"Um," Louis says, when Liam comes into his hotel room. "What is—what's that."
"It's my fancy dress outfit," Liam says, and he grins. He does a little spin. Liam is wearing black combat boots, black fireman's trousers with a couple of reflective stripes round the ankles and knees, a white t-shirt, braces, and a fireman's jacket, unbuttoned. He's carrying a helmet and a ginger kitten. "What do you think?"
What Louis thinks is that Liam should dress up as a fireman for ever and ever, and say yes to Louis going down on his knees for him at every available opportunity, and more besides. "You've got a toy cat."
"It's a kitten," Liam says, holding up his orange and white striped cat soft toy. "I've rescued it."
"Right," Louis says, a little distractedly. He sometimes has terribly disturbing dreams about Liam being naked and doing things to him. It's best for all concerned if nobody ever, ever knows about them.
"I think they missed a bit out of the box, though," Liam goes on, opening his jacket. "It just came with the braces and the jacket, but no t-shirt."
"Right," Louis says again. He's sporting an uncomfortably timed erection, but he awkwardly rearranges his jacket in his lap so that it's hidden away from prying eyes. Thankfully. "You should complain."
"I will. I wanted to go as Fireman Sam," Liam says. "But they don't make those costumes for adults." He looks way too sad about that. "And I absolutely must have clicked the wrong box on the website, because it came with a girl's costume too. Sexy firewoman. Dunno, maybe Zayn wants to be Veronica again. Hang on, let me show you." He disappears back out into the hall again, his hotel room door opposite opening then closing.
He comes back thirty seconds later brandishing a short, black skirt with matching reflective trim to Liam's costume, and a plunging black waistcoat top thing, also with reflective trim.
Sometimes, when Louis is alone in his house with all the doors locked and the curtains drawn and his mobile off, he pulls out the suitcase under his bed with the terribly expensive combination lock, dusts it off, and extracts from it the very tiny, very frilly red skirt with matching underwear and little cropped bra-top. It is not something he ever, ever wants anyone to know about.
"Don't think you could put out many fires in that," Liam says, holding it up. "It's not very practical."
"No," Louis says, in what is accidently quite a high voice.
"It's a bit sexist, too," Liam says. "It's like, not a proper outfit. At least I look like I might be able to put out a little fire."
There's a little fire going on in Louis' underwear right now, but he's not going to bring that up at any point soon. Or ever. His secret love for Liam is remaining secret until the end of time, and then a little bit longer too, just for reasons.
"Maybe I'll put it on later, just to prove a point," Liam says decidedly, holding the skirt up against himself. "What do you think? Reckon I could pull it off?"
Louis puts his head in his hands, just because he can. "Yes," he says, in a muffled voice.
Liam seems unconcerned by Louis' impending death. "What are you going as, anyway, Tommo? Thought you'd be pulling out all the stops? That's what you said, anyway."
"I lied," Louis says, because he's not sure he's up to an evening of watching Liam being this hot, and holding a kitten. He's got an Anchorman costume in his suitcase but quite frankly he'd rather stay in his hotel room and wank a lot. A crazy, desperate part of his brain considers—just for a second—stealing the sexy firefighter costume and standing in front of the mirror for a bit until he can make himself come, but there's no way he could get it back to Liam and have it look like it hadn't been worn. And, knowing Louis' luck, he'd get jizz on it, and that's a bugger to get out in a hotel bathroom. "Might stay in instead."
"Are you poorly?" Liam asks, coming over and tilting Louis' head back so he can put his hand to Louis' forehead. Louis is sitting at the end of his bed, and Liam is standing over him, and Louis is desperately aware of how close he is to Liam's dick like this.
Louis has got to—got to—get a handle on this rollercoaster of feelings he has for Liam. It was supposed to get better with time, not worse, but it's been four years and Louis' hard-on for Liam Fucking Fireman-Wannabe Payne is just getting harder. "I'm fine," he says, batting Liam's hand away.
"You're all pink," Liam says.
"Go away," Louis says. "You're getting in the way of greatness. I've got a costume to put on."
Liam brightens considerably. "So you're coming, then?" The crew fancy dress party has been on the cards since the beginning of tour. They've all had costumes shipped in from god knows where. It's going to be a fucking fantastic party, so long as Louis can compartmentalise enough to behave like a human being around Liam dressed as a fireman.
"Yes, whatever," Louis says. "Go and bother someone else. I'm late."
And by late, he means he has to go and wank into his hand in the bathroom the moment the door's closed, but this time he can't be held responsible for it. Liam's dressed as a fireman, and Louis' only one man. He's not a god. He's just a man, and Liam's just everything that Louis could ever, ever want in another human being, and it is just terribly, terribly unfortunate that a) Louis is not out, b) Liam is not gay, and c) they work together, and even Louis isn't stupid enough to fuck up the single most important thing that he'll ever do in his whole entire life.
"I'll come back in twenty minutes," Liam says. "We can go down together. I'll see if Niall's ready yet."
"Fine," Louis says, and consigns the whole evening to the dustbin marked LIAM-BASED ENDURANCE TASKS in his head. It's a surprisingly full dustbin.
Niall has come as a Derby County Subbuteo player, and has giant foam feet the size of a huge plant pot. He can stay upright approximately thirty-seven per cent of the time, and that gets lower the drunker he gets. In the end, he collapses against Louis, trouser-less in his Anchorman costume, and refuses to move again.
"You're just going to have to carry me everywhere," Niall says. "Let's make the party come to us."
Louis is terribly drunk too, which is good, because Liam has lost the fireman's jacket now, and is just holding his kitten and his beer and is wearing his helmet. His arms are all muscly, and his t-shirt fits him so well, and his braces are just lovely, and Louis can't stop having feelings. He's having so, so many feelings.
"Do you want to suck his dick?" Niall asks, terribly drunkenly.
"Whose?" Louis asks, a trifle distractedly. Liam's dropped his kitten, and has bent down to pick it up. His bum is quite enticing.
"Liam's, you prick."
Louis doesn't go red, but he does tear his gaze away. He looks at the bar instead. "Course not," he says. "That's stupid."
"Hmm," Niall says, sliding into Louis' lap on the sofa they've commandeered in the corner. Niall always is the life and the soul of any party, but just this once there isn't a queue of people wanting to hang out with him. This is just Louis' luck.
Louis has terrible luck, particularly when it comes to Liam, and how he feels about him.
"You want to suck some dick, though, right?" Niall persists, drunkenly.
"No," Louis lies.
"You don't have to lie to me," Niall says. "We'll all still fucking love you if you want to suck dick. We all know, anyway. Well. I do. Zayn does. Harry probably does."
Louis looks the other way. He feels a bit sick. "What about Liam?" he asks. "Does he know?"
Niall goes quiet next to him. He tucks his hand into the curve of Louis' elbow. "So you do, then," he says.
"Not really," he says. "Sometimes."
"I dunno if Liam knows," Niall says. "It's not like we talk about it behind your back. It's just, you know, Tommo likes boys sometimes."
Louis knows he's going bright red. He had thought he'd hidden it. He doesn't know when he hadn't.
"Don't," Louis says. "It doesn't matter. I'm never going to do anything about it." He waits a beat. "Don't tell Liam."
Niall doesn't say anything to that, but his grip on Louis' elbow gets a bit tighter.
"He'll try and fix me up," Louis tries to explain. "He'll try and find me a nice boy or whatever, like I fucking deserve a nice boy. And I can't have him fix me up, all right? I just can't. I can't get through that."
Niall leans in and kisses his cheek. He smells like beer and sweat and the masses of plastic hair sculpting gel he's wearing to make himself look like a plastic game piece. "We all still love you," he says. "Brothers."
"Brothers," Louis echoes, and bumps his fist against Niall's.
He needs another drink.
Louis is wasted. Louis is off his face, feeling like his feet aren't attached to his body, can't form words drunk. He's so drunk he definitely can't stand up. He's sprawled across the sofa with his face mashed into Zayn's thigh, and he's trying to ask for more shots, but he can't make words.
Luckily, Zayn is drunk too, because Louis is definitely drooling on his jeans, and normally, Zayn would count that as definitely beyond the acceptable scope of brotherhood.
"They're closing the bar," Liam says, coming over. "Hotel rules."
"No," Louis tries to say. "Make them keep it open. Give them all of our money." He tries to reach for his wallet, but he's not wearing trousers. He hasn't got a back pocket. He's just got underwear. He scratches his arse. "We've got money. Give them all our money."
"Maybe not, hey?" Liam says. "Come on, let's get you upstairs."
"Just gonna sleep here," Louis says, mashing his face into Zayn's hip. He closes his eyes. He's going to be sick soon. He should warn Zayn. "Sick."
"Sick night, bro," Zayn agrees.
Louis tries to shake his head. "Be sick," he says.
"No," Liam says, and he's tugging at Louis' shoulders. "Come on. Preston and the others are totally wankered, we swore to them we wouldn't need them. Louis, you have to stand up. Bedtime."
"Can't," Louis says, although he shifts so that he's staring blearily up at Liam. There's at least two of him. Possibly three. "Imagine three of you," he says. "Hot."
"It is hot in here," Liam agrees. That's not what Louis meant. Liam's the hot one. Liam's so hot that Louis can't be with anyone else, ever, because he loves Liam so much there's a good chance he wouldn't be able to not say his name when he comes. "Come on, up you get."
"Rescue me," Louis says, holding his arms out. Fuck everything. Fireman Liam. "Not Fireman Sam. Where's your kitten?"
"Here," Liam says. He's smiling. He hands Louis the orange kitten. His eyes are shining. He's lovely. Liam's so lovely. Louis loves him so much. "How about a fireman's lift, huh?"
"Um," Louis says, because there's a part of him that has at least a little bit of self-preservation left. Not much, admittedly, because he's not exactly saying no when Liam bends down and lifts him over his shoulder.
For a minute, everything is disturbingly the wrong way up. Louis smacks Liam on the arse.
"Like your bum," he says, as Liam makes a heroic attempt at carrying Louis through the closing bar. He waves after him at Zayn on the sofa with a couple of their crew. Niall and Harry disappeared ages ago. He smacks Liam's bum again. "Lovely bum."
"You're drunk," Liam says, as they wait for the lift. Louis feels sick but he'd rather be here than anywhere else. Liam's so strong.
"Yes," Louis agrees, and starts to sing a little song about Liam's bum as they get in the lift. It goes a little bit like, you've got a lovely bum, it makes me want to come. He hums the rest of the chorus because everybody likes an instrumental bit.
Liam's gone a bit quiet. Louis decides to make up for it. Luckily the lift belongs to them and them alone.
"Can I put your fireman dress on?" he asks, smacking his hands against Liam's hips. He should ask to be put down. He's over Liam's shoulder carrying a ginger cat. "Sexy fireman dress."
"Firefighter," Liam says, quietly. "They're all firefighters. Not sexist that way."
Louis sings his little song again as Liam carries him down the corridor to their rooms. He's definitely, definitely going to be sick. He hopes it's not going to be for a bit, though. He wants to put that dress on first. "Can I wear it?" he asks. "I like dresses."
"Lou—" Liam says, softly. He deposits him back the right way up outside his hotel room door. Everything swims and Louis is dizzy.
"Don't," Louis says, lucid for a moment. "Don't tell me I'm fucked up. I know that." He shrugs. "I wanna wear it."
Liam leans his forehead against Louis' for one long, desperately confusing moment. "All right," he says, and he unlocks the door to Louis' room. "I'll bring it in in a minute."
"Ace," Louis says, tripping his way into his room. There's shit everywhere. He's a messy fucker. He's already pulling his jacket off and his fake moustache and his shirt and tie. He stumbles onto the bed and pulls the rest of his clothes off, until he's just in his pants. "Liam. Lee-yum."
"Shush," Liam says, coming into the room and closing the door behind him. He switches the light on. He's got the dress in his hand. "Are you sure—"
Louis shakes his head. He's trembling but he doesn't know why, or when it started. He's so, so drunk and the outfit has a little skirt with kicky pleats and he loves that. "I'm so drunk."
"I know," Liam says, and he's wasted too, but there's a furrow in his brow that Louis doesn't want to see. He stands up and presses his thumb to it.
"No," he says. "None of that. Some boys like skirts," he says. There's a part of him that's screaming no, no, no, but Louis is way, way too drunk to listen.
"Yeah?" Liam says. He's pink and flushed.
"Not me," Louis says, shaking his head. "I don't like them at all." He's already reaching for the skirt, stumbling into it and pulling it up over his thighs. It has a button that fastens at the waist, and a little zip. The zip sticks but he manages to pull it up. When he looks down, he can see his pants sticking out from under the skirt. He pulls his pants off instead. "Not pretty," he says. "Like pretty."
"God," Liam manages. "Lou—"
"Love you," Louis says, reaching for the waistcoat. "Love you so much, but can't tell you."
"You are going to hate yourself in the morning," Liam says. "You're going to hate yourself so much."
"I know," Louis says. It doesn't stop his mouth from running. He hates his fucking mouth. He doesn't hate Liam. "I'm so fucking gay for you," he says, doing the buttons up on the waistcoat. His fingers won't work. The buttons won't go through the holes. "Wish you loved me back."
"Fuck," Liam says. "Louis, shut up. Please, please shut up."
"No," Louis says. "The buttons won't work." He looks up at Liam then, and Liam's eyes are wet. "No, no. Don't cry." He reaches out to wipe Liam's eyes. "Make the buttons work."
Liam watches him for the longest, longest moment before leaning in and unbuttoning the waistcoat. He starts again from the bottom, one button at a time, careful and slow even though he's drunk and smells like beer. At the top, he stops, and smoothes the waistcoat down. "There," he says, softly.
Louis looks down at himself. He's in a little skirt and a waistcoat and he's supposed to be sexy but he doesn't feel sexy. He feels pretty. It always makes him feel so pretty. He misses his knickers at home. "Pretty," he says. "So pretty."
"Yeah," Liam says, carefully. "You're so, so pretty, Lou."
"Sleepy," Louis says, and he drops down onto the bed, trying to pull back the covers. He can't seem to get under the duvet.
"Here," Liam says, and he makes Louis stand up again, pulling back the covers. "There you go."
Louis reaches for his hand. "Stay," he says. "It's all right you don't love me back. Stay."
Liam squeezes his eyes shut. "Louis—"
Louis climbs into bed and curls up at one side of the bed, knees up to his chest. He's so pretty. He wishes Liam wanted him. He wishes it so, so much.
The lights turn off after a minute, and then Liam's climbing into bed with him, and tucking himself in along the length of Louis' back. Louis reaches behind him for Liam's hand, and Liam squeezes it, holding on as Louis falls asleep.
Louis wakes up to the worst fucking headache in the history of forever, nausea rolling in his belly, and someone warm and snoring behind him in bed.
It takes the momentary realisation that he's naked apart from a sexy firefighter dress to have him running for the bathroom. He barely makes it to the toilet in time.
After five minutes, Liam knocks carefully at the bathroom door. "You okay?" he asks.
"Dying," Louis says. He's so, so embarrassed. He literally has no idea how he's supposed to open the door and go back out into the room. He's wearing a skirt. He vomits again, third time's the charm, and rests his cheek against the porcelain for another couple of minutes as he listens to the kettle boil in the room outside.
"Tea's up," Liam says, a minute later.
Louis carefully unpeels himself from the toilet, unbuttons his waistcoat and skirt, and stuffs them unceremoniously into the bin by the sink. He wraps himself in one of the towels instead, and rinses his face and mouth.
When he comes back out, head pounding, Liam's sitting on his bed in just his underpants and his t-shirt.
"So," Louis says. He's clutching the knot of his towel quite carefully. "How much do you remember about last night?"
Liam looks awkward. "All of it?"
"Right," Louis says. "So there's no point in asking you if you wouldn't mind forgetting all of it, is there? Up to and including the part where I told you I liked to wear skirts?"
"Not much point, no," Liam says. He pats the bed next to him. "Sit down."
Louis sits, because there's not much else he can do. There's a cup of tea on the bedside table, and a packet of Nurofen. He takes three, just because, and gulps down half the tea at the same time.
"You, um, said you loved me," Liam says.
"Any chance we can just pretend it didn't happen?" Louis says, trying to force a laugh. "Just go back to how things were?"
"Not really," Liam says. "You said my bum made you want to come."
"Christ, did I?"
"You sang it," Liam says.
"Right. Okay. Always knew I was a talented songwriter."
Liam doesn't laugh at that. He looks down at his lap. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Which bit? Don't normally go screaming about the skirt thing," Louis says. "Not the kind of thing you just blurt out in conversation, is it? By the way, I like women's underwear."
Liam looks at him at that, sharp but confused.
"Don't look at me like that," Louis says. His head's killing him. "Everyone's got a sex secret. You're not supposed to judge people for them."
"Do you really love me?"
Louis takes another sip of his tea. He's delicate and still feeling sick, and Liam's one of the most important people in the world to him. "Is it going to make a difference?" he asks. "Is it going to change the band?"
"No," Liam says.
"Do you promise?"
"Well, then," Louis says. "I suppose I do."
Louis shrugs. The Nurofen is supposed to be fast acting, but he needs it to kick in now. "I do, all right? But you weren't ever supposed to know. Fuck, I'm never drinking again."
Liam just looks sad. "Why wouldn't you tell me?" he asks. "I didn't even know you were gay. Do the others know?"
"Niall does. And maybe Zayn. Don't know about Harry." He had, once, whilst terribly young and terribly drunk, once tried to kiss Harry. Harry had kissed him back, and then they'd had a conversation about Kasabian. They hadn't really talked about it after that.
"Right," Liam says.
"You can't be mad I didn't tell you I had an inappropriate crush on you, Liam. That's, like, the opposite of something to be mad about."
"You always tell me what I should be feeling," Liam says. "You always think you know. It's not fair."
Louis is terribly confused. "What?"
"Not everything's about you, you know," Liam says, and then he's standing up and putting his tea cup down on the table. "Sometimes it's about me too."
When he goes, he almost—almost¬—slams the door after him.
Louis is quite nonplussed.
He throws up again, then showers, then contemplates drowning himself in the bath, and then takes a deep breath and goes across the hall to knock at Liam's door.
Liam's in tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt, hair wet from the shower, the TV on in the corner.
"So," Louis says. "Can I come in?"
"Suppose," Liam says, stepping back and out of the way.
Louis waits until the door's closed before speaking. "Are you mad because I have inappropriate feelings for you?" he asks. "Because I'm sorry, and I'll try to hide them. I never would have told you, I was just off my face."
Liam clenches and unclenches his fists. "I'm mad," he says, "because you're so convinced you're in the fucking right, and you always, always think that."
"What," Louis says, carefully.
"We could have gone through the next however many years together, right, and if you'd had your way, you'd never have told me you fancied me."
"Yes," Louis says. "Obviously."
"How long have you liked me?"
"Do I have to?"
Louis rolls his eyes. "Since X Factor, all right? Since the first time I met you and I just wanted to be your fucking boyfriend. Is that creepy enough for you?"
Liam looks bewildered. "But I was a mess. You hated me back then."
"I hated that I wanted to kiss you," Louis says. "Do we really have to go through this? Isn't this morning excruciatingly embarrassing enough without having to go through my entire history of inappropriate feelings for you? Because I'm dying, here. I'm so fucking embarrassed, and I don't know why you're mad, and all I can think about is the fact that you saw me in a skirt, and you won't stop going over this thing which I'm trying to make not a big deal, and—"
Liam kisses him. He cups Louis' face in his hands and closes the distance between them, pressing his mouth to Louis'. He tastes like Listerine and Colgate.
"What," Louis says, when Liam steps back. "What was that?"
"It hasn't been as long as you," Liam says. "It's been, like, less than a year."
"I've been talking to Zayn about it," Liam says, his cheeks going pink. "About how I've been having these feelings for you. And what that means."
"Fuck," Louis says, succinctly.
"I was going to tell everyone that I was bi. I'd talked about it with Zayn. I was going to do it at the end of the tour, but you—you weren't ever going to tell anyone."
"I would have eventually." Louis isn't entirely sure when that day would have been, though. God, Liam kissed him. Liam kissed him. Liam kissed him.
"Not everything's about you," Liam says. "Sometimes it's about me, too."
Louis shrugs. "The skirt thing's about me."
"You looked really hot in it," Liam tells him. Both of them go bright red at that.
Louis isn't entirely sure what that means. "What does any of this mean?" he asks. His hangover is terrible and his head is banging, and he's not got the emotional wherewithal to deal with any of this this morning. He wants a fry up and a pot of tea and he wants to hide under the covers until his head stops hurting.
"It means I want to ask you out," Liam says, "but that you're too much of a dickhead for me to actually do it right now."
"Right," Louis says. "What?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Liam says. "Will you go out with me?"
"Um," Louis says. "On a date?"
"Yes," Liam says. He rolls his eyes. "Is that a yes?"
"Um," Louis says, again.
"If you don't want to—"
"I want to," Louis says, very quickly indeed. "Are you sure this won't fuck us up?"
"I'm not sure of anything," Liam says, "apart from the fact that I'm really hungover. Can we just, like, cuddle in bed or something? And watch the telly?"
"All right," Louis says, since precisely ninety-seven per cent of this morning hasn't made any sense at all. He awkwardly climbs onto Liam's bed and props himself up on the pillows, waiting for Liam to come and sit beside him.
Liam does not sit beside him, Liam plasters himself to Louis' front, and wraps his arms around Louis' waist, and kisses the top of his head.
"Um," Louis says, for a third time.
"You're really annoying," Liam says. He sounds quite delighted. "How on earth are we ever going to have sex if all you can say is um."
"Um," Louis says, because all of the parts of his brain which deal with coherent speech have just exploded into a sea of fireworks in his head.
"Good enough," Liam says, and tucks himself in against Louis' chest. "By the way," he says, after a minute of flicking through the channels on the telly, "I think you should wear that firefighter skirt thing for me again, but when we're sober this time."
"I put it in the bin in the bathroom," Louis says, a little dazedly.
"Better go and get it out again, then," Liam says. "Then we can see if we can buy matching knickers online for it."
Louis gets very hard very quickly, and Liam starts to laugh as he kisses him.