Disclaimer: I don't own One Direction and make no aspersions toward their sexualities, nor do I believe that anything I write is fact.
Summary: Liam is confused, Louis is confusing, and Harry is Harry.
Author's Note: So this is quite long and it's sort of my baby. It's ~13,000 words and I hope you all like it. :)
Liam's not stupid, okay? He knows that Harry and Louis aren't like, playing card games when they wander off together. He knows that they're probably making out in a closet or something, because Harry and Louis tend to make out everywhere they can get away with it. He's seen them making out nearly inside the refrigerator once or twice, because Louis likes catching Harry unawares while Harry's getting a piece of leftover pizza or something.
The point is that Liam's not naive. Liam knows that Harry and Louis kiss sometimes. He's walked in on it enough to know. It's surprising the first time, and more and more unsurprising the longer it goes on.
He thinks he might just be unlucky. As far as he can tell, Zayn and Niall aren't having this problem. The fifteenth or so time he enters a room and leaves it just as quickly with a grumpy look on his face, Zayn just claps a comradely hand onto his shoulder and gives him a sympathetic look completely ruined by the smile twitching at his lips.
"Why is this happening to me?" he asks in a voice perilously close to a whine. "Why can't you walk in on them once in a while?"
Zayn shrugs a shoulder. "Because they don't want me to, probably."
Before Liam can ask him exactly what he means by that, Louis is bounding out of the room he and Harry were just occupying, capturing Niall in a hug that seems more like a stranglehold.
"Oi, blondie," he barks out in a gruff, terrible approximation of an American accent. "Got any gum? Only my breath smells a little like-"
"No," Niall says loudly, trying in vain to escape Louis's grasp. "Come on, Louis, do you have to?"
"Yes." Louis stares at Niall like he's being deliberately obtuse. "Of course I have to, young Horan. I need to set a good example for the rest of you after all."
"A good example? You?" Liam asks. He doesn't quite mean for his voice to be filled with as much skepticism as it is, and Louis's expression flickers a little before it's back to the same affable craziness it usually is.
"Yes, me!" he exclaims. "I'm a wonderful example. The best example."
A snort comes from behind them and Liam turns to see Harry running his fingers through his hair in a futile attempt to get it looking a bit less like a rat's nest. It's no use, but Liam can already tell that it won't matter. Harry'll just manage to pull it off because Harry can pull anything off.
(He's not jealous. He isn't.)
"Got somethin' to say, Curly?" Louis asks, his eyes narrowing with mock anger. At least Liam thinks it's mock anger, only he's never sure when it comes to Louis.
It's not that he doesn't like Louis, because Liam likes all the boys or they probably wouldn't have managed to get this far in the competition. It's all about chemistry, after all, and Liam's well aware that they have it.
It's just that he doesn't understand Louis. Nobody does except maybe Harry, and Liam's pretty sure he's as lost as the rest of them most of the time. But Liam feels like maybe he doesn't understand Louis to the point of ridiculousness.
Zayn's easy to understand. Zayn's not complicated, and neither is Niall. Niall's just happy, and Liam likes that, likes knowing that no matter what happens in his life, at least Niall won't ever change.
Harry's a little more difficult, but not on purpose. It's just that Harry's always with Louis and Liam's always with the other two. He never really got the opportunity to get to know him. They have a mutual understanding that they want to win this, though. They all do, but he and Harry especially. It's weird, how sometimes he'll look at Harry and their eyes will meet and Liam will kind of - feel like he knows what Harry's thinking right then, a little.
They're too similar, maybe, to be very close. Liam thinks that might be it. They'll still share smiles in the morning and sometimes Harry'll give him his extra piece of toast, and that's enough for Liam.
But Louis, though. Louis.
Liam has spent a lot of his time (too much of his time) trying to figure Louis out. He's come to the conclusion that it's impossible. He just can't do it. He can't ever figure out Louis Tomlinson.
Sometimes he thinks Louis doesn't like him very much. That's alright, Liam can see why. Louis's loud and boisterous and lively, while Liam prefers quiet, and compared to Louis he imagines he's quite boring.
He doesn't know why that makes him sad. It's not an uncommon opinion. It must be that they're in the same band. Members of a band should be close, right?
He likes Louis, he does, he just doesn't think Louis likes him. And he wishes he did. He doesn't know why, but he just wishes Louis liked him.
He starts, looking toward Zayn. Apparently he's been calling his name for a while because he looks slightly peeved. "Yeah, sorry, what?"
"Where were you, anyway?" Niall asks curiously, tilting his head. "In your head, I mean."
Liam blinks, unable to keep from glancing at Louis. He hopes it was at least discreet. "Nothing," he mumbles, looking down. "I'm gonna go get something to eat."
"Oh, cool, I'll come with you," Niall offers, smiling at him.
"No!" Liam exclaims, wincing at the vehemence of his voice. "Er - Actually, I don't think I'm hungry. Anymore. I'll just go back upstairs."
He moves to the stairs before anybody can offer to come with him there, too. He can feel the stares toward his back, but that's at least better than any questions they'd ask.
Liam growls under his breath as the song plays in his ears. He taps the replay button, frowning. He just can't quite get this one part right. Ordinarily he'd go downstairs to see if maybe the others could help him stabilize his pitch, but there's no way he's going back down there now, not when he just made a complete dick of himself in front of everyone.
So focused is he on listening to the song playing in his ears that he only realizes there's somebody else in the room when his mattress bounces, and he nearly goes flying off the bed onto the floor with the force of it.
It's Louis, of course. Of course it's Louis when he can't stop fucking thinking about Louis. Of course it is.
He has no doubt that's why he's not getting the song right. It's because every other bar he gets distracted by stupid thoughts about how Louis doesn't like him. It's unprofessional and unnecessary and Liam really wishes he could just stop thinking about Louis's stupid flippy hair and his stupid squinty-eyed smile.
"Hello, Liam," Louis greets as Liam tugs out one earbud. "What're we listening to, then?"
"Er—" Liam hesitates as Louis takes it upon himself to plaster his entire body to Liam's left side, resting his head on Liam's shoulder and looking up at him expectantly. "Song for this week."
"The Elton one?" Louis asks, gesturing for Liam to pass him the other earbud. "Practicing or just listening?"
"Practicing," Liam sighs, trying desperately not to react to how fucking good Louis smells right now. "Can't get the pitch right."
"Well, try again," Louis suggests, grabbing Liam's iPhone and going back to the beginning of the song. "Maybe I can help!"
Liam doubts that a little, he feels sort of shitty for even thinking it but Louis's pitch isn't exactly something to write home about. He does as he says, though, because even though he might be a twat in his own head, there's no way he'll actually say that aloud.
He begins to softly sing the song, focusing on getting a little less sharp and only succeeding in making the pitch flat instead. He nearly rips out the earbud in frustration, only the warm pressure of Louis's head on his shoulder keeping him from doing it.
"I think it just sounds weird without Harry's parts," Louis suggests, shrugging a shoulder. "Maybe you just need him to keep your pitch."
Liam's stomach sinks a little, but he does his best to ignore it. That isn't true, he thinks furiously, I'm perfectly able to keep my pitch without your stupid little boyfriend.
All he says, though, is "Yeah, that's probably it," in a soft voice that doesn't belie any of what he's actually feeling right now. "I'll try it with him later. We have all week." Liam will eat his arm off before voluntarily trying it with Harry later. "Maybe I'm trying too hard." There's no such thing.
"Is there any such thing, with you?" Louis snorts, curling underneath Liam's arm and forcing him to curve it around Louis's shoulder. "I swear, you practice so much I don't know when you find time for sleep."
"I sleep," Liam protests. He does. Maybe not much recently, but a little sleep's not much to sacrifice if they manage to win the X Factor.
"Barely." Louis looks up at him with a knowing expression and Liam has to look away. "I'm just saying, you take it all so seriously. You're going to get an ulcer or somethin'."
"Well, someone has to take it seriously," Liam mumbles. He can feel the way Louis sort of freezes up against him, breath still ghosting out against his neck. He suppresses the shiver he can feel coming up his spine.
"Yeah. I guess someone has to." Louis sounds vaguely disappointed and Liam wishes he could figure out what he did this time. It seems like he's always disappointing Louis in some way or another.
His side is suddenly much colder as Louis shifts away from him, scooting off of the bed. "Well, hey, don't hurt your vocal cords practicing too much, alright?" Louis smiles at him and there's something just a little off about it that Liam can't place. "We need you to win this all for us."
Right, no pressure. Liam watches as Louis fidgets for a moment. "I'll see you later or something," he finally mumbles before exiting the room, leaving Liam cold, bewildered, and not any more in tune than he was twenty minutes ago.
It's not that they're avoiding each other. That's too strong a word for it. It isn't like Louis leaves the room every time Liam enters it, or like Liam's been sneaking around crouching behind walls so Louis won't see him. They're not avoiding each other. In fact, Liam would almost say nothing's changed.
Something's changed, though. He can't put his finger on it, but something's changed. Louis doesn't come up to him anymore and try to get him to loosen up before practice. And he doesn't pop up behind Liam to scare him and make him smack Louis on the arm.
He's polite. Normal. Perfectly pleasant. Liam hates it.
He doesn't know what to do, though, because it's not really any different from how Louis normally treats him. He's just less playful about it now. He doesn't bother goofing around with Liam. He just gets straight to the point when they all come in to rehearsal. He's seen Harry shooting Louis confused looks as well, so he knows he's not the only one noticing he's behaving strangely.
"Hey," Harry says quietly, leaning against the wall beside him as they take a break to down some water. "You noticed anything strange about Lou recently?"
"You mean besides the fact that he's actually being serious for once?" Liam laughs softly.
Harry's lips quirk into a half smile before he gulps down another swallow of water. "Yeah, besides that. He just seems. . . Different, I dunno."
Liam sighs, the amusement fading from his face as he watches Louis shove Zayn's shoulder playfully. He seems about to open his mouth to make a smart remark when his eyes meet Liam's. They widen, then shrink back down to normal size before he closes his mouth and takes a step back.
"We doing this or not, boys?" Louis asks, heading back over to where he begins in the performance. "Nothing gets done when you're being lazy."
Liam stares after him, brow furrowed. "Okay," he says slowly. "Yeah, I see what you mean."
"Yep," Harry drawls, twisting the cap back onto his water. "Feel like telling me why Louis seems scared of you all of a sudden?"
"I don't know," Liam answers automatically, shaking his head a little. He looks over at Harry. "I don't. . . We haven't fought recently, or anything. I don't know what it'd be."
Harry tilts his head, eyes intent on Liam's for a moment. He apparently decides he's being truthful, as he nods, passing the water to him. "Here, you can have the rest of this. Think you need it, to be honest, you're starting to sound raspy." He frowns. "You haven't been practicing all night again, have you?"
Liam worries his lip a little. "No," he lies, shifting uncomfortably.
Harry sighs and pats his shoulder. "You know that weakens your vocal chords and besides that, it isn't good for you. Come on, Liam, you know that." He squeezes Liam's shoulder and then taps the plastic bottle lightly. "Drink. And rest tonight."
"Yes, mum," Liam replies, eyes narrowing a little. "Any other advice on how to live my life?"
"Don't be a dick," Harry says cheerfully, and as he jogs off to find his place, Liam's not sure if that was an admonishment or a response to his question.
"Fine," he mumbles, walking to his own place and setting a hand on Harry's shoulder when he passes, leaning close before the backing music starts again. "But do me a favor? See why Louis's gone all. . . off?"
"Would've thought you'd like him being a bit more serious about the competition," Harry hisses back, wrapping his hand around the microphone stand.
Liam shakes his head, gaze on Louis again. "This isn't him being serious. This is just weird. And not normal Louis-weird. Weird-weird."
"Yeah," Harry says softly. "I know. I'll see what I can charm out of him." Harry grins, and Liam's pretty sure Harry could charm just about anything out of just about anyone. "As long as you promise to stop with the practice sessions into the early hours of the morning."
"Deal," Liam responds. He shakes Harry's hand discreetly, only just managing to begin singing at his cue. Maybe it's a blatant lie, but what Harry doesn't know won't hurt him.
"Why've you been weird?" Harry mumbles, wrapping his arm tightly around Louis's waist and looking up at him with raised eyebrows.
"What d'you mean?" Louis plays with the curls at the nape of Harry's neck, hooking his toes underneath the other boy's knee. They're naked, because they tend to be when they're together and alone. "I'm me, weird's sort of the norm, so you're going to have to clarify."
"You know what I mean." Harry preens softly, humming and arching his neck to get better access to Louis's brilliant fingers. "You've been acting really off, like, not your normal kind of weird." He leans up to kiss just below Louis's ear. "And don't think I've not noticed it's only around Liam," he whispers, nudging his nose along the line of Louis's throat. "Spill, Tomlinson."
Louis sighs in a mixture of pleased contentment and resignation, his hand dropping to stroke the base of Harry's spine instead. "It's really not that big of a deal," he tries, very nearly getting distracted by the softness of Harry's skin. "Can't we just make out instead of talking about this?"
"Hmm, no, but good try." Harry reaches behind him to grab Louis's hand and bringing it in front of him to play with it, stroking along his fingers and the lines in his palm before simply holding it lightly. "Come on, what's wrong? Did he like, make a bad joke or something?"
"Liam doesn't make jokes," Louis mumbles, lips pursed in a vague pout. "He's too busy trying to be Superman when that's clearly my job."
"Liam does make jokes," Harry points out. "You're deflecting. Come on, Louis, I know all your tricks." He kisses just beneath his jaw, humming. "Tell me."
"You're one to talk about tricks," Louis mumbles, his breathing a little faster than usual. "Playing dirty, are we, Styles?"
"Always." Harry grins at him, then pokes his stomach. "You're not spilling, and I seem to remember telling you to do so."
"It's not anything, even," Louis sighs, capturing Harry's poking finger and tugging it a few times. "I just worry about him, you know? He's busy trying to be perfect and if we don't do it exactly right, he'll get himself down about it, like we're not all responsible for how the performance goes."
"So he's a bit of a perfectionist," Harry murmurs, letting his fingers relax to lace with Louis's. "Nothin' wrong with that."
"There's something wrong with it when he's practically injuring himself." Louis sighs and rolls over so that he can face Harry directly. "You heard him today, didn't you? How raspy he was?"
"Yeah," Harry admits. "I heard. I know he works too hard, but that's just Liam. There's not really anything you can do about that, so why are you making yourself miserable trying?"
"I'm not miserable," Louis argues. "I'm just trying to take the pressure off him a little. Goof off less in rehearsal, focus more, that's all. It's not anything bad."
"Except now he's worrying about you," Harry reasons. "So in addition to working as hard as he normally does, he's also thinking you hate him or something stupid like that."
There's a pause filled with skepticism before Louis speaks again, looking askance at Harry. "Liam thinks I hate him?" He raises his eyebrows in a combination of alarm and confused disbelief. "Did he say that?"
"Said's a strong word," Harry hedges, nudging one of his legs over Louis's and sighing. "He just, you know how Liam is. He's not really so good at the feelings things. He thought Niall didn't like him at the beginning of all this. Niall likes everyone."
"So he's emotionally stunted," Louis brushes off. "That doesn't mean anything. He knows I love him to death."
"He knows nothing of the sort." Harry brings Louis's palm to his mouth, kissing it gently. "Look, I get what you're trying to do and it's sweet, it really is, but trust me, Liam likes it more when you're you, regardless of how much weirdness comes with that."
"And how 'bout you, Curly?" Louis asks, a look that's a mixture of genuine curiosity and invitation on his face. Harry can tell just by the expression that he's not getting any more seriousness out of Louis, at least not tonight. "How do you like me more?"
Harry gives him the grin he's clearly craving and tangles his fingers into disheveled hair, urging it downward. "Paying attention to me, obviously," he murmurs, the end of his sentence dissolving into a moan as Louis sucks a lovebite into his hipbone. Perhaps he'll continue the Liam line of questioning later; right now he's got something much more pleasurable in mind, which most certainly does not involve Liam in any way.
Liam's watching the news, because there's nothing else on at this time of the morning and there's no way he's going to get back to sleep, not with his thoughts working this quickly.
He'd probably be able to think more clearly if there wasn't any noise in the background, but the thought of the strange looks he'd get if someone happened to come downstairs right now to see him deep in thought on the couch with the television off. . . He decides to just leave it on. Besides, the newscaster lady's kind of hot, in a sexy librarian sort of way.
He watches, lost in thought until Harry plods in, his face tired around the edges, but his eyes fairly alert. Liam's surprised, actually, he tends to be the only one of the boys ever up before ten. Harry yawns, stretching his arms over his head and balancing on his toes for a moment. When he opens his eyes again, they light on Liam and he gives him a small, lazy smile, taking the few steps to the couch and settling himself against Liam's side, his arm snaking around him, his weight warm and heavy against Liam's ribs.
"Um," Liam says intelligently, because this is definitely not normal Harry behavior. Niall behavior, maybe, Louis, definitely, but Harry hasn't ever. . . acted like this around him, no matter how tired he is. "Alright, Haz?"
"Mmm," is Harry's response, his hum slow and raspy. "You looked cold."
"Oh," Liam says, fairly sure he hadn't been, but that's alright. It's not like Harry's presence offends him, or he's averse to touch or anything weird like that. "Okay."
"Sorry," Harry adds belatedly, like he's not sure whether or not he should lean away.
"No, s'alright," Liam assures, swinging an arm over Harry's shoulders to punctuate his point. "You're right, I was a bit cold." He wasn't, and if he was, he could just nip upstairs to get a jumper or something, but if Harry wants to be wrapped all around him, that's fine, Liam can handle that. Harry's sort of a tactile person, so it's not like it's a big issue or anything.
He's not even wrapped around him. His arm is around Liam's stomach and his head's resting on his shoulder. That's not wrapped around. That's just how everyone is with everyone in this band, and Liam had needed a while to get used to surprise hug attacks, yeah, but at this point it's pretty much just normal for any of them to be curled together like this.
Liam doesn't know why he's still thinking about it, really. He had wanted to talk to Harry alone, anyway, and this is the perfect opportunity.
"Your hair smells really nice," he says, which is just, that's not at all what he had wanted to talk to him about, so why did it come out of his mouth?
For his part, Harry just makes a little grateful sound, eyes peering up at him through the curls falling over his forehead. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Liam responds because that's what you're supposed to say when someone thanks you. Harry's still looking up at him curiously, his lips pressed together like he wants to say something, but he doesn't. He just keeps looking, and Liam keeps looking back, because he doesn't actually remember what he was going to say before. Oh, right.
Liam clears his throat. "Right, er. I wanted to talk to you, actually, you know, about the Louis thing we discussed?" His voice lowers a little, even though they're the only two in the room.
"Oh, yeah, man." Harry sighs, relaxing against him. He is actually very warm, even if Liam hadn't been cold before, and it's sort of nice. "Any new developments? Is he back to the same spastic Louis again?"
"Not quite, but he has toned it down a little. He's not so scary now, anyway." Liam sighs. "There's still something off, though."
"Well, he's Louis," Harry reasons, settling his head more firmly on Liam's shoulder. "If there wasn't anything off about him, that'd be really off." He wrinkles his nose. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah." Liam sighs. "I guess you're right. There's just, I dunno, it's weird." He absently begins to stroke through Harry's hair, pausing when he realizes, but Harry makes a soft, encouraging sound, so he just starts again, fingers gently untangling any knots he comes across. "It's like he's become what he thinks he's supposed to be instead of what he is."
"Thought you'd be pleased." Harry's voice lilts a little, a faint hint of something in it and Liam can't figure out why. "At least he's paying attention in rehearsal now."
Liam doesn't say 'Yeah, but now I can't.' Instead, he just mumbles, "I guess," and falls silent, staring at the television and not hearing what's being said.
Harry releases a long, soft sigh as Liam plays with his hair, and Liam can see his eyes sort of fall closed. "You should talk to him," he suggests quietly, his head drooping. "Just tell him you're weirded out. He listens to you."
"Louis doesn't listen to me," Liam says, voice just shy of bitter. "Louis does what he wants."
"He does listen to you." As Harry speaks, his words are slightly blurry, and Liam thinks for a moment he might fall back asleep. He doesn't know what he'll do if that happens. Just sit there and let him, he guesses. "He likes you."
Liam isn't quite so sure of that, but he nods anyway, his hand sliding to Harry's shoulder and squeezing it lightly. "Sleep some more, if you're tired," he says softly. "I don't mind."
"That felt really good," Harry mumbles instead of responding to that, sounding slightly put out. "C'n you do that again?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Liam replaces his hand in Harry's hair, fingers stroking lightly over the curls. Harry makes a sound that's nearly a purr, eyes blinking open to meet Liam's, hazy and pleased.
"S'nice," Harry murmurs, nudging his nose against the line of Liam's throat. Liam just remains very still, unsure of what to do. He can feel Harry's breath against his neck when he breathes out, heavy and slow.
"Are you sure you don't want to sleep more?" he asks, a little out of breath. "You seem really. . . Out of it."
"M'not," Harry protests, but he nuzzles into the crook of Liam's neck more anyway, and that's when Zayn opens the door, nearly giving Liam a heart attack.
"Hey boys, vas happenin?" Zayn mumbles, gulping down a spoonful of the cereal in his bowl and flopping down onto the other end of the couch.
Liam's heart is beating eight thousand times too fast, and he's sure his face is bright red, but Harry simply turns a little, leveling a sleepy grin at Zayn and nudging the other boy's thigh with one socked foot.
"News, that's vas happenin. Hey, is that cornflakes?" Harry peers curiously at Zayn's bowl, and Liam slowly begins to relax again. He's not sure why he got so worked up in the first place, actually. It's not like he and Harry were doing anything incriminating. Not that there was anything to incriminate, even.
He tells himself that he's being ridiculous, and gives Zayn a smile of his own. There must be something off about it, because Zayn gives him a slightly strange look before asking what's on the news.
"Same old stuff, y'know," he mumbles, turning back to the screen. He has to admit he hasn't been paying attention at all. "I think some lady got eaten by a lion or something," he invents wildly. It's actually slightly gratifying when Harry laughs, low and husky still with morningness. He looks up at Liam and smiles, obviously amused.
"I think I would've noticed if they were talkin' about ladies being eaten." He widens his eyes a little in mock innocence. "I tend to pay attention to that kind of thing."
"You're disgusting," Liam informs him, but he's smiling, reluctantly. He thinks over what Harry said as they both look back to the screen, where there are indeed no ladies or lions in sight.
Maybe he will talk to Louis. It can't hurt, after all.
Talking to Louis is always so much more difficult than Liam anticipates.
It's frustrating, really, if Liam lets it be. It's very frustrating. Maybe he shouldn't have chosen a party to discuss this with Louis during, probably should've waited until they weren't all happy-high on life (and spiked punch - though only those who are of age, of course) and surrounded by laughter. That's just how Liam works, though, he supposes, always has to bring down the mood.
He's trying, though, because he does care about Louis, and he does care if something isn't right with him. Not that Louis has ever been quite all there, but it's starting to actually scare Liam. Not too badly, it's not like he thinks Louis is on drugs or something, he's just. . . He misses him, maybe. The old Louis. The one who didn't look at him like Louis is looking at him right now.
"I'm sorry, mate," he's saying, patting Liam on the shoulder. "I'm fine, I swear. You're all worked up for nothing."
"I'm not all worked up," Liam almost snaps before taking a deep breath. "I'm just concerned," he says, calming a little. "If there's something wrong, you can talk to all of us, you know. We all care about you."
There's a moment where Louis is staring at him like maybe he doesn't believe that, but before Liam can figure out how exactly to emphasize his point, Louis is speaking again. "I know that, Liam." He smiles, and somehow, Liam knows it's fake. It's fake and Louis doesn't 'know that, Liam.' "I honestly don't know what you're talking about, though. I'm fine."
"You are not fine. You're being fucking weird." Liam's voice is more firm than it usually is, and he can see the point where Louis gets that he's not just kidding around. His features soften from joking to reassuring and he sets a hand on Liam's shoulder. It's warm, even through the material of his shirt.
"Liam," he says slowly. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Ugh," is Liam's answer, because obviously Louis doesn't get it, or he does and he's being deliberately obtuse. "Never mind. Sorry for accosting you or whatever." His apology is halfhearted and they both know it, but Louis doesn't appear to mind very much.
"Don't worry about it, mate." Louis gives him a grin, and Liam almost feels like they're normal again. Well, Louis-normal. "Though you do tend to worry, don't you?"
It seems like a legitimate question so Liam takes the time to contemplate the legitimate answer. Finally, he shrugs. "I don't think so. Not any more than normal people."
"Definitely more than normal people," Louis disagrees. "And trust me, I know normal." His face is the picture of seriousness. "I don't mean it as an insult, or anything. Just that sometimes there are things you're not supposed to worry about, because they're not problems."
"I guess," Liam reluctantly acquiesces. "Sometimes they are problems, though."
"So?" Louis asks, and Liam finds he's stuck for a response to that, so he just keeps quiet, and eventually, Louis continues. "Who says you have to be the one to fix all the problems? Why can't other people fix them?" His eyes are wide, and more serious than Liam has ever seen them. He doesn't know what to make of that. "You can't do everything, Liam."
"I know that," Liam protests finally. "I don't think I have to do everything! Just some things."
"No." Louis looks frustrated now, and Liam has less than a clue what he's done. "Just leave it sometimes, alright? Sometimes you can just relax and have fun, you know."
"I know." Liam is, strangely, slightly stung by that accusation. "I know how to have fun, Louis."
"You could've fooled me." Louis seems to drain of anger immediately after he says it, stepping closer and squeezing Liam's shoulder. "Sorry, that was uncalled for." He worries his lower lip for a moment before opening his mouth to speak again. "I'm fine, alright?" He catches Liam's eyes. "I promise. There is nothing wrong with me. I'm just taking the competition more seriously, like I always should've." His lips quirk into a slight smile. "Honestly, I thought you'd be happy."
"You and Harry've both said that," Liam responds, his brow furrowing slightly. "Why is that? Why would I be happy that you're enjoying yourself less?"
Louis looks surprised. "When did I say I was enjoying myself less?" he asks. "Liam, we're on The X Factor. We're still here, we're going strong, I've made four new best friends, I'm having the time of my life."
Liam temporarily forgets the actual line of the conversation as his stomach sort of flips over and he can feel his face heat up for no discernible reason. "You, er. . . You think I'm one of your best friends?"
"Um, duh." Louis tilts his head, frowning. "Do you not. . . Want to be?"
"No, no, no," Liam says rapidly, words stumbling over one another. "I just didn't know that." He's smiling. He doesn't know when he started smiling, but Louis is now, too, so he guesses it's not so bad. "Thanks. You're. . . You're one of mine too."
"Good to know." Louis dips his head in acknowledgement. "Though, let's face it, I'm everyone's best friend."
"Of course you are." The warm feeling all over begins to dissipate as Liam remembers the reason he started this whole conversation. Either Louis is an expert deflecter or Liam needs to practice not getting distracted by things. "You're sure you're alright? You've been acting seriously weird."
Louis rolls his eyes a little. "Yes, Liam, I'm sure I'm alright." He gives him a slight shove. "Why don't you go have some punch, O Master of Fun?" The smirk on his face is small but there, and Liam figures maybe Louis thinks he doesn't know the punch is spiked. You'd have to be an idiot not to know, though. He'd taken one sip earlier and nearly choked on the ratio of vodka to fruit juice.
Louis's expression is a blatant challenge, though. And Liam's really bad at not responding to challenges.
"Yeah, alright," he says breezily, giving Louis a small, casual smile. "I'll talk to you later?"
"I certainly hope so." Louis is barely holding off a snicker and Liam refrains from rolling his own eyes as he makes his way to the punch bowl, ladling some into a paper cup. He smells it once his cup is full, wrinkling his nose. Yeah, that's definitely vodka. Vodka and he don't tend to mix well, but when he thinks about just putting the cup down, Louis's taunting expression flashes across his mind again. Well, if Louis doesn't think he can have fun, Liam will just have to prove him wrong, won't he?
"This isn't fun," Liam grumbles, leaning his head into his hand. Next to him, Harry heaves a beleagured sigh.
"Definitely not," he agrees, and Liam smiles, glad to have found a kindred spirit. He leans against Harry, wrapping his arms around him.
"Louis said there wasn't anything wrong," he says after a moment, half-frowning. Harry seems to have gone very still, and his mind is struggling to figure out why. "He's lying, though."
"Probably," Harry admits, his own arm stretching around Liam's waist slowly. "Or maybe he is just actually fine."
"He's not, though," Liam insists. He sighs, pouting. He's only pouting a little bit, though. He blames the vodka entirely. "He's not fine and you know it."
Harry leans his head down onto Liam's, closing his eyes. "He could be fine." He tightens his arm around Liam's waist, his hand curling around the curve of his hip.
"He's not." Liam lifts his head, dislodging Harry's and causing him to release a quiet disgruntled noise. "He's not okay, he's really weird and he's being really weird."
"You just said that," Harry informs him, frowning. His expression is slightly annoyed now, not angry, just pinched at the corners.
"Did I?" Liam tilts his head to the side, thinking curiously over his previous sentence. "Oh, I suppose I did. It's true, anyway. He is weird but now he's being weird, and that's weird, isn't it?" He doesn't give Harry time to respond before continuing. "I'm used to him being weird but I'm not used to him being weird. I'm used to him being Louis. And he's not being Louis, he's being. Weird."
"Yes, but you just said he's being better." Harry's words come out in almost a groan as he moves closer to Liam, wrapping his other arm around his stomach so that he's got Liam in a loose hug. "I think you just have a complex or something."
"I do not have a complex!" Liam protests, turning to frown at him. "What sort of complex would that be, even?"
"A Liam complex." From the tone of his voice, that's not a very good thing, having a complex named after you. "A complex where you worry about fucking everything, even things that don't need to be worried about at all."
Liam leans his head back onto Harry's shoulder, sighing. "I'm not trying to worry too much," he mumbles. "I'm just worried about him."
"Yeah, you've made that really clear." Harry's shoulder is tense underneath his shoulder, and Liam grumbles, prodding him to try and get him to relax. "What?"
"You're uncomfortable," Liam informs him. "Relax so I can be comfortable."
Harry seems about to say something, but then he just sighs, loosening his muscles and letting Liam settle there. "Look, I know you're worried about him, but it's not like he's being a zombie or a robot or something. He's just trying to be more focused. You wanted him to be more focused."
"You keep saying that." Liam's voice is quiet now. "Louis said that, too. Is that really what you all think? That I think everyone needs to be more focused and none of you are serious enough and I'm just a big boring bore who thinks of nothing but practicing and rehearsing and performing?"
Harry hesitates for a moment, and Liam nearly pulls away from him. "No, of course not," Harry says finally. "Just, you've said before, you know, that you think he needs to concentrate more on the ultimate goal."
"I don't want him to concentrate on the ultimate goal," Liam grumps. "I'm stupid sometimes, you know? I'm so stupid sometimes. . ."
"You're not stupid." Harry sighs, unwrapping one arm from Liam's waist to rub his thigh in a comforting gesture. "Just. . . You worry too much."
"No, I'm stupid." Liam remains silent for a moment, and so does Harry. "You really don't think there's anything wrong with him?"
Harry makes an aborted noise in his throat. "I really don't think there's anything wrong with him."
"Oh." Liam pauses again, but Harry can sense more words coming, so he just waits. "But what if there is?"
Harry groans and leans his head back against the couch, removing his hand. "You don't give up, do you? There is nothing wrong with Louis."
"There could be," Liam points out, turning to face Harry more fully. "What if he's like in trouble or something, and he just doesn't want to tell us?"
Harry looks frustrated, Liam notices, his face a little flushed, and he's biting his lip pretty hard. "Liam, he's not."
"He could be," Liam insists.
"Christ, but you natter on when you're plastered, don't you?"
"I am not," Liam states with as much dignity as he can muster. "I only had like four drinks."
"Shut up," Harry replies, and then he's in Liam's lap, somehow, Liam can't remember when he got there, and it's not very important because his lips are on Harry's and he's pretty sure that means that they are kissing.
Liam thinks kissing Harry isn't a thing he does normally, but Harry seems to have forgotten that, because yes, now that Liam's got his wits together, he'd definitely call this a kiss. It's sort of lazy and wet and grindy, because Harry's squirming and refusing to remain still, and that's irritating, but Liam doesn't really care. Harry's a fucking fantastic kisser, he realizes slowly, his hands flitting about before they decide to settle at Harry's hips. Harry's hips seem like a safe choice. Liam makes a soft noise as Harry's tongue brushes over his lips, but he parts them anyway, letting Harry suck on his tongue because that seems as good a decision as any.
Oh, this feels really good, he thinks with a sense of slowly growing alarm. The feels really good. Harry feels nice on him, and kissing him it making Liam feel warm and flushed all over, and that's bad. That is very bad.
He's hard, he thinks. Or maybe it's Harry that's hard. He can't really remember right now.
He's pretty sure he's hard, though, and kissing Harry. He is hard from kissing Harry. The thought is almost enough to make him pull away, but it feels so nice to be kissing him, and he really would rather not stop.
"Hazza, whoa," comes a voice from next to them, slightly stunned but mostly amused. "Let's stop traumatizing dear Liam, shall we?" Louis, it's got to be. Oh, god, Louis just caught him kissing Harry.
Harry is suddenly sort of dragged off of him, Louis's arms tight around his chest. "Sorry about that," Louis says apologetically, glancing over him to make sure Harry hasn't. . . Liam's not sure, to make sure Harry hasn't caused lasting damage? His eyes freeze at one point, and Liam belatedly realizes, oh, yes, that was definitely him that was hard then. He crosses his legs, not that it's any use now. Louis smiles at him anyway, but it's a strange smile. They all are, lately. "Sorry," he says again.
"No, uh," Liam clears his throat to rid itself of the hoarseness there. "No problem."
Louis lets out what sounds like a bemused snort, giving Liam a look that seems a mixture of disbelief and another emotion Liam's not really focused enough to figure out. "Yeah, no, guess not," he mumbles, heaving one of Harry's arms over his shoulders. "Come on, Curly, let's get you back to the hotel and pump you full of water."
Harry whines softly, and it causes something to twinge in Liam's stomach. "I want to stay here, I was having fun."
"I'm sure you were." Louis wraps his arm around Harry to keep him upright. "I think you'd better come with me, though. I think that'd probably be a good idea."
"Oh." Harry stops to think about that. It looks very difficult, Liam notices. "Oh, alright."
Louis gives Liam one last smile (still strange) and then leads Harry away.
Liam stares after them, still uncertain of what's just happened. A glance around tells him nobody else even noticed what was happening, which strikes him as ridiculous, but he's not complaining.
He frowns after a moment. His conversation partner's been removed from his presence. There's only one thing for him to do now.
He grabs his cup and heads back to the punch bowl.
part two! →