Title: The Difference Between Knowing and Knowing
Word Count: 20,250
A/N: Eternal gratitude to tankshallkill, for listening to me go on and on about this for ages without getting sick of me.
Summary: “They say I’m in a band,” Liam tells his mom. He squeezes his eyes shut, his phone pressed tight against his ear. “I don’t even remember any of it.” In which Liam gets temporary amnesia and forgets things even more important than the fact that he's in a band.
Liam wakes up with his head feeling like it’s threatening to split in two.
“Um,” he tries to say, although afterwards he’s not entirely sure that he was very successful. His mouth is dry and the room is too bright, and his head is just absolutely killing him, making him feel ill; he raises a hand, shields his eyes as he looks around, and he’s not in a hospital, or at his house, or anywhere that he recognizes. Instead, he’s on a couch in what looks like someone’s caravan, and he’s suddenly terrified.
There’s a blond boy sitting on the armrest near Liam’s feet, an open packet of crisps in his lap as he plays a game on his phone, and Liam finds that comforting, somehow, because he doesn’t look like the type of person who would whack Liam over the head and then kidnap him.
Liam shifts, pokes at the boy’s leg with his toe and then immediately wishes he could take it back; he wonders why he even did it in the first place when it’s so unlike him.
“Oh, hey,” the boy says when he looks up. “You’re awake.” Then he stands up, places the packet of crisps in Liam’s lap, and says, “Here. Let me go get the lads, yeah? Zayn’s been losing his head over this.” And before Liam can even ask what’s going on, the boy crosses the room, sticks his had out the door, and shouts, “Oi! He’s awake!” The loudness of it just makes Liam’s head pound more, and he winces.
Then, from behind his head, another voice says, “I don’t think you’re supposed to shout around people with head traumas, you know,” and Liam has to crane his neck to see who’s even talking this time. It’s another boy, about Liam’s age and with a mop of curly hair, and he’s standing by a set of bunks. A bus; Liam’s not on a caravan, he’s on a bus, and that is so unexpected that it almost feels impossible. That, if anything, keeps Liam from panicking: he’s almost sure he’s dreaming.
“Uh. What the hell is going on?” Liam finally asks.
“A bit of the stage design fell on you,” the second boy says, and then the blond adds, “Don’t worry—doctor said you might not remember.”
That doesn’t help Liam at all, doesn’t explain a thing, but before he can even sort it all out, the door to the bus opens and two more boys pile in.
“Our Zayn was in a bit of a rush to get here,” the one in suspenders says, smiling and jerking his chin to the boy with darker skin and darker hair.
“Shut it, Louis,” Zayn says. At least, Liam can only assume that’s Zayn. The way he looks at Liam makes Liam feel a bit out of sorts, and so Liam just sits up and darts his eyes around the bus.
“We’re back in New York,” the blond boy says, and Liam thinks, Back in New York? What on Earth am I doing in New York?
But instead of asking that, Liam decides that he needs to get the important part out of the way, and so he says, “Who are you?”
“Cheeky,” Louis says, laughing, but when Zayn reaches out to put a hand on Liam’s shoulder and Liam shrinks back a bit, everything falls silent. Liam would think that he just did something wrong, but he doesn’t know what that could possibly be; he doesn’t actually know these people enough to have offended them by that.
“I think we might have a bit of a problem,” the curly-haired one says, and Liam realizes that maybe all of this is real. It’s only then that the panic really sets in for him, and suddenly it’s like he can’t breathe, and his head is pounding and he doesn’t know what’s going on and his shirt is just too tight around the collar and the room is way too hot and—
“Someone get him something to drink!” Louis says, and a minute later a Capri Sun with the straw already punched in is pressed into his hands. “I meant water, Niall!” Louis says, and then Niall says back, “Well, I’m panicking!”
“I’m panicking,” Liam says, because he is, he really is, and it’s the worst feeling that there is.
“Deep breaths,” Zayn says. He’s sitting next to Liam on the couch, and Liam doesn’t know when that happened. “Come on, Liam, deep breaths. You gotta calm down.”
Liam can’t calm down.
“You know my name,” he says, like maybe Zayn should realize that’s why Liam’s freaking out.
“Yeah,” Zayn says, and he nods once.
“But we’ve never even met!” Liam waves his arms wildly, as if that would help explain where he’s coming from.
“Okay,” Zayn agrees, which neither confirms nor denies anything, and Liam thinks he might actually die, right there on that stupid bus couch, with a game controller digging into his back.
“You did have a stand of lights tip over on you,” the boy with the curly hair reminds him, and then Louis says, “Harry,” and slashes his hand across his throat, like he’s signaling that what Harry’s saying isn’t helping, and so he should just stop talking. Harry holds up his hands in defense, and even though it might look like they’re joking around, something in the way that they’re standing, or maybe in the way their eyebrows are furrowed, tells Liam that they are worried, genuinely.
“This is so messed up,” Liam groans, and he puts down the Capri Sun, rubs at his eyes with the heels of his palms.
“Hey,” Zayn says to him quietly, and Liam doesn’t know why, but something about it grabs his attention. Maybe it’s because he sounds so calm, and Liam so desperately wants to be calm, but then again, maybe it’s because he says it in the kind of voice that one would use if only they knew someone really well, as well as one can know a person. “We’ll call Paul, and he’ll get the doctor back; it’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” Liam says, and he makes a mental note that Zayn is the responsible one, the sensible one of the group. But that doesn’t feel right, even though there’s no reason for it not to, and so Liam pushes the thought aside and just repeats himself, says, “Okay,” and sits there still on the couch. He doesn’t know what else to do.
The trip over to the hospital is terrible. They try to sneak Liam out of the bus so that they can shove him in a cab, but there are a bunch of people outside, massive crowds larger than anything Liam’s ever seen, and right before Liam has to find his way through it, Louis claps him on the shoulder and says, “Oh, yeah. We’re in a band!” Liam’s mind stutters on the thought, but then he’s being pushed out the door and people are grabbing at his hands, his clothes, his everything, and he can’t think much of anything for a while after that.
He goes through the motions when he’s actually with the doctors, lies still while he gets his MRI and his physical done. They ask him about his life, about what year it is and what the last thing he can remember is, and he tells them that he is Liam Payne, that he is sixteen, and that he is a music technology student at Wolverhampton College.
As it turns out, Liam’s missing two years of his life, and that’s something he doesn’t even know how to react to. It’s just temporary—he’ll remember, they say; the memories will come back on their own—but that doesn’t mean much, because maybe he won’t remember; maybe he’ll just have to live without knowing anything about what happened for two whole years. It’s a bit hard to swallow.
It makes Liam anxious, makes him nervous, and so he calls his mum before he even leaves the doctor’s office, because he doesn’t know if he’ll get any time to himself later on, once he’s back on the bus.
“It’s called transient global amnesia,” Liam says, even though the doctors already talked to her and explained it all, and probably Paul, too. It’s just—he wants to talk to her, but he doesn’t know what else to say. “The way it happened, it’s not—it’s not usual, but they say everything should come back.”
“You’ll be fine,” she says, and she sounds like she really believes it. “Everything will come back, and in just a few days, according to the doctors. You’ll be fine.” And it’s amazing, how she doesn’t say anything all that special, and yet somehow it’s exactly what Liam wants and needs to hear.
“They say I’m in a band,” Liam tells her. He squeezes his eyes shut, his phone pressed tight against his ear. “I don’t even remember any of it.”
“You are,” his mum says. “You’ve come so far; I’m so proud of you, Liam.”
That makes Liam want to cry, almost, to know that his mum’s proud of him and that he’s finally got everything he’s ever wanted, only he can’t remember any of it. It makes him wish for something familiar, something he knows. But she must be worried about him enough as it is, and he doesn’t want to make it any worse, and so he just asks, “Are we any good?”
“The best,” she tells him without hesitating, “and I’m not just saying that because I’m your mother.” There’s silence after that, and Liam looks up, stares at the paneled ceiling as he tries to get his thoughts together.
“I don’t know anyone here,” he says finally.
“The boys will look after you,” his mum says. “The five of you… It’s like you’ve formed your own little family with them. They’ll make sure you’re alright. And your tour manager, Paul—he’s good, too. You’ll be fine.” She sounds completely sure of that, and if his mum knows them well enough to vouch for them, then maybe it is true. But then again, he doesn’t know them at all, and so maybe it doesn’t make much of a difference after all.
Liam hangs up a few minutes later, and when he opens the door, he sees the guys all sprawled out in the waiting room chairs. Louis is the first one to his feet, and when he gets to Liam, he slips an arm around Liam’s shoulders, places his palm flat against Liam’s chest.
Liam says, “Um.” Just because he knows them doesn’t mean he knows them.
“The doc says we’re just supposed to act normal around you, until you remember,” Louis says. He reaches down to pinch Liam’s nipple, and when Liam jumps, Louis just tsks and says, “The things I do for you, Payne.”
It’s a hotel night that night, and Liam doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. They’re at a nice hotel—a nice hotel—and even though they’ve all got their own rooms, everyone piles into Liam’s like they’re not still paying five hundred quid a night for each unused room. Liam’s tired, exhausted just from the crowds and the visit to the hospital, but the lads keep him up, saying that they need to get to know him.
“But you already know me,” Liam says, and he watches helplessly as Harry takes the comforter and half the pillows off of Liam’s bed so that he’ll be comfortable on the floor.
“That’s why it’s funny,” Harry says, and at the same time, Niall says, “Yeah, but you don’t know us.”
“I’ll Google you,” Liam tells them, because really, it’s just—it’s awkward, being forced to hang out with four people who are best friends, when he’s just the outsider.
Zayn flops onto his stomach on the mattress, props his chin up on his crossed forearms, and he says, “Maybe you’ll remember us, if we talk to you.” He looks at Liam out of the corner of his eyes, and that—that’s a good point, Liam’s got to give him that, and so he thinks that he’ll just stick it out for an hour or so. He sits down on the opposite side of the bed from Zayn, and then Louis dive-bombs the two of them, sprawls out half on top of them.
“My name’s Harry,” Louis says. “I’m the one that’s good with the ladies.”
Before Liam can stop himself, he says, “I’m not that much of an idiot.”
Everyone laughs and Louis puts his hand to his heart, says, “I’m wounded, Liam,” and then complains about it until Harry throws a pillow at him. “Thanks, mate,” Louis says, and he shifts around, bunches up the pillow until he’s comfortable.
“No—wait,” Harry groans. “No, I want that back.”
“Too late,” Louis says. “Tell him it’s too late, Zayn.”
Zayn nods solemnly and says, “It’s too late.”
Liam watches them the whole time, the quick and familiar back-and-forth that they’ve got going, and he can’t for the life of him imagine what it would be like, to actually be a part of that. Liam kind of keeps to himself, for the most part, and so knowing that these are his friends, and that this is his life… It’s a bit mind-boggling, to be honest.
“We should order some room service,” Niall says, and he looks around for a phone.
“We just had dinner,” Zayn reminds him, and next to him, Louis coughs, “Typical!”
“I don’t want anything,” Harry says.
“Well, I’m ordering some room service,” Niall says, and then he stretches out, tries to reach the phone on the desk without getting out of his chair. It’s a close call, but he makes it, and he orders a triple-decker sandwich, a milkshake, and an extra order of chips.
“You’re really going to eat all that?” Liam asks. He’s pretty impressed.
“I could,” Niall says. “But the chips are for Harry.”
Harry looks at him like he’s crazy and says, “I told you I didn’t want anything.”
“Please,” Niall says. “This is not my first meal with you.” And then, in what is obviously an attempt at speaking in Harry’s accent, Niall says, “Hey, let me steal a chip off you. Can I have a chip? Can I snag a chip? You’re not going to eat all those chips, are you? Just one chip, mate, cheers.”
They all erupt into laughter again, and this time, Liam can’t help but get swept up in it a little, and he laughs, too.
“I am not like that,” Harry protests half-heartedly.
“That’s true!” Zayn says. “That’s so true.”
“It is true, young Harry,” Louis says, and then he turns to Liam, scoots over so that he’s a little bit more in Liam’s space. “Advice: guard your food around these people, and don’t touch Niall’s plate unless you want to lose a finger.”
“Alright,” Liam says, and he feels a bit awkward because he doesn’t know how to respond to that, not really. But then he looks around the room and Zayn catches his attention, rolls his eyes and pulls a face, and Liam doesn’t even try to hold back his own small smile.
It kind of goes a lot like that for the rest of the night, everyone yelling at each other and joking around, telling Liam stories about what they’ve been though—half of which Liam refuses to believe—and how crazy the fans are, and while Liam doesn’t become completely comfortable with them, he does relax a bit. Before he even realizes it, it’s two in the morning and they have to wake up at a decent hour, and Harry and Niall are already asleep on the floor.
“I am absolutely not moving,” Louis says, face down in the middle of the mattress as he slings one arm around Liam’s waist and the other around Zayn’s.
“Is it alright if we crash here?” Zayn asks, and Liam appreciates that, even though he knows that they won’t be moving either way.
So he says, “Yeah, sure,” and it’s not long before he’s asleep.
When he wakes up in the morning, nothing’s changed; his head still tells him that he’s going to be late for class even though he knows—he knows—that he’s long past all that. It’s quiet and the lights in the room are off, and so Liam assumes that the others are all still asleep, but when he sits up, he sees Harry cocooned in the comforter on the floor, playing a Nintendo DS.
“Hey,” Liam says quietly.
“Morning,” Harry says back. His voice is still thick with sleep, and it makes Liam wonder how long he’s been up.
“What time is it?” Liam asks.
“Still early,” Harry tells him, glancing up quickly only to look down and curse. “Something like half past seven, last I checked.”
Liam wants to go back to sleep, but now that he’s up, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to. So instead, he asks, “What are you doing up?”
Harry just shrugs and says, “You know,” and Liam doesn’t have it in him to remind Harry that he doesn’t. “Want to order breakfast? We could go to mine and Louis’s room, so that we don’t wake everyone else.”
“Okay,” Liam says. He stands up carefully, trying not to move the bed too much, and then he asks, “You two share?”
“Yeah,” Harry says. When he kicks the comforter off himself, he’s half naked, and has to pull his jeans out from underneath Niall; Niall doesn’t even move. “Sometimes, anyways.”
“Oh,” Liam says. He’s got nothing else to add.
Harry’s room is right across the hall, but it takes them few minutes to get in because the keycard isn’t working, and every time Harry slides it in, the little light flashes red. He does it a few more times, and at different speeds, and then just jiggles the handle a few times, out of desperation.
“I hope I didn’t grab Zayn’s card accidentally,” Harry says. “He’s always leaving his lying around.”
“Want help?” Liam asks. He doesn’t really know how he could help, but maybe he’ll just get lucky or something.
“Nah,” Harry says, and then a second later, the light flashes green and the door opens up. “Ah ha! Just had to do it like, ridiculously slow.”
They head inside and Harry makes a beeline for the desk, and for the drawer that he obviously shoved the room service menu into earlier on.
“You eat healthy, now,” Harry tells him, sliding the menu over a bit so they can both see. “You normally order, like, porridge or fruit or something really boring.”
“That’s what I always eat,” Liam says, and Harry pulls back, looks at Liam as if he’d just grown two heads.
“Even when you were at uni?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Liam says.
“I wish I could say I was surprised,” Harry says, shaking his head as if he had expected something better. He goes back to looking at the menu, and the only way Liam can tell that Harry’s just poking fun is by the way he fights to keep the corners of his mouth down.
“Yeah,” Liam says again, and then because he feels like maybe he should stick up for his own choices, he says, “And you probably order, what? A full English breakfast so you can have a heart attack by noon?”
Harry turns to look at him and then is silent for a second after that, and Liam thinks that maybe he took things a bit too far, especially considering that Harry is a stranger, and Liam would normally never say something like that to someone he didn’t know. But then Harry smiles a slightly crooked grin, and that changes everything.
“Are you remembering already, or have you just always been on the straight and narrow?” Harry asks, and Liam must be missing something.
“Um. What?” Liam asks.
“You always say that to Niall,” Harry tells him. “The thing about the heart attack. He usually just ignores you, though.”
“Oh,” Liam says. “I mean, no. I don’t remember that.”
Harry’s face doesn’t fall or anything at that, not like Liam was expecting. Instead, he just keeps smiling and says, “Good to know you’re still in there somewhere, then. And besides, I’ll be having an omelet today, I’ll have you know, and not the full English.”
Liam just barely bites back his retort about the full English not being served in America, but he doesn’t know Harry, not consciously, not well enough to joke like that. It’s weird, feeling like he knows a complete stranger well enough to poke fun, but then not having any of the memories to back that feeling up.
Harry doesn’t notice Liam’s change in mood—or maybe he does and just chooses not to mention it, Liam doesn’t know—and he picks up the desk phone while Liam moves to sit on the bed, orders Liam his porridge and fruit, and then two spinach and feta omelets, a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, and three fried eggs with sausage, hash browns, toast, and a short stack of pancakes.
“The last, like, twenty things are for Niall,” Harry says, and Liam can’t help but look around the room like he’s missing something; Niall’s still asleep and there’s no one else in the room to order food for except the two of them.
“He’s still asleep,” Liam reminds him.
“Yeah,” Harry says. “For now. But the first rule of One Direction is never to underestimate our appetites, so.” He shrugs, and Liam literally cannot believe it when half a minute later, there’s someone banging at the door. Harry gets up to answer it, and the second the door is open even an inch, Louis, Niall, and Zayn stumble into the room.
“What’re we eating?” Louis asks sleepily, and he throws himself onto the bed next to Liam, his legs stretched out over Liam’s lap. Liam doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and so he just places them on the bed, palms down, and glances around the room. No one seems to regard Louis as acting anything other than normal, and when Zayn notices Liam looking at him, he just waves with two fingers and says, “Morning.”
“I got us omelets,” Harry says to Louis. “Spinach and, um. Cheese.” He pauses halfway through speaking as he tries to remember what the order actually was.
“I like omelets,” Niall says. “I can have a bite, right?”
“It’s got feta cheese in it,” Harry says, and Niall immediately looks towards Louis. Louis shakes his head and Niall lets out a sound like that’s the worst news one could wake up to.
“I hate feta,” Niall says, and Harry just looks between the two of them and laughs. It gives Liam the vague feeling like maybe Harry ordered that type of omelet on purpose, just so that he wouldn’t have to share. He’s not known Harry long, but still, Liam wouldn’t put it past him.
Their food comes a while later, and Zayn answers the door, hands plates out to everyone before claiming the desk for himself. Louis’s still next to Liam, and Harry moves to eat on the floor, leaning back against their shins. Niall’s sideways in the armchair, his legs over the arm rest, and Liam thinks it’s probably a bad idea, the way he’s got one plate on his stomach and the other rested on his knees. Liam wants to say something about it, but he doesn’t.
Instead, Liam asks, “So—what do we do today?”
“Got an interview,” Harry says, and that’s good to know, although Liam was wondering more about what they were going to do with him, and with the fact that he still can’t remember anything.
“I talked to Paul,” Zayn tells him. “You don’t have to come, don’t worry.”
And Liam thinks that’s a relief, to be honest, and he’s glad Zayn was looking out for him like that.
“But what are we gonna say?” Niall asks. “Liam’s kind of, you know—”
“Just say that he’s sick,” Zayn says.
“Yeah, they won’t care,” Louis jokes. “It’s just Liam.” And Liam probably doesn’t respond to that the way he should—it’s not like he knows, maybe that’s the truth—and so Louis adds, “I’m joking, Liam.”
“Anyway,” Zayn says, cutting that line of conversation dead, “I couldn’t get you out of the signing in two days, though. Sorry.” And he looks it, looks genuinely sorry, but that doesn’t really do much to help Liam, who goes from zero to panicking in about three seconds.
“I can’t do a signing,” he says. “I can’t even remember who I am!”
“You’ll be fine,” Harry tells him. “It’s not like anyone there will actually be coherent enough to notice the difference, anyways.”
“Hey,” Louis says, and he tosses a balled up napkin at Harry. “Cheeky!”
“No, Harry’s right,” Niall says. “You barely see each person. Just sign your name and ask them how they’re doing, and you’ll be fine.”
“Alright,” Liam says, but it’s not alright; that’s actually a complete lie. He doesn’t know how they can possibly expect him to just deal with everything, with being thrown in a boy band and having people know who he is when even he doesn’t. He tries to play it off like it’s fine, though, and just counts down the minutes until everyone else leaves for a radio interview and he can take a nap, and only wake up when everything’s blown over.
When Paul comes for the others and they all leave, Liam does exactly as he had planned to do and lies down to take a nap. His head is killing him, and even though he slept through the night, he’s exhausted. He pulls the covers up over his head to block out the light and then just lies there for at least twenty minutes, eyes closed as he tries to fall asleep.
He thinks about calling his mom again, because she should still be awake even with the time difference, but he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to worry her. Or maybe he usually calls every night, and then he’s worrying her because he’s not calling. Liam doesn’t know, but he figures that he won’t be calling her either way, because he doesn’t actually have anything to say.
He works out a little bit, just in his room, sit-ups and push-ups and things like that, and then he studies himself in the mirror a bit, his new haircut and how his shoulders seems broader and his abs more defined. It’s crazy, how much a person can change in two short years.
He must fall asleep sometime, though, because the next thing he knows, he’s being serenaded awake.
“It’s time to get up in the morning,” Niall sings quietly, playing the guitar.
“It’s the afternoon,” Harry sings.
“Afternoon!” Louis repeats.
They keep going with that, even though Liam puts a pillow over his head, and then they jump on his bed when he still refuses to get up.
“We came back from an interview for you,” Louis sings.
“But also for my phone,” Harry sings, and then he laughs, says, “I forgot it at the hotel. Brutal.”
“But how many miles did you drive to get it?” Zayn asks, and then Niall sings, “We drove nine miles to get it—”
“By that he means we drove to see you,” Harry sings.
“Don’t be selfish, Liam!” Louis sings, and so finally Liam just sits up, because he sees no other alternative.
“I thought you were musicians,” Liam says, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “That song was terrible.”
“Yeah, well, you helped write it,” Harry says and then there’s a pause for a second or two.
“Sort of,” Zayn amends.
“We took just a few liberties with the lyrics,” Louis says, and Liam doesn’t at all know what to say in response, so he just stares at them.
“It did work a bit better when we woke Harry with it,” Niall says, and even though everyone’s stopped singing, he keeps quietly playing the guitar.
“It’s ‘cause I’m so charming,” Harry says, and Louis agrees, “You’re a good sport,” like those two things are at all the same. Louis then throws himself down on the bed next to Liam, close enough that their shoulders are overlapping, and Liam sort of wishes that there was some way that he could wiggle away without offending Louis or seeming ungrateful for all he’s done. It’s just—Liam’s never had friends like this before, ones who don’t at all seem to understand the concept of personal space. So he just stays there.
“How was the interview?” he asks, because it’s only polite.
“It was alright,” Harry says.
“Zayn lost a bet and had to tell them that he was afraid of tinned oranges,” Niall says, and he’s laughing by the time he gets halfway through the sentence.
Zayn groans and hides his face in his hands, and says, “It was horrible.”
“No sympathy!” Niall says. “You made me wear dungarees!”
“But did they actually believe it?” Liam asks, going back to the tinned oranges. It seems too far-fetched to him.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Louis asks.
“Because,” Liam says, “saying you’re afraid of tinned oranges is like saying that you’re afraid of—of—of spoons, or something,” and the silence that follows that doesn’t last long; the boys burst out into laughter, and Liam doesn’t need to be a genius to know what that means. “You’re joking,” he says.
“Look at it this way,” Niall says. “At least you still have your memories, even if you don’t know that you do.”
“Yeah, it’s like at breakfast,” Harry says.
Zayn asks, “What happened at breakfast?”
“I dunno,” Harry tells him. “He started like, remembering or whatever.”
“But I’m not,” Liam says. “I’m just… I’m just saying things that I used to say. But I’m not remembering.”
“You will,” Zayn says, and Liam wants to ask him how he can sound so sure, if he really is sure of it or if he just wants to be. Liam doesn’t, though; instead, he just shrugs.
“Alright, well, I wasn’t kidding about not having my phone,” Harry says, standing up. “I’m hoping I left it in my room, but.”
He shrugs and heads out, and then Louis runs after him, claiming separation anxiety. That’s alright, though, because then Liam’s space is his own again, and he can relax. A few minutes later, Niall leaves to go find a snack, and then it’s just Zayn and Liam, the two of them alone in the room.
Zayn rubs his hands along the front of his jeans and looks around. He opens his mouth like maybe he’s about to say something, but then he doesn’t say anything at all, and Liam feels the need to fill the silence.
So Liam says, “This is crazy.”
“Yeah,” Zayn says, and then he stands up, digs a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. “I’m actually going to go out and have a smoke by the back door, so.” He waves two fingers at Liam and walks to the door, putting an unlit cigarette between his lips as he does. Liam watches him the whole way until he’s gone, and then it’s just Liam.
He hangs around for a few minutes, mostly just pacing and thinking, and he can hear Niall in the hallway saying, “We can check out back, maybe?” There’s a pause where all Liam can hear is some shuffling around, and then Louis shouts, “Ow! What was that for?” and then a minute later, they must walk away, because Liam hears nothing.
It was weird, Liam thinks, that slight awkwardness with Zayn, right before he left. He can’t help but feel like maybe—maybe he did something that he wasn’t supposed to, especially considering the fact that it’s not like that with any of the other guys, or even with Zayn, before just now. And before Liam even realizes what he’s doing, he slips on his shoes and heads out of his room, making his way downstairs and to the back door that they snuck him in through earlier.
Zayn’s there, his back to the hotel, and he’s smoking, sitting atop an old picnic table with his elbows on his knees. Liam walks over before he can convince himself that it’s a bad idea.
“Hey,” he says, and he sits down on top of the picnic table, same as Zayn. “You okay?”
Zayn takes a drag of his cigarette and when he breathes out, it sounds almost like a laugh. He says, “I should be asking you that.”
“No, its—I mean,” Liam says. “I don’t know. Never mind.” He looks out over the narrow street and the lampposts and the trash bins, just so that he doesn’t have to look at Zayn. This whole situation is kind of embarrassing, and Liam doesn’t know why he thought it would be a good plan to come out here in the first place.
“I just…” Zayn says, and he says it slowly, like he’s testing out the words. “I just don’t really know how to act around you, I guess. Like, when it’s just us, I don’t know what’s too much, or anything.”
And Liam appreciates the sentiment, he really does, but not if it means that someone else ends up feeling wound too tightly because of it. Either Liam gets his memories back, or he doesn’t; people are going to act the way they’re going to act, and they shouldn’t change just because of him.
“I don’t either, if that means anything,” Liam says, and that gets a smile out of Zayn, one that grows larger the longer Liam looks at it.
“Yeah, I guess we’re both pretty fucked then, huh?” Zayn says.
“Kind of,” Liam says, and he laughs, watches the way Zayn still smiles, even as he wraps his lips wrap around the filter of his cigarette; when he realizes what he’s doing, he forces himself to look away. “Have you always smoked?” Liam asks, mostly just for something to say.
“Since before you met me,” Zayn says. “Want me to put it out?”
And Liam thinks, for a second, about what the him-with-memories would say; he hasn’t got a clue, and so he just says, “No, it’s fine.” And then he adds, “Didn’t you already know it wouldn’t bother me?”
“Yeah,” Zayn says, “but you’re you-before-I-met-you right now. Who knows what you were like two years ago.”
Liam thinks about it, about all the ways that he’s supposedly different now, being a pop star and doing interviews and travelling to America. He’s different now in a million ways, but he can’t really picture Zayn ever being anything more or less than exactly the way he is now.
“What were you like two years ago?” Liam asks.
“Boring,” Zayn says, and he laughs. “I mean, we’re all different now, but back then, I think I was just boring. Never really done anything, you know? So all of this was just—I mean, what do you say to something like this?”
“I don’t know,” Liam says.
“Me neither,” Zayn says. “Don’t think I ever will, really.”
And there’s something that’s just so comforting to Liam, the fact that it’s okay that he’s lost, because someone as put together as Zayn is lost, too.
“Can I, um,” Liam says, because he figures that even though it’s more or less humiliating to ask, now is as good a time as any. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Zayn says, and he takes one last drag of his cigarette before putting it out on the underside of the table.
“Are we—” Liam asks. “I mean, Louis and I. Are we dating?”
It’s quiet for a minute after that, Zayn not answering and not looking at Liam, and Liam wants to kick himself, because clearly he asked the wrong question. Maybe it’s just a thing that he and Louis have, the touching and all that, or maybe the lads don’t even know about Liam being gay. And then, just when Liam’s embarrassed enough that he’s about to find a way to take the question back, Zayn says, “Um. No.” He looks out at the side street and rubs his hands together; his shoulder presses against Liam’s, and he laughs a little under his breath.
“Oh,” Liam says, and he can feel his face flush. He just thought that—not that it matters. He actually feels more relieved than he can put into words, and so he just doesn’t say anything.
They don’t really talk much after that, because anything Zayn might possibly want to say, Liam can’t respond to like he normally would. He hates that, being constantly behind on the times, feeling like himself but not being himself. He’s about to say that maybe they should head back, that he should probably lie down for a bit, but then Zayn takes a breath like maybe he’s going to say something, and so Liam doesn’t move.
“Did you want to be?” Zayn asks.
“Want to be what?” Liam asks back.
“Dating Louis,” Zayn says, and he turns around, jerks his chin back towards the hotel, to where Louis and Harry are tumbling out the door, fighting with plastic swords, Niall trailing behind them, laughing and eating a sandwich.
“No,” Liam says, but that’s not an adequate answer at all, and it’s strange, because even though he only remembers two days worth of Zayn, he feels like he’s known him for longer, for entire years. So he says, “It’s just—it’s just the touching. He touches me all the time, I don’t get it.”
“That’s just Louis,” Zayn says, and then he turns, looks at Liam. Liam wishes that Zayn would take his sunglasses off, because Liam’s not wearing any, and it seems somehow unfair, however strangely, to be so open when Zayn’s so closed off. “Do you want me to tell him to stop?”
“No,” Liam says. “It’s just—it’s weird, isn’t it? No one here has any concept of personal space. I’m not used to that.”
“Yeah,” Zayn says, and he shifts so that his shoulder is no longer pressed to Liam’s, and that doesn’t feel right at all. “You’ll get used to it, though.” He frowns a little, bites his lip, and even though he’s more serious than the other three, even though he doesn’t smile half as much as the others, something in the downturn of the corners of his mouth makes Liam’s chest feel tight.
“Yeah,” Liam repeats, and then he steels himself, shifts purposely so that his shoulder is pressed once more against Zayn’s. “No, yeah, I get that.”
Zayn smiles, small but brilliantly, and Liam finds it almost impossible to look away. And that’s new, that feeling, but Liam doesn’t let it bother him for once, just tells himself that this, at least, will sort itself out when he can finally remember everything, and he finds himself smiling back.