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Easy As All That (Go Around A Time Or Two)

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ONE.
Liam.

"What are we doing this Thursday?" Louis asked when he came in from maths. He lobbed himself over the back of the chair and plonked down next to Liam, elbowing him in the side as he swept Liam's homework onto the floor—a Louis-approved attempt at saying hello—and then leaned over to steal some of Eleanor's crisps. He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Liam rolled his eyes and made room for him on the seat. It was always easier to make room for Louis, because he took it anyway, and at least this way there was less tickling.

"Oi," Eleanor smacked Louis' hand away from her crisps. "Get your own. You don't even like pickled onion Monster Munch."

"They're awful," Louis agreed. He licked his fingers, then stole another one as Liam tried to gather all his stuff together and bung it into his school bag and out of Louis' way. "Seriously, Thursday. What's the plan? Anyone got one yet?"

"I still have no idea why we don't go out on Fridays," Zayn complained. He dumped his geography book on the table, and leaned over to grab a Monster Munch before making a big deal of sitting down next to Perrie. She ignored him in favour of carrying on reading her magazine, which Liam suspected was because she was a superior being to the rest of them.

"Cheaper, innit," Louis kicked his bag under the table.

"Thursdays are the new Fridays," Jesy said, trying to get Perrie to turn the page quicker by poking her in the arm.

Perrie ignored her, too. Perrie was amazing. Liam wanted to be her.

"Brown's the new black," Harry added. He was texting—as per usual—and didn't look up.

"And anyway, it's not like we don't go out on Fridays too." Niall slapped Liam round the head—probably by way of greeting, because all of Liam's friends were emotionally stunted and incapable of just saying hello—and leaned over the back of the seat to steal some of Liam's Coke.

"Nobody is giving me plans," Louis rolled his eyes. "Do I have to do everything myself round here, or what?"

"How about..." Jesy made a face as Perrie deliberately skipped back a page instead of forward. Liam was definitely going to ask Perrie if she gave lessons in thwarting their friends, because he wanted in. "Karaoke? We could go down The Brewers and do the karaoke."

"You weren't there last time we went," Liam said. "They had to come over and tell us to shut up and leave because we were ruining it for the people singing."

"That was amazing," Louis said. "I was amazing. Let's sing the Shoop Shoop song every time we go there. I will be the king of that place, seriously. Liam, you can be my backing singer. My shoop-er."

Seriously, only their lot could get chucked out of the karaoke for singing too loud. "Maybe we should give it a few weeks before we go back to The Brewers. We could go down the Rat and Pheasant, though. Haven't they got a two for the price of one happy hour before nine on Thursdays?" Liam shrugged.

"You don't even drink," Louis said, wrapping an arm around Liam's shoulders, "and you have the best fucking ideas out of all of us."

Liam didn't point out that staying sober meant you had a bit more of an opportunity to read all the signs on all the walls saying when the happy hours were. He didn't mind not drinking, anyway. It meant you got to watch everyone else make a tit of themselves. Louis was particularly good at that.

"Nick can get us in to Purgatory for free if we go before ten."

"Are we ever going to meet this Nick, Hazza?" Louis asked. He didn't remove his arm around Liam's shoulders. "If he's your new best friend, surely you want to introduce us."

Harry put his phone down, and made a grab for his school bag. "Is anyone else coming to business studies, or are you all skiving? And he's not my new best friend, he's just this guy I know."

"I'm coming," Jesy sighed. "Mr O'Connor's going to bollock me, I haven't done the homework."

"Me too, I'm coming," Liam said, reaching for his books. He'd done the homework, at least. It had taken him all of last night, and the night before that, too. No one else seemed to spend as much time as he did doing their work. Harry always did his in about ten minutes flat, and he still got an A. "But let's do that. Rat and Pheasant, and then Purgatory. If we're in before ten we could even get the last bus home."

"Proper good idea," Louis held out his hand for Liam to bump, which Liam did. "I fucking love Thursdays."

Liam just laughed. Thursdays were great. His friends were brilliant.

--//--

"Come with me to pick up my sisters from primary," Louis said, barging into the ICT classroom ten minutes before the end of the day. "No, don't make that face, I saw Mrs Hughes go into the photocopying room. I know she's not here. You lot are teacher-free." He dropped down onto the seat next to Liam's, and poked his fingers into Liam's shoulder. "I'm babysitting 'til Mum gets back from work. Come to mine and do all the hard work for me."

Liam rolled his eyes. Louis might pretend he didn't want to look after his little sisters, but it was all a giant lie. He was brilliant with them. It was only at school he ever made a fuss about having to do it.

"Can I stop for my tea?"

"Yep," Louis said. "I'm making sausages, chips and beans."

"I don't like beans."

"Fine." Louis made a long-suffering kind of a face. "I'll do you some peas. You're such a pain, honestly."

Jesy flicked an elastic band at him over the table. "How come you never make me my tea?" she asked.

"Because you're not Liam," Louis said, and wrapped his arms around Liam's shoulders. "And because he's doing my babysitting for me." He grinned. "Liam, let me log on to my Facebook. You know I can't do it on my phone. Let me use your computer, come on."

"It's banned," Liam said. "Don't make that face, it's not my fault you can't get on to it at school. It's probably you that got it banned in the first place, anyway."

"Those pictures were a work of genius," Louis said. "It was like a live, high school experience for everyone who couldn't be here. That one of Mr Sansom picking his nose was brilliant."

"Should have used that for the cover of the school magazine," Liam said. Louis just grinned.

Jesy slid her phone across the table. "Use this," she said. Everyone knew Louis' phone was rubbish. It barely sent texts, let alone anything more complicated than that. He was spending all his free money on driving lessons, so he was making his shit phone hold on a bit longer until he had his licence. Liam just wished that it at least reliably received and sent texts. He never had any idea if he was being ignored or not. "I'm all logged out so don't go getting any stupid ideas about posting on my timeline or whatever."

"Would I," Louis said, doing his best to look innocent. He started to type. "I-love-Louis-Tomlinson-and-I-think-he-is-well-fit-signed-Jesy-Nelson."

"Get lost," Jesy said. "Give me that back."

"I'm not doing anything. I'm just joking. Look, logging in as me and everything." He showed her the phone, then started to scroll down his feed. "Does Niall actually do anything in chemistry? He just posts videos of his experiments all the time."

"If he gets caught, he'll get his phone taken off him," Liam pointed out.

Louis made the kind of exasperated face he made around Liam a lot. "You're no fun."

Liam kicked him in the leg, just because.

"Do what you want to do and then give me my phone back," Jesy said. "It's almost time for the bell."

Louis took a picture of Jesy with her phone, and then Liam, and then wouldn't give either of them the phone as he posted them to Facebook. "You love me," he said finally, handing the phone back.

"Last time I lend you my phone."

"Well," Liam said, because he liked to be fair. "You did choose to give it to Tommo. Not sure what you expected, really."

"Oi," Louis said, ducking down behind Liam to hide from Mrs Hughes as she came back in with a stack of papers, which she started handing round as she explained the homework. "I'm brilliant."

"You're a pain in the arse," Liam said. Like Mrs Hughes couldn't tell that there was one more person in the ICT classroom than when she left.

Louis poked him in the back until the bell went and they could leave.

--//--

"Feels like years since I was at primary school," Liam said, once he and Louis had wandered through the school gates in search of the reception classroom, and Louis' baby sisters.

"Well, funny story. It was."

"Shut up," Liam said. This hadn't been his primary school, anyway. He'd gone to Beldon Hill, which had been rubbish. Nobody had wanted to be his friend and nobody had wanted to play with him, so he'd spent most of it by himself and trying not to care. He hadn't met any of the others until he'd got to secondary, and even then it had taken a while to make friends. Everyone else had been here together, and they were all already friends, and he was the quiet, boring one in the corner who didn't know anyone. Then Mrs Gomersall had partnered Liam up with Louis when they were making bridges out of clay pieces in science, and the rest was history.

"Stay at mine until we have to go out later," Louis said. "It'll be boring if you go home. I'll have to like, watch CBeebies forever."

"I've got my school bag."

"We'll leave early for the bus and drop it off at yours, then."

Liam shrugged. "Suppose." He had actual homework to do, but he did have a free period in the morning before his lessons. Maybe he could just do it then. The good thing about everyone being a bit hungover on a Friday morning was that the common room was at least a bit quieter than normal. Perfect homework conditions. Or, well. Okay homework conditions, at least.

"Sound happier about it, why don't you. You're spending quality time with Louis 'the Tommo' Tomlinson. People would pay for this opportunity."

"Do you ever feel like you think too much of yourself?"

"Shut it, Liam, nobody cares what you think." Louis grinned at him, and then opened his arms to welcome his little sisters out of infants end of the school. "Hi, Pickle, hi, Onion."

"Those aren't our names," Daisy and Phoebe chorused, stuffing their schoolbags into Louis' hands. Phoebe had artwork, which she handed to Liam.

"I think they are," Louis said, patiently reattaching each twin to their schoolbag, and taking Phoebe's picture away from Liam. "And Liam thinks they are too, don't you, Liam?"

"Yes," Liam said. "But I can never remember which one of you is which. Which one is Pickle?"

"I'm Daisy," Daisy told him. "And she's Phoebe."

"That can't be true. Your names are Pickle and Onion. And your brother's name is Sausage. Right?"

Calling Louis Sausage was potentially the funniest thing that Liam had ever said, judging by the way that Daisy and Phoebe reacted. They laughed so much that Phoebe actually had to sit down on the pavement and cling to Liam's leg. Louis didn't appear to find it quite as funny, judging by the way he punched Liam in the arm.

Liam just waggled his eyebrows and grinned as Louis disentangled his sister from Liam's leg. Louis' sisters were ace. "Come on. Don't you have some other sisters to pick up?"

Louis narrowed his eyes. "You're trouble," he said.

"Yeah, yeah," Liam said. "Who wants a piggy back?"

"See if I do you peas instead of beans now," Louis said, under his breath, trying to negotiate his rucksack and a small sister.

Liam grinned, hefting Daisy onto his back. He waited until Louis had Phoebe all fixed on his back, and then they had a race round to juniors.

Seriously, ace.

--//--

"I'm so drunk," Louis said later, as they stumbled out of the club and into the shopping arcade at some point considerably closer to one a.m. than Liam wanted to actually think about on a school night. Someone was going to have to talk themselves out of a grounding, and it was probably going to have to be him. Louis tripped over his feet, and Liam ended up tripping with him, because Louis' arm was around his waist, and Louis had a vice-like grip at the best of times. "Proper drunk."

"Yes," Liam said, because that was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at least for Louis. Liam had been on the lemonade all evening, because Liam was everybody's idea of a good time. Or his non-functioning kidney was, but whatever.

"We missed the bus," Louis said sadly. Everyone else they were with was already in the taxi queue; Liam could see them at the bottom of the arcade, taking over the taxi rank on East Lane. Jesy and Jade were still dancing, arms wrapped around each other. They appeared to be providing their own soundtrack. This was probably why they weren't allowed at the karaoke any more. They all made their own music.

"We missed the bus over two hours ago," Liam pointed out. It wasn't that he was pissed off his friends were drunk and hadn't wanted to go for the bus, because Liam liked his friends when they'd been drinking; it was just that they'd planned to get the last bus home, and then they hadn't. Liam couldn't keep getting taxis home, even if they shared them, because it just meant that he had no money to spend on anything else, and his Saturday job was rubbish enough without all his pay going on taxi fares he hadn't planned for as well.

"Don't be grumpy," Louis said. He still had his arm around Liam's waist, and he used it to steady himself as he leaned in to press his fingertip to Liam's mouth. They stumbled into a shop doorway, which Liam suspected wasn't going to get them into the taxi queue any quicker. "Turn that frown upside down, Liam."

"Lou—" Liam said. He had lessons in about nine hours' time. They all did. Well, everyone with a nine o'clock had lessons in eight hours. Liam had an extra hour because of his free period.

He wasn't even in a bad mood, he was just tired and it was really, really late, and sometimes he wished he could just get drunk every week too, like everyone else.

"No. Stop that." Louis frowned, shaking his head. "Don't be sad."

"I'm not sad—"

Louis rolled his eyes, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Liam's mouth. He tasted like beer and vodka and sticky quid bottles of luminous alcopops. "Smile," he said a few seconds later, pulling away, and then he ran his fingers through Liam's hair. "Fuck, I'm so drunk."

"I know," Liam said in a dazed voice, even though dazed might not be quite enough to describe how he felt right now. He'd just—Louis had just kissed him.

"So drunk," Louis said again, and his hand slid down over Liam's belt to graze his arse. He dropped his gaze to Liam's mouth, and then ran his thumb over Liam's bottom lip. Then he kissed him again, letting out a breath as he slid his tongue over Liam's.

This wasn't happening. Louis wasn't kissing him. Except—he was. And Liam was kissing back.

Louis made a grumpy, whining kind of a noise against Liam's mouth. "I'm tired." He shook his head, fingers splayed over Liam's cheek. "Want to go to sleep."

"Can't here, mate," Liam said, covering Louis' hand with his, and trying to pull away, take a step back, go back two minutes to a time when his best friend wasn't kissing him. Seriously. Was he—that was a—he wasn't drunk, but he felt like he might be, all of a sudden. "Taxi rank's that way."

"Yes," Louis said, and maybe Liam was imagining it, but Louis kept looking at his mouth.

Liam was looking at his, so it wasn't like he could complain. He shouldn't be looking. "Come on, the others will go without us, and that'll be crap."

"Want to go to sleep here," Louis complained, and Liam tugged on his elbow, nudging him back out into the arcade. Niall ran up to meet them, like they hadn't disappeared for two minutes, like everything was just the same as it always had been, like laughing over something that they'd completely missed was totally normal.

"Did you see Zayn just try to snog Perrie? I fucking laughed my head off when she whacked him one."

"Yeah," Liam lied, letting Niall stand in between them, letting him tell them in great detail of Zayn's great embarrassment, and how he was going to remind him of this forever. Zayn slouched up to them with his hands in his pockets, looking both moody and drunk, and also like he was pretending he didn't fancy the pants off Perrie, and that he didn't care that she'd just turned him down.

I don't care, Liam thought. He could still almost feel Louis' mouth on his. The way his lips still tingled. The way he'd liked it when Louis had stuck his tongue in.

So... that was a little bit gay.

He suspected he was supposed to be feeling something other than turned on.

--//--

"I was so fucking drunk last night," Louis said, on Friday morning. Zayn, Louis, Niall, Jesy, Leigh-Anne, and Perrie were all piled onto the sixth form benches in varying states of hungover, sharing bottles of Irn Bru and looking a bit like lessons were the last things on their mind. The others were no-shows.

"We all were," Niall said, from where he was trying to hide his face in Jesy's shoulder. He was wearing a massive pair of her sunglasses. They were polka-dotted.

"No, but, I was massively drunk," Louis said. He was sitting in one of the only single seats, pulled up to the table, instead of the long cushioned benches that lined the booths that made up the sixth form common room. Liam tried not to notice that Louis kept looking at him from the other side of the booth. "I was off my tits, wasn't I, Liam?"

Liam deliberately didn't think about Louis' mouth on his. "Yeah," he said finally, giving in to the lie. He unscrewed and rescrewed the lid of his bottle of Asda lemonade. His share of the taxi fare had cleared him out, and this was all he could afford from the shop that morning. "You could barely stand up."

"Right?" Louis said, in a tone of great relief. "Exactly. Surprised I can remember we ended up at Purgatory. Mullered, man."

Liam looked away first. So they were playing that game, all right. Liam could play that game as well as Louis, if he had to. The kiss had been over almost before it had even begun anyway—brief enough that if Liam thought about it long enough and hard enough, it was almost as if it had barely happened.

Kind of. Maybe. Or not.

Liam couldn't think about anything else, even if Louis could.

He wasn't sure how he was supposed to forget what it felt like to kiss him.

He wasn't sure that he wanted to. And that was probably supposed to feel like a problem.

TWO.

Liam.

Formation was new; a two storey club that had taken over an old music venue and pissed off virtually everyone in the process.

It was also half-price entry on Thursday nights, and all drinks a quid, with triples two quid. Harry's promise of free entry into Purgatory before ten because of his new DJ best friend, Nick, suddenly looked a million times less exciting, at least to everyone who wasn't Liam—who liked Purgatory, and their music choices—and Harry, whose decisions at the moment tended to involve meeting Nick at places his friends weren't. At some point Liam was planning on pointing out to Harry that he'd noticed that.

"Rat and Pheasant first, then Formation when happy hour's over at the Rat," Niall said, at lunch time the following Thursday. Liam was eating a ham salad sandwich from home and wishing it was nicer. They'd run out of salad cream, so his sandwich felt sadly incomplete. He only had an apple for afters too, and that was about as boring as they came. Harry was eating a baguette that had turkey and cranberry sauce and brie on it. Liam was trying not to imagine what it tasted like in comparison to his lunch.

"I am going to drink until I can no longer remember what differentiation from first principles is," Louis said, flipping the pages of his maths book. He was still being a bit weird, and it was odd to know that they were very specifically pretending that nothing had happened between them.

Liam didn't like pretending.

"Like you can remember what it is now."

"Fuck off, Niall."

Niall just laughed and gave Louis the finger. He chucked a bag of Hula Hoops at him. "Swap you for your prawn cocktail."

"Deal," Louis tossed his packet of crisps across the table. He opened the salt and vinegar Hula Hoops and offered them to Liam. He glanced over at him, crisps still outstretched, and then back down at his page. "You're coming, aren't you? Tonight?"

Liam thought, I'm a bit gay. It was the evolution of what he'd been thinking every single time he'd looked at Louis in the last week, but he hadn't said anything about it out loud. But then, neither had Louis. That was the problem with accidental, secret, sexuality-confusing kisses—they inevitably led to confusion. Sexuality confusion. Secret sexuality confusion. "Why?"

"I don't know, because it's no fun without you?"

Liam tried not to blush a bit at that, and probably failed. He ducked his head and tried to concentrate on his homework. "I'm coming," he said.

Louis threw his pencil at Liam's head. "Good," he said, which wasn't confusing at all, and then he grinned at the rest of them. "Seven o'clock bus? See you all at the bus stop?"

"Just like every week," Jesy rolled her eyes when the bell rang. "Anyone going to lessons?"

"Me," Liam said, gathering up his stuff, and throwing his sandwich bag in the bin. "Just like always."

"Skive with me and come to the shops," Louis whined. "Come on."

"I'll see you after lessons," Liam said, leaning over to ruffle Louis' hair.

"I'll come to yours after tea," Louis called after him. "We can go for the bus together."

"Fine," Liam rolled his eyes. "But we're watching Neighbours." He tried not to think about Louis kissing him.

"Never."

He failed, just like he'd failed every other time he'd tried to think about something else all week.

--//--

"Do you want some squash, Louis?" Liam's mum called from the kitchen.

Louis dropped down onto the settee next to Liam, and grinned. "Yes please, Mrs Payne."

Liam rolled his eyes. "You're such a dick."

"Orange or blackcurrant?"

"It's not Ribena," Liam said quickly, in case Louis was expecting the nice stuff. Harry had once—years ago—asked for blackcurrant and got something that had tasted like Ribena's very cheap, not very nice second cousin, and had made a face Liam hadn't forgotten. Harry had, but Liam tended to carry these things around like a carefully patched invisible blanket.

"We never have Ribena," Louis told him, then raised his voice so that Liam's mum could hear from the kitchen. "Blackcurrant, please."

Liam ducked his head and went back to picking at the knee of his jeans with his fingernail. There was the beginning of a hole there. If his mum caught him, she'd patch it, so he'd have to hide his jeans out of the way for a while to save himself the embarrassment of a patch.

"Are we seriously watching Neighbours?" Louis tried to make a grab for the remote, but Liam hadn't been friends with him for years and not learned something.

Liam kept a fierce grip on the remote. "Yes," he said. "I'm not changing the channel, so shut up and watch it. It's only on for another ten minutes. Stop whining. And stop making that face. Wind will change and you'll be stuck like that."

Louis burst out laughing. "Oh my god," he said. "Fine. Mum."

"Fine," Liam said.

"Here we go, boys." Mum came in with two glasses of squash. "Are you staying for your tea, Louis?"

Liam thought a bit about how he'd seen his mum peeling the oldest potatoes earlier, and cutting out the black bits. It was the end of the month. He was pretty sure there wasn't enough to go around.

"No thanks, Mrs Payne. I've had my tea. We had shepherd's pie."

"Smashing," Mum said. "Liam loves a bit of shepherd's pie, don't you, love?"

"Obviously," Louis grinned, making a face at Liam. "Who doesn't?"

"Tea will be about ten minutes, Liam."

"Thanks, Mum." Liam tried to turn his attention back to the TV, but Louis kept grinning at him. "What?" he said finally.

"Nothing."

Liam rolled his eyes. It wasn't that they'd been ignoring each other—they hadn't—but they had been ignoring that thing from Thursday night that they weren't talking about. It had been a week, and sometimes Liam thought that maybe Louis really didn't remember, but other times he caught Louis looking at him—looking at his mouth—and Liam knew that he did. He remembered. He just wasn't admitting to it. "I didn't know you were coming round this early."

"I didn't either. The twins were driving me mad. Whose stupid idea was it to give them My Little Ponies for their birthday? I told them that their ponies wanted to go outside and feel the wind in their manes. It wasn't my fault it rained."

"Louis, you didn't."

"I did." He grinned. "I went and got them in again, don't worry. They liked having a bit of a shower."

"Sometimes you're a total knob."

"I know." Louis beamed. "Anyway, they cried, and I tried to make it up to them, but then Lottie cried, and Fizz got felt tip on my homework, and then she cried, and Daisy couldn't find her penguin, and everyone was crying, and Mum's banned me from ever touching their My Little Ponies ever again, and told me to come and see if you wanted badgering."

"I don't want badgering," Liam lied. He relented. "Did you really make all of your sisters cry?" That was a bit unusual. Louis was actually a really great big brother, and regardless of how much he pretended he hated babysitting, he was always really good with his sisters. He was always playing with them. He had his own My Little Pony too, not that Liam was supposed to know about it. He'd caught a glance of it in a drawer once, complete with Louis-styled cape and a sign around its neck saying KING OF THE WORLD.

Louis shrugged. "Kind of, but I didn't mean to. Everyone's in a bad mood this week."

Louis was in a bad mood this week, that meant. Liam had noticed he was in a bit of a grump. Maybe he was having the same, do I like boys conversation that Liam was having with himself. In Liam's case it was a bit one-sided, because the only answer he could think of to reply with was I think so. He didn't know what was going on in Louis' head, though. Nobody ever did. That was the problem.

"Is Karl Kennedy still in this?" Louis asked after a minute. He pointed at the screen. "Hasn't he been in it forever?"

"Can't get rid of Dr Karl," Liam said. He poked at Louis' bare ankle with his toes. His socks were supposed to be white, but they were more of a grey-ish and sorry about it kind of a shade. "You all right?"

"Course," Louis said, still staring at the screen. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason." Liam gave up poking at him, and went back to watching Neighbours.

"Dinner's ready," Mum called. "Come and get it, Liam."

"Back in a minute," Liam said, and the moment he was out of his seat, Louis had the remote.

"Ha," Louis said, brandishing it like a prize. "Got you."

Yeah, Liam thought. I think you might have.

--//--

Half way through the night, Liam pushed his lemonade across the table and stood up. "Going for a piss," he said, although all of a sudden the only people left at their table were Eleanor and Danielle, and both of them were talking too much to notice him leaving. He liked them both a lot, but they kept having conversations about politics and the government, both of which he didn't have anything to say about. He didn't know anything about politics, and he didn't have much of an opinion on the coalition. Plus, he needed to wee. He patted their shoulders on his way past, squeezing past people on the way out into the corridor, and was momentarily thankful he wasn't a girl when he saw the queue for the ladies.

There was no one in the gents.

Well, except for Louis, who was standing around not doing very much at one end of the row of urinals.

Liam picked the urinal at the other end of the row and unzipped his trousers. "Hi," he said, because the toilets seemed a funny place to hang around in.

"Liammmmm," Louis said, waggling his dick about. "I have performance anxiety."

Liam rolled his eyes. There was nobody else in the loos but them. "You are the weirdest person in the history of forever," he said. "Where have you been?"

"Dancing," Louis said, finally starting to wee as Liam finished. "And doing shots with Niall. You seen Harry?"

"He's gone, I think. Did three shots and then disappeared over to Purgatory. To see his friend Nick, probably. Did you see him at all last week? I only saw him from the other side of the room when he was DJing. He doesn't look like he's our age. Do you think he's at uni?"

"Dunno. Didn't see him." Louis zipped up his trousers. He went over to the sink but didn't wash his hands. Liam pointedly ran the water, and Louis waved his hands in the direction of the tap. "I'm really drunk."

"I know," Liam said.

"Why weren't you dancing?"

"Don't know. Got talking to Eleanor and Danielle." Until they started talking about politics and he couldn't keep up.

Louis looked at Liam's mouth. "You're not still trying to get back with her, are you?"

"Not since GCSEs. You know that." Liam dried his hands on his trousers for something to do. "You disappeared, earlier."

Someone else came in to the loos, and Louis made a big show of sighing loudly, like interrupting a private conversation in the toilets was a crime or something. He curled his fingers into Liam's sleeve and pulled him out into the corridor at the same time as making a face at the curly-haired student who was trying to jam pound coins into the condom machine. Potentially thankfully, he didn't notice Louis sticking his tongue out at him over the sinks.

Liam didn't exactly have anywhere else to be, so he didn't protest as Louis pulled him down the hall towards the doors out to the fire escape. It was a dead end. "This is not the way to the bar, Lou."

"I know," Louis stumbled over his feet and pushed Liam up against the wall. "So drunk," he said, and then—Liam didn't even know how it happened—Louis was kissing him again, hand pressed to Liam's cheek, mouth alcohol-sweet and warm.

Liam ended up grabbing Louis' elbows to keep them both upright, and kissing him back, because, well, he was nothing if not polite and... he liked it. He really liked it. He ran his tongue over Louis' bottom lip, and kissed him again.

"Oh god," Louis said, pulling away a minute later and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "I need a drink."

Liam almost said, me too. He let go of Louis' elbows, and surreptitiously wiped his mouth. "You're wasted," he said, because that seemed like a thing they were doing. Blaming alcohol. And kissing. Kissing each other. Why was beyond him, and he was sober. This wasn't something that they did. He'd never even—he'd never looked at Louis and thought, I want to kiss you, or I wish you'd kiss me.

Not until this week. Now he couldn't stop fucking thinking it.

"Totally fucking wasted," Louis agreed. His fingers twitched, and he plucked at Liam's shirt with his fingertips. "Come and do shots with us. Just this once. It can't hurt once. Come on."

"Fine, okay," Liam said. It wasn't like he couldn't drink alcohol. You could drink, with one working kidney. It just—for him it never felt very nice, after. Apparently people with kidney problems quite commonly had problems coping with alcohol, or so his consultant said. It usually made him feel quite ill. But it turned out he was probably quite gay, and he wasn't sure that was what he wanted to be. He wasn't sure what he wanted, but there was something about Louis' smile that made his stomach twist up just a little bit, like he was free-floating. It was all a bit confusing, because he wanted that. It turned out he really wanted that.

Maybe he really did need a drink.

"You're going to have a drink?" Louis punched the air. "Sweet. Harry will be pissed off he missed this, he loves it when you drink."

Everyone loved it when he drank. His kidney would complain afterwards, but oh well. It didn't happen all that often. He could put up with it.

"Just like, one," he said. "Or two."

"Two," Louis said, and he cupped Liam's elbow in his hand, pulling him back towards the main room.

Liam tried to focus on anything other than Louis' hand against his skin. Anything. He thought about Louis kissing him. Oh god. Maybe Louis touching him was better than thinking about that. If he thought about that again, he was going to pull Louis closer and kiss him again, and that probably wasn't a good idea.

"What are you going to have?" Louis asked loudly, over the music, dragging Liam back onto the dance floor and straight through the crowd as the most direct route to the bar. "Tequila? Sambuca? Hey, Niall. Put that pint down, Liam's on the razz tonight."

"Sick," Niall said, necking the remains of his pint and dumping it on the ledge by the side of the dance floor. He wrapped an arm around Zayn's neck, dragging him away from Perrie, who was doing her level best to ignore him, just like always. "Liam's drinking, Zayn."

"Fuck, yeah," Zayn said. "I'll be back, sweetheart."

Perrie rolled her eyes and went back to dancing with her friends.

"She loves me," Zayn said, bumping his shoulder into Liam's.

"About as much as the plague," Liam pointed out. He thought it was quite good he was managing to participate in a conversation. His brain felt a bit like mush. He wanted to kiss Louis again. He barely even recognised himself.

"She gave me her number." Zayn laughed. "I'm wearing her down. Soon she's going to think I'm fucking awesome. I'm winning her over. Fuck, isn't she brilliant? And totally fucking gorgeous."

Niall just laughed, and helped shoulder his way to the bar. "You're wasted."

Zayn draped himself over Liam and Niall's backs. "Perrie's amazing."

"I'm going to remind you about this in the morning," Niall said, holding a tenner up to get the barman's attention. "Anyone else got any money? What are we having?"

Louis leaned over the bar. "Four brain haemorrhages, and four triple vodkas and cokes."

"I'm going to die," Liam said. "Like, actually die."

"Shut up," Louis said, elbowing him in the side. "Do you want an Aftershock as well?"

Well, Liam thought. Might as well. If he was going to die, he might as well do it with style.

--//--

"Jesus Christ," Liam said, ten minutes later. He steadied himself with a hand to the table, and shook his head, blinking. "That's strong."

"It's a triple, dickhead," Niall said, taking a gulp of his, then holding it up to clink against Liam's. They'd downed the shots at the bar, cinnamon Aftershock followed by the brain haemorrhages. Liam hadn't exactly been sure he could be down for anything that involved Bailey's curdling, but it had tasted nicer than the Aftershock, at least. "Down in one."

"Fuck that," Zayn said. He took a sip of his drink through his straw, and set off in a vaguely wobbly line towards Perrie on the dance floor. Niall waggled his eyebrows, and followed him.

Liam already felt light-headed, and he had the rest of his triple to get through. Louis bumped into his shoulders.

"Everything's better when you're drunk, right?" he said, and Liam couldn't help it, he dropped his gaze to Louis' mouth.

"Yeah," he said, and when he looked up again, Louis was blushing.

Liam looked the other way and bit his lip. He wasn't sure which was weirder; that it turned out he liked kissing boys, or that it turned out he liked kissing this one.

He downed the rest of his drink, ignoring the beginnings of the tell-tale nausea that was starting to slide across his skin. "It's hot in here."

"Yeah," Louis said. He put his drink down on the table. "Do you want to go find the balcony upstairs? Get some fresh air?"

To hear him over the music Liam had to duck in, so that his ear was right by Louis' mouth. He nodded, without even really knowing what he was saying yes to. He got drunk so much more quickly than the others, probably because he was usually sober. It was already taking his vision a moment to catch up when he turned his head. He'd always liked that feeling, but he didn't like starting to feel sick, which usually came with it.

The balcony upstairs was less of a nice place to get a breath of fresh air, and more of a place to die a crammed, smoking related death, but Liam hadn't been lying about how hot it was getting inside. Anything was preferable to the sweat of the dance floor.

"You okay?" Louis asked, one hand in the small of Liam's back.

Liam nodded, pushing his way to the edge of the balcony, to the corner where a bald guy with a tattoo was getting off with a girl in a weird, a-symmetrical dress. Louis strategically elbowed them out of the way so that he could lean over the railing to look at the street below.

"I think I'm drunk," Liam said, after a minute. The bald guy and the girl with the weird-shaped dress had gone back inside. Louis didn't step away into the space they'd left. His elbows kept bumping into Liam's.

"I know I am," Louis said. He folded his arms and leaned further over the balcony. Two girls were stumbling out of a taxi and into the club. He waved at them.

Liam laughed, and ducked his head. His clothes always looked really weird when he was drunk. He blinked a few times because the stripes on his shirt kept getting further apart and then closer together. "I'm going to be so ill tomorrow."

"Don't think about tomorrow," Louis said, and he reached over and ran his fingers through Liam's hair. "Your hair's so great."

"Shut up."

"No," Louis said, and then he smiled kind of ruefully and leaned in. "I just—" he pressed his mouth to Liam's, alcohol-sweet and sticky. "I think I'm really drunk."

"Yeah," Liam said, not moving away. He swallowed, and tilted his chin up. He was the one that initiated the kiss this time, slow and a little uncertainly. "Tomorrow's going to be rubbish."

"Stop thinking about tomorrow, for real." Louis stroked his fingers through Liam's hair again, and Liam trailed his fingers down Louis' side until he could rest his hand on Louis' hip. This wasn't what best friends did. It didn't matter that they were drunk; Liam wasn't stupid.

He shifted the angle a little, head to one side. His gaze flitted between Louis' eyes and his mouth.

"Yeah," Louis said, and Liam kissed him again.

Louis tugged him away from the edge of the balcony, into the corner, where it was quieter. He laughed, hands around Liam's wrists. "Being drunk is bloody brilliant."

"Yeah," Liam said. He felt kind of sick after all those drinks. "I should probably go home."

"No," Louis complained. "Shut up, that's rubbish. You're rubbish, shut up."

"I don't feel very well." That was starting to be the understatement of the year.

"Really, shut up," Louis said. He crowded Liam back against the wall, smile wide, and Liam couldn't help but respond to that in kind. "You want to stay here with me. Admit it." He grinned, and darted in for a kiss.

Liam tried to ignore the rolling nausea in his stomach that always happened after he drank, and met him halfway. He wasn't going to pretend for a second that kissing Louis was anything short of brilliant, even if his kidney was complaining.

Louis laughed into the kiss and rolled his hips forward against Liam's, and—

—well, that was a dick that didn't belong to Liam.

Liam slid his hands down over Louis' arse and pulled him closer, grinning as Louis kissed him again.

Pretty damn gay, Liam thought, and kissed him back.

--//--

"How are you feeling?" Liam's mum asked the following morning, as Liam leaned blearily against the fridge whilst the kettle boiled. He'd never wanted to go to school less.

"Rubbish," Liam said, which was the understatement of the year. He'd barely slept, just like virtually every other time he drank, and he'd spent a good couple of hours curled up in a ball feeling rotten. This morning his back was killing him. It wasn't his back, he knew that, but whatever. It felt like back pain.

"How much water have you drunk?"

"A bit." Not enough.

His mum made a face at him and reached past him to get a water bottle down from the cupboard. "Fill that, drink it, and then fill it up again. Got your painkillers?"

"Taken them," Liam said. "Not kicked in yet."

"Have some toast," she suggested. "What have I told you about drinking, Liam?"

"Not on a school night?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "I know everyone else is doing it. Would you walk off a cliff if you saw everyone else doing it too? Don't give me that face. But you have got lessons today. And exams coming up."

"They're only AS levels. And I don't do it every week. Not like everyone else." He knew how important his AS levels were. He was already doing twice as much work as everyone else for them. He wished he didn't have to, but that was the way things were. No point complaining just because it took him longer to read things than anyone else, and longer to check that his work was actually in English at the other end.

"I know." She popped two pieces of bread in the toaster. "And I know it's a pain, don't get me wrong. But is it worth feeling this awful afterwards? Being like everyone else?"

Liam let his mind wander towards the twenty minutes he'd spent getting off with Louis on the club balcony last night, before Liam's nausea had kicked in for real and he'd had to give in and go for the last bus. Unlike last week, everyone else had decided to go with him rather than get taxis home later. "Sometimes it is."

"I don't want to ban you from going out with your friends," his mum said. "But your first priority should be your schoolwork, and I don't want to see a repeat of this every Friday morning, all right?"

"Fine," Liam said. On the bus on the way home last night, he'd ended up sitting next to Perrie because she'd dragged him down onto the seat next to her so that Zayn couldn't, and Louis had sat behind him and drawn pictures over Liam's shoulders with the tip of his finger. Just before they'd got off the bus, Perrie had curled into his side and asked in a whisper if he thought Zayn really liked her, and how he'd treat her if they started going out. He'd be good to you, he'd said as they got off the bus, thoroughly aware that Zayn was watching them and frowning. He really likes you.

Her brow had cleared at that, and she'd kissed him on the cheek before running off to join the others walking home in her direction.

By the time he'd turned around, Louis was right the other side of the car park, with Niall and Danielle and Jade. None of them lived in the same direction as him. He'd ended up walking home with Zayn, who was being weird with him, and sort of not talking to him—probably because he'd sat next to Perrie—and then he'd ended up trying not to throw up by the side of the road, and retching onto the grass. Good times.

"Drink more of that water," his mum said. "And eat your toast."

Liam nodded, feeling rotten, and wondered if it was all worth it.

--//--

"Hi," Louis said, from where he was sprawled across the whole of the bench seat in their booth in the sixth form common room. "I think I'm dying."

"I think I might actually be too," Liam said. He pushed Louis' feet out of the way and sat down, leaning forward a bit to stretch out his back. The painkillers were supposed to be slow release, but this was a bit rubbish. They could slowly release a bit faster, surely?

"You okay?" Louis asked, poking him in the thigh with the toe of his Toms.

"Yeah," Liam lied. "Or no, you know. Back hurts."

Louis made a face. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Liam said. He wasn't. This whole gay realisation thing had crept up on him a bit out of nowhere, but he wasn't about to wish away the three times he and Louis had kissed, even if it did mean he felt like death this morning. He wondered if they were going to talk about it this time, or just pretend it had never happened, like last week? Would it be terrible of him if he hoped they could just put it off until he felt less like the walking dead? Because that would be nice. Both feeling less like the walking dead, and getting to talk about all of these feelings he was having. About Louis. Best-friend-Louis. Who happened to have a penis that Liam had started to like thinking about.

Yeah, life was taking Liam in ever new and bizarre directions.

"You were really drunk last night," Louis said.

"Lightweight," Niall agreed, coming over and dumping his bag on the floor by Liam's feet.

"Leave him alone," Danielle said, rubbing the back of Liam's neck. It felt nice, so he didn't tell her to stop.

"Nrgh," Liam said, helpfully. Danielle did a lot of dancing, and she had always been great at ironing out the knots in his muscles. Just because they'd broken up before GCSEs didn't mean that he didn't miss this. Luckily breaking up hadn't meant that they'd had to stop being friends.

Danielle laughed, and pressed her fingertips into his shoulders. "You're like one giant knot, Liam."

"Slept terribly," Liam said. He dropped his head so that she could massage his shoulders.

When he looked up, Louis was watching him, and frowning.

"Cheer up," Niall said. "Just think, you could be Zayn. He's getting blown off by Perrie for the millionth time, look."

Over by the doors, Perrie was doing a very good job at rolling her eyes at Zayn. Liam sort of thought that Perrie really quite liked Zayn, so everything about their courtship was just one, long, baffling puzzle to him.

Zayn dropped to his knees and tried to beg.

Niall snorted. "He's so fucking gone over her."

Perrie laughed, shook her head, and walked away.

Zayn climbed awkward to his feet, and came over, grinning. "I'm winning her," he said. "Anyone got any paracetamol and Irn Bru?"

Fridays, Liam thought, were always the same.

"I'm going to lessons," Louis said, picking up his rucksack and heading for the door before the bell had even rung. "See you all later."

Well. Apart from that.

--//--

Louis bought him a chocolate cornflake crispy cake from the bakery at lunchtime.

"Thanks," Liam said, once Louis had handed the bag over. "Um. Did I ask for this?"

"You weren't feeling well," Louis said. "Therefore. That."

"Oh," Liam said. "Right. Brilliant. Thanks."

Harry looked up from his phone and made a face. "Didn't you buy me one?"

"Are you poorly?" Louis asked, and waited for Harry to shake his head. "Then no."

"I'm not poorly," Liam said. He still felt quite rotten, but he couldn't help but think that this was self-inflicted. You couldn't be poorly if it was your own fault. And frankly, he wasn't an idiot, and he knew he'd got drunk partly in the hope of being able to pull Louis again—which he had—so even feeling like this, last night still ended up in the plus column.

"Shut up, Liam," Louis said, and sat down next to him. "Eat your chocolate crispy."

Liam looked down at his knees. "I was a bit drunk last night."

Louis looked anywhere but at him. The common room was busy for a Friday afternoon, when everyone tried to sneak off home early, even if they had lessons last thing. Free periods really were the best thing about sixth form, bar none. But right now, everyone was being very loud, and Zayn was trying to sing you're the one that I want at Perrie, and there were crisp packets everywhere, and sandwich wrappers, and school books, and homework, and half-drunk cups of tea. "Me too. That's the point of going out though, innit?"

"Sometimes," Liam said. He picked at his chocolate crispy, offering a bit to Louis. "I wasn't that drunk, though."

Louis shot him a quick look. "Eat your cake."

"Right," Liam said. "But you know, um, like—I wasn't that out of it."

Louis sat on his hands. "Oh," he said. "I can't really remember."

Oh, Liam thought. Right.

"Anyone want to go to the cinema tomorrow?" Harry asked, over the din. "Iron Man 3? Nick's friend can get us half price tickets if we have a drink in the bar first."

Liam was totally broke, and he had to work first. "I'm in," he said, because what the fuck ever. "So long as it's after I finish work."

Harry looked at his phone. "There's a showing at eight, apparently. Meet there, six-ish?"

Liam didn't finish at the shop until six, but the cinema wasn't that far from work. "I'll be there," he said, and virtually everyone else said yes, too. He didn't hear whether Louis did or not.

He ate his chocolate crispy cake in vaguely depressed silence, and tried not to focus too much on the fact he'd really rather have a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend, and how if he got to pick, he'd really rather like it to be Louis.

But the thing was, Louis was still pretending none of it was happening, and he was still pretending that to Liam, and somewhere along the line, that had started to hurt.

THREE.

Louis.

"Get the washing in, will you, love?" Louis' mum asked, once tea was over on Friday night, and Daisy and Phoebe were in the middle of a very long and protracted conversation about whose Peppa Pig towel was who's. "Darlings, those towels are exactly the same. It doesn't matter which one is which."

"It does," Daisy said mutinously. "This one's mine."

"It's mine," Phoebe maintained.

His mum looked harassed.

"All right." Louis scraped up the remains of his bananas and custard and stood up, still holding the bowl in his hand. He dumped it by the sink on the way to the back door, shoving his feet into his mum's crocs by the door. Anything was better than getting in the middle of a Peppa Pig argument. His sisters could be surprisingly long-winded.

Next door's kids were out playing football in the back garden again; one of them, Adam, the youngest, clambered up and stuck his head over the fence. "Lou, give us our ball back. Sam kicked it over before and it went by your shed."

"I didn't," Sam yelled, clambering up next to Adam and elbowing him. "It wasn't me, it was Tim."

Tim was the eldest brother. All the boys were loud and annoying and couldn't keep their balls in their own garden. One of them had once tripped Lottie up on purpose, and Mum had stormed next door to have it out with their mum. They hadn't done that again.

"Keep it in your own garden, all right?" Louis dropped the washing basket by the line and went to have a poke round by the shed. They only really kept their bikes in there, and the lawn mower. They weren't exactly keen gardeners, and the grass came up to his knees round the side, where he could see the ball by the hedge. "My mum will kill you if you put it through the shed window again."

"Yeah, yeah," Sam said. "Come and have a kick about, Lou. Be in goal."

"Can't, I'm going out." He hadn't been planning on it, but he could phone Niall or Zayn and see what they were up to. One of them would be up for meeting up, he was sure. His traitorous brain suggested texting Liam, but Liam always did homework on Friday nights, and anyway, Louis had no idea what to say to him. He was having enough trouble just looking him in the eye.

"Rubbish," Adam said, holding his hands out for the ball. Louis passed it over the fence, and stood there for a minute, watching Tim practice keepy-uppies. Louis hadn't done that for a while. Maybe he should see if anyone wanted to go to the park in the morning, play a bit of footy. Get things back to normal. Pretend the last couple of weeks had never happened.

"Oi, Tim, stop that. Give us the ball." Sam tried to get in the way of Tim's keepy-uppies. "Stop being so fucking gay."

Louis winced.

"Sam," the boys' mum called, from their back door. "I heard that. No swearing."

"Sorry, Mum!" Sam kicked the ball away from Tim. "You're so gay."

No one told him off for that.

"Shut up," Tim said, chasing after the ball. "You're an idiot."

Louis dropped back down onto his side of the fence, and went over to the washing line. The peg bag was an old hot water bottle cover shaped like a Clanger. It had used to make this weird noise whenever you pressed its stomach, but the battery had run out, and Mum had hooked a hanger in it and started using it for a peg bag instead. He started unpegging the washing and dumping it into the basket.

Don't think don't think don't think. He unpegged his pants from the line and dropped the pegs into the Clanger. Don't think about Liam.

A couple of mistakes didn't make him gay. They didn't make him anything. He wished he could just forget the whole thing, and that everything could go back to the way it had been before. Before Liam looked at him differently.

Before he looked in the mirror and saw someone looking back who'd liked kissing another boy.

It was starting to spit. He doubled his speed, dumping the remains of the washing down into a pile, and jogging inside to avoid the rain. Next door, the boys continued playing out regardless.

He put the washing basket down onto the table, and made for the stairs.

"Uh," Mum said. "Where do you think you're going? That washing isn't going to fold itself."

"I'm going out," Louis lied. He needed to see Niall, or Harry, or Zayn. Or one of the girls. Anyone who'd remind him what normal was. He just needed everything to be normal again.

"You can go out when you've folded the washing and spoken to your dad. He's on the phone with the girls now; he'll want to speak to you."

"Urgh," Louis complained, but he started folding the clothes out of the washing basket anyway, five separate piles because he could never tell which were Daisy's clothes and which were Phoebe's. None of them could, his mum included, so they mostly shared anyway. "Fine."

Mum leaned in to kiss his temple. "Thanks, Lou. You know I'm grateful."

He knew. It wasn't why he helped round the house—he did that because he was the oldest, and someone had to try and lighten the load his mum had to cope with every flipping day, and if his dad wasn't around anymore then someone had to step up—but sometimes he wished he could just stop being the responsible one. Niall got to just hang out in front of the TV and play computer games at his house, but then there was just him and his dad and his brother, so it was easy there. "Do you need anything else doing?"

"Just the washing up. I'll make a start on that after the girls have gone to bed, though."

"No, I'll do it. Before I go out."

His mum smiled. She looked tired. "Thanks. You're my favourite son."

"I should hope so," Louis told her. In the living room he could see his sisters passing round the cordless phone. It'd be his turn soon. He never knew what to say to his dad. He was the man of the house now, and he'd taken it on because his dad had left. Part of him wanted to remind him that he should be here, he should be the responsible one, and he shouldn't have been the one who left. Sometimes Louis didn't want to be the one his mum relied on.

"I'll make us some tea, before I go and make a start on running baths for the twins."

It never ended.

Lottie ran in with the phone just as Louis was folding his t-shirts. "Here you go," she said, shoving the phone into his hand. Louis cradled it between his ear and his shoulder as he finished up with the washing.

"Hiya," he said.

"Hi," Dad said. "How's things?"

"They're great. Everything's great." Was this Lottie's school shirt, or Fizzy's?

"School?"

"Same old."

"When are your exams?"

"Summer. AS levels. Ages away. Well, a few weeks." Close, really.

"But the work's all going okay?"

Louis shrugged. "I suppose."

There was a pause. Louis hadn't quite forgiven his dad for leaving, yet. He didn't miss the constant arguing, but he hadn't exactly chosen to step into his dad's shoes.

"You're helping your mum out when you can?"

"Yep. I'm helping her."

"That's good."

"I know." His dad might not know what a man had to do to look after his family, but Louis did. He knew. He wouldn't let his mum down. Someone had to make sure his mum was okay. "I've got to go and do the washing up, now."

"Oh, all right. You always were a busy one, Louis."

"Yeah." Louis didn't know what to say. "Do you want to talk to the girls again?"

"We've said our goodbyes. It's all right."

"All right, then." Louis said goodbye, and hung up. He stared down at the phone for a bit, and then started to gather up all the clothes. He'd take them up and put them away, so that Mum didn't have to.

Being someone his mum relied on was a lot harder than he'd ever anticipated.

--//--

He didn't quite make up a couple of five-a-side teams for the park in the morning. Harry—who was the worst football player Louis had ever seen—was the first to reply to his text, followed by Jesy and Jade and Zayn and Danielle and Niall and Perrie. Liam worked in a shop on Saturdays, which made not inviting him easier. Or rather: inviting him, and knowing he'd not be able to text back until his lunch break, which would be too late.

Seriously, if he could just stop thinking about Liam for five seconds, then he could get a handle on getting everything back to the way it was, before he'd made a couple of really stupid drunken mistakes and almost fucked everything up.

He was late leaving the house because he'd forgotten he'd had an early driving lesson booked, and had ended up eating breakfast with the twins when he'd got back. By the time he'd made a mad dash to the park, ball under his arm, everyone else was there, sprawled over the grass by the oak trees in the corner of the park.

"Hey," Niall said, making room for Louis to sink down next to him on the grass. "Where've you been?"

"Driving lesson. Booking my test soon." He grinned at everyone. "You all ready to get beaten?"

Jade rolled her eyes. "You know we love you, but you do remember that footy's a team game, right? You can't beat all of us."

Louis laughed, and flexed his muscles. "Player of the match, baby."

Perrie was busy plaiting grass into a bracelet to tie around Zayn's wrist. "How are we picking teams?"

"Take it back to the old days," Louis said. "Ip dip doo."

"Oh my god," Jesy said. "Bagsy me doing it. Everyone in a circle."

"I can't believe we're picking teams with ip dip doo." Harry shook his head. "Does anyone actually remember how it goes?"

"I do," Zayn said. "Ip dip, dog shit, fucking bastard, dirty git, you are not it."

"We're not doing that one. We're doing the proper one. Everyone stick a foot in." Jesy waited whilst everyone moved into a circle and stuck a foot in so she could go round. "Ip dip doo, cat's got the flu, dog's got chicken pox and out goes you. Harry, you're team one. Ip dip doo, cat's got the flu, dog's got chicken pox and out goes you. Jade, you're team two."

"I want to do my rhyme," Zayn whined. "It's well better than yours."

"Shut up," Perrie told him. Zayn shut up.

In the end, Louis ended up on a team with Harry, Perrie and Zayn. He sacrificed his jumper for one of the goal posts, and jogged into the middle of the pitch. This is what he needed, something to take his mind off kissing Liam. He didn't even know how the first time had even happened. He'd been drunk, and Liam had just been there, and Liam was like, objectively hot. No one could deny that, because it was true. Kissing him had just been, like—it had been an accident, and it had been nice, but everyone kissed their friends when they were drunk. No one cared about one stupid, drunken kiss—no matter how good it had actually felt.

Going back for seconds, though. And thirds. People cared then, or they would, if they knew. Seconds and thirds were gay, and Louis wasn't gay. He wasn't.

Liam was just his best friend, and for two nights of Louis' life, the lines had got all blurred and messy, but it was okay, because this was still completely fixable. Nobody need ever know that Louis had ever had a minor, not-quite-straight aberration. Everything was going to be just fine.

Niall jogged over and blew his whistle. "Ready to play?"

"Where the fuck did you get a whistle from?" Zayn asked.

"Bought it special," Niall said. "Everyone ready?"

He blew it again, and Louis kicked off.

--//--

Afterwards, they took over two picnic tables by the café at the other side of the park, and ate ice lollies, and Louis made everyone take a vote to see who was man—or woman—of the match.

Perrie won, and Louis leaned over to give her a hug. "Be brilliant, Pezza."

"I always am," she said, sliding an arm round Zayn's shoulders at the same time as pulling Louis into her side. "Didn't you already know this?"

"I did," Zayn said.

Whipped. Whipped. Louis leaned over and smacked him round the head, just for a laugh. "I've got to go," he said. "Said I'd go to the shops with Mum."

"I'm going too," Niall said. "I'll walk with you. Got to do some stuff for my dad before tonight."

Oh yes, the cinema. Where Liam would be.

He hated feeling this weird around Liam. They'd been best friends since year seven, and ever since then, the five of them—Harry and Zayn and Niall and Liam and him—had been virtually inseparable. Things had only started to change in year ten, when getting a girlfriend seemed more important than playing footy, and he'd pursued Eleanor, and Liam had started holding hands with Danielle in the playground. But now, even though it was all of them hanging out together, the girls and the boys and them, it was always Liam he texted first.

Maybe one day he'd be able to look back and laugh at how mixed up everything was right now. At how he couldn't stop thinking about Liam, even now, even when he was walking down the street with Niall and knew that he couldn't ever kiss Liam again. No matter how many times he thought about wanting to.

I'm straight, he told himself. I'm not gay. He's my best friend, and that's it.

"Look at this," Niall shoved his phone under Louis' nose. "This is my chemistry experiment from yesterday. It's fucking sick. Like, I can't fucking wait to get to uni and do this all day every day."

"You'll be a mad fucking scientist," Louis agreed, even though he couldn't really concentrate on the video Niall was showing him.

"Yeah," Niall said. "You still not figured out what you want to do at uni yet?"

Louis shrugged. "Drama, maybe? I don't know. There's still time to figure it out." UCAS applications didn't have to be in until the beginning of year thirteen. He had months. He didn't really like to think about leaving home, anyway. He didn't know if his mum would be able to look after his sisters by herself. Maybe he wouldn't go to uni. Liam always said he didn't know if he'd go.

Maybe they could stay here together—

Fuck. Fuck. He had to stop this. It couldn't happen.

"I'm late," he said. "I'm going to have to run home."

"Fine," Niall said. "I'll see you later, then? In the pub?"

"Definitely," Louis said, and he ran all the way home, pushing himself harder and harder, until his chest ached and his muscles burned, and he wasn't thinking about the feelings he had for Liam anymore.

--//--

On the way home from the supermarket, Elton John started playing on Radio 2. Louis leaned forward to change the station; whenever Elton John had come on before, his dad had said, what an old queen, and switched to something else.

"No," Mum said, stopping him. "I like this. Leave it on."

"Oh," Louis said softly, and looked out of the window the rest of the way home.

FOUR.

Liam.

"Nice shirt," Louis said, when Liam came back from the bar with a Coke.

"Shut it," Liam said, sliding into the booth next to Zayn. His W.H. Smith shirt wasn't exactly what he'd planned on wearing to the cinema, but he didn't have anything else to wear. "I forgot to bring a t-shirt to change into."

"Sexy," Niall said. "Where's Harry?"

"Gone off to meet this Nick bloke for the half-price tickets."

"Think we're ever going to meet him?" Liam liked meeting people, and even though Harry laughed it off, it was obvious from space that this guy was different, and kind of special. Liam didn't know if he was special in the way that Louis was starting to be to him, though. It wasn't like they talked about stuff like this. Harry didn't normally keep secrets, and he didn't normally keep his different groups of friends apart. They'd all met Harry's friends from outside school. Way too many times, actually. Some of those guys were dicks.

"Maybe he's imaginary. Maybe when you thought you saw him DJing at Purgatory, he was just a mirage," Louis said. He was sitting in between Perrie and Jesy. "Who else is coming tonight?"

"Jade's at her cousins', and Leigh is babysitting. Danielle's gone to the theatre. Eleanor's at her gran's."

"Just us, then."

"Pretty much." Zayn grinned at Perrie. "You ever going to go out with me?"

Perrie rolled her eyes. "If you stop asking for ten seconds, then maybe."

"Get in," Zayn said. He didn't fist pump, which Liam considered a win overall.

"The more you do that, the less chance you've got of me actually saying yes, by the way."

Zayn mimed zipping his mouth shut, and grinned. "I'm silent. Promise."

Perrie just laughed, and Liam met Louis' eyes over the table. Maybe Zayn really did have a chance with her.

Just for a moment, it was like he and Louis had forgotten that things were supposed to be a bit awkward between them since Thursday night, and everything was just the same as it always had been. Then Liam swallowed, and Louis looked away, and immediately started talking to Niall about the football.

Liam really wasn't happy with the way things were starting to go. Maybe on Monday he'd get Louis to one side and see if they couldn't at least pretend things weren't weird. At some point over the past few years, Liam had come to rely on Louis being a bit of a knob just to get him through the day. It was starting to be like being in year nine all over again, when they'd gone through that phase of fighting about nothing and not talking to each other for days at a time.

He didn't miss year nine at all.

Harry didn't come back for ages, and when he did, he was brandishing a handful of tickets. "You all owe me four quid," he said, handing the tickets round.

Liam fumbled in his wallet for some change. "Nick not coming in?"

"He's working," Harry said. "I'm going to see him afterwards."

"Well," Liam said. "Tell him thanks."

"Will do," Harry said.

"We ever going to meet him?" Louis asked.

"Yes, of course. At some point. Probably."

"That's cleared that up, then."

"Shut up," Harry said, sitting down next to Louis. "Someone buy me a drink and tell me I'm fantastic."

Louis snorted, and stood up to go and get him a drink.

"You're fantastic," Liam said dutifully, and dodged Harry's attempt at smacking him round the back of his head.

When Louis came back, he was holding a drink for Harry, a rum and Coke for himself, and a Coke for Liam, even though Liam hadn't asked him for anything. He slid it over the table to Liam without saying anything, and Liam looked down at his lap and said an awkward thank you.

"They've got giant Jenga over there," Louis said, totally not looking at Liam. "And no one's playing on it. You think we should go and beat everyone, ever, at it?"

"You've got delusions of grandeur," Perrie said, already climbing over him, Jesy following. There was something about giant games that turned them all into kids again. Potentially that was how they'd broken Connect 4 in The Brewers that time, but nobody spoke of that. Particularly not The Brewers, who'd subsequently closed down their games corner. Louis wore that honour like a crown.

"They're not delusions, baby," Louis said, and Zayn hit him, just for fun.

Louis snorted, grabbed his drink, and headed across the bar without looking back to see if Liam was following.

He was, obviously.

Harry bumped his elbow into Liam's, and grinned. "You playing, or watching?"

"Watching," Liam said, very deliberately avoiding staring at Louis' arse as he reset the Jenga tower. "Are we sure giving Louis weapons is a good idea?"

Louis smirked at him over his shoulder. "I'm going to be the Jenga king, baby."

"Yeah, yeah," Liam said. "I think Perrie's got other ideas."

"I have," she said. "I'm going to win."

Thing was, Liam believed her.

They didn't leave the bar for the cinema until way too late, because it turned out they were all really bad at giant Jenga, so when they got to the screen, the trailers were already playing and virtually every single seat was taken.

"Bugger," Perrie said, stopping short at the front of the cinema. She was probably getting in everyone's way, but at least it was only the trailers.

"Crap," Louis said. "Looks like we're not all sitting together."

"Baggsy not sitting alone," Jesy said, hooking her arm into Perrie's.

"Me neither," Louis said. He grabbed Liam's arm. "There's two at the back there, we'll take them."

A little bewildered, Liam let himself be dragged up the steps. "See you after," he called over his shoulder, to the frantic shushing of some terribly boring people in the audience who seemed to think that trailers were something you should be quiet through. They probably thought beige was a good colour scheme and that darts was an interesting sport to watch on telly. He should feel sorry for them, probably. Louis was rubbing off on him. Either that or he was so baffled by Louis wanting to be alone with him that he was accidentally channelling him. He threw a few sorrys after him for good measure.

"Scuze me, scuze me," Louis said, tripping his way down the row for the two seats in the corner by the wall at the back.

Liam followed with apologies, because that really was the kind of thing he liked to do. Some of his popcorn spilled into someone's handbag. He stumbled into his seat, and handed his stuff to Louis. "Hold that a moment." He shrugged out of his jacket, and then stole the popcorn back.

There was a very good chance that everyone in the vicinity hated them.

Louis bumped his elbow into Liam's and leaned in as Liam got himself sorted out. "Good spot, or good spot?"

"Great spot," Liam agreed. "Did everyone else get seats?"

"Don't care. Gimme the popcorn."

"It's my popcorn."

"What's yours is mine," Louis said. "Hand it over."

Liam rolled his eyes and handed over the popcorn.

"You're my slave," Louis said, way too loudly.

Liam didn't say anything to that, but he let Louis keep the popcorn, just leaning over to take a handful instead. Louis waggled his eyebrows and bumped his elbow into Liam's.

They'd finished the popcorn by about ten minutes into the film, which was actually fairly slow for the two of them, and then Louis dropped the empty bag onto the floor and nudged him again.

"What?" Liam hissed.

"Nothing," Louis said, and Liam grinned, turning his attention back to the screen. His elbow kept bumping into Louis'.

A minute later, Louis' hand slid over Liam's knee, and all Liam could think of to do was to go terribly, terribly still. "Lou."

"Shut up," Louis said, leaning over to whisper in his ear, "or tell me to stop."

Liam swallowed. He didn't want to say stop, so he said nothing at all. After a moment, Louis' hand moved a little further up Liam's thigh. His breath was warm against Liam's ear.

Oh god, what the hell were they doing? This was mental. Proper mental. He let out a ragged breath, and turned his head, just enough that he could catch Louis' eye in the darkness. "Lou," he said again, soft enough that he couldn't be heard over the noise of the film.

Louis looked down to his mouth and back up again.

Liam balled up all of his courage in his hands, nudged forward, and kissed him.

Louis sighed into the kiss, and in between one breath and the next, he kissed Liam back, hand still splayed over Liam's leg. Liam touched his fingers to Louis' cheek, and Louis made a soft noise against Liam's mouth, and shifted in his seat so that he could run his hand up the inside of Liam's thigh.

Liam squeaked, and blushed as his dick started to take an interest in proceedings.

Seriously, what were they doing? Louis had only had two rum and Cokes; there was no way he could write this off as being drunk. He couldn't even taste the rum in Louis' kiss, just the sweet/salt of the popcorn. Around them, the speakers blared and the film carried on playing, and Liam wasn't paying attention to any of it. He could only focus on Louis' hand on his thigh, and his mouth. Oh, shit.

"What are we doing?" he asked, in between kisses.

"Having a good time," Louis said, which was a lie. Like, Liam might not be the sharpest knife in the box, but he knew as well as the next person that you didn't get off with your best friend in a crowded cinema just for a good time. It was fucking Iron Man, for a start.

Shit, Louis was picking kissing him over watching Robert Downey Jr, and it was possible that he was Louis' idol. God.

Liam—awkwardly, and a little shyly—put his hand on Louis' thigh. There wasn't really any coming back from the whole gay thing anymore, at least not for him. The tiniest, vaguest possibility of one day coming into contact with someone else's dick was turning him on approximately one hundred million times more than he'd ever felt at the prospect of getting close to a girl and getting her naked. The realisation wasn't scary. Admittedly, he was getting to kiss someone he accidentally really fancied, and that was taking up the majority of his brain capacity, but that wasn't really the point. Not that he'd ever really thought about it, but he'd always sort of assumed that realising you were properly, one-hundred-per-cent gay would come with peals of thunder and bells, but the reality was more like something in his brain shifting a little to one side, and finally slotting into place.

It was even quite nice really, the way things made a bit more sense now. He never really had been all that into putting his hand up Danielle's skirt. He'd always assumed it was because he liked being the perfect gentleman.

Then Louis covered Liam's hand with his own, and moved it up to brush over Louis' dick through his jeans, and Louis was hard. And everything Liam thought was true just tipped over and upside down in his head, because—oh god. He'd just touched Louis' dick.

Louis pressed Liam's hand down against his erection, and Liam tried to keep quiet, he did, but everything about this that wasn't him realising he was gay was totally overwhelming. Being gay was fine. Touching Louis' dick in a crowded cinema wasn't. He made a strange, strangled kind of a whimper, and Louis shut him up with a hissed intake of breath and a kiss.

"Quiet," Louis breathed, against his mouth.

Liam nodded, his mouth dry. He swallowed. "Do you want to—" he didn't know what he was asking. They couldn't do this here. "Go somewhere else?"

"Now?" Louis didn't say anything for a moment. "Miss the film?"

Liam shrugged. His hand was still touching Louis' thigh. "Yeah, I don't know."

"Okay," Louis said, after a while. "You go first. I'll follow in a minute."

"Right," Liam said, a little awkwardly. He grabbed his jacket and held it over his half-hard dick, and then made everyone in their row move so that he could get past them. Then he jogged down the steps, not looking to either side, and ducked his head and went out into the corridor. He slipped behind a cardboard cut-out advertising the new Star Trek film, and tipped his head back against the wall. Shit. Shit. What the fuck were they doing? What if Louis didn't follow him? What if their friends had seen him leave? Liam didn't like hiding, and he wasn't that keen on secrets, but he and Louis hadn't even talked about what it was they were doing. Part of Liam really didn't want to let everyone else know about something he didn't quite understand himself, either. If they could just talk, then everything else might start to sort itself out.

A couple of minutes passed, and Louis didn't show, and Liam couldn't help but think, oh. He dropped his shoulders, and wondered what to do. He couldn't go back in and sit back where they were, and he didn't think there were any more seats. Maybe he could just text Harry and tell him he wasn't very well, and go home? He'd got as far as trying to unzip his bag when Louis barrelled in to him and covered Liam's mouth with his own.

Liam managed a very dignified ummph, and dropped his bag on the floor. It seemed more than natural for his hands to find their way to Louis' hips, and for Louis' hands to slide into his hair. "Aren't we going to—" he said, in between kisses.

"No," Louis said firmly. "No talking."

Liam's heart did a tiny, downward-swooping sort of a thing in his chest. "Right," he said. He kissed the corner of Louis' mouth, and Louis shifted so that he could take Liam's bottom lip in between his teeth. Nobody had ever done that to Liam before. It was nice. It might have been nicer if he wasn't quite so caught up in Louis determinedly refusing to acknowledge this was even happening. Maybe they should just go back in and watch the film.

Louis rocked his hips up so that his dick brushed Liam's. He still had an erection. "You want to go outside?"

Liam's mouth was dry. Um. "To the car park?"

"Round the back," Louis said. "Where they get the deliveries. There's a road but it doesn't go anywhere. Just here."

Liam didn't ask how Louis knew that, but whatever. Part of him wanted to say no, not whilst we're not talking about this, but the rest of him just wanted to kiss Louis more. Even if they were keeping this a secret. "All right."

Louis nodded, and ducked down to grab Liam's bag and his coat. He set off for the escalators without checking to see if Liam was following, and Liam wasn't stupid. He knew that Louis was deliberately not looking at him.

They'd known each other a long, long time.

This felt like such a bad idea.

He followed him down the escalators and outside.

It was pitch black round the back of the cinema. Liam couldn't help but think about being back inside, watching the film he'd paid actual money to see, but Louis just grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the way of the street lights. It was dark and quite cold, but there was nobody around. They probably didn't get that many deliveries on a Saturday night.

"Here," Louis said breathlessly, pulling Liam further into the shadows. He dumped Liam's stuff on the ground beside them, tugged on Liam's hand, and drew him in for a kiss.

It was way too easy to let Louis lead this, and to just go where Louis wanted him to. Liam wanted it such a lot, after all. He didn't know when he'd started wanting Louis so much, but whenever it was, it had grown to the point where it was—at least for Liam—way more than just drunkenly pulling on Thursday nights.

For a start, it was Saturday.

"What are we doing?"

Louis slid his hand over Liam's shoulder, and round to the back of his neck, drawing him down and into a kiss. "This," he said, a breath away from Liam's mouth.

Okay, Liam thought, and kissed him back. Whatever. They could talk afterwards. They would, too. Liam wasn't going to let this slide anymore. Just—afterwards. Afterwards. He ran his hands down Louis' sides, anchoring himself to Louis' hips, nudging him back against the wall.

Louis' mouth felt urgent against his, heavy and hard. Full of intent. When he tugged Liam closer with a hand to his arse, it was easy to stumble forward, further into his embrace. His dick was getting even harder, and Louis rocked his hips up, his erection rubbing against Liam's, and every part of this was new to Liam.

"I'm so hard," Louis told him, in between kisses. He fisted a hand in Liam's shirt, pulling him even closer.

Liam just couldn't get over the fact that a) Louis was hard and b) Louis was telling him. Liam had worked so hard at being the perfect gentleman when he'd been going out with Danielle, and Louis—well. Louis didn't seem to give a fuck about any of that. Louis rocked his hips up so that his dick dragged over Liam's, and Liam made a strange, high-pitched whimpering noise even before he knew he was doing it.

"Ha," Louis said, in satisfaction. Liam fought the urge to roll his eyes and tell him to sod right off. "You're as hard as me."

"Yeah," Liam said. He hoped the duh was obvious.

Louis slid his hand down between them, and cupped Liam's dick through his jeans. "How's that?"

Liam had stopped being able to manage actual vowel sounds. "Good," he managed, after a moment of trying to remember how to talk.

Louis undid the top button of Liam's trousers, and kissed him again.

He always had known how to shut Liam up.

Liam slid a hand into Louis' hair and cupped his face. He wanted this to say, I want you so much and please be mine.

He wasn't sure that Louis was listening.

"Do me," Louis said breathlessly, biting at Liam's lip before running his tongue over Liam's. He rolled his hips up, erection bumping against Liam's hip. He was undoing Liam's flies, and Liam couldn't process this. Louis was trying to get to Liam's dick, his actual dick, and Liam really, really wanted him to. Was this going to be his first time? In a dark road round the back of the Odeon in town? This wasn't how he'd planned it.

In his head, there might have been candles. And a bed.

Louis shoved his hand into Liam's pants and wrapped his fingers around Liam's dick, pushing his pants out of the way.

"Shit," Liam managed, because he had his dick out in an delivery area. "Oh, shit."

"Do me," Louis urged.

Liam obeyed, because he didn't know what else to do. His dick was in Louis' hand. He fumbled with Louis' flies, trying to get his belt and his t-shirt out of the way, and he was all thumbs. He couldn't—why wouldn't it, fuck; he got the zip undone, and Louis was kissing him again, one hand on his dick, the other cupping his jaw, and Liam didn't get to see the moment he managed to free Louis' dick from his pants. One moment he was struggling with jeans and cotton and then, one breathless minute later, he had Louis' dick in his hand. It was so soft to the touch, and hot, and a part of Liam—a part Liam had never known about before now—just wanted to press his tongue to it and see what it tasted like.

"Fuck," Louis said, before kissing him again. Liam didn't know what to do with the dick in his hand, other than play with it a bit. He was so fucking bad at this. He was such a fucking virgin. He'd always assumed that Louis wasn't, not that he'd explicitly told him otherwise. Not that it mattered, because Louis was batting Liam's hand out of the way and trying to wrap his hand around both their dicks at the same time. He rocked his hips up and his dick dragged over Liam's, and—oh god, that was what that felt like. Like, hot. And dry. "Touch me, Li."

And Liam wanted to, he really wanted to. He stroked his hand over Louis', feeling him whimper into Liam's kiss. That was what power felt like, making Louis make sounds like that. He kissed him again, leading it this time, deepening it a bit so that he could feel Louis' ragged breaths against his mouth. He pushed him even further back against the wall, bracketing him as best he could, shifting position so that he could push his dick into Louis' fist, the tip stroking over Louis' stomach. It was messy, and they were a mess, confused and unsure, but all Liam wanted was more. He kissed him again, and again, until everything was wet and breathless and ragged, his hips moving jerkily as Louis touched him awkwardly, hand fast and dry on his dick.

There was the beginning of an orgasm starting to slide across Liam's skin, starting low in his belly, urgency building in the pit of his stomach. He stole another kiss, and another one, Louis's mouth spit-slick and breathless. Everything was quiet around them; it seemed so far removed from being in the middle of town. It was so dark, and so still. Inside Iron Man 3 was still playing, like everything was just the same as always. Like he wasn't having sex with his best friend.

His orgasm slid closer, and Liam did what he could to hold it off, but then Louis caught his bottom lip in his teeth, and something about it made Liam's belly twist and his hips rock up, and then he was coming, all over Louis' hand, crying out as he did so.

"Christ," Louis managed. His voice caught. "You came."

Liam's rhythm on Louis' dick faltered, and he tried to hide his face in Louis' shoulder. His breath was hot and ragged against Louis' throat as he fumbled with Louis' dick, wanking him towards his orgasm. Louis wrapped his arms around Liam's shoulders and held on tight, and Liam couldn't help but hold him up against the wall, mouthing his appreciation in to Louis' skin. It was so intimate, and they were so close, and it was Louis. He was losing his virginity to Louis.

When Louis started to come, Liam held him up against the wall, streaks of come hitting the back of his hand and the waistband of his pants.

He kissed him, breathless and sweet, and Louis kissed him back.

Yeah, this was what he wanted. This. Louis.

"Wow," he said finally.

"Yeah," Louis said. He fumbled with his pants, pulling them up and doing up his zip. He tried to straighten his shirt, and Liam followed him, tidying himself up and wiping his hand against his stomach.

"We're a bit of a mess," Liam said, which was the truth. He didn't want to think about what the wall had done to Louis' back. "Is your—"

Louis kissed him again, cutting him off mid-word. He kissed him with an oddly slack kind of urgency, open-mouthed and spit-slick. He shifted their positions, turning them around so that Liam was up against the wall, the brick rough against his back. His hands fisted in Liam's shirt and he kissed him again.

Liam kissed him back, over and over.

In the end it started to get too cold to stay outside, and even though Liam hadn't exactly considered that this would ever be an option, he was tired of kissing. His lips were chapped and the skin around his mouth roughened and sore from Louis' stubble. He rubbed his sleeve over his mouth and wished he had some Lipsyl in his pocket. It was the kind of thing his mum always had in her handbag.

"You want to go back inside?" he asked. He was shivering. His jacket was on the floor somewhere, and so was his bag. He'd forgotten them, what with all the kissing, and the getting out of their dicks, and the losing of his virginity. Sort of. Did it count, wanking each other off in a delivery area on a Saturday night? It felt like it might. It felt like he'd just had sex.

"Suppose," Louis said. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "You couldn't have shaved?"

"Came straight from work," Liam said. "You couldn't have shaved either?"

"I did," Louis said, but Liam's mouth felt sore and uncomfortable. It hadn't felt like he had.

"Hey," Liam said, and he reached out to curl his fingers into Louis' shirt. "Come here."

"The film—" Louis said.

Liam tugged him nearer. "Bugger the film." He pulled Louis into a hug, one arm around his shoulders, the other around his waist. "I'm cold."

"That's because we're outside," Louis said, and he didn't hug Liam back. Liam hugged him harder, just because, and after a minute, Louis relented, and wrapped his arms around Liam's back. They fumbled a few steps in the darkness, an uneasy dance routine where Liam shivered into his arms.

Liam touched his mouth to Louis' throat, an open-mouthed kiss.

Louis tipped his head back, and rubbed his palm over the small of Liam's back.

They kept moving, a weird, off-centre dance in the night-time.

When Louis finally kissed him again, it was gentle, and soft, and slow. Liam kissed him back, and didn't let go. He slid a hand into Louis' hair.

Louis stroked his fingertips over Liam's back, and held on.

It didn't matter how cold it was getting, or how long they'd been out here; Liam didn't care.

"You're so great," he said eventually. He pressed his mouth to Louis' throat. "Really, really great, you know?"

Louis stiffened awkwardly, and stepped backwards, out of Liam's arms.

"What?" Liam asked.

"Nothing," Louis said, rubbing his arms. "Cold. We should go in."

Most of the film would be over now, anyway. God knows how long they'd been out here. "Do you think they'll let us back in?" he asked uncertainly. Louis' shoulders were hunched up, and it didn't feel like it was entirely due to the cold. Part of him wanted to reach for Louis' hand, but Louis' body language was giving off enough don't touch me vibes that Liam didn't exactly want to try. What had changed? Two minutes ago, Louis was hugging him, and now he was stepping out of Liam's arms and out of his way. Liam didn't understand.

"They might," Louis insisted. "We could try."

"Are we, um—" Liam started. "We could talk." They should talk.

"Let's try to get back into the film," Louis said, already setting off back around the front. Liam was left trying to gather up his bag and his coat, and running after him to catch up.

They wouldn't let them back into the screen because there was only fifteen minutes left of the film, so they leaned on the wall by the Pick and Mix and waited for everyone else to come out. Louis stared down at his phone, and didn't look up, not even when Liam said his name.

"Did I, um—" Liam tried not to look as awkward and as desperate as he felt. "Did I do something?"

"It was cold," Louis said, not looking up from his phone. "It was freezing cold, Liam. Of course I wanted to come inside."

"But—"

"What did you want me to do? Stay out there and freeze?"

Liam looked at his hands, and tried not to think about how, half an hour ago, they'd been wrapped around Louis' dick. "No," he said. "Course not."

"Well then. Don't be a cock."

"Oh," Liam said. He didn't understand what just happened. He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, and his hand smelt like come. And Louis. And them. Oh god, what if he had it on his shirt, or his hand, or—he couldn't ask Louis. Louis was determinedly not talking to him, staring down at his phone like it was the most important thing in the world. Liam wiped at his mouth again, checking his jeans for stray stains. He pulled his shirt out over the top, and fumbled his coat on, covering himself up.

He couldn't think of anything to say to make it right, so he didn't say anything at all, and neither did Louis, so they just stood there in silence, waiting for the others to come out.

Everything about tonight felt like a mistake.