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LONDON

"Something's up with Liam," Louis says. He and Harry are sat on a sofa that's tucked away in the back corner of the top secret interview warehouse. It's a bit of a shabby sofa, with faded blue upholstery and a squashed middle cushion, but Louis's taken the opportunity to kick off his shoes and put his feet up. They have a twenty-minute break before the next round of interviews. Zayn and Niall have gone off with Paul to rustle up some tea and biscuits, and last Louis saw him, Liam was going over tomorrow's schedule with Raj from publicity, because he is an interfering busybody of a man who can't sit still for five minutes.

Harry doesn't seem to have heard him, so Louis kicks him. Harry catches Louis's foot with one hand and rubs his thumb over the arch, his attention still fixed on his phone. Louis will put up with a lot for a foot massage from Harry, but enough is bloody well enough.

"Harry," he says, more sharply. "Seriously."

Harry clicks his phone off and looks up. "Okay," he says mildly, "what?"

Louis sighs; now that he has Harry's attention, he's not quite sure what to say. "I don't know," he says. "It's just that my spidey-sense's been tingling."

Harry hums thoughtfully. "Your spidey-sense is never wrong." It's flattering, if not precisely accurate. "I don't know, like—when did it start?"

Louis thinks about that for a minute. "I'm not sure," he says. "Somewhere in America, but you know how Liam is, he's just—Liam. He hasn't been acting strangely, or we all would've noticed. I just think—" He shrugs. "Something's up. Couldn't tell you what, though."

"You have been in top form with the pranks lately," Harry points out. He's not wrong, but it's also what they do. It's half the fun of the tour: keeping the show lively, coming up with new things to do to Liam and the others. Louis doesn't think he could ever get bored of this, not even if they played the same twenty songs a thousand times over, but keeping them all entertained is right up at the top of his job description.

"I don't think it's that," Louis says. "Besides, Liam couldn't hold a grudge if his life depended on it. He's not me, Haz."

Harry grins, acknowledging the point, and then shrugs. "You could ask him?"

"Maybe," Louis says. He could ask Liam, but why would he do something as normal and boring and ordinary as asking, when he could suss it out for himself? Louis doesn't like not knowing things, especially things about Liam and Harry and Niall and Zayn. Luckily for him, none of them are very good at keep secrets from one another, and no one is any good at keeping secrets from Louis.

Harry's looking at him knowingly, his eyes crinkled up in a fond, amused smile. "Or you could be one of the Famous Five, I suppose."

"Sherlock Holmes," Louis corrects, "please."

Harry's smile widens. "Miss Marple."

Louis considers that, and then shrugs. "Yeah, alright." He kicks Harry again, until Harry puts his phone down on the arm of the sofa and takes Louis's feet in both hands to start working out the knots in his ankles. "I'm going to figure it out," Louis says. "Whatever it is, Tommo's on the case."

"Mmm," Harry says, massaging Louis's left heel, and then digging his thumb back into the sore spot in Louis's arch. "Be nice, Lou. Liam's entitled to a little privacy, yeah?"

Louis's not so sure about that, but he's not going to fight with Harry when Harry is rubbing his feet. "Maybe," he says again. Harry rolls his eyes, but lets it go. Across the warehouse, Louis can hear the lads coming back, Niall's voice raised above the others. In a minute, they're going to get called back to another interview. He can let it go for now, whatever Liam's hiding, but that doesn't mean he's letting it go forever; one way or another, he's going to find it out.

*

ADELAIDE

They've all been back together in Australia for about an hour when Liam calls a band meeting.

Louis slept badly on the plane, and worse the first night at the hotel—the jet lag's getting to him, this time, and he doesn't like it one bit—and Harry and Niall arriving fresh as fucking daisies from L.A. and Melbourne doesn't make him feel much better; so he's already in a bit of a mood when they assemble in Liam's hotel room and pile onto the bed. Then Liam says, "I've—uh, I've got something I need to talk to you lads about," and Louis slaps Harry's arm and yells, "I knew you were hiding something, Payne!"

Liam looks taken aback. Harry rolls his eyes at Louis and shifts over on the bed, until he's curled up against Niall and mostly out of Louis's slapping range. "I said so, didn't I?" Louis says to Harry. "I said, 'something's up with Liam,' and I was going to find out what it was." He turns to glare at Liam. "You're ruining my fun by just telling us, Liam. I was on a mission."

"Um," Liam says, "sorry?"

"As well you should be," Louis says, and reaches over to pinch Liam's nipple. Liam turns an alarming shade of red and scrambles off the bed, taking two sharp steps backwards before he seems to realize what he's doing and sits down hard on the armchair next to the bed. He tries to make it look like that was his plan all along, but it doesn't quite work. Louis frowns, and exchanges a look with Zayn. Liam forcibly removing himself from immediate touching range is not usually a very good sign—what's stranger, though, is that it's been a long time since he even bothered, or since anything any of them did made him uncomfortable enough to put distance between them.

"What's up, Liam?" Zayn asks. He came into the room with his sketchpad, but he puts it down on the pillow and caps his pen, turning his entire focus on Liam. Louis watches Zayn do it, and watches Liam relax under Zayn's gaze, and breathes out; Zayn's got this, which means Louis can do his part and try to be patient for five fucking seconds. Anyway, he wasn't wrong—something clearly is up with Liam.

"I—" Liam starts. "Okay, well, you know how back on X Factor, you said if anything ever made me uncomfortable, I should say?"

Louis raises his eyebrows at Zayn. "You said that?"

Zayn ignores him. "Yeah, 'course," he says to Liam, "you can tell us anything, bro, you know that." Zayn's voice is calm, soothing and warm, but Louis glances over at Harry and Niall. They've both sat up, and Harry frowns and shakes his head a little at Louis, looking as bewildered as Louis feels. It shouldn't need saying, is the thing. Louis's brain has already started running through the worst cases, the disaster scenarios: Liam doesn't want to be in the band anymore; Liam doesn't want to write with Louis anymore; Liam's got amnesia; Liam's dying—Niall reaches out and puts a hand on Louis's wrist. Louis breathes in and out again, steadying at Niall's touch, and turns back to Liam and Zayn.

Liam's eyebrows are drawn together, and he's worrying his lip with his teeth. "It's just been—" he swallows, and Louis watches his throat move, "it's just been a lot, recently, all the—touching, and I had a bit of time to think, when we were off tour, and I realized that I've been—" Liam's cheeks are flushed, and he keeps glancing up at them through his eyelashes and then back down at his hands, clenched together in his lap. He's not making much sense. "I've been having some weird—feelings," Liam says, "recently."

"What, like, in your pants?" Louis demands. He's expecting Liam to scowl and correct him and start talking sensibly, but instead Liam's whole face goes a hot, mortified red. Louis stares. "You're taking the piss," he says, incredulous. "Aren't you?"

Liam shakes his head. "No." He looks more uncomfortable than Louis has seen him in at least two years. Louis wants to poke him in the side, and ruffle his hair, and hug him until he slaps Louis's hands away; he'd thought they were past this, but Liam looking so awkward and uncertain is turning Louis's stomach into a tight, hot knot of nerves.

"It's okay, Liam," Zayn says gently. "You can tell us." He swings his legs over the side of the bed and reaches out, taking one of Liam's hands.

Liam looks up at him. "Thanks, Zaynie," he says, soft and grateful, "but it's what Louis said? I've been—that."

"When?" Zayn asks. He sounds much calmer and more coherent than Louis feels, which is nice. Thank god for Zayn.

"When we're cuddling?" Niall puts in. "Or, like, wrestling and all that? That's normal, mate, you're still a growing boy. I get hard-ons from a stiff wind, sometimes, and when we're on stage—everybody knows that. It's not weird." Louis leans his shoulder into Niall's, and Niall leans back. "Besides," Niall adds, sounding a little more hesitant, "you've not shagged anyone recently, so—"

But Liam is shaking his head. "It's not that," he says. "I thought maybe it was, at first, but—but it's the pinching, and, like, when—when somebody slaps my bum, or trips me on stage, or—"

"Kinky," Harry says, low and slow and appreciative. Liam flushes again and looks down at the floor, and then there's a long, thoughtful pause, while nobody says anything.

"Well," Harry says cheerily, at last, "yours are the hidden depths that just keep giving, Liam. What can we do to help?"

Liam's eyes widen. "Oh, no." He shakes his head. "That's not what I—I mean, thanks? But, no, I just wanted to—say something, like, because it wasn't fair, keeping it to myself. It's just—well, and it would probably be best if you lads didn't touch me so much, for a while? Until it goes away."

That's completely unacceptable, Louis thinks, and starts to shake his head, but Niall squeezes his hand and tilts his head at Harry. Wait, Niall's gesture says. Louis yanks his hand out of Niall's and crosses his arms angrily over his chest; but he keeps his mouth shut, for the moment.

"We can do that if you want," Harry's saying, "but only if that's actually what you want. There's nothing wrong with it, Liam, honest. I could make some phone calls, if you wanted—I know some people. We could do some research, figure out some, you know, options."

Liam looks a little horrified, and very embarrassed, and Louis digs his fingertips into his own arm to keep from reaching over and smacking Harry over the head.

"Don't rush him, Harry," Zayn says, giving Harry a quelling glance, and then his eyes cut sideways to Louis, and he frowns. "Liam," Zayn says, still looking at Louis. "Is it, like—is it all of us? I know we're all pretty touchy, but is it just, you know, a general reaction to, um, to the pinching and slapping and stuff, or is it, like—somebody in particular?" Zayn raises his eyebrows at Louis, and then turns back to Liam.

Louis frowns after him, confused. He feels off-kilter, unsettled a bit from Liam's confession, but more from the idea that his Liam, Liam of now, confident and grown-up and fitting so comfortably in his own skin, the very best at hugs, can still look like Liam used to back before they were really friends, before Louis poked enough holes in his exterior walls that they came tumbling down. He's never hated anything quite as much as he hates the idea that Liam might regress to the way he was before, untouchable, and isolated, and not Louis's, just because of some stupid feelings.

"Yeah, well," Liam says, sounding like the words are being dragged out of him, "to be fair, I guess it's mostly—Louis."

Louis's head jerks up, and then he and Liam are looking at each other across the narrow strip of carpet between the bed and the chair. "What?" Louis says, for something to say. He heard Liam perfectly well, but he's not sure he understands what Liam's saying.

"To be fair," Harry echoes, sounding exactly like Liam for a moment, "you are the source of most of the pinching and that, Lou."

"Shit, man," Niall says, with a low whistle, "you broke Liam."

"Oi," Harry says, "Liam's not broken. He's just—he's fine, he's lovely, he's our Liam, even if he—"

"Likes it when Louis messes him around?" Niall finishes, and then he punches Louis in the arm. "You break it, you buy it, Lou."

"Guys," Zayn says, quite sharply for Zayn. "Lay off, alright? Liam's upset."

Liam does look upset, his big brown eyes suspiciously bright. "Hey," Louis says softly, because Liam looking like that is one of the worst things in the world. "It's okay, Liam. We're all in this together, yeah? We'll, like—what Harry said. We'll sort it out. There's nothing wrong with you." He pauses, and then shrugs and uncrosses his arms and shifts over to the edge of the bed, so he can take hold of Liam's hand, still wrapped up with Zayn's. "I mean," he says, trying to sound like he usually does, and trying not to think too much about what Niall said, or what Liam said before that, "there's all sorts of stuff wrong with you—you're kind of an idiot sometimes, and you mocked my cereal this morning, which is just unacceptable. And you completely ruined my plan to become an ace detective, so obviously you'll have to pay for that."

The corners of Liam's mouth have tilted up, while Louis's been delivering this speech, but at this last bit he blushes again and glances away. Huh, Louis thinks, trying to reconcile that with all the other things that have unsettled him in the last fifteen minutes. The thing is, though, that they don't have to work it out right this minute. Right now, the really important thing is to make Liam stop looking like he's going to cry.

Niall and Harry seem to have gotten that message, too, because they get off the bed and come round to crowd around Liam. Harry perches on the arm of Liam's chair, one arm slung around the back of his neck, and Niall folds himself up on the ground at Liam's feet. "You don't really want us to stop touching you, do you?" Harry asks, resting his chin on top of Liam's head. "We will, if you want, but it would be weird."

"I'm weird," Liam says, but he leans into Harry's touch, and his free hand has found its way down to curl over Niall's shoulder.

"Nah," Niall says, "we're all total weirdos, really. What's a few inopportune hard-ons between friends?"

Liam looks confused, and a little pathetically grateful. "Are you sure?" He glances up at Louis, his lower lip caught between his teeth, and Louis feels—something. It's a weird feeling that he can't quite put a name to, a bit like satisfaction, only the knot of nerves in his stomach hasn't gone away. He's going to have to think about this, later, when Liam's not in the middle of a crisis, when Louis doesn't have a job to do, when he's alone.

"Obviously," Louis says firmly. "Don't even worry about it, Liam. That's what family does, right? We'll get you sorted."

Liam ducks his head in acknowledgment, and then he turns his hand over to tangle his fingers with Louis's and Zayn's. "Okay," he says, finally sounding comfortable again, soft and trusting with all of them touching him, and for some reason that makes the back of Louis's neck prickle with a sudden rush of heat, like he's the one with a secret.

*

Thinking, Louis decides, is overrated. Following his instincts has served him perfectly well for twenty-one years—give or take a few unmentionable incidents—which is why, after they've finished their first show, and gotten back to the hotel, and he's hopped in and out of the shower, he goes looking for Liam.

Zayn catches him in the hotel corridor. He's dressed for going out, which means he probably wasn't lying in wait for Louis. Louis still narrows his eyes as he strolls over and leans against the wall next to him. "Were you lying in wait for me, Zayn?"

Zayn rolls his eyes. "Me and Niall are going out," he says. "You're not, though, are you?"

Louis shakes his head, and tucks his hands into the pockets of his tracksuit bottoms. "Nope," he says, and waits. Whatever Zayn has to say, he'll say it when he's good and ready.

It doesn't take very long, though, before Zayn lets out a quiet, familiar sigh, and says, "I was thinking, maybe we should leave him alone, just for a bit? It took a lot, to tell us what he did. He might need some space."

"Mate," Louis says slowly, trying to keep the incredulity out of his voice, "be honest: when has giving Liam space ever been a good idea?"

Zayn gives a sudden, involuntary bark of laughter, and leans his shoulder into Louis's. "Okay, yeah," he says dryly, and then he's silent for another minute. When he speaks again, his voice is serious, "But like, just—be careful with him, Lou."

From anyone else, Louis might take offense, but it's kind of impossible to take offense at Zayn; he's one of the kindest people Louis knows. "I won't do anything you wouldn't do," he offers.

Zayn snorts. "Yeah, you will," he says ruefully. "Just, like. Remember what I said?"

"I always do," Louis agrees; it's true. It also seems to be enough for Zayn, because he tugs Louis in for a quick hug, knocking Louis's beanie off his wet hair so he can ruffle it up in the back. "Oi," Louis complains, but he hugs Zayn back, and then slaps his bum and lets him go. "Right, then, have fun without me," he says, tugging his beanie back into place.

Zayn smiles at him, slow and sweet. "Yeah, I'll try," he says. "More fun with you, though."

Louis beams. "Aw, babe, you say the sweetest things. Next time, yeah?"

"Mmm," Zayn says, noncommittal, but he's still smiling as Louis turns to go down the corridor to Liam's room. "Be good," Zayn calls after him, and Louis throws his hand up in acknowledgment, waving Zayn off.

The shower's running when Louis lets himself into Liam's hotel room, so he flops down on the bed and turns the television on, flipping idly through channels with the volume on low. He finds an episode of Neighbours and leaves it on, watching without really paying attention. He's still a little keyed up from the show, and his mind's still worrying over what Liam told them, what Niall said, the weird tension in his stomach that he hasn't quite managed to get rid of, not even on stage. You break it, you buy it, Niall's voice echoes in his head, annoyingly Irish. Louis doesn't like feeling guilty, and he really doesn't like the idea of Liam having a problem he can't fix.

The shower turns off, and Liam comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his hips, scrubbing a second towel over his face and hair. It takes him a minute to notice Louis, but when he does he smiles. Louis takes a minute to appreciate the way the ends of his wet hair are curling over his forehead, and the glisten of water droplets on his bare chest. Liam's really—well, he's always been fit, but in the last few months he's filled out impressively. Louis's been ribbing him about it, teasing him because that's what he does, but in moments like this, when he has a second to just stop and look at Liam, he's less sure that's really the correct response.

"Hi, Lou," Liam says, finishing with his hair and dropping the towel on a chair. "What's up?"

"I've been thinking," Louis says, which is only sort of a lie. "We should—talk."

"What about?" Liam asks, and then, when Louis raises his eyebrows meaningfully, Liam says, "Oh," in a completely different voice, and his cheeks go pink.

Louis turns off the television and sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "Yeah, Liam," he says, just to see what will happen. "Oh."

Liam tucks his hands into the towel around his hips, hunching his shoulders. "I'm really sorry," he says in a rush. "It's just, like—you were all so great about it, but I know it's weird, and I've never been—I've never been all that good at—feeling normally about stuff, you know? Not really."

Louis's known Liam for three years, and he knows what Liam means, but he also thinks he's talking complete rubbish. "No, hey," he says, trying for placating. Placating's not his best thing, so it comes out sounding more like his mum does when he's in a strop, frustrated and fond at the same time. "Look, babe, I meant what I said—we all meant what we said. We love you, and we'll sort it out, and there's nothing wrong with you, honest. We think you're brilliant."

Liam smiles, but it's a wan sort of smile, not at all up to his usual standards. He's still twisting his hands in the towel. "The thing is, though," Louis continues, not taking his eyes off Liam, "I think Niall might've had a point." He pauses, and then says, trying to keep his voice light, "I know what you're thinking. Niall, having a point—ridiculous, right? But I can't help feeling a bit, well. Responsible."

"Oh, no," Liam says quickly, shaking his head, "no, it's not you—or I mean, it is you, but, but it's not—"

"Liam," Louis says, drawing out Liam's name until Liam stops talking. "Have I or have I not spent three years winding you up?"

"Yeah," Liam says, "but I like it," and then his whole face goes red and he bites down hard on his lower lip. "Um."

"Right," Louis agrees, a little stifled. "So, like—I just don't think it would be very fair of me, to make you deal with this by yourself. When it's—I mean, I'm not saying it's my fault," he pauses, because Liam's eyes have gone very wide, and he's still biting his lip, red and lush between his teeth. Louis swallows hard. "But I'm your friend, Liam. We're friends, best mates, partners, and I'd like to help you with this, if you'll let me."

Liam is very still, for a moment, and then he sucks in a shaky breath. Louis watches his chest move; there's a drop of water winding down from his collarbone, around the edge of his pec, and if Liam were closer, Louis's not sure he could stop himself from touching him. He stays where he is, though, sat on the edge of the bed with half the room between them. "What are you saying, Lou?" Liam says finally, plaintively.

"I don't know, exactly," Louis says honestly. "But if, like—if me pinching you and smacking your arse is turning you on, then, I just think, we could—try it, and see what happens."

"Oh," Liam says softly, and takes a step closer. He's looking at Louis, and Louis tries to meet his gaze guilelessly. He's not entirely sure what he's doing, but it's Liam, so—he wants to be doing it; Liam shouldn't be alone in this. Liam should never be alone. "Like—mates?" Liam asks doubtfully.

"Yes," Louis agrees, seizing on Liam's offered explanation. "Yeah, like, helping each other out, you know? Or, me helping you figure it out, I guess, but I don't mind. It's the—the friendly thing to do, right?"

"Right," Liam echoes, sounding a little dazed. His knuckles are white, twisted in the fabric of the towel, and he's biting his lip again. "If, uh." He coughs, his voice a little raspy. "If you say so."

Liam still sounds doubtful, but he also sounds trusting, and Louis feels warm all the way down to his toes. He wants to take care of Liam, the way Liam's always taking care of him, the way Liam's always there when Louis needs him. "I do say so," he says firmly. "Come here."

Liam blinks, and then takes three halting steps across the room. "Stop," Louis says, testing, when Liam's half a foot away. Liam stops, and then he blushes again, colour washing all the way down his chest. "Right, okay," Louis says, "so, you like doing what I say, then?" He's teasing, a little, and Liam actually rolls his eyes, which makes Louis grin.

"You knew that," Liam says, "you know I like doing what you say. It's, um—kind of obvious? Zayn's always going on about how you two have corrupted me. I won't always do what you say, but I—like it, yeah." He still looks embarrassed, but not like he's backing down from the challenge. Louis has never in his life seen Liam back down from a challenge.

"Okay," Louis says again, and then he stands up and steps into Liam's space. Liam's taller than him, and bigger, but he stays very still when Louis crowds him, and then when Louis leans in, not quite touching, and bites the curve of his neck.

"You, uh," Liam says breathlessly, "you haven't done that in a while."

"Nope," Louis says into Liam's skin, and goes back to nibbling a hickey into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Liam's breathing hard by the time Louis is satisfied with the darkening bruise, and he's tilted his head back to give Louis better access. "So you like that," Louis says, taking a half step backwards. Before Liam can answer, Louis twists his nipples. Liam makes a hot, choked-off noise, and reaches out to catch Louis's hand before he can pull it away. "And that," Louis adds, smugly. Liam's fingers are tight around his wrist. Louis pinches his nipple again, and then darts his other hand in to pinch Liam's side, right between his ribs.

"You don't need to sound so smug about it," Liam gasps, and Louis feels the knot in his stomach start to ease. Liam's complaining, and he sounds happy.

"I think I do, though," Louis says, and pinches his way down Liam's side until he hits the edge of the towel. "I also think this should come off."

Liam stiffens under his hands, but then he nods. "I—okay. If you're, like—if you're sure?"

In answer, Louis unknots the towel and drops it on the floor. Liam's shoulders jerk, for a second, like he's about to reach forward to cover himself, but then he takes a deep breath and drops his hands to his sides. Louis steps back far enough to look, and then he lets himself really look. He's seen Liam naked before, of course; he's even seen Liam naked recently. He's seen Liam hard before, too, because the five of them spend a lot of time wandering in and out of each other's spaces, sometimes at awkward moments. It's not really a big deal, seeing Liam naked now; it's not, even though Liam has a gorgeous dick, big and half-hard, curving up against his belly. It's not, but—but Louis's never looked at Liam's dick and wanted to touch it, before. He's never wanted to suck a bite into the hollow of Liam's hip, and find out what kinds of noises Liam might make if Louis told him to stay still.

"Get on the bed," Louis says, surprised by the huskiness of his own voice. Liam's eyes widen, but then he does as Louis says. Louis sucks in a shaky breath of his own as he watches Liam climb onto the bed, and then almost swallows his tongue when Liam leans back against the pillows without Louis saying a word, and looks up at him through his eyelashes. Fuck, Louis thinks, because there's a very real possibility that he's in over his head.

"Okay," he says, looking down at Liam on the bed, and then he thinks, Fuck it, and takes off his beanie and t-shirt and trackie bottoms, leaving just his pants. "Leveling the playing field," he says, even though Liam doesn't question it; and then he sits down on the bed and pinches Liam's side, right where Louis knows he's the most ticklish. Liam gasps, and twists a little on the bed. "Okay," Louis says again, because he's committed now, and he doesn't do things by halves. "You said that it gets you hard, right, the pinching, and the biting, and—and me telling you what to do?"

Liam nods, and Louis follows Liam's gaze down to his dick, flushed and waiting. "Right," he concludes. "So I'll do that, then, and you wank yourself off while I do it."

Liam's eyes go wide again, shocked, and Louis wonders for a second if he's taken it too far, even though he thought they were both pretty clear about where this was going; but then Liam reaches down and curls a hesitant hand around his cock.

"Good," Louis says, approving, and pinches up Liam's side until he hits his nipple again. Liam moans, low and rough, and fists his dick. "Good, Liam," Louis says again, experimental, and watches Liam's eyes flutter shut and his hand speed up. He twists Liam's nipple, and then his other nipple, and pinches rapidly fading red marks across his chest, and then, when Liam slides his thumb under his foreskin, Louis gives in to the urge and swings his legs up onto the bed so that he can straddle Liam's thigh, and bends down to suck a string of hard, biting kisses into the hollow of Liam's hip.

"Jesus, Lou," Liam groans, his hips jerking up into Louis's mouth. Louis sits back on his heels, flattening one hand on Liam's hip. Between his fingers, he can see the marks he's left on Liam's skin.

"Stay still," Louis says sharply. He only meant for Liam to keep his hips on the bed, but Liam's hand stills on his dick, too, and Louis's breath catches, shocked and wondering. "Keep wanking," he says softly, and watches as Liam starts moving his hand again, slower than Louis likes it himself, but harder. There's precome glistening on Liam's fingers, and for a flash of a moment Louis wants to taste it, wants to knock Liam's hand away and suck him off; but now isn't the time. He pushes Liam's knee up, instead, and bites a bruise into the soft skin of his inner thigh.

Liam is making hot, breathy noises above him, getting increasingly louder, and eventually Louis has to sit back again so he can watch. Liam's head is tilted back against the pillows, the long line of his throat flushed with colour. It's been a long time since Louis watched another guy get off, but he remembers what it looks like when someone's on the brink; he doesn't quite remember feeling this same warm rush of pride and satisfaction, but—well. "Liam," he says, "look at me." Liam's eyes open, and Louis pinches Liam's hip, and then slides his other hand over Liam's, wrapped around his dick. "Come on," he says, wondering if he can make it happen, "come for me."

"Fuck," Liam breathes, and then he's coming, hot and wet over their joined hands.

Louis takes his hand away slowly, and wipes it off on the duvet to keep from sucking his fingers into his mouth. Liam looks dazed, flushed and beautiful, and Louis's not sure if he wants to kiss him, or go running for the door.

"So, um," Liam says finally, his voice raspy and hoarse. "That—oh."

Louis is not at all surprised that Liam makes no sense after he comes; it's actually fairly endearing. He adjusts himself in his pants, trying for subtlety; but since he's still sitting on Liam's thigh, it's a bit of a lost effort.

"Oh," Liam says, in a different voice, sounding shocked and oddly delighted, "you're hard, Lou."

"Yeah, Liam," Louis says testily, "I noticed." He hadn't, actually—not until there'd been a moment to notice, until all of his attention wasn't focused exclusively on Liam. Now that Liam's pointed it out, he's not sure what he should do. Rubbing one off on Liam seems impolite, but going for the loo might be awkward.

"Can I?" Liam asks, reaching out a tentative hand, the tips of his fingers just barely grazing Louis's hip through the fabric of his pants.

"Oh," Louis breathes, surprised, his dick stiffening under Liam's gaze. He nods. "Yeah, alright, if you want to."

Liam bites his lip, and looks up at Louis from under his eyelashes, and this time Louis is at least ninety percent certain that he's doing it on purpose. Bloody flirt. "I do," Liam says, and squeezes him through his pants.

Louis closes his eyes, and thrusts up a little into Liam's hand, and then Liam's other hand is tugging on his shoulder, pulling him down until he's sprawled half on top of him. He lands hard enough to knock the breath out of both of them, but Liam wraps one arm around Louis, shifting them until he can snake his hand into Louis's pants.

With their faces so close together, and Liam's hand around his dick, it seems stupid not to kiss him. Liam kisses Louis back immediately, hot and sweet and eager. He lets Louis lick his way into his mouth, and sucks on Louis's tongue, and gasps when Louis bites down on his lower lip, and they're still kissing when Louis comes. Liam kisses him through the aftershocks, too, and for a long, breathless time afterwards, until they finally part when Liam yawns and then laughs guiltily, putting his hand over his mouth.

"Sorry," he says. "It's—I guess it's late."

"Bloody jet lag," Louis complains, echoing Liam's yawn and then putting his head down on Liam's shoulder.

"You staying?" Liam murmurs into his hair, sounding half-asleep already.

"Yeah," Louis says, and kisses his neck. "If you don't mind?" Liam shakes his head, like Louis knew he would. "Get the lights, would you, Liam? It's your hotel room."

"I see how it is," Liam says dryly, but he does roll out of the bed, and get the lights, and tug up the duvet so that they can both get under the covers. "Night, Lou," he says, curling around Louis with his nose tucked into the back of Louis's neck.

"Night," Louis murmurs, and then, conveniently, he falls asleep before he has any time to think about what they've just done.

*

They're eating breakfast on Liam's balcony when Harry and Niall come to find them. Niall helps himself to half the breakfast tray and flops down on a free patio chair with his sunglasses on; but Harry perches on the edge of Liam's chair, fiddling anxiously with his phone, and says, "So listen, I made some phone calls."

"What kind of phone calls, Haz?" Liam asks warmly, encouraging Harry the way he always does when he has no idea what Harry is talking about.

Louis sets his empty cereal bowl on the table next to his chair, and picks up his tea. He's not sure what Harry's on about, either, but he feels like he can afford to be patient, even if it'll probably take at least ten minutes before Harry gets to the point. It's warm and sunny out on Liam's balcony, and room service had Coco Pops, and he and Liam had woken up early, wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed. Louis's internal clock is still completely fucked, but Liam had kissed him good morning, sleepy and sweet, and it hadn't been weird. They haven't talked about it, but Louis feels good, relaxed and comfortable, eating breakfast with his boys in Australia. He loves Australia.

"Some phone calls," Harry's saying, vaguely. "I talked to some people, and my friend has a friend who knows this guy—actually, I think maybe I met him once, he's like, a famous actor? Only some of the time he also helps people out with, like, sex stuff."

Louis almost chokes on his tea. "Harry," he says, when he's finished coughing, and Liam and Harry are watching him worriedly. "Harry, do you honestly know a famous actor who is also a sex therapist? Is that what you're saying?"

Harry frowns. "Well, I don't know him," he says. "I mean, not personally. I think James does, though? James knows everybody."

"Right," Louis says slowly, and takes a fortifying sip of his tea, swallowing normally this time. "You and James Corden know somebody who you think should—what? Help Liam?"

"Yeah, exactly," Harry says. "This bloke's going to be in Australia in a few weeks, right? And I thought, maybe we could phone him, see if he could help Liam out."

Louis glances from Harry to Liam. Harry's doing the anxious, excited, vibrating thing he does when he thinks he's had a good idea but is still waiting for approval; but Liam's looking at Louis with a kind of pleading, unhappy expression that Louis doesn't like at all. He puts a reassuring hand on Liam's forearm. "It's a good idea, Harry," he says, keeping his voice gentle as much for Liam's benefit as for Harry's, "but I think we're going to handle this in-house." Under his hand, he can feel Liam relax.

Harry's eyebrows go up, and he looks back and forth between Liam and Louis, eyes narrowing as he finally notices the love bite on Liam's neck, dark and obvious above the stretched-out collar of his t-shirt. "Right," Harry says slowly. "I—see. Louis, can I speak to you inside for a minute?"

Louis looks at Liam. Liam gives Louis a smile and a little shrug—clearly much happier now that Louis's dismissed Harry's suggestion of outside interference—so Louis pats him on the arm and stands up. "Come on, then," he says to Harry, and drops a kiss on the top of Liam's head as he goes by, friendly and automatic. It's something he's done a thousand times before, but Liam blushes a little and ducks his head, still smiling. Huh, Louis thinks, feeling a little warm, and then his mood turns suddenly irritable as he goes back into the bedroom with Harry, like he's leaving his easy contentment behind on the balcony in the sunshine.

Harry shuts the balcony doors behind them, and turns to face Louis with his arms crossed. With his hair falling down over his face, he looks like the world's most pugnacious kitten.

Louis goes for the jugular. "What, are you jealous?"

Harry looks at him blankly for a minute, and then rolls his eyes. "Don't be an arse, Lou." He frowns at Louis. "You and Liam are great, if that's what you both want. It's just, do you know what you're doing?"

"I—" Louis starts, and then, because Harry has always been exceptional at taking the wind out of his sails, he sits down hard on the edge of the bed. "I haven't a bloody clue, Haz."

"Yeah, I know," Harry says, much more gently. He uncrosses his arms and comes to sit beside Louis on the bed, resting his head on Louis's shoulder. "S'why I thought, like, calling in a professional might not be such a bad idea."

"Liam doesn't want a professional, though," Louis says softly. "He wants me." It's the first time he's said it—it's the first time he's thought it, even—and although he says them quietly, the words ring out in a way that makes them impossible to take back. Harry hums against his neck, and Louis puts an arm around his waist, pulling him close and taking comfort in the uncomplicated familiarity of Harry tucked into his side. He and Harry survived complicated and came out the other side, which is, at the moment, one of the more reassuring things Louis can think of.

"Do you want him?" Harry asks.

"I—it's Liam," Louis says, a little helplessly.

Harry snorts a laugh into Louis's shoulder. "Yeah, well, fair point. Not an answer, though."

"I know," Louis says, and sighs. "I don't—I want to do this for him. I want to be there for him, with this, and, like—I mean, obviously I love him, so—" He lifts his shoulders, dislodging Harry, and turns to face him. Harry's looking at him patiently, waiting for Louis to finish. Louis gives in to a devilish impulse, and smirks. "Besides, have you seen Liam? He's well fit."

Harry rolls his eyes. "You're still not answering the question," he points out, but he sounds more fond than annoyed, and in the face of Harry's unwavering fondness, Louis relaxes.

"I don't know," he says honestly. If he can't be honest with Harry, then he's actually fucked. "It's been—it's been really good, so far." It's a bit of an understatement. "I want to do it again. Is that, like—is that enough, for now?" He sounds more plaintive than he would like, but a smile breaks out on Harry's face.

"I think it'll do, Lou," he says, and then he gets an arrested look on his face and starts to giggle at his own accidental rhyme.

It's Louis's turn to roll his eyes and punch Harry lightly in the shoulder. "You're so useless," he says.

Harry grins at him. "No, hey, listen—I can help you do research, right? Like, about whatever kinky shit Liam's into, so you're not so—so you're not just making it up as you go along. We can do some research."

It's actually—not the worst idea Louis's ever heard. Harry is a ridiculous person, but he likes having a project; and if Louis's being honest, he could use the help. "Yeah, thanks, Harry," he says. "That'd be great."

"Sick," Harry says happily, and butts his head into Louis's shoulder; Louis ruffles his hair. "So, like, what've you—" Harry starts to ask, sitting back up, but then the balcony doors bang open and Niall comes in, still wearing his sunglasses, and laughing uproariously.

"Check your twitters," he gets out, between bursts of laughter. "Liam's gone and made a scene. Snake habitat."

Louis and Harry look at each other, eyebrows raised, and then reach for their phones. Liam, Louis sees when he flicks over to his text alerts, has been trying to save their fans from themselves, again. Louis feels a familiar bubbling rush of affection, and on its heels comes a new, hot desire to pin Liam to the bed. He coughs, trying to cover his rising flush.

"Turn around," Niall yells, just as Liam comes up behind him. With the balcony doors flung open, the sunshine floods over Liam's shoulder and into the hotel room.

"I just didn't want anyone to get hurt," Liam sighs, but the corners of his mouth are quivering with suppressed giggles.

Louis grins, and pats the bed next to him. "You're a hero, Payno," he says, taking the piss and meaning it at the same time. "Come sit by me and tell us all about your snake habitat."

"Oh, Jesus," Niall gasps, still laughing.

"I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?" Liam says mournfully, but he does as Louis says.

"Nope," Harry says cheerfully.

"Not in a million years," Louis agrees.

"Oh, well," Liam says, finally breaking into a grin, and folding himself into Louis's side until Louis has to put an arm around him and tuck his fingers under the waistband of Liam's tracksuit bottoms. "I suppose it could be worse."

*

Roughhousing before a show is a time-honoured One Direction tradition, which is why nobody pays any attention whatsoever when Louis talks Niall and Josh and Ashton and Liam into playing a round of high-stakes tackle tag around the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. The game doesn't have very many rules, and tends to devolve fairly quickly into a disaster squad of teenage boys chasing one another through the corridors and driving everyone trying to do their actual jobs to distraction. Louis, of course, adores it; he adores it even more when Niall and Josh team up to take Ashton down in a pile of flailing, yelling limbs, and Louis's left to pelt after Liam on his own. He follows him around two more corners and into an unused dressing room, where he finally manages to jump on Liam's back and knock them both over. Liam's laughing as they go down, turning and catching Louis so that they land with Liam on his back on the floor and Louis on top.

"I win," Louis says triumphantly, and pins Liam's wrists. Liam could still throw him off if he wanted to, but Louis doesn't think he will; he's right, because all the breath goes out of Liam at once, and he stops laughing. Louis shifts, sliding up just enough to line up their dicks, and there's Liam, hard in his jeans.

"You win," Liam echoes, looking up at Louis with big dark eyes.

Louis gives a little shimmy, where he's sat on Liam's lap. Liam gasps when their dicks brush, his hips jerking under Louis's. "Forfeit?" Louis demands, a little breathlessly.

"Anything you want," Liam says, and then makes a face, like he hadn't meant to say that. Too late now, Louis thinks, and grins. "Um, within reason?" Liam tries, not sounding very optimistic.

"You and your reason," Louis scoffs, and leans down to kiss him. It's a hot, biting, frantic kiss, and Louis grinds down against Liam and presses his fingers into Liam's wrists.

Somewhere in the distance, and getting closer, Louis can hear Niall calling their names; they don't have a lot of time. Louis trails kisses across Liam's jaw, and lets go of his wrists so that he can give Liam's dick one hard squeeze through his jeans and whisper, low in his ear, "Don't come now, and I'll blow you after the show."

Liam's hips jerk up, hard, into Louis's hand, but he doesn't come. "Jesus, Lou," he says, instead.

"That's my forfeit," Louis says, feeling reckless and loving it, "think about me blowing you, Liam. Think about it for the whole show, and while you're thinking about that, think about what else you want me to do to you, think about what else you've been wanting, because there's going to be a test later."

"Fuck," Liam says, flushed and bright-eyed. "Yeah, okay. I will. Fuck."

Louis catches Liam looking at his mouth approximately forty-seven times during the show; as it turns out, this is a bit of a double-edged sword, because the more Liam looks at him, the more Louis wants to get on his knees right in the middle of Teenage fucking Dirtbag. He keeps it together because he's a bloody professional, but once the show's done and they're back at the hotel, he waves a cursory goodnight to the lads and follows Liam right into his hotel room and shoves him up against the door.

"Fuck," Liam groans into his mouth, kissing him hard, and Louis goes up on his toes so that he can press Liam into the door with his whole body. "Lou," Liam moans, his hips jerking up into Louis's, "Lou, Lou, you said—"

"Yeah," Louis agrees; fuck waiting. He drops to his knees and undoes Liam's jeans—they'd changed at the arena and Liam's back in his looser jeans, so they come down easily; so do his boxers, and then there's his dick, just as gorgeous up close, and already leaking. Louis wraps his fist around the base, immediately liking the way Liam feels in his hand.

"I really want to suck your dick," Louis says honestly, looking up at Liam, "but I also want to know what else you want, Liam. I've got you, I've got this, just—tell me what kinds of things you want, okay? While you do that, I'm going to blow you, and then, like, I'll stop if you stop." Harry had suggested, when they were making some initial and slightly terrifying forays into the world of internet sex research, that maybe Louis could start by asking Liam for more details about what he wanted; Louis had decided that asking on its own would get him nowhere, but that this might. He's always been good as escalating.

"You just want me to talk?" Liam asks, sounding nervous.

"Yep," Louis says, "you're a great talker, Liam. Go on, anything you want," and then he bends his head and licks over the crown of Liam's cock.

"Christ," Liam gasps. "Okay, I—" Louis sucks the head of Liam's dick into his mouth, and slides down as slowly as he can. "When you pinned my hands," Liam says in a rush, "before, when you tackled me? And when you shoved me up against the door, I liked that, I like it when you're, like—in charge. I want to blow you, too, if you want me to, if—if you'll let me." Louis hums encouragingly around Liam's dick. "And you could hold me down and fuck me," Liam says breathlessly, almost too fast for Louis to follow, and then Louis has to press his free hand hard against his own dick. Jesus. "Or, or tie me up," Liam adds, still going—and how had Louis forgotten that once you get Liam talking about something, he'll just keep talking? He sucks Liam's dick harder, letting it bump up against the back of his throat before he pulls off and sucks more shallowly, and Liam says, "You, um, you already know that I like the biting, right, and the pinching, and if—I don't really know what would be—more, of that? But, I could—I like that a lot. I think—" he pauses, and when he speaks again his voice is more tentative, "I think you could do anything to me, Lou, if you wanted to, and I'd like it."

Louis feels a little light-headed, suddenly, with the heady, hot power of holding Liam's dick in his mouth while Liam talks about handing himself over to Louis, for whatever Louis wants. Liam trusts him, completely and implicitly, and it's almost as frightening as it is gratifying; Louis wants Liam's trust to be warranted. He sucks harder on Liam's dick, until Liam's words dissolve into moans and gasps and a low litany that sounds like Louis's name, until Liam comes in his mouth. Louis swallows, and licks his lips—he's a little surprised, actually, that Liam tastes like boy, and not like love hearts and earnestness—and then he sits back on his heels and looks up at Liam, wrecked against the door and gazing down at Louis with his pupils blown.

"Good lad," Louis says, low and rough and husky from sucking cock, and Liam visibly shivers. "We can do all that, if you want," he says, because even though he's pretty bloody sure he's in over his head, he's definitely not stopping now. "D'you want to start with blowing me?"

Liam nods eagerly, and then bites his lip. "I never have, though," he says, which Louis knew, because if Liam had ever fucked a bloke Louis would absolutely know it; but it's still a bit overwhelming to hear Liam say it out loud.

"Yeah, I know," Louis says, trying to sound gentle, and mostly just sounding really fucking turned on. "I'll talk you through it, love. I'll tell you what to do."

Liam flushes, and nods again, and then he hauls Louis to his feet and kisses him. There's a dizzying few minutes in which, somehow, Liam manages to simultaneously keep kissing Louis and propel them both towards the bed, and the next thing Louis knows he's sat on the edge of the bed with his kit off and Liam kneeling between his thighs. "I do love it when you take initiative," Louis says, a little helplessly.

Liam smiles up at him, guileless. "You taught me to," he says, and Louis goes molten hot all over, because Jesus Christ, Liam Payne. "Like—like you'll teach me this?" Liam continues, apparently oblivious to the effect he's having on Louis. "I want to do this for you, Lou, I want to make you feel good."

It occurs to Louis, belatedly, that encouraging Liam to talk dirty to him might have been a mistake; on the plus side, there's a fairly easy way to shut him up. "Yeah," he says. His voice breaks a little, and he coughs to cover it up, and then puts one hand in Liam's hair. It's stiff with product and damp with sweat, but Liam pushes his head up into Louis's hand, eyes half closing; he looks blissed-out already, and his mouth is really impossibly red.

"Use your hand," he says to Liam, and Liam immediately wraps his hand around Louis's dick, "start by wanking me off." Liam does that, too, his grip tight and firm, and Louis fists his free hand in the duvet and tries to concentrate. "Okay, it's—use your mouth, now," he continues, his voice getting a little rough, "but don't try to take too much at once, it can be hard on the first try—" Liam snorts a giggle with his mouth right next to Louis's dick, and Louis's hips jerk up. "Oh my god, I hate you," he gasps, laughing a little, "just fucking suck my dick, Liam, please." He tugs on Liam's hair—not too hard, but Liam gives a little shiver and a quiet moan, and then slides his wide, gorgeous, impossible mouth down Louis's dick without any fuss at all.

Louis stares down at him, mesmerized, and forgets to give any instructions at all until Liam tries to take too much at once and has to pull off, frowning and coughing. "It's alright, love," Louis says, petting Liam's head, "go slow," but he might as well not have said anything, because Liam's a bloody overachieving perfectionist arsehole, and the next time he goes down he gets it, taking Louis's cock smooth and hot and perfect. Louis tightens his fingers in Liam's hair and Liam moans happily, and Louis is seriously—Liam is going to kill him; Louis is going to die, right here in Australia, from Liam Payne's fucking perfect cocksucking mouth. "That's it, love," he says, because he promised Liam he'd tell him what to do, and if Liam doesn't need coaching, then the least Louis can do is give him some encouragement. "Fuck, Liam, you're so good at this, how are you so good at this? You and your fucking hidden talents. I just didn't think—I didn't think you'd be a natural at sucking cock, too, but I should've known better, shouldn't I, you're so good at everything, you're so good," and at that Liam groans low in his throat and sucks harder, swallowing around Louis's cock, and then Louis's coming.

Liam swallows, because of course Liam swallows, and then he takes his mouth off Louis's dick and rubs his lips with his thumb. His mouth is even redder than it was when they started, swollen and a little obscene, and when Liam's tongue darts out to lick his lips, Louis's dick gives a half-hearted twitch. Fuck. "I did alright?" Liam asks shyly. His voice is absolutely fucked-out, which Louis feels a little guilty about, but, well. Not that guilty.

"You did," Louis says, and reaches out to trace Liam's mouth with his fingertips. Liam's eyelashes flutter, and he nips lightly at the pads of Louis's fingers. "You did so well, Liam. Properly amazing." Liam flushes, looking pleased and proud in a way that Louis recognizes immediately, even if he's never seen that look on Liam's face in quite these circumstances. "Come up here," Louis says, "I'm knackered, and I want a cuddle."

Liam smiles up at him, and does as he says.

*

Louis sleeps late the next morning, waking up to an empty bed and a scratchy throat. He blames the scratchy throat on the blow job—feeling rather self-satisfied about it, if he's going to be entirely honest with himself—and his irritation over the empty bed fades when he sees that Liam's left him a cup of tea and a note on the bedside table. Gone for run and brekfast with Niall & Sandy then training with M in afternoon xx L the note says, in Liam's scratchy handwriting.

Louis smiles down at the note for a little too long, and then drinks his cold tea and goes to find Zayn. Zayn, once he's had his strop over Louis dragging him out of bed and they've demolished a bowl of fruit and a plate of muffins, is happy to spend the morning playing Mario Kart and helping Louis plan a prank involving their security team, the hotel swimming pool, and some hair dye Louis borrowed from Lou. It's a perfect way to spend a morning, and Zayn only gives him a narrow-eyed look and a raised eyebrow when Louis begs off after lunch to go find Liam.

Liam's in the gym, doing pull-ups while Mark spots him; for once, there's nobody else with them, and Louis leans in the doorway and watches. Liam's in loose workout clothes, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and the neck cut low, and the muscles in his arms are gleaming with sweat. There's also a hickey high up on his neck, more or less in the shape of Louis's mouth, and it makes Louis feel a little warm, proud and proprietary.

Next to Mark and Paul and the security lads, and most of the professional athletes Louis knows, Liam's not all that big; but next to Louis, and Harry and Niall and Zayn, he's built a bit like a brick shithouse, with his broad shoulders and strong biceps and abs like one of those statues of a Greek god. Liam's put on so much muscle in the last six months that it's almost surreal. What's more surreal is that Liam, who could probably bench press Louis without breaking much of a sweat, wants Louis to hold him down and fuck him. Surely it should be the other way around.

Liam catches sight of him and grins, bright and glowing. He lowers himself from the pull-up bar, stretching out his arms, and then turns and says something to Mark, too low for Louis to hear. Mark laughs and pats Liam on the shoulder and then goes out, nodding to Louis as he leaves.

"Hey," Liam says to Louis, still smiling. "Were you looking for me?"

"Always," Louis replies, crossing the room to him. Liam's looking at him a little shyly, with his lip caught between his teeth. It's not quite coy, but it's not quite anything else, either. "Listen, Liam, can I ask you something?"

"Of course," Liam says instantly.

Now that they're closer, Louis can see that Liam's t-shirt is damp with sweat, and thin enough for Louis to trace the precise lines of his pecs and abs, his peaked nipples, and the cut of his hips where his tracksuit bottoms are sliding down. "The thing is, Liam," Louis says, "you could literally bench press me. There's nothing I could do to actually hold you down, when you're so much stronger than I am." Liam's face is starting to fall, so Louis hastens to add, "Don't get me wrong, I like it, I want to, I just—wonder why, is all? Why you want me to hold you down and fuck you, instead of the other way around."

"Oh," Liam says, sounding surprised. "I—but I don't want to bench press you. Unless you want me to; do you want me to bench press you? Because, I mean, I would, if you wanted."

Louis snorts, amused in spite of himself. "No," he says. "But you're a lot bigger than me, now, with all your, like, muscles—" He waves his hands, hopefully conveying something emphatic about the present state of Liam's arms.

Liam looks down at himself, and then shrugs. "You've got to understand, Lou, in my head, you're like—seven feet tall."

"Oh thanks, Liam," Louis says, feeling nonplussed and taking refuge in sarcasm.

Liam shakes his head, smiling a little. "I mean it in a good way. You're loud, and sometimes kind of overwhelming, but I like it, and I don't—I don't think of you as being smaller than me; and I didn't start the training and all that so I could be stronger than somebody else." He looks away, his shoulders hunching, and not for the first time Louis feels a hot wave of fury come welling up in his chest; Liam still won't tell him the names of the kids who bullied him in school, but one of these days Louis's going to pry them out of him—or, more likely, he'll get them off Ruth or Karen—and those bastards won't know what hit them.

"This, us," Liam continues, shaking off the momentary change in mood, "what we're doing, it's not about that, it's like—I like the way you knock me over, Lou, because it's you; and I like not having to worry so much about everything, all the time. I—" He looks back at Louis, and Louis has a weird moment of double vision: Liam now overlaid with the Liam of two years ago, just starting to come out of his shell, stubborn and immovable and desperate to please, curly-haired and puppy-eyed and still the hardest working person Louis has ever met. Even now, Liam's an enduring mess of contradictions. Louis thinks about the way Liam still blushes when they tease him, and about how much more wicked he is now that they've corrupted him; he thinks about Liam's delight in the silliest, stupidest things, and the way he wants to be the best at everything, but never at anyone else's expense; he thinks about how much Liam wants to be loved. "I like knowing you've got me and won't let go," Liam says, blushing a little as he looks at Louis, and doesn't look away, "I like giving you—whatever you want. That probably doesn't make any sense, I'm sorry. I didn't want to say anything, before, because I didn't know what to say."

"No," Louis says, "no, I think I—I think I've got it, Liam." Even if he doesn't, he knows where to start. "Do you want to come back to the room with me?" he asks. "Because I'd quite like to hold you down and fuck you."

"Yes," Liam says, eyes shining.

They make it all the way up to their floor before Louis gives in and grabs Liam's wrist, tugging him down the corridor so fast that Liam almost stumbles over his own feet before he catches himself, laughing; and they've gotten all the way to the door of Liam's room before Liam tugs on Louis's hand and says, "Wait, Lou, do you have—stuff?"

Louis looks back at Liam, eyebrows raised. "I thought you were a scout, Payno."

Liam gives Louis a bashful, half-embarrassed look. "I've got condoms," he says, "but I didn't want to presume."

"Right," Louis says, shouldering the door open and giving Liam a little shove through it, because of fucking course Liam wanks dry and hasn't got any lube. "Get naked and get on the bed, I'll be back in a sec." He runs across the corridor to Harry's room, fishing Harry's keycard out of his pocket as he goes, careful not to mix it up with Liam's or his own. Louis's got his own lube back in his own room, but Harry's is closer, and Harry buys the nice posh stuff, besides. Louis swipes it from his toilet bag, along with a couple of condoms for insurance, and goes racing back to Liam.

Liam's naked on the bed when Louis lets himself back into the hotel room, just like Louis told him to be. He's sitting up against the pillows, his knees drawn up and one hand curled around his dick, already mostly hard; and the look he gives Louis when Louis drops the lube and condoms on the bed and starts stripping off is enough to get Louis halfway there, too, without anyone even touching him.

If Louis were a different sort of person—if he was Harry, or Zayn—he might have a speech to give Liam, something about taking it slow, and Louis not minding that Liam's never done this before, and he'd be encouraging, and kind; but Louis's not that person, and Liam's looking up at him with his lips parted and his eyes dark, so Louis throws a pillow at his head and upends the bottle of lube over his fingers.

Liam makes a muffled, surprised noise into the pillow. "This'll go better if you turn over," Louis says pointedly. Liam puts the pillow down, and tugs his lower lip into his mouth, and then he smiles at Louis, hot and trusting, and rolls over onto his front.

Louis crawls up the bed and runs his dry hand down Liam's spine; Liam arches into his hand. Louis stares for a moment at his gorgeous muscled shoulders and the line of his bent neck, and then he leans down, and nips a bite into the small of his back, and slides his first finger into Liam's arse. Liam groans, and his hips shift a little as he adjusts, and then he's pushing his bum up into Louis's hands.

"Um," Louis says belatedly, "you've—done this before?"

"Fingers," Liam murmurs, "Danielle and I did, a bit; I like it, Lou, come on."

"Right," Louis says, and slides in a second finger. Liam does like it, clearly, and he likes it even more when Louis holds his hips down with his free hand while he fingers him open. It doesn't take very long before Liam's groaning into the pillows, and then he says, "Please. Louis, please," in a low, desperate voice that Louis's never heard before. Louis's not great at self-control at the best of times, much less in the face of Liam actually begging him to fuck him, so he takes his fingers out and gets the condom on, and then he's holding tight to Liam's hips and pushing the head of his dick into Liam's arse.

"Oh god," Liam groans, his voice slurred and thick, sounding almost drunk—if Liam were the sort of drunk person who slurred, which he isn't—"Lou, fuck, hold me—more, hold me—"

"Yeah," Louis agrees breathlessly, and puts his hands on Liam's shoulders, holding him down to the bed while he pushes the rest of the way in. Liam's breathing hard and uneven, and once he's all the way in Louis feels suddenly overwhelmed. He leans down, anchoring himself by biting a kiss between Liam's shoulder blades and cupping the back of his neck.

"Lou," Liam whispers. Louis leaves one hand on Liam's neck, and puts the other around Liam's hip, and starts fucking him in earnest. He hadn't exactly set out to fuck Liam through the mattress, but under his hands Liam goes boneless and loose, letting Louis's hands guide him, letting Louis keep him right where he wants him. Louis tugs Liam's hips up and get a hand around his dick, wanking him off at the same time; but Liam comes in about five seconds, going even more boneless, and at that point Louis's brain pretty much disconnects entirely, and he shoves Liam down into the bed and fucks him deep and fast until he comes, burying his face in Liam's shoulders as he holds him down.

"Fuck," Liam says, after a long moment in which neither of them moves.

Louis laughs shakily, and leans up to kiss the back of Liam's neck before he pulls out. Liam winces a little, but then he rolls over onto his back. He looks properly debauched, and there are rising bruises in the shape of Louis's fingertips curving around his hips. Louis gets rid of the condom, and then tucks himself back into Liam's side, and pokes the bruises. "Do they hurt?"

"A bit," Liam says, and smiles drowsily. "S'nice."

"Huh," Louis says, and fits his fingers back into the arc of the bruises, keeping Liam close.

They fall asleep, after that, until the alarm on Liam's phone goes off and it's a mad scramble to round up the rest of the lads and get over to the venue. Louis whinges the whole way, but it's mostly for show, because Liam keeps catching his eye and blushing; Louis's already thinking about what they're going to do the next time.

*

PERTH

"I've got a bone to pick with you, Tommo," Niall says, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on the table.

Louis looks up from his laptop. He's been trying to write an email to Lottie while Liam is out shopping, except Harry keeps messaging him links to websites with extremely detailed instructions for how to tie people up, and Louis's been getting a bit distracted. "What?"

Niall looks about as pugnacious as he ever looks, which is not very; but he's got his arms folded and his eyes narrowed, and Louis slouches a little lower in his chair, just in case. "Liam said that you said that you two were just messing around as mates," Niall says.

"I—did say that," Louis admits. "Liam said it first, though."

Niall fixes Louis with a hard stare. "Right, except you know better. You and me are mates. Mates don't get each other off, least not like you've been doing."

"Well, we could," Louis says, giving Niall his best leer.

Niall rolls his eyes. "We couldn't," he says pointedly. "Don't get me wrong, Lou, I love you like a brother, you and the other boys. But I don't want to fuck my brother. What you and Liam've been doing? That's something else."

Louis looks down at the table. "I—" he starts, and then stops. "We've just been—I wanted to help him out, Niall. You heard him; he thought it would just go away, if we left him alone and stopped touching him, and that was never an option."

"No," Niall agrees, "but what kind of insane Tommo logic said the thing to do was stick your dick in it?"

"Niall," Louis groans, covering his face with his hands; he can't decide if he wants to laugh or punch Niall in the face. "Listen, mate," he says, half into his hands, "I'm not just—I like it, too."

"Obviously," Niall says, "you've spent three years tryin' to get a rise out of Liam, and now you've got a different kind of rise out of him." There's a pause, during which Niall laughs at his own joke and Louis hides his face in his hands and tries very hard not to dignify Niall by laughing too; and then Niall says, much more seriously, "But don't lie to yourself about what it is, Louis, and don't lie to Liam about what it is, either; neither of you arseholes deserve that." Louis looks up, surprised. Niall is giving him a serious, sympathetic look, and then he adds, with a kind of bloodthirsty pragmatism that Louis really appreciates, "Also, if you fuck up the band, I will kill you in your sleep."

"We're not going to fuck up the band," Louis says firmly. Neither he nor Liam would ever let that happen.

Niall nods. "Yeah, I know, but somebody had to say it, and you and Liam were—well, whatever; I feel like one of them kids in The Parent Trap, trying to sort out my mum and dad."

Louis does laugh at that, finally, and Niall grins, all the sunshine back in his face. Fighting with Niall is always like this, there and gone in a flash as soon as he gets what he came for, which he nearly always does. "Yeah, alright," Louis says, "message received."

*

Liam comes back from his shopping trip looking a little wild around the eyes, and with about half as many bags as Louis's come to expect. "There were just—there were loads of people," Liam says, shoulders hunching a little as he drops the bags. He always looks smaller when he's upset. "I wanted to explore the city, see some of Australia properly, but—I guess that was a bad idea, huh?"

"Come here," Louis says, instead of answering. He holds out his arms, and Liam lets out a shaky breath and climbs onto the bed without even taking off his shoes, tucking his face into Louis's shoulder. Louis hugs him, and pets his hair, and once the tension's gone out of Liam's spine he says, "Zayn's down on the bus, we were going to smoke and watch Shaun of the Dead. You want in?"

"Yes please," Liam says gratefully, and kisses Louis. It's quick, and sweet, and mostly chaste, and Liam pulls back without lingering, smiling softly at Louis and then swinging himself back off the bed. Louis blinks after him, fingers going to his mouth for a second before he stops himself; Liam's looking at him expectantly, and Louis shakes off the sudden weird feelings and gets up, grabbing his lighter and phone from the bedside table. Liam stays close to him, all the way down to the bus, and by the time Zayn's rolling the first spliff they're holding hands. Louis can't remember, later, how the hand-holding started; but neither he nor Liam let go for longer than a few minutes for the whole rest of the night.

*

His voice gives out in the middle of soundcheck.

"Fuck, sorry," he says into the mic, shaking his head and trying to start his solo again, but it's no use. He's gone and lost his bloody voice.

Liam's there a second later, tugging him away from the microphone with an arm around his shoulders. "You're going to see the doc right now," he says firmly.

"It's soundcheck," Louis protests. Even his speaking voice is mostly a rasp, and he kind of wants to hide his face in Liam's shoulder. Fuck.

Liam shakes his head. "I don't care," he starts, but then Paul and Tim and Howard are coming up on the stage.

"We've got to finish," Howard says apologetically, glancing at Louis, "the levels are a little fucked, and I need to run through a few more things with you lads still here."

"Louis's going to see the doctor," Liam repeats, "and I'm—"

Louis puts his hand on Liam's arm. "Stay," he says softly. Harry and Zayn and Niall have come over, too, looking concerned, and Louis ducks out from under Liam's arm and gives him a little push towards Harry. Harry makes a slightly alarmed face at Louis, but then he catches Liam and puts his arms around his waist.

"I'll take Louis to the doc," Tim says, patting Louis on the shoulder. Louis likes Tim, who is the size of a small mountain and once taught Louis how to swear in Swahili.

"That's settled, then," Paul says definitively. "Louis, doctor, now; the rest of you, back to work," his voice softens a little, "it'll be alright, lads."

"But—" Liam says, looking mutinous, but then Zayn and Niall crowd around him, helping Harry steer him back towards the microphones. He gives Louis one last glance over his shoulder, eyes worried and forehead furrowed, but Louis shakes his head, and flashes a sardonic thumbs up, and than mouths "thank you" at the boys, when Liam finally turns away.

Their doctor, who is actually called Melissa, swabs Louis's throat and waves a torch around while Louis says "ah," and then runs him through a bunch of familiar vocal exercises. "I'd put you on full vocal rest if I could," she says finally, fixing Louis a cup of hot water in the bus kitchenette. She mixes lemon and honey into the mug, but leaves out the tea. "I know that's not entirely an option," she continues, sitting down across from Louis at the table, "but you've got to be careful. If you can try not to talk unless you absolutely must, at least for a few days, that'll help. No shouting, or yelling, or anything that'll put unnecessary strain on your voice; and I know you've got to sing, but you really don't want to push it, do you understand? Your throat needs time to heal, and if the lads have to cover you for a few shows, then that's the way it goes."

Louis takes a sip from the mug, and pulls a face.

Melissa laughs, and then says seriously, "No tea, no coffee, no smoking, no alcohol. You're to drink a lot of water, and hot water with lemon and honey, get as much rest as you can, and I'll give you some lozenges for your throat; but I'm absolutely serious about this, Louis: no talking."

Louis feels as mutinous as Liam had looked back at the arena—and worse, because if he can't talk, and he can't sing, then what the bloody hell good is he? He raises his eyebrows at the doc, and makes a hand gesture that's not really very ambiguous at all, tilting his head in a question.

She rolls her eyes, and then gets up and comes back with a big bag of lozenges and a pack of condoms. She sets the lozenges down neatly on the table, and throws the condoms at his head.

"Oi," Louis says, with a bit of a croak, "medical abuse!"

"Quiet, you," she says. "Sex is fine, as long as you're safe about it; but just be careful with your voice, alright? I want to see you back here tomorrow." Louis nods, and gives her two slightly sad thumbs up. She makes a motherly face at him, and says, "It'll be alright, love. Let the boys take care of you for a bit, and you'll be right as rain again in no time." Then she winces. "God, I sound just like my nan." Louis kind of loves Melissa.

On the way back to the venue, Louis texts Liam, The doc says vocal rest, not allowed to talk. :(

Oh noooooooo, Liam replies instantly, you okayyyyyyy??

Bit gutted, Louis texts back, with a string of sad faces. The worst of it is that he doesn't even feel properly ill, just useless and unnecessary. He's not much good for anything, without a voice—he can't sing his parts, and he can't tell jokes, and while Louis Tomlinson, Accidental Mime might keep people entertained for a few hours, he knows it'll get boring and annoying pretty quickly—and not even the good kind of annoying. He's already the weakest singer out of the five of them, and everybody knows it; losing his voice is like the nail in the bloody coffin.

He's in a bit of a strop by the time he gets back to the venue, feeling prickly and miserable. The lads grab him into a cuddle as soon as he comes into the room, Harry tugging him down onto the dressing room sofa and Niall sitting right on top of him, while Zayn holds his hand and kisses his cheek. Liam hovers and fusses and brings Louis endless cups of hot water with lemon and honey, which eventually Louis has to stop drinking so that he won't have to wee right in the middle of the show. It's nice, and it does make him feel a bit better; he likes being the center of attention, and he loves his boys. He doesn't even mind all that much when Liam starts giving an inspirational lecture about their plans to cover Louis's parts, even though every time he tries to open his mouth to contribute, Liam gives him such a sad, worried look that Louis has to stay quiet.

It's nice; but even right in the middle of a cuddle with his boys, he feels oddly unnecessary, like maybe nobody would notice if he just—disappeared. He knows better, really, but he's still got an itch under his skin like he has to do something, like he has to make sure, somehow, that he's needed.

When Liam goes off to get his hair done for the show, Louis texts Harry, Want a cup of tea. :( with the coffee cup emoji.

Harry frowns at him, and shakes his head, and texts back the banana, the muscly bicep, and the speak-no-evil monkey, which Louis thinks is really laying it on a bit thick.

Your the worst, Louis writes back. Have you got any paper ?

Harry moves Niall's arse off his legs so that he can stand up, and goes over to talk to Lou; she shoos him away immediately, busy with Liam's hair, and on the way back Harry makes a detour to the food table, talks to at least three different crew members who are clearly trying to do their jobs and don't need to be distracted by Harry bloody Styles, and gets his journal and a biro from his bag in the corner. He tears a page out as he settles on the sofa again, and hands it over to Louis along with the biro.

Louis blows him a kiss, and then sets to work drawing a very rude stick figure cartoon. Zayn, tucked into Louis's side on the sofa, watches him draw, his eyebrows steadily climbing as the cartoon becomes more and more complicated. "He's never going to know what that means," Zayn mutters.

Louis draws a Batman cowl on one of the stick figures—the one that's tied up—and scrawls underneath, Can I tie you up and fuck you later? Tick yes or no, and adds little yes and no boxes.

Zayn has put his face down on Louis's shoulder, and is laughing helplessly. Louis elbows him in the ribs, and then folds the note and writes Liam Batman Payne on the front, and passes it to Harry.

Harry unfolds the note, his eyebrows going up as he reads; Niall reads over his shoulder. "Right on, Lou," Harry says finally, and gets back up to go deliver the note to Liam.

"I see we've escalated to passing notes," Niall says dryly. Louis doesn't reply, since officially he's not allowed; it's possible there may be something to be said for enforced silence. Across the room, they watch Harry deliver the note with a little flourish and a bow, and then they watch as Liam reads it and turns red. He looks up at Louis with a smile that's almost smug, and Louis gives a little shrug and smiles back—he aims for his slyest smile, but he has a feeling it might turn a bit fond at the last minute. Harry hands Liam the biro, and then takes the note back once Liam's written on it, and comes trotting back over to the sofa.

Liam's ticked yes, and drawn a smiley face and a heart next to the tied-up stick figure in a Batman cowl.

*

Liam stays close to him for the entire show, giving Louis hot, secretive glances from under his eyelashes and singing Louis's own parts back to him when Louis's voice gives out. It's not really anything Liam hasn't done before, but their usual back and forth has a charge to it now that's new, and made worse—or maybe better—by the fact that Liam's always there, hovering and touching Louis and singing to him, clearly wanting to make absolutely certain that Louis's alright. Louis's not, exactly, but he has a plan.

He points Liam at the shower when they get back to the hotel, and goes to his own room to shower and change. When he comes out of the bathroom, Harry's sitting on his bed.

"Hey," Harry says, grinning, "I brought you the things."

Louis rolls his eyes, and finishes toweling off. He tugs on a pair of tracksuit bottoms but skips the t-shirt and pants—what's the point, really—and then he goes to get his phone and sits down next to Harry on the bed. Harry leans his chin on Louis's shoulder while Louis pulls up the website he liked the best, and then he kisses Louis on the cheek and hands over the scarves he brought with him. "I still like the ones with the rope," he says, "but maybe that's the advanced class?"

"Yeah, I think," Louis says. His voice is creaky, and Harry elbows him in the side and gives him a warning frown. "Yeah, I know," Louis says, with a sigh. "No yelling, no shouting, no moaning, no talking, and have safe sex. Go away now, please."

"Fine, fine," Harry says, grinning again as they stand up, and then he gives Louis another quick kiss and a fond pat on the bum. "Go on, have fun. I feel like a proud parent."

"You have a very weird relationship with your parents," Louis says dryly, but he's not really one to talk, and Harry just shrugs and opens the door for him and waves him off down the corridor.

Liam kisses Louis as soon as he's through the door, tugging him close and sliding his big hands down Louis's back to his bum, which is a bit more forward than Liam's been, actually; Louis quite likes it, and he pushes up into Liam, kissing him hard and getting his arms around Liam's neck so that he can tug his head down to where he wants it.

He breaks the kiss to breathe, eventually, and holds up the scarves he borrowed from Harry.

"Are those Harry's?" Liam asks, blinking. Louis shrugs, and Liam smiles. "Well, as long as he doesn't mind."

I thought about tying you up with your stupid bandanas, Louis thinks, but doesn't say. Harry's scarves are a better choice, long enough to knot around Liam's wrists and loop over the headboard, and the fabric is soft, which at least one of the websites had said was good for people with limited bondage experience. Louis's bondage experience is very limited.

"Harry doesn't mind," Louis says, and then, when Liam gives Louis a worried look and starts to tell him to stop talking, Louis puts his hand over Liam's mouth. "Shut up for a second. I won't talk, okay? I will tie you up and fuck you and not talk, but if you want me to stop at any point, you say so, alright? Promise?" He takes his hand off Liam's mouth.

"Like a safeword?" Liam asks. Louis's eyebrows go up, and Liam flushes a little. "Zayn said—" he starts, and then shrugs. "Batman."

"Um," Louis says, surprised. "No, I think—if you want me to stop, you can just tell me to stop." Liam looks obscurely disappointed, so Louis adds quickly, "Or Batman, okay. That's cool, too."

"I promise," Liam says, nodding, and then he gives Louis a slow, wicked smile. "I think you should stop talking now, Lou."

"Yeah, okay," Louis breathes, and starts shoving Liam back towards the bed.

Liam's only in his boxers, so they get Liam's pants and Louis's tracksuit bottoms off on the way across the room, and are both naked by the time Louis pushes Liam down onto the bed. He pushes hard, getting Liam on his back and straddling his hips, pressing Liam's shoulders down with both hands. The look Liam gives him in response is so hot that Louis has to pause his agenda for a moment just to kiss him. He gets into the kiss, grinding down against Liam at the same time, and that feels so fantastic that he pins Liam's hands above his head while they kiss. Liam groans into his mouth. Louis can feel him pull a little against Louis's grip, testing, and then relax all at once, his dick pressing hard against Louis's arse. Louis has a dizzying moment in which he vividly imagines holding Liam down and riding him, and has to pull back to catch his breath. Not tonight. Tonight he's got a plan.

He sits back on his heels, holding Liam's wrists above his head with one hand, and picks up his phone and the scarves from where he dropped them on the bed.

"What—" Liam starts, as Louis loops a scarf around his wrist, tying the first knot. "Are those—Louis, are you reading instructions?" He sounds like he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Louis gives him a withering look, and goes back to the knots. The instructions are a little complicated, because the knots are meant to hold Liam tightly without pulling too hard, and to be easy to slip off after.

"Oh my god," Liam says, his voice shaky. "You went and got instructions. You're following the instructions, I—" Louis looks away from the knots and down at Liam's face. His eyes are shining, and he's grinning, wide and bright and stupidly gorgeous. "You really love me."

Louis rolls his eyes, and knees Liam in the hip. Of course he loves Liam, what kind of stupid question is that? Liam turns his head to the side, and kisses the only part of Louis he can easily reach, which is his elbow. "Thank you," he says softly, looking up at Louis with so much adoration that Louis's hands shake a little as he finishes the knots and then slides off Liam's lap to tie him to the headboard. He loves it when Liam looks at him like that, but right now it's a lot to take. "I didn't—" Liam says, "When I told you guys, it was because I didn't think I could keep it a secret, and I didn't want to, but I never thought—I never thought I'd get to have anything like this, Louis, I didn't even know—but you—you're so—fuck, I love you so much."

Liam Payne, Louis thinks, would be too much for anyone. He leans down and kisses him. Liam makes a soft, happy sigh into his mouth, and Louis feels a little dizzy with it, too hot; his dick is starting to ache from how hard he is. He can't remember what it was like before they were doing this, and it seems crazy to think that a week ago, he hadn't even ever touched Liam's dick for real, or kissed him like this, or fucked him, or tied him to a bed.

He nods at the bonds on Liam's wrists when he pulls back from the kiss, tilting his head and raising his eyebrows in a question, and Liam sucks his lower lip into his mouth and tugs on them; they hold. "Good," Liam says softly, "yeah, they're really good."

Good, Louis thinks, smugly. Liam's dick is very hard, and his eyes are heavy-lidded. Louis puts his phone down on the bedside table, and sets to work taking Liam apart.

He spends a long time on Liam's nipples, pinching and biting while Liam moans, and then he sucks slow, hot bite marks down Liam's chest. Liam's begging by the time Louis gets to his cock, and Louis wanks him off slowly, hard and dry and a little rough, which is apparently the way Liam likes it best. There's a yellowing bruise from Louis's mouth on the inside of Liam's thigh, and when Louis presses his thumb into it, Liam gives a low whine and his hips jerk up into Louis's hand. "Fuck," Liam groans, "Lou," and Louis sinks his teeth into the hollow of Liam's hip just as Liam comes. He gets a little of Liam's come on his cheek, which makes Liam's eyes go wide and hot, a little glazed with orgasm, when Louis lifts his head.

He licks his fingers off slowly, watching Liam. Liam's breathing heavily, sticky with sweat and come, and he's clinging to the knots around his wrists, like maybe they'll keep him from floating away. "Hey," Louis says, "you still with me, love? Ready for more?"

Liam nods slowly, still looking dazed. "Louis," he says softly, and that's definitely too much for Louis to take, so he pushes Liam's knees up and gets a pillow under Liam's hips and his mouth on Liam's arse. Eating Liam out had only sort of been on his agenda, but the noise Liam makes when Louis licks behind his balls is so shocked and gorgeous that Louis has to keep going. Liam's just showered, and he tastes clean and a little soapy, and he's so hot when Louis licks into him; Louis braces his hands on Liam's arse, keeping him firmly in place, and licks him open. He's always loved doing this, for girls and for boys, and Liam is moaning, low and broken, and shaking a little under his hands, by the time Louis reaches for the lube.

He opens Liam up the rest of the way, one finger and then two and then three along with his tongue, and the way Liam pushes his arse down into Louis's hands is encouragement enough; so is the fact that Liam's hard again by the time Louis lifts his head and takes his fingers out to get the condom on. Louis wants to tell Liam how good he's being, and how gorgeous he is, but Liam doesn't want him to talk, so he kisses the back of Liam's knee, instead, and fucks into him as slowly and steadily as he can; it's not very steadily, but he tries to make up for that by holding tight to Liam's thighs.

Liam's eyes are most of the way closed, and he's got his head back against the pillows; he shivers with each of Louis's thrusts, and he's stopped moaning. It's very quiet in the room, all of a sudden, just their heavy, uneven breathing and the slow, hot slide of Louis fucking Liam. Louis's skin feels prickly and humid and too warm, like it's not enough to contain him, like maybe nothing would ever be enough to contain the way he's feeling, fucking Liam like the whole world has disappeared around them. It seems like it goes on for a long time, but it can't possibly be more than a few minutes before Liam gives a soft cry and comes without Louis even touching his dick, and takes Louis right over the edge with him.

Louis comes back to himself slowly, still shaking a little from coming so hard, and it takes him a minute to gather the willpower to pull out of Liam and get rid of the condom. He almost drops it on the floor next to the bed, but Liam will yell at him, so he drags himself out of the bed and over to the rubbish bin. When he comes back, Liam's still there, his wrists gone slack in the scarves tying him to the bed. His eyes are still half-shut, and he's still breathing a little roughly, and he's covered in come, and bruises, and he looks—well, he looks completely blissed-out, and also like he's not there at all. "Liam?" Louis says, because fuck the rules. He sits down on the edge of the bed. "Liam, are you okay?" Liam turns his head at his voice, and nuzzles a little into Louis's shoulder, but he doesn't say anything, and he doesn't open his eyes. "Batman?" Louis tries, helplessly, and when Liam still doesn't say anything, Louis reaches for his phone and tries very hard not to panic.

"I think I broke Liam with sex," he says, when Harry answers with a grumbled, sleepy hello.

There's a short silence, and then Harry says, sounding much more awake, "Right, we'll be right there."

Louis unties Liam's hands while he waits. Liam doesn't move even after Louis unties him, but gravity does some of the work for him and Louis does the rest. He lets Liam's arms down, and then gets all the way back on the bed, tucking himself around Liam and clinging to his hand, until Harry and Zayn come into the room.

"Oh thank god," Louis says, when Harry climbs right up onto the bed and folds himself around Louis and Liam. "He won't talk to me, it was fine, but then he, like—he went somewhere else, I don't know what happened. Harry, what if I hurt him—"

"Shh," Harry says into his hair, arms tight around him, and then he looks down at Liam. "Um," he says, hesitantly. "Maybe I should—phone somebody? That's—actually kind of terrifying."

"I know," Louis wails, and looks up at Zayn, who's sat on the bed on Liam's other side. Zayn is petting Liam's hair, and looking down at him with an arrested expression on his face. "Zayn, what?" Louis says.

Zayn looks up. "It's alright," he says, "it's okay, I know what this is—we've just got to keep cuddling him until he comes back."

"What?" Louis demands. Against his back, Harry shrugs and follows Zayn's instructions, slinging a leg over Liam and reaching across Louis to stroke Liam's chest. Zayn edges in closer on the other side, tugging the duvet up over Liam, so that he's not completely naked in the open air.

"It's a thing, I think," Zayn says. "It's sort of cool—like, the sex is so good that you feel like you're floating, and then you just sort of—float away, and sometimes it takes a while to come back to ground, like; me it does, anyway, I've never seen it from this side." He looks down at Liam with a soft, fond smile, and strokes his hair back from his forehead. "This is cool, I can see why Perrie likes it." He looks up at Louis, and frowns a little at whatever he sees on Louis's face. "It's okay, babes, I swear. D'you want me to call Pez?"

Louis starts to shake his head, feeling too overwhelmed to try talking to another person, no matter how much he loves her; and then Liam turns a little towards Zayn, reaching up to pat his chest. "Zaynie?" He murmurs, sounding drowsy and happy, and Louis relaxes all at once. "What're you doing here? Where'd Lou go?"

"I'm here," Louis says, squeezing Liam's hand and tightening his arm around his shoulders.

"Hey, bro," Zayn says softly, leaning down to kiss Liam's forehead. "Lou called us, you freaked him out."

"What?" Liam says, sounding suddenly worried. "Why?"

"You kind of went away, for a bit," Zayn says, still quiet.

"Oh," Liam says, "yeah, that was—that was amazing." He turns his head and looks up at Louis. His eyes are open again, but he still looks a little hazy; and then he gives Louis a smile so dazzling that Louis's breath catches in his throat. "Fuck, that was amazing."

"Well," Harry says, sounding relieved and sardonic at the same time. "I'm very glad that Louis did not actually break you with sex, Liam. That would've been impossible to explain."

Louis's still trying to get his thoughts in order well enough to make a comeback when Niall comes in, balancing a tray of steaming mugs. "Perfect timing," Harry says, and gets off the bed to help Niall with the tea.

"Crisis averted, then?" Niall asks, settling down at the foot of the bed with the tea tray, and handing mugs around. Liam sits up a little, leaning against Louis's shoulder.

"Yeah, we're all okay," Zayn tells him. Louis's breathing is finally starting to level out, and his heart no longer feels like it's about to pound right out of his chest; but he's not entirely sure he's okay. He takes a sip of his tea and then frowns at Niall, because it's definitely not tea.

"What the fuck," he says, "I don't even get tea in an emergency?"

Niall shakes his head. "Doctor's orders," he says. "You'll drink your lemon honey water and you'll like it, Tommo." He grins at Louis, and then climbs up the bed to lie on top of Liam, with his head on Zayn's shoulder.

"I fucking will not," Louis says, but he does take another sip, anyway.

Liam gives him a little frown, still soft, and tugs his hand out of Louis's so that he can reach up and tap Louis's mouth. "Shush," he says. "I'm okay, and you shouldn't be talking."

"Better listen to Liam," Harry says, cuddling back into Louis, one arm around his shoulders so he can curl his hand into Liam's hair. "He's the boss."

"You're all terrible," Louis says against Liam's hand, but it comes out sounding so affectionate that he's pretty sure none of them believe him; they certainly shouldn't believe him, because the truth is that his boys are the best in the world.

*

The lads clear out before dawn, Niall and Harry first, yawning and leaning heavily on each other's shoulders, and then finally Zayn. Louis wakes up when Zayn gets up to go—he'd only really been half-asleep—and follows him out into the corridor, pulling on Liam's boxers in a half-hearted attempt at decency.

"Zaynie," Louis says softly, "I think I fucked up."

Zayn leans against the corridor wall, and doesn't say anything.

"I—" Louis says, and then stops. He wishes he'd put on more clothes, so he'd have pockets to tuck his hands into. "I know Liam's alright, I know I didn't hurt him, but, like—I was so scared."

"You did the right thing, calling us," Zayn says quietly. "And whatever you did before that, like, he obviously loved it, so—but Liam's not the only one of you who can get hurt." He gives Louis a look, fond and hard at the same time. "I can't tell you what to do here, Lou; I love you both, I'm not getting in the middle."

Louis shakes his head. "No, of course not, I just—"

"But if I was getting in the middle," Zayn continues, "I'd say that you should probably have this conversation with Liam, and not with me."

Louis looks down at his feet, and digs his toes into the thick posh hotel carpet. "Yeah," he agrees, and then he frowns and looks up, giving Zayn a bit of a glare. "But you and Perrie—you know stuff about this, and you didn't say?"

Zayn shrugs. "Sure, but like, I don't think—I dunno, I mean, you should talk to Perrie, if you want. I talked to Liam, a bit, but I don't think my experience is, like, all that relevant. It's not really the same; and I don't know if I want to tell you all the details, anyway." He looks apologetic, but also like he'll hold firm, and Louis hasn't gotten to be best mates with Zayn by not respecting his privacy; Zayn's a whole different thing than Liam.

"Well, fair enough," Louis says, and knocks his shoulder into Zayn's. "Thanks, by the way."

Zayn gives him the same soft smile he'd given Liam. "You're welcome."

Liam's still asleep when Louis goes back into the hotel room. Louis kicks off his boxers and gets back into bed, spooning up against Liam with his arm slung low across his hips. Liam makes a sleepy noise and curls into him, all warm, sleep-soft skin, and Louis tucks his face into the back of Liam's neck and tries to go back to sleep. It's a long time before he does.

*

He wakes up again to mid-morning light through the curtains, and Liam's breathing in his ear. His throat hurts, a little, and he rolls out of Liam's arms to reach for the glass of water on the nightstand.

"Hey," Liam says softly, when he sets the glass down again. Louis rolls back over; Liam's propped up on his elbow, the duvet kicked down around his hips, and there's a scattering of bite marks and bruises across his chest.

"Hey," Louis whispers.

Liam gives him a little frown. "You're not supposed to be talking."

Louis sighs; he fucking hates following the rules, but he doesn't even want to break them right now for any of his usual reasons—usual reasons which, he has been told, amount to him being a first class knob. "I think I need to," he says, sounding a lot more apologetic than he would like under normal circumstances. "We need to talk."

Liam's eyes widen. "Oh," he says. "I—did I do something wrong?"

"What?" Louis demands, shocked. "No, of course you didn't—why would you even think that?"

Liam shakes his head. "You were upset, last night. Zayn said I scared you, but I didn't mean to, it was just—I've never felt anything like that before, but it was amazing." He looks down, not meeting Louis's eyes. "Was it—was it not good, for you?"

"It was wonderful," Louis says honestly, "right up until the end, and then I—Zayn's right, I got scared. He says it's a thing, and you say it was amazing, so that's, like—that's alright now." He takes a deep breath, trying to get his thoughts in order. "But I didn't do that for you on purpose, Liam, and I think—last night, I think I was doing it for the wrong reasons."

"Oh," Liam says again, sounding a little broken. "Then, do you not want to, anymore? I knew it was weird; I know we said it was just mates."

Louis snorts, a little bitter. "Just mates is crap, though."

Liam looks up at him, eyes wide and surprised, and then his mouth quirks. "Yeah, well," Liam says, "I thought it was a pretty good lie, though."

"Liam Payne, you wanker," Louis says, and then he starts to laugh. "Such absolute crap," he gasps. "Just mates, what the fuck. Like that even—god, go fuck yourself."

Liam looks away, tugging his bottom lip between his teeth. "I know," he says, "I just—I trust you, you know? I love you, and like—I never thought I could have this. I didn't even know what I could have, and once you said yes, I just—I couldn't stop."

"No, hey," Louis says, all the laughter going out of him. "I didn't want you to stop. I don't want to stop."

Liam's whole face lights up with cautious hope, and Louis has to bite his own lip, hard, to keep from just kissing him and letting everything else go. But he can't do that; he really, really can't do that. "But," he says, and then he has to watch Liam's face fall, which is the worst thing in the world. "Last night, you did scare me, and I got scared because I thought I'd pushed too far, and I'd hurt you. I never want to do that. If I'm going to—to do whatever I did, to get you to that place you went, I want to do it on purpose, and I don't want to do it because I need to prove that I'm—that I'm necessary, or needed, or—"

"Oh, Lou," Liam says, and hugs him. It's a weird, sideways sort of hug, and Louis's still talking when his face lands in Liam's stupid broad chest. "You're such a knob, sometimes, seriously," Liam says. "Of course you're fucking necessary. You don't have to fuck me to prove that."

"I know that now," Louis says into Liam's collarbone, a little disgruntled, and then he pulls back and fixes Liam with a fierce look. "But I could hurt you, is the thing, and I just—I think I need some time."

Liam looks at him without saying anything for a long, still moment. "Okay," he says finally. His eyebrows are drooping, and he sounds sad, and small, and resigned, and a thousand other things that Louis never wants Liam to sound like again.

Louis kisses him. Liam's clearly not expecting it, and he leans into the kiss for one hot instant, and then away. "Don't get any ideas," Louis says sharply, "we're not done, Payno. Just—give me a day or two to slow down and think." He kisses Liam again, swift and hard, and then pulls away. Liam looks confused, and wary, but the terrible look of resigned sadness is gone. "I realize that's not my usual thing, slowing down and thinking things through." Liam smiles, looking a bit like he's doing it despite himself; but it's an actual, real smile. "But I guess I'm trying to be clever about this," Louis says, rushing through the words, "because you've done my head in, Liam, and you matter too much for me to fuck this up any more than I already have."

"You haven't," Liam says softly, but he doesn't press the point. Instead, he gives Louis's hand a squeeze, and says, "Okay," again; this time, he sounds just like himself.

*

FIJI

Fiji is boring as hell. It's beautiful, obviously—he spends some time on the beach, and does a little shopping, adding to his growing collection of presents for his sisters—but before the first day is even over he's started to get stir crazy. It's not that he regrets jetting off to a beautiful Pacific Island on a whim, when he can, but he really should've talked Zayn into coming along. He texts Zayn a picture of the view from his hotel, with wish you were here bro x. Zayn doesn't text back immediately, which is typical, so Louis goes out on the balcony and looks out at the ocean and the setting sun.

He does miss Zayn, and Harry and Niall; but he misses Liam the most. They haven't even been apart for a whole day, and it's stupid to miss him. But Louis's hotel room is big, and quiet, and empty, and even though he knows he needs the space, he's never been very good at sitting back and giving a problem time to breathe. His usual method is to poke something until it bites back.

His phone buzzes. Zayn's texted, give me a little warning next time x, and then, liam misses you.

Louis can picture them vividly, Zayn and Liam curled up together on the sofa on the bus, Liam making those stupid sad puppy eyes that he makes when he misses somebody, and Zayn petting his hair and texting Perrie at the same time. Louis wishes he was there with them; it helps, knowing that Liam's not alone, but it doesn't help as much as it would if it was him that was making Liam feel better.

me too :( Louis texts Zayn. give him a kiss for me.

haha no, Zayn replies, and Louis can imagine him rolling his eyes. work that shit out yourselves x

Louis grins down at his phone. Fuck off, he types, and then, love ya.

I know, Zayn writes back. Louis can read the smugness right off the screen. get some rest, ok?

Yeah ok x, Louis sends, and puts his phone back in his pocket. Zayn's right, but despite everything, Louis mostly just wants to order a few bottles of wine from room service and get utterly smashed.

He knows better, though, and he's trying this new thing where he occasionally makes sensible adult decisions, so instead of going and getting drunk enough to forget all about his stupid, complicated feelings, he leans on the balcony railing and watches the sun go down over the sea. The sky's lit up in gorgeous stripes of pink and orange and blue, and Louis's heart clenches, looking at it, because the sunset's lovely and all, but he'd so much rather watch Liam watch the sunset like it's the most amazing thing he's ever seen.

The truth is that Liam's been driving him crazy for three years, and Louis's never wanted anything quite the way he wants to drive Liam crazy right back. What that means has changed, but maybe it's not all that much of a surprise that this is where they've ended up, even if Louis could never have imagined this in any of his craziest, wildest dreams. But when it comes to a choice between having all of Liam and not having him, or only having some of him, then there's no fucking choice at all. Sometimes, you've just got to get brave.

*

"Hi, love," his mum says, when he rings her the next morning. "Aren't you supposed to not be talking?"

Louis slept restlessly, the bed feeling too cold and empty with no one else in it, and he's got the start of a sniffly nose and a worrying tickle in his throat that he's trying not to think about. He mostly just wants to talk to his mum. "I went to Fiji," he says, which is not really an answer. "I'm resting my voice, really, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit." They've been texting, but he's missed actually talking to her; it's not for nothing that Louis's the biggest mummy's boy in a band full of lads who love their mums.

"Well, alright," his mum says, sounding mollified, "of course it's lovely to talk to you, darling. How are you feeling? How's Fiji? Did the lads go with you?"

Louis loves the way his mum always asks him twelve questions at once. He smiles into the phone, and says, "No, just me—I needed to get away for a bit. Fiji's really lovely, I took loads of photos for you and the girls. It's nice, but I am feeling a bit poorly." His voice goes tragic and mournful on the last part, and his mum clucks her tongue on the phone.

He can tell she's rolling her eyes at him, too, because she says, "If you're feeling poorly, love, what in the world did you go and leave the boys for?" Trust his mum to ask the questions that really matter.

Louis curls a little deeper into the corner of the sofa, and sighs. "Me and Liam have got a—thing."

"What kind of a thing?" His mum asks, sounding alarmed. "You're not fighting, are you?"

"No," Louis says, "no, it's, um. It's a—sex thing." He pauses, and then lets out a breath. "Maybe a—well, maybe a romantic thing?"

"Oh," says his mum, sounding surprised, and then she gives a warm, familiar chuckle. "Daisy will never forgive you, you know, she's still convinced she's going to marry Liam when she grows up."

"Mum."

His mum laughs again, and then says apologetically, "I'm sorry, poppet, it's just—I suppose I should be more surprised, yeah? I never would've thought you and Liam were anything other than really good friends, if you hadn't told me, but now that you say it—well, you've been pulling his pigtails for three years, haven't you?"

She's not wrong. "I suppose," Louis says, a little sulkily. In the background, he can hear water running and the quiet clink of dishes, the familiar sounds of his mum tidying the kitchen after tea. For a moment, all he wants is the world is to be home.

"If you and Liam are a—possibly romantic thing," his mum says, neatly skipping over the part where Louis said they were a sex thing, "why did you run away to Fiji?"

Louis has some lines—if admittedly not all that many—and saying "it's a bit kinky" to his mum is definitely one of them; but that's not actually why he phoned her. "I got scared," he admits, because he's said it to Zayn, and he's said it to Liam, and he can say it to his mum, too. "I don't want to, like—I don't want to hurt him. I don't want anyone to get hurt."

"Oh, Lou," his mum says, sounding fond and sad at the same time, "people do get hurt, though. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try."

Louis bites his lip, and rests his chin on his drawn-up knees. "What if I fuck it up?"

"Then you fuck it up," his mum says immediately, and he can picture her, leaning against the counter in the kitchen with her arms crossed. "You fuck it up, and you say you're sorry and you mean it, and you do better." There's a pause, and then she says, "Do you love him? Not just as a friend, or even like family, because I know that's true; but do you love him the other way, too?"

"Yes," Louis says. It's easier to say than he thought it would be.

"Well then," says his mum, "you're my kid, Louis. Go after him with everything you've got, and don't fucking let go."

*

Louis goes down to the beach for a while, after he gets off the phone with his mum. He gets stopped by a few fans, but most of the people at the resort seem to be older, and he's mostly left alone. He takes his shoes off and digs his toes into the wet sand, wishing Liam were there; they've really got to find time to go surfing. Thinking about surfing leads to him thinking about Liam in his wetsuit, which sends a hot shock of arousal right through him. He wants to go surfing with Liam in Australia, and then he wants to take Liam back to the hotel and tie him up with his wetsuit and suck him off.

The weirdest thing about all the time he's spending thinking about sex with Liam is how weird it just—isn't. Liam was never weird about it, once they started; it was just one more thing they did together, one more thing they loved doing together, like surfing, and writing songs, and talking about comics, and playing football, and cuddling up on the bus sofa in the middle of the night when neither one of them can sleep. Liam's so much of Louis's life, already, and maybe Louis's been a little bit in love with him all along. Except Louis's never been very good at only doing things a little bit; Louis goes all in.

He gets his phone out of his pocket and texts Liam, Miss you xxx.

Liam must've had his phone out, because he texts back immediately, you toooooooooo lou come back soon?? xxx

Back tomorrow !! Louis writes, Can't wait to see u, and then, because he's never been very good at resisting temptation, Want to get you naked straightaway :)

He thumbs his phone off and looks up and down the beach. There are some teenage girls running through the surf not that far away, and they don't seem to have seen him, or possibly they just don't care; but just to be safe, Louis goes back up across the beach towards the hotel. He loves their fans, but right now he really doesn't want to be interrupted.

His phone buzzes again when he's getting in the lift. Liam's written, Oh nooooooooo Niall just asked if were sexting whoops goin outside..

Louis grins down at his phone. whyd Niall think that ??

Dunno think I might have turnd red :/ Liam writes back, and then he sends, R we ok? just as Louis's unlocking his hotel room door.

Yes !!! Louis types out quickly, shutting the door behind him. Sorry for running away like that, just needed to think a bit. Miss you too much tho. Cant stop thinking about fucking you again !! Then, just in case that was the wrong thing to say, he adds, Still got some stuff to talk about when I'm back, but don't worry too much :) I love you .x. It might not be his most eloquent, but he thinks Liam will probably get the idea.

It seems like Liam does, because he replies, I love u toooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. It's the most extra letters Louis has ever seen in a text from Liam, and he's still smiling stupidly at his phone when Liam's next message arrives: Havnt wanked since u left.

Fuck, Louis thinks, and then he has to sit down hard on the sofa and press the heel of his hand against his dick. That's—fuck, yes. He takes a couple of deep breaths, willing his erection down. You should wait for me, he texts Liam. Don't get off til I'm home. He hadn't actually meant to say home, he realizes as he watches the message send; he'd meant to say back. No matter how much he likes Australia, it isn't home; but then he thinks about Liam waiting for him, and Harry and Niall and Zayn, and Paul and Marco and Lou and Caroline, the band and the crew, and he thinks that maybe it's not the worst mistake he's ever made.

Yeah? Liam texts, Tomorrow? Even his texts seem breathless and hot.

Tomorrow, Louis writes, with a rush of satisfaction that's both utterly familiar and completely new. Nobody touches your dick but me. He imagines Liam standing out on a hotel balcony, hard and desperate and waiting, just because Louis told him to wait, and he has to close his eyes and concentrate on steadying his breathing, so he doesn't set himself on fire just by thinking about it; it's one of the hottest things he's ever imagined, and it's real, and it's his.

Fuck yes, Liam sends, nobody but you, and then, in the enduring contradiction of Liam Payne, follows it up with, Cant wait luv you yayyyyyyyyyyyy :) and whoops gotta go Nialls makin trouble xxx.

Louis texts back an x, and then clicks his phone off and drops it on the sofa beside him. He's still half-hard, his whole body hot with arousal; but it'll keep, because Liam's waiting for him. Louis thinks about Harry asking him if he knew what he was doing, barely a week ago. He still doesn't, really, but he's come out the other side of scared into hot anticipation, and if there's one thing he's always been sure of, it's Liam. Having Liam like this—having Liam as his—feels like suddenly getting to have a thousand things he'd never known he wanted; it feels like fitting the last missing piece into a puzzle; maybe most of all, it feels like that moment at four in the morning in a hotel room with mattresses pushed up against the walls, when his lyrics and Liam's melody and the harmony parts they've been tossing back and forth suddenly come together into a song. Louis thinks about the way Liam looked at him in those moments, and he thinks about the way Liam looked at him when he was tied to the bed, and he thinks about all the things he wants to do to Liam; he thinks about the way he works Liam up on stage, and the way Liam curves his body into Louis's hands, and lies back and takes everything he gives, and really, it's not just Liam that's a little bit kinky. Louis can't wait to get home.

*

MELBOURNE

Louis's flight back to Melbourne is delayed, and to add insult to injury his sore throat and sniffly nose get progressively worse as the day goes on, until by the time they finally land in Melbourne—already late for soundcheck—he feels like a very ill elephant has stomped all over him and then left its illness behind. He's late enough that he doesn't have time to get Liam alone, and even though all four of the lads jump on him with warm, friendly hugs to welcome him back, he's still tetchy and miserable by the time they're though with soundcheck and heading backstage to get changed for the show.

Liam tugs him close as soon as they've got a moment to breathe, though, alone in the corridor with Harry and Zayn and Niall gone ahead of them to the dressing room. Louis puts his head down on Liam's shoulder and clings a little more tightly than he'd meant to. "Are you alright?" Liam asks into his hair, sounding worried. "You look a bit terrible, mate."

"Oh, thanks," Louis huffs into Liam's shoulder. "That's a great way to get somebody to want to shag you, Liam, tell them they look terrible."

"Hey," Liam says, sounding like he can't decide whether he wants to be a bit offended or just laugh, which is so familiar that Louis lifts his head to look at Liam's face. Liam's smiling, but his eyebrows are drawn together in concern. "I still want to shag you even when you look terrible," he says firmly, and then looks a little surprised at himself, his smile getting crooked, "but I can wait. I've been waiting." His voice goes a bit hot and husky as he says this, but then he frowns, and says in a very different voice, suddenly one hundred percent Daddy Direction, "You don't look at all well, Lou, honestly."

Louis sighs, and rests his forehead against Liam's shoulder again. "I do feel a bit poorly," he admits. "My voice is a bit better, but I think I've got the fucking tour cold."

Liam presses his thumbs into the back of Louis's neck and scratches his fingers through Louis's hair, and some of the tension goes out of Louis's shoulders. His head still hurts, but it seems much easier to deal with when Liam's holding him up. "Come on," Liam says, "you can see the doc while we get ready for the show. It's going to be alright," and then he gives Louis a hesitant, gorgeous, wicked smile. "I can wait a little longer."

*

Melissa gives Louis a pile of stuff to take, and orders him to rest as much as possible; but she also looks more cheerful than he expected. "It's not such a bad thing," she says, rolling her eyes when Louis asks why she looks so happy in the face of his abject misery. "The cold will pass, and it may mean that you losing your voice was more about you getting ill than about general wear and tear—not that you shouldn't still be very careful, even once you start to feel better, but as long as you rest and take the medicine, you should be fine. At this point that bloody cold is practically a member of the tour, anyway." She narrows her eyes at him. "No more running off to Fiji, though."

"Yeah, alright," Louis says, and then has to blow his nose seven times in a row. He hates being ill. "Thanks, Doc."

Melissa looks up at Liam, still hovering over Louis's shoulder. "He sounds complacent and agreeable now," she says dryly, "but you sit on him if you have to, Liam. He's got to get some real rest."

Louis tilts his head back to look up at Liam, who looks a bit like he's just been charged with a knight's quest. "Yes, of course," he says, shoulders back. "You can count on me."

Surprising no one at all, this turns out to be absolutely true. Liam spends the whole time they're getting ready for the show bringing Louis cups of tea and lemon honey water, and sending Niall and Harry off to bring back soup and juice and biscuits and oranges and tissues. Zayn cuddles Louis for a while on the dressing room sofa, but when Liam starts trying to send Zayn on errands, too, Zayn gives Louis a wink, pats Liam on the shoulder, and disappears.

Liam barely leaves Louis's side during the show. Louis wants to roll his eyes and punch Liam in the stomach, just to shake his cool; but Liam's so good at fixing things, so good at fixing Louis, and such a strong, constant presence for him to lean against and rely on and trust, and it's not—well. Maybe it's not so bad, really.

As soon as the show's over, Liam bundles Louis back to the hotel and out of his clothes and into the shower in about the least sexy way possible—"The steam's good for your head," Liam says earnestly, shutting the bathroom door behind him instead of getting into the shower with Louis; Louis wishes he would, but on the other hand he's so shattered that even thinking about sex seems nearly impossible. He stays under the hot water for a long time, until he's pruny and strung-out, and he's more grateful than anything else when Liam helps him into his pyjamas and pushes him gently into the bed. Liam's wearing pyjamas, too, and he leaves them on as he gets the lights and crawls into bed, tugging Louis into his arms.

"You don't have to—" Louis starts, but Liam puts his hand over Louis's mouth before he can finish.

"Time for sleeping," Liam says, sounding like the sternest five-year-old in the world. Louis huffs a laugh against his hand. "I've got you, Lou," Liam adds, firm and warm and earnest, and so utterly confident that Louis has to press a soft kiss into Liam's palm, and let Liam take care of him.

*

Louis sleeps better than he has in three days. He wakes up alone, but the bed's still warm, so Liam can't have been gone for very long. Louis swallows the pills waiting for him on the nightstand and is sitting up in bed trying to decide whether he can get away with going to bother Zayn on the bus when Liam comes back with breakfast.

"Morning," Louis says.

Liam brings him a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge, and sits down next to him on the bed. "Don't even think about it, Lou," he says sternly. "We've got two shows today, you're not doing anything else but resting."

"I didn't even—" Louis starts, disgruntled, but then he looks up at Liam, who is giving him a fond, amused look, and sighs. "Oh, fine," he says, and steals a kiss when he takes his tea out of Liam's hand.

He lets Liam think he's won, plotting the whole time he eats his porridge, and when Liam comes back to the bed after taking the empty breakfast dishes over to the table, Louis curls into him sweetly, and then swings one leg over Liam's hips and pins him. He gets a bit of a head rush from the sudden movement, but Liam's hands come up to wrap firmly around his wrists, steadying him even as Liam gives him a look that's somewhere between reproachful and turned on.

"Lou," he says, "you've got to rest."

"Liam," Louis echoes, "I rested all night long." He can feel Liam's dick, just starting to harden against his thigh. "You've been waiting," he says, "haven't you?"

Liam gives a jerky little nod, his hands tightening on Louis's wrists. "I haven't got off since you left," he agrees, and then all of a sudden he twists his grip on Louis's wrists and flips them over, so that Louis's the one pinned to the bed. Louis knew Liam could do that, from roughhousing, and from watching Liam work out, and from seeing him naked; he knows that Liam is bigger and stronger than he is, and that if Louis pushes up against his grip, Liam can hold him down. Liam's never done it like this, though, and Louis blinks up at him, shocked and shaky and hot, and too surprised to fight. Maybe they can have this both ways. "But you're poorly, Lou," Liam says firmly, "and I can wait a little longer, until you're properly well again."

That hits Louis like an arrow in the chest. "Oh," he says softly, staring up at Liam, "You like it, you like the waiting, you like not getting to come until I say—"

Liam bites his lip, and then grins a little, not looking embarrassed so much as pleased to be caught out. "Yeah."

"Well then," Louis says, but he still wraps his legs around Liam's hips to pull him closer, and leans up to bite Liam's earlobe. "Are you sure you don't want to have a wank right now, where I can watch? I'd like to watch, and that way you wouldn't have to wait any longer."

Liam shakes his head stubbornly. He's blushing, but clearly resolute. "Nobody touches my dick but you."

And that's—well, Louis got himself right into that, didn't he? He tugs one of his hands out of Liam's grip—though only because Liam lets him—and pulls Liam down for a kiss. Liam's probably not wrong, anyway; even though Louis feels hot and shaky and a little turned on, and wants to push against all the rules no matter how crap he feels, he does still feel pretty crap. "Alright," he says, "but in that case, I've got to get well as soon as possible, so we can make up for all the sex we're missing, so you'd best keep waiting on me hand and foot until then—and you've got to keep me entertained, too, so I'm not driven to ruin my health, don't you think?"

He's teasing, mostly, but Liam gives a pleased little shiver and presses him back into the bed, curling around him and keeping him there. "Yes, of course," Liam says, and Louis supposes all this resting might be survivable after all, under the circumstances.

*

"You're going to catch Lou's cold," Harry says, frowning at Liam as he comes into the back lounge. They'd gone straight for the buses after their last show in Melbourne, and it's late, but nobody's asleep—not even Zayn, sprawled out on the floor with his battered copy of issue seventeen of Gotham Knights. It's a long drive through the night to Sydney, and they're all on Bus 1, Niall clattering around in the kitchen making toast, and Louis lying on the sofa with his head in Liam's lap. Liam keeps bending down to leave light, sweet kisses on Louis's cheek and chin and forehead, and he's been running his fingers through Louis's hair for at least half an hour. Every time Louis starts to cough or reach for a tissue, Liam's there; and he keeps collecting Louis's used tissues into a rubbish bag, which is a bit weird. Louis would just leave them on the floor.

"If I was going to, I already would have," Liam says.

"That's not how viruses work," Harry says, taking a bite of his banana. He sits down cross-legged on the floor next to Zayn. "You're not supposed to kiss sick people."

"Too late now," Louis says smugly, and then coughs. He reaches up and taps Liam on his firm, lovely, gorgeously stubbled chin. "Bring me tea," he demands. "Then I want a foot rub."

Liam kisses his forehead and gets up, sliding a pillow under Louis's head. "Whatever you want, Lou," he says, and disappears down the hall to the kitchen.

Harry raises his eyebrows. "Whatever you want, Lou?" he repeats. "That's laying it on a bit thick."

Louis shrugs, sinking a little deeper into the sofa without Liam there to hold him up. "Think he means it, though."

Harry makes a little humphing noise, and pokes Zayn with his toes. "Zayn, Louis's gone and turned Liam into his own personal slave. What'll the rest of us do now?"

Zayn shrugs, and doesn't look up from his comic. "What'd we do before?" he mutters, a little dry. "You're mad if you think Liam's stopped being Daddy Direction just because Lou's got him wrapped round his little finger. S'what Liam does, he takes care of people."

"Hmm," Harry says. "Well, and Lou does like being taken care of, I suppose," he looks up at Louis, and takes another bite of his banana. "I'm sorry you're poorly, Lou," he adds, when he's finished chewing and swallowed neatly; Harry's manners are impeccable. "I just think maybe we ought to at least try not to keep passing that cold around the entire tour."

"There's no point," Niall says, appearing in the doorway with a plate of toast in one hand and a mug in the other, and Liam behind him with the tea tray. "We're already living in each other's pockets. In the last three hours I've kissed Zayn, licked Louis's teaspoon, sweated all over Liam, and stuck my hand down your trousers, Harry; really, it's no bloody use." He comes over to the sofa and takes Liam's spot, setting the plate and mug down on the end table and scratching a hand through Louis's hair.

Liam sits down at the other end of the sofa and lifts Louis's feet into his lap. Louis sits up a bit, leaning against Niall's shoulder so that he can drink his tea without pouring it all down his front, and Liam rubs his thumb over the arch of Louis's foot, his hands cupping Louis's ankles carefully.

"Well, alright," Harry says, sounding amused and amiable, and like he's perfectly willing to be swayed by the collective opinion of the group; and then he gets up and comes over to lean against Niall's legs. "What are we watching, then, lads?"

"Friends," Niall says immediately.

Louis nods his agreement. "Seconded," he says, only a little hoarse.

"All in favour?" Harry asks.

Everyone raises their hands but Zayn. "I don't mind," Zayn says, rolling onto his side and looking up at Harry, "but just not the part where Chandler steals Joey's girlfriend, right? That's not bros."

"Obviously not," Liam says, sounding horrified by the very suggestion. "We'll start after that, yeah?"

"Yeah, alright," Zayn agrees, and then they all stare at Liam until he gets up to go put in the DVD.

When he comes back, Louis tucks his toes into Liam's thigh, his heel sliding down to press just a little against Liam's dick. "Think I might be feeling better tomorrow," he says softly.

Liam smiles down at him, his cheeks pink. "Good," he says, and then Niall shushes them both, and Louis looks away from Liam reluctantly, feeling warm and happy and only a little miserable, and starts paying attention to the episode.

*

SYDNEY

Louis wakes up on the morning of their first full day in Sydney feeling clear-headed and energetic and well, which is so fantastic that he rolls over to tell Liam immediately. Liam's still asleep, though, eyelashes fluttering as he makes quiet wuffling noises into the pillow. Louis watches him sleep for a minute, his heart beating a little too fast in his chest, and then he gets out of bed as quietly as he can, tiptoes around the room getting dressed, and goes to find the doctor.

She's eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant with Lou and Caroline and baby Brooklyn. Louis makes eyes at Brooklyn until she chortles and reaches her tiny fists out to him, but he stays on the other side of the table; it's one thing if the lads catch his cold, but Brooklyn's just a baby.

"Stop seducing my child and sit down, Tomlinson," Caroline says dryly.

"I don't want to interrupt," Louis says politely, even though he already has. "It's just that I feel loads better, and I was wondering if Melissa would sign off on my being well enough to get out of bed? We're not in Sydney all that long, and me and Liam'd love to get some surfing in."

Melissa raises her eyebrows, and gives him a once over. "You do look better, actually," she says, and gets her doctor's bag out from under the table. Louis is forever impressed with her sheer competence; she's like Liam, if Liam were a lady from Cardiff who'd gone to medical school, which admittedly is a bit of a stretch to imagine. She takes Louis's temperature and looks down his throat and listens to his chest with a stethoscope, all while Louis pulls faces at Brooklyn, and Lou and Caroline drink their coffee and roll their eyes, and then she gives him a little pat on the shoulder. "You should still try to rest up a bit, Louis," she says, "but I do think you're well enough to go surfing, as long as you don't stay out too long."

Louis actually pumps the air, and then immediately tucks his hands back into his pockets, hoping nobody noticed. Lou clearly did, though, because she gives him an amused look. "Thanks," Louis says, dropping a kiss on Melissa's cheek, and then he gives the table a wave, and Brooklyn his best face. She makes a little burbling noise and hits herself in the mouth with her fist, which is adorable. Under normal circumstances, Louis might stay and chat for a while, but—well, it's been a bit of a week.

"Have a lovely day, everyone," Louis says, and leaves them to it; if he's well enough for surfing, then he's definitely well enough for sex.

Liam's still asleep when he gets back upstairs, even though it's nearly ten. Louis almost doesn't want to wake him, because Liam doesn't get to have a lie-in very often; but then, there's only really one way to do a proper lie-in. Louis shucks his clothes and crawls back into the bed, tugging the duvet off and pressing a kiss to Liam's stomach. Liam's rolled onto his back while Louis's been gone, and is star-fished out in the dead centre of the bed. He's still wearing those same stupid pyjamas he's been wearing to bed the whole time Louis's been ill, but the top's rucked up to his armpits and the bottoms are sliding down his hips, and his dick's poking up, half-hard with morning arousal. Louis bends his head and sucks an open-mouthed kiss over the head of Liam's cock, right through the cotton of his pyjamas.

Liam's hips shift, and Louis slides his hands under Liam's arse to tug his pyjamas down. Liam's eyes are still closed, and he's still breathing slow and steady; but he makes a soft, sleepy moan when Louis licks a stripe up his dick and nudges his foreskin with his tongue, and his thighs fall open, giving Louis room to kneel between them. Louis gets his hand around Liam's dick, and sucks him sloppy and wet and with a lot of tongue, teasing as much as he's actually trying to get Liam off. There is literally no better way to wake up in the morning than to someone giving you a sloppy blow job, and Louis likes to do things right. Liam keeps making hot little half-asleep noises, his hips rolling and shifting until Louis flattens a hand on his stomach to hold him still, and that must wake him up the rest of the way, because all of a sudden Liam says, "Oh, fuck," and his hands tangle in Louis's hair.

Louis takes his mouth off Liam's dick long enough to say, "Morning, sleepy."

"Louis," Liam says, his voice raspy with sex and sleep.

"Were you expecting someone else?" Louis asks, just a little tartly.

"No," Liam says instantly, which makes Louis's heart do a weird little skipping thing. "But Lou—"

"I've been to see the doctor already," Louis interrupts, not wanting to waste any more time. "She says I'm all better, I can go surfing and everything."

"Oh," Liam says softly, and then he gives Louis a long, hot look from under his eyelashes, "well, if she says so—"

Louis doesn't wait for Liam to finish before he bends his head again. Liam's dick is hot and heavy on his tongue, already familiar even after the long stupid week of celibacy. Louis hadn't realized he could miss this quite so much, after quite so little time.

"I missed you," Liam says, hot and breathless above him, "I missed this, I—fuck, Lou," and then he tugs so hard on Louis's hair that Louis raises his head, surprised at the sudden tears springing to his eyes. He hadn't known Liam had that in him.

"Fuck, sorry," Liam's saying, looking horrified; he takes his hands out of Louis's hair. "I just don't want to come yet. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to pull, fuck. Are you alright? Did I hurt you? Shit."

"I'm alright," Louis says, lifting one of Liam's hands and pressing a kiss into his palm. "But Liam, you haven't got off in a week, surely you don't want to wait any longer?"

Liam gives an oddly defiant little shrug. He looks, Louis thinks, like he thinks he should be embarrassed, but isn't; Louis wonders if that's his own influence, and feels hot all over. "I want to come when you tell me to," Liam says, "I've been—I've liked waiting, because I was waiting for you."

Jesus Christ. "You've been so good," Louis says, and then watches Liam's cheeks flush with pleasure. His dick is very hard in Louis's hand, and Louis gives it a little squeeze, fond and reassuring without trying to get him off. Fuck, Liam's been waiting, and he'll go on waiting for as long as Louis wants. "What if I ride you?" he asks. He wants to give Liam something Liam wouldn't think to ask for; he wants to reward him, for taking such good care of Louis, and for being so, so good.

"Oh," Liam says, eyes wide. "Really?" He sounds breathless, anticipatory and a little shocked, and if Louis's mind hadn't already been made up, that would do it. He gets off the bed and goes to find the condoms.

"Where the fucking hell are the condoms?" he demands a few minutes later, with all of his and Liam's possessions scattered across the floor of the hotel room. To be fair, that had already been true before he'd gone looking for the condoms, but now the room looks like his usual whirlwind has returned for a second round, and with a vengeance.

"Here," Liam says from the bed, holding up the box. He's leaning back against the pillows with his knees spread and his dick curving up against his belly, and he looks like actual porn. He's also grinning, and laughing a little at Louis.

"Fuck you, mate," Louis says, "did you have them this whole time?"

"I put them in the nightstand last night," Liam admits. He's got the lube out, too, the fucker. "I could tell you were starting to feel better."

"Sure of yourself, aren't you," Louis says dryly, narrowing his eyes.

But instead of blushing, Liam just gives Louis a soft, sweet, shy smile, and says, "I hoped."

"Right," Louis says, and practically trips over his own feet flinging himself back on the bed so that he can kiss Liam breathless.

He kneels up over Liam to finger himself open, the lube cool and slippery on his fingers, and Liam looking up at him with big dark eyes. "Can I?" Liam asks, but Louis shakes his head and holds Liam's wrists tightly in one hand, digging his knee into Liam's side for balance. He relents eventually, when he's got two fingers in his arse and can't quite get a good angle on his prostate, and then he guides Liam's hand down past his bollocks. Liam sucks in a harsh, shaky breath, and pushes one finger in next to Louis's. Liam's fingers are longer and wider than his, Liam's big hand cupping Louis's arse, and Louis wriggles a little, enjoying the burn, until he gets them all lined up just right. "Fuck," he says, when Liam crooks his finger, "yeah, Liam, right there, do that again." Liam does.

He's a little shaky, wet with lube, and very hard, when he finally takes their fingers out and slides the condom down over Liam's dick. "Okay," he says, "hold onto the headboard, yeah?" Liam nods, and reaches both hands up over his head to do as Louis says. Louis takes a deep breath, and then he sinks down slowly onto Liam's cock. It's a little uncomfortable at first, just on the wrong side of too much; but then Liam gives an involuntary gasp and a jerk of his hips, and all of a sudden he's all the way seated in Louis's arse, and Louis's seeing stars. Liam feels big, and hot, and like too much and not enough all at once, and he's looking up at Louis like he might cry.

"You alright?" Louis asks, a little roughly.

Liam gives a watery choke of a giggle. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"Nah," Louis says, but he thinks the way his knees are pressing into Liam's sides might give him away. "I'm an old hat at this, really." He lifts up a little, and then sinks back down, and it feels so fantastic that he does it again.

"Fuck, Lou," Liam gasps, "I think I've been thinking about your arse for like three years, and I never even knew." He presses up a little, and Louis wriggles.

"Yeah, well," Louis says, "as it turns out, I've been thinking about your dick for three years without knowing it, so I think we're even." If he wasn't actually riding Liam's dick right at this moment, Louis would give him a bit of dick slap to illustrate his point; but that can wait.

Liam grins, and then moans, and then thrusts his dick up into Louis again, and Louis reaches down and flattens his hands on Liam's chest, holding him down to the bed. "Stay down," he says, "and don't come until I say."

"Yes," Liam breathes, eyes shining, and Louis goes to town. His hands feel small and inadequate and shockingly powerful as he holds Liam down, feeling Liam's breathing get frantic and uneven, his chest hot and slick with sweat. Louis rides him hard, and fast, and he's shivering through his own orgasm, striping Liam's belly and chest with come, when he finally gasps out, "Come now, love, come," and Liam lets go.

When they're both entirely wrung out, Louis collapses on top of Liam. His thighs and arse are giving pleasant little twinges of overwork. They're both very sticky, but Louis kisses Liam's collarbone instead of worrying about it, rubbing his cheek against Liam's, hot and stubble-rough, until eventually their breathing steadies again. "Fucking hell," Liam says finally, into Louis's hair. "That was, like—fuck."

Louis snorts, and blows a raspberry against Liam's neck, but secretly he's pleased. "You were so good for me," Louis teases, "waiting all week. Such a good boy, Liam."

"Oh," Liam says, small and hot, and then he rolls them over and presses Louis back into the pillows. "I wanted to be," he says, simple, and open, and honest, and Louis kisses him, because everything he's feeling is too much to try to say all at once. He likes the way Liam's body feels stretched out on top of him, heavy and familiar, and he's so comfortable that he's starting to fall asleep when Liam gets up off of him and disappears into the bathroom.

"Come back," Louis calls after him, crossly.

The toilet flushes, and then Liam comes back with a damp flannel, and cleans them both off. He drops the flannel on the nightstand, and slides back in on top of Louis. "Sorry," he says, contritely.

"S'alright," Louis says, and then yawns. Liam is looking down at him fondly.

"Go back to sleep, Lou," he says, "you've been up for hours already."

"Well, alright," Louis says, his eyes already closing. Liam's squashing him a bit, but it's nice. "If you say so."

Liam kisses him lightly. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, and it doesn't sound like a reproach, just like the truth.

*

They go surfing the next day, and Liam blows him in the shower afterwards, both of them still only half out of their wetsuits. Louis fists his hands in Liam's wet hair, stiff with salt from the ocean, and fucks his mouth while the hot, relentless spray of the massive hotel shower pours down over both of them. Liam has water droplets on his eyelids, and racing down his shoulders and chest, and after Louis comes he backs Liam up against the shower wall and drags Liam's boxers and wetsuit the rest of the way down, so that he can wank him off frantically while Liam moans into his mouth.

On stage that night they're on fire. It's not just him and Liam—it never is, because they're all too tuned into one another, especially onstage—but the hot charge between him and Liam seems to bleed over into Harry and Niall and Zayn, until they're all singing to each other and racing around the stage and working up the crowd. Louis's still got a bit of a cough, and Liam's still covering some of his parts, but it's all so much fun that he hardly minds. It's always fun—it's very nearly Louis's favourite thing in the world—and it's even more fun when Liam catches him completely by surprise, grabbing Louis round the waist when Louis goes to offer him a hand up at the end of One Way Or Another, and pulling him down to land in a sprawl with his bum right on top of Liam's face. Liam bites his arse just as the lights go down, and when Louis rolls off of him, he can see that Liam's grinning wickedly in the dark, like he's gotten away with something.

Louis can't help grinning back, but after Niall helps him up and the lights are back on, Louis feints a punch at Liam and says, off mic but loud enough for Liam to hear him, "You'll pay for that later, Payno."

Liam gives him a hot, anticipatory look, and Louis can read the yes, please in every line of his body.

"How should I make you pay?" Louis asks later, when he's got Liam up against the wall in their hotel room, his hands pinned above his head. Louis has to go up on his toes to keep Liam there, but it's worth it for the way Liam is arching up into him with his head tipped back and his neck bared.

"I could—I could rim you?" Liam says, a little breathlessly. "I was thinking of that, because of you sitting on my face, before."

"Hmm," Louis says, scraping his teeth over the stubble on Liam's jaw. It's an idea, and he'd quite like to sit on Liam's face without any clothes on, and frankly it's hotter and dirtier than he was expecting; he loves the way Liam just keeps coming up with more things he wants to try, the way he's started taking more initiative. One of Louis's favourite things about Liam has always been getting to wind him up and watch him go. But Louis wants to try getting Liam back to that place he went when Louis tied him up. "No," he says. "We can do that another time. I don't think it's quite enough of a punishment for your actions, Liam."

"Oh," Liam says, eyes widening. He's got that hot, anticipatory look again, and he's hard against Louis's hip.

Louis slides his free hand between Liam and the wall, and pinches his bum. Back to basics. "I think I should spank you," he says.

"Oh," Liam says again, "well, if you think you should."

Louis grins, and leans forward to bite his way into Liam's mouth. Liam kisses him back, but Louis can feel him getting a little restless and twitchy under his hands. "Take your kit off and get on the bed," he says, pulling back, "hands and knees."

Liam nods and hastens to obey. He's naked on the bed before Louis's even got his top off, solidly planted on his hands and knees like he's holding down the base of one of their human pyramids. Louis leaves his trackies on and goes over to the bed, stroking his hand down Liam's bum. He really hasn't got much of a bum to speak of, but Louis's turned out to be rather fond of it, anyway. He gives Liam's cheek a little pinch, and watches Liam shiver. "You said," he says to Liam, "you said you liked it, when people slap your bum."

Liam nods again. His head is hanging down between his shoulders, his neck bent; it's gorgeous. "When you do," he says softly.

"Right," Louis agrees. "Okay, just—tell me if you want me to stop, alright? Or—say Batman, if you want to."

"Batman," Liam says firmly. "I will."

"Okay," Louis says again, scratching his nail lightly over Liam's skin, "okay," and then he lifts his hand and brings it down hard on Liam's bum. It's a slap, but it's not really anything at all like the friendly pats he's given Liam a thousand times before. It leaves a mark, for one thing, the white imprint of his hand rising up on Liam's skin for a second before it fades to pink; and for another, Liam makes a harsh, broken-off moan, and presses his bum back into Louis's hands. Louis slaps his arse again, and then again, and then it's like he can't bring himself to stop, not when Liam's arse is getting redder and redder, and not when Liam is pushing back into every blow and making some of the hottest noises Louis has ever heard. Louis wonders what this might be like with a paddle, or with one of those flogger things or a whip, like he and Harry had seen when they were doing their research—with something to take the stinging strain off of his own hands; but then, he likes that they can both feel this, that it's leaving marks on them both.

After a while, Liam's moans turn into words. "Fuck me," he says, low and rough, "Lou, Louis, fuck me, come on, fuck—fuck me. Lou, please." Louis slaps Liam's arse once, and then twice, and then three more times, and then he makes himself stop and get the lube from the bedside table. He leaves his tracksuit bottoms on the floor next to the bed, flings his pants in the general direction of his suitcase, and kneels behind Liam, already slicking up his fingers. He presses his fingertips into the red marks on Liam's arse as he opens him up, which makes Liam shiver and gasp; and he takes his time, so that Liam is begging again by the time Louis gets the condom on and pushes in, his fingertips still pressing into Liam's arse as he fits them together.

Liam makes a low, broken noise when Louis bottoms out inside him. Louis slides a hand up his back, gentle even though he feels like he might explode, and then he wraps his hand around the back of Liam's bent neck and fucks him. Liam cries out on the first thrust, and then the second; but then he gets quiet, his body going loose and pliant. Louis wanks him off while he fucks him, and Liam comes almost silently, shaking half out of his skin. He stays on his hands and knees even after he comes, stays where Louis's put him while Louis fucks into him for one more long minute and then pulls out, getting the condom off at the last second so that he can come all over Liam's arse.

Louis falls back on his arse on the bed, still shaking from his orgasm; Liam's still in position, still on his hands and knees on the bed with Louis's come striping his red arse and the backs of his thighs, and Louis drags himself unsteadily to his feet and goes to the bathroom for a flannel. He presses Liam down into the bed, getting his arms out from under him so that Liam can lie flat on his front. Liam's eyes are heavy-lidded, half-shut, and when Louis strokes a hand over his hair Liam makes a soft mumbly noise, but doesn't speak. Louis cleans him off, first his arse and back and thighs, and then he rolls Liam gently over onto his back so he can clean off his front, too. When he's done, he takes the flannel back to the bathroom, and then crawls into bed with Liam. He kisses Liam's neck, and ear, and chin, and the damp corners of his eyes, and holds on as tightly as he can.

"Hey," Liam says, eventually, his voice completely shattered.

"Hey, love," Louis says, leaning down to kiss him.

"Did I do the thing?" Liam asks, still sounding hazy. "S'okay?"

"Yeah," Louis says, still quiet, thinking about the gentle tone of Zayn's voice, the last time. He sort of wishes Zayn and Niall and Harry were here now, not because he's panicking, but because he's only got two arms to cuddle Liam. "How do you feel?"

"Amazing," Liam says, "properly amazing." There's a pause, while Liam cuddles a little further into Louis's arms, and then Liam says. "You okay, Lou?"

"Better than," Louis says. "I feel amazing, too, and this time I meant to."

"Oh," Liam murmurs, sounding pleased, and happy, and overwhelmed, "well, that's alright then."

*

It's the noise of the broken balcony door that wakes Louis, and then he comes fully awake in a hard adrenaline-fueled panic, because Liam is sitting up in bed and yelling for Mac. "There's somebody on the balcony," Liam says, "I saw, like—there was somebody's eye, I think it was a girl, fuck, what the fuck—"

"Fucking hell," Louis echoes, and rolls out of the bed. He grabs a pair of boxers off the floor on the way to the bathroom, and gets the bathroom door shut behind him just as Mac comes barreling into the room with Paul on his heels. Louis's not exactly hiding, because it's not at all unusual for them to spend the night in each other's hotel rooms; but there's somebody on the balcony, and Louis shouldn't be there when security comes to sort this out—especially not if there are paparazzi waiting outside. He paces the bathroom anxiously, listening to Mac and Paul yelling, and doors banging as people come in and out of the room. For a while there are a few Australian voices mixed in with the more familiar ones—hotel security, probably—and then those disappear, too, until finally it's just Paul and Liam. Liam knocks on the bathroom door a few minutes later, and then comes in. He looks frightened, and angry, and confused, and he's wearing Louis's grey tracksuit bottoms, sliding so low on his hips that it's an actual miracle that gravity hasn't pulled them the rest of the way down.

"Girl on the balcony," Liam says succinctly, leaning against the bathroom counter. Louis can see his pubes, and the gorgeous curving arc of his hip bones. "She was trying to get in, right, and then she stole my boxers."

"What the fuck?" Louis demands.

Liam gives an abortive little shrug; he looks embarrassed, on top of the anger and confusion, and his cheeks are flushed. "Dunno," he says, "she just, like—took my pants. Paul and Mac are going after her, I guess—I went out on the balcony to see if I could see where she went, but that's when I noticed my boxers were gone. Paul wants us to stay here for now, but then I think they're moving us somewhere else in the hotel, 'cause of the paps."

"What the fuck," Louis says again, and then he makes the mistake of catching Liam's eye, and they both dissolve into giggles. "Oh my god," Louis gasps, "what—our lives are so bloody weird, Liam. Some girl stole your pants!"

"I know," Liam groans, rubbing a hand over his face. But then he's shaking off the laughter, frowning and looking down at himself; Louis's trackie bottoms leave very little to the imagination. Liam's hard, Louis notices, finally letting himself look. "Think the paps might've got a photo of me," Liam says. He sounds mortified, but also—something else.

"What, with your dick out?"

Liam shakes his head, and then waves his fingers right in front of his dick. "But, like, nearly. Fuck, I've got no pants."

"You can wear mine," Louis says, his attention still on Liam's dick; any minute now, the trackies are going to give up their losing battle with gravity and go sliding down to the floor. "You're hard, Liam. Were you—were you hard when you went out there? Weren't you freaked out?"

"Oh," Liam says, "I—no, not until I came back in, but, like—I was freaked out, but then I also—" He tucks his thumbs into his waistband. The thin fabric stretching over his cock is fairly fantastically obscene. Louis's mouth starts to water, and then Liam says, "there's a picture of me, like this—mostly naked, in your trackies. Everybody'll be able to see."

Oh, Louis thinks, because Liam doesn't sound embarrassed at all, anymore, he just sounds turned on. "You like showing off," Louis tries, because—well, because he knows Liam. Liam gets embarrassed, and sad, and shy, and lonely, and sometimes he thinks he doesn't belong, thinks he doesn't know to behave around other people; but Liam also loves the spotlight. He loves performing more than almost anything else in the world, and he loves his body, especially now that he's built himself up to look like an actual superhero. "You like that people are going to see."

Liam's tongue darts out, licking his lips, and then he says, "Yeah, maybe."

"Don't know why I'm surprised," Louis says, "I've seen you onstage. Was that what that was, last night? Not to mention every other time, all the play fighting, the thrusting—"

But Liam's shaking his head. "It's just now that I've got you, and I—" He takes a deep breath, planting his hands behind him on the countertop and leaning back. Louis takes a step closer, drawn in by the way Liam's hips tilt forward. "I'm yours, right?" Liam says, softly. Louis nods, holding his breath. "Okay," Liam says, "so, it's like, if I'm yours, then all these things I want—they're safe now. If you've got me, then I can show off a bit. Then I can," he's gone very red, but he's still talking, "then I can get off on, on people seeing me. Because you're the only one who gets to have me."

"You're wearing my trackies," Louis says, a little helplessly.

Liam looks down. "Yeah," he says, with a bit of a laugh. "They were the nearest thing, but, uh—"

"You should go on wearing them," Louis says firmly, and then, a little more tentatively, "You really want everyone to see?"

Liam's mouth quirks. "What we've been doing, it's like I've finally found a way to have everything I want all at once. I didn't know that could happen. I didn't know that if I was yours, then all the things I was feeling would stop being scary, and just be good."

"Sometimes they're still scary," Louis says, but he knows what Liam means.

Liam sinks his teeth into his lip, and looks down at the floor. "Bad scary?"

"No," Louis says; he means it. "Not bad scary." He looks at Liam, leaning against the bathroom counter, hard and gorgeous and making no move to touch his own dick. He thinks about what it means, if he and Liam are both all in. "I'm in love with you," he says, "and I was scared, but I'm not anymore."

"Yeah," Liam says. His eyes are shining. "Me too."

"God," Louis says, and tackles Liam back against the counter. He hooks his fingers in his trackies, catching them before they finally give in to gravity, and then Louis's going down with them, tugging them down Liam's legs as he sinks to his knees. He sucks Liam off fast and dirty, pressing him back into the edge of the counter with his thumbs in the hollows of Liam's hips. Liam's hands on his head are gentle and warm, and he says Louis's name when he comes, low and reverent.

"There now," Louis says, sitting back on his heels and looking up at Liam. The floor is cold and hard under his knees, but he doesn't mind. "Think about all those half-naked pictures of you that might be out there, right now, for anyone to see. We're going to have to come up with some funny things to say about them, don't you think?"

Liam gives a little shiver, and reaches down to tug Louis to his feet. "Yes," he says, and kisses Louis; then he gets his hand around Louis's dick, wanking him off while he kisses him. "When you're in charge," he says against Louis's mouth, "it's like—I trust you so much, and I love you, and I feel like I can do anything. Things that would've embarrassed me before, like pranks, or—or going out half-naked on a balcony."

"Still a bit embarrassing," Louis says, laughing breathlessly into Liam's shoulder. "But sure, babe, I'm here for you."

"You always are," Liam says, and he sounds so certain that Louis believes him. He always does believe Liam, even though Liam is so earnest sometimes that it's painful, and even though Louis has no idea what he ever did to deserve the kind of trust Liam puts in him. He hopes it was something very, very wicked.

Louis would do anything, he thinks as he starts to come, spilling hotly over Liam's fingers, anything, to keep Liam happy, to keep Liam looking at him like he hung the sun in the sky. He wants to be worthy of Liam's trust; he wants to give Liam everything he's got to give. It's the best kind of luck, really, that what seems to make Liam happy is him.

*

"It's bloody gorgeous outside," Niall says crossly, sitting down right on top of Louis on the sofa. Paul's moved them to a suite on the top floor of the hotel, and while it's a very nice suite, with something like seven hundred bedrooms and a posh kitchen and a sprawling sitting room, it's not really what any of them had planned for their first full day off in over a week. "Harry and I were going to golf, but then Liam had to go and get his wang out."

"Hey," Liam says. He's on the other end of the sofa, with Louis's bare feet tucked under his thigh, and he's got one hand curled warmly around Louis's ankle. He's been poking at his phone, but he looks up when Niall says his name. "Not my fault, mate, that girl stole my boxers."

"Oh, boo-hoo," Niall says, rolling his eyes. "You've had your boxers stolen, big whoop." He says this in a flawless American accent, which makes Liam grin reflexively, and Louis poke Niall in the side.

"There's a Wii, I think," Louis offers. He's feeling a lot more relaxed than he was earlier, and he can't seem to stop smiling at Liam. "It's probably got golf."

"Huh," Niall says thoughtfully, and then he grins. "Why didn't I think of that, Tommo? 'Course, you or Liam'll have to play with me, Harry's doing something crazy in the kitchen."

"Just cooking," Harry yells from the kitchen. "Cooking with vegetables, Niall. Vegetables will not hurt you. Don't you like a bit of nice salad?"

"No," Niall yells back, "give me a hamburger or give me death."

"Death, then," Harry says cheerfully, and starts singing as he bangs around in the kitchen. He's singing the Rolling Stones, which is probably Louis's fault, but Louis can't say that he minds.

Zayn comes back into the sitting room with his phone in his hand. "Hey, Lou," he says, sounding like he's trying not to laugh. "Perrie says if you don't call her back soon, she'll tell Sugarscape she's having your love child."

"Empty threats," Louis says, waving a hand airily. "Tell her I'll tell Sugarscape I'm having your love child." He grins up at Zayn. "Our children would be beautiful, Zayn. Your voice, my mind—"

"Oi," Zayn says, "keep your perversions to yourself, Tommo." Then he tilts his head. "Well, and Liam, I suppose."

Liam gives a startled cough, and meets Louis's eyes over Niall's head. Louis raises his eyebrows, and Liam smiles a bit, with a sideways quirk of his mouth and a one-shouldered shrug, and that's really all the conversation they need to have. "About that," Louis says, to the room at large, "Liam and I thought we should call a band meeting."

"You're not splitting up, are you?" Niall demands, sounding alarmed. He slides off Louis's lap and onto the arm of the sofa, where he can look down at Louis from a slightly greater height.

In the kitchen, Harry abruptly stops singing It's Only Rock N' Roll, and then he appears in the doorway, disheveled and red-cheeked, with a smudge of flour on his cheekbone and his hair pulled back with a scarf. Zayn comes the rest of the way across the sitting room and sits down on the floor in front of the sofa, looking up at them with worried eyebrows that rival Liam's.

"We're not splitting up," Liam says, and then he frowns. "Although, I'm not sure we were, like—actually going out, before this morning? But we did think that now that we're together, me and Lou, we didn't want to, like—we didn't want to do that without a vote. It wouldn't be fair." They'd talked about it, sitting on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, before Paul had come to fetch them.

Zayn frowns, but doesn't say anything; Harry leans against the doorway with his arms crossed, and doesn't say anything; and finally, Louis turns to look at Niall, who is tapping his thumb against his knee. "We're not voting on that," Niall says, finally. "Or, well—maybe we already did? But we're not, now. You can say you've only been boyfriends since this morning, whatever, that's up to you—"

"Although it's a bit of a lie," Zayn interrupts, and Harry adds, "I honestly cannot believe that it's taken you knobs this long to get your shit together," and then Niall goes on, "But we're not voting on whether you two get to love each other and go on dates and have lots of kinky sex all over the world, right? We're not doing that. We love you, and we're happy, just as long as you're happy."

"Oh," Louis says. He looks at Liam, and Liam looks back, and then Liam takes his hand off Louis's ankle and threads their fingers together.

"We can vote on other stuff," Harry says, "like, if you want to come out, or where you're sleeping in this suite so that we can eavesdrop on all the kinky sex you're having—"

"—or not have to eavesdrop," Zayn puts in, with a bit of a laugh.

"Sure, Zayn," Harry says amiably, and then gives Liam a wink so dirty that Liam turns red. "But it's what Niall said, we're not going to vote on whether you get to be in love. You've been in love forever."

"Why didn't anybody tell me that?" Liam asks, plaintively.

Zayn grins up at them, and it's definitely a grin he stole from Louis. "Well, where's the fun in that?"

"We did help," Niall points out, punching Louis in the shoulder. "Like you could've worked all this out on your own." He shakes his head, and then belies the punch by leaning in to kiss Louis on the cheek. "Still, though, at least you got there in the end."

Liam looks at Louis again, and smiles. "Yeah," he says. "I suppose we did."

There's a silence, warm and companionable. Louis is tucked up on this sofa in this room with most of the people he loves best in the world, and there's nowhere else he wants to be; and then Harry makes a startled squawk and yells, "My quiche is burning," and goes running back into the kitchen.

"Serves him right," Niall says, "cooking with vegetables."

"That reminds me," Louis says, even though it doesn't, "we've got to plan the end of the tour, lads. I've been thinking, something with custard pies, or, like—a food fight, right? Zayn, what do you think?"

"Waste of a good custard pie," Niall grumbles, but Zayn's face has already started to light up with the glow of imminent crime. Next to Louis, Liam has settled back into the sofa cushions; he squeezes Louis's hand, and then starts to grin as Niall rattles off a list of other pies that should under no circumstances be used for pranks. Louis smiles back, because this—Harry banging around in the kitchen, and Niall and Zayn plotting disaster, and Liam smiling at him like he's gotten everything he ever wanted—this is what it means to be loved.

*

LONDON

They land back in London in the middle of the afternoon, but it feels like two in the morning. Louis slept for most of the long flight from Japan, his head pillowed on Liam's shoulder, so he's doing alright; but Liam looks half-asleep on his feet, and like he could fall over at any moment. Louis thinks that if Liam is going to fall over, he should fall over into Louis's bed.

"Hey, Liam," he says quietly, as they're getting off the plane. "Come home with me?"

Liam looks at him, eyes wide and soft, and then he smiles. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis says firmly. "Stay. I never did get to sleuth out your secrets. You must have more secrets."

"I think you know them all," Liam says.

"Liam," Louis says, drawing Liam's name out on a whine, until Liam's cheeks go pink and his tongue darts out to lick over his dry lips. Louis wants to kiss him, but probably not in the middle of the airport. There's going to be a whole crowd of girls on the other side of the doors, once they're through with all the fuss of returning to England. "Don't ruin my Miss Marple fantasies."

Liam laughs. Up ahead of them, Harry's decided to go running through the terminal for no discernible reason, Paul on his heels. Niall's laughing, stood stock still in the middle of a crowd of their crew and tripping everybody up as they try to keep moving towards the exit; and Zayn looks like he's gone back to sleep against the terminal wall, completely oblivious to Gemma and Lou poking him in the sides. The tour might be over, but nothing else is.

"Come home with me," Louis says again, taking Liam's hand. He rubs his thumb over Liam's wrist and tucks his fingers under the cuff of Liam's hoodie sleeve. "Stay for a while."

Liam smiles. Liam's smile is like the sun coming up, and a lot of other ridiculous, cheesy things that Louis will never say out loud. "Yeah, Lou," Liam agrees, "of course."

"Good," Louis says, meaning a lot of different things at once, and then he takes Liam's wrist and tugs him off down the corridor, towards Immigration, and their waiting fans, and home.