The worst part was that once Liam realized what was going on, he still had absolutely no idea when it had started. Which, given that it was Louis, meant he was likely already on the hook for thousands of quid.
It wasn't about the actual amount of money, of course. It was the principle of the thing.
The first time Liam noticed it as it happened was in New York, at a comics shop that was smaller and less conspicuous than Forbidden Planet or Midtown Comics and which security hated on sight. There were no good emergency exit options or some such, they always hated that, but Louis wanted, and Louis got.
Things still got a bit dicey at the end though, the radius between them and the circling cluster of girls shrinking on each pass. And by the time they were at the cashier, it was just easier to let Louis grab each of their stacks of comics and pay for them both together. Louis handled the American bills while Liam stowed the brown paper package in his shoulder bag.
"I don't understand why you bother carrying notes these days when it's so much faster to pay with a card," he said to Louis as they left after saying hello to a bunch of fans.
He stumbled a little when Louis threw an arm around his shoulders and dragged him down into a loose headlock. "Oi, look at our superstar Liam, too big for actual dollar bills. Only Amex Black for him now."
"That's not what I meant--"
"You see, Liam, some of us aren't yet jaded by our international travel. We still desire the look of different currency in our wallets, the crisp feel of the foreign notes in our hands."
Liam looked at him closely. "You've left your cards at the house, haven't you."
Louis slapped Liam's chest, the flat impact of his palm familiar and comforting. "Got it in one."
It wasn't quite so obvious at Barney's the next day, if only because Liam's hands really were full of the John Varvatos gear he was picking up. At least there were no fans around, since an advance call from management had ensured that the third and fourth floors were closed off to other shoppers for the thirty minutes it took them to look through the collections. This had the side effect of making Liam rush through everything, picking anything he liked without even fully considering it, since he was preventing others from accessing the store. Once he was done, both shopping consultants and he had full arms of clothing. Louis was just being helpful slapping down his card for the whole lot.
By the time it happened again that evening at dinner, Liam had caught on. He just wasn't sure what exactly he was catching on to.
It shouldn't have been remarkable at all, Louis tossing his card down over the check at the end of a dinner out. All of them were there, having taken over the back room of an astonishingly expensive seafood place on Long Island near the house management had rented. The waitress had left the bill to the right of Louis, smiling down at him as she did, and it'd be silly for them to ask her to split it five ways or run separate cards for each of them. Louis'd pick this up, Harry'd get the next batch of weed, Zayn could handle the ridiculous takeaway charge that would accompany said batch of weed - it would all come out in the wash.
This knowledge did nothing to squash the feeling in the centre of Liam's stomach when Louis glanced at him before announcing grandly, "It's on me, lads." The warmth spread through his limbs even when Niall leaned in close to Louis after their server had dropped off the receipt for his signature.
"Now don't short change her, Lou. She's right fit," Niall said, clapping an arm around Louis's shoulders.
"So if she wasn't I could leave nothing, then?"
"That's not what I said! I was just observing a fact about her, wasn't I? Nothing wrong with that," Niall exclaimed, defending his honor. Liam watched as Louis scribbled down his signature and totaled up the bill plus tip, before pulling out the spare copy and writing a note for the waitress to keep for herself.
Liam could never keep track of how much tip was considered enough in which country these days. But he was pretty sure that no matter where they were, fifty percent was overdoing it just enough.
"All right, then," Louis said, throwing his pen down on the tray. "Let's head back to the house, yeah?"
It was their final night in the house, and their final evening not either performing or traveling for longer than Liam liked to think about. Maybe it was this bit of breathing room that made background noise ring out suddenly, crystal clear. He kept thinking about it on the way back to the house, the number of times Louis had pulled out his card before Liam even knew the bill had arrived, or that he was even interested in buying another snapback. One after another moments like that flowed through his brain, going back to the beginning of the tour in the States, and even before then. Louis being at his right elbow all the time wasn't odd, of course. They'd all been in each other's pockets for going on three years now. Surely that was why Liam had only just now noticed something was a bit off.
Still didn't explain why it was happening in the first place, though.
He thought he might have to seek Louis out to bring it up, but Louis followed him into his room without even asking. The doors out onto the balcony were thrown open, the sound and smell of the ocean coming in, and Liam felt something inside him relax. It had all taken a bit of getting used to, renting entire houses rather than just a hotel room in a big city, but if they couldn't just stay on the buses all the time this was definitely the next best thing. It was possible to feel a little more at home here, after three or four days.
It was probably this sense of comfort that made him flop down onto the bed next to Louis and grab the remote out of his hand before Louis'd managed to turn on the telly. He held it away from him, out of the range of his grasping hands, and got out, "So what's with the paying for everything, anyway?"
He hadn't really known for sure that it was a thing until he asked. But the way Louis immediately stopped trying to regain possession of the remote, his body freezing for a moment before he fell back against the pillows, told Liam he hadn't imagined anything. He shoved the remote up under the pillows and stared at Louis's face, waiting.
"It was Harry's idea, actually," Louis said finally, sounding fairly put out about the admission.
It was a puzzling statement, to be sure, because Harry wasn't particularly reliable at the best of times when it came to pranks, but Liam didn't know why Louis'd be annoyed by it. Everyone knew Harry was a bit rubbish at planning a good one; he had a tendency to become distracted midway through, or start pulling faces that made it absolutely obvious that he was in the middle of doing something he shouldn't be, and half the time Liam would lose the thread of exactly what Harry was attempting to do in the first place. Which, given that he'd never figured out the plot of this one at all, did admittedly smell a bit like Harry's work.
Still, he wasn't going to suss this one out on his own. "What does Harry have to do with it?"
"When you're dating a girl, you always pay for her when you take her out, right?" Louis asked inexplicably.
Liam nodded. "Of course." Frowning a bit, he turned more toward Louis and poked him in his arm. "But I thought Harry didn't think that was okay?"
"It's a situational thing," Louis said, which didn't help clear up anything. "But yes. So if someone were to take you out, they'd pay for you, right?"
"But we're both lads," Liam said. "I'm not a girl." Nothing about this made any sense at all.
Louis punching him in the arm didn't improve matters, either. "You do know that gay people exist, right Payno?"
"Of course I do," Liam protested. "But that's just it! I mean, how do they know the rules, then? How do you even know if you're on a date at all, if you're out with a mate or whatever. I mean, who can tell?"
"Yes, it's completely mad, unless someone were to pay for everything all the time," Louis said.
"See, exactly! You see what I mean, then, it's just--oh," Liam said, his voice trailing off. He swallowed, thinking back to the beginning of the conversation. "So was this like a test, then, with Harry?"
"Will you forget about Harry, he's just the one with overly complicated ideas," Louis said, and Liam was about to agree with Louis on that point at least when suddenly Louis's mouth was on his and the evening had taken a very strange turn indeed.
At first Liam just kissed Louis back, both because he wasn't really sure what else to do and because Louis sucking softly on his lower lip was definitely interesting in a way he wouldn't have predicted. There was enough to figure out about how to kiss Louis properly without wondering why the kissing was happening in the first place. But by the time Liam had tilted his head a bit, fixing the angle so he could slip his tongue into Louis's mouth a little shyly, he was pretty sure he'd figured out one part, at least.
"You could've just started with this, you know," Liam said, the words pressed into Louis's mouth between kisses. They were a bit fuzzy and muddled but Liam couldn't quite get himself to pull back any further.
Louis didn't seem to have any problem understanding him anyway. "You like dates," he pointed out, before swooping in for a kiss that made Liam glad he was already sitting down.
Fingers caught in Louis's shaggy hair, he finally pulled them apart long enough to say, "But I didn't know they were dates. The other lads were there too half the time!"
"Not my fault you've your head up in the clouds," Louis said, sharp teeth biting hard into Liam's lower lip and bringing him right down to the present.
Gasping, Liam managed, "I don't really think that's a fair way to put it."
Louis groaned and kissed him again fiercely. "Jesus, you never used to talk so much."
"I did, always have done, you complained about it constantly," Liam said in delight. Who knew that bugging Louis was even better while making out with him.
His triumph was short-lived, though, when Louis pulled back from him entirely. His hair sticking up from his head in every direction, and Liam wanted to get his hands in it again, wanted to tug him back down to him. Before he could, Louis had already slithered down his body and yanked his jeans and pants down without even unbuttoning them. Liam had never been pantsed while actually in bed with someone; it was strange and made him want to giggle, and he forgot all about it when Louis said, "Wonder if this'll shut you up," and put his mouth on Liam's half-hard dick.
"Oh my god, Louis, that's," Liam got out, stomach contracting as he curled up a bit. He did get his hands back in Louis's hair then, but it was merely a survival tactic at that point. "Jesus, how did you--why was this--"
"Guess not," Louis said, but he didn't sound annoyed now, merely thoughtful as he jerked Liam into full hardness, his dick plumping up, the wet head brushing against Louis's open mouth.
Liam's hips twitched forward, his entire body already primed for this. Had he thought about this at all before now, he would have expected Louis to tease him, be a complete wretch of a friend. But instead Louis seemed to be locked in, one of those rare times when his focus was absolute on the task in front of him. And god but he was grateful for that, because now that this had started he didn't think he could have stood to have Louis's mouth off him for even a second.
He told Louis all of this, panting it out as Louis took him in deep, deeper than he probably should, and he was mid-sentence when it finally broke, hands pulling harder than he'd meant to on Louis's hair as he came. Even that was a shock, Louis sucking him through it, making greedy little noises while Liam's entire body shook, involuntary jumps that were almost as overwhelming as the first moment when Louis's mouth touched his dick.
It took him another moment to recover, words finally leaving him. He was aware of Louis stripping out of his clothing, his hard dick slapping up against his stomach as he tugged his trousers and pants down, and then Louis collapsed half on top of him.
"Oof," Liam exhaled, more out of shock than anything else. Louis's dick was pressed against his hip, hot and hard against his skin, and Liam was quite sure he could do something with that in any moment. Once he'd figured out how to breathe.
"Now you're quiet," Louis said, his voice somehow chiding and smug all at once. His hand pushed up under Liam's t-shirt, skimming over his skin.
"It's not my fault I can't--I'd like to see you make sense after that," Liam mumbled, kissing the top of Louis's head as punctuation.
"Spoke too soon," Louis said wryly. "And yes, you do owe me."
"In a minute," Liam said, waving his hand in the air before letting it drop back onto Louis's shoulder.
They dozed there for a little longer, five minutes, ten, twenty-five, who could tell. Liam only really came back to himself when he felt Louis's fingers slide down his belly, scratching through his pubes before dragging down his cock again.
It was too much, obviously, too soon and also not how he touched himself at all. Only somehow his dick hadn't gotten the message, because it hurt a little and yet he was twitching up into Louis's hand, filling out again, and something was niggling at the back of Liam's head, oh yes--
"Lou, you can't keep doing that. It's not fair," Liam said, panting up at the ceiling, fingers dragging over the bare skin of Louis's shoulder. "You haven't even come at all yet."
The sharp sting of Louis's teeth around his earlobe made him gasp. "Don't worry," Louis whispered into his ear. "I'll let you repay me."