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A Place in the Sun

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The new counselor is going to be a tremendous problem; Louis can feel it down to his toes. Nearly all the other counselors are there from last year; Brits and Aussies who jumped at the chance to spend the summer in America playing with spoilt rich kids. It's fun even after they realize most of them aren't old enough to drink over here. There are ways around that, and anyway it's far enough that their mums and dads can't check up on them. Last summer Louis brought Harry with him, and they met Zayn and Niall and had an amazing time. This summer is supposed to be nothing but delightful trouble as far as the eye can see.

Only there's a new counselor this summer and he's being a proper pain in the arse. "No," he says, hands on his hips. "The rule is no drinking on camp grounds. There are children here!"

He sounds so scandalized, like children have never seen alcohol before. Louis puts his own hands on his hips in a not-very-kind imitation of him. "Have you got some pearls to clutch? My god. What's wrong with you? Have a beer; loosen up. The kids don't even get here for another day."

All the other teenagers the dining hall laugh. This will be where the kids take their meals. Louis is an expert at sneaking extra for his cabin, although he's not quite as good as Niall is at stashing it away.

The new counselor goes a bit pink but he doesn't actually back down or stop frowning at Louis, which is unexpected. "You can't drink here," he repeats. "It's in the handbook. There's no alcohol on the camp anywhere. If you're going to drink those, I'm going to go and tell Simon."

Bloody fucking cuntfaced bastard, Louis thinks. It isn't true; the new counselor is cute, in a sort of dumb puppy way. But he's going to get his arse kicked by every single other waiting-to-get-drunk teenager there if he doesn't back down.

"No one reads the handbook," says Louis, trying cajoling, because he doesn't think just shouting Stop being such a twat! will work.

"I read it," he says, narrowing his eyes and crossing his arms over his — admittedly — quite impressive chest. He's wearing the camp's official t-shirt, and his is crisp and clean. His trainers are still white as well. He probably skived off helping to move all the equipment out of where it was stored for the winter. He certainly hasn't been mucking around cleaning out campers' cabins like Louis has been. Well, Louis's been throwing bin bags at Harry and shouting helpful things about cleaning the cabins the fuck up. It's Louis' second year; he has seniority.

The last bits of Louis's temper are fraying because there is a whole case of terrible American beer behind this complete idiot and his extremely attractive arms. The other counselors are getting restless behind Louis. Louis has promised them a "welcome to camp" party and while it's not technically allowed it is certainly a tradition that no one would ever dream of stopping by doing something so completely shit as telling Simon about it. (Louis thinks Simon already knows. Louis thinks Simon already knows everything.)

"Stop being such a twat!" Louis shouts, waving his hands about a bit.

"I'm not, I'm just saying—"

Niall, bless him, appears out of nowhere to diffuse the situation. Niall is quite a bit taller this summer, and broader, and a lot less likely to be mistaken for one of the campers. "Liam, it's fine, honestly, it's a tradition," Niall says, putting his hands on the new counselor's shoulders. So he must be a friend of Niall's which makes it fairly strange he doesn't want to drink, really.

"But we're supposed to report any—" Liam starts.

Niall has already somehow started walking him toward the door of the dining hall. "I know," he says. "But think about it. Simon must know, yeah? If it happens every year, it's with Simon's, what do you call it, secret approval."

"Tacit," says Harry, behind Louis.

Niall looks up and grins at him. "Tacit approval," he repeats. "Let the lads have some fun, Liam."

Liam is still objecting to something but Niall has dragged him outside. "Well, thank fuck granny's gone, then," Louis says. "Who wants a beer?" There is a bit of a ragged cheer from the other counselors. "And from now on no one invites him to any parties," Louis adds for good measure, tipping his head toward the door. At the end of this summer Louis's going to find out how he scored on his A levels and whether he's going to university or not, so this is his last chance to really fuck around. He refuses to have it ruined by some horrible, boring, rule-abiding arsehole.

Harry makes a funny noise.

"What?" Louis asks.

"Nothing," says Harry, shaking his head. "I want a beer. C'mon, hurry up."

"That's more like it," says Louis with relish, and picks up a room-temperature can of American beer with a grin. He starts tossing them into the little crowd of other counselors and feels a bit like he's just saved Christmas.

Louis is hung over and it makes him feel slightly bitter, so he's not in the best mood when Niall tries to persuade him that Liam isn't so bad.

"The kids will be here in an hour," Louis says. "Shut up and leave me alone."

"He's not a complete twat," Niall says, a little pleading. "He's a mate of mine, I've known him since we were little. You'll like him."

"I won't." Louis's head is pounding and his mouth tastes like something furry died in it. Liam is probably up and awake and running around being responsible instead of wishing he could be sick in the bin and go back to sleep for a few hours, like Louis is. Niall's eyes are bloodshot and his skin has a bit of a sickly pallor to it. Harry is actually being sick behind the cabin in the woods. All in all Louis considers last evening a great triumph.

"He just believes in rules, is all," says Niall. "Honestly, he's a great mate. You just have to give him a reason to break the rules."

"Because it's funny," says Louis. He isn't feeling particularly friendly at the moment, imagining how loud the children will be when they arrive. "I don't care to know anyone who doesn't think it's hilarious to drink until you vomit."

Niall sighs. "You could give him a chance."

"I did last night," says Louis. "He failed the test. Are you quite finished? I have to get ready for the campers."

"You mean you need to go back to sleep," says Niall, rolling his eyes.

Harry comes stumbling back into the cabin. He looks a bit green around the edges. "Oh god," he says. "I am never drinking again, I think I died."

"Don't make promises you can't keep," says Louis.

Niall laughs. "You okay there, mate?"

Harry nods, then gets a vaguely panicked look on his face and turns around so he can be sick again. He misses Niall's trainers by an inch or two.

"He's fine," says Louis breezily. "American beer fucks up the stomach, you know."

"Oh, sure," says Niall. He pats Harry on the back on his way out. "Good luck there, then." Harry moans unhappily.

"Don't be a baby," says Louis briskly. "We'll go and steal some fizzy drinks from the kitchen and you'll be right as rain."

Harry pulls a face. "Why did I let you talk me into spending another summer in the woods a million miles from civilization? I want tea and my mum."

"Oh, you're worse than the homesick campers," Louis says unsympathetically. "You can all cry together."

"You're a very bad friend," says Harry. He sticks his lower lip out. "Niall probably thinks I'm disgusting now."

"So what?" Louis asks. "The showers have spiders in them and you're going to spend the whole summer swimming in a filthy lake. He knows you're disgusting from last summer. Might as well be disgusting and drunk."

"No, but..." Harry says, and trails off. "Last summer was different, Niall wasn't so… Shouldn't we be doing something before the campers arrive?"

"Sleeping it off," says Louis firmly.

Harry looks unconvinced, but then he glances longingly toward the sleeping bag Louis has set up on the metal bed frame. "Well..." he says. "For a little while."

A very disapproving cough wakes Louis up. When he blinks his eyes open — slowly, he still feels a bit awful — the cough is accompanied by Niall's friend Liam, giving him an impressively disapproving look.

"Is this where you've been this whole time?" Liam says, arms crossed over a clipboard. He's still wearing the camp's official t-shirt, and where it hangs a bit loosely on Louis, it's tight across Liam's shoulders and chest. Louis doesn't approve of that at all.

"It's my cabin," says Louis. "You can fuck right off." He kicks at Harry until Harry groans and rolls over.

"The children are here!" Liam says. "They're going to be here in a minute or two, and you haven't got the cabin ready!"

Louis looks around. "The roof is on. There are beds. I'm awake. Relax. Who put you in charge of anything anyway? You're new."

Liam goes red. "I..." he says. "Well, no one else was in charge of anything, so I asked Simon what needed to get done. I'm just helping!"

It's nice that Louis has already managed to find a vulnerable spot. "I was here last summer, I think I know how to get my cabin ready." He climbs out of the sleeping bag. "Go away, go set up the pitch for your games or whatever," he says to Harry, who is blinking sleepily at everyone.

"Yeah, yeah," says Harry. He gives Liam a disconcertingly bright grin on his way out. Liam actually recoils a step.

The sound of children coming down the hill and toward the cabins is getting louder and louder. The first middler to run into Louis's cabin is a boy who was there last summer and had Louis as his cabin counselor. "Louuuuuu!" he shrieks, and throws himself at Louis for a hug. There is a general clamor outside of kids shouting, "Louis's back!" and "Louis, look how tall I am!" and "Louis, we missed you!"

The look Louis gives Liam is disgustingly smug, and he knows it. See? Louis smiles at him snottily. I know exactly what I'm doing without your stupid clipboard.

"Yeah, well... At least you're awake now," says Liam. He has to edge through the kids to get out of the cabin. He looks a bit embarrassed, as well he should. If he's going to bother Louis he needs to expect retribution.

Louis loves retribution. And, he thinks, looking at all the ten year olds who are shouting for his attention, he likes teaching children about retribution even more.

Last summer Louis was the cabin counselor for the littlest boys. It's a camp for rich children who've been left behind while their parents go on fabulous summer retreats. The youngest camper last summer was only five, and he spent most of it crying while his older brothers were off playing football and swimming. Louis had twelve campers between five and eight and he'd had a wonderful time with them. They weren't interested in learning to water-ski or ride horses, they just wanted to color in the arts and crafts cabin and play around with the costumes in the drama cabin.

This summer Louis is in the middler's cabin. Those are the middle-aged boys, ten to twelve. Louis expects to play more sports and cause more trouble with them. All he has to do all day is shepherd them from activity to activity, make sure no one falls out of a tree and breaks his neck or drowns, and he can nap under a tree while they're doing nearly everything. It's an ideal situation.

Niall's got the rival middler cabin, and he and Louis have already planned a tremendous prank war. Harry's running the sports field; he gets to organize football matches and races and other things that mean he'll be exhausted and sunburnt by the end of every day. Louis doesn't envy him, although he does plan to kick Harry's arse at football.

At dinner the first night Louis explains to one of his campers, Joey, how to jump the queue when he's getting food from the kitchen, to get the serving plate of spaghetti with the most meatballs. Liam is standing by the kitchen and he frowns at Louis and then Joey disapprovingly. Louis sticks his tongue out in a very mature fashion. Liam looks genuinely confused.

"What's he doing here this summer?" Louis asks Niall. There is never enough food for Niall's table; Niall is always the first one to send his kids up to get seconds and then thirds. Zayn, who runs the arts and crafts cabin, is sitting with the littlest campers and looking a little worried as one of the tiniest campers starts to cry. Zayn is not actually very interested in talking to the children.

"Who? Liam? He's teaching swimming," says Niall. "I'm gonna try and get Zayn over there. He didn't go in the water once last summer."

"Hmm," says Louis. "I'm gonna teach my cabin to pretend to drown, then. Get him fired."

"Don't, Louis, come on," says Niall. "Honestly, you got off on the wrong foot, that's all."

"I'm going to ruin his summer," says Louis, narrowing his eyes. "Who does he think he is, with that clipboard?"

Niall groans. "Don't. Leave off," he says, but hopelessly. Louis's already feeling a bit evil. He's looking forward to spending a whole summer torturing the only kid who's dumb enough to think that the handbook ought to be read.

"Hi," says Harry, popping up behind Louis's shoulder. He bats his eyes a little. "Sorry about being sick on you this morning and all. I'm a lot cooler than that normally, you remember, right?"

Harry actually has his chin on Louis's shoulder, as if he hasn't become, disconcertingly, the taller of them.

"Nah, that just means we're good mates now!" Niall says with a grin. "You can be sick on me anytime."

Harry grins back.

None of this happened last summer, when Harry was happy just to hang out with Louis all summer. Now he's giving Niall a bit of a once-over. "Oh, hang on," says Louis, "I'm gonna be sick," but Harry pokes his fingers into Louis's side so Louis stops his complaint before it really starts. Most people find someone to hook up with while they're all drinking and homesick. Of course it's normally a counselor from the girls' camp across the lake.

"One of your cabin is getting snot all over Zayn," says Niall. "It's hilarious." Louis turns and the tiny crying child from earlier has been shoved out of the way by Danny. Louis remembers Danny as being fine last summer, but he's crying so hard that he's in danger of getting big wet spots all over Zayn's immaculately cool t-shirt. Zayn looks a bit panicked.

"I'm on it," says Louis.

Danny is sobbing something about his mummy when Louis picks him up. He's a bit big to get carried around, but he clings to Louis's neck anyway. "My friends aren't here this summer," he says, getting tears on Louis's neck. "I'm all alone."

"Don't be ridiculous, you're part of my cabin," says Louis. "We're all friends."

Zayn grimaces and tries to get some of the snot off his t-shirt. "This is why I don't have a cabin," he says.

"No, you have to do actual work all day," Louis says.

"'Work,'" Zayn air quotes. "I put out popsicle sticks and markers and then take a nap."

Louis really admires what an awful job Zayn does with his arts hours. "I'll go and get him a snack from the kitchen, he'll be fine," Louis says about Danny. "We'll see you after lights out, yeah?"

"Unless I'm at the girls' camp," Zayn shrugs.

Louis carries Danny over to the kitchen. There are brownies tonight, and Louis steals him one as a bit of a bribe. The other kids won't want to play with him if they think he's a crybaby, no matter what Louis does. "Come on," says Louis. "Cheer up. After dinner we'll go back and tell spooky stories, yeah?"

Danny sniffles melodramatically and takes a bite of brownie as if it's the saddest thing that's ever happened. "I don't like scary stories."

"You had fun last summer, didn't you?" Louis coaxes.

Danny's eyes fill up with tears again. "But that's because Ben was here. This summer he's with his parents in — in — in France. And I don't know anyone."

Louis reaches to steal another brownie and just happens to glance up and see Liam giving him a disapproving look. Louis is simultaneously annoyed and slightly embarrassed and twice as determined to steal ten times as many treats. "Here," he says to Danny, glaring at Liam.

"Can I go back to the cabin and read my book?" Danny asks.

Louis sighs. That won't help Danny make any friends. "Yeah," he says, and lets Danny mope his way out of the dining hall.

Liam is still looking at him. "What?" Louis demands. "I shouldn't give a sad kid a treat?"

Liam bites his lip. "It's not fair to everyone else, though, is it?" he says a little uncertainly. "But I mean, obviously you don't want him to be sad. Are a lot of them already homesick?"

"They're only little boys," says Louis, a little snappishly. "Of course they're homesick."

"Oh, I just meant… I mean, me too," says Liam.

"Well, I'm not stealing a brownie for you," says Louis, quite snottily.

"I didn't— You are such a jerk," says Liam, frowning.

Louis kicks him in the shin. He half expects Liam to take a swing at him in return; Liam certainly looks annoyed enough. But Liam just stands there, looking a little confused, and says, "Oww."

"Honestly!" shouts Niall, running over. "You two could get on famously, I swear you could. Stop it. And give us a brownie."

Louis tosses Niall two. Liam makes a little spluttering noise. "You can have as many as you'd like, blondie," says Louis, smiling sweetly at Liam.

"I don't want your stupid brownies anyway!" Liam huffs, and stomps off.

Niall sighs. "You can be the absolute worst."

Louis grins and takes that as a compliment.

The first tiny crack in Louis's plan to be a complete arse to Liam all summer happens when Louis takes his cabin down to the lake for swimming. Most of the boys are excited and shoving and screaming as they come down the trail through the trees. Danny is holding back a little, clinging to Louis's hand. He wasn't like this last year, when he had a friend at camp with him, and Louis's a little worried that he doesn't know how to make it better.

There are two counselors on the docks waiting to start swimming lessons with the kids. One of them Louis knows from last summer and grins at, and gets a shrug in return. The other one is Liam, and although Louis would like to deny it with every breath in his body, he is slightly awed by how attractive Liam looks, standing around in the sunshine with no shirt on.

Of course, that's probably why he's such a jerk, Louis tells himself. Liam is one of those horrible attractive people who gets whatever he wants. He's got great big broad shoulders, and a muscular chest, and the sort of stomach that's got visible muscles in it. He's tanned and tall and Louis would like to set himself on fire for noticing all of that.

"Hello," says Liam cheerfully to the boys. "Before you come into the water we need to talk about the rules."

"Oh, of course you do," Louis grumbles.

Liam ignores him and crouches so he's at roughly ten-year-old-boy eye level. Then he very earnestly explains why no one can run on the docks in case anyone slips and hurts himself. There are loads of other rules, too, and Liam makes them all sound terribly important. The boys are all nodding, and in spite of himself Louis is mildly impressed at how well Liam talks to them.

"So who already knows how to swim?" Liam asks, standing up. "Shall we have a race to see?" There is a general cheer and all the boys start pulling off their shirts and leaving towels lying around on the rocky shore in untidy heaps. "Only it's less of a race and more of a swimming test," Liam tells Louis.

"I know," Louis says crossly. He's annoyed with himself for finding Liam attractive, and more annoyed that he hasn't managed to be a jerk to Liam yet this morning. "I was here last summer."

The strangest part is that Liam always looks surprised when Louis is rude to him. Maybe he's like that fish in Finding Nemo, and he can't remember people from minute to minute. Liam gives Louis a hurt look and then turns to Danny, who is still holding Louis's hand. "Aren't you excited to swim?"

Danny shakes his head. "I just want to read my book."

"You were a dolphin last year!" Louis says. Dolphin is the upper-beginner level of swimmers at the camp.

"Because Ben showed me how," Danny says. "I don't have to go in, do I?"

"Of course you do!" Louis says.

"No," Liam says, right over top of him. "If you'd rather stay on the beach for a while, that's alright. After everyone's done splashing around maybe we'll go in, just you and me, and you can show me what Ben showed you last year."

Danny gives Liam a tentative smile and it makes Louis want to hit Liam. When Danny has settled down with his book Louis snarls, "Isn't this against the rules? Isn't everyone required to swim?"

Liam frowns. "Everyone has to follow the rules and be safe around the water," he says. "But I'm not going to force a camper into the water who doesn't want to be there. That's just cruel."

Liam is not allowed to be reasonable and also shirtless. "I think Craig is drowning," says Louis, pointing helpfully. Liam turns in concern, and Louis considers throwing rocks at his head.

It turns out that Liam's quite good with the kids. He's patient and funny and lets them splash around and be silly. Louis had hoped Liam would be awful and stodgy with them, but it's clear they're going to like swimming lessons a lot this summer.

Louis's going to end up spending a lot of time standing around on the shore, watching Liam while he's shirtless and wet and muscled.

Maybe Louis's plan should change, he muses, to just drowning himself and saving everyone a lot of trouble.

Louis's brief bout of something-like-tolerance toward Liam is almost immediately destroyed. But then Louis invites Niall to come drinking in the woods where Liam can hear them, and Liam says, "You know you have to be twenty-one to drink in America, don't you?"

"Oh, Jesus Christ," says Louis. "Could you take the stick out for one minute?"

Liam flushes red. "And we're not allowed to drink while there are children in camp. Or on camp grounds at all. Have you still not read the handbook?"

"No one has ever read the handbook!" Louis shouts.

"You're going to get caught and then you'll get in trouble," says Liam stubbornly.

"Everyone does it," says Louis. "Everyone drinks. No one cares. Simon has actually walked in on us drinking, had a beer, and not said a bloody word."

Liam crosses his arms again. He's wrong and he knows it; everyone comes for a summer of debauchery and drinking and playing football and lying around in the sun. No one has ever cared even a little bit about the rules or the American drinking age.

"Go ahead, then," Liam says. "Get in trouble. I can't imagine how miserable it'll be chasing screaming children around with a hangover. I'm going to laugh at you."

"Jealous," says Louis, and Liam almost flinches.

"Why are you both such bastards this summer?" Niall groans.

Louis elbows him. "Harry'll be there."

Niall smiles, and then laughs, and then shrugs and grins a little. "Oh," he says. "Well, of course he will be. It's your party. But I ought to hang out with Liam, I mean—"

"No," says Liam quickly. "It's fine. I'm going to call home anyway before it gets too late for anyone to be awake."

"Yeah, but—" Niall starts.

"Go and have fun," says Liam. "I might go for a walk down the road to the coffee shop with wifi."

Louis grabs Niall's arm. "Come and have fun," Louis says. "Let Liam be a boring old fart on his own if he wants."

"He isn't," says Niall, and sighs. Liam gives Niall a little smile-shrug and walks away. Louis wishes he'd asked to come to the party so Louis could have said no. Honestly, how can anyone be such a stick-in-the-mud?

"He's only got one kidney, he doesn't drink," says Niall, as if he can read Louis's mind.

"That's no excuse," says Louis.

Later, after Louis's cabin are all in bed and he's started in on his fifth terrible beer of the night, Niall sitting by the campfire with his guitar and Harry sitting by Louis, smiling at Niall rather more than he needs to, Zayn lying on his back in the grass telling them about the girl he's already met, Louis pulls out his phone and googles Can u drink if u have 1 kidney?

The internet tells him that if you only have one kidney you ought to be very careful about what you eat and drink, but you can drink "in moderation." So Liam's just using it as an excuse, and Louis snorts derisively.

Harry and Niall are trying to share Niall's sweatshirt somehow, both of them with their hands in Niall's pocket and giggling over who gets the last sip of beer.

Louis rolls his eyes at them and asks his phone Can I have a monkey as a pet? His phone tends to think no, that is a terrible idea, but Louis never lets that stop him.

The campers are all down by the lake having some sort of big meeting about rules and playing nicely with each other, which means some of the counselors are free for the afternoon. Louis plans to sleep, except Niall sticks his head in to Louis's cabin and yells, "Football match!" and then runs off. And Louis can't resist a football match where he doesn't have to play nicely with the kids.

There's already a load of counselors on the pitch when Louis gets there, and they've started splitting into teams. "I've got Tommo!" Niall shouts, and Louis holds his arms up and jogs onto the pitch, because he's a big deal.

"S'alright," says Aiden. "I've got Liam."

This is a definite plus in Louis's book; if Liam is on the other team then Louis can spend the whole game tripping him and fouling him. They won't have any kind of proper ref, not if Liam's not going to be doing it. Louis gives Liam a great big grin, and Liam smiles and shrugs one shoulder.

It's like he doesn't think Louis's going to destroy him, just because Liam's a few inches taller and about twice as broad. Bah.

Then Aiden's team ends up being the skins, which means Liam takes his shirt off, and Louis tells himself firmly a couple of times that "has great shoulders" is not the same as being a fun human being. Louis can dislike someone who just happens to have great shoulders. Great shoulders mean nothing.

Well, Louis admits to himself, as he and Harry mutter about strategy, it does mean he's quite likely to tackle Liam and enjoy it a bit. Partly because Liam is always so clean, which is obnoxious when they're all basically sleeping in the dirt. And partly because Louis doesn't get a lot of time to grope anyone with excellent shoulders, which is a great tragedy in his life.

No one is especially good at football, as it turns out. Harry knows a lot about football but can't seem to make his gangly limbs do quite what he wants. Niall is extremely enthusiastic, but not very precise. Zayn can't really be bothered to run up and down the pitch so he just makes a half-hearted effort to kick the ball as it comes by him.

The only person who seems as determined to win as Louis, it turns out, is Liam. And Liam is much better at football than he has any right to be. Louis actually has to illegally tackle him to stop him just running away with the ball. Zayn shouts, "Hey! Foul!" but no one listens to him.

Louis lands on top of Liam, deliberately knocking him into the dirt. All the air goes out of Liam with a satisfying whoomph and Louis maybe digs his knee into Liam's stomach a little bit before Louis scrambles to his feet and goes running off again. It's so amazingly, blatantly illegal that, if Louis were Liam, he'd be screaming bloody murder. But Liam just gets up and runs after Louis and the ball. He's got a terribly determined look on his face when he steals the ball — legally — from Louis and runs the other way down the pitch.

Louis runs after him, and this time when he tackles Liam, Liam manages to hit the ground and roll so that he's on top of Louis. He returns the favor of kneeing Louis in the side as he gets up, but not quite as hard as Louis had. That just makes Louis mad; does Liam think that just because Louis's a bit shorter he can't take being shoved around?

The ball isn't really anywhere near Liam when Louis puts his shoulder down and slams it into Liam's back. Liam stumbles but doesn't quite fall. The look he gives Louis is more disgruntled than venomous, but Louis is clearly getting to him. The next run down the pitch Liam shoves Louis as he goes by.

Louis is starting to feel sweaty and hot and annoyed, especially when Aiden scores a goal. "Fucking stop the ball going into the goal, you twat!" Louis shouts at Harry, who could not stop a football going past him if it were the size of a house.

"Stop being such a twat to Liam and score a goal already!" Harry shouts back. Louis flips him off.

Liam's got the ball and is heading back toward the goal. Harry and Niall can't possibly stop him, Louis decides and gets very deliberately in Liam's way. Liam tries to go around him and Louis sticks his foot out to take the ball and sort-of-on-purpose trips Liam. There's a crash of elbows and shoulders and both of them end up on the ground. The shock of it knocks the air out of Louis and it takes a minute for him to clear his head and realize he's lying on top of Liam. Liam, who is sweaty and shirtless.

Louis struggles to breathe. "You knocked me over."

"You tripped me," Liam says, a little breathless. "Get off. You're cheating."

Louis grins down at him. Liam's cheeks are pink and his fringe is plastered to his forehead with sweat. He looks annoyed. (No, says Louis's brain. He looks like he's having sex. Louis tells himself to shut up.) "That's right, I'm cheating," says Louis.

Liam narrows his eyes. "And yet, we're still winning."

Louis "accidentally" knees Liam in the crotch, and Liam winces and tries to shove him off, while Louis tries to get enough leverage somehow to keep him pinned. There's a lot of Liam with his hand on Louis's face, trying to push him away, and Louis trying to get his knees on either side of Liam's hips, so he has a better angle to keep Liam firmly on the ground.

"Oi!" says Niall, running over. "What are you doing?"

Liam shoves Louis off and rolls on top of him. "What is wrong with you?" he asks. He doesn't seem to expect an answer, which is good; Louis's brain only gets as far as big hot half-naked sweaty boy on top of me and then stops making words all together. He gasps involuntarily. Liam frowns.

"What a couple of fucking morons," says Niall loudly. "The game is still going on!"

In fact a bunch of people are staring at them. Louis gets a jolt like an electric shock when he sees Niall's dubious, slightly judgmental expression. He shoves Liam away and Liam goes easily. Louis makes a great show of brushing dirt off his shorts. Liam actually glances back over his shoulder to give Louis a look that's a bit confused.

Ten more seconds and Liam would have been crystal clear about how Louis was feeling. As it is, Louis waits until Liam looks away and then has to adjust himself a little. Niall, who hasn't looked away, raises both eyebrows until they disappear under his fringe. "Shut up," says Louis.

"Is this like a hate boner thing?" Niall asks.

"Go and get the fucking ball," Louis orders, pointing. Niall shrugs and jogs off.

Louis's team loses. Liam's team is unbearably smug. Or at least that's how it seems to Louis; when Harry goes over to give everyone a good-work-today fist bump Louis shoves Liam with his shoulder instead.

"Not a good loser, are you?" Liam asks.

"No," says Louis, and honestly, that ought to be enough of a warning.

Danny is sitting on the shore again, with his book. Louis saw at least a couple of the other boys throw things or call him names as they went by, which is really not at all okay, but Louis's not sure what to do about it. He might have a cabin meeting and remind everyone that they should all be a team together against Niall's cabin.

"Don't you want to swim?" Louis asks, crouching next to Danny.

"No," says Danny shortly.

The other kids are well into the water, splashing around despite Liam's best attempts to get them to watch him demonstrate the proper arms to do the crawl. "It looks like fun to me," says Louis.

Danny snorts and goes back to his book.

Louis doesn't know what to do, so he walks out onto the dock. He's got his snapback on backwards so he shades his hand with eyes against the sun. Liam has his hands on his hips and a whistle on a cord around his neck.

"You're going to get a sunburn," says Louis.

Liam ignores him. "Keep your legs straight," he calls to Josue.

"Your nose is turning pink, seriously," Louis says. "You're going to look like a clown. You already do, a bit." He tugs on one of Liam's curls.

Liam frowns a little but doesn't actually look away from the water. "Don't dunk each other, please!" he shouts at the kids.

Louis is bored. "Dunk each other more!" he shouts.

Liam sighs loudly. "I am actually trying to stop them from dying," he says.

"The water is barely waist-high," Louis says. "Jesus. Relax."

This time Liam actually turns to glare at him. "You can drown in a bathtub with just a couple of inches of water in it," he says. "Stop bothering me. Go away."

Louis considers for a second, and then decides he doesn't give a fuck, and starts tickling Liam, running his fingers all over Liam's waist. Liam's got proper muscles there, and his swimming shorts are hanging low on his hips. Liam laughs and then slaps Louis's hands away. "I'm working, honestly, the five year olds are better behaved than you!"

Louis shrugs. "What would you do if I knocked you into the lake?"

"Drown you," says Liam, and he doesn't sound entirely like he's joking.

Louis debates for a while whether it's worth it or not. He gives Liam a tiny shove, just as a test, and Liam makes a startled little noise and slaps his hand away again. Liam shakes his head disapprovingly at Louis and then goes to the end of the dock to coach the boys through swimming a bit. It's so weird how he doesn't get cross.

At the end of the lesson Liam blows his whistle and the boys all groan and complain as they are herded out of the water, despite the fact that most of them have blue lips and are shaking with cold. The lake never gets very warm. "Good swim today!" Liam says, brimming with good cheer. "Well done, boys!"

Louis can't stand it. Honestly, Liam sounds like a grandfather, not a teenager. "We have a prank war every summer, you know," Louis says.

"Do you?" Liam at least has the presence of mind to look slightly suspicious.

"My cabin against Niall's, Aiden's cabin against Ed's," says Louis. "I don't suppose you approve of pranks. They break the rules."

Liam frowns at him. "As long as no one gets hurt, I suppose, if it's all in good fun."

"In that case," says Louis, and grins, and shoves Liam right off the dock.

The boys all cheer. Liam comes up spluttering and shaking his wet hair out of his eyes and glowering at Louis. He's the swimming instructor; surely he ought to expect to get wet, Louis thinks, and smiles innocently.

"Prank war actually starts next week," Louis says.

"Yeah, cheers," says Liam. He splashes Louis pretty hard, and Louis makes an undignified squeaking noise as his shorts and t-shirt get soaked. The water is really fucking freezing. Liam laughs. "Next time I'm dragging you in with me," he says, just a little bit of a threat.

With as much dignity as he can muster Louis says, "Come on, boys, back to the cabin sharpish!" and stomps off the dock, trainers squelching as he goes.

There's a campfire that night, and Niall sits by the edge on a log with his guitar. All the boys at camp love Niall, whether they're in his cabin or not. He's got a huge group of them he's teaching drinking songs to, although he's changed a few words to slightly less dirty versions of things. Harry stands around behind the boys with his hands in his pockets smiling like a lunatic at Niall, just in case Niall happens to look over between songs.

Danny isn't with the rest of the cabin, and it takes Louis a second to find him. It's cold once the sun sets, and Louis refuses to wear long trousers no matter the temperature, so his legs are cold and the mosquitoes are probably feasting on his blood. In the darkness around the trees beyond the campfire he finally spots Danny, standing off on the edge all by himself with Liam.

Liam's got his arms crossed and seems to be saying something very earnestly to Danny, who just shakes his head a lot. Liam's probably bollocksing everything up, Louis decides, and stomps over even though his Toms are getting damp with dew.

"Leave off him!" Louis shouts, waving his arms a bit. "Danny, don't talk to him, he's weird."

"He's nice," says Danny, looking from one of them to the other.

Liam rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. "We were just having a chat, Tomlinson. Calm down."

"Go and sit with the other boys and make some friends," Louis orders. He pushes at Danny's shoulder until Danny sighs and walks back toward the campfire. He walks as slowly as it's possible to walk, scuffing his feet in the grass. "Stop letting him mope around," Louis orders. "He was fine last year. He just needs to make some friends."

Liam gets his stubborn face on, although it's too dusky out to see clearly. Louis already can tell, just by the general shape of it. "He's homesick and the other boys are teasing him," says Liam. "I just told him if he needs someone to talk to, he can always come and talk to me."

"He needs to talk to the other boys, not the grownups," says Louis. "He'll never make friends that way."

"He just needs a friend at all!" Liam says.

"I know him from last year, I think I bloody well know what he needs," Louis snaps.

"Right, I forgot. You know everything," Liam says.

Louis shoves him. Liam stumbles back a step before he rights himself. Louis shoves him again. This time Liam shoves him back.

Louis nearly trips over the root of a tree. He shoves Liam again, a little shocked that Liam pushed him back. Retaliation hasn't been a huge part of Liam's persona so far. Liam has his jaw set, something terribly stubborn on his face. He shoves Louis again, and Louis shoves him, and they scuffle back and forth for a minute until Louis pushes a little too hard and Liam bangs into a tree. Louis's holding Liam's arm with one hand and he ends up crowding Liam back against the rough bark, both of them a little bit out of breath and frowning and slapping at each other with their free hands.

They're so much closer together than Louis had planned for. He didn't mean to put his hand on Liam's arm and feel the muscle there, or his other hand on Liam's chest, pushing him against the tree. Liam's got one hand on Louis's hip, pushing him away, except Liam's doing it wrong; his fingers are curled through the belt loop on Louis's pastel shorts, and Louis would swear he can feel the heat of Liam's hand through the layer of cloth.

"You're so obnoxious," Liam growls.

"Why don't you shut up?" Louis snaps back.

The kissing is a surprise.

It is, it turns out, a pretty effective way to shut Liam up. He's still trying to say something but Louis's got his tongue in Liam's mouth, which makes it difficult. Liam is hot and solid underneath Louis's hands, and his mouth is softer than Louis was expecting. (Not expecting. Louis didn't expect this.) Whatever complaint Liam was going to make melts into a groan when Louis bites at his ridiculously lush lower lip. Louis presses his leg between Liam's and Liam shifts his feet apart a little. He's got both hands on Louis's hips but they aren't pushing Louis away, they're holding him still. Louis can feel the span of Liam's large hands, thumbs on Louis's hipbones and fingers splaying out over his arse. Louis digs his teeth into Liam's lip and then sucks on the same spot, a little frantic with how badly he suddenly wants this. Liam lets him, lets Louis nip and suck and tangle their tongues together. His fingers press harder against Louis. There might be bruises.

It feels like being hit by lightning, and Louis can't breathe. He has to pull back because the whole field is spinning and going dark. He can't tell if it's because the sun has set, or because he's about to pass out. Louis's panting shamelessly, chest heaving. He hasn't actually let go of where he's holding Liam's arms.

"What," says Liam. This close to each other, even in the dusk, Liam looks wrecked.

"Dunno," says Louis. "Let go of me."

"Let go of me," says Liam.

Obviously he has to be a pain in the arse about absolutely everything. Louis wants to hit him and kiss him again in about equal measure. "Was this not in your precious rulebook?" Louis asks, rolling his eyes.

"Counselors aren't to fraternize when they're on duty with campers," says Liam promptly. "And you ought to be watching your cabin by the fire. Someone could get hurt." Liam rather hastily drops his hands from Louis's bum.

Louis makes a disgusted noise. "I can not believe you just said that. Get off me. I'm having some kind of nightmare I can't wake up from."

"Sorry, are you blaming me for this?" Liam asks incredulously. "You're the one who does completely mental things all day long just because you're bored!"

"Well, then it won't happen again," Louis says. It takes a bit of effort, but he convinces himself to take his hands off Liam's arms. He spends rather a lot of time, he realizes, stomping away from Liam. At the very least he hopes it's still light enough out for Liam to appreciate his arse as he goes.

Niall takes his boys to Zayn's art cabin and spends the entire day laughing and joking around with Zayn. Louis knows this because Harry spends the day lurking outside the art cabin, scowling whenever Niall and Zayn start smiling at each other.

"Niall is a friendly person," says Louis reasonably. He's lying under a tree while his cabin makes a giant flag for themselves for the prank war. Niall's boys are doing the same in the art cabin. "He and Zayn are friends. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," says Harry, and then sinks miserably to the ground. "I mean. I guess nothing. I don't know."

"'Dear Diary, the boy I like likes someone else! What should I do?'" Louis says in a squeaky voice that sounds nothing at all like Harry. Harry picks up a handful of grass and throws it at him. "Seriously, snap out of it," Louis says. "Next day off we'll all go into town and you can buy Niall an ice cream and he'll love you forever."

Harry still looks a little anxious. "He's just so much more fit than he was last summer," he says, shrugging half-heartedly. "I don't care. Let's talk about you and Liam instead."

"Me and Liam what?" Louis asks. His heart thumps once, traitorously. "I hate him. Me and him nothing."

Harry snorts. "You got awfully friendly with him while you were playing football."

"I tackled him. I was trying to kill him."

"You rolled all over him. You are warm for his form."

The fastest way Louis can think of to get Harry to shut up is to jump on top of him and tickle him until Harry's crying with laughter. He's still insisting, though, when he can manage a breath, that Louis was staring at Liam "like you wanted to eat him."

"He is the most obnoxious person I have ever met!" Louis insists. "Other than you, maybe."

"Right, right," Harry giggles, batting Louis's hands away. "You want to kisssssssss him."

Louis's face goes very, very blank.

"I bet you think about kissing him all the time," Harry says, rolling away. He's got leaves and grass in his hair and his cheeks are pink.

"Oh, go and stalk Niall," says Louis, because he actually thinks about kissing Liam maybe fifty percent of the time, and he can't maintain a very good poker face around Harry.

"Liam's got a nice mouth, actually," says Harry thoughtfully.

He does, and he has a particularly bitable lower lip. Louis shoves Harry away. "Gross. I'd never. He probably brushes his teeth a hundred times a day." Louis can't remember what Liam tasted like, actually. Mint gum, maybe? He'll have to check next time.

No. There won't be one of those.

Harry is too distracted fretting over Niall to notice how quiet Louis is. "I'm going to go and see if Niall's cabin are done making their flag."

"Swing by the kitchen and get him a snack," advises Louis. "The way to Niall's heart is through his stomach."

Harry grins brilliantly and gets to his feet. "The way to Liam's is probably to stop hitting him all the time."

"I like hitting him!" Louis shouts, as Harry jogs off.

He does. He likes hitting Liam. A tiny voice in Louis's head suggests that maybe that's because he likes any excuse to get his hands on Liam, but he ignores it and goes to help his campers finish their flag so it'll kick Niall's flag's arse.

The prank war starts with Louis sneaking all his campers into Niall's cabin first thing in the morning. The light outside is still watery and grey as it filters through the trees, just barely enough to see. The campers are all so tired that they bang into each other and complain bitterly in just-barely whispers, but by some miracle it doesn't wake up the other cabin. Then Louis leads his campers in a rousing rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (the only song everyone knew by heart) accompanied by screaming and banging on the walls and stomping their feet.

Niall's face is hilarious. He's red and sleepy and disgruntled, and his sleep shorts are all twisted up around his waist. He's only got one sock on as he shoves Louis bodily out of his cabin. "We're going to get you back for this, Tommo," he promises. His campers are torn between hiding under their sleeping bags and shouting angrily at Louis's cabin. There are a couple of scuffles and then Louis leads his boys, tired but triumphant, down to the dining hall for victory snacks.

No one is supposed to be at the dining hall before breakfast, but Liam is sitting on the steps outside. He's clearly just been out for a run, because he's wearing athletic gear and he's a bit sweaty. Louis has been avoiding him since that time by the campfire when his perfectly rational dislike for Liam somehow turned abruptly into kissing him. Not that he can avoid Liam completely when the boys all have swimming lessons every day, but Louis has managed not to have to actually speak to Liam in a couple of days.

"You're up early," says Liam.

"We just pranked Niall," says Louis. The boys cheer raggedly. They're starting to feel how early they woke up, and a couple of them are dozing on their feet.

"Oh good," says Liam. "The prank war started?"

"I always win," says Louis. At least, he won last year.

Liam nods. "I believe that."

Louis shows the boys how to open the window of the dining hall and sneak in to steal some bagels. He fully expects Liam to start blowing his whistle and waving his arms around for the police, but Liam just sits on the steps, watching them, even after Josue comes out with his arms full of ill-gotten bananas. Liam looks really considering, and it's freaking Louis out a little bit.

"Stolen fruit?" Louis says, holding a banana out.

Liam bites his lip. "Well," he says. "I suppose."

Louis is so surprised that he accidentally pulls the banana away before Liam can take it. "Really?"

"I would have a banana later anyway," Liam shrugs. "Having it now isn't really hurting anyone." Louis is still holding the banana where Liam can't reach it, and Liam narrows his eyes. "Unless this is all part of your stupid prank war, ha ha, I'll go and get my own banana. You are such—"

"No, sorry, here," says Louis. "I didn't mean to tease. When I tease you, you'll know it. I mean... Er." That last bit snuck out without Louis's permission.

Luckily, Liam appears to completely miss what Louis actually meant. "Cheers," he says, still sounding a tiny bit suspicious. He inspects the banana like it might be poisoned, and Louis valiantly tries not to think any dirty thoughts about Liam's mouth and the banana. Mostly he fails. There are children milling about, however, so Louis doesn't say the obscene things he's thinking.

"Did you really go for an early morning run? That's disgusting. You make me sick," says Louis instead, hoping that he can badger Liam into leaving.

Liam snorts. "You're welcome to join me any time you'd like, you know. Get some healthy exercise to make up for lying around under trees all the time, and drinking with Harry and Zayn and Niall."

"Drinking?" asks Maxwell, looking at Louis with wide-eyes. He's stuffed most of a bagel into his mouth and he looks like a surprised chipmunk.

"Drinking bug juice," says Liam quickly. "All that sugar is really bad for you."

"It's delicious," says Louis immediately. "And no, I do not want to go for a run with you. Thanks for the offer to torture me, though."

Liam's mouth quirks up into a little smile. Louis's not sure where his surplus of thoughts about Liam's mouth are coming from, but he doesn't appreciate it. He wants to kiss that smile right off Liam's face, but he absolutely can not do that, since he doesn't like Liam, and Liam doesn't like him.

"If I were torturing you, you'd know it," says Liam, with the tiniest hint of a smirk.

I do know it, thinks Louis bleakly. This is torture. Liam is sweaty and pink-cheeked and terribly, horribly fit, and he keeps biting his lip just the way Louis wants to bite it. He isn't allowed to be at all funny or adorable when he smiles like that.

"Go and take a shower, you smell," says Louis.

Liam laughs. It's like he can't tell when Louis is trying to be mean. He stands up and stretches — damn him, the muscles in his back are excellent when he stretches — and gives Danny a high-five as he walks off. Louis is staring so obviously that a couple of the boys give him curious looks. Louis's just glad Harry isn't around to mock him at the moment.

Niall's campers cover Louis's cabin in shaving cream and silly string. So Louis has his campers skip the arts and crafts cabin to go down to the lake, where Niall's cabin are having swimming lessons, and steal all their clothes and towels off the beach. There is a lot of shouting and outrage and boys chasing other boys around, and screaming at each other.

"We were having a lesson," says Liam, throwing his hands up in despair. Louis smirks and snaps a wet towel at Liam's arse. Liam glares and crosses his arms, but doesn't actually do anything. Louis wishes he would.

At dinner, Zayn gets caught in the crossfire of a silly-string fight and throws an absolute tantrum over it. "You got it in my hair!" he shouts, and for a second Louis thinks Zayn's going to start swearing and hitting people, but Liam appears out of nowhere to pull Zayn outside and pet him until he calms down. When Louis looks out the window, he sees Zayn smoking and glaring at the whole world, while Liam stands next to him, bumping their shoulders together companionably. It makes Louis cross for a bunch of reasons. Zayn is Louis's friend, for one, and how dare Liam try and steal him. And second, why isn't Liam giving Zayn a load of shit about smoking? He'd probably harass Louis to the ends of the earth.

There is a third part, something about how easily Zayn is getting Liam's attention, but it only makes Louis angry with himself to think about, so he decides he's angry at Liam instead.

"What's wrong?" Danny asks. One of the other boys has spilled his bug juice all over the table and Danny's trying to clean it up with paper towels.

"Nothing," says Louis, and thinks about how Liam was arguing with him about making Danny friends. No one's talking to Danny, and no one's tried to play with him all week. Louis doesn't know how to fix it and make Danny happier this summer, like he was last year, and when Louis can't fix things he gets upset. "Why don't you talk to Michael instead of cleaning up?"

"I don't want to talk to him," says Danny. "Can I use your cell phone to call my mom?"

Campers aren't supposed to use staffer's phones to make calls. Louis thinks about it and sighs a little. There's a mashed potato fight starting at the other end of the dining hall, and Niall and Harry are chasing each other around a table. Danny looks so sad, though.

"Yeah," says Louis. "After lights out, okay?"

"Okay," says Danny, and goes back to cleaning up the table.

The kids are so tired by lights out that they all drop right off to sleep and it isn't hard to take Danny outside by himself. There are still noises coming from the older kids' cabins up the hill, and the quiet sounds of the lake splashing on the shore, and a million crickets and frogs singing to each other.

Louis hands Danny his mobile. "Ten minutes," Louis says, because this isn't such a great idea. He feels a little bit guilty about it, for which he blames Liam. Louis normally doesn't give a fuck about breaking the rules. He can always pretend he's upset at how expensive it'll be.

"Mommy," says Danny into the phone, in such a wistful voice that Louis immediately gets up to find somewhere else to be. He doesn't want to overhear when Danny starts crying, because that'll just embarrass both of them. Later he'll give Danny a hug and talk to him about being homesick, but right now he deserves some privacy

There's a little cabin for changing and toilets by the beach. Louis walks down the path and then around the cabin a couple of times, kicking a rock as he goes. He's homesick too, a bit, if he's being honest. It's way too late to call home to England, though. He'll have to get up before his cabin in the morning to call and see how all his sisters are doing. It's nice having Harry and Niall and Zayn around, but it's awful not having his actual family.

"What are you doing?"

Liam's voice carries clearly because it's night and everything sounds louder by the water. Louis stops in the middle of his third time around the hut. "Walking," he says. Maybe he's a little defensive.

Liam's sitting on the dock by himself. It's weird. "Why?" he asks.

"Why shouldn't I?" Louis demands. "Do you own the beach or something?"

"No," says Liam. The moon is bright over the lake, so Louis can see him frowning. "Calm down, I was just asking."

"Well, who asked you to ask?" Louis says. He crosses his arms and puts his chin up.

Liam makes a funny growling noise. "You're always such a dick," Liam says. He stands up. He's not close enough for Louis to hit, unfortunately.

"I'm letting a camper use my phone," Louis says. "I thought I'd go for a walk. Didn't realize I'd be interrupting your creepy sitting-on-the-dock-alone-being-a-weirdo plans."

"Campers aren't supposed to use your phone," Liam says immediately. Of course he does.

"Stop telling me the rules!" Louis shouts. He sounds amazingly loudly in the quiet air by the lake. "Why are you so annoying all the time?"

Liam stomps a couple of steps up the beach toward him. Good, Louis thinks, and then, No, not good, go away. "You're just really difficult to get along with," Liam says. "You like everyone, except for me. Everything I do is always wrong."

"Yes," says Louis. "Everything you do is annoying. You annoy me. You annoy me so much.."

"That's not fair!" says Liam. "I'm not doing anything to you."

He's almost close enough to hit, now, and Louis really wants to. "Life isn't fair," says Louis. "Stop being annoying and I'll stop telling you how annoying you are."

"Stop calling me names," Liam says, narrowing his eyes. "You think you get to boss everyone around."

"I'm sorry that I'm always right," says Louis snottily. "You're new. You don't know anything." Louis is aware, dimly, that what he really wants is to goad Liam into hitting him. Or trying to hit him. He thinks Liam probably isn't the sort of person who hits anyone, even when he's mad. But if Liam tried to hit him, Louis could hit him back, and they'd end up pushing and touching again.

Liam gets right up in Louis's face, and he's got his hands clenched at his side. He doesn't put his hands on Louis, though, and Louis could cry with frustration. "Well, you don't explain anything, do you? You just shout at me when I tell you the rules!"

"You aren't allowed to steal Zayn," says Louis. It isn't what he meant to say. Liam blinks at him. "I mean, he's my friend. He's not yours," Louis says. "Same with Niall. And especially Harry."

"I've known Niall for ages," says Liam. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, at camp he's my friend," says Louis, entirely unreasonably.

Liam huffs angrily. "You're ridiculous!"

"Yeah," says Louis. "Maybe." Liam's too close now; his nose is almost touching Louis's nose, and Louis has to look up to glare at him. Liam's shoulders are too wide and his face is too sweet up close, even when he's looking annoyed. Louis shoves at Liam's shoulder so he can get some space, but Liam shoves him right back. Louis shoves again, frustrated, because he can't actually move Liam, if Liam doesn't want to be moved.

When Liam pushes back, though, Louis stumbles a step until he hits the side of the changing hut. And then Liam moves into his space again, crowding Louis up against the wall.

"Stop ruining my summer!" Louis shouts.

"I'm not," says Liam. "I would never, not on purpose."

"Well then… Just…" Louis starts, but he's too annoyed and too upset about too many things, so he can't find a word for it. He shoves at Liam again and then changes his mind and fists his hand in Liam's t-shirt and drags him down into an angry kiss.

Liam makes a startled noise and braces himself against the wall, one arm on either side of Louis's head. He kisses back, though. Louis's got the rough wood wall against his back and Liam, hot and solid, pressing against his front. Otherwise the night air is cool and it makes Louis shiver. He pulls harder, as if he can pull Liam in tighter somehow, when there's already no space between their bodies. Louis licks into Liam's mouth and sucks on his lower lip and Liam's hips push forward against Louis's. Louis wants to shove his hands down Liam's shorts, but he's not sure Liam would let him, and anyway he's busy kissing Liam with all the fury he's stored up over the last couple of hours.

The harder Louis pushes at Liam — he can't decide if he wants to pull Liam closer or shove him away — the more Liam presses forward. Louis can't breathe, and he doesn't know if it's because of how overwhelmed he feels, or how Liam is crushing him in the best possible way. Last time, Liam didn't really kiss back, but this time he's surprisingly participatory. Louis pushes his hips forward, grinding as much as he can manage, and Liam growls and nips at Louis's mouth, grinding right back.

"Why are we doing this?" Liam asks breathily. He has his mouth over Louis's neck, hesitating like he wants to kiss him there and doesn't know if he's allowed.

He's not. That would be like… That would be like proper romantic kissing with someone Louis fancied. Louis reaches over and pinches one of Liam's nipples, hard. Liam gasps and frowns at him.

"You're so annoying," says Louis instead of answering. He doesn't know why. Or he doesn't want to think about it.

Liam snorts. "You say that and then you kiss me."

"I said you were annoying, I didn't say you weren't…" Louis waves a hand in the general direction of Liam's arms. Liam looks a little confused. Louis rocks his hips forward instead, and gets a satisfying little gasp out of Liam.

"What does that mean?" Liam asks.

Louis wants to undo the tie on Liam's shorts and shove them down and get his mouth on Liam's cock. The vividness with which Louis can picture that stops him dead. They're outside. There are other counselors around. Hell, there are campers around. It's dark outside, but not that dark. And Louis doesn't know how he'd explain it to Harry and Niall, let alone to himself.

"I'm drunk," says Louis flatly. Liam looks a little confused and takes half a step back. Louis could roll his eyes and demand Do I taste like alcohol, you nitwit? but he doesn't. Liam is the wrong person to do this with, because he doesn't laugh and play along. He looks concerned. It's infuriating. "Get off me, get away," says Louis. He's got enough space to slip out from between Liam's arms, so he does.

"Wait," says Liam. "What just happened?"

"I can't do this, sorry," says Louis. "Go back to… To sitting on the dock by yourself, or whatever."

"This was your idea!" Liam protests. "You sound like you think I'm the one of us who keeps—"

"Fine!" Louis snaps, because Liam is right, and he hates that. "I'll go away. I'll go and get my phone back from Danny."

"Is he okay?" Liam asks.

Louis wants to shout How dare you be concerned about him when I'm walking away from you and leaving you with blue balls. But if Liam doesn't care then Louis cares even less. "Yeah, because I broke the rules and let him call home," Louis says.

Liam flinches a little. "I didn't mean you couldn't do it, just that we're not supposed to."

"I don't care," says Louis, and he knows it's not clear what he means, but that's fine because he doesn't entirely know what he means by it either.

Liam sighs. "Fine, go away. Stomp off again. You are the most frustrating person in the world."

"No, you," says Louis, with the kind of great maturity his little sisters would be proud of.

"Bye!" Liam shouts after him, and he manages to make it sound like an insult somehow. Louis just snorts and walks off, and when he trips over a tree root halfway up the hill, he bites his tongue so he won't swear and flail. He's sure Liam saw it, because it was embarrassing, and he wishes he could set Liam on fire. All of this is Liam's fault.

Danny's sat on the steps of the cabin saying sadly to his mum, "I know, I love you, too. I'll try and stick it out, I guess. But I miss you."

He looks sadder than he did when he started talking. "Say goodnight,'" Louis whispers.

"Goodnight," Danny says obediently, and hands the phone to Louis.

"You okay?" Louis asks. Maybe it was a mistake to let Danny call home. Maybe it made things worse. Louis holds his arms out and Danny throws his arms around Louis in a hug. "Don't worry," says Louis. "We're gonna fix it. You're going to have a good summer, I promise." Danny doesn't say anything in return.

Niall likes to dare Harry to lick things. As near as Louis can tell, that's the entirety of the dare; Niall will point at something and say, "I dare you to lick that tree," and Harry will lick it, and Niall will laugh like a maniac. It's been going on for a couple of days.

"I don't get it," says Zayn, tilting his head quizzically. "Is there, like, a prize?"

"No," says Louis. Niall has dared Harry to lick Simon, and Harry can't find a way to do it, but Niall is egging him on and all the campers are watching with fascination.

Simon only comes down the hill from the house where the family who owns the camp lives once or twice a week, usually to frown at everyone. (Frustratingly, he always smiles at Liam and tells him he's doing a good job.) And now Simon is down and looking at the plans for the big sports day and Harry keeps trying to lick him whenever he turns away.

"Harry is so weird," says Zayn, and it's clear from his tone that he means it as a compliment. "Hey, mate."

Louis looks up, and there's Liam, looking disgustingly attractive in a tight t-shirt and jogging bottoms. It isn't right, how the fabric pulls over his chest, how he bounces a little like he's excited about every single thing that's ever happened. Liam smiles at Zayn and his whole face lights up, but he avoids Louis's eyes. Louis, for his part, doesn't look at Liam either. He certainly doesn't think about kissing him again.

"I keep thinking Niall will wise up and ask Harry to lick him," Liam says. "Otherwise, what's the point?"

"Maybe Niall's testing Harry," says Zayn. "Like, if he's willing to lick Simon, he'll be willing to do whatever horrible kinky things Niall is into."

Liam puts his hands over his ears and begins singing loudly, glaring at Zayn.

Zayn isn't allowed to be friends with Liam. No one is allowed to be friends with Liam; Liam should be shunned and forced to wear a bag over his head. "You probably wouldn't lick anything," says Louis.

Liam stops saying "la la la" and glares at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm saying if I bet you a million pounds you wouldn't even try to lick anything, because it's probably against one of your stupid rules," Louis says.

Liam doesn't look angry like he ought to; he looks considering. And he's chewing on his thumbnail, which is awful, because Louis keeps noticing how big Liam's hands are. "I might," says Liam after a minute. "Have you got a million pounds?"

"Do not," says Zayn quickly. "Do not start any kind of bet or prank war with Louis, he—"

Louis stomps on Zayn's foot, hard. He can't imagine Liam is the sort of person to get caught up in dares and bets, but if he is, then Louis intends to take full advantage of it. He wants to make Liam break the rules, all of them.

"Doesn't matter if I do or not," says Louis, "because you won't do it."

Liam frowns. "What if I did?"

"You wouldn't."

Zayn looks from one of them to the other and throws his hands up in despair. "Louis cheats," Zayn says. Louis kicks him in the shin again.

"I know he cheats, he bragged about cheating during the football match," says Liam. He crosses his arms and Louis doesn't look at how that makes his biceps look really large. He also doesn't think about how, last night, he had this boy almost on top of him. Louis can't imagine why Liam would have let him do that. Liam doesn't seem so desperate for it that he'd fuck anything that moves.

"You'd never in a million years do anything remotely interesting," says Louis, edging into meanness. He can't help it. There's something about Liam's face that makes Louis want to be terribly mean to him and then put him back together again. "Not even if I bet you."

Liam puts his chin up. "Try me."

"Noooo," groans Zayn, hiding his face in his hands.

"Pull Niall's shorts down," says Louis immediately. "Go on. You couldn't possibly, you wouldn't dream of it, you're not—"

Liam bites his lip and looks like he's thinking hard. And then, before Louis has even finished insulting him — rude, really, leaving before that — Liam turns and walks away. Louis starts to say Ha, and I knew you wouldn't, and he even gets as far as elbowing Zayn and then he realizes that Liam has walked over to Niall.

"Hey, Nialler," says Liam cheerfully, and then grabs Niall's shorts and pulls them straight down.

There is a heartbeat of silence. Then every pre-teen boy gathered around bursts into hysterical laughter. Niall squawks with outrage and turns around to try and hit Liam and Liam laughs and bats his hands away. Campers are laughing so hard they fall over. Niall has to stoop to pull his shorts up, and while he's doing that, Simon looks around to see what all the fuss is. Harry promptly leans over and licks Simon's elbow, which makes Simon roar, and the boys laugh even harder.

"Oh god," groans Zayn. "You've unleashed a monster."

Louis feels a bit like he was hit by a car. That can't have been Liam who did that; he didn't lecture Louis about the rules and behaving himself or anything. Niall's got his shorts back up and leaps on Liam's back, pounding Liam's head with his fists while Liam ducks and laughs. It's such a nice laugh; his eyes are all crinkled up and he looks so happy that Niall can't seem to be actually mad at him.

There's a funny lurch in Louis's stomach. Mostly so far this summer he's made Liam glare at him, yell at him, occasionally kiss him, and frown at him. He hasn't made Liam laugh like that, and the warmth spreading through his chest and down through his belly is informing him that he'd do anything to watch Liam laugh like that over and over.

"Shit," says Louis.

"You owe him a million pounds," says Zayn.

Harry has jumped on Liam as well, and he and Niall have managed to drag Liam down to the ground and tickle him properly. It's a bit like watching puppies try to take down a deer or something. Niall's campers promptly join in and everyone disappears under a mass of flailing pre-teens.

Louis's chest feels a bit like it's going to collapse in on itself, and he's going to need to find a quiet place to sneak off for a really serious wank tonight, after the campers are in bed. "What am I going to do?" Louis mutters.

"Don't make bets you can't actually afford," Zayn says, rolling his eyes.

"Yeah," says Louis, watching Liam crawl out from underneath the pile of boys. He's flushed and laughing and he looks up and catches Louis's eye with a smug little jerk of his chin. This is much more terrible than Louis had ever, ever thought it could be, and the worst part is that he knows what it feels like to have Liam's hands on his arse and his mouth on Louis's. "I'll get you next time," says Louis unsteadily.

"No, you won't," says Liam, narrowing his eyes.

Fuck, Louis needs to go. "Zayn, tell him how scary I am, really," Louis says, and then flees before he can have any more thoughts about things he'd like to dare Liam to do.

Every few weeks half the counselors get a day off. Louis has arranged for himself and Harry and Niall and Zayn to all have it off together. The plan is to drive in to town — Zayn is seeing a girl from the girls' camp across the lake, who has a car and has agreed to let him borrow it — and get shitfaced and then rent a hotel room and sleep on the floor or wherever. It's been weeks since Louis's had a proper shower that wasn't full of daddy long legs, or worn shoes that aren't full of sand. He wants a long phone call home and a lot of alcohol and a room with air conditioning.

"I'm so excited," says Harry. "I can't wait for a television. I can't wait for walls to keep the rain out." It's grey and overcast and most of the campers are going to spend the afternoon in the basement of the dining hall watching Iron Man. Nothing in the camp is ever dry when it rains; the sleeping bags feel damp and everything seems cold. "Oh, and also I invited Liam; hope that's cool."

Louis stops dead where he's following Harry up the hill to the road. "What? No. Why?"

"You like him, really," says Harry encouragingly. "And it's his day off too, and he didn't have anyone to hang out with, and… C'mon, Lou."

"I don't like him," says Louis, thinking I don't want to sleep in a hotel room with him.

"Well, learn to like him really fast," advises Harry. "Niall likes him a lot, and I want to hang out with Niall. And Zayn'll be upset if you're mean."

"I'm not mean," Louis huffs. At least, he hasn't been lately. He's been avoiding Liam. There's no telling what he might do, if Liam smiles at him like he was smiling at Niall.

Harry nods slowly like he's working out secrets about Louis. He might be. "Do you know what mean means?" he asks, and then giggles at himself.

Sometimes, it's not worth trying to work through all the weirdness in Harry's head. "Is it too late to just uninvite him?" Louis asks, grabbing Harry's arm and hauling him along to the top of the hill, because Harry walks so slowly.

At the top of the hill there's the football pitch and the camp's owners' house, and the motorway. Zayn is already in the car with Niall and Liam, so… Yeah, it's probably too late to uninvite him. "Come on, losers, we're going shopping!" Zayn shouts.

"Has he got his license?" Louis asks.

"Who cares?" Harry asks. He pulls the door of the car open and holds it for Louis, so Louis has no real choice but to crawl in and next to Liam. Then Harry climbs in, too, and Harry's all legs and flailing limbs these days, so he edges Louis right over into Liam.

Liam, who is awfully warm and solid and wearing shorts so his bare leg is pressed against Louis's bare leg. "Hi," he says.

I dare you to kiss me, Louis doesn't say. "Hi," he says, and tries to glare. It doesn't really work; Liam is smiling a little, and that's hard not to smile back at. "We're going to get drunk," Louis adds, loudly and pointedly. "Extremely drunk. And none of us are twenty-one. Are you sure you want to come?"

Liam shrugs. "Haven't got a choice," he says, as Zayn pulls out onto the highway. It stretches endlessly through rural Vermont toward a town barely worthy of the name. It's possible to walk, but awfully boring. Everything looks damp. "I quite like to walk to town," says Liam cheerfully.

Louis can't stop himself from elbowing him. "Of course you do."

"It's good exercise," Liam says, frowning a little.

"And you don't get enough of that swimming, literally, all day?"

Liam huffs a little and elbows Louis back. Louis elbows him again, harder, and Liam shoves at him a little bit.

"Oww!" shouts Harry. "I am being crushed by idiots! I'm climbing into the front seat!"

"No, you're bloody not," says Zayn. "Perrie'll kill me if we fuck up her car."

"Settle down back there!" Niall shouts.

Harry climbs over Louis instead and wedges himself into the seat between Louis and Liam. He's at least half on Liam's lap, and Liam's hands go around Harry's waist. "You need a seatbelt," says Liam.

"I haven't got one, either," says Louis, and he can't stop the sulk in his own voice because Liam isn't holding on to his hips like that. Louis moves over to the other side of the back seat to make room for Harry, but Harry stays mostly wedged onto Liam's lap.

"That's because you're stupid," says Harry. Then he grins. Louis narrows his eyes and reaches over and pinches Harry's nipple until Harry shouts and flails. "You're just jealous I've got Liam!" Harry yells, and for god's sake, Liam tries to move between them, giving Louis a bit of a disappointed look. Harry sticks his tongue out and then grins at Louis.

"I need a drink," says Louis loudly. "Are we drinking yet? Why aren't we drinking yet?"

"It's one in the afternoon," says Liam, scandalized.

"The perfect time to start," Zayn agrees, as the car bounces into town.

Niall and Zayn have fake IDs but no one checks them, so they find a shitty little pub full of old men who live in town and don't care what's going on as long as it doesn't interrupt them watching baseball on a big screen television. Liam says he'll go up to their hotel room and watch television or something, but Niall drags him along to the bar. "Of course you're coming with us," Niall says, trying to get Liam in a headlock, which is hilarious because Liam is taller than he is, and pretends like he's punching Niall instead with silly, exaggerated arm swings.

Louis has a beer, and then a shot, and then another shot and another beer. It's enough to leave him feeling loose and relaxed after a very long week of running around after children all day. Louis sprawls in a padded booth across the horseshoe-shaped seat that's made of cheap vinyl, picking at the bit where the vinyl has ripped and the yellow foam underneath is visible. After a few minutes Harry comes and sprawls with him. Zayn is outside smoking and Niall and Liam are throwing darts and giggling outrageously at each other.

Louis is tipsy enough to not care that's he's blatantly staring at Liam's shoulders and how they make the fabric of his t-shirt stretch when he throws a dart. Harry follows Louis's gaze and says, "I told you so."

"You told me nothing," says Louis.

"He's not so bad. And you think he's gorgeous." Harry giggles drunkenly into Louis's shoulder for a minute. "You should see your face when he yells at you. Like you want to eat him."

"I don't like anyone who yells at me," Louis says. "He's got nice arms, though."

"Okay, sure," says Harry, snorting.

"Shut up," says Louis. "Have you even kissed Niall yet?"

"Yes," says Harry. "Well, no. Not really. But we joke-kissed. I was sort of hoping that tonight we'd be upstairs in the hotel and..."

"With all of us in the room?" Louis demands, outraged.

"No," says Harry. "Actually, I don't care."

Louis strangles him fondly with one arm. "Go and tell Niall you want to show him something in the hotel. And then show him your dick."

Harry giggles but looks like he's actually considering it. "You're awful."

"You like him, right? So go and tell him you like him."

Harry bites his lower lip and looks speculatively at Niall, who is throwing his arms all over the place and might hit anyone in the pub with a dart at any minute. Liam laughs at him, that eye-crinkled laugh he does when he's really enjoying himself. Louis hates him. He haaaaates him.

"You love him," Harry whispers, and kisses Louis's temple. Louis's pretty sure he didn't say anything out loud.

Niall and Liam give up on darts and throw themselves into the booth with Harry and Louis. "I won," says Niall loudly.

"You absolutely did not," says Liam. "You are drunk and you are a liar." He says it fondly, though.

"Niall, Harry wants to show you something," says Louis loudly. Harry squeaks and tries to put his hand over Louis's mouth to shut him up.

"Yeah?" says Niall cheerfully. "What's that, then?"

Louis tries to yell, "His dick!" but Harry climbs on top of him and attempts to suffocate him.

"It's barely gone four, how are you lot so drunk?" Liam asks. Louis stares suspiciously at him, trying to find evidence that Liam is taking the piss, but he looks sincere and a little fond.

"I'm not drunk," says Harry. His cheeks are pink from laughing and his curls are falling in his eyes; if Niall doesn't love him right now then he is an idiot, Louis thinks. Everyone should love Harry, especially when he looks like this; giggling and silly and mischievous and obnoxious.

"You might be a little drunk, mate," says Niall.

"Go and take him for a walk," says Louis, shoving Harry off the bench. "Niall, walk him around until he stops giggling."

"Yeah, okay," says Niall, offering his arm. Harry puts his arm through Niall's and laughs at him. Liam gives them a shove toward the door.

"They're adorable," says Liam, watching them leave. "Are they not dating yet?"

"Idiots," says Louis. He feels a bit like he might pitch over. He wonders if Liam would let him just lie on top of him for a while.

"Cute, though," says Liam. He gets a look on his face like he's only just realized he's alone with Louis, and glances around in case someone's going to come and save him. "Er. Shall I go? I ought to go and call my parents, I promised I would today."

"You'd leave me here, all alone and drunk?" Louis says, pouting.

"I'd send Zayn in," Liam says. "You wouldn't be alone long."

"No," says Louis. He wants Liam to go and he wants him to stay in equal measure.

Liam sighs and doesn't get up, which is funny. If anyone were as randomly nasty to Louis as he's been to Liam, he'd storm out on them in a minute. But Liam acts like Louis's pouting means something.

"You're very weird," says Louis.

Liam shrugs. "Okay."

"I dare you..." Louis starts, and then chickens out, because he isn't that drunk. "I dare you to have a shot."

"I've only got one working kidney," Liam says.

"But you can drink, as long as you're careful. I googled it on my phone." Liam gives Louis a bit of a cross look and purses his lips. Louis thinks about biting them. "I dare you," Louis repeats. "I double dare you. I triple dare you. If you don't, you are the biggest loser in the entire United States of America, and I will tell everyone—"

"I'm going!" Liam almost shouts. He gets up and goes to the bar and smiles sunnily at the barman, who doesn't appear to care how old anyone is as long as they pay. Liam comes back with a couple of shots. "Here," he says. "Not that you need it."

"What are they?" Louis asks.

Liam wrinkles up his nose. "Tequila." He picks his up and pulls a face like he's about to drink poison.

"Wait, hang on," says Louis. "Jesus, do you really never do this? Wait." There's a bowl of lime wedges on the table, and Louis hands one to Liam. "You've got to put salt on your arm first."

Liam looks adorably confused. "Put it..." he echoes.

Louis huffs grumpily and takes Liam's free hand. "Here," he says. "Watch." And then, because he's a little drunk, and damn it, he wants to, he licks Liam's arm from his wrist up toward his elbow. Liam inhales sharply. Louis shakes salt over Liam's arm and doesn't think about how good Liam tastes. "You lick that, then you take the shot, then you suck on the lime. Haven't you ever had shots before?"

Liam shakes his head. He glances up at Louis and Louis tries not to think about how big and brown Liam's eyes are. Thinking about his arms is bad enough.

"Go on," says Louis. "Do the dare or don't, I don't care, but if you're forfeiting—"

"Shut up," says Liam. He licks some of the salt off his arm and then drinks the shot. He pulls the most outrageously disgusted face, coughing like he might die.

Louis works very hard not to laugh at him. "Lime," he reminds Liam.

Liam is already making a puckered face like everything is disgusting, and the lime doesn't help. "Gross," he says.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," Louis orders. He reaches over and grabs Liam's arm again, and without really thinking about it enough, he licks the rest of the salt off Liam's arm and slams his own shot back. If he were really drunk he'd take the lime out of Liam's mouth, but he's not, so he sucks on his own.

He didn't miss how Liam shivered when Louis licked him.

He doesn't miss how something hot is turning over in his own belly.

"I think I'm drunk," says Liam, voice gone a bit raspy. He's staring at Louis, eyes huge, lower lip looking incredibly pink and begging to be bitten.

"You had one shot, you can't be drunk," Louis snorts.

"I… It's not just… I mean, I don't drink, so I haven't got any tolerance," says Liam, looking down. His cheeks are a little pink.

"Suck on that lime," orders Louis. He gets up and orders another couple of shots from the barman. When he gets back, Liam is giving him a bit of a baffled look, but sucking on the lime.

Louis picks Liam's hand up and licks the inside of his wrist. Louis drags his tongue slowly, and when he gets around to Liam's pulse he digs his teeth in just a little. Liam gasps quietly, mouth falling open. Louis doesn't look up because if he does he'll give his whole game away; everything he's feeling will be all over his face. He just shakes salt out over Liam's wrist.

"Shall I—" Liam starts, holding his wedge of lime like he's forgotten about it.

Louis never actually let go of Liam's hand. He licks the salt off and downs another shot — this is a very bad idea, he knows — and then lunges forward to kiss Liam. He tastes of lime and tequila and he opens his mouth automatically when Louis kisses him. Louis closes his fingers tightly around Liam's wrist, pressing him back into the cheap vinyl booth. When Louis pulls back a little Liam follows him, mouth pressed against Louis's, even when Liam has to lean forward around the table.

Louis's heart is pounding in his chest. This is very, very bad. "Your turn," Louis says. He's drunk and his head is spinning and he can't breathe.

"Oh," says Liam, blinking. "Oh, I..." His chest is heaving, too. After a second he gets himself together, shaking his head. Louis's still got his hand around Liam's wrist, and Liam pulls his arm closer, twisting it so Louis's wrist is up. Liam looks up at Louis uncertainly and Louis nods, once, because it's all he can manage. "Okay," says Liam. He leans forward and licks Louis's wrist carefully, like they didn't have their tongues in each other's mouths a second ago. He's so gentle and tentative, Louis hates it.

"Hurry up and—" Louis starts.

"Shut up," says Liam evenly. He bites the skin on Louis's wrist, gentle enough not to leave a mark but it's a warning; he could if he wanted to. If Louis's heart were beating any faster it would explode. "Let me just..." Liam says, and tongues a circle over Louis's wrist, round and round, until Louis wants to scream.

Just as Louis thinks he's going to be forced to start tearing Liam's clothes off in public and get them both kicked out of the pub, Liam sits up and grabs the salt. He licks that off slowly, too, and Louis feels absolutely frozen. He couldn't move even if he wanted to. Liam gives him another look through his lashes — he isn't even doing it on purpose; he's that awful — and takes his shot. He coughs and grimaces again and it's so cute that Louis tightens his fingers and thinks he's probably going to leave bruises. Liam gives him a dark look and leans in to another kiss, even though Louis hasn't been sucking on a lime.

Liam kisses gently, but there's an urgency behind it. Liam's rocking into Louis a little, like he hasn't realized he's doing it and can't quite help himself. Liam's hand closes around Louis's bicep and his hands are so broad, Louis can feel his fingers from his shoulder to his elbow. He pulls Liam in closer and Liam goes easily. He can taste Liam underneath the salt and tequila and he wants more of that. He wonders if Liam would let him put salt on his neck, or his thigh. He wants to lick Liam everywhere.

It's as bad an idea as it was before; worse, maybe, because they're all going to be sharing a hotel room tonight. Louis pulls back and Liam follows him. That's so fucking sexy that Louis kisses him again as a reward before he puts his hand firmly on Liam's shoulder and pushes him back.

Liam's eyes are soft and a little unfocused. Maybe he is drunk. "Do I win the dare?" he asks, mouth quirking up around the edges.

"Yeah," says Louis. "Yeah, you win."

"Hey!" shouts Zayn, walking in. "Niall and Harry are crawling all over each other out here, we're starting to get weird looks from the locals. Maybe we should all move to the hotel? I'll go and buy some beer. What's going on over here?" He crosses his arms and gives them both a suspicious look.

Liam is mostly in Louis's lap, and both of them are flushed. Liam's mouth looks like someone's been biting it, because someone has. "I was showing Liam how to do a shot," Louis explains. He sounds mostly normal. He's very proud of himself.

"Oh, were you?" Zayn asks, eyebrows shooting up.

"Yes," says Louis. "Shut up." He doesn't look at Liam, because Liam is looking at him with so many questions on his face, and Louis hasn't got any answers for him.

"Uh," says Liam, "Louis?"

Louis ignores him and goes over to the bar to settle their bill and tries to remember how to breathe when he can feel Liam's eyes all over him.

There is a lot of tension in the air. Louis can feel Liam staring at his back every time he turns around, and so Louis tries to pay a lot more attention to Harry and Niall, who are chasing each other around a picnic table outside. "Just make out, already," Zayn mutters, and Louis doesn't have to glance over at Liam to know that both of them are blushing a little.

"Up!" says Louis, clapping his hands. "Hotel room! It'll be dark soon."

"It won't be dark for hours," Liam says. Louis reaches over and pinches his nipple, hard. Liam makes the same shocked face he makes every time Louis does anything. Seriously, Louis's not sure that Liam hasn't got that Memento disease.

Zayn gives Louis an annoyed look and grabs Liam, both hands on Liam's arms, hustling him toward the hotel. Louis gets that flash of anger again; Zayn was his friend first, and he seems entirely too fond of Liam. But it's also possible that Louis's a bit annoyed he can't put his own hands all over Liam and have Liam laugh like that. Or maybe Liam would. He's a bit unpredictable.

"I caught you!" says Niall, and throws himself on Harry's back. Harry seem fairly pleased to be giving Niall a piggyback. Louis raises his eyebrows and Harry grins at him. Louis can't figure out why Harry hasn't just stuck his tongue down Niall's throat. It would be a lot less work.

Harry carries Niall up to their cheap little hotel room. "Shower!" says Zayn excitedly, pulling his shirt off. Everyone else sprawls out across the two beds, Harry and Niall on one, giggling and shoving each other, and Liam and Louis on the other. Louis sprawls out so he's taking up the entirety of the bed, and Liam sits gingerly on the edge.

"Louis," says Liam, tapping Louis's knee.

"Shut up," says Louis, because whatever Liam's going to say, he doesn't want to hear it.

"But—"

"Shh," says Louis, and kicks him. Liam rolls his eyes. "Are you two quite finished?" Louis adds loudly. "Jeeeeesus, we're supposed to be drinking, aren't we?"

"You've had enough," says Liam.

"You had shots," Louis points out.

Niall looks up from underneath Harry. "You did? What?"

Liam goes pink. "Just two," he says. "Louis—"

Louis doesn't need to see Harry's face if Liam mentions all the licking. "Shh," he says, sitting up long enough to try and knock Liam off the bed. Liam doesn't move, though, and Louis ends up shoving him on the bed. Liam shoves back, and Louis climbs on top of him, and —

"Hang on," says Harry. "What is this?"

Louis's sitting on top of Liam and Liam's holding both of Louis's wrists with his hands. Potentially, this looks a little bit incriminating. "Uh," says Louis. "I'm drunk?"

"He is," says Liam helpfully. "He's done loads of shots."

Louis's not sure how to climb off of Liam without letting the entire room know that he's getting a bit of a boner. Liam probably knows, but Liam just looks confused.

Zayn walks out of the bathroom with a towel around his hair. "Right," he says. "I don't care who's fucking who, but there's no fucking in the hotel room tonight, okay? Get off him."

"We weren't," says Louis. "We wouldn't. God."

"Okay," says Zayn evenly. "So get off of him."

Harry, the hypocritical bastards, is sitting on Niall's lap, but he giggles at Louis and Liam anyway.

Liam gives Louis a little push, and it makes Louis want to shove him into the mattress and hold him down until – Until – Well, until filthy things happen. He starts to shove Liam and then remembers that everyone is watching. So he knees Liam in the stomach instead, and then climbs off him with a disgusted little huff, like the whole thing wasn't his idea.

"Ow," says Liam, rolling over on his side.

"Put a film on the cable," says Harry. "And give me a beer."

Niall gets comfy on the bed underneath Harry, and Zayn turns the television on. He can't work out all the buttons on the remote so Liam gets up to help, and they fiddle around with the buttons and laugh and Louis tries not to seethe with jealousy. When they finally get the film on, Zayn sits down and drags Liam with him, so they're sitting all cuddled up.

Louis is sat all alone. This is completely unacceptable.

Louis spends a while not watching the film and texting Harry instead. Harry sees his phone beep, looks up at Louis, rolls his eyes, and goes back to snuggling with Niall. Louis glares at him, and Harry sticks his tongue out.

"I'm going outside to call my family," Louis says loudly. This is the point where, if Harry were a better friend, he'd offer to come with Louis, but he's got his hand halfway down Niall's jeans and Niall hasn't really noticed, so Louis's not that surprised when Harry doesn't move.

He is surprised when, after ten minutes of standing around outside the hotel pretending he's looking at texts on his phone, Liam appears. "Er," says Liam, putting his hands in his pockets.

"What?" says Louis rather flatly.

There is an awfully long pause. Eventually Liam shrugs. "What are you doing?" Liam asks.

Louis knows exactly what he means, so he immediately crosses his arms and says defensively, "What? I'm standing here."

"I mean…" Liam says and flounders a bit.

Louis could help him but he absolutely refuses to.

"You kissed me," Liam says eventually, looking embarrassed. "Three different times, now."

"Well, you didn't stop me," says Louis belligerently.

Liam opens and closes his mouth in astonishment. "Was I meant to?" he asks. "Was it like a test?"

"Maybe," says Louis. "If you didn't want me to, you should have said."

"I didn't say I didn’t want you to," says Liam, and then looks confused at himself. Louis wants to kiss him again. He is absolutely not going to do that. It's getting dark outside and Liam glows a little in the dusk.

"Well, then," says Louis.

Liam throws his hands up. "Why can't you have a reasonable conversation?" he demands.

"I'm being perfectly reasonable," Louis says, trying to be infuriatingly calm. "You're the one shouting and waving your hands around."

"You absolutely deserve a punch in the face," says Liam. Louis braces himself for a moment, but all Liam does is stand there.

"You aren't going to hit me?" Louis asks, a little doubtfully.

"I don't know; how likely are you to kiss me again and then be a complete bastard?" Liam counters.

"Signs point to yes," says Louis.

Liam looks furious and also baffled. "Well…" he says, and then his irritation seems to melt a bit and he laughs instead. "You're mad. Have you considered that you might actually be mad?"

"Yes," says Louis. Liam is looking at him fondly and he's not allowed to do that. Louis puts his hand over Liam's face and pushes him back a step. For some reason Liam lets him do that. "Why don't you hit me back?" Louis nearly shouts. "You've got these ridiculous muscles, you obviously work out. Why don't you use them?"

Liam blinks at him. "I box," he says.

"Right," says Louis, trying not be embarrassed at how he's shouting about Liam's arms and people walking by are giving them looks. "Obviously."

"It's for exercise, it's not for hitting anyone," Liam explains. "Well, and…" He shrugs and looks at his trainers. "And because I used to get bullied a bit at school, and I thought, if I learnt to box, then I could…" He trails off.

"Then you could hit people back," Louis says. "So why don't you?"

"I wouldn't hit anyone," says Liam, sounding hurt. "But if you look like you can then people don't bother you so much."

"You can hit me back," says Louis. "You can do whatever you'd like. You can—" He stops short of offering to let Liam do whatever he'd like to Louis. He doesn't mean pinching and shoving and punching. He hopes Liam doesn't know that.

Liam makes a frustrated noise. "Do you even like me? You keep kissing me, but I don't think you like me."

"Why do you kiss me back, if you don't like me?" Louis asks, feeling guilty.

Liam looks at the pavement again. A car goes by. "I didn't say I don't like you," he says quietly.

Louis hisses in a breath like he's just been hit.

"It's just confusing," Liam goes on doggedly. "Because if you don't like me then why do you keep kissing me? And if you do like me then why do you keep telling me off?"

"Because…" Louis starts, and then stops. "I don't know; I don't have a good reason."

"Oh," says Liam. "I'm gonna go back inside, I suppose."

"Yeah," says Louis. Liam looks at him for another minute and then turns to go inside. "I don't hate you," Louis blurts.

Liam stops at the door. "No?" he asks. He's not smiling, but the lights inside the hotel lobby make him look a little bit hopeful around the edges.

Louis can't stand it. "Of course not, of course I don't," says Louis. "I'm sorry I've been such a twat. I'll stop. I can stop. I'll stop... Y'know. Everything." He waves his hand at Liam and swallows down a weird wave of despair that he's not going to get to kiss Liam anymore.

"Okay," says Liam. "Thanks. I guess. I'm gonna…"

"Yeah," says Louis. "I'll come up in a bit."

Liam gives him a smile that looks a bit shy, somehow, and goes upstairs.

Louis feels a bit ill, so he sits down on the pavement. It's just past midnight at home, but his sisters will still be up. He puts his face in his hands and dials, and when Daisy answers he says, "Just tell me anything, okay? Anything at all. Just talk for a while."

"You're so weird," she says, but she does, and even though Louis doesn't hear a word, he loves her very, very much.

Being friendly and nice to Liam is the hardest thing Louis's ever done.

There is something about the way Liam looks mildly confused by Harry's dirty jokes, or the way he grins at Niall without the slightest hint of irony, that makes Louis want to throw things at his face. It's probably not the most logical impulse Louis's ever had.

Niall, who just ate an entire hamburger at the pub, announces he's so hungry he's worried he'll starve to death and he needs to go and find more food. Harry immediately volunteers to go with him. Zayn rolls his eyes and so does Louis, because they are normal human beings with normal human reactions. Liam just looks a bit delighted and says, "Don't get lost," which is ridiculous; this town has quite literally only two streets in it. No one could ever get lost.

Louis starts to say something nasty and catches himself. He's never literally bitten his tongue before, and it hurts.

"Get lost where?" Harry asks.

"Fair point," says Liam, still cheerful, and shrugs.

Louis wants to hit him so badly it hurts. He remembers the slightly broken look on Liam's face before, though, outside, and channels it into ripping up bits of a receipt into tiny pieces and throwing them at Harry's hair. They get lodged nicely in his curls and Harry doesn't even notice.

Liam notices, and looks over at Louis. If he reprimands Louis, Louis decides, that means he's fair game to punch in the throat. Not in a mean way, but honestly, no one could possibly put up with that.

Liam laughs instead. He bites his lip and swallows a giggle down and the look on his face — like Louis is doing something impossibly hilarious, instead of mildly annoying — knocks Louis's breath out.

Louis can't think what to say, so he holds out his handful of tiny paper balls to Liam. Liam laughs silently and his eyes crinkle up. His face asks, Really?, and Louis nods, so Liam takes one and throws it at Harry.

"Not you, too," groans Zayn.

"Heyyyy," Harry says. He's known Louis so long that he immediately looks at Louis with suspicion. Louis's already stuck his hand behind his back, though, and he shrugs innocently. Harry turns to Liam, eyes narrowed, but Liam, as it turns out, is pretty brilliant at looking innocent and guileless. "I know you're up to something," Harry says. "Both of you."

"Come on; I'm starving," Niall complains, tugging on Harry's hand. Harry gives Louis another dark look but he goes along with Niall. Louis throws another paper ball as soon as Harry's head is turned.

As the door shuts, Liam bursts into laughter. "That was wicked," he says, grinning at Louis.

Louis's heart swoops and flutters and explodes and then settles back down again. "That was nothing," says Louis. "Once I locked Harry out of his house in his pants."

Liam laughs harder than Louis deserves.

Zayn looks at Liam, and then at Louis, and then back to Liam. "I don't think I like this," he says.

"I'm corrupting Liam," Louis explains, and Liam shakes his head as if he thinks Louis's just kidding.

Niall and Harry end up sharing one bed, and Louis takes the other. "I'm not sleeping on the floor," says Louis loudly.

"S'okay; I will," Liam offers.

"No," says Zayn. "Absolutely not. Louis kicks. I'm not sharing with him again."

"We can both sleep on the floor," Liam says, looking a bit concerned.

Obviously Zayn refuses to allow that and shoves Liam onto Louis's bed. Louis doesn't think he's imagining the slightly evil look in Zayn's eyes as he does it.

"I don't mind if you kick," says Liam kindly.

Of course he doesn't, and it makes Louis want to kick him, but Louis is going to be nice to Liam, damn it, so Louis says, "Zayn's a baby and a whiner and you shouldn't believe a thing he says."

"Shut up," says Zayn, and starts texting like mad on his phone.

They've had a lot of beer and it's late and Louis could honestly drop straight off to sleep, except he's trying to roll over and make room for Liam on a bed that isn't really designed for two full-sized teenaged lads. Harry and Niall have settled straight into cuddling but Louis isn't really braced for the idea of being pressed up against Liam all night. Not now that he's not allowed to kiss him and then potentially punch him, at least.

Zayn flips the lights off, although his mobile is bright enough to illuminate the entire floor. Louis lies on his back and tries to breathe naturally, instead of noticing how warm Liam is.

Liam whispers, "I can sleep on the floor, honestly—"

"Shut up," says Louis. "No. It's fine."

"Shut up, both of you," Niall says.

Liam makes a funny little noise like he's going to roll out of bed anyway. Louis reaches over and grabs his hand. "Just stay; it's fine," Louis says, dropping his voice to a whisper.

Liam squeezes his hand and doesn't say anything.

Louis isn't going to sleep at all tonight.

Liam drops off fairly quickly, and Louis can hear Harry's breathing change when he starts making tiny little snoring noises. Then Louis hears Niall moving around a bit until he's shoved Harry over and Harry stops snoring again. The light on Zayn's mobile stays on for what feels like forever, and by the time he turns that off, Louis can hear Zayn's breathing, and Niall's breathing, all slowing down into sleep.

Louis is so wide awake he could run laps around the town.

Liam showered earlier, but he smells distinctly like a boy in a way that Louis couldn't explain, even if he tried. It's partially that keeping him wide awake, and partially that Liam has rolled in a bit, so that bits of him are pressed up against bits of Louis, and Louis's hand is awfully close to Liam's bare stomach. Louis's hand keeps trying, without his permission, to rub itself back and forth across Liam's stomach to see how hard those muscles really are. But obviously Louis can not allow his hand to do that, so he clenches it into a fist and stares at the ceiling instead. Meanwhile, every time Liam exhales, Louis can feel the rush of breath across his shoulder.

For a while, Louis entertains a fantasy where he rolls on top of Liam and kisses him before Liam can wake up everyone in the room, and then Louis sticks his hand down Liam's shorts and wanks him, and then Liam uses his ridiculous mouth to suck Louis off. No one else in the room wakes up during this fantasy, so Louis still has plausible deniability in the morning.

Thinking about that just makes Louis's dick ache, and he can't do anything about it in a room full of other lads. Particularly not in a bed with Liam. He shifts his hips a little, trying to find a more comfortable way to lie, and Liam mumbles in his sleep and rolls in closer, snuggling up against Louis's side.

Oh, of course Liam is a snuggler, Louis thinks despairingly. He tries pushing Liam away a little bit, but Liam is basically a solid rock of a boy, and can't be moved without serious effort. So Louis resigns himself instead to being curled up with a boy he'd very much like to fuck around with, but instead has just agreed to stop kissing.

Louis doesn't move on purpose, but he must have disturbed Liam when he tried to roll away, because Liam mumbles, "Sorry," without opening his eyes. He sighs like he's going to roll away and then, instead of that, his breath gets slow and even again.

Louis stares at the ceiling. It's a very long night.

In the morning Niall teases Harry about snoring, and Harry jumps on him, and Zayn rolls his eyes at both of them. Louis feels awkward about having slept with Liam when he would actually like to have slept with Liam, and so he avoids him.

Except it's hard to avoid Liam when it's only the five of them, and when Liam is being so generally cheerful and loud and ridiculous despite how early it is. Louis feels a bit hungover. He did have a lot of tequila, it's true, but his head throbs with a funny kind of ache that he blames entirely on Liam.

But he is still mostly trying to be nice to Liam. They get coffee in the morning on their way to the car, and Liam has one with entirely too much sugar in it and then bounces around all over the place. "Calm down, it's so early," says Louis irritably. Liam's face falls for a moment, so Louis turns and yanks on one of Harry's curls.

"Hey," says Harry.

Niall shouts, "We'll fight you! We'll take you all on!"

"Come on, then," says Louis. Niall, mostly jokingly, jumps at him, and Liam jumps on him, and a minute later Niall is lying on the ground, laughing, as Liam pretends to punch him. (Because Liam knows how to box, Louis's brain reminds him. Because people have been mean to him, but he's hardly ever mean to anyone.) "My hero," Louis says. Liam turns and grins up at him. It is really a very nice grin. It makes Louis feel hot inside and also absolutely furious with himself.

They get back to camp and obviously Louis's cabin has missed him terribly. Aiden, who's been with them the last twenty-four hours, says, "Oh, thank god," and then runs off.

Louis holds his arms out and gets nearly trampled by boys who want a hug. It's lovely. "You're a bit less of a camp counselor and a bit more cult leader," says Zayn.

"Exactly," says Louis. He's quite proud of how much his cabin loves him.

Danny hangs back from everyone else, looking a little shy. "I'm almost done with my book," he says, when Louis has shooed everyone else down toward swimming lessons.

"Wouldn't you rather swim?" Louis asks hopefully.

Danny screws up his face at the very idea.

Louis wraps his arm around Danny's shoulder and sighs. "You know, kids used to pick on Liam," Louis says, just trying it out.

"I know. He told me," says Danny.

"But he still learnt to swim," Louis says. That's not really the takeaway moral, but it'll do for now.

"I'd go, if it were just Liam," Danny says.

Louis sighs. "Everyone likes Liam, eh?"

"Sure," says Danny. "Can I sit under the tree and read my book?"

Louis doesn't want Danny to constantly be alone, but he doesn't know that forcing him to play with everyone else will help, either. "What if you stood on the dock and helped Liam coach people?"

"Maaaaybe," says Danny. "Do you think he'd want help?"

"I'm sure of it," says Louis.

Liam, predictably, is thrilled. "Of course you can," he says. "You look that way while I look this way and tell me if anyone's drowned."

"What if I want someone to drown?" Danny mutters to himself.

"La la la, I can't hear you," says Louis loudly.

Liam looks a bit concerned. "If you're going to help me, you must pay very close attention to everyone," he says seriously, as if Danny is really going to be in charge of saving lives.

Louis's tired from not sleeping all night, and feeling a bit wound up. "Make you a deal," he says. "You get to pick two boys to drown, but you have to keep an eye on everyone else."

"No," says Liam.

"It's only two!" Louis whines.

Danny laughs. It's maybe the first time Louis's heard him laugh all summer. "That's dumb."

"Louis is only being silly," Liam says, giving Louis a stern look. "If there's anyone you wish you could drown, just tell me, and we'll get them later with water guns."

Louis perks up. "Have you got water guns?"

Liam grins at him. "You'll find out."

"Okay, okay, fine," says Danny, and Liam leads him out down the dock. Danny spends the entirety of the swimming lesson sitting on the edge with his feet dangling in the water and occasionally saying, "I think Joey is trying to drown Michael," in a half-hearted way. It's the closest he's got to actually swimming, though.

At the end, when Louis starts herding all the boys back up the hill to change and dry off for lunch, Liam comes running up behind him. He bumps Louis with his shoulder. "That was brilliant," he says.

He looks like he really thinks Louis is the most amazing person alive. Louis swallows down his urge to throw himself at Liam. "Danny's still not got any friends, and he didn't swim," says Louis, shrugging.

"You made him feel important," Liam says. His eyes genuinely shine when he's sincere. Louis can't look directly at him.

"Well, I..." Louis says. "I am really rather amazing," he says, because he always knows how to be a bit of a jerk when he can't be entirely sincere.

"You are," Liam says, shaking his head. "I'll see you around later, yeah?"

"Yeah, I..." Louis starts, but before he can finish Liam jogs off to greet the next cabin for swimming lessons.

--

Louis hears Danny giggling before he comes around the corner of the cabin, and then Louis gets a face full of water. Louis splutters for a minute, holding his hands up uselessly to try and stop the spray, but it just keeps coming, and then, just as it dies out, another stream of water hits him from the side. "Stop!" Louis shouts, "I surrender, stop!"

The water stops. When Louis blinks all the water out of his eyes, Danny is holding an enormous neon yellow water gun and laughing like crazy. Just behind him, with a comically smaller gun, is Liam, grinning.

"I got you!" Danny yells. "Ha ha!"

"What happened?" one of the other boys yells, and a whole bunch of them come running out of the cabin. They look at Louis, soaked and spluttering, and then at Danny, who is holding what must be the largest water gun at camp. "Can I hold it?" Michael asks, eyes huge.

"I told Danny he can play with it tonight; you can have it tomorrow, maybe," says Liam.

"Danny, come play with us!" shouts Joey immediately, and then, "No, come play with me!" yells Adam. Danny gives Liam a dubious look, but Liam gives him a shove into the middle of the crowd of boys clamoring to see how far the gun can really shoot, and will it shoot kool-aid, and can he shoot Louis again while they watch, please, please?

When the boys have gone down the hill to refill the gun in the lake, Louis rather dramatically wrings water out of his shirt. "I will consider forgiving you," Louis says carefully, "if you give me that water gun for a minute."

"Yeah, of course," says Liam.

And then, like a moron, he hands Louis the gun. Louis ought to feel bad about how easy that was, but he doesn't. He just turns the water gun on Liam and shoots him straight in the face.

"Hey!" Liam shouts, as if this is a surprise somehow. He ducks away and Louis chases him, trainers squelching because they filled up with water earlier. Liam's laughing and trying to bat the gun out of Louis's hands and Louis laughs at him because he's so ridiculous. "Okay, we're both soaked, stop!" Liam yells, but Louis shoots him again, just because he can. Liam runs behind a tree and Louis chases him, even though the gun is running out of water. "You're cheating; I didn't shoot you this much!" Liam protests.

"Why on earth did you give me the gun?" Louis asks, exasperated.

"I don't know; because you asked me to," Liam says, and he trips over a root and falls on his arse. Louis's wet trainers skid out from underneath him on the fallen leaves and he lands on top of Liam, who makes a startled 'oof' noise.

This is precisely what Louis had planned not to do. Liam's t-shirt is wet and clinging to all of his horrible muscles, and also transparent because it was white to begin with. And now they're both damp and pressed together. Louis shakes wet hair out of his eyes and gets water in Liam's face.

"You should never give me a weapon. You must be new," says Louis, and then reaches down to tweak Liam's nipple, because he can. (He is being nice to Liam. He is. It's not his fault the cold and wet have made Liam's nipples perk up like that, and Louis is only human.)

"You keep telling me I'm new," Liam agrees, grabbing Louis's hand. He doesn't let go, though, so Louis has to put his knees down to balance and then he's sitting on Liam's hips, and oh god; they've been here before.

"Let go of my hand," Louis says, voice falling.

"You just told me not to do whatever you tell me," Liam argues. "And if I let go, you'll just pinch me again."

Louis can't stand being told what he's going to do, not when Liam's right. He grabs for Liam's nipple with his other hand and Liam catches that one, too. Liam's hands are so big. Louis just wants to smooth Liam's wet t-shirt out over his chest and admire the way it goes up and down when he breathes, how wide the span of his shoulders is.

Louis can hear the boys shrieking, not that far away. They're barely out of sight of the middler cabins. This isn't a proper forest; it's just a few trees the camp didn't bother knocking down. "Let go, I promised I'd be nice," Louis says, trying to tug his wrists free.

Liam doesn't let go. "And then you shot me with a water gun."

"You shot me first!"

Liam grins. "Yeah," he says. "I suppose I did."

Louis feels a bit light headed. He tugs at his wrists again but Liam just tugs back, until Louis pitches forward and can't catch himself. Both of his fists are pressed against his chest and Liam's holding him up. Louis's stomach is trembling with the effort of keeping himself up, although Liam doesn't seem to be working hard at all, and all Louis really wants to do is collapse on top of Liam. Liam is smiling that wretched smile of his, eyes all crinkled up and nose wrinkling, and his horribly kissable mouth is only a couple of inches away from Louis's.

"I was trying to be nice," Louis says again, resolution crumbling. He's going to have red marks on his wrists where Liam's holding them. It feels like Liam is burning some kind of permanent mark into his skin.

Liam's voice has dropped. "I said I liked you, not that I wanted you to be nice."

Louis's heart pounds straight out of his ears and everything goes white and static for a minute. Then Liam laughs and pretends to bite at Louis's hand, nipping at one of his fingers. Louis tries to suck in a shocked breath but his chest isn't working right, and then Liam shoves him up and off and rolls to his feet in a fluid movement that's really unfair. "I think you broke my water gun," Liam complains, stooping to pick it up. "I wanted to go and shoot Zayn. He'll hate that."

"I want to shoot Harry," says Louis automatically, unthinkingly. He's shut his brain entirely off for the purposes of self-preservation.

Liam grins conspiratorially. "I've got another water gun. Shall we go and soak everyone else?"

Louis climbs to his feet. His shorts are sticking to his legs and his t-shirt is clammy. "Is it a big gun?" he asks hopefully. "Can I be in charge? I have a plan for sneaking up on them. Every time Niall and Harry are disgusting about each other, we can shoot them. And Zayn. Aim for the hair." He waggles his eyebrows and Liam laughs and Louis feels a bit ill with how badly he wants Liam to look at him that way always.

Harry and Louis are lying on the grass by the football pitch while both middler cabins go racing past each other, shouting and not playing any recognizable form of football. Really Harry should be coaching them, but it's sunny and hot out, and the boys don't care much about rules anyway.

"But," says Harry, in his infuriatingly slow drawl, "why don't you just fuck Liam and get it over with?"

"Why don't you just fuck Niall?" Louis says irritably. "Wait, hang on; who said I want to fuck Liam?"

Harry laughs. "Seriously?"

Louis splutters for a minute. "Fine," he says. "Anyway, he sort of yelled at me for being mean to him, so I'm trying to be nice, which sadly doesn't include fucking him and getting it over with."

"He's always yelling at you; you never usually listen," Harry says.

Louis doesn't feel like explaining to Harry about Liam's face, and how devastating it can be. "This isn't something stupid, like following the rules," says Louis instead.

"Ah," says Harry. "This is serious."

"Fuck off, it is!" Louis says.

Harry shouts lazily at a boy running by and blatantly cheating. Then he turns to Louis. "You stare at him all the time. You touch him all the time. I'd swear you were fucking, except you could never keep your mouth shut if you were. So why don't you just say, 'Hey, Liam, fancy a shag?' If he says no I'll give you a million pounds."

"No," says Louis. If his cheeks are turning red then that's because he's been lying out in the sun for an hour.

"Okay, dare him to suck your cock," says Harry. "He can't resist a dare."

"Niall's always daring you to lick things," says Louis sourly. "Why don't you lick his?"

"He hasn't asked me to," says Harry wistfully. "I wish he would."

"Harry, your mouth ought to be illegal on two continents," says Louis. "Stop dicking about and kiss him."

"I know, but..." Harry whines. Louis reaches over and pinches him, hard. "Ow! You're mean."

"Yes, that's what Liam thinks, too."

"He doesn't, really," says Harry, rubbing the spot where Louis pinched him. "He's always saying how funny you are."

Louis doesn't smirk at that. Okay, maybe he smirks a little. "Does he?"

"Funny looking," says Harry, and then giggles outrageously.

Niall comes jogging up the hill to collect his campers. He's got a snapback on backwards and a t-shirt for an American football team, and he looks like a proper American college student. Harry's eyes go all soft. Louis would make fun of him, but he has a horrible suspicion he looks a lot like that whenever Liam jogs by.

"Stop dicking around and tell him you liiiiike him," Louis sing-songs. Harry slaps at him without looking away from Niall.

"Hiya," says Niall cheerfully. "My campers have a prank planned for you, Louis Tomlinson. Look out!"

"We have a prank planned for you," says Louis. They don't, but if worse comes to worst, Louis's cabin can always shoot Niall's cabin with Liam's water guns or something.

"Harry, you're on our team, aren't you?" Niall asks.

Louis would expect some kind of hesitation after half a decade of friendship, but Harry says, "Of course!" as prompt as anything.

"Traitor!" says Louis.

"You've got Liam, haven't you?" Harry asks, batting his eyes innocently.

"Not like he wishes he did," says Niall, and starts cackling.

"Shut up! Shut up, both of you," says Louis. He gets to his feet and brushes a load of imaginary grass off his shorts. "Come on, lads, back to the cabin! It's nap time." His campers, who had been losing rather badly, cheer.

"Watch your back!" Niall warns him cheerfully. "I've already got Zayn planning a prank on you, too!"

"He'll get his," says Louis. "You'll all get it! You'll be sorry you messed with us! Right, boys?" He tries an evil cackle and it half works. The campers look a bit confused. Harry bursts into giggles and buries his face in Niall's neck. "Well, anyway, watch out," says Louis, and goes down the hill, planning mayhem.

Zayn has helped Niall's cabin make a giant poster of Louis farting. Louis's cabin thinks it's hilarious and also swears revenge and begins planning all kinds of illogical things, like dressing as bears to startle Niall's cabin into crapping themselves. Louis lets them plan any stupid thing they want; he plans to get revenge on Zayn all on his own.

He talks Liam into helping him for absolutely no selfish reasons at all.

"He'll kill us for going in the arts cabin without him," says Liam a bit gleefully. Everyone else is watching a movie in the dining hall, so all they had to do was steal Zayn's key. It wasn't hard; Zayn doesn't exactly care very much about locking up all the Tempera paint.

"So what I think we should do is make a giant mess," says Louis, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. There are giant plastic bottles of paint powder everywhere, and neatly organized brushes, and giant rolls of paper.

"Just trash the place?" Liam asks. "That seems a bit mean."

"No, like..." Louis huffs impatiently. Then he picks up a paintbrush that's been left sitting in a bowl of orange paint and flicks it at Liam. It makes a drippy stripe across his camp t-shirt. "Whoops," says Louis insincerely.

For a minute, he thinks Liam will be cross; it's hard to tell what'll set Liam off about the rules sometimes. But then Liam laughs and picks up a bowl of purple paint and chucks the whole thing at Louis. Louis is a second too late turning, and his entire front ends up purple. "Fuck!" he shouts, and starts grabbing for things to throw at Liam.

It's a full-scale paint assault. Louis pours a jug of powdered red paint down the back of Liam's t-shirt and Liam tips a bowl of watery green paint down Louis's legs. Liam's laughing so hard he can barely aim, which is okay, because so is Louis. They are definitely trashing the art cabin; the floor is already slippery with paint and water and all the papers they've scattered everywhere as they chase each other around the tables.

"Crap, ugh, I'm all sticky," Liam complains, flapping the bottom of his shirt around so paint powder spills out.

"Just take it off," Louis suggests, and then when Liam does, Louis sticks his hand in a bowl of red paint and reaches over. He makes a perfect red handprint in the middle of Liam's chest.

Liam stops laughing.

Louis forgets to pull his hand away.

Liam's chest is just barely moving up and down underneath Louis's palm. He's so warm. Liam's staring at Louis, mouth open a little bit, cheeks pink from when they were chasing each other around, and suddenly the whole cabin feels too small and too crowded. Louis pulls his hand back. Liam doesn't move.

Deliberately, just because he can, Louis puts his hand back in the paint. Liam's watching him like Louis's unraveling mysteries instead of just being messy. Louis reaches out slowly, holding his breath in case Liam moves away, but he doesn't; he just stands there breathing raggedly, even when Louis puts his fingers on Liam's chest. Even when Louis slides his hand down, making five uneven red stripes down Liam's stomach, catching on the muscles there.

Louis's hand gets as far as the top of Liam's jeans and then he doesn't know what else to do, but Liam catches his wrist anyway. "Louis," he says quietly.

"You should stop me," says Louis, for something to say. "Why don't you ever stop me? I'd stop if you told me to."

Liam tightens his fingers around Louis's arm and pulls him in, and then they're kissing. It isn't angry this time, but it's still just on the edge of desperate. There's a bitter trace of paint on Liam's mouth, all over the softness of his lower lip. He pulls Louis in so he's standing between Liam's legs. Louis has to tilt his face up toward Liam's, pulling down on Liam's hands to pull himself up onto his toes, pressing himself up against Liam even though the paint is rubbing off Liam's chest and getting all over Louis's shirt.

Louis feels like he's on fire. All of him is burning, especially all the places he can feel Liam's skin. He sucks on Liam's lower lip until Liam groans and tightens his fingers. Louis might be trying to goad Liam into leaving bruises. Liam's mouth gets harder, pressing against Louis's like he's trying to shut Louis up, but Louis isn't saying anything; then he realizes he's been moaning this whole time, pressing his hips against Liam's.

Liam's breath is labored when he pulls back. "You aren't cross with me, this time?" he asks, sounding like he's only half kidding.

"If I don't get my mouth on your dick pretty soon, I think I'm going to die," Louis blurts. His lips already feel raw and his heart's thumps have all run together into one loud bass noise in his ears.

Liam's hands clench around Louis's wrists and then go lax; his mouth has fallen open a little. There's purple paint from Louis's face that's rubbed off on Liam's chin. Liam makes a choked little noise and doesn't say anything.

"I'm taking that as a yes," Louis says, trying to keep his voice steady. It shakes. His knees feel shaky, too, and his stomach is flipping over and over. "Okay?" He sinks to his knees slowly, looking at Liam's eyes the whole time. Liam looks a little unfocused, and his lower lip is red and bitten looking, begging to be bitten again.

Louis tugs his hands free from Liam's. Liam's left green paint marks on Louis's wrists, and under that, his skin is red and raw. Louis undoes the flies on Liam's jeans and his fingertips leave red marks on the buttons and the zip. He wants to put more paint on his hands, so when he grabs Liam's hips he'll leave handprints there; painted fingers that'll stay on Liam's skin tomorrow when he's wearing his swimming trunks too low, and everyone in camp will know Louis touched him there.

Louis is achingly hard in his shorts before he dips his hands in some of the blue paint that they spilled all over the floor. He leaves smeary tracks down Liam's hips when he pulls Liam's boxers down, and heavy blue prints when he puts his fingers on the v where Liam's torso meets his hips. He pushes Liam back against Zayn's wooden art table and presses blue paint-covered fingers into the soft skin of Liam's stomach.

Liam's got a proper golden, fuzzy treasure trail down his stomach and Louis licks it. The paint is sour but Liam tastes like sweat and summer and sunshine. His cock, when Louis frees it from his briefs, is already red and heavy and large; Louis can't quite hide a pleased noise. Everything about Liam is big, just like it ought to be.

"Your knees'll get paint on them," Liam says inanely, and then colors red when Louis looks up in absolute disbelief.

"Yeah," says Louis. "Too bad I can't get paint all over my mouth, eh?"

"Lipstick," says Liam, but he's too far gone with blushing and clenching his hands on the edge of the table and taking shallow, desperate breaths to say much more than that.

Lipstick's an idea; not one Louis's had before but not one he minds. "Maybe later," he says, and slides his blue hands up Liam's legs, leaving thumbprints on the inside of Liam's thighs.

His fingers leave a circle around the base of Liam's cock while his tongue makes invisible stripes along the underside of it. Liam gasps and tries to hold his hips still like a gentleman. Louis digs the fingers of his other hand into Liam's skin; a blue line across his hip, four little blue indents across the back of his hip, a dark blue mark that may purple into a bruise on the crease where his thigh meets his torso.

"Oh my god," says Liam, pushing his hips forward helplessly. One of his hands is pressed back against the table but the other one ends up on top of Louis's, Liam's green painted fingers leaving marks on top of Louis's blue ones. There's no challenge in getting Liam off, he was hard before they started, but Louis still feels proud of himself when Liam comes because he tips his head back so beautifully. His chest is flushed under the streaks of paint, and the noise he makes is almost like a prayer.

If Louis had come in his shorts without even touching himself, he wouldn't be that embarrassed; he's wanted to get his hands (his mouth) on Liam's cock since practically the first time he saw him, and he likes sucking dick. But it's not quite enough, and while Liam's still shaking and trying to work out how to breathe and lower himself to the floor without falling, Louis shoves his own shorts and Y-fronts down. A couple of hard strokes while looking at Liam, all fucked-out and pink-cheeked and covered in paint that Louis decorated him with is all it takes, and then Louis sees white (and blue, and green, and purple, and red) and gets that blissful too-light too-hot too-cold feeling all over until it leaves him drained and as content to be still as he ever can be.

Louis pitches forward and ends up on Liam, who catches him with his enormous hands, but Liam's a bit wobbly, too, and they both end up on the floor. They've done a proper job ruining Zayn's art cabin; everything is spilled and splashed and messy. Particularly Louis's hand, which has come on it along with three different colors of paint, now.

They're lying in paint, Louis realizes eventually. Liam's entire back is going to be smeared and streaked in red and purple and green and blue and white. Louis dips his hand in one of the spills and leaves a messy rainbow of fingerprints across Liam's stomach and up his chest. He wants to leave one perfect handprint on Liam's arse, but he can't work out how to wiggle his hand down there.

"It'll all wash off," says Liam quietly.

"Then I'll mark you up again later," says Louis. Liam laughs, chest rumbling under Louis's ear. Louis leans over and sucks hard on Liam's collarbone, until he's sure there'll be a bright red mark. Then he runs his tongue over the same spot again and again until Liam shudders and digs his fingers into Louis's side.

A long silence after sex isn't always comfortable, and Louis feels a bit guilty about this one. But it seemed to be what Liam wanted, and it's certainly what Louis wants. He hopes Liam'll say something irritatingly sweet and Louis can feel normal about him again. At the moment it feels a bit like Liam's crawled inside Louis's chest and exploded it open, and every nerve is raw and exposed.

What Liam says, eventually, is, "I owe Zayn ten quid."

"What?" says Louis, craning his neck up to look at Liam. "We ruined way more paint than that, mate."

"No, for…" Somewhere underneath a stripe of purple on his cheek, Liam's blushing again. "He bet me… I mean… Anyway, he won the bet."

Louis pushes himself up on one elbow. "Did Zayn bet I'd suck your cock?" he asks curiously.

"He um, he said you wanted to, and I said that was ridiculous, and… Anyway, he's probably going to be a total prick about this."

"I did want to," Louis says thoughtfully. "But I mean, I also wanted to punch you in the face. I'm very complicated."

"Yes," says Liam. "I'm trying to work that out. I don't know how you… I mean, I'm usually quite sensible about things, and… This isn't like me at all, actually."

Louis's heart dips a little. "Regretting it already?" he asks lightly. It was a lot easier when he was hate-kissing Liam, he thinks to himself. When Louis stomped off it didn't leave him feel quite so trampled.

"Oh, no," says Liam, so sincerely that Louis could punch him, or kiss him, or something all over again. "No, I'm just… I'm concerned you might be a witch. Or a wizard, or something."

"I'll be one of those French girls at Hogwarts," says Louis with great satisfaction. "The ones everyone wants to fuck."

"It's a children's book!" Liam protests, but Louis catches his eye, and Liam looks away and blushes again. "Fine," says Liam. "You're one of them."

Louis dips his fingers in more spilled paint and draws little circles on Liam's stomach. Louis wants to outline every muscle there in a different color. He certainly doesn’t look up at Liam when he says, "Everyone wants to fuck me, but only you get to. This summer, at least. How about that?"

There is another silence. Louis feels a bit like he wants to die.

"I'd quite like that," says Liam softly. He catches Louis's hand and wraps their fingers together, both of them getting paint all over each other, until there's barely any untouched skin left.

"Well, good," says Louis, biting his lip. He's trying not to grin, and he still hasn't looked up at Liam. "I was only asking out of politeness, anyway. It wasn't really a question."

"Oh, shut up," says Liam. He yanks on Louis's arm and drags him up into a messy, hard kiss, and Louis laughs and crawls on top of him. In the end Louis's the one with paint handprints on his arse, and Liam looks awfully smug about it.

Harry is immediately suspicious. "You look weird," he says, frowning at Louis.

"What, like, covered in paint?" Louis asks.

"No," says Harry, narrowing his eyes, but then Zayn shouts, "What have you two muppets done?" and that distracts everyone for a while. Liam is adorably apologetic, but Zayn's not really cross with him anyway; it's Louis that Zayn keeps glaring at while he waves his arms and hollers.

"What did you do, roll around in the paint?" Niall asks, impressed. They really have ruined Zayn's art cabin. Luckily the place was mostly covered in paint before they began; generations of pre-teen boys had already got paint on every possible surface just for fun.

"Er," says Liam, and if he weren't covered in paint already everyone would be able to see that he's blushing. Louis looks at the red flush that creeps up under Liam's collar and feels very proud of himself.

"I'm going to have to tell Simon why I need a hundred dollars worth of new paint," Zayn says. "You two arseholes are going to get me in trouble."

"I'll tell Simon," Liam promises. "Don't worry about it. We just got a bit carried away." No one can see, but under the table Liam reaches back and brushes his fingers across Louis's hand. Louis gives his hand a little squeeze in return and tries not to look too proud of himself.

"Well, you'd better," Zayn says grumpily. "If you two could stop fighting for five minutes you might have just messed the place up instead of trying to cover each other in paint."

"Yeah," says Louis. "It's really a shame me and Liam can't get along at all. I just can't stand him."

"You can't stand me," Liam snorts, and Louis pokes him in the side.

Harry crosses his arms suspiciously. "I think you two were rolling around in the paint, and I think—" he begins, but Louis distracts him by flicking paint at Niall, and then Harry has to defend Niall, and everyone ends up rather more covered in paint. Except Zayn, who appears to have some sort of magical paint-repelling super power.

It isn't that Louis intends to keep Liam a secret, exactly. Except he doesn't want Harry to have the joy of having been right all along, and he doesn't want Zayn to be smug about his bet with Liam, and he doesn't want to explain that all those times he tried to murder Liam it was mostly because he wanted to kiss him. And he feels a bit guilty; Harry's been pining for Niall since they got to camp, but Louis's gone ahead and got Liam naked already. He feels slightly like he owes Harry an apology for that.

So it isn't deliberate, but Louis doesn't say anything, and Liam gives him a curious look but doesn't say anything, either. Louis moves a little too close and gives Liam a flirty look under his lashes, and whispers, "Don't pay up to Zayn."

Liam looks startled and starts to laugh but catches himself when everyone else looks over. And eventually Liam has to go off and supervise water skiing lessons. Louis would love to see how he's going to explain all the paint marks he's got under his t-shirt, but he stays to help Zayn tidy instead. Then it's dinner time, and he hasn't said anything, and then it's time for putting his cabin to bed, and he still hasn't said anything. Harry forgets to be suspicious because Niall invites him round to his cabin for guitar playing and songs before bed, and Louis decides it's not worth trying to explain anyway.

Louis decides to be good about the whole thing, so for two whole days he doesn't drag Liam off behind the shed, or try and convince him they should go and get off in a camp cupboard somewhere. Liam, for his part, gives Louis these funny, wary looks whenever Louis is around, and especially when Louis behaves himself.

"I can keep my hands to myself, you know," Louis mutters in Liam's ear while the boys all swim.

"Huh," says Liam mildly. "So that's what you're doing?" Louis elbows him in the back and almost knocks him off the dock, and Liam laughs.

That's pretty much all Louis can stand. Liam shirtless and laughing and standing around in the sun, with it turning his curls gold and red – it's not fair and Louis has got permission to touch now, so he wants to. "Later," he says, and Liam raises his eyebrows, but doesn't stop trying to coach Adam through how to do the breaststroke.

Louis has never been so excited for his cabin to have dinner and go to bed. Liam sits with Niall's cabin – Liam is a traitor – and Louis throws peas at him all through dinner. The first couple of times Liam huffs and doesn't turn around, but Louis is very patient when he's feeling obnoxious, and by the fourth volley Liam turns around, frowning, and throws some carrots back at him.

"Breaking the rules!" Louis shouts gleefully, and then gets his cabin to turn and shower Niall's cabin with vegetables and set off a proper food fight.

Later, by the docks, when all the kids are in bed, Liam presses Louis back against the boat shed and says disapprovingly, "You always cause such a mess."

"I suppose I do," says Louis, both hands on Liam's arse, pulling him in closer. "I like a mess."

Liam sound disapproving, but he's kissing Louis's neck gently, so none of his disapproval has any sting. "You're meant to set an example for the children."

"I am," says Louis. "I'm showing them how to be a proper child."

Liam laughs and hides his face against Louis's neck. Louis digs his fingers in and wishes Liam didn’t wear such sensible khaki shorts covered in pockets, because they're going to be difficult to get off him quickly.

"It's a shame we haven't got a real bed, or a real cabin anywhere," Liam says.

Louis's been thinking about this. His bed is in a cabin full of children, which means it's off-limits for having sex. Liam's bed is in a cabin full of other counselors, like Zayn, which makes it less than ideal. There's the nurse's cabin, which is empty unless kids are ill, but the nurse lives up there and would definitely hear them. "Next day off," Louis says. "We ditch everyone and go back to the hotel and wreck it."

"You're willing to wait?" Liam asks doubtfully.

"No," Louis scoffs. "I didn't say that. That's just the next time we'll have a bed. Meantime, what's wrong with the dock?"

"We'll roll off it," says Liam promptly.

Louis pinches him. "You have no spirit of adventure. What's wrong with having sex in the lake, then?"

"It's cold," says Liam. "And there are fish. And—"

"You're just being contrary, now," Louis says.

Liam grins at him. "Isn't that what gets you off?" he asks.

"When did you get so cheeky?" Louis says incredulously. Liam shrugs and bites his lip and fuck, yes, this is definitely what gets Louis off. "Tell me what a bad idea this is," Louis growls.

"Sound carries so clearly at night by the lake," Liam says promptly. "Anyone could walk by. Harry's probably looking for you, and you don't want him to catch you with me."

Louis drags him into a kiss, a lot rougher than he would be with someone else, but Liam seems to enjoy it. Louis bites and pushes and forces Liam to press him back against the wood. Louis is a little obsessed with the way Liam's arms flex and the span of his hands over Louis's torso. But he's especially entranced by the way Liam gets frustrated and forgets to be kind and gentle and just starts taking what he wants. Liam shoves his hips against Louis's and pins him in place; he puts his hand on Louis's jaw and tilts his head up, so kissing is easier. There aren't enough people who'll give Louis what he wants, when what he really wants is to have someone shove him around like this.

Liam gets a little frantic and pushy, fingers pressing into Louis's hips harder than he was before. "You're going to suck me off," Louis says breathlessly. He sucks on Liam's ear for a minute and Liam groans. "It's your turn, yeah?"

"You're so bossy," Liam huffs, but Louis pushes at his shoulders and Liam drops to his knees on the dirt.

"Have you done this before?" Louis asks. "Not that it really matters."

Liam glares up at him. If Louis is in love with Liam's smile then he's in lust with Liam's glare. "I have with girls," Liam says. "You'll be easier than that."

"Hey, I am not easy—" Louis protests, but then Liam undoes the snap on his shorts and actually Louis's completely easy. "It's fine; I'll tell you what to do," says Louis. "First—"

Liam pulls Louis's shorts and underwear down. Louis would expect him to be a bit shy about a penis in his face, even if they have already had sex, but Liam puts his hand quite firmly around the base of Louis's cock. "Yeah, thanks; I've got it."

"It's not as easy as I made it look," Louis says, and why is he being so bitchy, honestly; if Liam got up and left, it would be Louis's own fault. But Louis's mouth goes on without him. "Don't be disappointed if you're not very good at it. Not everyone's as skilled as I am."

"I think you're just trying to talk me into doing this for you a lot," says Liam. He rubs his thumb in little circles around the underside of Louis's cock and Louis forgets to breathe. The pad of Liam's thumb is a little rough and every tiny movement makes Louis's knees go weak. Liam looks up at him, squinting through his eyelashes. The sun has set but the moon is out over the lake, outlining Liam in silver. His mouth looks particularly red and wet and Louis starts to reach out and grab Liam's hair and just drag him closer. He doesn't, though. He isn't that far gone.

Liam looks perfectly calm, but his voice is a little shaky when he asks, "So, is this what you want me to do?" He leans forward and opens his mouth and looks up at Louis, locking their eyes together. Louis's chest goes all seized up. Liam fakes like he's going to take Louis into his mouth and then licks him instead, teasing, dragging his tongue along and rubbing the fingers of his other hand up and down Louis's thigh.

"Fuck," says Louis, banging his head back against the shed. Liam laughs. "Fuck you, I didn't say tease, I said suck," Louis says.

"But teasing is your favorite thing," Liam mocks him quietly. Louis growls at him again and puts his fingers in Liam's hair and tries to tug him forward, but Liam just laughs again.

"Liam, come on," Louis whines. Liam hums and starts kissing Louis along the crease in his thigh, as if he can't tell the cock he's holding is getting heavier and harder and more painful for Louis every minute. "Oh fuck, Liam, please," Louis says, pushing his hips forward.

"Ha," says Liam, smug. He'll pay for that later, Louis promises himself, but then he forgets because Liam takes Louis in his mouth and everything goes a bit fuzzy.

It's not that Liam's got great, practiced technique or anything; Louis can tell this is his first time. There's a little more drool and teeth than Louis would like, but he's enthusiastic and he's loud. Louis doesn't really need technique to get off, anyway; all he has to do is look at Liam's mouth and feel Liam's hands on him. He hasn't got the coordination to warn Liam – or maybe he's just being a bit of a dick about it, it's hard to say – but he comes and Liam chokes a little and pulls off, giving Louis a look that might be a glare.

Maybe. Louis can't tell; his whole body has gone limp and hot, and his knees aren't holding him up very well. I'm going to get splinters in my arse, he wants to tell Liam, but his throat has stopped working, too. Liam might look annoyed but he rubs his hands up and down Louis's thighs like he's worried Louis's got hypothermia.

It takes a minute, but Louis drags his shorts up one-handed so he can let himself collapse onto the dirt and not worry about getting it everywhere. He has got some standards. "You need practice at that," he croaks.

"Ha," says Liam.

Louis shuffles a little closer, wrapping his arms around Liam's neck so he can let Liam hold him up. Liam is so broad and sturdy. Liam wraps his arms loosely around Louis's waist. "That was rubbish," Louis says sleepily. "You should be thanking me for letting you practice on me at all."

"I don't know why I like you," says Liam, letting Louis settle against him.

"I'm so charming," says Louis, and then, "Shhh. I need a minute."

Liam snorts. "I'll just wait for you, shall I?"

Liam's so warm. The night didn't feel cold before, but now Louis can feel a breeze off the lake making him shiver where his shirt's rucked up and his shorts haven't been entirely righted. "Yes," says Louis. He kisses Liam's shoulder, because it's right there under his mouth, and lets his eyes sink shut. Liam makes an impatient noise but he doesn't move, except to tighten his arms around Louis. Louis can feel that Liam's hard, because Louis's got his knee between Liam's legs, but Louis'll take care of that later. Right now he just wants a minute or five to hang on to Liam and breathe.

Louis lies in the grass and watches the boys in his cabin play football. It's sunny and hot, the way the middle of the summer can be, and the heat makes him want to sleep all day. After football, the boys will all go back to the cabin and lie around and complain about how hot it is, until they get to go to the lake for canoeing later. But by then it'll probably rain; there are dark clouds hovering over the trees at the edge of the field.

Halfway through the game Liam comes and sits down next to him. Louis grunts in a hot, tired sort of way. Liam picks up a handful of grass and throws it halfheartedly at Louis. "We should do something about Niall," he says.

Louis squints up at him. "Do something about him? Like murder him?"

"Do something about him and Harry," Liam clarifies. He's sitting cross-legged so his knee is knocking against Louis's side. "It's painful, isn't it? All that giggling and touching and then not doing anything about it."

Louis agrees, but he also sort of wishes Liam would shut up and they could just lie on the grass in the sun and fall asleep and not think about stuff for a while. A fly buzzes by. "Like what?"

"Dunno," says Liam. "Isn't Harry your best mate since, what, since you met at that music festival? Haven't you got any advice?"

"I've tried advice," says Louis. "He doesn't listen, he just whines and pouts."

"Fancy someone not doing every single thing you tell them to," says Liam mildly. Louis flings his hand in the direction of Liam's thigh and hits him pretty solidly.

"Everyone ought to listen to everything I say. Just because it's taken you half the summer to work that out, doesn't mean everyone's as stupid as you."

"Shut up," says Liam without any heat. "Haven't you got any ideas?"

Louis shrugs. "Hey, Harry!" he shouts, without sitting up. Harry, who's running up and down the pitch trying to encourage the boys, comes jogging over. Louis shifts ever so slightly away from Liam.

"Yeah?" he says.

"Any movement forward on the whole Niall thing?" Louis asks.

Harry gets a dopey smile. "No," he says. "Maybe. Why?"

"Maybe?" Louis pushes himself up on his elbows. "Tell me about maybe."

"Nothing," says Harry. "We just sat by the campfire for a while and he played guitar and it was nice."

"Why didn't you lean over and snog him?" Liam asks.

"I keep asking that, too," says Louis.

"Why don't you two shut up and mind your own business?" Harry says. "Why don't you just lean over and—"

Louis kicks Harry in the ankle. He doesn't want to explain that he has already leaned over and kissed Liam. It's a little embarrassing, actually, how dopey he feels about Liam, and he's not going to say so in front of Harry.

There's just a minute of awkward quiet between the three of them and then a camper trips and starts to scream bloody murder behind them. "I'll just go and get Maxwell to the first aid cabin, shall I?" Liam offers. He gets to his feet and jogs away.

"Shouldn't you be doing that?" Louis asks.

Harry shrugs and grins. "How come you haven't faked an injury yet to get Liam to carry you up the hill?"

Liam is, in fact, carrying Maxwell up the pitch with all the other boys following him and shouting about whose turn it is. "We're talking about you and your problems," says Louis. "Shall I just lock you and Niall in a cupboard? You could fake hypothermia and tell him you need to cuddle for warmth. You could pretend to drown."

"Picture this," Harry says. "I pretend to drown. Liam gives me mouth to mouth. You die of jealousy."

Harry is too clever sometimes. Louis glares at him. "Liam would let you drown," he says.

Harry shakes his head, curls bouncing. "No, he wouldn't. Not even for you."

"No," Louis sighs. "He wouldn't. I hate him."

"You hate him for hypothetically saving my life?"

"I hate him for lots of reasons," says Louis grandly. "We're still talking about you and Niall."

"I don't hate him," says Harry wistfully.

"I'll drown you myself," Louis groans, flopping back onto the grass. "You're disgusting. Your face is disgusting, stop it."

Harry nods like that's a thing he can actually do, but then he looks up and his whole face lights up. "Niall's bringing his campers," he says.

Louis puts his arm over his eyes so he won't look directly into Harry's shining face. "Go and jump on him and put your face on his face," Louis advises.

"Shouldn't you go and find your boys up at the nurse's cabin?" Harry asks.

"That's a fair point," says Louis.

"Plus, Liiiiiiam'll be there," Harry sing-songs.

"Have you quite finished?" Louis asks, pretending to be irritated. He gets up, though, and, despite the heat, goes jogging up the hill. There's a bed up in that cabin, if he can find a way to send all the boys back out again.

Harry and Niall chase each other around camp but they don't do anything. Niall puts his hands in Harry's pockets when it gets cold, and Harry brings Niall snacks all day long, and they have some sort of amazing dance-off during dinner one night. But that's it, and no amount of Louis badgering Harry seems to help. Liam's badgering Niall, too, Louis suspects, but he always comes away from dinner with Niall looking frustrated and a little resigned.

As long as Harry and Niall haven't worked things out, Louis feels a little guilty about how much he's fooling around with Liam. Louis goes down to the docks after the campers are in bed to help Liam put away all the boat gear for the day and he ends up in one of the canoes with his hand down Liam's shorts. Liam gets up obscenely early to jog around camp and Louis wakes up to go with him sometimes, because once they're out of earshot of the cabin, he can tackle Liam and leave love bites all over his chest, so Liam has to wear a shirt all day while he's watching the boys swim. Liam gets better at blowjobs, particularly rushed ones when they're worried Zayn'll come and see why Louis borrowed the keys to the arts cabin.

Louis spends a fruitless night with stolen beer trying to get Liam to row them out to the middle of the lake and get drunk with him. "We'll drown," says Liam flatly. "No, it won't be romantic, we'll both be dead." Louis sulks and ignores Liam the next day, to the point that even Zayn asks Louis what Liam's done.

But then, the night after that, Liam comes and cajoles Louis into sneaking out with him, and shows Louis how he's worked out how to climb onto the roof of the dining hall. It's flat up there, and a little breezy, and Liam's brought a blanket and a bottle of tequila he stole from Simon. "You broke the rules?" Louis says, teasing to hide how surprised he is, and Liam grins and shrugs and whispers, "Remember this?" as he sucks salt off Louis's wrist and neck, and then thigh and hip and stomach. They fall asleep on the roof, and in the morning Louis has to pretend he was playing a prank on his cabin and that's why he's already at breakfast before they are.

Harry must have figured it out. He doesn't say anything, but he obviously knows; he raises his eyebrows when Louis throws things at Liam's head and Liam just laughs at him. Harry elbows Louis when he catches Louis staring off into space (at Liam's back) and mutters, "You're drooling." Louis never admits it, but he doesn't really have to, and anyway Harry's happy for him. Louis just doesn't want to lord over Harry what a disgustingly good summer he's having.

Liam's sat on the dock, feet dangling in the water, half-heartedly telling the boys not to splash each other while they swim. Niall's out with him, and his cabin is trying to drown Louis's cabin, but not very seriously because Liam doesn't seem like he's upset about it.

Louis throws himself at both of them, ending up with a knee in Liam's stomach and an elbow nearly smacking Niall in the face. "You're an arse," says Niall, and tries to dump Louis in the lake. Liam grabs Louis's arm before he falls in.

"We've got another day off coming up," says Louis. "Hotel in town again?" He doesn't look at Liam, and he doesn't leer when he says it, because actually he's got plans for making it a Niall-and-Harry sort of holiday this time.

"Sounds good," says Niall. "Oi! Emmanuel! Stop throwing rocks at people!"

"Go and stop him," says Liam, elbowing Niall until Niall jumps into the water to go and deal with rowdy campers.

"You're proper lazy now, aren't you?" Louis says, impressed.

"It's hot," Liam complains. "No one listens when you tell them the rules, anyway."

"I told you that. I told you that first thing," says Louis.

Liam glares at him. "Why have you always got to be such a pain in the arse? Would it kill you to—"

"Yes," says Louis. "I'd die. Do you want me to die, Liam?" He pretends to die with some dramatic flailing around on the dock.

Liam laughs. "You're an idiot."

Louis grins up at him. "Yeah. So this time I say we get two rooms in the hotel, right, and we 'accidentally' put Niall and Harry in one by themselves. If Harry can't take it from there…"

"Honestly, Niall thinks Harry's adorable, he said so," Liam says. "But I can't get him to tell Harry that."

"But if they've got a bed and some privacy…" Louis leers. "And also maybe some sort of script to read from, and a put-bit-A-into-slot-B directions…"

Liam snickers. "Surely Harry knows what goes where. Niall's just a bit weird about stuff. I've known him for ages, since we were both little, and he's never had a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend. Or a… whatever."

"Whatever?" Louis repeats.

"Er," says Liam, not looking at him. "Summer camp fling sort of thing."

Louis considers having hurt feelings that Liam doesn't consider this a proper relationship, but he does have a point; in another couple of weeks they'll be back home in England, and Doncaster isn't exactly next door to Wolverhampton. Although if Louis gets his two Bs and a C he'll be at Manchester Met in the fall, and that isn't very far from there. Anyway, it isn't a fling. Louis's had those. They don't involve so many stupid, messy feelings all over the place, just some alcohol and a quick way to get off.

"Does that mean Niall doesn't want to have sex, do you think?" Louis asks. "Maybe that's the problem. He doesn't like sex."

"I said he hasn't had a boyfriend, not he hasn't had sex," says Liam. His cheeks go a little pink, even under his darkening tan from sitting out on the dock all summer. "There was this one time he was at a party and he texted me, and oh god, there was this picture he sent and I can never unsee it."

"Have you seen Niall's balls?" Louis asks, intrigued.

Liam puts his hands over his face.

"Is the picture still on your phone?" Louis demands, elbowing Liam. "Tell me it is. I want to set it as my background."

"So weird," Liam laugh-groans. "You're so weird."

"We'll get Harry and Niall a room and make Niall show Harry his balls," says Louis. "Maybe we can convince him he's got a rash or something that only Harry can diagnose. Then you and I lock Zayn out and enjoy having a proper bed for once."

"I thought you were getting used to have grass stains on your knees," says Liam. Louis pushes him off the dock.

Louis keeps waiting for Danny to adjust and make friends, but it doesn't happen. He sits alone with a book while everyone else swims and plays football and runs around. Louis isn't sure what to do. If he tries to force Danny to play with everyone else, he'll just make it worse, and drawing attention to Danny seems unkind when the other boys are already picking on him. So mostly Louis ignores it and hopes it'll get better.

Liam, on the other hand, has taken to sitting with Danny and asking him questions about what he's reading. "You don't have to pretend to be so interested," Louis says, lightly mocking.

Liam frowns at him. "I would never pretend."

He really wouldn't, Louis thinks despairingly. It's unfair the way Liam makes Louis's chest ache just by being himself. Louis didn't ask for any of this; he was entirely prepared to dislike Liam, instead of having all these wretchedly fond feelings about the way Liam laughs and the way Liam is endlessly patient with the campers, and the way Liam frowns with confusion before he laughs when Louis teases him.

There are only a couple of weeks left of the summer, and somewhere in among all of Louis's excitement to be home and see his family and Stan and his bedroom and proper showers again is the quiet idea that there's probably a train, or maybe a coach, that will take him from home to Wolverhampton. Or from Manchester Met to Wolverhampton. Just in case.

It isn't so very odd to want to visit Liam.

His mum is going to adore Liam, and so will his sisters. There will probably be a lot of good-natured teasing about how Liam is too good for him, which is sort of true. Louis is funny and goofy and knows how to throw a great party, but Liam is good on some fundamental level Louis can't begin to understand. It makes Louis want to be wretched to him. Maybe some of Liam's decency will rub off on Louis, the way Louis's bad behavior has been rubbing off on Liam.

...the idea of rubbing off on each other just makes Louis need to shift around uncomfortably. He wants to drag Liam off somewhere but Liam's still sitting patiently with Danny while he explains the rules of Quidditch, as if Liam doesn't already know them. Louis is probably deeply depraved for finding that sexy. He blames the way Liam's camp t-shirt strains across his shoulders when he leans over the book.

"You're staring again," Zayn whispers, and Louis jumps a mile.

"I — what – shut up," says Louis, once he's done having a heart attack. "Where did you come from?"

"The arts cabin," says Zayn. "Have you considered not just staring at Liam and telling him you fancy him, instead?"

"No," says Louis. He probably should make some sort of formal declaration of intentions, something beyond "hey, let's fuck." But maybe Liam's got a girlfriend back home, or maybe he's got a serious, adorable family like him, and maybe they wouldn't approve of him coming home with such a ridiculous boyfriend. It's easier to just let things stand the way they are, with no one taking anything seriously and no one getting hurt.

"You're an idiot," says Zayn, and kisses Louis's cheek with a big wet smacking noise. Liam looks up and wrinkles his nose at them both, half-laughing and half-confused. He ought to be used to that sort of thing by now, Louis thinks, and resolves to jump on Liam twice as much.

--

"We aren't locking Zayn out for the night," says Liam primly. It's the hundredth time he's said it, roughly.

"Fine," says Louis. "Then I guess we're having sex in the room with him there, because otherwise there is literally no point to having this hotel room tonight."

The bar is twice as dingy as it was last time they were sat there, and Liam hasn't done any shots, so he isn't draped all over Louis's lap. He gets a lot touchier when he starts drinking, but Louis hasn't been able to goad him into drinking yet. Partially because Liam insists they need to stay relatively sober so they can make sure Niall and Harry end up in a hotel room together, and partially because Liam knows how Louis gets when he's drunk.

"I'm not having sex with you with anyone in the room," Liam says. "I don't know what kind of weird stuff you're into—"

"Hey!" Louis protests.

"—where you want to keep everything a secret and then mess around with people in the room. It's really bizarre."

"Well then, we have to lock Zayn out!" Louis says. "Quid pro quo."

Liam frowns adorably. "Is that what that means?"

"I don't know," says Louis. "Have a drink, Liam, this is a boring conversation."

"You only think it's boring because I'm not agreeing with you," Liam says. Louis pokes him in the side and Liam laughs and tries to look disapproving at the same time. It's so cute that Louis does it again, until Liam catches his hand, and then Louis just leans over the table to poke Liam with his other hand. "Stop it! Are you really going to make me sit here and hold your hands?" Liam asks.

Louis doesn't see what Liam's complaining about. He likes holding hands. "I suppose," he says.

Liam laughs, although Louis wasn't actually joking. He squeezes his fingers around Liam's and Liam squeezes back, and Louis smiles dopily at him for a minute before he realizes he can't actually finish his beer unless he has at least one hand free.

He's seriously considering the virtues of just sticking his face in his pint and trying to drink it face-first, when Niall and Harry come in. They were off buying souvenirs and post cards to send home and they're both giggly and pink-faced and Harry is chewing on the string of Niall's hoodie.

"This has been a good day off so far, right lads?" Louis asks cheerfully. "Someone pour that beer into my face."

Harry doesn't even question it; he just picks up Louis's beer and tips it into his mouth for him. Louis chokes a bit, and gets some beer on his t-shirt.

"So far?" Niall echoes. "Nearly over, isn't it? It's getting late. Where's Zayn?"

"He's off talking to Perrie on the phone," says Liam.

Excellent, Louis thinks. It'll be that much easier to lock him out of the room. He doesn't say that out loud, though, because Liam will only disapprove loudly and make him explain to everyone what's going on. "Give me my hands back," he says, trying to tug them away from Liam.

"You can't be trusted with them," says Liam, and squeezes his wrist instead.

It does things to Louis's stomach, it honestly does. Liam's taller and broader and heavier than Louis, and sometimes it's all Louis can think about, but this isn't an appropriate venue for those particular dirty thoughts. Once they've got a room to themselves with a bed, though, and Zayn is safely locked out… Well. Louis's excited.

Louis just moves himself onto Liam's lap instead, which makes the angle really difficult for Liam, and allows Louis to be super obnoxious and annoying and block Liam from seeing Harry or Niall. The disbelieving way Liam laughs is its own reward. He lets go of Louis's wrists and puts his arms around Louis's waist instead, which is nice, except Louis thinks Liam is sort of doing it because it's instinctual, rather than a deep and burning desire to hold on to Louis all the time. Louis will have to work on that.

"What if we go upstairs?" Louis asks. "Good news, we've got two rooms tonight by mistake!"

"By mistake?" Harry repeats, drawing his brows together dubiously.

"I'm not paying for that," says Niall. "Tell 'em to take it back."

"What," Louis starts to argue. They are the two stupidest people he has ever met.

"It's free," says Liam patiently. "They just happened to have an empty room. And we thought the two of you should have it since you shared a bed last time. Then Niall can bring all the snacks he wants back to the room."

He says it so reasonably, as if this is a real plan rather than a scheme that Louis came up with.

Harry goes rather pink and squeaks a little. Niall nods thoughtfully. "I suppose," he says. "You wouldn't rather have it?"

"I can see Harry any time," says Louis grandly. "I wouldn't give up a night with Zayn. Who knows when I'll see him when I get back?"

"A night with Zayn," Liam says, barely audible but clearly annoyed. Louis elbows him in the stomach; Liam knows perfectly well why Louis said Zayn instead of him. Liam makes a satisfying little oof which he deserves for being such an idiot.

"I mean," says Harry, and bites his lip. Louis has never seen him so flummoxed over trying to pull anyone. Normally he just smiles and uses his sleepy, dopey kitten face to make people think about sex, and then he's got everyone all over him. It works brilliantly on all sorts of people; Louis's seen Harry chat up people twice his age with just a sly grin and a shrug. But for some reason, when it's Niall Harry gets all silly and giggly and bashful like he's forgotten what to do.

"It's a good idea," prompts Liam.

"Yeah, it's a good idea," Louis echoes. "Very fair."

"You two wouldn't rather have the room?" Niall asks this time, eyes narrowed slightly.

"Us?" asks Louis in his most guileless and confused voice. "No. What an odd suggestion." Liam sighs and lets go of him entirely.

Harry is still biting his lip. "It'd be okay, though, wouldn't it?" he asks, not quite looking entirely at Niall.

Niall seems momentarily thrown, apparently by Harry's face. It took him long enough, Louis thinks to himself. "Oh, uh, well," Niall says. "I don't. Uh. I don't mind?" His voice goes a little squeaky on the last word.

"Brilliant," says Liam. "That's sorted, then. Let's go get you the key and Louis and I can go and find Zayn."

"Or not," Louis mutters, and Liam pinches him.

Louis shuts Harry and Niall in to a room and listens at the door for a minute. He doesn't hear a lot of snogging going on but maybe they'll work up to it, and anyway, he feels itchy all over with the need to get naked with Liam while they've got a bed. "Come on," he says, and grabs Liam's hand, dragging him up the stairs to one of the only other rooms in the tiny hotel.

Liam laughs. "But we haven't told Zayn—" and then Louis crowds him against the door and kisses him until Liam stops laughing and grabs Louis's hips instead. Louis probably seems desperate; he feels desperate. His whole body aches with how badly he wants Liam now that he doesn't have to worry about gravel, or grass, or campers walking in on them.

"Maybe in the room," Liam says, panting a little.

"Zayn can get his own goddamn room," Louis says. He tries to open the door while Liam's still pressed up against it and they both nearly tumble into the bedroom. Louis hooks his foot behind Liam's ankle and knocks them both over onto the floor, anyway. "Better!" Louis announces, crawling on top of Liam. Or it will be, as soon as they both get naked. Liam rolls his hips up against Louis and Louis groans and kisses him again.

Louis still feels frantic and desperate but Liam puts his hands on Louis's shoulders and slows them both down so they're kissing properly instead of just trying to swallow each other's tongues. Louis rocks back and forth, getting almost enough rhythm from rubbing against Liam's dick that he might come even though they're both still in their jeans.

"I think you should fuck me," Louis growls in Liam's ear, and Liam freezes up. In a good way, Louis thinks, and then he looks at Liam's face. There's something almost panicked, nearly horrified, in Liam's expression until he blinks it away.

"Er," says Liam, digging his fingers into Louis's arse. "Is that... Really? I don't know if that's a good idea."

Louis sits back on his heels, on top of Liam. "Of course it is!" he says. "What the hell have we got a bed for otherwise?"

"I just," says Liam, going a bit pink. Ah, Louis thinks; Liam's never done that before and he's a bit shy. Louis can coax him into it. "I mean, the summer's nearly over," Liam says. "In a couple of weeks we'll both be back home, and... it'll be different."

"Of course it will," Louis agrees, frowning. He'll have to wait days to get off, it'll be miserable. "All the more reason to do it now."

Liam looks unconvinced, but also gorgeous, and that's close enough for Louis. "But Zayn'll come back soon."

"Not if I lock the door," says Louis, and gets up and does just that.

"That's not nice," Liam chides him, trying not to laugh.

"Not nice is what I'll be if you aren't naked pretty soon," Louis says. It's meant to be a threat but it comes out more like a whine. What on earth has Liam done that Louis's all but begging for it? He's normally quite cool and in charge when he has sex. Maybe it's Liam's shoulders, he thinks, as Liam pulls his shirt off. Most of the boys Louis's rolled around with were skinny. Or maybe it's the dopey, shy look on Liam's face, like he doesn't even realize he could make Louis beg if he wanted to.

"Zayn's gonna be pissed," Liam says. "He'll go and interrupt Niall and Harry."

"Can we worry about stuff in this room right now, please?" Louis says. "Like my cock. Can we worry about that? I'm quite worried about it. Poor thing, it's dying for a shag."

"How sad," Liam agrees gravely, trying not to giggle.

"Your trousers are still on! You're terrible at this," says Louis. "Haven't you learnt anything this summer?"

"I've learnt quite a lot, actually," says Liam, and shakes his head. "You go on and get naked, too, then."

Louis whips his shirt off with speed that would astonish even Harry. "I thought you'd never ask."

Liam laughs and starts undoing the zip on his jeans, and Louis strips down to nothing and then tackles Liam onto the bed. "I'm still--" Liam protests, trying to kick his trousers off, but Louis bites his neck and digs his fingers into all the places that make Liam squirm, because Liam's breathless, helpless giggles are Louis's favorite noise.

And then suddenly Liam rolls on top of Louis and pins him down, hands holding Louis's wrists tight over his head. "You're a brat," says Liam. Was his voice always that low? Louis shivers in spite of himself.

"Are you planning to teach me some manners?" Louis asks, and fights not to let his voice crack. He could get free of Liam's hands if he wanted to. Liam isn't putting his whole weight on Louis, and Louis fights dirty. But he doesn't really want to. The weight of Liam pressing him down in to the mattress has got his cock entirely ready to go, and his heart is hammering in his ears. His breath sounds like it's coming from far away, echoing in his ears.

"I wish I could," says Liam, a little ruefully. And then a second later he grins and Louis's heart skips a beat. Because, in spite of how they started, Liam likes it when Louis's awful. And thank god, because Louis isn't very good at being any other way.

Liam presses Louis down again, and Louis's going to have bruises on his wrists, but he doesn't care. He'll wear some of the ratty bracelets the kids make in Zayn's arts cabin and cover them up until they fade. Right now, he likes the way Liam's hands go all the way around his wrists with room to spare. He likes how Liam leans down to kiss him and Liam's breath has gone a little ragged and desperate. This kiss is more teeth and clashing mouths and Louis pushing up and Liam pushing down. Louis's so hot he can't breathe. All he wants is this, more of it, preferably forever.

Liam lets go of Louis's wrists and slides his hands down Louis's side instead, kissing his way down Louis's neck and shoulder. He leaves little marks as he goes. He learned that from Louis. And when the shiveryness of the biting gets to be too much, Louis rolls them over again and grins down at Liam.

"I really think you should fuck me, though," Louis says. "Doesn't that sound like a good plan?" He bends down and drags his mouth along Liam's hip until Liam groans and pushes his heels into the bed and his hips up.

"But," Liam says, voice tight and head tilted back, eyes closed. "Is it? I mean..."

Louis sits up. "You mean what?" he asks, a little snottily. It's very like Liam to try and start an argument while they're having sex, and Louis would be properly cross if it didn't apparently turn him on.

"Well," says Liam, and bites his lip. "I mean, I don't think it's such a good idea. It's quite serious, isn't it? And we're... not."

"I am perfectly serious about this!" Louis protests, although it's exactly what he'd say if he weren't.

Liam pushes himself up on his elbows. "You aren't, though. In a couple of weeks you'll get your A level results and be off to university and then it's not like we're going to see each other again."

Louis is abruptly cold all over. "We aren't?"

Liam frowns at him. "No."

It's a pretty awful feeling, realizing suddenly how unwanted and unimportant he is, when he's been feeling so fond of Liam lately. "Well, fuck you, then," says Louis, rolling off Liam and reaching for his pants on the floor.

"Louis!" Liam protests, sitting all the way up. He looks confused and annoyed and a little bit sad. Louis wants to punch him in the dick. "Hang on, did you think this was—"

"Yeah," says Louis snappishly. His stomach hurts. "I guess I'm just stupid, though, right? Thinking you could possibly stand to put up with me for one second when you didn't have to—"

"That's not—" Liam starts. He looks a bit incredulous. "You haven't even told Harry we're fucking around! I'm not going to be your secret boyfriend at home. If you won't even tell your best friend that you like me—"

Louis stares at him. He hasn't got a good response to that, because Liam's just being willfully stupid now.

"I didn't mind it, this summer, so much," Liam says, "because it's just... It's just a summer thing, or whatever. But I'm not going to go home and not tell my parents or my friends or whoever, because you don't actually like me enough to talk about, and you just like to get off. I'm not... I'm not like that, I'm sorry. I've tried."

"You've tried what?" Louis asks. It's like Liam's been having a completely different summer than Louis has.

"I should probably go," says Liam. He gets up and starts getting dressed.

Louis feels awful and angry and upset all at once. He ought to say something but he can't figure out what; Liam's just wrong, and Louis isn't sure where to start.

Also, Liam apparently thinks Louis is a complete dick. Louis had thought that Liam liked him, or at least thought he was a decent person. But if he doesn't even think that then maybe they shouldn't try and carry on anymore. Louis might be sick.

"I'll just walk back to camp," says Liam. "Zayn can sleep in here; you don't need to lock anyone out. I hope Niall and Harry finally sort themselves out." He offers Louis a sad sort of half-smile and grabs his bag and then he walks out.

As the door closes Louis finally manages to say, "Wait. But..." Only Liam is already gone and Louis hasn't got trousers on to go and chase after him. And Harry is — hopefully — busy and Zayn's off with his girlfriend on the phone, and Louis is alone.

Louis hurts, and when he hurts he wants sympathy and attention. He wants everyone to know how fucking amazing a friend he is for not interrupting Harry and Niall just to complain and get some sympathy and attention, but to do that he'd have to explain why Liam left, and that makes him feel more sick every time he thinks about it. So he flips on the television and waits for Zayn to show up.

When Zayn finally does he knocks hesitantly and then waits, even after Louis yells, "You can come in!"

"Just," says Zayn, peeking around the corner. "Surely someone's touching someone in here right now…"

"No one's touching anyone," says Louis. "It's just me, and I'm not that bored."

Zayn pushes the door open and comes in. He looks around exaggeratedly and seems honestly a little disappointed that it's only Louis, sat on the bed with his shirt on his lap and the zip on his shorts still not entirely done up. It's probably not actually possible to die from blue balls. Louis is luxuriating in how miserable he feels.

"I don't get it," says Zayn.

"Harry and Niall have a room downstairs, Liam and I were going to lock them in there and then you out of here," says Louis. He stares fixedly at the television, which is showing a man trying to sop up an entire bottle of juice using just one ordinary sponge. It's going pretty well.

"Okay," says Zayn.

Louis doesn't say anything. His stomach hurts and he's a goddamn saint for not screaming the second Zayn walked in.

"So where's Liam, then?" Zayn sits down on the other bed.

Louis shrugs. "Said he was walking back to camp."

"What? It's dark out, and that's miles – did you two have a fight? I was just thinking you two were finally getting along."

"Yeah, well," Louis says, bitterness dripping off every word. "He thinks I'm an arsehole and it was his decision to walk home. Good for him."

"You can be a bit… " Zayn starts, and then stops. Louis's heart twists a little. He's known Zayn a year longer than Liam has. Zayn ought to be on his side. "Did he really call you that?"

"Basically," says Louis. "He implied it. I thought we were friends, but apparently he thinks I'm just a twat and a jerk and he hates me—"

"Hey," says Zayn. He puts his hand on Louis's knee and he looks really serious. "If Liam said that then he's the jerk and he's wrong. You act like a muppet a lot of the time, but you're a great mate and a good person. He's missing out."

Louis's not going to cry. Actually he cries sort of a lot, but he's not going to cry over this. "Liam's missing out," Louis repeats miserably. "It's just too bad for him, eh?"

"Yeah," says Zayn, and gives Louis a hug. This would be a good time for Louis to tell Zayn how it actually happened, but he doesn't want to; he quite likes being the only wounded party. "I'll snub him when we get back to camp, okay?" Zayn says. "Friendship over. He's dead to me now."

"No," says Louis, trying to pout and laugh half-heartedly at the same time. "Let's just be really bitter and talk about him a lot behind his back and push him into the lake."

"Deal," says Zayn. "What are you watching? Why is that woman wearing jeans that are pajamas? What is going on in America?"

"Some rubbish adverts," says Louis. "Where has the beer gone? I need a beer."

Zayn roots around the room for a minute. Louis hadn't brought much alcohol with them, because he'd thought he and Liam were going to spend the whole night – Damn it, it hurts to think about, so he doesn't. Louis crosses his arms and pulls his knees up to his chest so he can rest his chin on them. He'd like to be drunk enough to just pass out without the bit where he gets maudlin and cries about how his whole summer has been ruined and he's an idiot.

"We've got a bottle of rum and a two-liter bottle of Coke," says Zayn. "But we haven't got any glasses so we'll have to just do shots out of the bottles. Cool?"

"Cool," says Louis.

Zayn comes back and sits down next to Louis, handing him the rum. "I'm sorry this is such a bummer, man," he says. "But it's only a couple of weeks before we all go home and you won't have to see him again after that."

"Good," says Louis, and it sounds hollow, so he starts drinking the rum instead.

Louis wakes up feeling awful, but he can blame the hangover, so he does. Zayn runs into the bathroom and is sick but after he splashes his face with water he makes coffee in the tiny coffee pot in the room, and he seems okay.

"It's a good sign we haven't seen Harry or Niall yet this morning," says Louis. Something good should come out of this horrible summer. His head is throbbing and he feels like he'd like to lie down in traffic. It would be easier if Louis could be really angry about it, but for some reason he's feeling a lot more depressed than cross. He leads Zayn down the hotel stairs. "This is their room."

They have to be back soon, so Zayn bangs on their door with the side of his fist. "This is the cops!" Zayn yells cheerfully. "Come out with your pants on!"

That ought to be me, Louis thinks. He can't work up the energy. He blames the hangover and nothing else.

There is some muffled giggling and a thump and more giggling and the door cracks open. Harry sticks his head out, hair wildly mussed, eyes sleepy, and no clothes in sight. He's got love bites all down his neck and across his chest.

"Oh ho!" shouts Zayn. "It's about time!"

"Go away," says Harry, smiling in spite of himself. His cheeks turn pink.

"We have to be back at camp in an hour," Louis says. He'd been right to try and hide his relationship with Liam from Harry; it hurts like a knife in the chest how happy Harry looks right now.

Harry glances back over his shoulder, and Niall shouts something that Louis can't quite hear but that makes Harry's cheeks go pinker and his smile widen a bit. "Then come back in fifty-five minutes," says Harry, and closes the door in Zayn's face.

Zayn laughs and he's grinning when he turns toward Louis, so Louis plasters something like a smile on his own face. "About time," says Louis, echoing Zayn because he doesn't know what else to say. This is what he wanted, he reminds himself. He is happy for Harry and Niall.

Probably Zayn can look so pleased because he's got Perrie whenever she sneaks around the lake in her awful old car. And now Harry will have Niall, and they can go and do things like smug couples do, and Louis will sit alone in his cabin plotting ways to drown Liam.

"Shall we go and get a coffee while we wait?" Zayn says. "I'm a little worried if we wait here I'll hear something."

Zayn should have spent the night in the hall hearing things from Louis's room, Louis thinks, and then is overwhelmed with grief and annoyance and embarrassment and general wretchedness that must be all over his face because Zayn gets a worried expression. "Yes," says Louis loudly. "Coffee, and Harry can try and explain to Simon why we're late coming back. See if batting his eyes gets him out of trouble."

"It will," says Zayn. "It always does."

Louis should have batted his eyes at Liam. He should have done something so Liam knew he was serious, or he should have shown Liam, somehow, that he wasn't a complete prat. At least he should have realized earlier that Liam thought he was a knob and that all it was for Liam was a… a drunk summer shag. They'd started out fighting. Of course they'd finished that way, too.

"You keep getting lost in your own head," says Zayn, sounding worried.

"I'm just hoping Liam got eaten by a bear," says Louis. "Let's get more coffee, then."

"Right," says Zayn, frowning. Louis stomps off downstairs and Zayn, seeming a little uncertain, follows.

They're only an hour late getting back in the end, and Harry's smile more than gets them out of trouble. Simon doesn't even pretend to be annoyed, not when Harry and Niall are holding hands and looking adorably smitten with each other. "Oh, get away from me," is all Simon says. Louis has similar feelings.

Liam's sitting with Louis's cabin in the dining hall, talking to Danny about a book, but he gets up and leaves as soon as Louis walks in. He doesn't even look at Louis. Which is good, Louis will admit, because having a shouting match about whether or not fucking means something isn't entirely appropriate for a room full of pre-teens. Zayn claps Louis on the back.

Louis puts on a huge grin and shouts, "Who missed me, boys?" The cabin cheers and comes running over to say hi. It's nice to know that some people appreciate him, even if those people are mostly eleven.

Everything goes perfectly until swimming lessons the next day. Liam is there – he has to be, it's his job, and Louis braced himself for it all night – but he hasn’t had a disfiguring accident in the past twenty-four hours and his smile hasn't got any less sweet.

And he absolutely one-hundred-percent isn't looking at Louis.

"I will give you a hundred bucks if you drown Liam," Louis says to Emmanuel, who laughs as if he's kidding.

"Did you two have a fight?" Danny asks. He pulls a face like he might cry. "But I like you both, and—"

"We're grown ups, we don't fight," says Louis shortly. "He's just a jerk, and…" And then he stops, because Liam hasn't been a jerk to Danny, and Danny deserves to have made one friend this summer. "I'm kidding," Louis adds unconvincingly. "Liam's great, of course he is."

Danny still looks upset.

Louis sighs. "Has your summer just been complete crap so far? Mine has. You want to sit down and you can tell me all the stupid crappy homesick things going on with you?"

"Yeah, kind of," says Danny. "But I'm going home in a couple of weeks anyway, so mostly I'm just thinking about that."

Louis sits down on a towel and Danny, who still hasn't gone into the water even once all summer, sits down with him. Liam is coaching the boys through a swimming race, and his shirt is as tight as ever, and his shoulders are as broad as ever, and he's got even tanner and blonder over the summer. Louis still wants to kiss him but now he knows he's not going to get to, not ever again.

"Tell me about how the summer's almost over," Louis says.

Danny wrinkles up his nose and gives Louis a funny look, but he nods. "Well, the first thing I'm going to do when I get home is see my friends. My real friends, not all these jerks at camp."

Louis holds out his fist for a fist-bump and Danny bumps it with his own. Next time Louis mistakes himself for a grown-up, he'll have to remember how a pre-teen had the exact same feelings he does.

Harry sees how mopey Louis is, but Louis just shakes his head and shoves Harry toward Niall. He's come around enough to want Harry and Niall to have a really happy summer. But he must still be moping a lot, because a couple of days later, after dinner, Zayn comes and finds him standing around staring at the lake. Louis is resolutely not thinking about all the times he and Liam fooled around there. Zayn looks a little puzzled.

"I went to tell Liam to stop being such a dick," says Zayn, "but then my conversation with him was really weird."

Louis tries not to wince. "Weird how?"

"Weird, like… Like I told him he was breaking your heart, basically, and he said he wished he were. That's weird. I don't get you guys. Also, Liam looks about as miserable as you do, so what happened?"

Louis doesn't want to enjoy that Liam's miserable, but he does, obviously. "Serves him right," Louis mumbles, and imagines Liam crying bitterly alone. Actually that's a bit sad to think about. Liam's sad face is devastating.

Zayn throws a rock into the lake and watches ripples spread out. "I sort of thought that maybe you told Liam you fancied him, and he had some sort of gay-panic freakout and walked home instead. But that's not what happened, is it?"

Yes, Louis wants to say. That would be so simple. He skips a rock out across the darkening water but it sinks after only two hops. "Not quite," says Louis unhelpfully. "He just hates me."

"Okay," says Zayn. "But does Liam hate anyone? I know I've only known him a couple of months and I believe you, mate, but… Why, exactly, does he hate you?"

If it were Harry, Louis would probably just pour his heart out and then cry for a while and let Harry tell him how wonderful he is. But Zayn's a bit more willing to think critically about Louis, and a bit less willing to assume Louis is flawless. Louis see-saws back to annoyed Harry and Niall are off in the arts cabin having sex when he and Liam aren't.

"You know how Liam and I didn't like each other at all at the beginning of the summer?" Louis asks, looking for another rock.

"Yeah," says Zayn. It's getting slowly too dark to see his face, which Louis is grateful for.

"Well, I thought I wanted to punch him in the face, but… I suppose it's possible I also wanted to kiss him." His voice drops to a mumble and then even lower than that on the last word.

Zayn snorts. "Yeah, I noticed," he says. "I wondered if you two knew how you stared at each other."

Louis knows. He keeps staring, it's like an addiction now or something. It hurts to see Liam everywhere around camp. It hurts worse that he never sees Liam looking back at him. "Well…Then we did."

"You did what? You stared? Or – Oh my god, you kissed him? Is that why he went home?"

"No," says Louis. It's actually sort of funny, in a miserable way. "Actually, I thought he was going to punch me the first time I kissed him, but it happened a lot. Other things happened, too. Like… stuff. And I didn't want to rub it in Harry's face, how well Liam and I were getting on, so I didn't say anything."

Zayn nods. "So you guys decided to have one of those sexy sneak-around things? Hot."

"I thought so," says Louis. He considers walking into the lake to get away from confessing the end of this story, how he hurt Liam's feelings by accident. He hadn't ever told Liam why he hadn't told Harry or anyone else, had he? "I just liked him a lot, so much I started thinking about what we'd do when we got home, and I said that to him, and he laughed at me. He laughed."

"That's pretty shit," says Zayn.

"And then he left," Louis says.

There's a long silence. Louis throws a couple more rocks, and Zayn just stands there with his arms crossed.

"Well, fine," says Louis. "Then he said that if I didn't like him enough to tell Harry about us… But I do like him, and he apparently thinks I'm just a creep." He doesn't add Do you think I'm a creep? It's too pathetic.

"Wow," says Zayn. Harry would have been crying by now. Louis should have told Harry. "Listen, I promise I'm on your side, okay? But I do sort of wonder if you could just tell Liam you fancy him. Clear all this shit up."

"No, because he hates me," says Louis. The duh is implied.

Zayn considers that for a minute. "Then why'd he fool around with you all summer? Is he secretly just a big slut?"

"No," Louis scoffs, and then has to stop and consider. "I don't know. He said he was trying. To deal with what a jerk I am, I suppose."

"But if you're such a jerk, why was he even bothering with you?"

"I don't know!" Louis throws a rock and it doesn't skip at all, it sinks straightaway because he's too annoyed to aim. "Maybe he likes jerks. He thinks I'm funny, too; maybe he likes funny jerks. Maybe he was waiting to see if I was really such a twat and then he decided I was and left."

Zayn tilts his head. "Maybe he was waiting to see if you'd tell everyone what was going on, and you didn't, and he decided that was a twaty thing to do."

Louis's stomach clenches into a cold little ball and sinks. "No," he says certainly. "This is not my fault. I mean, it's not only my fault. He could have said something. He could have told people. He could have—"

"I bet if you just told him you were sorry…" Zayn says, and trails off.

Louis can't breathe. He wants to think that's true, maybe, but if he thinks that's true and then it isn't, he's going to have to throw himself off a bridge or something. If he apologizes and Liam just shrugs and doesn't care, he'll be devastated beyond what he can really imagine. He hates that Liam could do that, if he wanted to. Louis's supposed to be the one breaking hearts and ruining lives.

"I don't like saying I'm sorry," Louis says sulkily instead.

Zayn punches him playfully in the arm. "Okay. So don't. Mope around and tell everyone what a jerk Liam is."

"I will."

"Good plan," says Zayn. He leans over and puts his chin on Louis's shoulder.

"I'm just going to be really mature and never speak to him again, because he's a loser and he sucks," says Louis.

"Yes," agrees Zayn. "Excellent." He pauses and then says. "But I mean. He does look well fit in a white t-shirt."

"Okay, that's one point for Liam, and a million points against him," Louis says. "One point."

Zayn laughs. "It's a pretty massive point, though. Or uh. So I'd imagine."

"I am not going to discuss how massive Liam is, or is not, with you," says Louis primly.

"Yeah, please don't," Zayn agrees.

Louis laughs and Zayn gives him a hug. Then Louis sighs. "Fuck," he says into Zayn's shoulder. "I have to go and tell Liam I'm a knob, don't I?"

"On the bright side, you're a massive knob," says Zayn. "You two are a matched pair."

Louis would really like to believe that's true. "Bah," he says.

"Yeah," Zayn agrees. "Yeah."

While the campers play football, Harry manages to take his mouth off Niall's mouth for long enough to come and find Louis and ask if he's okay. "Yeah," says Louis. "Just stupid."

"Oh, no change from usual, then!" Niall shouts, and Louis throws a shoe at him.

Harry giggles like Niall just invented insulting people. "You are actually disgusting when you smile at Niall," Louis says. "Actually disgusting."

"Cheers," says Harry sincerely. Louis puts his hand over Harry's face and shoves him away, and Harry laughs. "You're really okay, though?" Harry asks. "Because if you need me to go and lock Liam in a hotel room for you—"

"No," says Louis, pinking up. He hesitates for a minute. Behind them Niall is running back and forth with the campers screaming at the top of his lungs. It looks like fun, right until Liam shows up, and Niall plows into him, and they both go over sideways in a flailing storm of limbs. Louis is angry and jealous and embarrassed all in one big roiling ball of misery in his stomach, but he's planning to deal with it. Maybe, eventually. "Harry, you did realize that Liam and I… That we were shagging, right?"

Harry's eyes go wide. "What?" he squeaks, and puts his hand over Louis's mouth. "Oh my god, what? I knew you fancied him, and I thought he fancied you, probably, but –"

It'll take all day, if Louis waits for Harry to get to his point. "I thought you knew!' Louis says, shoving Harry's hand away.

"No!" Harry says. "Oh my god did you two break up? Is that why you're so sad?"

"I'm not sad!" Louis protests. "Jesus, I was sure you knew. I thought I didn't need to say anything because… Damn it. I hate that Liam was right."

Harry looks absolutely delighted. "Are you gonna have to apologize? You hate that! Can I watch?"

"Shut up," says Louis.

"I didn’t know you were shagging," says Harry thoughtfully. "But I did know you liked him. You like him so much. So muuuuuuuuuch." He grins, a little bit evil. "Were you planning your wedding? Did you scare Liam off with a proposal? You're such a romantic sap, secretly, Lou. It's so cute."

"Niall!" Louis shouts. "Come and get him before I kill him!"

Niall is trying to wrestle Liam and it's going badly for him, despite all the campers shouting encouragement. Liam doesn't really have to try to get his arm around Niall's neck and pin him to the ground. Liam is so disgustingly fit, Louis thinks.

"I was going to tease you about loving him," Harry says. "But you actually love him." His eyes are wide again, blinking slowly.

"I can barely stand him," says Louis. It's true at the moment, at least. Sort of. He wants to punch Liam and kiss him in equal measure. It's like he's back at the beginning of the summer.

"Love!" Harry says triumphantly. "Do you know when Niall and I finally worked things out?"

"When I locked you two bloody idiots in a room together," Louis grumbles.

"Noooo," Harry says. "When I was finally honest about my feelings."

That's horrible. "You're horrible," Louis says. "We're not friends anymore. Go away."

"Pfft," says Harry dismissively. Why is that the only person who takes all the shit Louis talks seriously is Liam?

"Why on earth didn't Niall just jump on you and put his tongue in your mouth earlier this summer?" Louis asks. "Is he stupid? Did he fall on his head?"

Harry laughs. "He said he thought I was flirting with everyone. Do I flirt with everyone?"

"That's like asking if you're breathing air," says Louis. "Of course you do."

"Oh," says Harry. "Well, anyway, he said I flirt with everyone, and I said no only with you, and he said that's not true, and I said—"

"All your stories take forever," Louis moans.

Harry rolls his eyes. "Fine. So I convinced him I only wanted to flirt with him."

"How? It involves getting naked, right? Don't tell me. That's enough." Louis puts his hands over his ears while Harry grins wickedly.

Niall comes jogging over. "We've got a spare half an hour before lunch," Niall says, grinning, "and Liam offered to take my cabin. You, uh… You busy?"

Harry bursts into a real smile and then stops and looks at Louis, who rolls his eyes. "Go on!" he says. "Go ahead. I'll sort my life out myself."

"Nah, mate, you probably won't," says Niall, not unkindly. Louis throws twigs at him until he and Harry laugh and run off again.

Liam's organized the boys into teams for a game of freeze tag, and he's even got Danny running around and playing with everyone. He's sort of amazing, Louis thinks resentfully. And Louis misses him, and his stupid laugh, and his energy, and his ridiculousness. There's barely a week left of camp, though, and Louis doesn't honestly know what to say to him.

Liam looks over and he starts to smile, but then he catches the look on Louis's face – scowling resentfully – and his smile drops and his face goes blank again.

Shit, Louis thinks. He's actually really going to have to do something. Just getting Liam drunk and then crying for a while isn't going to cut it. He's never been serious with Liam, not once all summer except the night Liam walked out; it's all been jokes and lies and misunderstandings and shoving. Louis doesn't know how to be sweet the way Liam is sometimes. Louis's good with kids and bad at Liam. He just needs to transfer the one to the other somehow.

Every year, the last week of camp, they go on a proper overnight camping trip. Everyone takes canoes and travels down the lake to a proper camp site where the boys have to pitch their own tents and then sleep in the great outdoors. Last year, it tipped down with rain, and Louis secretly slept in the back of Simon's car.

The weather this year looks fine, though. Liam's down by the docks arranging bags full of sandwiches and apples and boxes of milk for transport in the canoes, and trying to decide which campers will ride with which campers so that no one sinks a boat. "Roman can't go with Emmanuel; they'll drown each other," Liam says. "And put on your life jackets, no one gets in a boat without a life jacket."

The life jackets are musty and ugly and damp and Louis is definitely not putting one on. "Are we ready to go, lads?" he asks, rubbing his hands together briskly. Harry and Niall are shepherding boys into boats. Zayn, who has flatly refused to get anywhere near a boat piloted by children, is driving the camp pick-up truck to the camping site to deliver the tents.

"Stop rocking it on purpose! Oh god, they're all going to drown," says Liam, shaking his head.

"Well, at least you'll have a use then," says Louis, and Liam looks at him, a bit hurt. And oh, that was probably not the best way to begin a conversation after a week of not speaking to each other. "I mean--" Louis starts, but Liam ignores him to start forcing boys to put on orange life vests.

Most of the boys are in boats, so Louis finds one that's got a couple of relatively sane kids and climbs in with them. "Life jacket," says Liam.

"They make my arse look big," says Louis, and the boys laugh.

"You have to wear a life jacket," Liam repeats, frowning. He holds one out to Louis.

The absolute wrong thing to do would be to needle Liam. Especially in front of the boys, and Harry and Niall. "Fine," says Louis, taking the jacket. He stuffs it under the seat. The boys in his boat, Jason and one of Niall's campers, Stephen, maybe, giggle at him.

"You have to put it on," Liam says loudly, but Louis ignores him in favor of finding his paddle and splashing Harry with it. Liam makes a frustrated noise.

"We're all ready to go!" says Louis brightly. He should put his life jacket on, obviously, to set a good example to the boys. But when he doesn't put it on, Liam stares, and sure, it's a disapproving sort of stare, but it's the most Liam's looked at him all week.

"Louis—" Liam starts, sighing.

"Get in the boat!" Niall shouts. "Half the camp has already started paddling! Let's go!" There's a stream of boys already heading out into the lake. They're going to be the last ones. Liam gets in a boat with Danny and glares at Louis a bit. Louis smiles back at him — seriously, he needs to work out how to talk to Liam without just fighting with him — and starts paddling.

It would be relaxing, paddling around the lake, if Louis weren't in imminent danger of falling out of the canoe at any minute. The boys aren't very steady paddlers and no one really knows how to use the oars. There's a shout ahead and Aiden nearly goes into the lake head-first. It's hilarious.

"He's splashed himself all over; he's going to have to spend the night in a tent, soaking wet," says Louis cheerfully to Harry, pulling their boats up together.

"Ha," says Harry.

Behind them, Liam says, "At least he's got his life vest on."

It's clearly meant as a dig at Louis, so Louis turns around. The boat rocks. "I can swim," says Louis.

"That's not the point," says Liam. "The point is, there's a rule that you have to wear your life vest when you're in the boats."

"Why can't you—" Louis starts to yell. Why can't anything with Liam be easy? His canoe rocks rather violently. The boys all shout. "For god's sake, Liam," Louis snaps. His voice carries rather well across the water. "Why can't you trust me? I know what I'm doing!"

"Oh, of course you do," says Liam, sounding hurt.

"I do!" Louis shouts. Just to prove his point he stands up, and the boat sways. Louis's trainers are soaked by water tipping in. "I am a brilliant swimmer! I could have been the life guard if I'd wanted to, and I wouldn't have been such a twat about every little rule—"

Obviously that's when Louis tips the boat over and falls into the water.

Louis actually is a good swimmer; maybe not good enough to be a life guard but certainly good enough to swim around in a lake. The problem is that he's shouting as he hits the water, and he gets a mouthful of water that he then tries to cough out, only he's still underwater and ends up taking in rather a large lungful of lake water instead.

It burns. Louis has time for a second of absolute thrashing panic — he is dying in the stupidest possible way and it's entirely down to his own hubris, he hopes Harry has the sense to lie at his funeral — and then everything goes a bit dim, except for how badly his lungs burn. He flails a bit but he's too panicked to work out which way is up, and the water is murky and freezing.

And then a large arm grabs him and hauls him up out of the water. Louis coughs so violently that he can't breathe at all; his throat feels mangled and his lungs have water sloshing around in them and his eyes sting from the lake. He gets hauled out of the water and onto the pebbly shore and the most help Louis can manage is kicking his legs around a little bit. Then he turns on his side and coughs and coughs and coughs and coughs until he feels like he must have coughed up every internal organ he's got. At least he can breathe, though.

"You," says Liam, "are such a fucking idiot."

Louis rubs lake water out of his eyes and blinks up at Liam, who is dripping and kneeling next to him. "That wasn't my fault," Louis croaks. "That was one of those punishments-from-the-gods thingies. Irony. Whatever." He coughs a bit more and reminds himself to breathe, rather than think about how Liam's shirt has gone see-through and plastered itself to him.

"Oh, I suppose it was my fault," Liam says tiredly.

He sounds defeated. Louis feels sick, and not just because he swallowed half the lake. "I'm sorry," Louis blurts.

"It's fine; rescuing idiots is my job," says Liam.

Louis glares at him. "Not for that. For — for everything. You should have let me drown."

"Oh, don't be so ridiculous," says Liam.

"I should have drowned," Louis insists. He pushes himself up to sitting and coughs a few more times. Since he hasn't died he might as well unburden his soul. It's the only time he's likely to work up the nerve to talk honestly to Liam, anyway. "I'm sorry I was so shit this summer. I told everyone I didn't like you and then it was so embarrassing, because actually I liked you a lot." He's lost one of his trainers in the lake somewhere. That's annoying. Louis wiggles his toes and doesn't look at Liam at all. "So then I didn't say anything, and I didn't know it was hurting your feelings."

"Louis, you don't have to—"

"I just thought it was obvious," says Louis. He chances a glance up, and Liam's looking at him with a funny mixture of confusion and uncertainty. "I mean… I thought that it was obvious how much I liked you, that surely everyone could tell. But you couldn't even tell. So I must have been really shit, and I'm sorry."

Liam bites his lip. "Oh," he says quietly.

"You should have let me drown," Louis says again, and flops backward on the rocks. Actually, that hurts. Rocks are hard.

"I couldn't tell," Liam says. "At school... I can't always tell when people are teasing and being mean, or teasing and being friendly. And I thought you didn't really... Um." He trails off.

Out in the lake Harry is standing up and waving frantically. "Is anyone dead?" he shouts. The two campers Louis tipped out of the boat have climbed back in, but all the boys are so excited that everyone might fall out again at any moment.

Louis sits up again. He feels the tiniest bit hopeful. Liam's too nice to be mean to him, unless they're having a dumb argument about something. Liam's hiding behind his hair a bit, letting the curls drip down over his eyes.

"I think you rescued me wrong," Louis says. "There was no mouth to mouth resuscitation. I demand mouth-to-mouth."

Liam snorts. He turns and shouts, "He's fine!" to Harry.

"I'd be better if I got some mouth to mouth," Louis insists. He grabs Liam's wrist and tugs Liam a little bit closer. Liam's skin is cold and damp and even when he thought Louis was the biggest jerk in the world he still dived out of a boat to save him. "Please let me tell you how sorry I am?" Louis says. "I did the whole summer wrong. Please don't go home and never talk to me again. Please."

"Louis," Liam says quietly. Louis didn't realize how cold he was until Liam got close enough for Louis to feel the warmth of him. Liam's lips are a little blue, but his cheeks are pink. He shakes his hair out of his eyes again.

"I'll hire sky writers," Louis says. "And a marching band. And adverts on the buses. They'll say 'Louis Tomlinson fancies Liam Payne,' and they'll have giant red hearts on, and sparkles, and—"

"Please don't do that," says Liam, and kisses him. He tastes like lake water and he's starting to shiver a little bit, but his mouth presses hotly against Louis's, just for a minute. Then Liam pulls back, blushing. There is a shout from one of the boats that might be Niall. Louis hopes they haven't just scarred all the boys for life.

"I told you I needed mouth to mouth," says Louis. His chest feels light, like he's only barely connected to the earth, anymore. He might float away at any second. He's not sure if it's from almost drowning or from Liam kissing him again. Maybe both.

Liam laughs and then bites his lip. "I'm going to call Zayn and have him pick you up in the truck. I don't think you can be trusted back in a boat."

"If you want me to I'll wear a life vest all the time the rest of the summer," Louis offers. "At the campfire, pitching the tents, sleeping—"

"Honestly," Liam says. His mouth is trying to quirk up into a laugh and he's failing rather badly at looking stern. "Everything you say is such rubbish."

"Yeah," says Louis, grinning. "Except the bit about being sorry, and the bit about liking you. You can ignore everything else."

Liam laughs. "Okay. I will do, then." Louis squeezes his hand and Liam squeezes back. Louis could fucking fly to the campsite. Except then they stand up and Louis coughs a bit more and feels rather more like he nearly drowned than he did before. Maybe it's better to get a lift with Zayn after all.

"I do," says Liam, sitting down next to Louis. It's late and the bonfire the boys started at the campsite has got huge. There are logs to sit on and Louis refuses to put on proper trousers instead of his rolled-up still-damp shorts, so his legs are cold. He very much appreciates Liam sitting down next to him on the log, being all warm.

He very much appreciates Liam sitting down next to him, full stop.

"You do?" Louis asks, frowning. "Did I propose when I was drowning?"

Liam laughs and bumps Louis's shoulder with his own. "I do trust you," he says. Louis's heart does a weird flutter and stops beating for a minute. "I'm sorry if it seemed like I didn't."

"There's no reason for you to trust me," Louis says, trying not to look too triumphant. "Although I did introduce you to tequila shots, so I'd better be your hero."

Liam laughs again, hiding his face against Louis's shoulder. There's something almost shy about Liam, which is ridiculous. They've been having sex all summer. What on earth is there to be shy about? "You're just a bit intimidating," says Liam, mostly to Louis's shoulder. "You're so clever and funny and you do whatever you want all the time, it's amazing."

"Shut up," says Louis. He was unprepared for Liam's utter sincerity. "You don't think that, you think I'm obnoxious. And with good reason."

"No, honestly," says Liam, sitting up. And as if he is ever anything other than painfully honest.

Louis's dealt with too many feelings today already, what with coming to terms with his own mortality, and telling Liam all his embarrassing secrets, and then being mocked by Zayn in the truck for an hour. "Shh," says Louis firmly, putting his hand over Liam's mouth. "Just tell me I'm a twat but you like me anyway, and we'll both move on from here and never speak of this again."

"You're a twat but I like you anyway," says Liam obediently, pushing Louis's hand away. His eyes are clearly still telling Louis that he thinks Louis is amazing, which Louis will just have to deal with, apparently.

The weird tension that's been boiling between them all summer has gone. Louis has definitively decided between punching and kissing Liam and come down on the side of kissing. Which isn't to say he wouldn't still like to annoy Liam to death, just to see that furrow he gets between his brows and the too-serious way he frowns when he's not sure if Louis is teasing or not.

"Good," says Louis, "because I'm amazing."

"You also told me to ignore all the rubbish things you say," Liam points out.

Louis slaps Liam's hands away and shoves his hands up underneath Liam's hoodie to tickle him. Liam is so easy; he laughs and tries half-heartedly to shove Louis's hands away, but mostly he just leans away a little, and Louis leans in, and Liam leans away further, and then they both fall off the log, Liam pitching over backward and Louis landing on top of him.

"There are kids right over there," Liam says breathlessly. Actually there are boys running past them and around the fire, and Niall and Harry are shouting about fire safety. "Counselors aren't supposed to fraternize when they're on duty with campers, remember?"

"I still haven't read the handbook," Louis says. "Last time we camped out here it rained and I snuck into Simon's car for the night. We should probably go and sneak into the pick up truck and have sex."

Liam wrinkles up his nose. "Get off me. You're weird."

Louis takes that as encouragement to settle more firmly on top of Liam. "I'm getting my A levels back next week."

"Congratulations," says Liam, pretending to try and push Louis off. Louis digs his knee into Liam's side.

"Assuming I got my two B's and a C," says Louis, "I'll be at Manchester Met, which isn't so terribly far from you, is it?"

Liam goes still. "Oh," he says. "Well, no, it isn't."

"And if I bollocksed it all up like I think I did," Louis says, "Then I'll have a spare year to do nothing special. Either way I'm taking my driving test when I get home, and my mum's got a broken old car that barely runs that I'm buying off her."

"I'll be lucky to make it through upper sixth," says Liam. "School is a nightmare."

"We can run away together and be vagabonds," says Louis. "Or I can drive by and be that really dodgy bloke who's always sitting outside your school in a beat up car, staring at people. I should grow a mustache."

"Don't grow a mustache," says Liam, giggling a little.

Louis presses, "Wouldn't you like to be the cool guy with the boyfriend with the dying old car that barely runs?"

"It's like you can read my mind," Liam says seriously. Louis leans down and tickles him again, until Liam catches his hands. And then Louis leans down and kisses him. It's too dark for most of the campers to see them clearly anyway. And it's cold outside, but Louis's warm where he's pressed up against Liam. Liam's got amazing shoulders but his mouth shouldn't be underestimated, either. Louis digs his teeth into Liam's plump lower lip and thinks this, this, this. All his urges to punch Liam have turned entirely into urges to get Liam naked as soon as possible.

"You'll have to meet my parents," Liam says eventually, breathless and a little apologetic. He rolls them over so they're both on their sides. "They're not going to let me go off with some skeevy looking university student with a dodgy mustache unless they've met him."

"I do amazing with parents," says Louis confidently. "You'll have to meet my sisters, too. And you and me and Harry and Niall and Zayn can go on holiday. That'd be fun, right?"

"That'd be massive," says Liam. "Uh. Niall's calling you."

"Who cares?" says Louis, and kisses him again. Liam tries to say something — you'd think he'd know by now that Louis would much rather kiss than talk, especially when Liam's going to say something annoying about responsibility or appropriateness. Louis sneaks his hand down the back of Liam's jeans and pinches his arse. Liam's hips jerk forward and Louis pushes his leg between Liam's and wonders how inappropriate they can get while there are campers around.

"Ahem!" says Niall loudly.

Liam shoves Louis away. "Sorry," he says.

"You should be, we were in the middle of something—" Louis starts.

"Sorry, Niall," Liam clarifies, glaring at Louis. His glare is adorable. Louis is never going to get tired of it.

"You need to come and put your campers to bed," says Niall. "Come on. It's past the middler's bed time."

"You just want to put them to bed so you can sneak off with Harry," says Louis. Niall shrugs, because he's not going to deny it.

Zayn pops up behind Niall. "Is this what we've been avoiding? All this touching? Feel free to pretend not to like each other again."

Louis makes an aggravated noise and climbs to his feet. He has to shake twigs and grass out of his hair, which makes Zayn smirk at him. "Fine," says Louis. He points at Liam, who's shaking grass out of his hoodie. "Don't go anywhere. You owe me, don't forget."

"For what? The thing earlier where you saved me from drowning?" Liam asks mildly. Niall cracks up. Louis goes back to tickling Liam mercilessly, until Liam runs to Zayn for protection.

"You owe me for making your summer really interesting," says Louis. "You'd have been bored to tears without me. I knew you were going to be trouble from the very first minute I saw you, by the way, and I graciously put up with you—"

"You put up with me!" Liam snorts.

"Yes," says Louis certainly, and then waggles his eyebrows. "And I'll be putting up with you later tonight, right? Right?"

Liam laughs, but he doesn't say no, which is as good as a yes, honestly.

"Come on; Emmanuel's collapsed his tent on top of himself and Danny's helping him put it back up," says Niall, grabbing Louis's arm.

"Oh, that's good!" says Louis. "Okay, I'll go, but I'll see you later." He kisses Liam's cheek with an obnoxiously loud smacking noise that makes Liam turn pink and Niall pretend he's being sick.

On the other side of the fire, the boys have sent up a series of lopsided tents. Danny is in a little circle with some of the other boys, having failed rather spectacularly to set up a tent that Jason and Emmanuel are supposed to sleep in. "It's cool!" says Emmanuel. "We'll rough it. Wanna sleep outside?" This is addressed to the whole group, but someone elbows Danny in the back and he shrugs and says, "I guess."

"Cool," says Emmanuel. "Hey, I found a dead rat! Let's roast it in the fire and eat it!" Everyone cheers.

"No," says Louis. "Instead of doing that let's tell ghost stories. Go and put pajamas on." If it were down to him, they'd be welcome to do with the dead rat as they please, but Simon's lurking around the fire somewhere, and he won't appreciate that.

"Hey," says Louis, snagging Danny's arm. "This is alright, yeah? End of the summer, hanging out with everyone... It wasn't total misery, was it?"

"It was okay," says Danny with a shrug. "I liked reading books with Liam."

So much for Louis's vague hope that Danny would have had the sort of magical summer people had in books about coming of age. "Learn anything?" he asks hopefully.

"Don't stand up in a boat without a life jacket on," says Danny. Louis pretends to scowl and Danny laughs. "You made my summer pretty cool, I guess. Whatever. I have to go find my flashlight so I can read in my tent."

"But the ghost stories…" Louis starts, and then shrugs. A pre-teen boy can mean a lot by "whatever," Louis thinks to himself. He'd probably describe his relationship with Liam as "whatever" if he were pressed by his little sisters. But "whatever" is a big improvement for Danny over how the summer started, and Louis feels a bit of triumph over it.

"Ghost stories, eh?" says Liam, coming up behind Louis. "And what if you get scared?" Liam hooks his chin over Louis's shoulder, and it's entirely unlike the way Zayn did the same thing a couple of days ago. This time, Louis shivers and presses his arse back against Liam's hip. Liam puts an arm around Louis's waist. This is probably inappropriate and Louis doesn't care. They'll go home in a couple of days, anyway.

The boys have got together in a circle with flashlights to start telling scary stories. Niall's sitting with his campers and playing his guitar, while Harry looks adoringly on at him, harmonizing. And Zayn, presumably, has snuck off to find Perrie. The girl's camp is pretty close to the campsite. It's all so comfortable, now that Louis's got Liam.

"Then you'll have to give me mouth to mouth again, I expect," says Louis. "Naked, this time."

The last day of camp is a madhouse. Half the boys are crying and half of them refuse to leave. Danny, weirdly, is in both groups.

"But I don't want to go home, it's boring there," he says miserably to Louis. His mother, who he's been calling in tears all summer, looks baffled.

"There's always next summer?" Louis offers, and then gives Danny a hug. Louis doesn't expect to be there; whether he gets into university or not, he'll probably want to spend the summer with his mum and sisters. He's not so distant from a homesick camper himself, most of the time. A couple of the other boys give Danny hugs, though, and it's nice he managed to make some friends, even if he didn't really want them.

Danny and Louis do a super complicated fist bump hand shake before Danny starts to cry again and finally gets dragged away by his parents. There are parents and cars everywhere. It's crazy.

"I'm out of here in half an hour," Zayn says, locking up the arts cabin. "I've got a plane to catch, and I'm taking Liam with me, so you'd better find him and say goodbye. Perrie's waiting on us."

"You can't have him, I'm keeping him," says Louis, and pinches Zayn's nipple so he won't forget to call once they're home.

"I hate you. Christmas party at mine this year, yeah?" says Zayn.

"As if you know how to throw a party," snorts Louis, and goes off to find Liam.

Liam is trying to direct parents to the right cabins with his ridiculous clipboard, and he's got a crying camper clinging to his leg. Louis pulls Liam away with a not-entirely-polite, "I need him for a minute, excuse us."

"I need to go and get my suitcase and find Zayn—" Liam starts.

"I have to show you something," says Louis. He takes the clipboard out of Liam's hand and throws it on the ground, where it belongs. Then he takes Liam's hand and starts pulling him up the hill.

"Is this going to make me late?" Liam asks suspiciously. Knowing Liam, he's been packed for days already, and he plans to get to the airport hours early. At least Louis hopes so.

The nurse's hut is entirely empty. "Ta-da!" says Louis.

Liam looks mildly baffled. "Okay," he says. "It's the nurse's cabin."

"It's empty," says Louis. "She's giving children back their medicine and handing out health forms. And do you know what's in there?"

Liam shakes his head. He's clearly biting the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile.

"A bed!" says Louis triumphantly. "Come on."

"I'm going to be late," Liam complains, but he lets Louis pull him into the cabin anyway. It's a bit musty, and the bed is small and covered with a scratchy old sheet. Still, it's better than the dock, or the roof, or the pick-up truck. "Do you know what's great about going home? I've got a bed. And a bedroom. With a door."

That will be great, but Louis's not planning to visit for at least a couple of weeks. He pulls Liam into a kiss. It's slightly annoying that Louis has to look up so far to get to Liam's mouth, so Louis pushes Liam onto the bed and then straddles his lap. Kissing is better like this anyway. "You owe me," says Louis, kissing his way up Liam's jaw. "Last time we had a bed you walked out."

"Oh, and who's fault was that?" Liam asks, but he tilts his face up so Louis can bite his neck more easily.

"I need to leave marks," Louis says. "I'm not going to see you again for weeks."

"There are these things called telephones that exist," says Liam. He puts his hands in Louis's back pockets, pulling him in closer. "And Skype. And email. And twitter. And—"

"Shut up," says Louis, digging his teeth into Liam's shoulder. He has to stretch Liam's t-shirt out to do it. He wants to ruin every piece of clothing Liam owns, so he won't be able to wear anything without thinking about Louis. Liam groans and rolls his hips up. He's already half-hard, so they won't be too too late to meet Zayn. Not that Louis cares.

"I want you to leave bruises for me to remember," Louis whispers. Liam's groan chokes off into a strangled noise, and he digs his fingers into Louis's arse almost hard enough to hurt. "They have to last until next time I see you."

"Fuck," says Liam.

Louis pushes him backwards, down onto the bed. "That's the general idea," Louis agrees.

In the end, Liam is only ten minutes late finding Zayn, and if he looks incriminatingly flushed and disheveled that's hardly Louis's problem.

"Did you make us late so you two could get off?" Zayn asks, unimpressed. "Niall and Harry are printing out their tickets for the plane in Simon's office and weeping, Louis. You need to make it stop."

Louis's got his hand in the back pocket of Liam's jeans. It's sunny and warm and most of the campers have left. Louis feels tremendously cheerful about everything, even Harry and Niall having a bit of a cry on each other. "I'll go and sort it," he says.

"Bye," says Liam, and gives Louis a peck on the cheek. Louis chases him when he leans back, though, kissing him properly on the mouth. "Bye," says Liam again, laughing, so Louis kisses him again. He would swear that Liam tastes better when he's laughing, especially when he's laughing because he can't quite resist Louis. "Bye—" Liam tries to say again, but this time Louis hasn't actually stepped back to let him breathe yet.

Zayn grabs Liam and pulls him away. He ignores Louis's protesting yelp. "Get off him, honestly," says Zayn. "He isn't going off to war! He'll text you from the airport. Come on. Go!" He puts both hands on Liam's back and pushes him and his suitcase toward the car.

"Bye!" Louis shouts, waving madly. "Thanks for ruining my summer!" Liam starts to turn around, laughing, to yell something back, but Zayn grabs him and drags him into the car. It's probably for the best. Louis and Liam can argue for quite a while.

Anyway Louis will be seeing him in a couple of weeks and he has to go and find Harry and Niall and pry them apart and remind them that they'll see each other at home shortly, too. Really the five of them should probably just all go to the same university and get a flat together, although Harry could probably go to Warwick or somewhere. Anyway, they'll worry about that when they get home.

At least Louis's plane doesn't leave for a few hours, and he's flying home with Harry. They have plenty of time to get drunk so they can sleep the whole flight home and cry on each other a little bit about leaving. Summer doesn't really have to end, it can just turn into autumn and things can carry on, just as they have been.

Louis's phone beeps. Misssssss yoooooou see u soonnnnnn

It's ridiculous, because it's only been a minute, but Louis bursts into a smile anyway. Louis nearly replies Who is this? or well I don't miss YOU but Liam can't always tell he's joking when he can actually see Louis's joking face.

In the end he settles on something simple and honest and a little bit embarrassing, because that's how his whole summer with Liam has been, and how he wants to carry on. love you Louis types, and hits send quickly before he can overthink it or take it back.

luv you two! Liam sends back almost immediately, and Louis smiles so hard that his chest hurts and he has to put his phone in his pocket and save all these feelings for later. He can't stop grinning at nothing; the last couple of campers give him funny looks, and even later, when he's trying to take Harry's bawling over "not seeing Niall for three whole weeks" seriously he still looks like a complete idiot because he's smiling so hard.

He was right after all, about Liam being a problem for him all summer long, but he could never have predicted what a wonderful sort of problem he'd wind up being.