It's six in the morning on a Saturday when Liam's obnoxiously loud doorbell rings through his house. He's still in bed, and gets the luxury of a sleep in now that music isn't his life any-more. He's been sleeping in until at least seven on weekdays and nine on weekends for years now. Compared to the early mornings when it was often dark and the five of them piled into their van, waking up after the sun is still something Liam will never be able to take for granted.
"Bloody hell," he swears, stubbing his toe on his bedside table when he swings his legs out of bed quickly because he doesn't want to wake anyone else up and the person at the door is ringing the bell repeatedly, which is actually pretty annoying but he tries not to get too mad as he hops towards the door in just a pair of worn running shorts and a faded t shirt that is all stretched out around the neckline.
"Coming!" he yells and then winces because he lives in a relatively small house and he knows Ollie's bedroom isn't exactly soundproof. It's likely that he left his door open too when he went to bed. But the person on the other side of the door stops ringing the bell at least and knocks instead. Liam can't decide which is louder and sighs, grabbing the key off the hook by the door and jiggling it into the lock.
"Hurry the fuck up Liam, it's fucking freezing out here!" the person on the other side of the door crows and Liam stills for a moment because that voice is so stupidly familiar. "Liam!" the voice whines and Liam shakes himself, turning the key in the lock and pulling the door open.
"Louis," he says, shocked at the man standing in front of him despite the fact that he knew it would be Louis on the other side of the door.
"Great to see you mate," Louis says and steps forwards into the house, letting in a brush of cold air that makes goose bumps rise on Liam's arms when Louis wraps him in a hug. But that might just be the feeling of the other man pressed against him.
Louis smells different to how he did three years ago when Liam last saw him, briefly at an awards ceremony that they didn't attend together and his breathing sounds different when it's against his neck to how it does when Louis called him just under a year ago to wish him a happy birthday.
"You going to invite me in properly or are you going to let us stand in the doorway until our balls freeze off?" Louis asks and Liam can hardly bring himself to chuckle through the waves of shock that are coursing through his body.
"Right, sorry," he says, stepping around Louis and locking the door shut behind him before ushering the still shorter man into the kitchen. "You want a cuppa?" he asks because he's not really sure what else to do in this situation. The situation being that his ex-band mate has shown up on his doorstep after hardly talking for six years.
"Sure, you remember how I like it?" he asks and Liam nods.
"Little bit of milk, no sugar," he mumbles because there are some things that you can't forget. He and Louis have a history and that's not something that disappears ever really. It drags on in Liam's heart like some sort of burden that he can't erase to add new memories.
"Thanks." Louis breathes the word into the empty space between them, sits down on the opposite side of the granite bench to Liam and sips quietly at his tea. He's quieter than Liam has ever seen him, perfectly content to just let his eyes flit around the room, taking it all in. "Nice place you got here," he says. "Very…Liam. All sharp edges and organised. I kind of just want to mess it all up."
Liam smiles. "You like messing things up, don't you?" he asks.
Louis blinks at him, looks a bit hurt for a minute before letting himself smile. His eyes crinkle more along the sides than they used to and Liam is struck with how much time has passed since the two of them knew each other properly. There are more lines on his face and its expected because Louis is twenty-seven, closer to thirty than he is to his teenage years, something that he'd probably hate to be reminded of. His hair is a little more sparse, still looks like it would be impossibly soft for Liam to run his fingers through, but they haven't been touchy feely like they used to be for a long time and he doesn't really think it's his place to ask Louis if he's still got the right to invade his personal space.
Liam collects Louis' cup and dumps them in the sink, opens his mouth to ask Louis why the hell he's sitting in his kitchen, because he kind of wants to get that out in the air before Ollie wakes up. He's not sure if he's ready for Louis and Ollie to meet yet, but Louis speaks before Liam gets a chance to.
"So, I'm in town for a few weeks," Louis says and Liam raises an eyebrow because with Louis, that could mean anywhere between two weeks and two months. "I just wanted to come home and touch base, you know?"
"Define a few weeks."
"Don't know yet," Louis says with a cheeky grin and Liam rolls his eyes. "I'm driving down to Donnie today, but I wanted to come and say hey and that I've missed you. Did I mention that yet? Because I have missed you Li."
Liam can't do this now. Not when he has a sleeping five-year-old down the hall and the guy standing in front of him who he used to think he was in love with. Not anymore of course, he moved past it years ago. But he and Louis grow back together and his eyes still sparkle with a bit of gold when the sun hits them.
"Look, I've got to get going," Louis says and Liam tries not to sigh in relief, but he thinks Louis can see it in his eyes. "How about I call you and we can organise a better time? You look stressed out Li. I thought life after music was meant to be relaxing."
Liam laughs and pulls Louis into a hug, "Get out of here you tosser" he says and Louis grins, his eyes crinkling again.
"See you in a few days Payner."
He lets Louis see himself out.
Liam calls Harry.
"Hey Haz, how are you mate?" he says into the phone and smiles because it's really nice to hear Harry's voice and it's been a few weeks since they last spoke on the phone.
"Yeah, I'm great. How're you? How's my favourite godson?"
"Ollie's your only godson," Liam deadpans and sighs. "He's good. He's still asleep."
"He's still my favourite," Harry says and Liam can hear the grin in his voice because this is how all of their conversations begin. "What's up?" he finally asks and Liam's stomach drops because he doesn't really know how to say it, so he settles on the simplest option.
"Louis is in town."
It's a testament to their friendship that Harry asks, "Are you okay?" straight away even though he and Liam have never actually discussed Louis and the whole weird thing they had it's always been hovering between him and Liam.
"I don't know," Liam replies and as he says it he realises that it's not because he is the kind of person who needs time to do things. It took him time to get over Louis and it always takes him time to gear up to seeing him again, and he is so unprepared for the fact that Louis is in town because there was no warning.
"That means no," Harry says and then there's a rustling and a muffled call of Niall's name in the background and Liam knows Harry has covered the speaker of the phone. A few minutes of murmurs that Liam can't make out and the phone is rustling again. "We're coming over" Harry says and Liam groans because that wasn't what he was asking for.
"You don't have to do that," he says. "You guys are all the way over in Ireland, I don't want to ruin that or anything."
"Don't be daft," Harry says. "Of course I'll come over. I would have come by myself for a few weeks but Niall is being a sap, so he's coming too."
Liam smiles because he misses both of them so much. "You want me to pick you up from the airport."
"Sure," Harry says, "I'll text you the flight details once Niall's got them worked out. You know how he has to be the one to book all of this stuff."
Harry and Niall are flying in to Heathrow at nine on Saturday night and Liam cook’s dinner for himself and Ollie at seven.
"Why isn't there any cheese?" Ollie asks from across the table and Liam sighs, looking over at his son who is growing up in front of his eyes.
"We ran out," he says gently. "Sorry buddy."
Ollie nods disappointment heavy on his face, and Liam tries to remember what it was like when the most disappointing thing in his life was the lack of cheese to sprinkle on his alphabet spaghetti. Ollie has pasta sauce smeared all over his face and Liam tries to hide his grin, because he isn't really sure how the hell he ended up so lucky. For five years, he's been completely enamoured with the pudgy boy sitting across the table from him, who he's only just finished teaching to tie his shoelaces and who doesn't know how to tell the time, but knows that when the little hand is pointing to the 'three', it's time for Bob the Builder to start on TV.
Liam reaches across the table with a napkin and tries to wipe Ollie's face, but he squirms away and frowns. Liam just laughs because he's such a goner for his own son that he can't even bring himself to discipline him. "We're going to go see Uncle Harry and Uncle Nialler later tonight Ollie," he says and Ollie immediately perks up, sitting up straight in his chair, his eyes sparkling. He's got his mother's honey coloured eyes and Liam's thick curly hair.
"Zayn too?" Ollie asks because he's used to Niall and Harry coming over for special occasions, but Zayn is around all the time and Ollie adores him.
"Not tonight, but we'll probably see him soon, that sound good?" Liam asks and Ollie nods solemnly. "Now finish up your spaghetti so we can hop in the car, we don't want to be late."
"Yes captain!" Ollie chirps and salutes Liam. Liam feels a spike in his gut like he always does when it strikes him just how much he loves Ollie.
As Harry and Niall walk through the terminal and Liam smiles at them and waves. He lets go of Ollie's hand and letting him run the short distance towards them and wrap his arms around Harry's leg. Harry has always been his favourite; it comes with the fact that he's so amazing with kids.
Liam can see Ollie talking a mile a minute and Harry is nodding carefully, letting go of Niall's hand to crouch down to Ollie's level and talk to him properly. Niall shakes his head and laughs, waving to Liam as he approaches. "Look at these two, thick as bloody thieves after two seconds," he says and Liam grins. "Good t' see you mate," Niall says as he pulls Liam into a hug.
They're interrupted by Ollie tugging on the edge of Liam's shirt and he pulls away from Niall, swatting his hand away as it reaches out to ruffle his hair. Ollie is looking up at him with big eyes and a huge grin on his face and that almost always means trouble.
"Daddy, Harry says that I can ride on the bag machine," he says excitedly and Liam sighs, looking up at Harry to glare at him, but he's distracted by something Niall's saying to him, blushing and cuddling into Niall's side who has somehow managed to hook his arm around Harry's neck in the two seconds that Liam wasn't looking at the two of them.
"You two are ridiculous," he says and they look up at him and laugh. Harry takes Niall's hand in one of his and Ollie's in the other and Liam walks next to Niall towards baggage claim.
They let Niall and Ollie get the bags, Harry telling Ollie that only the real men can handle such a huge responsibility and when Ollie asks him why Harry isn't helping them, Harry laughs and tells him that Niall has always been the blokey bloke out of the two of them. Ollie wrinkles his nose at the unfamiliar term and scuttles after Niall, his chubby fingers curling into the denim of his jeans.
"He's cuter every time I see him," Harry says and Liam nods, wrapping an arm around Harry's waist and pulling him into a warm hug.
"I know how you feel," he says, smiling. "Thanks for coming Haz."
"Don't want to hear it Li, you know I wouldn't have come if I didn't want to." He pulls back, smiles and ruffles Liam's hair. Liam wonders briefly how many people are going to mess with his hair in the next few weeks and pushes the thought aside in resignation. "Besides, it might be fun to see Louis. God knows we'll be able to wreak some havoc."
Liam groans and shoves Harry gently. "I swear to God if you teach my son to be a practical joker I will never forgive you."