio before letting his hands fall into his lap and looking over at where Louis has propped his feet on the piano. “Oh my God,” he yelps, horrified. “Get your feet off the piano!”
Louis smirks at him. “My piano, mate,” he says, but he makes a big show of slowly folding his legs underneath himself before raising his eyebrows. “Happy?”
“It’s just...such a lovely instrument,” Liam says, feeling himself flushing all over again. He feels like he keeps losing his footing here. Louis is bright and loud and quietly focused all at once. He can’t get a good read on where to find a comfortable common ground so he can begin to relate to Louis in order to write. He’s never thought of it before, but now that Louis has compared songwriting to sex, Liam can’t stop thinking about it; it’s easier for him to feel open about sharing himself with someone he trusts and feels comfortable with. He does not feel comfortable with Louis. This was a terrible idea; he should call Harry and tell him he’s coming back to the studio and if Harry wants a new song, he can find another way to get it.
Louis clicks the end of his pen a few times. “So I take it you’ll be on melody for us, then?”
Liam takes a deep breath. Melody he can do. Melody is just notes and keys and chords, it’s not sharing parts of himself that he’s not ready to lay on the table and be told that he's still not good enough. He puts on a smile that probably looks as fake as it feels. “Sounds great. I’m crap at lyrics, really. I once wrote Harry a song called ‘Love Autopsy’ just to prove it to him.”
Louis laughs, bright and loud, and clicks the pen a bit more; it feels like it’s scraping the inside of Liam’s brain. He plays a snippet of melody that was floating through his mind the other day, then repeats it, trying out a few flourishes. He’s just getting a feel for it when Louis breaks in.
“Did Harry have anything in particular for us? Guidelines, subjects, things to avoid?”
Liam rolls his eyes and feels a real smile start to take hold. “If he doesn’t like it, he’ll let me know loudly and often, and probably haul you back to the studio and sit on you until it’s fixed to his liking.”
Louis laughs again, his eyes crinkling at the sides. It’s lovely. “Sounds like my way of doing business. In that case, I’ve a few ideas I’ve been kicking around. Play that bit again and let’s see how it does.”
This, music, Liam knows how to do. The fluttery, unsure feeling in his chest slowly begins to die down. He positions his feet at the pedals and presses down gently on the keys. "So I was thinking about beginning in C sharp major, I’ve been working through this chord progression lately that I’m really liking…” he trails off as he plays through it, concentrating on hitting the sharps correctly. When he looks up, Louis has a look on his face like he just smelled something foul.
“C sharp major, are you fucking kidding me?”
Liam frowns. “It was just a suggestion,” he says, feeling heated and defensive. That’s a bit much, coming from someone who’s still a complete stranger.
Louis’s face immediately softens. “No, no, it’s fine, it’s fine, honestly. Just...who the fuck are you and do you just like making things harder on yourself?”
Liam can feel his face heating up again, and he’s getting really sick of how he’s letting Louis get to him so much. “In my defence, I did start this on the guitar.”
“Do you want me to go and get one?” Louis asks, already starting to unfold himself from the chair.
“No, no,” Liam says, waving him back down. “I think it’ll work better on the piano, so I may as well figure it out here and now.”
“Okay,” Louis says, settling back down but still looking a little wary. “Play it again,” he says imperiously, and Liam grins.
"I need a break," Louis declares, tossing his pen off into a corner of the room, where it clatters against the wall. "I'm not getting anywhere."
Liam sighs; he's been saying that for the past hour. The sunlight has migrated across the room and is now shining weakly in sharp angles across the floor. Liam rubs his eyes; they feel gritty and sore. They really have been at this for ages.
"D'you reckon a bit of fresh air would do? There's a nice coffee shop round the corner."
Liam stretches his arms up, feeling his spine lengthen and his shoulders loosen up a bit. "Yeah, let's. Been cooped up here too long. Could do with a coffee. Maybe some real food."
Louis tosses the notebook in the same general direction as the pen and springs out of his chair. "Niall always says a smart man never turns down food, and I, sir, am no fool."
Louis is sitting at a table making faces at his cup of tea while Liam is waiting at the counter for their toasties to finish heating, when Liam is struck by an impulse. Following those has worked out pretty well for him in the past, save a few, so when he sits down with their plates, he takes a deep breath and says, “Let’s start over.”
Louis’s head jerks upright and he narrows his eyes. “Why, what’s wrong with what we have?”
Liam waves his hand aimlessly. “No, no, not with the song. With each other. It’s a bit weird, isn’t it, the way we kind of got thrown together? I don’t know you, and, no offence, that’s not a good start to a working relationship, is it? So. I’m Liam, I work for a ridiculous pop star, and a very annoying little bird tells me we’d work well together.”
Louis looks at Liam silently for long enough that Liam starts to feel like a bit of an idiot, before the corners of his mouth curl up a tick. “I know who you are because I saw you on X Factor; I’m Louis, Former Pop Star—" Liam can practically see the capital letters forming in mid-air "—and I got roped into doing this because my mate Niall was trying to pull.”
Liam narrows his eyes. “Your mate Niall wouldn’t happen to have bleached blond hair, would he?”
The hint of the smile lingering around Louis’s mouth turns into a full-fledged grin. “He would, why?”
Instead of answering, Liam digs his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. “Damn it, Harry,” he mutters. He angrily punches at the screen, typing carefully to avoid any accidentally incoherent typos, Did you or did you not set this meeting up solely so you could sleep with Niall Horan? After he sets his phone down on the table, the rest of what Louis said catches up with him. “Oh, God, did you really?”
“Really what?” Louis says distractedly, frowning at his plate as he tries to pull his toastie into pieces without burning his fingers.
"See me on X Factor?"
Louis looks up at him then, a long string of cheese dangling from his lower lip."'Course I did," he mumbles around what looks to be fully half of his sandwich. "Couldn't believe it when you got voted off, had my money on you winning the whole rotten thing."
"Oh, that's—oh." Liam carefully unwraps his own toastie, not entirely sure how he's supposed to react. Most people, save his family, don't even remember he was his own act on the show; his career is irrevocably tangled up in Harry's at this point.
"We wanted to come over for your series, but, you know, tour conflicts." Louis shrugs, loudly sucking grease from his fingers. "Zayn and Niall were pretty upset it didn't work out." He looks back down at that, setting in on the rest of his food.
"Oh," Liam says again, feeling like a bit of an idiot. "Uh. Thanks?"
Louis shoots him a dazzling grin. "Yes, well. Now that we've established our mutual admiration society, what do you say we slap together a song? Doable?"
Liam is pretty sure everything about Louis is doable. "When did I ever say I admired you?"
Louis barks a sharp laugh, before pressing his lips together and flicking his fringe. "You didn't have to say, I can read it all over your face."
Liam smiles, taking a sip of his coffee, and his phone buzzes with a text from Harry. It's got a speak no evil monkey and an aubergine emoji. Liam is wiping his fingers off to reply when another text immediately follows. Tell me you wouldn't do the same thing if the situations were reversed. Liam turns his phone facedown on the table without dignifying that with a response.
Tea and toasties turns into chips and pints at the pub next door, and before he realises, Liam is tipsy and alcohol-warm, and Louis is leaning very close to him across the table, poking his finger emphatically into any bit of Liam that he can reach.
"There is just not enough rock-influenced pop being written for today's market," he all but yells into Liam's face in an attempt to be heard over the group watching rugby on the telly over the bar. "It's all either too bubblegum or too dance-y or too hip-hop, and there's a big empty space in between."
Liam frowns at his beer. He loves R&B and hip-hop. He directs his frown at Louis and bats his hand away. "I like that stuff."
"I didn't say it was bad, I said the market's oversaturated." Louis rolls his eyes. "Keep up, Liam."
Liam rests his head on his arms where they're folded across the table and closes his eyes for a moment. Everything is suddenly very bright and loud, and Louis is at the center being the brightest and loudest of it all.
"You're not pissed already, are you?" Louis half-shouts, sounding supremely suspicious. He starts prodding at Liam's face.
"Stop poking me," Liam mutters, reaching up and grabbing Louis's hand before pushing himself back into an upright position. "Besides, what about Harry?"
"What about Harry?" Louis says, not trying to pull his hand out of Liam's grip.
"He's doing the...wotsit, the kind of music you like."
Louis finally tugs his hand away. "I know," he says with an air of utmost patience. "I said there needs to be more. I'm very hurt that you aren't fully listening to me."
Liam rolls his eyes. "Are you ready to go back to work?"
Louis drains the rest of his glass. "I'm not nearly buzzed enough to justify leaving yet."
Liam groans and props his face in his hand, leaning dangerously to the side. "What if I said I was?"
Louis is quiet for a beat and looks at Liam like he's evaluating him, then slams his glass back down, making Liam jump. "I don't believe you!" he declares. "Another!"
Another turns into "Just one more, Liam, come on!" and by the time Louis has declared them fit to stumble out of the pub, Liam is giggly and flushed and can't really remember his objections to meeting Louis in the first place.
"I suppose writing is out of the question tonight, then," Louis says, very close to Liam's ear where he's propping Liam upright while he digs for his house keys.
"Hmmm," Liam says, then says it again, because his lips still feel like they're vibrating; it feels weird and sort of nice and a little bit funny. Liam starts humming Elton John to himself.
"Not much for holding your drink, are you, mate?" Louis laughs as they trip over the threshold.
Once inside, Liam toes off his shoes out of habit, and doesn't think twice about it until Louis laughs at him again.
"Please, by all means, make yourself at home," he says with a grin.
Liam can't quite figure out what he's referring to until he looks down at his socked feet. He wiggles his toes a little, just checking in, then looks back at Louis a little sheepishly. "Sorry, Harry's one of them that makes all his guests take their shoes off. I'll put them back on if you want me to?" He doesn't really want to, his socks are slightly sweaty and if he puts his trainers back on, his feet will just feel gross for the rest of the night.
"Nah, 's fine. I'm for a cuppa, you want one?" Louis jerks his thumb over his shoulder and tilts his head in a vaguely similar direction, which Liam supposes is meant to point to the kitchen somehow.
Liam nods, wiggling his toes again just for something to do, and trails after Louis down the stairs to the kitchen. His head is already starting to feel a little less fuzzy, but he still collapses into a kitchen chair just in case his legs decide to give out anyway. He rests his forehead on his arms where they’re folded on the table, and listens to Louis puttering around the kitchen, filling the kettle and setting mugs on the counter.
He sits up when he hears another chair’s legs scrape across the floor, Louis setting one mug on the table before leaning his chair back to reach the other one on the counter.
“Thanks for the tea,” he says, taking a sip and trying not to make a face. It’s way too bitter for his tastes, but Louis went to the trouble of making it for him, so he’s not going to complain. Out loud, at least.
“Feeling better there, lad?” Louis asks, smirking around the rim of his mug.
Liam ignores it and focuses on the warmth of the mug between his hands. “Sorry, I don’t normally let myself lose control like that.”
Louis laughs, a sharp explosion like it was startled out of him without warning. “That’s a pretty mild definition of losing control, if you ask me,” he says.
Liam frowns at him. “I don’t drink, like, at all. Don’t really know where my tolerance is, do I?”
“At all? Nothing?”
Liam shrugs. “It’s a bit of a long story, I suppose. But Harry’s not one for going out on a night, which suits me just fine.”
“We’ll fix that,” Louis declares ominously.
They’re quiet for a moment, Liam doing his best not to make a face every time he takes a sip of his tea. Louis has to have sugar in his kitchen somewhere.
“So this line,” Louis says out of the blue, startling Liam a bit from where he’d been staring at a knot on a cupboard door. “The picking up the pieces one? Been thinking that bit might have promise.”
Liam frowns, mentally reviewing what they’d been working on earlier in the day. “But I thought we decided that didn’t really fit in the meter we had already started writing. Right? That’s the part you’re thinking of?”
Louis nods slowly, staring off into the distance. “Yeah, but. I think I like that better than the stuff we’d decided to follow through on. I think I can do more with that, instead of trying to force something that might not come as easily. We can write the music around the rhythm of the lyrics, right?”
“Yeah, we can. I’ve never really done it that way? But it’s not impossible.” Liam traces his finger around the handle of his mug. “Are you thinking a ballad? Mid-tempo? It doesn’t sound like you’re thinking something upbeat.”
“No,” Louis says thoughtfully. “Well, actually...maybe? It might fit to do something introspective with a faster tempo. We could make that work.”
“Are you ready to go back, then? I don’t want to be pushy, but I think we’re running out of time, especially if we’re starting from scratch.”
Louis rolls his eyes. “You’re the least pushy person I’ve ever met, Payne. Just give it another day, you’ll be reconsidering your definition of what exactly it is a pushy person is like.”
Louis is clicking his pen again. In retaliation, Liam picks out a few minor chords. All it does is set his own teeth on edge; Louis is blissfully unaware of anything Liam is doing.
“Does it work if we go from ‘picking up the pieces’ to ‘holding them all together’? Or are those too different and keep it from flowing? Is it jarring going from picking to holding?” Louis gives his pen a series of rapid clicks.
Liam groans and sets his elbows on the piano, hitting a few keys along the way, covering his eyes with his hands. “I don’t know, Louis. I’m not a lyrics guy, I’ve told you that twelve times already.”
Louis scoffs. “It’s not hard, Liam. You just put some words together, and then put some more words together, and along the way you figure out where you’re going and then you end up with a song.”
Liam glares at him from between his fingers. “Yeah, you’re giving me a great demonstration of exactly how easy it is. We’re stuck on the first verse, and you’re going to sit there and say songwriting is easy? You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
Louis shrugs, going back to staring at his notebook. “You just need to get in touch with your emotions, Payno.” Liam mouths Payno at the top of Louis’s head, feeling bewildered. “You’ve never had to deal with a break-up? Work through the end of something you didn’t think was going to end? That’s all it is. Remembering those moments and writing down how you felt when it happened.”
Liam watches Louis for a long time, but he stays quiet, chewing on the end of his pen and not looking anywhere other than the page in front of him. “I never really thought of it that way,” he finally offers, not really sure what else to say.
“Well,” Louis says, overly bright but still looking anywhere but at Liam, “feel free to chime in any time. I know I’m brilliant but even geniuses need a bit of a hand now and then.”
Liam rolls his eyes, going back to the blank sheet music in front of him and marking a few notations with his pencil. It feels like Louis needs a few moments, but would take offence to Liam leaving the room, so he shifts uncomfortably on the piano bench until the pen clicks start up again.
“Okay!” Louis says, making Liam jump. “I’m calling it tonight. I need to not be looking at this. Unless you’ve been hit with a sudden wave of inspiration?” He pauses, looking at Liam expectantly, until Liam shakes his head. “Will you need a ride back home?”
Liam pauses where he’s pulling the cover down over the keyboard; he’d been hoping Louis would want to decompress over another cup of tea or a snack in the kitchen, but he knows a dismissal when he hears one. He shakes his head no. “I’ll phone a taxi. Or might just go back to Harry’s.” Actually, going to Harry’s might be best; he’ll still be awake and Liam can unwind a little in more familiar company.
Louis straightens up from pushing his chair back to the corner where it belongs, frowning. “I can drive you, Liam. It’s late, and it’s no trouble.”
“No, no, I’ll be fine. It’s not the first time I’ve had a late-night trip back home.”
Louis frowns even harder.
Liam shakes his head. “Harry likes his late nights,” he says with a little smile, trying to defuse the sudden tension in the room. He starts heading back to where he left his shoes at the door without waiting for Louis. He needs to be somewhere with a bit more familiarity. Maybe Harry has had one of his nighttime kitchen adventures.
He’s just pulling on his second boot when Louis clatters down the stairs, jumping over the last few steps and nearly bowling Liam over with his momentum. “You’ll be back in the morning?” he asks, sounding a little breathless.
“If you like,” Liam says, tugging tight on the laces so he doesn’t need to look Louis in the eyes. Something in the atmosphere upstairs had shifted in a way that Liam couldn’t really read, and he can’t shake the feeling that he did something wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time; his last attempt at a collaboration had ended quietly, any thought of completion petering out in a trail of unanswered emails and radio silence, and Liam had always privately blamed himself for his inability to do any of the heavy lifting when it came to putting words to paper. He still doesn’t understand how people like Harry, and Ed, and now Louis can so easily put themselves into a song, something that can be taken and twisted and judged by the entire world. It’s a level of bravery he doesn’t think he’ll ever reach.
Louis doesn’t say anything until Liam stands back up, hovering awkwardly by the door. “I do,” he says finally, studying Liam’s face for a long moment, then nodding sharply, like Liam has passed some kind of test. “Hand me your phone, let me give you my number. You can just text when you’re ready to head over, yeah? ‘s not like I need to make myself beautiful for anything,” he says, finishing adding his information and handing Liam’s phone back with a smile.
“Right,” Liam says, swallowing, that dazed and overwhelmed feeling coming back in full force. “Yeah. I’ll, er, text in the morning, then.” He doesn’t make a move for the door, though, and finally Louis steps in close, reaching around him to pull it open.
“Goodnight, Liam,” Louis says with raised eyebrows.
“Right,” Liam says again. “Goodnight.” He steps out into the cool evening, pulling the door shut behind him. He leans his forehead against the cool wood for a moment, taking a few deep breaths, before pushing himself off the doorstep and heading for home.
Louis thrusts his notebook into Liam’s face nearly as soon as he opens the front door the next morning. “Read over that,” he yells as he disappears towards the kitchen.
There’s an entire page filled with what must be Louis’s handwriting, getting progressively sloppier as it moves down the page. “When did you do this?” Liam calls back, but there’s no response until Louis reappears with two cups of tea.
“Woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep.” He holds out one of the cups of tea, but Liam doesn’t move to take it.
“Okay, this is...this looks good? I think I can work with this.” It actually looks painful, like what had woken Louis was something so upsetting that he couldn’t do anything other than put it into words on a page. It’s a coping technique Liam can’t quite wrap his head around, laying all those intimate thoughts and feelings out in black and white where anyone can see them.
It’s terrifying in every way imaginable.
Louis is already heading up the stairs, so Liam toes off his shoes out of habit before rushing to catch up. In the music room, Louis has obviously been busy—the piano has been pushed to the centre of the room, where the morning sunlight is streaming across the sleek body, the curtains fully flung wide. The armchair is pushed nearly flush to the piano bench, and there’s a small table off to the side where Louis is carefully setting down both mugs of tea.
Liam takes the notebook with him to the piano, setting it down on the music holder and playing through what he’d written out yesterday, reading through the rough lyrics as he does. It will need a few meter changes from what they’d started building yesterday, but from what Liam can tell, not much will need to be taken out.
Louis is curled up in the armchair, and Liam can feel his eyes on him as he glances over the lyrics one more time. “They’re really good,” he says again, handing the notebook back to Louis.
“Thanks,” Louis says quietly, passing a mug of tea over in return. Before Liam can even ask, Louis settles a coaster on the closed piano lid, a smug smile playing around the corner of his mouth.
Liam doesn’t say anything, turning back to his half-filled sheet music. “Okay,” he says, finding a pencil. “Give me an idea of the rhythm you have in mind, let’s see if we can turn that into something worth singing.” He gets an indignant scoff and a wadded up ball of paper to the head, but he just grins in response and starts scribbling a few notes to himself in the margins as he hears Louis start to tap out a rhythm on the edge of the piano bench.
They barely stop for lunch, Liam hardly able to finish writing a line of notation before Louis has another idea and starts scribbling out more lyrics. They make it through most of the afternoon at the same frenetic pace, Liam switching to setting up Louis’s mini-studio to create the demo when they're ready, while Louis reworks the lyrics into something he’s happy fitting into the rest of the song. It’s mostly quiet save for Louis humming various melody lines and muttering to himself, and Liam sits down with his laptop to import the music he has written down into a new project. He’s hoping to get the drum track started before Louis runs out of steam, one less thing to worry about before starting the demo recording.
Louis stays in the armchair for the rest of the afternoon, alternating between staring at the wall and clicking his pen incessantly and bent over the page, his brow furrowed as he writes and scribbles things out and writes again. His pace begins to slow as the daylight fades, and Liam takes his place back at the piano to play through the music again.
Finally, after Louis has spent more time still and quiet than writing, Liam plays a few flourishes, then says, “Ready for a break?”
Louis sighs loudly, running his hand through his hair a few times before letting his feet fall to the floor with a thump. “I really need an end to this bridge, and it’s not working. It’s like all that momentum just—” he slices his hand through the air in a frustrated abortive motion.
Liam bites his lip. “Do you need to have it done before we can eat? Maybe that will help?”
Louis laughs a little. “No one has ever successfully gotten me to stay productive when there's food on offer, and I'm not about to break my streak now. I need to not look at this for awhile, I can't think straight right now anyway.”
Louis has about twenty Indian takeaway menus in his kitchen drawers, and he shuffles through the pile twice before finding the one he's looking for. He slaps it to Liam's chest. “Look through and decide, I already know what I want. Just going to run for my wallet.”
He disappears, taking the stairs two at a time, and Liam flips the menu open, half heartedly scanning the list before just deciding on his usual order.
Instead of coming back down to the kitchen, Louis yells down the stairs a minute later, telling Liam to come join him in the lounge. By the time Liam gets there, Louis is already on the phone placing his order. “What do you want?” he whispers, pointing at his phone, as if Liam needed the clarification.
After he's finished rattling off his address, Louis sinks into the sofa, digging a multitude of remotes out from between the cushions. “Round of FIFA before the food gets here?” he asks without looking at Liam, preoccupied with signing into his Xbox account.
“Sure,” Liam says, grabbing the second controller resting near Louis’s thigh, being careful not to touch.
Louis is good, fast and practiced, and Liam feels clumsy next to him; it's been a long time since he's had time to sit down and play a friendly tournament. By the time their curries arrive, Louis has beaten him soundly, accompanied by some very creative trash-talking, and done a ridiculous victory dance around the room.
They watch a rather uninspiring footie match while they eat, Louis keeping up a steady stream of commentary, at times directed at Liam, the telly, or himself, and occasionally to all three at once. Liam does his best to match him, interjecting when he feels he can add to the entertainment value, and for every laugh he startles out of Louis, he feels as though he's accomplished something special.
When they're done eating, Liam feels sated and happy, and like he could sleep for an entire week. Louis is poking at the rubbish on the coffee table with his toes, whining about having to clear up.
“We could leave it and go back upstairs?” Liam offers, staring at the ceiling from where he has his head tipped back against the sofa. He feels like he's about to slide off the thing entirely.
Louis sighs loudly. “Don't think I'm quite ready to go back to staring at a blank page again.”
Liam hums, thinking. They don't have much time to waste but he also knows he can't exactly shake Louis until the words fall out. “We could start working on tracking,” he says, half thinking out loud.
“Yes,” Louis says emphatically.
“Stay here,” Liam says, pushing himself up off the sofa. “I'll just go grab my laptop.”
He runs up to the music room to grab his laptop and a guitar, then hesitates when he sees Louis’s notebook still lying open on the piano bench. He picks it up, tucking it against his computer. It's better to have it in case it's needed.
Downstairs, he sets Louis up with the unfinished drum track while he works on chord progressions and bass lines. He knows Louis saw the notebook but neither of them acknowledge it. They work steadily for another couple of hours, and never once does Louis mention the lyrics. Liam, no matter how much the producer in him wants to hurry up and finish, doesn't push.
Somehow, without Liam really noticing, he gets talked into spending the night at Louis’s. Probably, he thinks groggily as he stumbles into the washroom the next morning, Louis did something like appeal to his panic over the looming deadline, and that was all his sleepy self had needed to hear. He stares at himself in the mirror for a long time. This is not like you, he thinks as he peers at his reflection. You don't sleep over at strange men's houses. Except, apparently, now he does.
Louis is in the kitchen, barefoot and wearing pyjamas that fall adorably over his toes, staring at the kettle as he waits for it to boil. The sight startles Liam into feeling as though he's crossed some sort of line, and he clears his throat uncomfortably.
Louis jumps, looking up at Liam as though he's forgotten he was in the house. “Shit,” he says quietly. “I was hoping you'd still be asleep. I have some clean clothes you can borrow, I was going to put them in the guest bath as soon as I'd gotten some tea.”
“No offence, but I don't think you'd have anything that would fit me,” Liam blurts out. He'd meant to say thank you, or possibly, I can't do this, I'm leaving. He's being betrayed by himself all over again.
Louis rolls his eyes. “They'll fit. Give me a minute, I'll be much more useful once I have some tea. There's enough if you want some as well.”
Liam leans against the countertop, still rubbing some of the sleep from his eyes. “I'm a bit more partial to coffee,” he starts, and Louis makes a wounded noise. “But tea would be fine, thanks. Do you have any sugar?”
Louis makes another noise; he sounds like he's been stabbed. “Noooo, Liam,” he whines. His voice still sounds a little gravelly from sleep.
“Oh,” Liam says, a bit disappointed. “Well, that's alright.”
Louis rolls his eyes, pushing himself upright and padding over to another cupboard. He plonks a large canister of sugar next to Liam’s elbow. “If you must,” he says, looking annoyed. Liam is pretty sure he's joking. Mostly.
Once Louis has declared himself human, and retrieved a fresh shirt for Liam (out of a storage bin labelled ‘tour shit’), they tramp back into the lounge. Looking at his laptop, Liam feels inexplicably defeated. What if they don't finish? He doesn't want to ruin his professional reputation over one half-completed song.
Louis, blithely unaware of Liam's blooming panic, settles on the sofa with the guitar perched on his knee and his lyric notebook resting in front of him.
Taking a few deep breaths, Liam settles on the floor, using the coffee table as a desk. He works on generating sheet music for Harry as Louis quietly strums every third chord and sings under his breath. The morning passes with Louis slowly but steadily writing and Liam putting finishing flourishes on the music, moving through various rooms in the house to help keep their creative momentum flowing.
They make it back down to the kitchen before Louis runs into another stopping point during the last verse. Liam offers to make a late lunch while Louis stews over his notebook at the table, and an unsettling quiet descends on the kitchen.
Lunch is uncharacteristically quiet; Louis looks like Liam had felt earlier. Liam doesn't push; he quietly clears the dishes and puts on the kettle. When he sets a cup of tea in front of Louis, Louis screws up his face like he's been mortally offended.
“What the fuck, Liam, where did you learn to make tea?” he asks indignantly.
Liam breathes a mental sigh of relief. “Pay me and maybe I'll figure it out,” he shoots back without thinking. “Until then, you'll drink it and like it.” Too late, he thinks that might have been taking things a bit too far.
He looks up and Louis is staring at him with a look of surprise and utter delight on his face.
“Liam!” he cries, obviously aiming for scandalised, and landing somewhere around ecstatic.
Liam can feel himself flush a little, but he's not sure if it's from embarrassment or delight. He shrugs one shoulder and drinks his tea, never breaking eye contact with Louis.
Louis cackles, bending back over his notebook. Liam feels a tension he didn’t know he was carrying begin to shake loose. He smiles dumbly at the top of Louis’s head, slowly sipping his tea, and nearly gets caught when Louis suddenly sits upright and slides the notebook across the table towards him.
“Your turn,” he says, scrubbing a hand across his face.
Just like that, Liam’s sudden buoyant mood disappears. “Louis, I—”
“Liam, please,” Louis says, starting to sound frustrated. “I just need a little help. Something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be good, I just need something that isn’t coming from my brain right now.”
“Sorry, Louis,” Liam says quietly. He wants to slide off his chair and sink into the floor. He can’t do this one tiny thing, he can’t bring himself to even think about helping Louis when Louis seems to need it most. It’s humiliating.
Louis somehow manages to give the impression of exploding into a fit of frustration without moving a muscle. “Why, Liam,” he says, his tone carefully modulated. It sounds like he wants to yell. Liam kind of wishes he would just yell, get it over with and move on, and Liam can go back to simply producing like he was meant to do all along.
Liam stares down into his cup of tea, twisting his feet around the legs of the chair. There’s a long silence that isn’t exactly uncomfortable, but Liam can feel the burden of his quiet shame weighing him down, pressing him further into his seat.
“I tried to make it on my own right after X Factor,” he says. That’s not unusual, though, most people do. Louis is quiet on the other side of the table, his hand wrapped around his mug, but he doesn’t make any move to drink from it. Liam feels the weight of his gaze as something that should feel difficult but instead is nothing but buoyant, making him feel supported and safe.
Liam shrugs, in response to nothing and everything, looking down at his tea again. “I figured, solo male artist, my best chance was as a singer-songwriter type. I can play a little guitar, some decent piano—obviously,” he says, shooting Louis a quick grin that is just as quickly returned. “I had a couple of contacts from before the show, and some I got during, and I figured, why not. I made X Factor, I’ve got to be good enough, right? Turns out me being good enough is only limited to singing other people’s songs.”
Louis frowns. “Bullshit,” he says, but it’s quiet, not as biting as Liam knows he can be. “There’s no way that’s what they told you, you’d sound good singing a page out of the dictionary.”
Liam shakes his head. “No, that’s not all, but that’s what they meant. Can we talk about something else?”
“No,” Louis says. Liam frowns at him and he shrugs in response. “I think you should tell me.”
Liam frowns even harder. “I don’t see how that would help any.”
Louis takes an obnoxiously loud sip of his tea. “Yes, well, that’s for me to worry about. Talk.”
Liam traces the rim of his mug while he thinks. “They asked to see a couple things I’d written, and I think I only had about two and a half songs at that point. They said they weren’t terrible but they were too cliche and could read a little cold.” He can feel the tips of his ears heating already. “I was really young and I guess I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. Anyway, it’s not that tragic of a story. It’s no worse than what happens to any other kids out there.”
Not for the first time, though, he lets himself wonder what would have happened if the only criticism he’d ever received had been limited to his singing capability and not the lyrics he’d written in a sort of helpless desperation, willing to try anything to chase the dream he’d had taken away from him after he was voted off the show.
Louis looks like he’s going to say something else, and Liam keeps going without letting him get a word in. “It’s fine, I’ve moved on.” Mostly. “Besides, I think I do actually prefer the production side of things? I know everyone says that kind of thing to cover up failures, but honestly, it’s really true.”
“I get that,” Louis says. “I really get that. Look at me, I’ve had both sides, and I think I prefer the songwriting bits of it better, too.” He looks like he’s ready to drop the previous line of questioning, and Liam breathes a mental sigh of relief.
He smiles across the table, but it doesn’t feel very genuine. Part of him still wants that other half, too. To feel the rush of people singing his songs back at him as one giant chorus, to being the face of the rush that only live music can bring.
“Okay,” Louis says with an air of finality, draining the rest of his tea. “Time for a break, I think, there’s no way I’m going to get anything else written right now.”
Liam does his best to shake off the lingering feeling of discomfort, shifting back into work mode. He hasn’t heard from Harry in the past few days, but he’s still feeling the pressure of the looming deadline. He doesn’t blame Louis for not wanting to try writing right away, but he feels the need to be getting something done. “You up for recording some?”
Louis’s eyes light up. “Absolutely. Yes. Pefect. Let’s go.” He takes off for the stairs empty-handed, and Liam lets it be. They can try again in a few hours.
Liam rinses out the mugs, leaving them in the sink, and by the time he makes it up the stairs, Louis is nearly finished setting everything up, keyboard sitting out on the desk, and a guitar cradled in Louis’s lap.
Liam settles the headphones over his ears, spreading the music across the top of the keyboard, and shooting a grin at Louis. Louis gives him a quick nod, and he starts the drum track. Playing through this music has become second-nature to him over the past two days, and he lets his mind wander a little as he’s playing. Louis is jammed into the small recording space right next to him; he can feel the movement of Louis’s arm as he plays, and he’s grateful he knows the music as well as he does, because it’s really quite distracting.
Louis, who opened his home and heart to Liam without question or hesitation, who has matched him stride for stride over the past few days; a total stranger that Liam feels tied to more closely than he could have ever imagined. Recording the beginnings of the demo is beginning to bring Liam a few steps closer to the real world; life has narrowed to a haze of music and a shared hesitant camaraderie that he fears will be lost once he steps out the door with a finished song in hand.
He stops playing abruptly, and Louis looks at him sharply, a question passing across his features before he takes the headphones off.
“I think—” Liam starts slowly, giving himself a moment to change his mind, but he feels committed and ready. “I think I know how we can fix the bridge.”
A smile breaks out on Louis’s face, his eyes crinkling at the corners. He sets the guitar down quickly but carefully, and digs through the closest drawer for a pen and paper. “Yeah? Really?”
Liam laughs. “Really. It’s a song about loss but not sad, right, so let’s put that in the bridge and move what’s in the bridge to the third verse. I—it’s going to work, I think I can help you finish writing it, if you still want.”
“Liam, of course, I’ve only been asking you all day,” Louis says, rolling his eyes. Liam can tell he’s trying to look exasperated, but it’s just coming across as terribly fond.
“What if,” Liam starts, feeling like he’s pulling ideas out of thin air, “what if we shift the focus onto another subject? Like, you lose someone who you thought was your...anchor? So you feel aimless, and then you find someone else who does that for you. Grounds you, maybe? Does that fit?”
Louis taps his pen against his lips twice before bending over and writing furiously. After about ten minutes, during which Liam chews on his lip and worries that he somehow overstepped a boundary somewhere, Louis shoves the page into his hands. “Something like that?” he asks, his eyes bright and happy.
Liam squints at Louis’s hurried handwriting. “Does that say ‘I’ll be your horn’? Because that makes no sense, Louis, I’m sorry.”
Louis rolls his eyes dramatically and leans forward to flick Liam in the forehead. “‘Home’, idiot. You should be an expert at my writing by now, honestly.”
Liam punches him in the shoulder before going back to reading. Louis lets out a huff, then flips the paper up out of Liam’s hands.
“We’re finished!” he yells excitedly. He jumps out of his chair, punching the air a couple times, then drapes himself across Liam’s shoulders, practically bending Liam in half.
“Not yet, we’re not,” Liam says to his knees. “Pick up that guitar, we’ve got a demo to record.”
They're finally ready to record the vocals around three am. Liam is exhausted but he doesn't want to sleep until this is done, and Louis seems to feel the same way, his eyes sleepy but bright with an almost manic gleam. They're both laying on the floor, eyeing the recording setup, when Louis pushes the finalised lyrics over to Liam. The gesture is nice, but the page barely flutters across the carpeting.
“You do it,” Louis says, muffled where his face is partially pressed into the floor.
Liam shakes his head, even though he knows Louis can't really see him. “No, they're your words. You should sing them.”
“I'm exhausted, Liam. My voice is shit right now.”
That is patently untrue, Liam has spent the last hour dying a little inside over how Louis’s voice has gotten progressively raspier and gentler, but he doesn't dare voice that opinion right now. “Of the two of us,” he says, feeling like his brain is moving in slow motion, “I'm not the one who is a ridiculously successful recording artist.”
Louis squints at him and doesn't say anything.
“Fine,” Liam says, grunting as he pushes himself into something resembling an upright position. “It’s your fault when it turns out to be shit.” He’s being needlessly harsh on himself, he knows, but he’s already being stretched to the edges of his comfort zone, and this just feels like the tipping point.
Louis rolls to his back, grabbing the lyrics sheet and holding it straight up in the air. “Go Liam,” he cheers quietly, his eyes drooping closed. Liam is tempted to step on him.
“You have to come listen,” he says instead. “I want to get this done and go to sleep.”
Louis waves a casual hand through the air before letting it flop heavily to the floor. “You’ll be fine,” he says, his eyes still closed. “You were on X Factor, you know how to do this.”
Liam frowns. “That was ages ago, though. What if I fuck this up? I don’t want to be here until sunrise, doing this over and over again.”
“One take Liam!” Louis crows, thrusting both fists in the air.
“You are useless,” Liam complains, shoving his toes into Louis’s side as he steps over him to get to the microphone.
Louis nods solemnly, finally opening his eyes to grin up at Liam as he’s getting situated. “I am very useless,” he agrees. “Now get that thing recorded so I can go to sleep.”
He’s snoring before Liam gets to the second verse.
Liam wakes up under the piano. He rubs at his eyes, staring up at the slats running across the bottom of the instrument. He’s not entirely sure how he got here, but he does vaguely recall stretching out on the floor, practically nose-to-nose with Louis, trying to decide if he should wake him so they could stumble to proper beds. Obviously that never happened.
Louis is still snoring loudly, his arm thrown over his eyes. He’s somehow rolled under the computer desk, which at the moment feels like it’s miles away. Liam is looking around for something he can throw at him without actually causing him harm, when his phone starts buzzing across the desk. It’s loud enough that Louis stirs, muttering something that Liam can’t fully make out.
He carefully crawls out from under the piano, taking care not to hit his head, and just misses the call by the time he grabs his phone. It’s Harry, of course it is, and Liam immediately texts back, Finisshedddddd!!! Ill bring it to yours soonnnn?
“The fuck time is it,” Louis mumbles from where he’s still sprawled on the floor.
“After 10,” Liam says, double-checking his phone display.
“‘s too early. Back to bed.” Louis paws at Liam’s ankles. If Liam knew him a little better, he’d give him a couple little kicks.
YES!!!! Come over ASAP, not going into the studio today is Harry’s reply.
“Get up,” Liam says. “Harry wants to hear the song, I’m headed over there in a bit. You’ll need to lock up after me.”
Louis sits up, looking a little grumpy. “I don’t get to come with you?”
Liam frowns down at him where he’s still sitting on the floor. “I mean, I won’t say no if you want to come along? I just didn’t think you’d want to, it’s not like we’ll be doing anything very exciting. Just listening to a poorly sung demo, that’s all.”
Louis rolls his eyes. “I’m not going to dignify that with a response. I’ll drive us over as soon as the tea is made.”
By the time they make it to Harry’s, Louis is a bit more alert and Liam is wearing a shirt that’s just a tiny bit too small for him, but Louis had unearthed it from God knows where and thrown it into the bathroom while Liam was still attempting to brush his teeth with his finger. Liam uses his key to let them in the house, yelling for Harry while he motions to Louis to take his shoes off.
Harry calls back that he’s in the kitchen, so Liam leads the way through to find Harry sipping a very bright green smoothie. Louis visibly recoils.
“What the fuck is that,” he says, mostly under his breath so that only Liam can hear. Louder, he says, “Hullo Harry, that looks disgusting. Hullo, Niall.”
“Oh, right,” Harry says, gesturing expansively to the blond guy currently rooting through Harry’s cabinets. “Liam, Niall. Etcetera, etcetera.”
Niall makes his way across to where Harry’s NutriBullet is sitting out on the worktop, dumping in handfuls of ingredients without much bother. “Hi, Liam!” he says brightly. “Harry says we just barely missed each other earlier this week. Glad to see you haven’t strangled that one in the past few days.” He gives Louis a meaningful look.
“I’ve been tempted,” Liam replies. Louis shoves his elbow into Liam’s ribs.
“Shut up, you love me,” he says airily, sprawling into a chair opposite Harry. “By the way, that thing smells worse than it looks.” Harry shrugs, looking unconcerned.
Niall ends up with a concoction that definitely looks better than what Harry has. “I love this thing!” he exclaims, pushing everything to the back of the worktop before joining them at the table, hanging off the back of Harry’s chair.
“I’ll get one for you,” Harry says, looking delighted at the prospect.
“Gross,” Louis says.
“No one asked you,” Niall shoots back.
“Can we please get to work,” Liam says, not expecting anyone to acknowledge him.
Harry zeroes in on him with startling focus. “You have it right now?”
“That’s the whole reason I came over here,” Liam points out. “It’s not exactly like I missed your dumb face.”
“Liar,” Harry says. “Now give it over.”
Liam pulls the track up on his phone before sliding it over to within Harry’s reach. If it were anyone else, he’d be making apologies for it being him singing, but it’s not. It’s Harry.
Harry and Niall both bend over the phone’s tiny speakers as the first few notes come out. Liam feels like he doesn’t take another breath until the track is finished and Harry grins up at him.
“Oh my God, guys, that’s amazing. And Liam! You sang!”
“I did,” Liam says, hoping his face isn’t turning red. “Anyway. You happy? Is it what you were looking for?”
“So happy,” Harry says, sliding the phone back across to Liam.
“Good,” Louis sniffs. “We nearly killed ourselves writing it.”
“Don’t be such a baby,” Niall says, rolling his eyes.
“We did!” Louis protests. “It was a terrible ordeal. Tell him, Liam.”
“Terrible,” Liam says, trying to look solemn.
Harry rolls his eyes. “Such dramatics. You made it out alive, stop complaining.”
“You’re one to talk, Styles.”
“Liam, please!” Harry gasps. “I am the picture of moderation.”
“Right.” Liam gives Harry a look before standing. “Now I’m going home to shower and wear my own clothes and sleep in my own bed.”
“Sleeping under the piano isn’t the most restful place, I’ll give you that,” Louis says, following suit. “I’ve got a week's worth of sleep to catch up on at this point.”
“Under the piano, what the fuck were you two doing all week?” Niall asks, sounding delighted, before obnoxiously slurping at the last of his concoction. Liam glances over at Louis, who is glaring daggers at Niall and drawing a finger across his own throat.
“That shirt is awfully small for you, Liam,” Harry says, raising his eyebrows, and levelling him with a look that Liam knows all too well, and it never means anything good for him in the long run.
“Not dignifying that with a response,” Liam replies. “I’ll email you the demo when I get home. Goodbye, Harry. Nice to meet you, Niall.”
“You too!” Niall chirps.
Louis trails behind Liam on their way to the front door. “Do you want me to drive you home?” he asks, sounding a little hesitant.
“No, it’s just down the way, I can walk.” They linger a moment on the threshold, Liam feeling oddly like he’s in that awkward moment of saying goodnight at the end of a date.
“So, um,” Louis starts, clearing his throat a little. “I’ll bring your things back over at some point? Just let me know when you’re going to have a few free hours, I can meet you wherever.”
“Yeah,” Liam says, his voice catching a little. He feels a little ridiculous, because he’s sure Niall, and, by extension, Louis, will be around for awhile, but it feels like he’s saying an actual goodbye. He shakes himself a little; he needs to get a grip. “Yeah, just text or email, whatever.”
“Will do.” Louis hesitates another moment, then quickly grabs Liam into a big hug. “It was a pleasure working with you,” he says. “I’ll see you.” With that, he disappears into his car, giving the horn a short honk as he drives off.
Liam nods to himself, waving as Louis pulls away, and turns for home.
Liam is scrolling through the first few mastered tracks, double checking the edits and compiling a list of recent changes that he wasn’t in the studio to see, when Harry bursts in with Niall clinging to his back, Louis trailing behind them laughing.
“Liam!” Harry exclaims, delighted. “I haven’t seen you in ages, I’ve missed you terribly!” He extricates himself from Niall, instead curling over Liam from behind, his hair falling over Liam’s face.
Liam splutters, pushing Harry’s hair off to the side, only to have it fall right back where it was. “Harry, I don’t have long hair for a reason, get off.”
“But Liam, I’ve miiiiiiissed you,” Harry sings in his ear.
“I just saw you this morning,” Liam says, trying to jab his elbow around the back of the chair so he can land it somewhere on Harry’s person.
“But that was hours ago!”
Liam gives up. “Niall, come get your...Harry off my back, and make yourself useful.”
“He’s useful for a lot more than that!” Harry yells, sounding delighted.
“No. Absolutely not. I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Anyway,” Harry says from a little further away. Liam turns around from the soundboard to see him half on top of Niall, both of them squished together in an armchair, despite there being an entire empty sofa next to them. “We came to get you for dinner, you’re not allowed to be in here anymore.”
“That’s not a rule, Harry, and I won’t fall for it a second time,” Liam says, trying to keep a straight face.
Louis lets out a bark of laughter from where he’s still hovering near the door, startling Liam a little. He’d almost forgotten he was there. “So you’re saying you actually believed him once when he said that?”
Liam rolls his eyes at the same time that Harry gleefully says, “Yes! We were working on the first album, neither of us had any idea what we were doing, and he absolutely refused to go home, too worried about making everything perfect, so I left for a minute and pretended to be talking to, I don’t know, he was a studio guy or a label guy or maybe management, who knows, and then I came back in and said,” and here Harry screws his face into something that he probably means to look sorrowful, “‘Liam, those guys out there say they have to close the studio for the night, and we can’t stay here any longer.’”
Liam really feels like he should be defending his honour here. “Look, I’d never done this before! I had no idea the studio was ours for the entire process and we could stay as long as we needed!”
Harry ignores him. “And he gave me these terrible puppy-dog eyes, and I swear his lip was wobbling, and I said, ‘I don’t make the rules! So since we have to leave, we may as well go get something to eat.’ I’ve never seen anyone look so miserable about going for a takeaway.”
Louis and Niall are both cackling, watching Liam’s reaction. Harry, for his part, has the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, looking inordinately pleased with himself.
“I hate you,” Liam says, trying to keep a smile off his face. The stories he and Harry have from that first album, when they were just kids thrown into the deep end, are some of his favourites. The entire process felt like it was just him and Harry standing on the edge of something great, just waiting to see where it led, and somehow it hasn’t stopped yet.
Liam sighs loudly, though Harry had won the moment he’d walked through the door. They’re ahead of where Liam had thought they’d be at this point, and Harry, true to his word, had done his best to get ahead of the schedule. “Where are we eating?” he asks, resigned to his fate, and Harry cheers.
“You don’t understand,” Harry says, tipping his head back so he can see Louis. “Back on X Factor, we had to force Liam to have fun.”
“You did not!” Liam protests. It comes out a little too shrill, and Harry cocks an eyebrow at him before turning back to his rapt audience.
“We did,” he says solemnly. “He was all, ‘I can’t, guys, I have to go practice.’ Or, ‘that’s detrimental to my vocal chords.’” Harry’s voice goes ridiculously deep and he furrows his eyebrows every time he does an impression of Liam. It’s terribly endearing, and absolutely nothing like what Liam actually sounds like.
“I never said anything was detrimental to my vocal chords, Harry, what the fuck,” he says.
“No, that’s true,” Harry agrees, looking wicked. “You probably didn’t know that word yet.”
Louis bursts out laughing like it’s been punched out of him, doubled over and clutching the door frame. “Oh my god, Liam, that is amazing.”
Liam wants to kill everyone in the room. Niall is still snuggled into Harry, snickering into his shoulder. Liam rolls his chair across the floor so he can kick Harry in the shins.
“Owwwww, Liam,” Harry whines, giving him a wounded look.
“Don’t give me that look, Styles. Maybe I don’t want to come out with you lot after all.” He does his best to not crack a smile, even though he feels ridiculous pushing himself back to the soundboard with just his feet. He tries to watch Louis as much as he can without being caught; he seems different here, more relaxed and open. Liam feels different too, like they can relate to each other on more equal footing. He makes it back to the soundboard and spins the chair lazily a few times, listening to Niall and Harry giggling at each other. When he comes to a stop, Louis is watching him, and Liam can feel the back of his neck heat up. Liam tilts his head towards the other two, smiling and giving Louis a little shrug. Louis smiles back, his eyes a little sleepy, tilting his head to rest against the door frame. He doesn’t look away from Liam.
“Alright, writing minions!” Harry yells, too loudly for the small space, and Liam groans internally. They’re never going to hear the end of that. “Last one to the car buys drinks!”
Harry beats him into the studio the next morning. He’s annoyingly awake, already peppering Tony, their sound engineer, with questions about how the final tracks are turning out. He’s answering everything patiently, but he shoots Liam a look that screams he’s in need of a litre of coffee before he’s ready to deal with a full-on Harry Styles interrogation. Liam shoos him out of the studio, then settles down with Harry and the demo to make any necessary adjustments before Harry goes into the booth. It’s an easy morning—it always is with Harry, who is incredibly adaptable while being conscious of his own limitations.
Niall shows up right before they start the second take, with Louis in tow, and they make themselves comfortable, obviously attempting not to be disruptive and utterly failing. Harry is already taking his headphones off, getting ready to come out to say hello.
“Absolutely not, Harry,” Liam says, keying on the mic. “We’re crunched for time, you’re staying in there until this is done.”
Harry pouts at him, and, when he figures out Liam isn’t going to change his mind, gives Niall a mournful wave and mimes a tear rolling down his cheek.
Liam rolls his eyes. “Focus, Harry,” he says. “I’m not above kicking them out.”
Louis whistles behind him. “Damn, Liam. You’re quite the taskmaster, there.”
Liam flips them off over his shoulder, resulting in a burst of giddy, surprised laughter from both Niall and Louis. He cues Harry and determinedly ignores the pleased, fluttering feeling in his chest.
He makes Harry stay in the booth while he listens back to the track, and Harry spends the entire time with his hands and face pressed up against the glass, giving Niall lots of sad faces. Liam feels really sorry for whoever cleans the place at night. Maybe he’ll come back with some Windolene before he goes home.
They end up running through it twice more before Liam is happy with what he has to work with. As soon as Harry is out of the booth, he and Niall are glued to one another’s sides, and Harry refuses to let go of Niall’s hand. Liam feigns annoyance, but he’s pleased that Harry has found someone who makes him so happy, even though they are both overly fond of groping each other in public. He’s pulling up his list of things to check over when Harry announces his departure so he can go have dinner and sex with Niall.
Liam slaps his hands over his ears. “Harry, no! I do not need to hear anything of that sort, please just go away and let me pretend you just cuddle on the settee at night.”
Harry grins wickedly, Niall already pulling him towards the door. “We do cuddle on the sofa at night. And then he puts his hand down my pants—”
“Good night, Harry!” Liam shouts. “So good to see you today, glad we got things done! See you tomorrow!” He slams the door on Harry’s stupid face.
Louis is still in the room, twirling his car keys around his finger. “So they’re off to shag, eh? Now I feel responsible for you.”
Liam shakes his head. “I’ve got loads to do, don’t worry about me.”
“No, no,” Louis says with a frown that says he’s going to do exactly that. He steps closer, still jingling his keys. “If I leave, you’ll stay here all night, by yourself. Probably won’t eat a proper meal, and I can’t have that for my writing partner, now can I?”
Liam feels very confused. “No?”
Louis nods decisively. “Right. So get your things, we’re going.”
“Where?” Liam asks, already mindlessly checking he has his wallet and phone.
“Food, then home. You look knackered, and I slept for a million years yesterday and you look like you slept two hours, so you can’t stay here all night, I won’t allow it.”
“You won’t...allow it?”
“Nope,” Louis says, pushing Liam towards the door and turning off the lights. “I know your type, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting just thinking about it. So we’re going. Chinese sound good?” Liam nods silently, feeling dumbfounded. “Good, been craving that all week and not had time to have any. Car,” he says, hitting the remote locks as they get to the car park.
As he settles into the passenger seat, Liam wonders if knowing Louis eventually means he’ll stop feeling as though he’s being dragged along behind a very determined dog. He makes a mental note to ask Niall the next time he detaches himself from Harry, though, with a sinking feeling that in no way is actually disappointment, he’s pretty sure the answer is a resounding no.
Once they get back to the house, Louis announces that a celebratory round of FIFA is in order until Liam is able to convince him otherwise, his brain too sluggish from the past three days' frenzied activity. They finally come to a consensus on The Avengers, and Louis leaves Liam to work out the terribly complicated DVD setup while he heads to the kitchen for snacks. He’s finally worked it out by the time Louis troops in and drops an armful of crisps and chocolate on the sofa next to Liam. Instead of taking the seat next to the other arm, though, he squeezes in between where Liam was just pulling a throw pillow around to snuggle up to, poking Liam in all his soft bits to get him to move over far enough that Louis can slither into the tiny slice of space that’s exposed. Liam sighs and pushes the snacks further away so they don’t get smashed.
Louis wiggles into his spot, leaning into Liam’s shoulder and pulling Liam’s arm around himself, before asking Liam to hand him a bag of crisps.
Liam grabs one at random, a slightly bewildered smile on his face, and settles in to watch the film. And if he tugs Louis a little closer to him, well, he’s just getting comfortable.
Liam wakes up to the DVD menu screen on the telly, the same thirty seconds of music looping over and over again. Louis is passed out on his shoulder, one hand still curled around his crisp bag. Liam carefully tips him over towards the sofa arm, pushing a few pillows into place in his stead, before digging around for the remote so he can turn the TV off. The room is plunged into silence, and Liam is contemplating how he can get off the sofa without waking Louis, when Louis stirs, the crisp bag crumpling under him with a too-loud racket.
“Sorry, sorry,” Liam whispers, though there’s not much point any more. “The film’s over, I was just going to go find us some tea.”
Louis hums, his eyes already drooping again. “Sounds nice, that,” he mumbles, before his breathing evens back out in sleep.
Liam rolls his eyes and pads his way toward the kitchen, intending on reading his way through Louis’s extensive collection of takeaway menus. Instead, he finds himself climbing the stairs, taking an all-too-familiar route through a house that still feels foreign to him.
It's twilight-quiet, the street lamps just flickering on outside, when Liam lets himself into the music room. He sits at the piano for a long time, trailing his fingers across the glossy body and the stark contrast of the keys. They did it, they wrote something Harry loves and they can be proud of; Liam wrote something he can be proud of. He thinks of his piles of unfinished songs at home, the pages and pages of ideas that went nowhere, that represented failure for so long. Maybe, he thinks. Maybe they don't have to be a representation of him not being good enough. Maybe they can be the foundation that was waiting for the right brick-layer.
He presses the damper pedal once, then twice, listening to the felt gently tap the wires of the keys, wondering if it's enough to keep from waking Louis if he actually plays something.
Louis pokes his head into the music room just as Liam is playing the opening bars of Piano Man.
"Bit cliche, isn't it?" he asks, nudging Liam across the piano bench with his hip.
"You're going to make me use my left foot for the pedals," Liam complains, already shifting around to compensate, pausing for a moment before picking the song back up where he left off. Louis is pressed all along his side, warm from thigh to shoulder.
"Tough," Louis says around a yawn, leaning a bit more heavily into Liam. "Thought you were going to do tea."
Liam hums tunelessly, settling into the beat, not bothering to count out the measures now that he's picked up the flow of the song. "Got distracted; I wanted to see if I could work on some stuff before you woke up."
"Billy Joel is 'working on stuff'?" Louis says, a bit muffled where he's pressing his smile into Liam's shoulder.
"Any self-respecting piano player should know how to play at least a little bit of Piano Man," Liam replies. "Besides, it puts me in the mood to write, I guess."
They're quiet for awhile, Liam letting his mind wander as he relies on muscle memory to keep playing. Louis's head is heavy on his shoulder, and he makes small disgruntled noises when Liam has to change to a lower hand position. It shouldn't be as adorable as it is; after all, Louis is the one who's inconveniencing Liam, as much as he protests. It's his own fault.
Finally, Liam just can’t help himself anymore, and starts singing the last verse. He's startled into silence when Louis's voice joins in on "man, what are you doing here". It makes something stir in Liam's belly, like Louis isn't just singing words to a song. It sounds deeper, more personal. Like it's supposed to mean something big.
Liam doesn't pick the words back up, and plays through the interlude in silence.
Louis hums, wrapping an arm around Liam's back, and before Liam can move into the chorus, he's reaching up to pinch Liam's nipple. Liam squawks, his hands crashing down on the keys, and snatches Louis's hand away before he can go for the other one.
Louis is laughing silently, his face pressed into Liam’s shoulder, his shoulders shaking hard enough that Liam can feel him practically vibrating across the piano bench. “If you wanted to hold my hand that badly, you could have just said,” he says in between fits of giggles.
Liam is speechless for a moment, sputtering a little. “I don’t want you to pinch my nipples as a prelude to hand-holding!” he squawks.
Louis lifts his head off Liam’s shoulder and tugs a bit on Liam’s hands. “Didn’t know you were so old-fashioned, Payno.” He leans back into Liam’s side and shrugs. “Alright, we can do it your way. Kisses first, is it?”
Liam knows, he knows Louis is joking; Louis makes a joke of everything that doesn’t have to be taken seriously, and it’s taken some getting used to, but he thinks he’s starting to get that Louis just wants everyone to be in on all his jokes with him, that there’s no malicious intent behind it. For a brief, wild moment, he allows himself to pretend that Louis isn’t joking, that he would like to kiss Liam as much as Liam would like to kiss him. He lets go of Louis’s hands, turning slightly so he can dig his phone out of his pocket as a way to break the weird tension that’s suddenly formed in the air. He doesn’t know how to react correctly to the fact that Louis has apparently given him a nickname, much less everything else that’s happening, all at once in what feels like a tidal wave, threatening to drown him in all the best possible ways.
Before he can hit the button to make some remark about the time, Louis is tugging the phone out of his hands with a frown. "Nope, this is bonding time.”
Liam flounders without anything to occupy his eyes and hands. “I think we’ve had enough ‘bonding time’ over the past couple of days to last us an entire week.”
“No, Liam,” Louis says with an air of infinite patience. “That was work.”
“Work. Right.” Liam’s heart sinks a little. Working so closely with Harry, he doesn’t know how to separate his work and personal relationships very well. Everything is so closely tied together, and he just relies on his instincts to know when to be Harry’s producer and when to be his friend.
Louis sits, quiet and frozen, still holding Liam’s phone in mid-air, studying him. Liam doesn’t look away, despite how much he wants to. There’s something about Louis that he can’t unravel; he’s so unlike anyone Liam has ever known before. Liam’s gaze drops to Louis’s mouth, unthinkingly, and he indulges himself for a moment, thinking about what might happen if he were to suddenly just kiss Louis. He doesn’t think it would be unwelcome. All the same, he makes himself look away, turning back to the piano to try to shake some sense back into himself.
Louis frowns. “Hey, I didn’t mean to—upset you? I just don’t think writing in a frantic rush over a couple of days means that we got to know one another very well.”
“You didn’t upset me,” Liam starts, but Louis is still frowning. “Promise.” He looks away, across the room that’s become incredibly familiar to him. “Just,” he shrugs one shoulder. “This is all a bit...new.”
“Well, that’s alright,” Louis says, settling himself back on Liam’s shoulder. “You’ll get used to me soon enough.”
He says it like it’s a bit of a threat, like he’s not going to let Liam out of his sight for the next month, and Liam can’t even bring himself to care. He smiles down at the keyboard and starts to pick out a melody.
Liam practically lives in the studio for the next week. He spends most of the time listening through the mixes that had been finished while he was working with Louis; Tony and the rest of their team had finished as much as they could, and Liam is pretty happy with where they are. He marks a few of the tracks down for final mastering, then sets to work on the rest of the unfinished tracks.
His phone starts vibrating with a call from Harry as he’s halfway through the first song. When he answers, Harry sounds bright and happy and just a touch out of breath. Liam is immediately suspicious. “What do you want?” he asks carefully.
“Just wanted to be sure you were at the studio!” Harry chirps. “Niall and I just left the golf course, we should be back to London, around an hour?” Liam can hear Niall faintly in the background. “Yeah, an hour. Will you still be there when we get back?”
Liam hums, clicking through a couple different tracks on the computer just for something to occupy his hands. “Yup, looks like I’ll have a full night ahead of me, so come over whenever. Bring food. Don’t bring Niall.” Liam can just imagine the epic pout Harry is directing at his phone, but he’s not going to change his mind. They don’t need any distractions at this point.
After a moment, in which Liam doesn’t say a word, Harry finally heaves a deep sigh. “Fiiiiiine,” he drawls.
“Thank you,” Liam says, picking his headphones back up. “Now go away, let me get things done before you get here and ruin my concentration.”
“Liam, I never,” Harry gasps. “I am the picture of professional efficiency!”
“Goodbye, Harry, don’t have sex in the car.” Liam hangs up without waiting for a response and smiles to himself, restarting the track playback.
When Harry shows up, he’s still in his golf clothes, his face flushed and happy. Liam doesn’t know if it’s from the fresh air or because he had a quickie in the car, but he’s not asking. “You working in those clothes?” he asks, turning back to the computer.
“Yeah, didn’t bring anything else,” Harry shrugs, pulling a chair over to settle in next to Liam. “Which one are we working on?”
Liam puts on an affronted face. “You smell like grass.”
Harry grins. “I don’t know that one, but it sounds amazing.”
“Fuck off,” Liam mutters. “I just started on Ed’s.”
“Perfect,” Harry says, scooting closer. “I had some ideas for this one.”
Liam shoots him a look. “I don’t know if I like your ideas anymore, Haz.”
“Shut up,” Harry says, pinching the soft underside of Liam’s arm. “I still think the accordion was a good addition.”
“Sure,” Liam says agreeably, moving a couple of tracks around the screen. “If it had been anyone other than you attempting to play it.”
Harry sniffs. Liam isn’t sure if he’s pretending to cry or trying to act annoyed, but he ignores it either way.
“Anyway, if we can try to get through this album without another of your so-called great ideas, that would make my life infinitely easier.”
Harry plants a sloppy kiss behind Liam’s ear. “You love me and my ideas.”
Liam pushes Harry’s face away. “Get off me and put your headphones on. We’ve got a shitload of work to do, thanks to you.”
They manage to finish another two mixes before Liam isn’t able to keep his eyes open any longer. Harry is sprawled, loose-limbed, in the armchair behind him, barely able to contribute more than an occasional grunted agreement with the questions Liam directs his way. They part with a promise to meet back at the studio bright and early the next day, but when he gets home, Liam spends a few hours tossing and turning before he finally gives up. He calls a taxi back to the studio, his mind too restless to settle down enough to let him sleep.
By the time he lets himself in, though, he’s already starting to feel a little less frantic. He leaves most of the lights off, sitting down and staring blankly at the dark computer screen before he shakes himself out of it, turning the monitor on. The exhaustion is starting to creep up on him, somehow fostered by the silence of the studio around him, the knowledge that no one is just in the hall, working on something that could need his input at any time.
Instead of opening any of the in-progress files, he opens the demo of From the Start, playing it on a loop, letting himself enjoy his own voice without criticising it, letting the memory of the intimacy of writing soak into his bones.
When Liam spins his chair around, Harry is lying on the couch, the scarf he was using as a hair tie now folded across his eyes like a picture of an old-fashioned fainting lady.
“What about— ” Harry waves a hand lazily through the air before letting it flop back down to his chest.
“If you say accordions again, Harry,” Liam starts.
“It’s not accordions,” Harry says, sounding entirely unconcerned about Liam’s accordion angst. “More like...oooh, a trombone!”
Liam rolls his eyes. “And you’re going to find a trombone player, what, in the next hour, to come in here and record?”
“Eh,” Harry says, not moving.
“Where do you even want a bloody great trombone?”
“I was thinking under, like, the tinkly bit between the pre and the chorus? It needs something extra, I think, like, a little deeper.”
“No,” Liam says, turning back to the computer. They recorded that instrumentation with a deliberate lightness, he’s not adding anything else to it.
“What do you mean, no?” Harry demands, throwing his scarf at Liam’s head.
“I mean no, Harry. There’s a reason it’s a ‘tinkly bit’”, he says, doing air quotes high enough that Harry can see them over his shoulders. “Adding brass would create a weight that we don’t need in that track anywhere, but especially not there.”
“You ruin all my fun,” Harry says. Liam absolutely knows he’s pouting without even looking.
“Then find some better ideas,” Liam shoots back, and he can hear Harry trying not to laugh. He smiles to himself and hits play.
Harry calls it a night a few hours later, puttering around the studio gathering the random shit he always brings from home and scatters around throughout the course of the day. There’s only two tracks left to finish, and he can probably get at least halfway through one before he can’t keep going any more tonight.
“Let’s go, car’s here,” Harry yells down the hall, and that’s unexpected. Liam pushes his chair across the room so he can open the door.
“What?” he hollers, hoping Harry hasn’t gone outside yet.
“Niall’s open mic, let’s go! I don’t want to miss the beginning!”
Niall’s open mic Liam mouths, bewildered. “What the fuck, Harry, you never told me!”
“Whoops,” Harry says, sticking his head around the corner, wearing a sheepish smile. “Well, you know now, and you need to eat, so you don’t have any excuses. Lock up, let’s go.”
Liam glances down at the ratty t-shirt he’s wearing, but it’s probably going to be at some tiny local where no one will care what he looks like, so he locks up and heads out to where Harry’s already in the taxi, texting furiously. “Thanks for the heads up, Haz,” he says as he slides into the car.
“Sorry,” Harry says, looking like he genuinely means it. “I really did think I’d told you. I figured it would be a good break, a way to get out of the studio and not have to think about work at all.” He pauses, giving Liam a sly look that Liam long ago learned to be wary of.
“What,” Liam says flatly, already imagining the worst.
“Louis will probably be there,” Harry says with an air of nonchalance, turning back to his phone.
Embarrassingly, Liam feels his ears heat up. “Makes sense,” he says. “He and Niall are best mates, aren’t they?”
Harry hums, tapping out another text. Liam ignores him, determinedly staring out the window until they pull up to a small pub that’s getting busy, a few groups of people enjoying the last of the daylight around the tables outside.
Harry ducks inside, keeping his head down even though this doesn’t look like the kind of crowd who would recognise him, and makes a beeline for a corner where Niall is waving them over. Liam lets Harry slide in next to Niall, the two of them acting as though they’re reuniting after a year apart instead of not even twelve hours.
After a second’s consideration, he elbows Harry in the side. “Hands where I can see them, lads,” he says, only half joking. Niall cackles, holding his hands up in a picture of innocence. “You too, Harry, let’s go,” he says. Harry just looks at him with one eyebrow raised.
“Niall!” Louis yells from halfway across the pub. “I didn’t miss the start this time!”
“Well done, Louis, you want a gold star!” Niall yells back.
Louis is still laughing when he takes the seat next to Liam. “Pints on you again, Niall?”
Liam frowns. “I can get first round,” he says. Louis and Niall may be best mates, but that feels a little too presumptuous, asking Niall to pay for his drinks.
“Nah,” Louis says, waving him back into his seat. “Drinks are on the house for open mic acts. Don’t think these guys know this one over here is fucking loaded.”
“They know, they just love me, unlike some people at the table,” Niall says, quick as lightning.
Harry pouts, snuggling into Niall’s side. “I love you, Niall.”
Niall pets Harry’s hair, pressing a kiss to it before straightening back up. It makes Liam want to puke a little but it’s also very sweet. Louis pretends to gag before giving Liam a wink. He gets up and heads to the bar as Niall starts disentangling himself from Harry’s octopus arms.
“Nooooo,” Harry says, starting to sound a little sleepy. Liam knows exactly how he feels. If he thought he could get away with it, he’d be using Louis’s shoulder as a pillow as soon as he gets back with their drinks.
He manages to stay awake through Niall’s short set, though it’s a hard-won thing. It helps that Louis is squeezed in close to him, acting as an unwitting focal point in the increasingly fuzzy feeling invading Liam’s brain. He’s warm and steady, his voice already feeling like a comfort to Liam the way that Harry’s has been for a long time.
Niall returns to their table to a round of cheers, getting quite a few hearty back-slaps as he makes his way across the floor. Harry sits up, thrusting both fists in the air and cheering loud enough to be heard across the general din.
They stay for a bit longer, Liam and Harry both ordering food, starving after a full day in the studio. Liam mostly lets the conversation swirl around him; his brain feels sluggish and he’s not quite up to keeping up with the fast-moving pattern of best friends with years of experience at talking over one another. As the last of the acts wind down, Niall’s focus shifts onto Harry, who by this point has actually fallen asleep on Niall’s shoulder. Harry’s not a pretty sleeper, his mouth always hangs wide open and he usually dribbles, but Niall smiles down at him like he’s the best thing Niall’s seen all day.
Liam turns back to his food, pushing the last of his chips around his plate to soak up the rest of the vinegar.
“So how’s the album coming?” Louis asks quietly, sounding very close.
Liam smiles at him, and he knows it looks tired. “We’re almost done. It’s been a few really long days, but we only have two mixes left to finish. We still have to decide on a tracklist, but that’s not something that has to be done in the studio, so I’m not worried about it.”
“Competent producer Liam,” Louis says, propping his hand on his palm and gazing steadily at Liam.
Liam doesn’t think he’s being mocked, but he genuinely can’t tell. He shakes the feeling off and shrugs a little. “I really like what I do,” he says.
“I can tell,” Louis says. “You light up when you talk about it. It’s really wonderful.”
Louis has a musical quality to his voice that Liam could listen to all day. “Speaking of which, we’re doing our song tomorrow. Harry and I, I mean, we’re mixing the song you wrote. You could come by if you wanted. I mean, if you’re not doing anything else.”
Louis’s eyes light up. “That would be great, Liam, I’d love to come by. Just let me know when, yeah? I have nothing planned.”
“Great, absolutely, you should be there,” Liam says, feeling more relaxed than he has all night. “Beginning to end, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Louis says, one corner of his mouth curving up. “And hey,” he adds, tapping a finger across the back of Liam’s hand where it’s resting on the table. “It’s not just my song, you know? It’s just as much yours as it is mine. Don’t diminish yourself like that. You don’t deserve that.”
Liam’s stomach flips over and he swallows heavily. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. I’ll feel better about it tomorrow, I think.”
“When you can do your thing,” Louis says, nodding like he knows exactly what’s running through Liam’s brain. “I get that.”
Harry’s phone buzzes across the table, and Harry picks it up to blink blearily at it. “Car’s here,” he says after a minute. “Liam, you coming? I can drop you at yours.”
“Yeah,” Liam says, running a hand through his hair. “I’ll text you a time?” he says to Louis as he pushes himself to his feet.
“Please,” Louis says, smiling up at him. “I really would like to be there. Go home and get some rest.”
Liam has a bit of a moment when Harry asks if Louis is coming to join them later; he does his best to slow his heart rate and look like a normal human being who knows what to do with his face. “Yup,” he says, hoping like hell his voice is at a normal tone. “Told him to come in after lunch, so,” he glances at his watch, “just a couple more hours. Did Niall say anything about coming by today?”
“Nah,” Harry says. “He had a writing session scheduled for today, so I told him I’d just see him at dinner.”
“Are you going to survive the whole day without seeing him?” Liam teases.
“Piss off,” Harry mutters.
“It’s sweet, if a little annoying,” Liam says. “You look stupidly happy around each other.”
“Shut up and get back to work,” Harry whines, looking for all the world like he wants to crawl under the recording console.
Liam grins to himself and relents, mainly because he knows that if he keeps poking Harry, Harry will inevitably turn it around and start asking about Louis, and he is in no way ready to have that conversation. He’s definitely not ready to have Louis and Harry in the same room without Niall acting as a buffer, because now Harry will have no reason to split his attention, and that only means bad things for Liam, in his experience.
Ten minutes after Louis walks through the door, Liam’s worst fears have already been confirmed; Harry immediately pulled Louis down onto the sofa, and they’re currently sitting with their heads bent together over Harry’s phone, laughing uproariously every thirty seconds. Liam desperately wishes he’d had some foresight to delete all the old X Factor pictures off of Harry’s phone. Worse than Liam’s mum, Harry is. Definitely not one to be trusted anymore.
“Can we get to work, please?” he says, wiggling a pair of headphones towards the pair on the couch. Neither of them look up at him.
“Just get started, Liam, we’ll be over in a bit,” Harry says without looking up. He waves an imperious hand in Liam’s general direction. Liam is tempted to go over and smack it.
“Stop looking at embarrassing pictures,” he complains, turning back to finish reworking his audio setup. He definitely prefers working through his headphones, but with Louis here, it’s probably best to just play to the room. As soon as the first notes of the piano come out of the speakers, Louis’s head shoots up from where he was watching Harry, still scrolling through the pictures on his phone with a look of intense concentration.
“Hey, that’s our song,” he says, looking pleased. He abandons Harry on the sofa in favor of squeezing in next to Liam so he can see the tracks laid out on the computer screen.
“Oh, fine, I see how it is,” Harry calls, speaking loud enough to be heard over the music. “I’ll just be over here all on my own then!”
“As it should be,” Liam shoots back, and Louis knocks his shoulder into Liam’s. The track fades out, and Liam pulls up the second window. “So that’s the first take, and I have to decide which of these two are better for the final mix.”
Louis nods as Liam starts the second track, settling back into his chair. Liam knows he’s not new to this process, but it’s still gratifying to see him walking side-by-side with him on this particular song. It feels even more like their baby than it had when they finished the demo at Louis’s home.
The longer they stay next to one another at the desk, the closer Louis moves into Liam’s space, reaching across Liam’s line of vision to point out a particular time stamp or section to pay closer attention to, or comment on things he particularly likes as they work through the final mix. It leaves Liam feeling warm and happy every time it happens, a feeling of contentment rolling down his spine.
Harry is, surprisingly, mostly quiet from where he’s still lounging around behind them. Liam would think he’d fallen asleep if it wasn’t for the constant buzz of his phone, followed by the occasional quiet snort of laughter.
Having Louis in the studio with them ultimately results in the day being less productive than Liam had planned, but he can’t bring himself to be upset about it. They listen to the final mix of their song once more before Liam is comfortable calling it done, then Liam shuts the equipment off. “I can’t look at that screen any more,” he says, scrubbing his hands over his face.
“If you two are quite done obsessing over that song,” Harry says primly.
Liam rolls his eyes at Louis, because Harry, as usual, is full of shit, and if Louis hadn’t been here, Harry would have been properly arguing with Liam over every little thing. Half the time Liam is convinced that Harry doesn’t even particularly want the things he asks for, he just does it to bother Liam. Liam flips him two fingers, and Harry pouts at him.
“Just for that, I don’t think I want you to come out with me and Niall anymore.”
“Sure you do,” Louis says airily. “Because if Liam doesn’t go, I won’t go, and if I don’t go, Niall will probably cry.”
Harry makes a face. “That doesn’t sound right,” he says.
“It’s definitely true, don’t question it.”
“Children,” Liam says, pushing Louis up out of his chair.
“You’re one to talk,” Harry scoffs, rolling off the couch and smashing half his face into the floor. “Niall wants to know where we’re eating.”
“We should go to Niall’s and make him cook for us,” Louis says, looming over Harry and making a grab for his phone.
Liam frowns. “That seems a bit unfair.”
“Nah, he loves it,” Louis says confidently, grabbing at where Harry has shoved his phone into his own armpit. Harry lets out a burst of giggles and surrenders his phone; Louis immediately starts typing out a text, presumably to Niall.
“Use your own phone,” Harry grumps, holding his hand out impatiently.
“No way,” Louis says, hitting send and waiting for a reply before dropping the phone on Harry’s chest. “He refuses to cook for me anymore, and I miss it. He’s not going to say no to you. By the way, you need to stop at the shop on your way. He sent a list.”
Harry groans, but even as he pushes himself off the floor, he’s starting to smile.
“I am not going with you, Harry,” Liam says, before he can even ask. “I’m going to be a gentleman and go with Louis so he doesn’t have to put up with you being dumb and indecisive or drive all by himself.”
“My hero,” Louis yells, leaping on Liam’s back and wrapping his legs around Liam’s waist.
“See?” Liam says, shooting a brilliant grin at Harry. “I’m being nice. See you there!”
“Onward!” Louis shouts, right in Liam’s ear, and they take off down the hall before Harry can stop them, Liam making sure to duck down so Louis doesn’t hit his head on the doorways.
“So why do I have to drive by myself?” Harry calls down the hall after them. “And, excuse you, Liam, I am not dumb or indecisive!”
“See you at your boyfriend’s, Harry,” Louis calls back down the hall as they step out to the car park. He clings to Liam until they reach his car, and Liam feels full of affection for the way Louis has wormed his way into Liam’s life without question, carving out a space that Liam didn’t even realise needed to be filled.
Ruth texts him late the next morning, startling Liam out of a long moment of staring off into space and trying desperately not to think about Louis. He stares at the message for a long time before finally deciding to call her back; he’s too tired to think about typing out a full conversation with her.
“Hi, Roo,” he says, once she picks up. He knows he sounds tired, but he doesn’t bother trying to hide it. She knows his schedule gets fucked when they’re in the middle of production.
“Liam,” she coos. “Is someone making sure you aren’t killing yourself?”
Liam rolls his eyes, but he knows she’s just trying to be a good sister. “Yes, mum, Harry’s new boyfriend made dinner for us last night.”
“But are you sleeping?” she presses. “You can’t just power yourself on sheer determination alone. You sound exhausted, bud.”
“I...I’m doing okay. We’re almost done. This is just a bad time, that’s all.” He rubs his eyes. They really are almost done; it should only be one more day in the studio and then they can take a few days off. Liam plans on doing nothing but sleeping for at least 48 hours.
“Are things not going well? Can you call in some other guys to help?”
“No, no, things are going really well, actually. Just, Harry wanted to add a new song at the last minute and asked me to co-write it with someone else. It took longer than we thought it would, but it’s all fine now. Just busy, as usual.”
“You’re writing?” Ruth shrieks. “Liam, that’samazing!”
“Well,” Liam hedges. “It was more just helping someone else write. I didn’t really do that much. Actually, you might know him; do you remember Louis Tomlinson? From—”
He doesn’t even get to finish before Ruth is full-on screaming in his ear. “Shut up, Liam, oh my God! If you love me even at all, you will send me his autograph tomorrow!”
“Ruth,” Liam says, laughing a little. “He’s a colleague, I’m not asking him to sign something for my sister. Maybe if you make it to London sometime soon, you could meet him.” He hopes Ruth doesn’t figure out that when he says Louis is a colleague, he actually means that he wants him to be so much more.
“Ohhhh,” Ruth says knowingly. Shit. “I see. I will definitely get to London so I can meet him. Liam, are you sure he’s just a colleague?” If she were here, she’d probably be attempting to tickle the truth out of him.
Liam flushes, even though he knows she can’t see him. “Yes,” he says firmly, because that is technically the truth. “We wrote a song together. Harry’s dating one of his best mates.”
“And?” Ruth demands. “That doesn’t mean anything. It sounds like you’re smiling just talking about him. That’s great, Liam, you deserve to meet someone who makes you smile.”
Liam rolls his eyes. “Ruth, stop. We barely know each other.”
“But you want to, right? I don’t blame you, Liam, you’ve been so lonely every time Harry leaves for tour. You need someone there just for you.”
Liam bites his lip and thinks before answering. “Yeah. Yeah, I do want to know him better. I’m...trying to figure it out. I’m a little worried I may be in a little deeper than he is. Or he...wants to be? I don’t know, this is all pretty unexpected. I’m not really sure what I’m doing.”
“I’m sure you’re fine, Liam. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t love you, and if they don’t, then I don’t want to meet them anyway, no matter who they are.”
“But how do I know for sure? I don’t want to make a fool of myself trying to pursue something that never existed in the first place.”
Ruth hums a little. “Well, you can never know for sure. You never know if you’re going to get your heart broken or not. But sometimes, you just have to know what you’re looking for in the other person. Sometimes it’s something small, a hint that things will be the way you’re hoping they’ll be. And sometimes,” she pauses, and Liam can imagine her shrugging at nothing, trying to find the right words. “I think you’ll know when he does something extraordinary.”
“Is that it?” Harry asks, looking a little bewildered at the prospect.
Liam takes a last look at his to-do list, mentally checking off the items as he reads over them, and finally sits back in his chair, running a hand over his hair. He gives Harry a smile. “Yeah, Haz, that’s it. Looks like we’re done.”
Harry pumps his fist in the air a few times. “We did it!” he crows. He launches himself at Liam, doing his best to give him a full-body bear hug while Liam is still seated. “You’re amazing, Liam, I’m so lucky you’re doing this with me.”
Embarrassingly, Liam feels his eyes start to get hot. He reaches around Harry to rub them furiously, trying to hold off the tears, but it’s useless. He gives up and squeezes Harry a little tighter. “Me too, Harry, I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.”
Harry finally sits up, and, when they see each other’s equally teary eyes, they start laughing. It’s not even that funny, but now that he’s started laughing, Liam feels like he’ll never stop. He doesn’t even know how long they sit in the studio laughing at each other, but when they’re finally able to stop, he feels completely drained. He wants to crawl into a bed and not move for an entire week. It doesn’t even have to be his own bed; he’s not feeling particular at the moment.
“Let’s go out,” Harry finally says, smacking his hand into Liam’s stomach, startling Liam out of his very concentrated study of the studio ceiling.
Liam rolls his head to look at Harry. “What, now?”
“Sure, we can go celebrate,” Harry says, looking at the time on his phone. “Well, no. Maybe not now. Maybe go home for a shower first? And then we can call Niall and Louis.”
Liam groans, looking back up at the ceiling. “We, uh, we don’t need to call Louis, really. I like Niall, I don’t feel like a third wheel when you’re with him.” He likes Louis, probably more than is smart, but he doesn’t want Harry to feel obligated to include him before Liam even knows how to define the tentative friendship that he and Louis do have.
“I’m calling Louis,” Harry says determinedly. Liam doesn’t argue, but this is starting to feel weirdly like he’s being set up on a double date, and he isn’t sure how he’s supposed to react to that. He knows he’s not the most subtle guy on the planet, but he was really quite hoping that he wasn’t being so desperately obvious about his feelings for Louis. It looks like he’s failed miserably.
Louis and Niall are waiting for them at the restaurant by the time they get there; it’s some place that Harry’s friend Nick had told him about, and fancy enough that they would move heaven and earth to accommodate a popstar like Harry Styles. Harry doesn’t do this kind of thing often, he doesn’t really like it, but sometimes it’s fun knowing someone as famous as Harry has become.
They’re tucked into a corner booth, Niall and Harry immediately plastering themselves together on one side of the table, and as he sits down, Liam suddenly feels like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands.
“You finished it, that’s fantastic,” Louis says quietly, a wide smile on his face. Liam is quickly learning that Louis operates on two levels, loud and brash and magnetic, or soft and quiet and so stunning Liam feels like he can’t look away. “Congratulations,” Louis adds, his eyes sparkling in the low light.
“Thanks,” Liam says, fiddling with the edge of the tablecloth. “And thanks for...for everything.”
Louis scoffs a little. “Barely did anything, really. You’re the one who’s been working through the whole process.”
Liam props his head on his hand, tilting to the side a little to see Louis properly. “Sure, but—Harry was right, we needed something different, and it turns out that what we needed was you. So thank you. Sincerely. On everyone’s behalf.”
Louis ducks his head, still smiling, and fiddles with his fringe. “Well. We all got something out of it, didn’t we. Niall got a boyfriend, Harry got a song, we got each other.” He straightens up, mirroring Liam’s posture. “I think we’re all winners tonight, like the under 5 footie teams.”
The waiter appears at Liam’s elbow, and Louis kicks Niall and Harry to draw them out of their boyfriend-honeymoon bubble. Harry looks flushed and happy, and Niall looks at Harry like he hung the moon. Liam is ridiculously happy for them, but he wants to get through the night without any exhibitionist incidents, and then they can go lock themselves in Harry’s house and he can decidedly not think about them doing anything other than snogging for the next month.
Niall and Harry manage to act like two separate people through most of the meal, until it finally gets to be too much for them, and Liam and Louis lose them to their own little world again.
“So,” Liam says, turning to Louis, inwardly cringing at how awkward that sounded.
“So,” Louis echoes, smirking a little.
“Do you have any projects lined up? Anything exciting planned?”
“No,” Louis sighs, tracing the rim of his water glass with a finger. “It’s back to a life of FIFA and garden football, I guess. Not the most exciting, I suppose, but that’s what happens you retire young.” He shoots Liam a grin that looks forced and disappears almost immediately.
Liam is quiet for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of offering to write with Louis; they very obviously are able to create together, and Liam enjoyed the process for the most part, but working towards an actual writing partnership would require more give and take between them, and he’s still not sure that’s something he’s prepared to give. He’s still working through the idea when Louis breaks into his thought process.
“What about you and Harry, when are you aiming for a release date?”
It takes a minute for Liam’s brain to switch gears. “Um, not entirely sure. We’re meeting next week to pick a track order and finalise the artwork. This is all the boring stuff for me from this point on.”
“Do you ever do any production for other artists?”
“Yeah, definitely. Not much, but I do enjoy it.”
Louis nods, looking thoughtful. He takes a breath, and looks like he’s going to say something, but instead he looks over to where Harry and Niall are feeding each other the remains of their desserts. “Hey,” he says, turning back to Liam. “Maybe, when Harry leaves for tour, you and I—”
Harry suddenly leans halfway across the table, nearly knocking a glass of water into Liam’s lap. “Maybe when Harry leaves what?” he asks with a ridiculous leer.
“Maybe when Harry leaves, I can live my life in peace, arsehole,” Liam mutters, shoving at Harry’s forehead.
Harry sits back in his seat with a wicked grin. “Niall, wouldn’t they make the cutest couple?”
Liam stares at him with his mouth hanging open. He must look like a complete idiot, but he can’t even bring himself to care. He doesn’t dare look at Louis.
“Almost as cute as we are,” Niall agrees, tugging Harry back into his side. Harry doesn’t take his eyes off of Liam the entire time.
“Oh my God,” Louis mutters. Liam chances a glance over at him, but his face is buried in his hands.
There is a prolonged, awkward pause, during which Niall whispers something in Harry’s ear, and suddenly, they’re both pushing out of the booth as fast as they can. Niall stops to say something to Louis, to which Louis reacts by turning his head so sharply in Niall’s direction, he almost clocks Niall in the nose. Harry, for his part, simply leans down to give Liam a quick peck on the cheek, and then they’re gone, Liam feeling like he’s been swept through a tornado.
Louis turns to him, looking a little sheepish. “Uh. Sorry?”
Louis shakes his head. “It was probably Harry’s idea. Once you get past the popstar facade, he’s really just a giant nan.” He’s already starting to see the humour in this situation. He thought Harry shoved him together with Louis so that he could pull Niall, but now he’s wondering if the situation is actually the opposite. Which would be bloody typical of him.
Louis starts laughing, covering his mouth with the back of his hand, his eyes getting all squinty. Liam couldn’t look away if he wanted to. He feels his smile getting wider and wider until he feels like it may actually take over his entire face, the laughter bubbling up out of him, like he couldn’t stop it if he tried. “Well,” Louis finally says, trying to catch his breath. “Since we have been so thoroughly abandoned, would you like to come back to mine for some tea?”
“Louis!” Liam gasps, doing his best to sound scandalised. “We’ve only just met, I’m not that kind of boy!”
Louis gives up and throws his head back, his laughter so loud it gathers the attention of a few other tables close by.
Liam stands and tugs Louis up out of his chair. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They’re still trying to tamp down on the last of their laughter as they pull up to Louis’s house; Liam has the same warm, full-bodied feeling he gets when he’s had a few pints, without having had any alcohol at dinner. Walking back into the house feels as familiar to Liam as walking into Harry’s; it’s hard to believe that in less than a fortnight, he’s found a new place for himself in this too-big city.
Louis clatters down the stairs to the kitchen straight away, yelling for Liam to make himself comfortable in the lounge. Liam takes the time to wander around the perimeter of the room, looking at all the things that he hadn’t had time to see before. The lounge is mostly decorated with pictures of friends and family; anything related to Louis’s career seems to have been relegated to the music room. There’s a few pictures from Louis’s time on X Factor, but most of the others are with what must be his family; various shots with people at any number of graduations, and lots of babies. Liam smiles, tracing the edge of one of the frames.
Louis appears just as Liam is looking through the shelf full of Louis’s films and games. “I put sugar in it, just for you, but I’ll tell you right now, it hurt me to do it.” He’s smiling as he says it, which Liam returns. “Fancy a film?” Louis asks, tilting his head towards the shelves as he sips his tea.
“No, just looking.” There is, surprisingly, too much sugar in his tea, but he doesn’t say anything, since Louis went to the trouble of trying to make it correctly. He smiles into his mug.
“So,” Louis says, peering at Liam over the edge of his own mug. His feet are pulled up onto the sofa, and he looks comfortable in a way that makes Liam want to scoot across the cushions for a cuddle. “Before we were so rudely interrupted, I was thinking of asking if you’d maybe be interesting in possibly producing for me and Niall?”
Liam frowns a little. “I thought Harry said you weren’t really writing much right now. I mean, I wouldn’t say no, definitely not, I’d love to, but are you guys really thinking about going back into the studio?”
“Niall likes fucking off to write with everyone whose phone number he can lay his hands on,” Louis says, but it sounds fond, like it’s a character flaw that Louis has graciously allowed to exist. “He keeps bringing stuff back to me, and some of it is really, really amazing. I think we’re both nearly ready, we just haven’t actually talked about it.”
Something about Louis’s tone makes Liam uneasy. He doesn’t think Louis is outright lying, but it seems like this is a bigger thing than he’s letting on. “Maybe you guys should talk first? I don’t know, you don’t seem like you know for sure what you want to be doing. I’m not saying no,” he adds quickly as Louis’s face starts to darken. “Definitely not saying no. I’m just saying let’s revisit it when you guys have a solid plan?”
“Okay. We can come back to that.” Louis waves a hand through the air, like he can erase the entire conversation. “I had just been wondering what exactly is it that you do when Harry’s gone, and thought you might enjoy setting up a project.”
Liam really doesn’t know how to respond to that. He doesn’t sit at home and pine, he does actually have a life that’s separate from Harry’s, and he always stays busy. It’s just that what he does is exactly for that purpose, to stay busy. It’s nothing that he’s passionate about; not like the time he spends working with Harry and their team. He shrugs at Louis. “I do work on other stuff. Freelance projects. This and that.”
Louis hums. “Tell you what, when Harry starts promo, let me know. I’ll talk to Niall, and we’ll figure something out.”
Liam nods. “Sure.”
They’re quiet for a long moment, watching each other from opposite sides of the couch. It’s weird, Liam thinks, they way they’ve meshed so well in such a short period of time. Liam knows he’s changed since he went through X Factor, but sometimes he still sees himself as the kid who wanted so desperately to succeed that he couldn’t relax and enjoy anything.
Liam shifts his gaze to the photo hanging on the wall behind Louis. “Whose wedding was that?” he asks, tilting his chin up in a vague direction.
Louis moves, twisting himself so that he’s nearly hanging over the arm of the sofa. “Oh, that one,” he says, a wide, happy smile taking over his face. “That was my mum’s, when she married my stepdad about two years ago. That was a really amazing day.”
“Your stepdad, he’s a good guy?”
Louis pauses for a moment, and Liam wonders if that was something he shouldn’t have asked. “He’s brilliant, we all love him. I mean, my d—my dad’s great, we’re still all on really great terms, but, you know,” he shrugs. “Sometimes things just don’t work out.” He tugs at a seam on the sofa cushion, not looking anywhere at Liam.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Liam says, and drops it. It’s been a good night, he doesn’t want to somehow ruin it by saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question. “Oh, hey, did Harry tell you about the party next week?”
“Yeah,” Louis says, visibly brightening. “Is that a tradition for you guys?”
“I think Harry wants it to be. Last year we went back to his, just the two of us, after we’d had our last day in the studio. Stayed up all night playing FIFA, and then everyone laughed at us for being so boring.”
Louis sits up a little, looking less distant than before. “The night after we finished our first album, Zayn and I dragged Niall out to go clubbing. That was also the night Niall decided to smoke up for the first time, and we had our hands full. We had to institute a band rule about only getting high at home or in hotels after that.” He smiles, but it comes out looking somewhat forced. “So maybe boring is a better way to do things sometimes.”
“Do you still hear from Zayn at all?” Liam asks, a little hesitantly. He only knows what most people know, that Zap suddenly and unexpectedly called it quits immediately after the tour for their second album. He thinks Ruth might have actually cried when she heard the news. “You just—you’re so close with Niall, and you never really talk about Zayn,” he adds, all in a rush.
Louis doesn’t look at him, and Liam immediately feels like throwing up. Leave it to him to ruin a perfectly good evening by shoving his foot in his mouth. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. Just...just forget I asked. Sorry.”
Louis doesn’t say anything for a moment, just takes a deep breath and blows it out harshly. “No, it’s fine. It’s nothing that hasn’t been talked about to death before.” Louis drains his tea, setting the mug on the floor by the sofa. “We—we keep track of each other. I think he talks more to Niall, but I haven’t asked for a long time. He’s in LA, and Niall seems to think he’s happy, so.” Louis shrugs. “I’m glad he’s found what he wants.”
Liam chews on his lower lip. He wants to ask more questions, but he’s afraid he’s stepped over a line, and he doesn’t want to make Louis more uncomfortable than he obviously already has.
“You can ask me, Liam,” Louis says quietly, tilting his head to rest against the back of the sofa. “I don’t mind.”
“Have you found what you want?” It’s not the exact question he wants to ask, but it seems like the easiest one to actually say out loud.
Louis smiles. “Yeah, mostly. I miss touring. But I still have Niall; he hasn’t left me behind for greener, Irish pastures, so, yeah, I’m happy.”
Liam frowns. There’s something in Louis that seems to be hiding a deeper hurt, but he doesn’t know Louis well enough to say for sure, and he’s definitely not prepared to ask those questions tonight. Instead, he pushes himself off the sofa, leaning down to pick up Louis’s mug from the floor. “Refill?” he asks, already headed to the door, anticipating the soft please that follows him.
In the kitchen, he braces himself on the counter and breathes as he waits for the water to boil. He barely knows Louis, and he already wants to slay all his dragons for him.
Harry forgoes the label’s offer of a sponsoring a party to celebrate the album completion, claiming it’s always too full of suits and not enough alcohol, opting instead to invite the entire team and their extended circle of friends over to his house for a celebration of their own. Liam arrives after most of the party has kicked off; most of his day was spent in various meetings that ended up going overlong, which resulted in a mad dash back to his flat to change and get to Harry’s. As he’s rooting through his chest of drawers for something decent to wear, he realises that he hasn’t seen Louis in several days. That’s not unusual, he tells himself. He’s not even known Louis for an entire month, so he probably doesn’t need to spend every day with him. At the same time, he’s eager to see Louis and happy to know he’ll be there, like Liam is back at secondary and only accepting party invitations when he knew he would have a friend to keep him company.
Louis is in the kitchen, in the middle of a large cluster of people all huddled around Harry’s array of alcohol spread across the table. Liam lingers for a moment, waving a little until he can catch Louis’s eye to offer a smile hello, then keeps moving through the house, into the lounge where Harry is playing the album quietly for a number of people, most of whom Liam doesn’t recognise. Harry’s loud friend Nick is perched on the arm of the sofa, and he spots Liam first.
“Liam!” he cries. “Our little musical genius! Get over here and say hello!”
Liam rolls his eyes, glad he’s mostly over blushing when people compliment his work. “Shut up,” he mutters, “that’s hardly true at all.”
“Liam!” Harry cries, looking like he’s already had a few drinks. Niall is next to him, strumming mindlessly on the guitar he has cradled in his lap. “You’re here! I’ve missed you!”
Liam rolls his eyes. “You abandoned me,” he says, pointing at Harry and Niall both. “You are absolutely not forgiven for that.”
Harry grins unrepentantly. “Good, because I’m not apologising. It’s for your own good, Liam! You’ll thank me later.”
“I won’t,” Liam says.
“Louis’ not speaking to me,” Niall declares, but he sounds pretty happy about it. “So, you know, life could be worse, Haz.”
“I don’t blame him,” Liam mutters, but if he’s being honest, he might have to actually thank Harry if he and Louis can get themselves sorted, and if that does happen, he’ll never hear the end of it.
He stays in the lounge for a while, saying hello to a few old friends, and thanking people for their contributions, before he gets up to make his way back to the kitchen, hoping Louis is still there. Instead, he nearly runs headlong into Louis where he’s contemplating the artwork scattered along Harry’s hall.
“That’s an interesting piece,” Louis says, ignoring Liam’s muttered apology and somewhat uncoordinated flailing.
Liam turns to see what Louis is talking about, which turns out to be the wooden mermaid figure that Harry bought at an antique store last year. “Oh, um, yeah. Harry wanted to just leave it sitting on the sofa, as a conversation piece, but I made him put it up so that people could actually, you know, use the sofa for sitting.”
“That sounds about right,” Louis says, running his fingers along the scales of the mermaid’s tail.
“He likes it so much he took it into a tattoo shop so the artist could use it as a reference.”
“Oh my God,” Louis laughs, turning to Liam with an open, happy expression. “And I thought my tattoos were dumb.”
Liam doesn’t say anything in response, because he actually likes Louis’s tattoos, and anything he’d say right now would probably be inappropriately forward. “I was just coming to find you, I was worried you wouldn’t really know anyone here. You could have come through with us, this is your celebration, too, you know.”
Louis rolls his eyes. “I’m a big boy, Liam, I could have come bothered you if I was feeling lonely. I’m fine.”
“Stop it with those ridiculous eyes, Liam. Yes, I’m sure. I do know how to navigate a house party or two by now. Stop worrying.”
Liam laughs a little. Telling him to stop worrying is like telling grass to stop growing. It’s just a fact of life at this point: Liam worries. He glances back into the lounge, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone paying any attention to them at the moment. “Come on,” he says, leading the way out into the garden. After the crush of people in Harry’s house, it feels refreshing to be in an open space. It’s mostly quiet back here, just the faintest levels of noise to remind them that they are, in fact, still in London. It’s one of Liam’s favourite places to be.
He takes a seat on the little wall where Harry keeps his potted plants, half of which are dying. Liam has never been able to figure out how Harry kills plants that are outside, but he still manages to do it. Louis sits next to him, his thigh pressed close to Liam’s. Liam’s mind starts racing; he replays the phone conversation he’d had with Ruth a few days ago, and curses his past self for not thinking to ask practical questions, like how can I tell if someone wants to kiss me if they don’t actually just say it out loud.
There’s a long, quiet moment, Louis fiddling with his cigarette pack before putting it back in his pocket. Liam wants to say something, to keep the silence from getting uncomfortable, but he forces himself to not, to let them just be. The atmosphere between them seems to become increasingly closed-in but not oppressive, the light and noise spilling out of Harry’s kitchen slowly pushed into the background. It begins to feel like that evening in the music room, the two of them sharing a piano bench and Liam wanting so badly to kiss Louis but unsure as to how to get there.
Louis takes care of that particular problem a second later, though, reaching up to touch Liam’s cheek gently before coaxing him to bend down to Louis’s level. Louis presses a soft, chaste kiss to Liam’s mouth, pulling back almost before Liam has fully registered what he’s doing.
“You okay?” Louis murmurs, licking his lips and staring at Liam’s mouth for a long moment before making eye contact.
“Yup,” Liam tries to say, but it comes out almost too quietly for either of them to hear. He clears his throat and tries again. “Yeah, Louis. Okay.”
He leans down and kisses Louis back, and this time he grabs Louis’s arm, just to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. Louis’s lips are a little chapped, and when Liam tries to deepen the kiss, he responds eagerly, wrapping his arms around Liam’s neck and trying to crawl halfway into Liam’s lap.
Liam pushes himself back a little, in an attempt to regain some of his higher brain functions. He’d love to pull Louis into one of Harry’s guest rooms right now, but there’s a house full of people, and he’s definitely not prepared to navigate that particular minefield right now. Louis is running his hand up and down Liam’s arm, and it’s definitely not doing his concentration any favours.
“Should we get out of here?” Louis asks quietly, his breath rushing over Liam’s neck, making him shudder.
Liam swallows heavily. He wants to, he really wants to, but he’s still a little nervous that he doesn’t know where exactly they stand. They haven’t even gone out on a proper date, for fuck’s sake. Still, he thinks, this might be the moment he’s been waiting for, and he won’t know for sure if he doesn’t meet Louis in the middle. “Yeah,” he says, kissing Louis again, letting himself get a little lost in chasing the faint taste of cigarette smoke. Louis’s grip on his bicep is bordering on too much, and Liam responds by running his thumb firmly down the line of Louis’s throat, resulting in Louis’s breath hitching sharply.
Louis finally pulls back, colour blooming high on his cheeks.
Liam smiles at him, tracing his cheeks with his fingers. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Liam’s flat is closer to Harry’s, but as soon as they stumble through the doorway, Louis attempting to wiggle his hands into Liam’s jeans, Liam remembers why they’ve been doing all their work at Louis’s. He drops his keys onto the entry table, blushing as he tries to extract himself from where Louis seems to be launching a full-scale attack on the back of his neck with his teeth. Compared to Louis’s bright, airy home, Liam’s flat feels tiny and cramped. It’s a bit of a tip as well, all of Liam’s energy being focused on Harry’s album over the last few weeks.
“Bedroom’s down here, sorry for the mess. It’s, um, probably not as big as you’re used to,” he says, all in a rush. “But it’s just, you know, it’s enough for me—just me—and if I have family down, Harry is always willing to lend a spare room, so I’ve never thought to look—”
Louis slaps a hand over Liam’s mouth, startling him out of his train of thought, then follows it up by rising on his tiptoes to give Liam a gentle kiss.
“Stop worrying,” he says from very close. Liam nearly has to cross his eyes to look at him. “I wouldn’t care if you lived in a bedsit with a rat for a flatmate—actually, no, I would care about that, because that’s disgusting, but, Liam,” he pauses and clasps Liam’s hand from where it’s resting on his waist, threading their fingers together, “I’m here for you, not your flat. Just you.” He trails the fingers of his other hand across the collar of Liam’s shirt, and Liam recognises just in time that he’s about to go for a nipple pinch and grabs his wrist before he can get there. Louis is grinning wildly, with a bit of a gleam in his eye, and Liam can’t help but to lean in and kiss him again. Part of his brain is telling him to stop snogging in the hallway, he’s not a bloody teenager any more, but mostly he’s just overwhelmed by Louis.
Louis doesn’t let them linger too long, though, tugging at Liam’s hair before leaning back a little. “If you don’t want to end up on the floor right here, we should probably find your bed.”
It takes Liam a moment to catch up; his brain kind of gets stuck on the idea of them just shagging in the middle of the hall because they couldn’t help themselves. “Yes. That’s—we should do that.”
Louis laughs, pushing his hands into Liam’s hair to pull him back into a kiss without giving him a chance to protest. They both get distracted, Louis pushing forward until Liam is pressed against the wall, Louis rising onto his tiptoes so he can plaster himself to Liam’s front. Liam feels like he’s been hard since he walked through the door, and now he can feel Louis is, too. He pulls Louis the tiniest bit closer before reminding himself that they’re not doing this in the hall, so he does his best to nudge Louis backwards a fraction so he can move. Louis makes a few disgruntled noises as he leans backwards.
“What,” he says, staring at Liam’s mouth, looking a little grumpy.
“Bedroom, right?” Liam says, nudging Louis backwards a little more with his hands on Louis’s hips. “Come on, it’ll be more comfortable.”
“You’re so smart,” Louis says as Liam leads them down the hall. Liam can’t tell if he’s being serious or taking the piss, so he opts to ignore him in favour of pulling his top off. “Another great idea,” Louis says from behind him. It’s punctuated by the thud of Louis’s trainers hitting the wall.
By the time he manages to pull his jeans off, Louis is settling himself into a nest of Liam’s pillows, his clothes in a trail from the doorway to the bed. “You’re taking too long,” Louis complains, squeezing his cock as he watches Liam move up the bed, not moving an inch to meet him in the middle. Liam wouldn’t expect anything differently, and smiles that it’s something he’s allowed to know about Louis.
“Hi,” he says, moving to bracket Louis, leaning down on his elbows to kiss him.
“Hi yourself,” Louis says, his eyes bright and happy.
“What do you want?” Liam asks, holding himself up over Louis so he can see Louis’s face.
“Is it cheesy to say you?” Louis asks, smiling like he knows how ridiculous he sounds but not feeling sorry about it at all.
“Yes,” Liam says, leaning back down for another kiss. “But I’ll allow it.”
After, curled together in bed, Louis is quieter than he’s been since Liam met him. Liam debates whether or not he should say something, but in the end decides not to disturb the silence. He presses a gentle kiss to Louis’s shoulder before turning away to let them both sleep.
Liam wakes early enough that the first hints of daylight are just beginning to filter in around the edges of his curtains. For a moment, he’s a bit disoriented at being in his own bed—normally after Harry’s parties, he just crashes in a guest room—until the memories from last night hit him in a rush, and he rubs the sleep from his eyes before turning over.
Louis’s side of the bed is empty, and that must have been what woke him. It’s quiet in the rest of the flat, and Liam waits to see if Louis is going to come tiptoe back in, but it doesn’t happen. After lingering under the warmth of the duvet a moment longer, he pushes it back and pads into the hallway. The bathroom and kitchen are both dark, and there’s no sign of a sleeping Louis on the sofa. Liam ducks back into the bedroom, and this time he notices that Louis’s discarded clothes and mobile are all missing. He stands in the middle of his bedroom for a long time, staring dumbly at the now-empty space on the floor where Louis had tossed his clothes last night.
Eventually, he shakes himself out of it, crawling back into bed. He doesn’t think he has any energy to handle anything else at the moment. He glances over the bedside table, looking to see if Louis had left a note at all; he doesn’t have any messages on his phone, either.
He squirms back down in bed, pulling the duvet up to his nose. He can feel the pinpricks of heat starting to build behind his eyes, and he squeezes them closed. He is not going to cry. This does not automatically mean the worst, he reminds himself. Something urgent could have come up that Louis had to attend to right away. Maybe one of his sisters got sick. Maybe if he goes back to sleep, when he wakes up, everything will have righted itself.
When he wakes up, Louis is still nowhere to be found, and there’re still no messages on Liam’s phone. Liam squints at his phone for a moment longer, hoping something will magically appear, but it remains stubbornly silent. He lets his head fall back into his pillow, taking a deep, shuddering breath. He argues with himself for a long moment before giving in and texting Louis.
Where r u is evrything ok???
He watches his phone for a long moment, waiting to see if Louis starts typing a reply, but when nothing happens, he makes himself lock the screen. This just doesn’t make any sense. He’d put himself out there, laid himself bare for Louis to see in a way that he hasn’t done in a long time. And Louis had taken that offering and trampled all over it. Last night had seemed like the beginning of something truly amazing, but instead, Liam is alone, with no explanation as to why. He’d thought Louis was better than that, but maybe it was an act, or maybe Liam had just been really, terribly wrong about him.
He shoots a text to Harry, Is niall with u, then forces himself to get out of bed and shower. By the time he manages to make himself coffee, there’s still no text from Louis, but Harry has texted back, yyyyyyy, but he’s leaving now, see you soon!
Liam sighs, scrubbing over his face with his hands. There is no way he’s going to be able to act like everything is fine in front of Harry all afternoon. He’d rather just cancel the damn meeting.
Sure enough, two minutes into the meeting, Harry pushes a sheet of paper across the table with are you ok??? scribbled across it in his scrawling handwriting. Embarrassingly, Liam feels like he might cry again. He shakes his head sharply, and deliberately turns away from Harry’s worried face to pretend to pay attention to whoever is currently speaking. He has no idea what’s happening right now, but he knows for sure that he’d rather be listening to marketing strategy over looking at Harry. Only one of those things will make him break down in tears, and for once, it’s not a boring strategy meeting.
Afterwards, Harry corners him in the hallway, boxing him in with his arms. “Talk, Payne,” he says, sounding stern, but his face gives away the amount of his concern. “What happened last night? Did Louis take one look at the state of your flat and leave?” He smiles a little, attempting a light tone, but the words are like a direct hit to Liam’s heart, and he lets himself fall forward to bury his face in Harry’s shoulder. “Whoa,” Harry says, his hands automatically coming up to wrap around Liam’s back. “Liam, what’s wrong?”
Liam can hardly bring himself to say the words out loud. “Louis left this morning before I woke up. No note. He didn’t return my text earlier.” He shrugs, in a misguided attempt to make it sound less awful than it actually is, even though he knows it’s entirely too late to play it off.
“Liam,” Harry says, sounding strangled. He cups the back of Liam’s head, and Liam finds himself once again fighting back tears. He’s sick of trying to keep everything tucked away. “Let’s get you home.”
Liam nods against Harry’s shoulder. Then he frowns, forcing himself to stop hiding. “You have the rest of your meetings this afternoon.”
“I’ll cancel them,” Harry says, his face hard. “They’re not important right now.”
“Yes, they are, Harry, this is your career.”
“Then I’ll reschedule,” he says, looking unconcerned. “They’re not as important as you, and that’s it.”
Liam knows he should protest, but the selfish side of him wants a bit of comfort, so he lets Harry tug him down the hall and bundle him into the car, driving them straight to Harry’s house without asking. He pushes Liam into the kitchen, pointing to the table with instructions for Liam to sit and not move while he makes coffee. “So just how much do I need to kill him?”
Liam offers a little smile. “Right now I just want to know he’s okay. I mean, I want to know why, because I don’t understand anything about today at all, but I really just want to make sure he’s okay.”
Harry looks sceptical, but he pulls out his phone and shoots off a text. He stares Liam down while he waits for a reply, as if he can extract all of Liam’s secrets by sheer force of will, until his phone buzzes and breaks his concentration. He reads over the message, his brow furrowed, then flips it around so Liam can see the screen. It’s too far away for Liam to actually read, so he just looks at Harry helplessly.
“It’s Niall. I asked him if he’d heard from Louis, and he says he has, but just once earlier today. He wants to know why, should I tell him?”
Liam shakes his head no. If Louis wants to be weird and incommunicative, Liam isn’t going to do anything to help that along.
“‘kay,” Harry says, typing furiously, then putting his phone facedown on the table. “Want to talk about it?”
Liam shakes his head again. Definitely, definitely not.
He spends the rest of the day and into the evening at Harry’s, letting Harry fuss over him. He keeps complaining that Harry is hovering worse than his mum, but they both know that’s not true; Liam’s mum is a champion hoverer. It feels like a retreat, like he’s taking the easy way out. Harry keeps telling him that’s not true, but it’s a feeling he can’t shake.
Eventually, he extracts himself from where Harry’s sofa has attempted to swallow him and starts gathering his things to go back to his flat. He winds up in the kitchen, staring out the door into the back garden where he and Louis had kissed. He doesn’t know how long he stands there before Harry comes looking for him.
“You know you can stay here,” Harry says from the doorway, making Liam jump a little.
“I know,” Liam says, putting the rest of the dirty dishes in the sink, just for something to occupy himself. Harry’s always been generous with his home whenever Liam needed him, but tonight feels different. He feels that if he doesn’t go home now, he’ll be setting himself up to keep hiding and wallowing, and he knows he can’t do that. There are people who are relying on him to be fully present. No matter how much he would protest, Harry is one of those people, and Liam strongly feels the need to be able to support Harry as much as he’s been supporting Liam.
“Leave those,” Harry says. “Stop tidying everyone else’s homes.” He stops talking, but it feels like an unfinished thought. Liam would bet anything that he’d been about to make a joke about Liam accidentally moving in with Louis while they were writing. He shuts that train of thought down as firmly as he can.
“It’s the least I can do,” Liam says. “For buying me dinner, and letting me cry on your shoulder. And...you know.” He lifts one shoulder, as if that will fill in all the blanks, and starts heading off in search of his trainers.
Harry follows directly behind him, nearly stepping on his heels. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, Harry, I’ll be fine. I’m just going to go home and sleep in my own bed and try to stay busy. I’ll be just fine, don’t worry.”
“I do worry,” Harry says doggedly. “I remember going through your last break-up. It was not pretty, Liam.”
Liam rolls his eyes, turning around and nearly running straight into Harry. “This is not a break-up,” he says. “We barely even went out on a date. We spent one night together. That’s all.”
“That’s why I’m worried, Liam; you don’t normally do this. I know you had to have really liked him.”
“Harry,” Liam says, grabbing Harry’s face in his hands and smooshing his cheeks together. Harry tries to roll his eyes, but he just ends up looking like an angry chipmunk. “I am fine. I promise. I’ll be a little sad and then it’ll be over. We can all move forward.”
Harry pulls Liam’s hands away, kissing each of his palms in turn. “If you’re sure,” he says, still looking concerned. “Call me if you need me. Anytime. Or just turn up. I’m serious.”
“Okay, Haz,” Liam says. He’s so lucky that he found such a good friend in Harry. “Promise. But I’ll be fine. That’s a promise, too.”
Back at home, Liam does a quick sweep of his bedroom to ensure that there’s nothing of Louis’s left behind. He puts his previous night’s clothes in the laundry; he doesn’t want to see them for as long as possible. He’s grateful that Louis didn’t leave much of a mark on his flat; he can do a bit of tidying and not have to think about seeing anything that reminds him of Louis at all.
This is why he can’t just allow anyone to take parts of his heart, like Harry does. It’s easier to move on from a hurt if his heart is still mostly his; Louis had somehow managed to wiggle his way past that guard, and look at what he has to show for it. An empty flat and constantly feeling like he’s going to cry at any moment. Quite frankly, it’s shit.
“No,” Harry says vehemently. He looks like he’s about two seconds away from angrily poking his finger into Liam’s face. “I want those songs together.”
Liam frowns. He doesn’t understand why Harry is digging his heels in on this particular issue, but it’s giving him a headache. “Harry, I’m not saying let’s use them to bookend the album; I’m saying it’s better to go from Improbability of Love into something a little more uptempo, and then; we can use You Again as the closer.”
If he were standing, Harry would probably be stamping his foot. “But these songs are meant to lead into one another, that’s how they were written.”
Steve, their A&R, finally steps in. “Let’s put a note on the end and finish the rest. We can come back to this one, yes?”
Harry shoves himself backwards into his chair, crossing his arms over his chest with a thunderous look on his face, but he nods in agreement, and Steve furiously types a few notes into his laptop.
Liam pushes his chair from side to side as Steve reads through the list, tapping his pen on the table in front of him as he listens. His concentration is truly awful at the moment, and he knows it, but he can’t bring himself to wholeheartedly participate. The past few days have all passed in a blur of routine. He feels like he’s just floating through, not putting much of an effort into anything other than putting one foot in front of another. He can’t figure out how Louis managed to make such an impact on his life in such a short amount of time. He’s still mostly checked out when Harry says, “No, let’s use the new one as the single. ”
Steve frowns, but before he can say anything, Liam jumps in. “Harry, no.” He’s pretty sure this is Harry’s misguided attempt at helping to heal whatever is going on with him and Louis, but he doesn’t want it. It’s not going to work, for one; if Louis couldn’t handle sleeping with him and sticking around afterwards, he’s not going to care about a single release as a gesture of some kind.
“Yes. I’m not budging on this one. I like it, it’s a really great track, and I think it’s a great introduction to the album.” His jaw takes on a bit of a mulish set.
Liam tries to catch his eye from across the table. “Why this one, though?”
Harry knocks their feet together under the table. “It feels right, Liam. Trust me.”
After a long moment of staring at Harry, trying to come up with an objection that doesn’t air his private life to a room full of label employees, he finally nods. “Yeah. Okay.” It feels like an admission of something he isn’t even fully aware of.
Harry nods at him, a promise that they’ll talk about it later, before asking Steve if there’s anything else on the agenda.
Steve shakes his head. “No, just the order of the last three songs. Why don’t you guys go back, fight it out, and you can email me tomorrow with your decision. You’ll figure it out, I’m sure.” With that, he gathers his laptop and various papers and leaves with a final wave, the door closing heavily behind him.
“Did you really have to pick that one as a single?” Liam would really like to leave it on the album where he doesn’t have to listen to it unless it’s a deliberate choice, which, at this point, he would probably never make.
Harry looks the tiniest bit sheepish, but he doesn’t back down. “I know. Trust me, I know, but Liam—it’s such a good song.”
That’s something Liam can’t argue with, because it is good. It’s not Harry’s fault that it’s the most painful song out of the entire tracklist for Liam to think about. “Fine.”
Harry’s quiet for a moment. “Niall says he’s okay. Sad, but. Okay.”
“I don’t care,” Liam says automatically, tamping down the part of him that wants to ask how sad is he? and did he say anything about me?
“Liam,” Harry says, frowning. “You need to talk to him. Get some closure. Even if he says he hated it, which I highly doubt, you can at least know.”
“I don’t want to know that, Harry! I’d rather just be sad for awhile and then move on!”
“But you’re not moving on, Liam, it’s been a week and you’re still walking around looking like someone kicked your dog!”
“Stop it, Harry!” Liam slams his hands on the table. “Just let me be sad! Yes, I’m sad! And I’m pissed off that he did this to me and that I let it get to me this much. Let me work through it; you can’t fix everything for everyone!”
Harry looks stunned, and for once he stays silent.
“He knew, Harry, he knew everything, I told him about what happened after X Factor, and he couldn’t give me the courtesy of not screwing me over like everyone else has!”
“Okay, Liam,” Harry says, after a long moment in which Liam hopes no one was in the hall to hear any of that. “I’m sorry. I’ll just...drop it, yeah? I won’t mention it any more.”
Liam drops his head, digging his fingers into his scalp. “I’m sorry. I’m just...sorry.”
“Don’t you dare apologise,” Harry says fiercely. “That prick hurt you, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
Liam gives him a sad smile. “That’s sweet, Harry, but you can’t fix this one. I don’t think anyone really can.”
Liam lines up a job working on one of the label’s new artist’s debut album, just for something to keep him occupied. It’s fine, the team is nice and welcoming, and the group is hard-working and committed, but he knows his heart isn’t fully in it. It’s not nearly immersive enough to keep his mind occupied, and he finds himself out at clubs more often than not, doing his best to find something that will help him forget faster.
After a week of full days and late nights, Harry lets himself into Liam’s flat and forces him out of bed. “That’s enough of that,” he declares, pushing Liam into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him.
Liam emerges feeling slightly more human and very grateful he has a friend who cares as much as Harry. “I very much regret giving you a key, Styles,” he mutters, even though he’s terribly appreciative of the breakfast Harry is in the middle of whipping together in his sad excuse for a kitchen.
“Lies,” Harry declares, flipping what looks like an omelette. “From the Start came out this week.”
“Hmmm,” Liam says into his coffee. He doesn’t really care to think much about it.
“It’s been getting some pretty great reviews.”
“That’s great, Haz,” Liam says, and he means it. He wants Harry to get all the recognition he deserves.
“Got some not-so-great ones, too.”
“Harry,” Liam says, setting his mug down a little too forcefully. After the first album release, Liam had to put a moratorium on Harry reading every single review; he took the negative ones a little too much to heart, and Liam had to field more than one teary phone call about them. “You’ve got to stop reading those.”
“It’s fine,” Harry says, waving the spatula around to demonstrate just how fine it is. Little bits of egg go flying off to every corner of the kitchen. “There’s one I think you should read.”
“I don’t read negative press, and you shouldn’t either.”
“Liam.” Harry turns around and crosses his arms. The spatula goes into his armpit. If he turns around and uses it again, Liam is not eating any breakfast at all. “Trust me when I tell you you are going to read this one. And then you’re going to read something else afterwards.”
Liam eyes him, but doesn’t disagree. Sometimes it’s just easier to give in. “Clean spatulas are behind you,” he says, pointing in the vague direction of the utensil jar.
“Right,” Harry says, dumping the old one in the sink. “One omelette with a clean spatula, coming right up.”
The review isn’t terrible.
It isn’t great, but it’s generally mostly positive, which is usually all Liam asks for. It’s just a little snippet on the new single as a prelude to the album, but to Liam’s disappointment, it highlights Liam’s contribution to the writing credits, and his heart sinks as he reads through. While showcasing his incredible voice on X Factor, and afterwards shining as Styles’s producer, Payne’s talents do not extend, it would seem, to songwriting. Next time he’d be best used behind the soundboard, and letting others take a turn at writing.
It’s annoying, and Liam bristles at it, but at the same time, it’s nothing worse than he would have said on a bad day.
“Okay, now look at this,” Harry says, pushing his phone into Liam’s hands. It’s open to Louis’s Twitter page, and Liam immediately tries to hand the phone back.
“No, Harry,” he says. “I can’t.”
Harry’s eyes are a little sad. “I know. I know, but you really, really need to read these.” He scrolls down a few tweets, then points to one in particular. “Start with that one, and read up.”
Liam sighs and turns to the phone. If he does this now, he can just get it over with and then hopefully it’ll never come up again.
@Louis_Tomlinson: Hey @RonWoods thanks for the review but I think its really uncalled for to tell people not to branch out in their career
@Louis_Tomlinson: People have to start somewhere and if you get a great opportunity like this one anyone would be an idiot to turn it down
@Louis_Tomlinson: . @Liam_Payne is a BRILLIANT musician AND producer AND songwriter and to diminish one part of his talents is really uncalled for !
“He got my username wrong,” Liam says quietly.
“I know, but I think everyone figured it out. Keep reading.”
@Louis_Tomlinson: Liam and I wrote together in the same room for this entire process, and he’s more talented than anyone else I know. So let me take the blame
@Louis_Tomlinson: for this song being “less up your alley ,” and give Liam lots of props for pulling double duty on this album !!!
Liam sits still for a long moment, staring unseeingly at Harry’s phone in his hand. “I don’t understand,” he says finally, speaking around a giant lump in his throat. He clears it a couple times, but he still feels choked up.
“Niall said he asked after you yesterday,” Harry says, tugging his phone out of Liam’s slack hands.
“He doesn’t get to do this, it’s not fair!” It feels like it explodes out of him, the frustration that has built over the past week suddenly unable to stay contained.
Harry startles. “This isn’t a good thing? I thought this was great!”
“I don’t know what this is! He treated me like shit, he’s still treating me like shit, and then he wants to be my defender? It doesn’t work like that!”
Harry reaches over to rub his shoulder, and Liam lets his head drop forward. “I think you should talk to him,” he says. “I think this is a really good sign that he’s probably confused, or scared, but doesn’t know how to tell you. I think this is him trying to show that he still cares for you.”
Liam scoffs, and Harry tsks.
“I know. I know, he’s been awful to you, but this may be him trying to figure out how to find his way back to you.”
Liam shakes his head, but he doesn’t feel quite so sure anymore. If Harry is right, maybe...maybe it would be worth trying to meet Louis in the middle. “It still hurts,” he says, his voice coming out a little hoarse. “It hurts constantly.”
“Liam,” Harry sighs. “Maybe it hurts so much because you still feel deeply for him. I’m not saying it’s the same way you felt before; maybe it’s more, maybe it’s less, maybe it’s totally different, but it’s still there. I think you should try to follow through on that. I really, really do. If nothing else, maybe it could just give you closure.” He shrugs, squeezing Liam’s shoulder. “You wrote together. It’s a really intimate thing, writing music with someone else. You deserve to let yourself get the closure you need.”
Liam rolls his eyes a little, because Harry just can’t help himself sometimes. “I’ll—I’ll try. That’s all I can promise. I’ll try.”
“That’s fine, Liam.” Harry leans over to press a dry kiss to his cheek. “Now come help me with the washing up.”
Harry calls him two days later as he’s leaving the studio for the evening. “What’s up, Harry,” he says, juggling his phone as he digs for his keys.
“Niall’s playing tonight, and we want you to come,” Harry says brightly.
Liam pinches the bridge of his nose. “Harry,” he says, drawing it out on a sigh. “I already told you I can’t.”
“You can, Liam, you just don’t want to,” Harry argues.
“Can you blame me? Louis and Niall are best friends, and I don’t exactly feel like awkwardly sitting at a table with Louis while you give your boyfriend moon eyes.”
“I wouldn’t give him moon eyes if you were there,” Harry says solemnly, which is very untrue. Harry has made these kinds of promises before and they always turn out the same way.
“Harry, I can’t,” Liam says, a little quieter, like he’s sharing a cherished secret.
“I think,” Harry starts, then pauses. “I think, if you were there, Louis wouldn’t be upset.”
“I’m not ready, Harry. I’m just not. I know you want to fix it, but you can’t just snap your fingers and have it done. I want to see him, because I think you’re right, there’s still something in me that cares for him, and I want to make sure he’s okay, but I can’t. Every time I think about actually seeing him in person, I just don’t think I’m ready to handle it.”
“Okay,” Harry says soothingly. “Okay. I’m not trying to push you into something, Liam, I swear. I just want you to be happy, whatever happens. Just—Niall keeps dropping his name into our conversations. I think that’s his way of saying that Louis is ready whenever you are.”
“I just can’t let myself be hurt again, Harry, do you get it? There’s a reason I like being in relationships, because you don’t have to constantly deal with the does-he-doesn’t-he thing all the time, or spend half the time worrying that you’re in deeper than the other person, which, hey, it turns out was a valid concern after all.” He knows he sounds bitter, and he doesn’t even feel that bitter any more. He’s ready to heal and move forward. “Besides, why do I have to be the one going places to see him? He walked out on me, it’s not up to me to be the one to make things right.” There’s a tiny voice in the back of his head telling him that the best way to do that is to just go meet Louis and talk it out, yell if necessary, and then he can leave it behind.
He’s just not ready to do that.
When he doesn’t know what else to do, he calls Ruth.
“Hi, love,” she says warmly when she picks up, though she sounds distracted.
“Ruth,” Liam says, and it sounds more desperate than he meant it to. “Do you have a minute?”
“Always for you, Liam,” she says, sounding closer and sharper. “What’s up?”
“You remember Louis?” Liam starts, trying to feel his way through what he wants to tell her.
“Louis from Zap? Of course I do, won’t soon forget my baby brother is working with my teen idol,” she teases.
“We, uh—we spent the night together?” Liam rubs his forehead; this is a conversation he never thought he would be having with his big sister.
“Are you sure you did?” she says gently, and Liam can tell she’s smiling.
He sighs. “Unfortunately, yes. I’m sure.”
“And when was this?”
“Two weeks ago. And he, uh, he left? Afterwards? And we haven’t really spoken since.”
“Oh, Liam,” she sighs.
Liam feels pressure behind his eyes, like he might cry. “I was waiting for the something extraordinary. He’s incredible, and I think I may love him, and I was waiting to see that he felt the same, like you said. And instead he left. He left me.”
There’s a long silence on the other end of the phone. Liam chews two of his nails to the quick in the time it takes Ruth to reply. Finally, she says, “I know I said that’s how you know. But sometimes, the other way round is true, too. Sometimes it's up to you to be the something extraordinary.”
Liam stops. What if that’s what Louis needs? What if he is just as scared as Liam and needs a sign from Liam that he’s not planning on going anywhere? Louis always seemed so sad when he talked about the people who had walked out of his life, and what if he was trying to prevent it from happening to him again? Liam rushes through a distracted thank-you-love-you goodbye to Ruth, already shuffling through the piles of half-finished sheet music perched on the edge of his piano. He finds what he’s looking for buried nearly at the bottom, and tugs it out carefully, already dialling Harry as he tries to keep everything else from toppling over.
“Harry, hi,” he breathes, when Harry mumbles a sleepy hello. He pins the phone between his face and shoulder and grabs a biro to start making notes. “Listen, mate, I need a favour.”
Two days later, the plan is in motion, and there’s no backing out.
Liam is kneeling on a towel next to the toilet in the gents backstage at the O2, trying desperately not to be sick.
Harry trails cool fingers across the back of Liam’s neck, chuckling softly. “Doesn’t seem like too long ago you were doing this for me before the first X Factor live shows.”
Liam attempts a wan smile. “Didn’t take too long for you to get over that, what with all your screaming fans suddenly curing you of every bit of your stage fright.”
Harry pulls a face. “Doesn’t mean I ever got over it, though,” he says. “I still get it, if I’m honest.”
Liam closes his eyes as another wave of nausea hits him. Harry reaches for his hand, and he holds on like it’s the only thing keeping him from actually passing out. Harry’s rings are digging into his palm uncomfortably, but it helps him stay present, so he doesn’t say anything. Liam’s radio, discarded next to the sinks, crackles to life. Opener is on!, someone chirps.
“Harry,” Liam gasps out, reaching for Harry’s other hand. “What if he’s not here? What if he refuses to listen? What if he hates it? What if he hates me?”
Harry gives Liam’s hands a little shake. “Liam. Listen to me,” he says firmly. He ducks his head to catch Liam’s eyes. “It’s going to be fine. You are an amazing man, and if he can’t see that, then he doesn’t deserve you.”
Someone calls for Harry over the radio then, and as he starts to slide his hands out of Liam's, Liam feels a fresh wave of panic start to wash over him.
“Liam,” Harry says again. “Have a little faith, yeah?” He leans in and kisses Liam’s forehead, and it feels like a benediction. Before Liam can react, he’s pushing to his feet, hovering over Liam with his phone in his hand.
“Who the fuck are you possibly texting right now?” Liam demands.
Harry winks at him, tapping the side of his nose with his finger.
“Oh my god, is that Niall? Is he bringing Louis? Harry, you have to tell me.”
“Nope,” he says, popping the word. “You made me pinky swear not to tell you tonight, and I, Liam, am a man of my word. Pinky swears are sacred.”
Fuck pinky swears and his past self for deciding to making Harry promise something he’d actually stick to. “You’ve never kept a secret in your life, Harry, don’t start now.”
Harry grins. “Yes, but this one matters. You’ll be great no matter what happens, you don’t need to know if he’s here or not. Now get up and clean your trousers off, it’s almost time.”
Liam slowly stands, but his legs don’t seem to want to work as legs should anymore. He grabs at Harry’s sleeves. “Oh my god, Harry.”
“Yes?” Harry asks, sounding a little bewildered. “You okay?”
Liam laughs. It probably sounds a little hysterical. “I’m singing onstage at the O2 to get my maybe-boyfriend to make up with me, have I gone completely mad?”
Harry tugs him into a giant hug. “You’re doing the best thing ever, I can’t tell you how thrilled I’d be if someone did this for me. You’ll be fine.”
“Do you have your inhaler handy? I may need it.” He’s only partly joking, but his voice is entirely too wavery right now, he needs to get a grip. He grabs Harry’s shirt, bunching the material in his hands, letting it ground him.
“You’re fine,” Harry says quietly, right in his ear like it’s something to keep just between the two of them. “No matter what happens, you’re fine. You’ll be fine. Promise. I’ll be cheering the loudest the whole time.”
“Next to Louis?” Liam asks, trying to catch Harry off guard.
“Nice try.” Harry pushes Liam back a step. “It’s nearly time. Go kill it, you’ve got this!” He grabs Liam by the shoulders, steering him in the right direction, then sends him off with a slap on the bum.
When he’s finally waiting in the wings, the house lights about to go down, he takes second, breathes, and closes his eyes. This is his moment.
The lights on stage are brighter than he remembers.
The audience is relatively quiet, not expecting a performer in between the opener and Harry, and it feels like the distance between him and the piano is at least an entire football pitch. He gives a little abortive wave as he slides onto the bench, and from the corner of his eye, he can see Niall and Harry inching as close to the stage as they can without being noticed, Niall's hand clamped firmly around Louis's arm. His heart lurches in his chest, and he feels like he might throw up. He can't tell how angry Louis is to be there, but he can't imagine he's very pleased about it.
Liam takes a fortifying breath, checking his feet on the pedals before leaning towards the mic. "Hello," he says. "Harry will be on soon—" he pauses to let the screams die down—"but in the meantime, Harry has graciously let me borrow his stage for a moment to share a song with you all, and one person in particular. I hope you all enjoy, and I hope he will listen to what I'm trying, very badly, to say."
The next four minutes pass in a blur, Liam's focus narrowed down to the resistance of the pedals against his feet, and the contrast of the gold lettering against the jet-black of the piano body, and the wobble of the microphone in front of his face. The worry of having Louis standing not a hundred yards away, listening to Liam laying bare everything he has, has all but disappeared, and as he plays the final chord, his gaze sharpens on his fingers where they're pressing down on the keys, bringing up a suddenly visceral memory of the first time he sat in Louis's music room. It feels like a lifetime ago, now.
He closes his eyes and breathes.
The crowd is quiet in the space of one breath, anticipatory, then erupts as a wave of sound, rolling and cresting over the stage as Liam tries to remember how to make his legs work properly.
He moves to the end of the bench, not sure if he should take a bow, or walk off to wait for the fallout, or go to Louis right away—if he's still there. Before he can make a decision, there are hands in his, pulling him up and into Louis's arms.
"I'm so sorry," Louis says, muffled into Liam's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Liam. That was—God, that was everything."
Louis pulls back, catching Liam's eyes before his gaze drops to Liam's mouth. And, God, Liam wants to kiss him, but in front of thousands of teenage girls may not be the best option. He pulls Louis back into him, turning so he can give the crowd a wave of acknowledgement, then blindly reaches for Louis's hand to tug him backstage.
Harry and Niall are waiting for them, their hands linked and both of their grins threatening to erupt into overwhelmingly happy giggles.
"He cried!" Niall yells before anyone else can say anything.
Louis punches him in the shoulder. "I did not cry! Liam, I definitely did not cry."
Liam watches them, feeling overwhelmed and so buoyantly happy he feels like he could float to the ceiling. "I'm sure they were very manly tears, Lou," he says, tugging at where their hands are linked together, Liam's palm still a bit sweaty.
Louis turns and punches him in the shoulder, too.
Liam squawks in feigned outrage. “What was that for? I just sang you a song!”
“Mmm, you did,” Louis agrees. “That was very terrible of me.” He leans up to kiss Liam, and it feels long-overdue. Liam drops Louis’s hand in favour of cupping his hands around his face, and Louis presses himself closer, hooking his fingers in Liam’s belt loops.
“My eyes!” Niall shrieks from behind them.
“I’ll save you!” Harry yells. There’s a tremendous crash, and Liam pulls back to see Harry and Niall collapsed in a heap on the floor next to an overturned stack of crates, looking sheepish.
“Wow,” Louis mutters from where he’s peering around Liam’s shoulder.
Liam rolls his eyes, tugging on Louis’s wrist. “Come on, Harry has a dressing room back here somewhere.”
“Hey!” Harry yelps. “Don’t go snogging in my dressing room, it’s mine!”
“Not for the next two hours it’s not, Styles!” Liam calls over his shoulder. “Get to work!”
Liam would have been perfectly happy to spend the entirety of Harry’s set hiding out in Harry’s dressing room with Louis, but Louis, surprisingly, has other ideas.
They’re halfway through the maze of hallways to get back to where the green rooms are, when Louis tugs them off to the side, letting a few crew members pass by with a smile and a nod, then turning to Liam with bright eyes.
“You’re not kissing me in this hallway,” Liam says immediately, because he doesn’t trust that look.
Louis rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to kiss you in this hallway.”
Liam makes an offended noise.
“I don’t want to kiss you here,” Louis says, pinching Liam’s side. “I want to find somewhere to kiss you senseless, and then I want to go watch Harry’s show.”
Liam stares at him. He thinks his mouth may actually be hanging open. “You want to what? I can literally take you to see Harry’s show any time you want.”
“I know, and I love it,” Louis says, sounding like it’s a foregone conclusion that Liam will be taking him out at some point in the future. Liam feels rush of something like joy that suddenly washes over him, from his scalp to his toes. He thinks if he touches Louis right now, his fingertips might actually spark. “But this is a show I want to remember.”
Liam looks at him for another long moment. He knows he probably looks like an idiot, just standing here smiling at Louis, but Louis is smiling back at him just as happily, and Liam wouldn’t trade this moment for anything. Finally, he shakes himself out of it. “Come on,” he says, tugging a little at Louis’s hand. “If you insist, I know a good spot backstage where we can watch but won’t be seen.”
They end up getting squeezed in between a few road crates, pressed against one another so they can stay out of the way of the crew as much as possible. Liam isn’t complaining, and neither is Louis, and they keep alternating between getting distracted by kissing each other in the dark, and actually watching what they can of the show. When the encore is over, they wiggle their way out of their hiding spot to intercept Harry as he bounces offstage, Niall appearing from what seems like thin air to grab Harry’s hand, lacing their fingers together immediately.
“Celebratory drinks?” Harry asks, a little sweaty from the stage lights, and wound tight with residual energy from the crowd.
“I’m in,” Niall says immediately, giving Harry a kiss on his cheek.
“We know,” Louis says, rolling his eyes.
“Don’t you start with me, Tomlinson,” Harry shoots back, pointing accusingly at where Liam and Louis are holding hands.
“I’ll start whatever I want,” Louis says, trying to sound superior, but he betrays himself by leaning into Liam’s side. “Go be gross and boyfriend-y somewhere else.”
“You first,” Niall says.
“Children,” Liam sighs.
“Oh come off it, you love it,” Louis says. Liam feels his smile spreading wider across his face. He does love it. He feels warm and safe, like the feeling he gets on Christmas morning when he’s able to just be surrounded by the people he loves.
“Liam,” Harry coos, reaching out to pinch his cheek. Liam slaps his hand away. “Okay, I feel gross, I’m off to shower.” Niall visibly brightens. “Alone. Drinks! Let’s do this!” Harry shouts as he heads off toward his dressing room.
“Nope,” Liam yells. “I’m off to Louis’s, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Harry stops in his tracks and heads straight back to Liam, not stopping until he’s grabbed Liam in a giant hug, Louis’s hand getting pulled along as collateral damage. “So happy for you, Liam,” he whispers.
Liam grabs him a little bit tighter. “Thanks for everything. Love you.” When Harry pulls back, his eyes are suspiciously shiny.
Louis steps back in, grabbing Liam’s hand. “Heading to mine, are we?”
“Unless that’s a problem?”
“No place on earth I’d rather be. Let’s go.”
Back at the house, they both head straight to the kitchen by some silent agreement, Liam feeling the need for at least something of a discussion before they head upstairs, no matter what may or may not happen. He pushes Louis in the direction of the table, filling the kettle and making them both a cup of tea.
Liam sits down opposite of Louis, blowing across the mug of his tea. “Alright there Louis?” he asks quietly. Louis is frowning, his shoulders slumped, and he hasn’t moved to take his tea yet. He looks as though he has the weight of the world on him.
Liam sips at his tea, trying to be patient, but every minute Louis doesn’t say anything feels like a small eternity, and Liam starts to wonder if he made the right call in pursuing Louis after everything, if he should even be here right now. He clears his throat, and Louis’s head pops up in response.
“You shouldn’t be here, Liam,” he says, closing his eyes and running his hand over his face.
“Wha—what the fuck, Louis?” Liam says, feeling a little like he wants to cry, because this has already been such an emotional day, and now the hopes and expectations he had begun forming for the night are being dashed to pieces.
Louis looks away, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry, I just—I don’t deserve you. This. Any of this. You don’t want to be stuck with someone like me. I hurt you so badly, Liam, because I only cared for myself, and you still remember things like how I take my tea, and I just—can’t look at you without being terrified that I’m going to hurt you again, and I can’t live with knowing that I’d done that to you twice.”
Liam feels a laugh bubbling up inside him, but he rolls his lips together and tries to tamp it down. “Louis. Is that what you’re so worried about? Half of that hasn’t even happened yet, so stop winding yourself up about it. I promise you I won’t let you screw it up again. Hell, I wouldn’t have let you screw it up the first time, only I happened to be sleeping at the time.”
Louis finally picks up his mug, holding it close between both hands. Liam really is terribly fond of him, even when he’s being an absolute idiot. Louis still looks nervous, his eyes moving from one thing to another, before he finally swallows and deliberately meets Liam’s eyes. “I owe you an apology, Liam. I’m so, so sorry for leaving you. I just—I woke up and you looked…” he trails off, shaking his head and taking a deep breath. “I just got so terrified that I was going to get left behind again, and I thought, maybe, if I—I don’t know, cut it off before I got in too deep, I wouldn’t get hurt again.”
Liam reaches over and pries one of Louis’s hands off his mug, wrapping it in both of his. Louis relaxes a tiny bit, the line in his forehead easing as he flashes Liam a quick smile.
“Only, it didn’t work. I hurt myself, and even worse, I did to you what I was hoping you wouldn’t do to me.” He drops his eyes, but doesn’t let go of Liam’s hand. “I was so ashamed of what I’d done. I thought you’d never want to speak to me again, and you’d be well within your rights to want that. And then when Niall said Harry kept asking about me, I thought maybe that meant you didn’t hate me. But I thought this wasn’t something I wanted to try to do over the phone, and I just couldn’t figure out how I could make sure we’d be in the same place. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be anywhere I was. I didn’t want to try calling you just to have you refuse to speak to me ever again. I just didn’t know how to make anything else work.”
“I could never hate you, Louis,” Liam says, running a finger over the back of his hand. Louis looks like he’s about to say something, but Liam shakes his head. “I mean that. I didn’t hate you before, and I don’t hate you now. I was angry, yeah, and sad, but mostly I was worried about you. I don’t know how to tell you that I’m not leaving so that you can believe me, but I swear to you I’m not going to leave you behind. You’re impossible to leave behind.”
“How do you know that? How can you be so sure?” Louis demands, his eyes looking a little watery. “Everyone leaves in the end. Even my family.”
“Not your mum, though? Not your sisters or your brother. Niall is still here. Your dad is still here, even if it looks different than before, right? It’s not everyone, Louis, you’re still so loved.”
Louis looks even more like he’s fighting back tears. If he cries, Liam is definitely, definitely going to cry, and that is absolutely not in the plan for this evening.
“I’m not going anywhere, Louis, I promise.”
Louis nods, shifting towards Liam, and Liam grabs him into a hug as soon as he’s sure they’re not going to both end up on the floor.
After a moment, Louis sniffs loudly, reaching around Liam’s shoulder to wipe at his face. He wipes his hand down the back of Liam’s shirt, then shifts backwards so he can see Liam. “Let’s go upstairs.”
Louis leads the way, tugging Liam up past the music room, to where his bedroom is snugly settled on the top floor. As soon as Louis pushes him through the doorway, Liam feels a rush of the same overwhelming joy that he’d felt just coming offstage, like this is one of those important moments he’ll be able to remember as something special.
Louis steers them to his bed, not letting go of Liam for anything, even when he trips over the edge of the rug. “Whoops,” he mumbles, as his momentum pushes his mouth more firmly against Liam’s.
Laughing, Liam pulls back a little so they can make it across the floor without killing themselves. Louis whines at him, then immediately shifts his focus to unbuttoning Liam’s shirt. Liam fumbles for the button of Louis’s jeans to return the favour, and they manage to make it to Louis’s bed without hurting themselves, successfully leaving their clothes in a long trail across the floor.
Liam’s legs hit the bed, and he lets Louis topple him over backwards, keeping his arm locked around Louis’s waist so he follows him down. Louis makes it look graceful, pulling back just enough so that he can straddle Liam where he’s still lying sideways across the bed, immediately leaning back down to kiss him, even as he’s reaching down to line their cocks up, holding them together without moving.
Finally, Liam can’t handle the stillness, and pulls away for a breath. “Do something,” he says, coming out on a whine.
“Yeah,” Louis breathes, moving to kiss down Liam’s neck. For a moment, it seems like he’s already distracted himself, until he moves his hand to prop himself up with a hand on either side of Liam’s shoulders, grinding his cock down against Liam’s.
Liam sucks in a breath, tilting his head backwards and pressing it harder against the bed. The quiet atmosphere that they’d carried with them up the stairs seems to shift, and suddenly there’s a sense of urgency washing over the two of them. It feels like it leaves his scalp tingling, a full-body shiver that only ramps up the intensity. Liam grabs Louis’s face with both hands, pulling him down into a hard kiss, only letting go when he feels like he can’t stand it anymore, and reaches down to fist himself, his knuckles brushing against Louis’s cock where he’s rutting down. He breaks away from the kiss, groaning, and Louis drops to his elbows, pressing a kiss to his shoulder.
“Liam,” he says, mostly muffled into Liam’s skin. “I want—” he breaks off, leaving his mouth pressed into Liam’s collarbone, breathing heavily. His hair trails across Liam’s neck, making him shudder.
“What,” Liam says. “Anything, just tell me.” Louis doesn’t respond, and Liam lets out a shuddery breath, stroking himself a little faster, his hand bumping into Louis as their rhythms fall out of sync. He huffs out a laugh; for a couple of musicians, they really are bad at coordinating themselves while they’re trying to get off together.
“Fuck,” Louis moans, biting down on Liam’s neck, and Liam can feel him coming across Liam’s hand and stomach. “Fuck,” he says again, turning Liam’s face towards himself to kiss him. Liam moans into it, tightening his hand on his cock. He’s getting close, his stomach tightening as he sucks on Louis’s tongue. “Wait, Liam, wait,” Louis gasps, reaching down to push Liam’s hand away. He rolls slightly to the side, grasping Liam’s cock, jacking him fast and hard while Liam gasps for breath, a sharp tingling starting at his scalp and moving through his limbs. He tries to pull his feet up but is stopped by Louis’s leg still sprawled across his own. He twists, not trying to get away, but needing to move, and Louis leans up to kiss him again. Liam closes his eyes and comes, his orgasm nearly taking him by surprise, moaning into Louis’s mouth as Louis gentles him through the aftershocks, then wiping his hand on Liam’s already messy skin.
Liam makes a face; regardless of how messy he already was, he doesn’t appreciate being Louis’s flannel.
Louis leans up to drop a kiss on his nose, then rolls to his feet. “Only be a sec,” he says softly, already padding to the door to his ensuite, where Liam can hear him slamming drawers and running water. He comes back with a warm flannel for Liam, and once Liam has finished cleaning himself up, he pushes himself up so they can get under the duvet.
As soon as his brain catches up with what they’re doing, Liam feels a wave of exhaustion hit him. It feels like a lifetime ago that he was greeting Harry backstage, trying to prepare for anything that might happen. He hadn’t dared let himself imagine this was how his night was going to turn out. He lets himself flop face first on the sheets, Louis laughing and poking at him from where he’s still half on top of the duvet.
“Liam, move,” Louis says, and gives the duvet an almighty yank, nearly sending Liam toppling over the other side of the bed.
“So tired,” Liam complains, feeling like he can’t even speak clearly with how drained he feels.
Louis is quiet, climbing into bed and arranging the pillows and covers to his satisfaction. Liam mostly just watches through half-closed eyes, finally sighing in relief as Louis lies down, mirroring Liam so they can face each other. “Brave Liam,” he finally whispers, as though he’s trying not to disturb the calm that’s settled over the bed. He traces a finger over Liam’s cheek as Liam lets his eyes droop fully closed.
“Sorry I can’t stay awake,” Liam mumbles. “Long day.” He takes a deep breath. “Long month,” he says, opening his eyes again so he can see Louis. It feels important, to remember this moment.
Louis’s mouth flattens out in a sad smile. “My fault. I’ll have to figure out how to make it up to you.”
“Hmmm,” Liam says, letting the corner of his mouth tilt up. “I am partial to foot massages. No tickling, though,” he adds quickly, because he can already see the gears turning in Louis’s brain.
Louis leans forward to give him a quick kiss. “I was thinking about having you fuck me, but if you’d rather go with a massage, that’s fine with me.”
Liam groans, rolling his face into the pillow. “No, too much,” he says into the feathers.
“I was going to say something about it earlier, but we got a little carried away.”
“You were rubbing off on me, what was I supposed to do, just lay there and watch?”
Louis grins. “I wouldn’t have complained, though I certainly didn’t hear any protest from you at the time.”
“I didn’t know what was on offer, did I, you enormous pillock,” Liam says, halfheartedly smacking Louis in the chest before letting his hand flop to the bed with a deep sigh.
“Sleep, love,” Louis says, shuffling a little closer and wrapping his foot around Liam’s ankles. “I’ll be here in the morning.”
“Promise?” Liam says, half-slurred with sleep.
“Yeah, Liam. I promise.”
Louis wakes Liam up in the morning, sunlight streaming in where the curtains have been opened.
“Hmmmm,” is all Liam can manage, his eyes mostly closed. They feel like they have weights tied to them. “Hi.”
“Hi, love.” Louis gives him a quick kiss, moving back so quickly Liam barely registers it before it’s over. “I’m just going to run down to make some tea.” He swallows, tracing a finger over Liam’s cheek. “Didn’t want you to wake up alone.”
Liam feels a strange rush of hurt before it’s replaced with a feeling of overwhelming fondness. “Thanks,” he says, his voice still raspy. “Might fall asleep again.”
“That’s fine,” Louis says, kissing him again. “I’ll be back in a bit. Go back to sleep, you look exhausted.”
Liam is exhausted, and it doesn’t take more than a few minutes before he’s dozing off to the sound of Louis shuffling around the room before quietly opening and closing the door.
He wakes back up to Louis climbing back into bed, moving very slowly, obviously trying not to disturb Liam too much. He smiles, reaching for Louis. “Get in here, you’re letting the cold air in.”
Louis does, settling the duvet around himself, and letting himself be pulled into Liam’s arms. “Tea’s going to go cold,” he says into Liam’s throat.
“Don’t much care,” Liam says, letting himself bask in the feel of Louis so close and his.
After a long moment, in which Liam thinks Louis has fallen back asleep, Louis moves so that his head is on the pillow next to Liam’s, their noses almost touching. Liam goes a little cross-eyed looking at him. “I have a proposition for you,” Louis says solemnly.
“I’m already in bed with you, not sure what other propositions you could possibly have.”
Louis smiles, sliding his arm around Liam’s back and pulling him the tiniest bit closer. “That’s true, but this is a little less sexy and a little more work-related.”
Liam frowns, but doesn’t say anything.
Louis takes a deep breath and says, all in a rush, “If you wanted, and you can say no, but I really hope you say yes, but I was hoping that since our song did so well as a single and you played your own song onstage, you would maybe want to keep writing, and if you did, if you would want to write more with me? Like, permanently? You can say no, and it won’t bother me.”
Liam can tell that’s a lie, that it would definitely bother him, but thankfully there’s not even a question in his mind. “Of course, Louis, don’t wind yourself up so much. I’d love to keep writing with you, I think we make a great team.”
Louis waggles his eyebrows. “In bed,” he says happily.
Liam rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, before kissing the smug look right off Louis’s face.
Fans of X Factor boyband Zap! woke up to unexpected and exciting news this morning: they are reuniting for a year-long world tour with pop star Harry Styles! According to a rep for the group, the decision was spurred in part by founding member Louis Tomlinson's recent Grammy nomination with new songwriting partner Liam Payne. Payne, Styles' longtime producer, first confirmed the news on Twitter overnight, saying they'll be hitting the road early next year. He also hinted the lads may have a few surprise visitors joining them. Is it too much to hope that Liam himself will be performing the song he surprised us with at the O2 last year? Read Liam's tweets below and tell us how excited you are by tweeting @sugarscape, please and a-thank-ya!
Liam is woken entirely too early by Louis drawing back the curtain of his bunk.
"Liam," he whispers. "Budge up."
Liam rolls onto his side, his eyes still closed, scooting until his back is pressed against the wall, and Louis squeezes his way in, wrapping his leg over Liam's knees and pressing his face into Liam's throat.
Liam shifts, lifting his chin and wrapping his arm around Louis's back. He can feel the cool air where the curtain is still open, but he'll deal with the teasing remarks later if it means he can have this moment right now. Louis is fuzzy and sleep-warm against him, and his breathing is already beginning to even back out in sleep.
Liam drifts, unable to fully relax for fear of jostling Louis out of the bunk. He's tired and travel-weary, an ache for home settling into his bones. They're a little more than halfway done, somewhere in America that promises more views of vast cornfields out of the bus windows. Liam had joined Harry for a few dates on tour here and there in the past few years, and he always loved it, but the endless grind of being away for so long is harder than he ever realised.
The metal rings on the bunk curtain jingle, and Liam squints his eyes open to see Harry sliding it closed, a soft smile on his face. Liam smiles back, hoping it conveys his thank you.
When Louis finally stirs, he wakes Liam from what was shaping up to be a decent morning nap, but his smile is so content and soft Liam can't even be the least bit disgruntled. "Morning," he whispers.
Liam feels so much affection in that small moment he feels he may burst; he doesn't know if he should whisper a response or just kiss the life out of Louis instead, and in the end, he just smiles stupidly without saying anything. Louis rolls his eyes and leans in for a gentle kiss.
Someone passing by smacks a rhythm on the wall next to their heads. "Oi! No sex on the bus!" Niall, then, who has no leg to stand on because Liam walked in on him and Harry in the back lounge two days ago. He's still scarred.
Louis, on cue, moans loudly. Niall makes various retching noises, and, honestly, if he'd known this was what he was signing up for Liam never would have agreed to come out on tour at all.
(That's a lie, he loves every minute of it.)
"Sing for me tonight," Louis murmurs, his smile still half pressed to Liam's lips.
Liam rolls his eyes but he stills feels a thrill of belonging every time Louis asks, which, recently, has been nearly every day. The last time Liam performed at a show was two weeks ago, and he was so overwhelmed by the reception he received, he ended up staring at the wall of the dressing room for the first half of Louis's set.
"Liam," Louis says, a little louder. He pulls back a bit to catch Liam's eye. "Sing for me tonight."
"Yeah, Liam!" someone yells from the front. "Sing for Louis tonight!"
Liam feels a flush of pleasure spread across his cheeks. It's been made very clear how proprietary Louis is over his song, and he only ever asks Liam to sing it for him and no one else, even if it happens to be heard by 40,000 screaming fans.
"Okay," he says, pressing a kiss to Louis's smug grin. "But just for you."