Liam pretty much only takes on the role out of necessity.
The thing is, it all happens so suddenly. They didn't know each other more than a couple days before they were in a bloody boyband together. And it's an unstated fact that someone has to step up, take control of things, make sure that it is what they all want it to be. That it's the best thing that ever happened to them.
It doesn't happen immediately. He sort of gradually finds himself fitting into it. And it's natural. No one questions it. When you think about it, he's the obvious choice, really. Niall pretty much goes along with anything. Zayn's probably just glad it's not him. Harry's smart and capable, yeah, but there's already so much pressure on him (so much he himself put there), for so many different reasons, that he doesn't need that too.
And then there's Louis.
Louis's actually the most natural leader among all of them. They'd follow him anywhere. He could probably convince all of them to jump off a cliff without too much effort.
The problem is, he actually might at some point.
And Liam's not exactly the type to leap without thinking.
But he's the first one to jump off a tower in New Zealand.
Because he has to. Because he takes the lead, because he sings the first lines, because Louis loves them all more than anything but sometimes he looks at Liam, and Liam sees something there, something like admiration, or jealousy, or some kind of confused combination of both.
They're lying on a beach in Australia when he says, "I wish I could just be still."
"You haven't moved in about fifteen minutes," Liam points out.
"I don't mean now, you wanker. I was trying to be poignant, okay." He rolls over in a huff, facing away from Liam.
Liam thinks if Louis ever stopped moving, his world would probably lose its centre. Their world would. Sometimes he thinks Louis is this whirlwind of energy that they're all chained to. They all drift along with him whether they want to or not.
They enjoy the ride though.
Sometimes he thinks he taught them all how to love properly.
He used to have these clear ideas about what he wanted. Or what he thought he wanted. Liam isn't sure when it all shifted. Maybe Harry isn't sure either. Maybe it was after they lost and Louis curled himself around him and just let him cry. Maybe when they moved in together and had a housewarming party that was just the five of them and booze and jumping on beds like they were five. Maybe after Red or Black when Louis just gently took the phone away from him and held his hand and didn't say anything. Maybe the countless times he crawled into Harry's bunk and Harry just melted against him, in exhaustion or gratitude or because that's just what their bodies did, now.
Liam looks at Harry when he looks at Louis and he thinks he'd give it up, he'd give it all up in a second, if Louis asked him to. Not that he would. But it's pretty insane, the power he has over him. The power they have over each other.
Because Louis loves with everything he has, and he likes to pretend that it's his greatest strength, and not his greatest weakness too.
Liam's now waking up, and there are voices, loud voices, coming from next door. And that's weird - that they're awake before him, that they're arguing, arguing without him there. And fuck, that's Louis, and he's shouting something about flushing all of Zayn's cigarettes down the toilet. And oh. Fuck.
He pretty much flies out of bed and down the hall faster than that time they thought the hotel was on fire.
Harry and Niall are in the doorway, like they're too scared to go any further, both rumpled and sleepy. Niall's clutching a bag of crisps, but resolutely not eating any. And Harry's actually wearing clothes, a threadbare t-shirt pulled on over his underwear, like he deemed the situation too serious to turn up in his usual state of undress.
Liam doesn't make eye contact with either of them, before he's pressing forward, like he's going into the thick of the battle.
"Louis, stop." And he does, and he turns around. Zayn looks up at him from the corner where he's standing.
Zayn looks terrible, this horrible mess of guilt and exhaustion and helplessness. It's probably the worst he's ever seen him.
"Zayn, go get some air."
"But -" Louis protests.
Liam gives him the look, the one he doesn't bring out except for emergencies. The I can make your life a living hell if I want to look.
"Give him back his cigarettes," he says calmly.
He opens his mouth to protest again, but Liam silences him once more with his eyes.
He tosses the pack to Zayn, and Zayn gets out, fast. Niall and Harry trail after him down the hall.
Liam sighs when they're gone.
"We said we'd be supportive about this," he says, trying to be patient.
"There's a difference between being supportive and letting him do whatever the hell he wants. And apparently Niall thinks it's cool to copy him now too."
"He's an adult. They're both adults."
"Yeah, but we're in this together. We're in all of it together. You said that."
"Yeah, we are. But none of us are perfect." He smiles a little as he says it, like they both know what that means. They know better than anyone else.
Louis finally gives up. He sits down, looking so weary and sad suddenly, all the fight gone out of him, and this is the part Liam is always there for. Liam takes a seat next to him, pats his leg gently.
"I just care, you know," he says softly.
"Sometimes you care too hard," Liam says, like he's sorry about that fact. Like it's something unchangeable and essential and he's going to have to live with it. They're all going to have to live with it.
They're watching a movie later, and Zayn's between Harry and Niall on the bed when Louis comes in. He doesn't think for a second before he leaps right onto the middle of the bed, pretty much on top of Zayn, and almost causing the other two to fall off the edges. Zayn tries to wriggle free from Louis' arms but it's playful and he's smiling and it's forgotten, it is, they don't need to say anything, but Louis doesn't let him go until he presses a kiss to the side of his face.
Liam watches them from the carpet and thinks, for the millionth time, about how lucky he is to have this.
So, Niall's sick and it sucks. It really, really sucks, obviously. Especially on a plane. And they all try to make him feel better. Only Louis is, like, ridiculously competitive about it. It's like if making-Niall-feel-better was a sport, he'd want to be the Olympic gold medalist. And this would be fine, really, if Liam wasn't his best competition.
The fussing gets pretty out of control, until even Niall is telling them to fuck off and leave him alone. And Harry gets pretty motivated when he's annoyed (and even Zayn wakes up to tell them he'll throw them off the plane if they keep interrupting his sleep), so they listen.
They're pretty much the only people awake. They share earbuds for a while, think about watching a movie. But they're content to just sit in silence, just next to each other, just enjoying being there, every so often making sure Harry doesn't try to sneakily take his clothes off and that Niall's comfortable and that Zayn is actually breathing and not dead.
They don't get a lot of time to think about it, to stay still as Louis said. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe doing it is enough. Maybe doing all these things he never, ever would have without them is enough.
The sun's only just rising when they go surfing the last time.
It's kind of the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. The ocean, the waves, the way the lack of noise and people and activity makes everything seems so, so huge. It's kind of like standing in an empty arena. When he closes his eyes on stage, sometimes, it feels like that. Opening them is even better though. Everything shrinking in on itself, feeling so, so connected, to the crowd, to his friends.
Louis grins like an idiot at him before he and the board go under a wave. He laughs and thinks, yeah, yeah, it's definitely better.