Title: You Can Call Me A Thief
Simon has this terribly annoying habit of calling people into his office and then making them stand there, waiting for his attention just so they can know what exactly he wanted with them in the first place.
It's the reason he doesn't keep more than one chair in his office. He likes to keep people on their toes. Literally.
Currently, Liam is the one waiting for Simon to stop tapping away at his keyboard. Liam, however, has done this dance enough times to know that if he fidgets, or displays indications of impatience at all, Simon will only make him wait longer.
It's another forty-five seconds before Simon sits back, takes his glasses off and turns to Liam with absolutely no expression of surprise or penance.
"You're back," he says.
"Yes," Liam answers. He doesn't explain or apologise because he knows Simon doesn't want to hear it; all that matters is that Liam is here now, just like Simon wanted him to be. There's no way Liam could have passed up an offer like this, and they both know it.
Simon smiles gently, only slightly patronizingly. "After this job you can retire for good."
"Yes," Liam says again. Maybe. Who knows. Two days ago, he'd have sworn he was finished with all this, but one email later he finds himself in Vienna, standing across from the very man who had wished him well in his future endeavors, not six months ago.
Simon stands and gestures for Liam to walk with him to the door at the far end of the room. He opens a hidden panel, places his hand on the scanner and enters a code; the door clicks unlocked. Inside is Simon's true office, which Liam knows well enough to sketch in his sleep. They walk to the table at the side of the room.
"This is yours," Simon says, sliding a thick folder toward Liam. He picks it up, but refrains from looking through it now; he'll have plenty of time for that back in his room. For now, he turns his attention to the white board on the wall above the table. Simon already has the beginnings of a timetable worked out, next to page after page of building floor plans tacked to the wall. In fact, the entire rooms seems to be covered in plans already.
Liam has so many questions, but he knows most of them will be answered by the folder of information Simon has just given him, so instead he asks the one that only Simon can answer.
"How long have you been planning this?"
Simon looks at him, his faint smile in place, and says, "Too long."
Liam's eyebrow ticks up. "Is this a revenge job?" he blurts out because the very thought seems so beneath a man like Simon.
Simon chuckles in the way that men his age seem to do when a young person has just said something particularly naive.
"Liam," he says, as though he is about to impart great wisdom, "when you're playing Robinhood, every job is a revenge job."
- - -
Simon likes to keep his employees close at hand when they're actively preparing for a job, which is what the mansion is for. The room that Liam always used to stay in hasn't changed at all. He wonders if anyone's stayed in it since the last time he was here.
His bags are already waiting for him by the bed, and Liam momentarily considers unpacking first, but the promise of answers inside the folder wins out.
Liam goes to the desk in the room, and begins a precursory investigation of the folder's contents. Naturally, the first thing that catches his eye are the pictures. He'd known this was going to be a team job going into it, but Simon hadn't mentioned who or how many he'd be working with.
The first thing Liam thinks, when he's got all four pictures spread out on the desk, is that they're all quite attractive. His eyes keep drifting back to the dark-haired one, so he stacks the pictures and sets them aside, focusing instead on talent profiles and arrival dates.
Louis, Harry, Niall and Zayn -- Zayn, his brain whispers again -- Liam reads. Two con men, a driver, and a safe-cracker. Seems like a pretty basic team, but Liam knows that Simon knows what he's doing and if this is the team that he's put together, then this is the team that will get the job done.
With that, Liam engrosses himself in details and doesn't resurface for another three hours.
- - -
Dinner, Liam knows, is a business-oriented affair. If Simon could get away with never eating, he probably would just for the amount of time it would save him.
Thus, Liam arrives prepared to discuss the job.
"What are your thoughts?" Simon asks after they've been served.
"I think you're a madman," Liam says with a smile, which Simon returns.
"And I'm eager to meet the rest of this team you've put together."
Simon's smile broadens minutely.
"Good, because you're picking up two of them tomorrow afternoon."
Liam pauses with his fork half-way to his mouth. "Me?"
"You," Simon says. He watches Liam for a moment and then puts down his own fork. "Liam, you should know that the only reason we're doing this job now is because this is the first time all five of you have been available at the same time. I put this team together years ago based on talent, yes, but also based on dynamic. The sooner you all meet and begin learning each other, the better."
Liam nods in understanding, even though his brain is still trying to wrap around that one. The very idea that Simon has had him in mind for something like this for years is both flattering and disconcerting. Then a thought occurrs to him that has his eyebrows swooping down.
"Wait, is that why you let me leave? So you'd know I was available when you needed me?"
Simon smiles at him like Liam is very clever, indeed, and goes back to his meal.
By now, Liam shouldn't be surprised that Simon is a manipulative bastard. Liam shakes his head bemusedly. He should also give up on the delusion that he's in control of his own fate.
- - -
The cafe that Simon had instructed him to go to is French and classy, and Liam feels a little out of place as he sits outside waiting for two of his future teammates to join him. He's met con men before, worked with a few in fact, but they've always been lone wolfs, never one to make friends or linger after the job was done. He's never met two con men who actually choose to work together.
"You must be him, then," a voice says just before a hand is clapped down on Liam's shoulder. Liam jumps slightly, and turns to look up at a young man with gravity-defying hair, who's picture he made sure to memorize before this meeting.
"Hello," says another voice from his other side and Liam whips around to see another curly-haired young man take one of the seats at his table. "Have you been waiting long?"
"No," Liam says, then quickly adds, "hello."
"Hi," the first one chirps at him. The mischevious glint is his eyes tells Liam that he's enjoying the some-what awkward situation they've created for Liam.
Liam steels himself mentally and reaches a hand out. "I'm Liam."
"We know," the young man says before taking Liam's hand. "I'm Louis. That's Harry."
"Hello," Harry says again, smiling.
"Hi," Liam nods at him. And then they're both just kind of smiling at him, not saying anything, and Liam's not quite sure what to say next.
"Shall we go, then?" he asks finally.
"Sure," Harry says just as Louis says, "What, we're not eating?
"Oh, are you hungry?" Liam asks.
"Famished," Louis says and he plucks the menu from the center of the table.
"No he's not, we just ate," Harry says, looking at Louis with a look that is as fond as it is exasperated. "He just likes to places like this because he gets to order in French and not have people look at him like he's insane. He never actually eats what he orders."
Louis laughs and puts the menu back. "Now Harold," he says, standing, "don't go giving all my secrets away on the first date."
"Date?" Liam asks as he stands.
"You didn't know?" Louis says, slipping an arm around Liam's shoulders. "Why else would you have us meet you here at this fancy cafe?"
"Well, I-" Liam starts, not sure what he's going to say to that, but luckily Louis starts laughing loudly and he's spared from coming up with an explanation.
They walk back to Liam's car like that: Louis' arm draped nonchalantly across Liam's shoulders, Harry sauntering next to them, hands in his pockets.
Liam thinks they probably look entirely memorable which is the opposite of how this meeting was supposed to go, but he honestly can't bring himself to mind. There's just something about these two that Liam is already gravitating towards.
"So, how did you two meet?" Liam asks as they come to a stand-still in traffic on their way back to Simon's mansion.
"Well," Harry says from the back, but as soon as he does Louis turns around from the front seat and holds up a hand.
"No no, let me. You always tell it wrong." He turns back to Liam and puts a hand on Liam's shoulder. "I remember it like it was yesterday..."
"We tried to con eachother," Harry says. Louis groans turning back to glare at Harry.
"Correction," he says, "Harry tried to con me and I realized this and played along just to see what he'd do."
"Lies!" Harry protests loudly. "You were so obvious, I knew what you were trying to do right away. I was just playing along."
"A likely story," Louis says.
Liam's not sure if the traffic has let up or not because he's too busy glancing between the two squabbling men in his car.
"And you two are supposed to be the best?" he thinks, but then realizes he's said it outloud when both pairs of glaring eyes transfer to him.
"Supposed to?" Louis says, "We are the best."
"In London, anyway," Harry adds.
"In the world!" Louis exclaims, too loud for the size of the car.
Liam watches them grin at each other before shaking his head and turning his attention back to driving. This is going to be, by far, the strangest team he's ever been on.
- - -
Dinner with Harry, Louis and Simon is, somehow, even more ridiculous then their car ride back to the mansion. As soon as Louis sees Simon, it's all laughs and fond memories, and Liam knows he's never seen Simon smile so much in all the years he's worked for him.
"-and then Simon's like, 'That was the mark!' Can you believe it? She practically did the con for me, I didn't have to do a thing!"
Simon and Harry are laughing like it's the funniest story ever, and it really is quite funny, but Liam can't really get over the fact that Simon is laughing.
"Is there anything you need for tonight?" Simon asks Liam, transitioning smoothly back into business-mode. It's enough to snap Liam out of his strangeness-induced stupor.
"No, the location and personell profile."
"Where are we going, then?" Louis asks, looking to Liam.
"Well I'm going to go pick up another of our team members-"
"Can we come with?" Harry is asking before Liam has even finished.
"Umm," Liam hedges, glancing at Simon. He merely looks pleased and aloof, which is kind of how Simon normally looks, but Liam interrprets that as 'yes, take them with you'. "Sure."
"Fantastic," Louis says, beaming at Harry. "Who are we picking up, then?"
"Niall Horan," Liam says.
"The driver?" Harry asks. Liam nods. He can tell by the look on Harry's face that he might have guessed this next part.
"We're meeting him at a race."
'Race', Liam soon realizes, was too specific of a term for what is actually going on once they reach the location Simon had given them. Whatever this really is, it looks like a street party, but with as many cars in attendance as people.
They stick out like sore thumbs, but Harry and Louis seem to be relishing in that fact.
"You know, for two people who are supposed to be the best at what they do," Liam says to the pair lowly, pulling them away from a group of ladies sitting on top of their cars, "you sure don't know how to blend in."
"Oh, we know how," Louis says, grinning at everyone around him. "We're just not on the job yet."
Liam wants to protest that they've been on the job ever since he picked them up, but then he sees someone across the street turn to look at them briefly as they stroll down the sidewalk and something clicks in Liam's brain. He stops looking at everyone and starts seeing, the way his dad taught him so many years ago, and realizes that whether they know it or not, Harry and Louis are creating just enough of a comotion to hold the mild interest of everyone they pass. At this pace, they'll catch the eye of the man they're looking for in no time... much easier than staking out the whole palce, as Liam had planned.
He watches Louis and Harry walk side-by-side, making eye-contact and just enough noise to turn heads, but avoid a scene, and thinks that they probably know exactly what they're doing.
Ten minutes later, Liam is pulled from his musings on whether Louis is following Harry's lead or if it's the other way around -- because surely one of them must be leading for the both of them to be so well coordinated -- by a hand on his shoulder.
"Wasn't expecting you to bring those two," says the blonde man who squeezes Liam's shoulder friendly before releasing it.
Liam grins at him. "They insisteted on comin with." He offers his hand. "Liam Payne."
"Niall Horan," Niall says with an answering grin.
Harry and Louis apparently realized that Liam was no longer with them and appear suddenly at Niall's side.
"Hello!" Louis says, hugging Niall as if he were an old friend.
"Hi," Harry says, offering Niall his hand and a beaming smile. "I'm Harry, this is Louis."
"He knows who I am," Louis says, nudging Niall.
Niall, for his part, seems over-joyed by all the friendliness flying around.
"You lads ready to get out of here? I've already taken care of my business."
"What, no racing?" Louis protests.
"Already done," Niall says, grinning. He nods toward the other side of the street, and the four of them make their way across. Niall walks them up to a beautiful green car and Liam may not know anything about cars, but this one looks fast.
"One of you is going to have to take my prize home," Niall says, nodding behind them.
There's a pretty redhead preched on top of a sleak black car and both Harry and Niall says, "Me!" so quickly that it would be impossible to tell who said it first.
Louis elbows Harry in the ribs. "You know he's talking about the car, right?"
"Yes," Harry says, but he draws it out a little like maybe he didn't. The mischiveous grin that follows makes Louis elbow him again.
"You're disgusting," Louis says, turning to take the keys from Niall. Harry just shrugs and walks over to the car just as the redhead is sliding off the hood.
Louis shakes his head, but Niall looks pretty impressed. "Where're you parked?" he asks LIam as Harry leans forward to let the woman
tug gently at his curls.
"Few blocks down," Liam answers.
"Give you a ride, then?"
"Alright, then, Harold," Louis says loudly, walking toward the car. "Time to get you home. It's well past your bedtime."
Harry just rolls his eyes and gives the woman a charming parting smile before climbing into the car with Louis.
Liam gets in Niall's car, and the inside is actually more spacious than he was expecting, given the size of the thing.
"So what's their deal?" Niall asks as he carefully pulls into the street. They'll have to creep along for several blocks due to the crowds, but something tells Liam that that's half the fun of having a car as gorgeous as this.
"No idea," Liam says, smiling. "If you figure them out, let me know."
Niall laughs and Liam is pretty sure that he's the friendliest, most laid back driver he's ever met.
Niall actually hugs Simon when they get back to the mansion, which Liam's not sure he's ever seen anyone do.
"Niall," Simon says, patting him gingerly on the back. Liam can see it in his face, though, that he doesn't really mind.
"Good to see you too, Simon," Niall says as he pulls back and grabs his bags from where he dropped them. "Kitchen still open?"
"Always," Simon says and waits until the other three have moved past them to look over at Liam. "Thoughts?"
"Well for starters, I'm wondering why you're so much nicer to your other employees."
Simon only lifts an eyebrow and smirks gently at Liam.
"I think that if these three are anything to go by, I should be a little concerned about our final member," Liam says.
Simon's smile softens then and turns a bit more genuine. "The last thing you need to be is concerned. This team is all about balance."
And with that he's gone, disappearing down one of the many twisting halls this place is filled with.
"Cryptic," Liam mutters before following his ears towards the sound of what is either a tornado or the beginnings of a five-course meal coming from the kitchen.
"When's this Zayn bloke getting in, then?" Niall asks an hour later between bites of pasta.
"Tomorrow afternoon. I'm picking him up at the train station," Liam answers. Not that he doubted them, but the meal that Harry and Niall managed to put together is actually really good.
"What time?" Louis asks.
"Two o'clock," Liam answers, and then realizes why Louis might ask that. "Do you want to come with?"
"Of course!" Harry says. "We came to get Niall."
"True," Liam agrees, "but that was in a crowded and underground setting. This is King's Cross."
"We won't make a scene," Louis says in a tone that suggests Liam has a lot to learn about them.
And really, Liam doesn't doubt that for a second.
- - -
To be fair, Louis and Harry are not the ones who create the scene.
Zayn's doing that just fine with the way he's dressed and his gently tossled hair and his mysterious scowl as he scanns the crowd for them. There are at least half a dozen people staring at him, and he probably doesn't even realize it.
So really, Harry and Louis walking straight up to him and latching on like they're old friends being reunited only exaserbates the scene already in progress.
Liam walks up behind them and watches Zayn's eyes dart to and from each of their faces.
The others are greeting him with 'welcome's and 'nice to meet you's, so when Zayn says, "Are you all mad?" everyone kind of pauses for a second.
When no one answers, Zayn elaborates by saying, "Coming to get me together? Simon said this would be low-key."
"Ah," Louis says, slinging an arm around Zayn's shoulders. "Simon lied. This is our first adventure together as a team. It's never too soon to start team building."
Liam watches Zayn stare at the side of Louis' face, and then his gaze cut to Liam and stays there. He's not sure, but Liam thinks that Zayn may be silently asking if this guy is for real, so he just kind of shrugs.
Zayn blinks at him and for a split second he looks very young and very uncomfortable. Then Louis jostles his shoulder and begins to lead them out of the station. Zayn barely has time to stoop and pick up his bags before Louis is navigating them through the crowds.
Once they reach the car -- Liam's car, and he had actually had to explain to the other three why taking one of Niall's was a bad idea -- Louis declares that Zayn should sit in the front and shoves the others into the backseat.
Zayn is quiet for most of the ride back to Simon's mansion while Harry, Louis and Niall banter about... he's not actually sure. Liam may or may not have been sneaking glances at Zayn for the past twenty minutes instead of paying attention.
"So," Zayn says finally, his voice pitched under Louis', who is shouting over Niall, "you seem to be the only sane one in the group."
"That's me," Liam agrees, "the sane one," and then wants to kick himself for not saying something cooler.
Zayn smiles though. Actually turns his head to face Liam and smiles. Liam has to remind himself to look back at the road.
"I'll just stick with you, then," Zayn says.
"Sounds good," Liam says in a carefully normal tone of voice, but the degree of his grin might just give him away, regardless.
The welcome between Simon and Zayn is brief and mostly consists of talk about the job Zayn just came from, but Liam sees the way that Zayn subtlely seeks Simon's approval and the carefully intentional way that Simon bestows it.
Simon tells them that dinner will be at five o'clock and that they should come prepared for their first meeting as a team.
Seeing as how they have less than two hours until then, Liam offers to help Zayn with his bags since he's planning on going upstairs to prepare anyway.
Zayn agrees and leads Liam up the stairs and down the same hallway that Liam's own room is off of. They stop at the door across from Liam's and Zayn opens it into a room that is set up very similarly to his, but decorated with much darker and richer colors.
"Thanks," Zayn says as soon as Liam sets his bag down.
"No problem," Liam says. He wants to say more, but commenting on the color scheme of the room is not really where he wants the conversation to go.
But then Zayn is saying, "I'll probably just unpack and shower before dinner," and Liam says, "Yeah, great, okay," before he can even give his brain permission to respond.
He waves at Zayn and closes the door behind him. Taking a deep breath, Liam crosses the hall to his own room. He really does have a lot to do to prepare for dinner.
At a quarter 'til four, Liam gathers up all his mission materials and makes his way down to the dining room. As he organizes his things next to his place setting, he can hear laughter coming from the adjoined kitchen and a voice that sounds like Zayn's.
When he's arranged everything to his liking, Liam glances toward the door leading to the kitchen and decides to at least poke his head inside.
Zayn is sitting up on the island, smiling down at an older woman in chef's clothing. She has her hand on his knee and she's telling a story that has the other three women in the room laughing loudly.
"So then," Zayn cuts in, his tone lower than the woman's but just as full of amusement, "Simon told me that if we ran away together he'd have me killed. I still don't know if he was joking or not."
"Oh, please," the woman laughs, as she reaches up to pat Zayn's cheek fondly. "My cooking's not that good."
"It is," Zayn says. He pauses before deadpanning, "It's to die for," and everyone falls into laughter.
Liam's still grinning at the scene when Zayn turns his head to look at the door. He smiles back gently, and all Liam can think to do is raise one hand in greeting. Zayn hops down off the counter as the women around him go back to finishing up the meal, and walks toward Liam.
"You've already got friends here, I see?" Liam says when Zayn is standing in front of him.
Zayn laughs shortly. "Yeah... My first job with Simon was a little overwhelming: really big, kind of crazy team. I hid out in here a lot."
"Well, I hope you don't feel the same need to hide from us."
Zayn smiles at him and shakes his head. "No, you lot just caught me off guard. If Simon says I'll like this team, then I trust him."
"He does know what he's talking about," Liam agrees.
Voices from the dining room filter in over the sounds of the kitchen, so Liam nods towards the door. "Shall we?"
Zayn smiles again and nods.
Back in the dining room, Harry and Louis are looking over Liam's mission papers.
"Someone's well prepared," Louis says when he notices Liam in the room. "Did you put all this together yourself?"
"No, not all of it," Liam says. "Most of it came from Simon."
Louis gives him a considering look. "You and him are pretty close, yeah? He's mentioned you before."
"We've been working together for years. He was close with my parents."
There's a pause, and Liam just knows that they all want to ask why Simon and his parents aren't close anymore, and if it's because they're dead, but everyone stays silent.
Niall walks in then, and then startles back at the sight of everyone.
"Whoa. What are you lot doing in here, standing around all quiet?" he demands.
They look around at one another, but end up simply shrugging in unison.
"Good, you're all here," Simon says from behind Niall, making the young man start yet again. "We'll eat and then we'll get down to business."
Dinner is delicious, and before they begin Harry makes a point of popping into the kitchen to compliment the chefs.
"Are we ready to begin?" Simon asks once Harry is back (with pudding) and everyone has finished eating.
Once everyone has answered in some form of the affirmative, Simon opens the folder in front of him, and Liam does the same.
"This mission has three very important aspects to it. There's the prep work, which will include all five of you, but mostly Harry and Louis, the ground work, which will be done by Liam, and the job itself, which will be completed by Zayn."
"What about me?" Niall asks, making this the first time Liam has every witnessed anyone interrupt Simon with a question.
Simon doesn't look upset, however. He looks like he was expecting this question, with his hands folded and an explanation already forthcoming.
"Boys, this mission is not the most dangerous or complicated you will ever do. It is simple. Elegant. It is, however, the most important job I will ever hire anyone to do. I've waited so long because I've been waiting for the best. Niall, there may not be an explicit task for you, but having an excellent driver on my team once saved the mission, and I will not tolerate anything less but excellence for this job. You will need each other; you will need to work together, and I have every confidence that you will do so excellently."
Liam is at a loss for words, and as he discreetly glances around the tablee, everyone else seems to be just staring at Simon as well.
"Ok," Niall says eventually, perhaps after remembering that it was his question which brought that one.
Simon nods, unfolds his hands and they just straight back in to the mission details.
- - -
day-dreaming's what i do best
- fic: Stand Up (Ziam)