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Some Love Wait Till Its Time

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Liam

Liam’s not exactly known for spending a lot of his free time in the library. To be honest, he can barely remember the last time he finished a proper book. He doesn’t think he owns any books that aren’t related to his course. Once, a girl he was starting to get into dating wanted to make out in the aisles, said it was dead romantic and she had always wanted to try it. It was his first year at university, he shamefacedly couldn’t find the library and she never called back. That’s why it’s all very confusing when he gets a letter sent to his apartment from the library. Apparently, he owes them quite a lot of money.

“That’s hilarious,” Louis says, rather unhelpfully. He eats another bite of his cereal and keeps reading over Liam’s shoulder.

“You haven’t pranked me, have you?” Liam asks, a little bit worried. He knows Louis wouldn’t actually pull a prank that would cost Liam this much money. They’re poor university students. It’s a sacred bond.

“No,” Louis says in outrage although he does sound a bit hurt that Liam would doubt him after all they’ve been through. “It’s not even a good prank!”

“The thought of Liam incurring a fine from a library he has never set foot in, the thought it being over Shakespeare,” Eleanor points out, literally pointing her spoon dripping with milk at all of them, “is pretty funny.”

Louis looks at his girlfriend like he’s being heartbreakingly betrayed. Eleanor reaches over and touches his hair and he pretends he’s still being heartbreakingly betrayed for all of five seconds before he caves. He leans back in his seat but tangles their ankles together underneath the table and Liam grabs a rag to wipe away the little droplets of soy milk. He misses having a girlfriend.

Niall’s already cackling away at the breakfast table. “Too good,” he says, also rather unhelpfully.

Eleanor draws him a map of how to get to the library from the gym. He’s there most of the time before or after his classes and it’s really thoughtful of her. It’s because she’s kind and smart and knows about this kind of stuff, studious stuff, while Niall and Louis spend an hour coming up with more and more elaborate ways to get out of it. Liam was intrigued of making a run for it and moving to Antarctica for an indefinite period of time but apparently he’d have to burn off his fingertips. He’s not all that fond of the cold and he is all that fond of his fingertips.

He stands at the entrance of the library, peering into the hushed silence. He fingers at his snapback hesitantly. He doesn’t know if it’s like church, is he supposed to take his hat off? There certainly seems to be that kind of atmosphere. He sees a kid at a table further in with a beanie on, bent over a piece of paper and scribbling furiously. Liam decides to chance it and leaves his hat on. He readjusts his backpack on one of his shoulders, holding onto the strap so his bicep bulges out. It’s just a habit. He’s not the type to try and intimidate people with his muscles. It’s not the reason he goes to the gym regularly, that’s just for stress relief (“Bullshit. Liam, rip the arms off your shirt, that security guy just gave me a funny look. What is the point of you wasting all that time being sweaty and gross if you’re not gonna hulk out at everyone who looks at me funny!” “He’s just doing his job, Louis. Please try to be sober for a minute, we’re never gonna get in if you keep swaying like that.”)

Liam makes his way to the counter with all the signs. There isn’t a bell, Liam was expecting a bell like the libraries in the movies. Liam knocks on the wood counter instead, already unimpressed with the reality of a university library. Eleanor told him they have more than one on campus. Madness.

He’s too caught up thinking about whether he’s going to get told off for wearing a hat or not that he needs to hurriedly take half a step back when a guy pops up from underneath the counter. The guy takes a moment to scrutinise Liam, his eyes narrowing slightly at Liam’s snapback.

“Sorry, mate,” he says. He doesn’t look all that sorry though, he looks rather wary. That’s not the first thing Liam notices.

They’re not standing very close but even from across the counter Liam can tell the man has very long eyelashes. He also has an impressive amount of stubble that would make a grown man (Niall) cry. Liam immediately feels the need to grow some stubble. He thinks it might suits this guy a whole lot better than it would suit him. Liam’s seen a lot of good looking blokes before, he’s seen some of the guys Niall’s pulled and thought yeah I get it but he hasn’t ever seen someone like this guy. He’s not even done anything with his hair, it’s just all soft and effortlessly falling into his glasses. It’s like seeing someone from a movie and realising they actually look like that in real life too. Overwhelming. The man pushes his hair back out of his eyes impatiently and arches one eyebrow expectantly.

“Sorry,” Liam says, apologising as well because it’s his turn after all. “Hi,” he says belatedly, looking into his eyes and momentarily getting distracted trying to figure out if they’re hazel or brown.

Does this happen to a lot of people? He should ask Louis about it. Ask him if he gets intimidated by really good looking people once in a while. It’s most probably definitely normal.

“‘Lo,” he says with an amused tilt of his head. Maybe he thinks Liam’s being slow on purpose. “Did you need something?” he finally asks, shrugging so the collar of his thin v-neck dips over his collarbones, a flash of his tattoos.

“Yeah,” Liam says, trying to move faster because he’s spent too much time staring now and it’s weird, he’s the weird one now.

He scrambles to get the letter out of his bag. He hands it over wordlessly to the Good Looking Library Man (perfectly symmetrical faces exist, Liam’s seen proof of it with his very own eyes). He still feels like an idiot just standing there and waiting for the Library Man to finish reading it so he overcompensates by starting to talk very fast. “I got this letter saying I’ve borrowed Macbeth in my first year.”

“Uh-huh,” he says, not looking up. His eyes are skimming over the piece of paper and Liam doesn’t say anything because he usually can’t concentrate on reading something when someone’s talking at him at the same time. He waits until he reaches the end.

“I’ve literally never stepped a foot into the library,” Liam says. He wonders if he should tell him about Lisa and the story about her wanting to make out in one of the aisles. He doesn’t, though, because this man works here, he probably doesn’t want to hear about people almost desecrating his work place. And he doesn’t think it’ll help his case.

“I can see that,” he says with a sudden, razor sharp grin. Liam stares, he has a feeling he should be feeling slightly offended - he’s great at telling when people are making fun of him (he used to think everyone was making fun of him all the time but he can tell the difference, most of the time, now) - but he’s too busy wondering if his own face improves that drastically when he smiles.

“It says that I owe a lot of money. I don’t even know why I’d borrow Shakespeare, I’m doing Physiotherapy. You have to believe me, mate,” Liam says, putting his hand down on the counter. He meant to slap it but ran out of steam and now it’s just kind of resting there. Louis told him to go in there guns a blazing and threaten to take them to court. Liam doesn’t think this is what he meant.

“It’s not that hard to believe,” Zayn says, in that same tone, vaguely motioning to Liam with one hand before abruptly stopping himself like he’s realised he’s being rude. He makes a slightly apologetic face.

Liam glances down at himself. He’s come straight from the gym but he’s showered and put styling stuff in his hair. He’s wearing jogging bottoms and a vest, hoodie tucked into the strap of his bag because he’s still burning hot, but he doesn’t think he looks that bad.

“So are you gonna waive the fee?” Liam asks hopefully. He hasn’t made a very good first impression.

“Well,” he says, pushing his glasses further up his nose and picking up the letter again. He types something into the computer and says, “it is a lot of money, Liam."

“There’s got to be a mistake,” Liam says. “Is there someone else I can talk to?”

“Big Dave’s out for lunch or wherever he goes when he says he’s going out for lunch at 3pm and never coming back,” he says grumpily. “Sorry. He wouldn’t be much help anyway.” He clicks away for another moment on the computer and when Liam leans over the counter to peek at it, he tilts the screen further away from him.

“Can’t you just click on something and make it go away? You believe me, right?” Liam says.

“Yeah, computer says no,” he says dryly, looking up with an amused huff of laughter. He seems to take pity on him because he says, “Look, I have all your details on file here. I’ll just give you a call if we can get this sorted out. Or the book is returned. Did you lose your student ID card or something?”

“Once,” Liam says, he got blackout drunk after breaking up with Danielle. At least he’d managed to take advantage of the university student discounts at the pub down the road with his card. “How do you have all of my details on file? Is the library actually like a Secret Spy Agency?”

“Your student ID doubles as your library card, you know that, right? That’s what the bar code is for,” he says rather patiently for a man who looks like he’s at the end of his tethers.

“Sure,” Liam says quickly. He didn’t know that. “So I’m being framed. It’s like a burn notice.”

“No - okay, yeah, maybe,” he says making a face as if he’s reconsidering the whole situation. He looks more interested than he has been in this whole conversation.

“Cool,” Liam says. “Wait, no, I can’t pay this!”

“You’re just gonna have to pay the fine,” Zayn says, shrugging. “Or go on the run."

 

~

“Hi,” Liam says, dropping into the opposite seat of the table. He gets back up again and gives Mina a kiss on the cheek. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be late.”

“It’s okay,” Mina says and smiles up at him, her eyelashes touching.

Liam sits back down and Mina leans forward in her seat, her elbows on the table. He was five minutes late to the cafe because he got distracted thinking about what he’d take, besides Louis and his favourite watch, on the run. He’d probably have to get a gun or something for it to be a proper burn notice. He shakes his head at himself because he’s being ridiculous. He’s not going on the run. Not over a library fine anyway.

He focuses back to Mina who is looking even more adorable today, her fringe falling into her eyes. He doesn’t know what her eyebrows look like yet, which is crazy, but they’ve only just met and her fringe is always covering them up. He’s sure she’ll show him her eyebrows when she’s well and ready. Either way, he thinks she’s pretty perfect already. She has the sweetest rosy cheeks and her nails are always covered in crazy designs.

“Were you at the gym?” she asks him, grabbing his hand lying next to hers on the table to get his attention.

He smiles down at their hands for a moment and she laughs, holding on to his fingers and shaking it to get his attention back to her question.

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “I went to the library for a bit after, though. Did you get anything yet?”

“No, silly, I was waiting for you,” she says and Liam feels a stab of guilt thinking of all the hot chocolates she could’ve been drinking if he’d been on time. She doesn’t look bothered though and not the type of unbothered people sometimes get when they’re actually really bothered about it.

“I’ll go get us something. Hot choc, yeah? Extra cocoa powder?” he asks her, reluctantly letting go of her hand to stand up. She beams up at him and nods.

They first met in the middle of campus, five past the hour which meant it was filled with students rushing to their next class, and he almost broke her nose. She was just so tiny, he barely saw her when he swung around and elbowed her right in the face. She was in the process of picking up the loose leaf of paper that had tumbled out of her folder and ended up with a bloody nose marring her fast paling face. Of course Liam freaked out. His near hysteric made her laugh through the little gasps of pain. Then he realised how much of an unhelpful donut he was being and helped her clean up and then felt terrible about all the blood on her music sheet and she laughed some more. Storybook meet cute. Except all Liam remembers is feeling rather terrified that he'd broken her nose. He has no idea how he got her to agree to have coffee with him.

“So someone that looks vaguely like you picked up your ID card and used it to borrow a book, evilly planning to never return it and therefore blaze notice you in the process?” Mina asks, sipping on her hot chocolate, licking her upper lip when the foam transfers.

She’s so cute and she’s not getting this at all.

“No. I’m being framed. It’s a burn notice,” Liam says, adding the three more packets of sugar into his tea, there’s already five in there - it’s his cheat day and he’s too embarrassed to tell them straight up when he orders that he’d really like eight sugars. “Would you come on the run with me?”

No,” she says immediately.

Liam tries not to pout.

“You’d be terrible on the run. Louis would have to come along, of course, then I’d be stuck feeling like the third wheel now, wouldn’t I? I’ll just wait for you at home,” she says.

Liam had no idea he talked about Louis so much.

“You’d still wait for me if I was a runaway fugitive?” Liam asks, grinning like an idiot.

“Yes. Your only crime was loving Shakespeare so much,” Mina says, lighting up with a laugh.

 

~

Liam doesn’t end up paying the fine - he doesn’t have the money anyway. He’s not sure if there’s still being money added to it every day - or if that stops after the first year or something, he doesn’t know how it works. He doesn’t get a call from the library, from that man, about the fine being waived but he goes there anywhere. He needs to study for the upcoming quiz and he reckons now that he knows where it is and all, he should make use of it. He gets in early when it's not so crowded and sits in the middle of one of the big tables. Inevitably he ends up with an explosion of his books and highlighters everywhere. He owns a lot of highlighters. He likes to highlight everything in different colours - it’s the only way he can study and have it stick in his head. Nobody comes around to bother him, even when the library gets a bit more full and the other tables slowly start to fill up. Liam took a shower after his run in the morning, he’s pretty sure he doesn’t smell that bad.

He sees the Library Man who read his letter casually strolling a book trolley down into the aisles and before he realises what he’s doing, he jumps up to hurry after him. He doesn’t know what it is about him. Maybe it’s the fact he doesn’t know anything about him except he wears glasses and has tattoos while he knows what day Liam was born and where he currently lives. He probably didn’t care too much about either of that. Or maybe it’s just all the money that Liam owes the library that he doesn’t really owe them that’s making him more and more panicky every day. He still needs to set that straight, preferably sooner than later.

It doesn’t take too long for him to catch up after him. He’s stood there in the middle of the aisle, putting some books away with a certain calmness that Liam envies.

“Hey,” Liam says, waving awkwardly when he turns his head towards him, like he has all the time in the world. He doesn’t know if it’s the hush calm and quiet of the library or just this guy.

He has one earphone plugged in and he plucks it out, turning around. 

“Liam,” he says, almost a question but not quite.

He seems to be in some kind of daze, as if he’s not sure Liam’s real and actually standing there. It doesn't last long. He sorts himself out, mentally rearranging something because he suddenly straightens up, the relaxed slouch gone, and he tries to lean on the book trolley and misses.

“Liam,” he says, a lot more firmly. “Hi.” He tries to lean on the book trolley again and slips a bit when it starts to roll away from him. Liam reflexively tries to help but he gets it under control in a moment, leaning against the book trolley casually like he’d initially intended.

“Yeah, m’the guy who still owes you a lot of money,” Liam says, putting his hands in his pockets because he doesn’t know what to do with them except fiddle around with the zip of his hoodie. He cautiously walks up closer.

“You don’t owe me,” he says, “you owe the library.” He goes back to shelving.

“I’m gonna be honest, I’ve considered going on the run,” Liam says, “burning my fingertips off and all that.”

Zayn gives him a horrified look, his hand pausing on a book. “You probably don’t need to do that.”

“Yeah,” Liam says, embarrassed, “obviously.”

“You could just get some gloves,” he says and now that he’s said it out loud it sounds a lot more sensible than going off and burning his fingerprints off.

“You’d be very good at going on the run,” Liam says, nodding approvingly. “You’d probably know where to get a gun and everything.”

He stops putting the books back and narrows his eyes at him dangerously.

“Not that - obviously I didn’t mean - I’m just saying because you're,” Liam’s been sky falling with Louis, this feels the same, except there’s nothing to save him falling face first into the ground.

“Because I’m what?” he asks.

“Because you’re a librarian,” Liam finishes lamely.

What?” he asks, staring at him incredulously.

“Y’know, you’re a librarian so you’ve got to be pretty smart, knowing where to put all them books and everything,” Liam says quickly, feeling dumber with every word that’s coming out of his mouth. “You know things."

He starts to laugh. He keeps laughing so hard he has to hold onto the trolley and Liam’s a little worried they’re going to get kicked out of the place. He doesn’t want to get Library Man into trouble but at the same time he doesn't want him to stop laughing. He seems genuinely chuffed, not like he’s taking the piss out of Liam or offended at the fact Liam can’t seem to keep his foot out of his goddamn mouth for five seconds.

I know things,” he says and starts giggling again and Liam can’t help laughing along, leaning against the bookshelves. His clenched fingers relax in his hoodie pockets as he watches him try to stop himself from laughing.

“I never got your name,” Liam says and offers him his hand. “You know where I live and I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Zayn,” he says, wiping at his eyes, leaving his eyelashes smudgy and somehow better than before. He shakes Liam’s hand with a nice firm grip. “And it’s not that hard.”

“Right, I got that. Zayn,” Liam says, repeating his name to prove that he does have a brain. He doesn’t want Zayn to think remembering his name is going to be too difficult for Liam. He did look like he was worried about Liam’s brain capacity when they first met.

“I meant about putting the books back where they’re supposed to go,” Zayn says with a friendly grin, still holding onto Liam’s hand.

Oh,” Liam says. Zayn finally lets go of his hand and grabs one of the books on the trolley.

He shows him the thick spine and points at the white sticker. He runs his thumbnail underneath the number and letters and says, “Dewey decimal system.”

Liam doesn’t know who Dewey is but he nods like he gets it.

“How did you ever find a book?” Zayn asks, slotting the book into its rightful place in seconds.

“I didn’t! How would I ever have found Macbeth if I didn’t know how to use Dewy Decimal's system?” Liam asks, totally revelling in his a-ha moment.

Zayn pats him on the shoulder in consolation. “I believe you, mate.”

“Thank you,” Liam says sincerely and Zayn looks up from his books to smile at him again.

“I like your shirt,” Liam blurts out, gesturing at the singlet he’s wearing.

He hopes he doesn’t sound like he’s just complimenting Zayn for believing him because he really does like it, it suits Zayn well. It’s dark grey and has bits of distressed holes in it, the kind where Liam can’t tell if he bought it like that or if he’s just worn it around a lot, and a band slogan printed on the front. He’s got a loose cardigan thrown over the top and it’s practically falling off his shoulders. It probably gets cold in the library, what with the air-conditioning and all.

“Oh, do you like The Blisters?” Zayn asks, tugging at his shirt so his multiple necklaces clink together and disappear underneath the stretched out collar.

“No idea who they are,” Liam says honestly and looks up in surprise, smiling, when he gets another laugh out of Zayn. It’s unexpectedly warm and his eyes crease. He laughs rather easily and Liam loves that, they’re always Liam’s favourite kind of people. Liam feels inordinately pleased with himself, adjusting his snapback.

“What are you even doing here?” Zayn asks, going back to putting the books on the shelf. He turns away from Liam, disappearing down the aisle before resurfacing.

“I came here to study,” Liam says. “Do you go to the uni or do you just work here?”

“Mhmm, I’m doing Film Studies at the mo’,” Zayn says.

“Cool. D’ya watch a lot of movies then?” Liam asks, interested.

“Pretty much,” Zayn says. He looks back up at Liam and he’s still smiling when he says, “You’re gonna lose your table, mate. Also, be considerate, you’re taking up three seats with your shit.” His smile’s still warm and he puts the last book away, right by Liam’s arm, and he nudges him gently with the back of his hand.

“Ohhhh,” Liam says. He wasn’t being a douche on purpose, he just doesn’t think sometimes. “Right. I thought I smelled or something,” he says to himself.

“You smell fine,” Zayn says.

Liam tries not to flush too obviously. That wasn’t even a compliment, being told he doesn’t reek is not a compliment. It’s like when he was a kid and he really wanted one of the older boys to notice him and say he was getting better at boxing.

"I’ll - I’ll see you around, Zayn, yeah?” Liam asks, reaching out to touch his elbow briefly and beats a hasty retreat.

He goes back to his table and clears up most of his stuff into a neat little pile. He flips his snapback backwards again and tries to go back to studying. People start trickling over to sit on his table and Liam moves his stuff into an even smaller pile and stops tapping his highlighters on the desk. He’s being considerate and all that. He looks up the next time Zayn passes him with a fresh pile of books, trekking all the way to the other side of the library without so much as breaking a sweat. He smiles when he sees Liam at his table, the way he’s squashed all his stuff into his own personal space. Liam finds himself smiling back.

 

 

~

Zayn

Zayn finishes his shift up at the library, looking forward to going home and having a cup of tea and Skype-ing with his family for a little while before he goes to bed. He probably knows that’s not the way the night’s going to go. Somebody will probably have got paid today, somebody will have bought more weed, somebody will have found the uno cards. It’s all good, Zayn can get started on his essays after a couple of hits, a couple rounds of uno.

He looks down to the table where Liam was sitting. He’s not sitting there anymore, he must’ve left while Zayn was in storage, searching high and low for some book that seemed to have disappeared into thin air. It’s fun, a bit like being a book detective, but after a while he gets sick of the darkened lights and the cold.

He honestly has no idea how to deal with Liam’s fine. He’s going to have to pay, that’s just the way it goes. Unexpectedly, he finds himself wanting to help. Initially, Liam reminded him so much of every douche-bro on campus who shoulders past people without a care and talk too loud in public. Zayn knows he shouldn't judge a book by the cover but he even had a snapback on and everything - he had a faux hawk. Zayn could almost hear Liam asking him how much he could lift. They're always hanging around the library, trying to pick up girls, talking trash in the aisles when they think the girls can't hear them. 

But then Liam opened his mouth and he seemed so bloody earnest about everything. Zayn wasn’t intending to be rude but Liam made him feel guilty either way. It's made Zayn want to help him out if he can. He’s not going to lie, the fact that Liam’s not exactly ugly helps. Zayn has eyes, the part of Zayn that still wants to let boys who claim they’re undeniably straight in public then push him up against dark hallways would most definitely not mind learning exactly how much Liam lifts.

Not that Zayn would do anything. Zayn is going to judge this book by its cover because Liam is undoubtedly straight and Zayn said he wasn’t going to do that anymore. His first year, hell, the first part of his whole life involved Zayn falling in love with straight boys who wouldn’t love him back, again and again.

Zayn abruptly realises he needs to stop planning out there life together when the cashier repeats how much Zayn owes him, making a gimme motion with his hand. Zayn scrunches up his face, embarrassed at himself and comes down back to reality.

He curses to himself when he roots around in all of his pockets and realises he doesn’t have a lighter on him. He has so many at home, scattered all around his room and in random pockets of his jeans and jackets. They’re never on him when he needs them the most. He grimaces and just buys another one while he’s at the convenient store. He could probably save some money every month if he just remembered to take his lighters with him instead of having to buy another one every time he was out and about. The lump sum could be a rather sizeable amount.

“Cheers,” he mumbles, cigarette already between his lips. He lights up when he gets out, shoving the pack and the lighter into the pockets of his jacket and pulling his hoodie up.

He walks home since he only lives five minutes away from campus. It’s the beauty of working on campus, he rarely has to go far. He closes the door behind him, slamming it accidentally like usual, and it’s quieter than usual. There’s just the normal amount of expletives coming from the kitchen as Mirjana attempts to cook something for dinner. Zayn’s not hungry or more likely he doesn’t have the heart to tell Mirjana that he’d rather not risk food poisoning tonight.

He creeps upstairs, careful to tiptoe past Christel’s room because she has a 8am class tomorrow morning. He gets to his room, remembering to shut the door to his room quieter this time and turns the light on.

His heart leaps into his throat, his feet taking him a step back against the door in surprise. There’s someone sitting on the edge of his bed. His hunched shoulders are more familiar than his own, the bow of his spine, the curls long enough to reach the edge of his collar now. The pale, pale, back of his neck. Harry’s sitting on the edge of his bed, his head in his hands.

“Harry,” Zayn says, his heart calming down and resettling back to its rightful place.

It’s a testament to how little Harry stays with him anymore that Zayn’s so surprised to see him.

Harry looks up at his name, like he hadn’t heard Zayn coming in at all, and he looks wrecked. His eyes are bloodshot and puffy, telltale signs he’s been crying, upset. Zayn dumps his bag to the side carelessly, for all intents and purposes focused on Harry. He strides over to him quickly. He gets up close, stands between his legs and cups his cheek, makes him look up at him so Zayn can check if he’s been hurt in anyway.

“What’s the matter, babe?” he asks, his heart squeezing, anger already thrumming in his veins. He wipes at Harry’s eyes with the pads of his thumb and Harry leans into his touch, breathing out slowly and closing his eyes like the mere fact Zayn’s here now is enough to calm him down.

Harry doesn’t reply, he just shakes his head and leans forward, hunching like he’s trying to hide, trying to hide his face against Zayn’s stomach. He can feel the crazy heat of his face from the crying through the thin cotton of his shirt. He swallows hard. He runs his fingers through the back of Harry’s head, his fingers getting tangled in the curls easily now that he’s not wearing a stupid bandana. He rubs at his scalp gently until the tension seems to drain out of him a little more.

“M’sorry,” Harry says, his hands on Zayn’s hips, pulling back to blink up at him, his eyelashes clinging wet.

“It’s okay,” Zayn says even though it’s not, not really. He wants to make him feel better. He still wants to kiss him until he’s okay.

“You’re the only one,” Harry says, pausing to hiccup, “to ever get it, y’know?”

Zayn remains silent, his whole chest a bruised mess at what Harry can reduce him to.

“You always made me feel less alone,” Harry says, voice raspy.

Having Harry here, when he’s not really Zayn’s anymore at all, makes him feel more alone than ever.

They’re not together anymore. It all comes down to the fact that Harry didn’t want to be in a relationship with Zayn, not like this. Zayn supposes he can look back on it in a couple years time and say it didn’t work out. They weren’t the best together. Harry didn’t understand when Zayn needed space, he’d turn to other people and it was easy for Zayn to get jealous. Neither of them took their problems seriously until it mattered too much. It doesn’t change the fact that they loved each other, grew together, learned each other in and out, even all the ugly bits hidden shallow inside. Zayn knows he shouldn’t but he still wants him, he wants to love him, he wants Harry to love him back.

It’s hard to let go as it is and Harry’s not making it any easier. Zayn hates that he doesn’t mind, he always hopes Harry’s home when he gets back.

“Me too,” Zayn says and uses his shirt to wipe Harry’s face. He takes his leather jacket off, stripping off the plaid shirt layered underneath next and dumping his now dirtied t shirt on top of the pile. He unbuttons his black jeans with one hand, pulling it down and throwing it into the corner with his foot. "C’mon, you could do with a cuddle,” Zayn says and gets into bed.

Harry gives him a watery smile and crawls under the sheets, still fully dressed, his pointy brown boots sticking out the end of the bed. It’s a reminder he’s not staying very long.

“I miss you,” Harry says and Zayn thinks that’s not fair, I’m right here.

“I miss you too,” Zayn says, letting Harry curl around him. He likes to think he’s a teacup puppy instead of a sizeable german shepherd. “What’s happened?”

“Just having a really shitty day,” Harry says with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come here.”

“You live here,” Zayn says, rubbing his hand up and down Harry’s back. He doesn’t, not really.

They weren’t living together when they were dating. Harry doesn’t have a place to stay at the moment, everything kind of fell apart for him at the same time, including his gallery showing, so he’s staying with Zayn for the while. Harry has many friends though, and they all adore him equally, he doesn’t sleep at Zayn’s anymore. He still has all his stuff here, though, strewn together with Zayn’s. Maybe it’s taking so long because it’ll be too hard to extract bits of everything from Zayn’s. To get a clean break when their lives have been so intertwined for so long. It’s comfortable the way it is now. Painful too, everything’s a reminder of Harry, of the time they spent together, but Zayn doesn’t want to think of how much more it’ll hurt when it’s all stripped away.

Harry doesn’t reply but rubs his cheek against Zayn’s chest, trying to find his heartbeat.

Zayn remembers the very first time he met Harry. He’d been reading a novel in his Art History lecture, vaguely wondering why he even bothered to show up to lectures if he wasn’t going to pay attention. It was only his second semester, he had no idea what he was doing most of the time, no matter how hard he pretended otherwise. Someone had barged into the lecture hall fifteen minutes late, juggling a carton of berries and a water bottle in one hand, a cracked iPhone in the other. Zayn had glanced up at him, irritated at the interruption of the lecture he wasn’t even paying attention to. Harry made a fuss, climbing over people to get to the lone free seat besides Zayn.

Zayn’s glance turned curious, watching the way he almost elbowed a girl in the face. He flails and Zayn grabs his other elbow before he can fall face first into his lap. Harry stares at him, green eyes huge and surprised. Zayn felt his face go hot and he quickly dropped his hand, making sure he was steadied beforehand, and went back to his novel.

The next time he chances a look up at him, Harry’s steadfastly staring at him. He doesn’t turn away abashedly like Zayn expected him to, his cheeks staining the same colour as his lips. Instead, he smiles, slow and honey sweet, bold as anything. He has dimples. Zayn feels his stomach tighten, his heartbeat starting to quicken. He went back to his book, thanking the gods he doesn’t blush, even if his face is burning.

Harry, kudos to him, waited until the lecture ended before leaning over into Zayn’s seat. He just very simply said, “Hi.”

Zayn noticed that his lips and fingertips were stained from the berries.

“Hey,” he finally said, cracking a smile.

He remembers their first date, it was to the museum. They sat outside together on the bench afterwards, just talking about nothing and Zayn felt like a child at the way his stomach did somersaults at the brush of his pinky against his.

The first time they kissed, after Harry had seen the draft for his major film project for the first time. It was about Harry, of course it was, Zayn was consumed with him, he invaded every waking thought. Harry stared and stared before he kissed him, big hands cupping Zayn’s face like he’d disappear. He said thank you like Zayn had done the impossible, like he’d plucked the stars right out of the night sky for him.

He remembers the awful moment when he got the news that his grandmother had another stroke. Harry had come with him back home. They stood on the train station in the bitter cold and Harry cradled Zayn’s head against his chest, trying for all intents and purposes to shield him from the biting wind. He tangled his fingers gently into Zayn’s hair, longer at the time, and let him breathe, touched the soft skin of his neck and Zayn knew through the knot of misery and worry in his heart that he was in love with him.

He won’t forget the first and last time it occurred to him that Harry didn’t love him back, not quite the way Zayn loved him. The last time they kissed. It was soft and chaste, goodnight. He didn’t know it would be the last time. He wishes it could have been different, if he could’ve done anything that would’ve kept them together.

It’s been so long now. Zayn doesn’t want to forget, he doesn’t think it’s possible. He doesn’t think it would help him if he tried to forget Harry, it would only get worse. Zayn thinks a large part of him doesn’t want to move on at all and therein lies his problem.

 

 

~

Liam

Liam loves his friends and he loves that he gets to live with them. He’s been told again and again not to room with friends because they’ll all turn on each other. It hasn’t happened yet. They get into their arguments but it’s nothing earth shattering. It’s mostly about the almost transparent blond hair clogging the drain, whoever’s had the last of the milk and put the empty carton back into the fridge, or who got drunk and pranced around with Eleanor’s bra on, stretching it beyond the loosest hook.

They don’t have any solid plans for this Saturday night. Eleanor has her own thing going on and they’re definitely not invited because she’d very much like to spend time with her friends and deal with her various society obligations and have a life apart from them once in a while. Liam and Louis decide they’re not going to go out and spend all their hard earned money on getting into a club and buying crazily overpriced drinks when they can crash something instead. Louis mostly decides that. Niall takes them to a house party, he’s been proper invited by his many mates, obviously, but Liam and Louis will just have to deal with the fact they’re shamelessly taking advantage. They rock up with a few shots in them each, the last of Eleanor’s vodka polished actually, and stand gaping at the doorstep.

It’s funny, how Niall has friends that are so different from each other. He brought home a guy that was busking down the pub in a Woody costume once. They’re mostly always good people.

They walk into the place and have to take a collective second to adjust because it’s definitely not like the parties they’re used to. Louis drags Liam to all kinds of parties but this is one of those artsy fartsy parties with music they don’t listen to, music that’s hard to dance to. It feels like everyone’s looking down their noses at Niall’s shoes and Liam’s favourite snapback. Liam’s probably building this up in his head and he’s right because everyone goes back to their drinks and conversations in another moment.

“How do you even know these people?” Louis asks in a not so hushed whisper.

“I dunno,” Niall says vaguely, shrugging, in that vague shruggy way he gets. He waves at someone from across the room, his face splitting into a delighted grin and he’s bounding off to talk to them.

“And we’ve lost him,” Liam says, watching him hug someone and get a bunch of back slaps from the surrounding people. Niall’s friend is tall and has curly hair and what look suspiciously like a ripped up flannel shirt tied around his head.

“I’m going to get a fucking drink,” Louis says and stalks off to find the bottles.

Liam looks around himself for a bit, looking for something familiar to make him feel comfortable and tide him over, something to focus on to make him feel more at ease. He realises alcohol is really the only way to go and follows after him. He doesn’t get far because he runs into Zayn at the landing of the staircase.

“Oh, hey,” Zayn says, raising both eyebrow at Liam in surprise. “Didn’t expect to see you here.” He’s standing on one step higher and Liam has to look up at him, leaning against the banister.

Liam shrugs. The shrugging thing must be wearing off from Niall. He opens his mouth to reply, he doesn’t really know what he’s going to say - maybe how he’s not all that surprised to see Zayn here, this seems like his type of party, effortless cool and hip - but he never gets to find out. Some guy who’s walking up to the second level makes a point to smash his shoulder into Zayn’s. Zayn holds his ground, more or less, he doesn’t go flying like Liam expected. He doesn’t even spill the drink he’s holding in his hand, it’s impressive. Still, Liam holds up a hand at the guy and says, “Excuse me, mate.”

He says it politely because maybe it was accidental, Liam’s giving him the benefit of the doubt. The guy turns around with a frown on his face. He looks extremely unimpressed with Liam. He flips him off and practically stomps up the stairs. Zayn snorts, rolling his eyes and takes a large gulp of his drink.

Liam stares after him for a beat in disbelief. Zayn looks annoyed but not all that bothered by it and Liam’s not going to be an arse and make a huge deal out of it if Zayn’s keen to keep the peace. He looks back at Zayn and says curiously, “Someone you know?”

“Just some twat. Personal vendetta against me or something," Zayn says with a shrug, splaying is arms out like what can you do? Liam thinks there’s an awful lot he can do, really, random assholes shouldn’t be pushing Zayn around like that.

"Happen to have a lot of enemies?" Liam asks instead.

"I'm kind of a super hero," Zayn says grinning happily and it's only then Liam realises Zayn's kind of sloshed. He does a pretty good job of acting like he isn't. Liam's usually all over the place after two standard drinks. It's apparently quite embarrassing.

"Screams from the haters, I guess every super hero needs his theme music," Liam half-sings and watches Zayn's face split into a wider grin, his tongue pressing up against his teeth in delight.

"Kanye!" he says, raising his cup and spilling a tiny bit in his enthusiasm. He's quite an adorable drunk.

"I tried listening to The Blisters," Liam says, unable to stop grinning back up at him. Zayn’s looking down at him, his eyes downcast and his eyelashes look longer than usual. He’s not wearing his glasses. He looks good either way.

Zayn laughs and asks, "how did you like them?"

"Not much," Liam says, scrunching up his nose. One track had a two minute buzzing sound, like a mosquito flying too close to his ear, inserted right into the middle of a perfectly decent song and it just made Liam paranoid. He had to listen to a lot of Ke$ha to feel better about it.

They don’t get to talk for much longer before Louis comes back with drinks, dragging him away and putting on like Liam’s abandoned him. They’re not as co-dependant as they were in their first year and it’s mostly a joke but Liam lets himself be pulled away from Zayn.

“Here, drink this,” Louis says, handing him a cup. He takes a sip immediately, Liam trusts whatever Louis has put in there. “Isn’t that the library guy?”

“His name is Zayn,” Liam says as if he’s imparting great wisdom. He feels like he went through a lot to get that information and he treasures it.

“What are you doing with him?” Louis asks, jerking his head towards the staircase. “You’re like obsessed with him.”

“Am not,” Liam says after he’s finished chugging back his drink, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. “He’s interesting.”

“Or is he just sad?” Louis asks, narrowing his eyes at Liam.

“What?” Liam asks. Louis grabs his wrist and pulls away further away from the music playing in the living room, just a tad out of sight so they can talk without being overheard.

“He’s had a pretty nasty break up with Harry,” Louis says, pointedly glancing at the bandana guy from before. “It’s been a couple of months. But. Like. I know you want to, y’know, save people, but what if you’re leading him on or summat?”

“I don’t know, he’s cool. I just want to hang out with him,” Liam says defensively. He didn’t even know Zayn had broken up with his boyfriend, he didn’t even know he was gay. He wanted to get to know him better because he was actually interesting and funny and seemed to know a lot of things Liam didn’t know about. He just really likes the guy.

“Hmm,” Louis says, patting him on the shoulder. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing."

Liam stares at the brief flash of concern on Louis face and wonders if he’s thinking about Liam’s break up with his first serious girlfriend. They all used to hang out together, the four of them, but Danielle said she couldn’t do it after they’d broken up. She couldn’t keep being friends with Louis and Eleanor, it was just too hard for the both of them. Louis helped him through it.

“They don’t seem like they’ve been through a nasty break up,” Liam says worriedly.

They watch as Harry ducks outside. He comes back in just a moment, Zayn’s arm slung around his shoulders. They’re both laughing and Harry ducks his head so Zayn can ruffle his hair, thumbing at his ridiculous bandana. They seem fine, they’re still friends. Or maybe Liam’s just not that observant, he did somehow incur a staggering fine from the library two years ago without noticing.

"Maybe he's looking for a rebound guy," Louis says, lightening up. He makes a rude gesture at Liam. It’s pretty implicit that Liam’s the rebound guy.

Liam bats at his hands until he puts them down again.

“I’m not gay,” Liam says, more's the pity, shrugging. 

Liam watches Harry. He’s ballroom dancing with Niall in the middle of the living room. Niall tries to dip him and they both go down in a tumble of limbs.

Later on Liam goes upstairs to find Zayn, just to see if he’s actually alright, to see if he’s missed anything blatantly obvious this whole time. He hears Zayn’s voice down the hallway and walks towards it. He stops suddenly because he’s right there in the shadows, leaning up against the wall. The rude guy on the staircase from earlier is sucking on his neck. Zayn’s moan cuts off and he pushes him away abruptly and says, “You can’t treat me like shit because you’re going through a fucking gay crisis and then try to hump my leg, Mattie.”

Zayn immediately pulls him in again, curling his hand around the back of his neck and letting himself be roughly shoved up against the wall, the front of his red jumper fisted in the guy’s hand. The guy makes a desperate noise in his throat, staring down at Zayn’s lips. “Ah, fuck it,” Zayn says, his breath caught high in his throat, and kisses him again.

Liam goes back downstairs and has a couple more drinks after that.

Liam and Louis make it home in one piece. They congratulate themselves for all of five minutes before they realise they forgot Niall and they have to go all the way back. It’s only when they’re halfway back they see he’s texted them both to say he’s got a place to stay for the night. They finally make it home another two hours later and Eleanor laughs fondly, pushing back the hair on Louis’ flushed, triumph face before leading him into their room. Liam stumbles into his own room and checks the time to see if it’s too late to call Mina. It most definitely is, he falls asleep holding onto his phone to remind himself to call her in the morning.

 

 

~

Zayn

Zayn hasn’t gone out with the sole intention of socialising with a large group of people in a while. He’s never been the type to go out every weekend anyway. He doesn’t understand how his friends seem to enjoy getting smashed, having to recover throughout the rest of the week and then repeating it all over again. It’s just never been his thing. Once in a while, he’ll admit it’s a lot of fun but he can’t imagine doing it every week. He’d have to sleep for half the week to get over the weekend.

There isn’t an excuse Zayn can use to pull out tonight. Or maybe he’s sick of being a hermit. His mates’ are throwing a house party only a couple of blocks down the street, it’s close enough - walking distance - so that Zayn can’t use cab fee as an excuse. A couple of people have already texted him about it, complaining they’re forgetting what he looks like. He could point out he had coffee with Jade last week and he showed up to class with half of them every other day but just decides to go.

“Oh my god, alert the press, you’re coming out with us,” Mirjana says, gripping at the doorway of the bathroom like the news has overcome her.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Zayn says, feigning nonchalance. He fixes his quiff, not even sparing a glance at her. It lasts for all the time it takes for Mirjana to roll her eyes, walking over to pinch his side. He laughs, squirming away and she weaves in-between to grab her own hair products.

“You know Harry’s going to be there, right?” she asks, impatiently grabbing at his wrist when he tries to fix her hair. It’s a goddam mess. She likes it to look like she’s been rummaging around the forest for a few days. She fixes him with a steely look and doesn’t let go of his wrist.

“Of course I know,” Zayn says, pulling an irritated face. “I see him all the time, it’s not like he’s going to be reopening any fresh wounds. How many times can he tell me he doesn’t love me, huh?”

It’s a very sad attempt at a joke and his heart tinges at it. It has the desired effect anyhow because Mirjana looks two seconds close to crumbling and just staying home with him instead, sharing a bottle of vodka in the dry bathtub. That’s happened a lot the past few months.

“It’s been months!” Zayn says, changing tact and injecting a hint of anger - like Mirjana’s being the ridiculous one here.

“I know, I know,” she says and hugs him hard around the middle. He taps the top of her head. It’s not one of her nicer hugs, it feels like she’s trying to squeeze his pain away. “I miss having him around too. I miss him cooking all the time in our kitchen and singing and doing his dumb dances.”

Zayn sighs because she’s obviously read right through him. He doesn’t see him all the time, Mirjana knows too much about everything.

“I mean, obviously, you miss him too and me bringing it up isn’t helping, is it? I’m going to stop talking,” Mirjana says. Zayn hugs her back, warmer, and releases her.

It’s only a short walk to Andrew’s house but the nights are getting colder and Zayn regrets coming out immediately. However, as soon a they get through the door, Zayn’s subjected to a lot of enthusiastic yelling and, well, it’s always nice to be missed. He grins at everyone, being pulled into hugs and kisses, smiling sheepishly, pleased.

He hasn't been avoiding everyone since Harry had broke up with him, it wasn’t like that. He’s been busy, so incredibly busy with uni. He’s in his final year and he’s working on his research project, his animated film piece, and it takes up a lot of his time. At the same time, he's trying to figure out if he wants to start his post graduate degree straight after he graduates, try to get more experience with internships or just say yes to the first job offer he gets. Sometimes Zayn wishes he could just be a librarian forever.

Nursing a broken heart did play a role in his intervals of withdrawal but there’s been a lot of other shit going on in his life too. Though he can’t deny that when he was with Harry, they did spent a lot of time out with other people because Harry loved being surrounded by people, thrived on it. They went out all the time, tried new things, learned about the world around them and their place in it. Harry met Zayn’s friends and Zayn met Harry’s friends until they all became enmeshed, each of them forming relationships with people separate from each other.

He just needed a break, that was all, Zayn was appreciating his time alone.

“Zayn!” Jade squeals, running over to free him from Andrew’s bear hug. Andrew’s actually part bear, with a huge beard, a bigger heart and a man bun to boot, Zayn’s nothing but grateful to be saved. Until she throws herself at him and he has no choice but to keep the both of them up, staggering slightly.

“Christ, I saw you three days ago,” Zayn says fondly exasperated.

“I know! I’m just excited to see you. At a party,” she says. It’s not really a proper party, not like the ones Zayn used to go in his first year when he didn’t know what kind of friends he wanted, before he realised that’s not how friendship works. It’s quieter, he would almost say mature if there wasn’t a massive cock scribbled onto the wall.

Zayn looks down at Jade, she’s proper pleased to see him, and Zayn feels the same way. He missed this. She’s wearing a lovely peter pan collar dress and there’s a sprinkle of diamante studs that shimmer when she moves just so.

“You look nice,” he says, feeling warmth spreading through him from the core out.

“Aw, I got lipstick on your jumper, babe,” she says, thumbing at the stain she’s left on the knit.

“S’alright,” Zayn says, shrugging. He gets an arm around her and pulls her in close, tucks her into his side and says, “let’s get me a drink.”

Harry shows up soon after, he’s too polite to be obnoxiously late but too scatter brained to be on time. He’s wearing his greying skinny jeans, worn at the knees and at his bum, and his favourite bandana. He slinks over to where Zayn’s talking to his friends and deliberately bumps his hips against Zayn’s. He always does this thing, his hands held behind his back, almost hunched over - even if he’s taller than Zayn, has more mass on him too, and can’t possibly shrink himself down to be smaller than him. Zayn pulls him into a hug in greeting and Harry always ducks underneath, he likes being hugged. He always said Zayn gave the best hugs.

“Hiiiii,” Harry says belatedly.

“Hey babe,” Zayn says, letting go of him when he would have usually held onto him at a party like this. They would’ve both got drunk and went back to his place for sloppy blow jobs. Zayn says, “you’re late,” to watch the little outraged frown appear on Harry’s face.

“M’not!” Harry says. He smiles suddenly, sweet and eager, “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Jaewon was getting separation anxiety,” Zayn says, pointing at him. It’s amazing, they’ve found each other in almost every class since their first year, a work of fate.

“Aww,” Harry says with a bark of a laugh. He looks genuinely delighted to see Zayn. He disappears in a few minutes to make his rounds and Zayn keeps talking to his friends about his final project and drinks his drink.

Mattie’s also here. He wasn’t expecting that. He started hanging out with some of Zayn’s friends when he dated someone from their group a while ago, back when something like having a central group was possible. It’s too hard now, Zayn doesn’t bother. He has his friends, whether they be scattered all the uni, England, or the world. Mattie and Tamara broke up a while ago for some unknown reason. The only thing anyone really knows is they made each other so fucking miserable. Tam seems to be having a lot more fun on exchange, she’s certainly enjoying New York from what he’s seen on Facebook. Zayn had been ridiculously jealous of her, he doesn’t even have his passport.

There’s always been some kind of weird hostility between Zayn and Mattie. Mattie’s always snarking unnecessarily about anything Zayn even begins to think of saying. And then by some weird twist of fate, they’d hooked up at a party and then Mattie pretended he was so drunk and nothing had ever happened. He always made a point to kiss girls in front of Zayn, in front of everyone really, and then stopped talking to him completely. Zayn figured out what was going on pretty early on. Still, it wasn’t the last time they’d hooked up.

“Hey, man,” Zayn says cordially, tipping his drink at him.

Mattie had been staring down into his cup. He looks up, startled. Zayn smile at him in response, still being as polite as he can. He’s over this shit, he’s kind of turned into a cyclical drunk mistake. Mattie finds himself smiling back before he catches himself, looking around, and hastily frowning. Zayn rolls his eyes and downs the rest of his drink.

Someone else Zayn hadn’t been expecting to see at the party was Liam. He sees him for the first time as he enters the house, standing next to two of his friends. The blond one looks kind of familiar. Zayn’s standing at the staircase because Jaewon made him promise he’d stay right there while he went to get his bong. Zayn had a lot to drink by then and had to tether himself to the staircase so he wouldn’t forget. He was holding on tight with one hand, trying not to forget why he was standing aimlessly at the staircase when Liam caught sight of him too. He cut a path through the people towards him immediately.

Zayn’s drunk, he’s allowed to think Liam’s cute. He smiles like an idiot, like he’s putting all his being into it, and his cheeks go up and up and his eyes look unbearably happy. Zayn doesn’t know how he survived this long in the world with that smile, like he still believes the world’s made up of daisies and corgi puppies. He likes it. He’s endlessly optimistic. And cute. God, his arms.

Zayn’s eyes come up from Liam’s biceps when Mattie bumps into him. He keeps stomping up the stairs and Zayn doesn’t even bother. If Mattie hates him because he wants to kiss him, well, Zayn thinks that’s terribly immature. He’s not going to let Mattie put him in a bad mood.

Liam is dragged away shortly after by his friend who vaguely resembles a handsome porcupine. Zayn forgets why it was important to stay on the staircase and goes outside for a quick smoke. The need for a cigarette trump whatever the other reason was. He lights up as soon as he gets out to the backyard, closing the glass sliding door behind him so none of the smoke seeps inside. He’s only three quarters of the way finished with his cigarette when Harry comes bounding along. He almost smashes into the glass because his night vision isn’t the very best. Zayn patiently slides it open for him.

“What ‘cha doin'?” Harry says.

“Quantum physics, what does it look like I’m doing?” Zayn says with an amused quirk of his lips. Zayn takes one last drag of the cigarette and then crushes it under the heel of his boot.

“Come back inside, it’s getting cold,” Harry says, his cheeks flushed and giddy from the all the drinks he’s had.

He thinks of himself as some kind of mixologist. He’s been making his own cocktails all night, filling them all up with bits of fruit he's found in the kitchen. His lips probably taste all sweet from the amount of red cordial he’s been mixing with his vodka.

“Alright,” Zayn says easily and Harry does a stupidly endearing little cheer, fists in the air. Zayn grins fondly, wrapping an arm around him and getting the both of them back inside.

He doesn't know how it happens but the next time Zayn turns around, Harry’s slow dancing on the living room rug, trying to manoeuvre himself and the blond guy without bumping into the coffee table. They giggle and paw at each other as the backs of their knees bump against the edge anyway. Mirjana miraculously materialises at his side and rubs her hand at the small of his back. Harry and the guy fall down, Harry laughing the loudest.

“Do you wanna go home?” she asks him, watching him carefully. Zayn hates being treated like this, like he’s heartsick and made of glass.

“No,” Zayn says, trying to smile at her even though he is heartsick. He rubs at her chin gently where her dark purple lipstick has smudged, he’s not angry at her, and says, “I’m good.”

It was inevitable. It was going to happen sooner or later, they were both going to move on from each other. From strangers to lovers back to strangers. They’re not quite there yet. He thinks they might be able to be friends, some time later. It hadn’t occurred to Zayn that they would start loving other people, people that weren’t each other. That it would be devastating but they’d survive, they’d keep on going with their lives. It hurts a lot more than Zayn expected.

He knows that look in Harry’s eyes. Zayn doesn’t know if he wants to be in love with someone else. He’s not really sure about anything when it comes to the mess inside his chest. He looks at them one last time, the way Harry’s mouth is split into a grin as he laughs, the guy’s adoring face looking up at him.

“I just need to use the bathroom,” Zayn says and kisses Mirjana quickly on the temple so she won’t bug him about it. She lets it be.

In the upstairs hallway, Zayn bumps into Mattie again. He literally bumps into him and the next thing he knows the bump turns into a shove and the shove turns into them kissing against the wall. They fumble towards the darker unlit end, stumbling over each other. He knows it’s a bad idea going into it. Mattie’s a fucking mess, this can only end badly - Zayn can’t deal with anyone else’s fucked up shit when he has a pile of his own the size of Mount Everest.

Zayn pushes him away, craving the warmth of his mouth immediately. He needs to be rational. He’s so fucked. He sees Harry on top of another boy, the light in his eyes, how happy he looked. He pulls Mattie in again and kisses him hard, fumbling for the fly of his jeans already.

Zayn doesn’t remember too much after that. He goes back home with Mirjana and Jade, all three of them stumbling a little in the dark streets leading to their house. Jade’s sleeping over at theirs because she doesn’t want to stay in the same house she’s vomited in. It feels like she might float away, the way her dress keeps shimmering like the stars, so Zayn holds her hand and desperately tries not to let go in case she does.

Harry didn’t leave with them.

“I need to pee,” Mirjana says, turning around from where she’s walking in front of them. She stops, waving them on and starts to hike up her dress, trying to squat in the middle of the street.

“Oh my god,” Jade says, letting go of Zayn’s hand to stop Mirjana.

Zayn’s too drunk to deal with this in a rational manner. Bloke’s piss over the streets all the fucking time, he doesn’t see why Mirjana shouldn’t. “Just let her pee,” Zayn says, waving a hand between them and somehow hitting his own face.

“True friends don’t let their drunk friends wee wee on the pavement!” Jade says, frantic.

Zayn starts laughing then and he finds he can’t really stop. He ends up with vomit all over his shoes.

Chapter Text

Liam

Somehow Liam finds himself walking towards the library after his class. He’s found that it’s a much better place to study than his apartment. He has three roommates and he never realised how important silence was for his focus. Everything’s getting a lot harder this year and Liam’s finding himself studying a lot more than he did in his first or second year.

Louis texts him on the way there, asking if he wants to go watch Frozen together. Liam tells him his plans of studying instead and Louis is, understandably, outraged and demands he explain himself. Liam calmly (as calmly as you can in text messages) says that he’s already watched it with his sisters on two separate occasions when they came up for the weekend. And then he went out on a date with Eleanor and watched it again.

Louis doesn’t even bother texting back. He calls him.

“What are you going to do in the library anyway? Not like you’re going to study,” he says, not unkindly. However, he has to recognise that Louis knows Liam very well.

“I’ve got my comic books as, like, positive reinforcers,” Liam says, slowing down as he gets to the entrance of the library. You can’t be on the phone in the library, obviously. He knows the rules. There are so many rules. 

“Oh,” Louis says. 

“D’ya want to come and study with?” Liam asks, toeing at the ground. “I’ve got the one where you drew all them hearts over Iron Man.”

No, Liam,” Louis says, over-exaggerating, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I’d rather go to class,” he spits out, which means he really doesn’t want to come to the library. Again, there’s no real sting to his bite. Liam wouldn’t go as to say he’s all bark no bite because he has incredibly sharp, pointed teeth.

“Okay,” Liam says, smiling at his toes because Louis hates feeling left out and it’s still nice, knowing Louis wants to spend time with him after all this time. They’re like an old married couple, they know each other inside out. Even if it’s only so they can go on a bro date that spares Louis the shame of going to watch Frozen by himself. Again. 

“Well, I got paid today. I’m getting pizza for dinner - see if I order you any thin crusts! Laters!” Louis says petulantly and hangs up. 

Liam smiles stupidly down at his phone for another moment before he puts it back into his pocket. He makes his way into the library, casually glancing around. 

He wonders if Zayn is working today. He was here the last couple of times Liam came around but Liam kept to his desk and made notes on current clinical practises instead of seeking him out for a conversation. He most certainly did not pretend to look for a book so he could pass by and say hi. By Liam’s calculations Zayn seems to be here a large chunk of the time, he doesn’t know when he actually has time to go to class.

Liam makes it over to the counter without knocking over any trolleys of books (like that one time) or bumping into anyone walking around with their nose buried in a book. Zayn’s right there behind the counter. His senses kind of zero in on him and the rest of the library fades into the distance. Sometimes Liam thinks Zayn must be from another planet, he can’t explain the pull he has on him. Maybe he has super powers, Liam wouldn’t be surprised. He’s special, like Liam always wanted to be, that certain factor about him that makes everyone want to give and give and give themselves to him. He doesn’t voice these thoughts out loud, they all seem like odd things to be thinking about a near stranger, so he keeps it to himself.

It takes him another moment to realise that he’s not alone. Harry’s sitting on the counter, his back facing is Liam but he’s still recognisable by the broad set of his shoulders, his curly hair. He’s slumping down so he can talk to Zayn, trying to be at his eye level when it’s just not possible. Liam notes that Zayn’s not standing in between his legs, not quite, but it’s close. Zayn then laughs at something Harry says, his eyes turning into happy crescents and his nose scrunching up. Liam has never had a conversation with Harry but he must be hilarious with the way he’s making Zayn laugh. He looks really good when he laughs, relaxed and happy, he should be doing it all the time. Distractedly, Liam thinks it’d probably be unrealistic, he’d need a break to eat and sleep and stuff.

By the time Liam’s come back down to earth, Harry’s the one who’s sheepishly giggling. He catches the look on Zayn’s face, heartbreakingly fond, and the way he curls a hand around the back of his neck. He pulls him down to laugh against his shoulders instead. Harry curls around him in a practised way. He can even see the details of his fingers running through Harry’s hair, how hard he swallows, his smile momentarily gone when he thinks Harry can’t see. It’s firmly back in place when Harry unearths himself and sits back up on the counter.

“Hey,” Liam says, making the split decision and walking towards them with as much noise as he can manage. Somebody glares in his direction but they don’t matter, not when Zayn’s trying to get the hitch of his smile just right again.

“Hiya,” Zayn says, looking past Harry to turn his attention to Liam. “I talked to the big boss."

“Have you been watching all those gangster movies again?” Harry asks, nudging Zayn’s side with his knee. 

Zayn makes a spectacularly silly face at Harry. He’s not anything like Liam thought he would be at the start. 

“He made me watch all of them,” Harry says imploringly, turning around to give Liam big sad green eyes, “in one sitting.”

“Anyway,” Zayn says ignoring him. “He said he’ll look into it but it might take a while. He’s super lazy.”

“Cheers!” Liam says enthusiastically. 

“No worries,” Harry says instead of him. 

He jumps off the counter, counteracts the wobbly landing by arching his spine like a cat. He hisses at Zayn, pawing at his shirt with a clawed hand before he straightens up. He’s so weird.

“Well, I’ve got a thing I gotta get to,” Harry says vaguely and immediately reaches forward to hug Zayn tight, swiping his broad palm down his back in reassurance. Zayn nudges Harry’s face gently with his cheek in reply.

Liam feels like giving Zayn a hug himself. Watching him with Harry is just a kind of achey mess. Liam doesn’t know what he would’ve done if Danielle had dumped him and they still hung around all the time. She was the first person he learned how to love like that. He thinks Zayn might still be in love with Harry.

“I’m Harry, by the way,” Harry says before disappearing underneath the counter. He pops back up, slinging a bag across his shoulders. He walks out from behind the counter to Liam’s side and gives him a one armed hug as well. “It was nice to meet you, Liam. I’ll see you around.”

Liam doesn’t remember telling Harry his name but all the same he says, “see ya!”

He saunters away with or without grace, Liam can’t really tell. He turns around to casually wave at the both of them, it would’ve been pretty cool if he hadn’t missed the entrance with his head turned away and smashed into the wall instead. Zayn snorts behind Liam and Liam joins in, grinning. Harry makes a sound that sounds suspiciously like a long drawn out ow and disappears.

“Seriously, thanks for that. You didn’t have to,” Liam says, turning around to face Zayn like that didn’t just happen at all.

“Just doing my job and all,” Zayn says, ducking his head. He looks up quickly, smiling, and just as quickly goes back to sorting out the books he has in his hands.

He’s got those sticky plastic sheets and he’s applying them to the covers of new books with a look of utmost concentration. Liam remembers his mum doing the same to his books when he was in primary school. She’d do them before the start of the term but she could never get the bubbles out. One year she was too busy and when Liam tried to do them himself it had ended up in one big sticky mess and he’d panicked and almost started crying. He always wanted the superhero ones or the ones with little cartoons but they always got the generic clear ones or worse, the orange ones that were always left over and barely cost anything at all.

Zayn’s doing a great job, he has the fingers for it, deft and long. Liam stops staring down at his hands and nods to himself to show he’s understood. That sounded like a dismissal if he’s ever heard one. He’s going to go ahead and start studying and give himself intervals where he gets to peruse his comic books. He’s going to end up reading comic books for three hours and cramming the studying into the last forty five minutes, he already knows it. He readjusts the strap of his backpack more firmly against his shoulder and starts to turn around. 

“Wait,” Zayn says, a hint of panic in his voice. Liam stops, looking down at the book in Zayn’s hand in case he dropped something onto it and fucked up the cover. There’s no bubbles in any of the books Zayn’s covering. Liam raises both eyebrows in question.

“You wanna grab a drink?” Zayn asks. He looks nervous, like he thinks Liam’s going to say no. Liam grins like he’s been waiting for it. Studying can wait.

But then again, he thought Zayn meant a coffee. It’s two in the afternoon. 

“I thought you meant a coffee,” Liam says when Zayn comes back from the bar with two pints.

He sets it on the circular table they’re sitting at, climbing into his own seat across from Liam. He doesn’t answer Liam immediately, choosing to take a long gulp of his beer instead. He makes a face at it, he doesn’t seem to like it very much.

He finally looks up from his beer and says, “You don’t want it?”

Liam bats the hand hovering close to Liam’s own pint away. He takes his drink because why the hell not. He doesn’t have any more classes after this, he had a early start to the day, and he can always study tomorrow. He had to go to class at 8am, he thinks he deserves a drink.

“Well, it is two in the afternoon,” Liam says with a grin and drinks up. Zayn smiles delightedly at him.

Liam finds that it is surprisingly easy to get drunk with Zayn at 2 in the afternoon. It’s not much of a surprise that they’re both kind of lightweights and they’re getting giggly soon enough. They’re having a great conversation, Liam wasn’t sure how it started exactly but they’ve somehow managed to get their chairs close enough so it’s possible for them to stop talking every few minutes and lean against each others shoulders to laugh. Liam raises his voice, trying to talk over Zayn - the way they’ve been communicating for the past fifteen minutes - he’s not 100% sure what point he’s trying to get across but it feels important.

They sober up slightly, in the sense they stop giggling like a pair of hyenas and batting at each other when the bartender gives them a pointed look. It reads ‘I’m going to throw you the fuck out if you don’t get your shit together’. Zayn covers Liam’s mouth with his hand and nods seriously back at him, doing that thing he does where he doesn’t look drunk at all. Liam snorts against his palm because that’s quite funny, isn’t it? That Zayn’s such a dignified drunk? It makes Zayn giggle, the fact Liam snorted right against his palm, and they need another minute before they can get it sorted. After they’ve managed to stop their latest laughing fit, Liam stares at all the empty pint glasses and remembers why they’re here in the first place. 

“Zayn,” he prods, leaning forward so his arm is on the table, touching Zayn’s side by side. 

“What’s up?” Zayn says just as seriously, looking up from where he’d been intently staring at the rings on his fingers. It’s the kind of intent staring reserved for movie screens. Zayn could totally be a movie star, he’d be the greatest movie star. Liam tries not to get distracted.

“Are you okay?” Liam asks and Zayn barely startles, glancing up to see Liam staring at the side of his face. He drops his gaze back to his hands splayed out on the table.

“Dunno,” he says after a while, tapping his knuckles against Liam’s bare wrist with a lazy flick. 

“Okay,” Liam says inanely. He nods to himself, “That’s okay.”

He thinks he can understand what it’s like to try and let go of someone, even when you still love them so much. It hurts a lot. It took him a long while to be okay after Danielle broke up with him, but all in all he's happy that she is happy with someone else. Especially if he makes her happier than Liam ever could. Anyway, he doesn’t think he wouldn’t have come out the other side totally shattered and hopeless if Louis hadn’t been there. He can do that for Zayn, can’t he? Liam’s never been in love with a boy but it can’t be all that different, nursing a broken heart is the same either way. He can do that for Zayn, if he wants him to.

“Thanks, bro,” Zayn says softly, his chin still ducked. He looks up at Liam through his eyelashes, his eyes big and soft through his glasses, and the corner of his mouth quirks up the tiniest bit. 

Liam likes the way Zayn looks at him, like he knows Liam understands and he’s not ashamed or embarrassed. He just is. 

They hug when they have to say goodbye and Liam focuses all his good wishes into it. He has Zayn’s number in his phone, he thinks they might be friends. He watches Zayn walk away to his own home for a while before turning around and doing the same.

Louis and Eleanor are sat on the floor in the living room, not really watching the telly but getting sauce all over the place by the time Liam gets in. They’re eating all of his thin crusts, he thinks sadly - it’s his fault he wasn’t home in time. They’ve got matching guilty looks on their faces when Liam gets a proper look at them, which means they’re definitely violating rule #35 no sex in communal areas.

There’s bits of ham in Eleanor’s ponytail. Liam doesn’t want to think about what happened with the pizza in their weird sex games or more specifically why they feel the need to make out when they’re eating. It’s super gross. Eleanor apparently likes the way Louis’ mouth moves but Liam had to do a memory eraser on himself after that particular conversation. 

“Where’ve you been?” Louis asks, leaning back on his palms, pointing one foot accusingly at Liam.

“Went for drinks with Zayn,” Liam says, super casual. He makes a point to shrug, unloading his backpack onto the nearest surface and pretends he isn’t psyched about it at all. He’s super psyched about it.

“We saved you some pizza,” Eleanor says and sure enough they’ve saved him his thin crusts. Liam doesn’t point out she has sauce on her neck in return. 

Liam sits down with them and starts eating his pizza. It’s delicious, he could cry. He tells them about Zayn for a bit, just how they went to his favourite pub in the middle of the day and all the pints they drank and then Liam asks them if they remember those plastic book covers because Zayn’s really great at using them. By the time Niall gets home, Liam’s stretched out on the sofa, propped up on one arm and slowly chewing on the crust of his pizza in a sleepy daze. He nearly falls off when the door slams.

“We’re having a bake off,” Niall declares grandly. He’s holding a bag of groceries. Harry trails in behind him with another bag and a dimpled smile. He almost drops it when he waves at all three of them and cheerfully says, “Hiiiiiii.”

“Have you been day drinking without me?” Niall asks suddenly, pointing an accusatory finger at Liam.

Liam hiccups. 

“Why’re you having a bake off?” Liam asks Harry. It should be a bit odd, right? He saw Harry with Zayn today and now he’s suddenly in his apartment. 

Nobody seems to hear Liam since there’s a big ruckus over getting everything into the kitchen without breaking everything. They’re apparently going to start prepping for their bake off. Louis has already started a running commentary on the whole shindig and Eleanor’s pretending to interview Harry with a spatula in her hand. 

“I’m really nervous,” Harry says very seriously, putting his hands together and resting his fingers under his chin. He purses his lips and squints off into the distance. "I know Niall's going to be fierce competition but I'm ready to win this thing."

"Fighting words from Styles, now to hear Horan’s!" Louis says, holding their last banana to his mouth. It’s actually part of Liam’s breakfast, it’s an integral part of his protein shake. He just hopes it doesn’t end up smushed all over his face like last time. 

“I’m in it to win it,” Niall says just as gravely, crossing his arms over his apron - Liam doesn’t even know where he got it - and lifts his chin challengingly at the camera. There is no camera, Liam’s eyes are the camera.

“Hey, I’m drunk,” Liam says and Niall and Harry stop putting their foreheads together and growling at each other to turn around. 

“I brought more wine,” Harry says and lights up, sheepishly ducking his head at the same time, pleased, when Louis makes a crowing noise and smacks a kiss on his cheek. 

This probably won’t end well. But. Liam loves his friends. It’ll at least probably be really fun. 

He squints as Harry and Niall stand in the corner of their tiny kitchen. Harry pretty much wraps himself around Niall’s back, leaning down to grin into his ear before stealing a strawberry from right under him. 

Well. Surely that’s normal.

~

Zayn

Harry might no longer come home with Zayn anymore but he finds that he’s never too far. He comes along to the library after figuring out the lease for the new gallery, starting from sketch again with an amount of bravery and optimism Zayn admires. He looks hopeful about where it’s all going, trying not to let doubt cloud his mind too much, and it fills Zayn’s heart, his whole ribcage, to see it again. 

He does the usual tricks, following Zayn around the place and handing him book after book. He tries to ride on the book trolley even after it went flying, unbalanced, that one time. He tries to fit under the counter when he gets tired and doesn’t want to play pretend librarian anymore, except this time he’s not getting handsy all over Zayn as he’s attempting to loan someone a book. 

Zayn likes loaning people books. He likes seeing what they’ve picked up to read and why that might be. He likes it when they choose to get it scanned by him instead of the machines because they don’t understand how to use them. He smiles at the last girl and hands her the slip of paper.

“I’ve met someone,” Harry says suddenly. He crawls out from underneath the counter, holding onto Zayn as he stands up. He hops up onto the counter and folds his hands between his thighs.

Zayn finishes returning the three books he has left in his pile. When he finally looks up, he manages an encouraging sort of smile.

“His name is Niall,” Harry says, quietening down. He’s been barking laughs, clapping his hand over his mouth when people shoot him dirty looks, left right and centre all day. 

Zayn tries to get the words out, I’m happy for you, but they get stuck in his throat. He doesn’t know what else to say. “What’s he like, then?” Zayn manages, genuine curiosity winning over everything else he’s feeling.

“Like sunshine,” Harry says calmly, swinging his feet. He looks up from where he’s been staring at the ground, his eyes bright.

“Aw, look at you,” Zayn jokes. It’s surprisingly not that hard. Harry flushes but grins, trying to hide it. Zayn laughs, fond, and because Harry can be serious and grave and say things like like sunshine without sounding like a total d-bag.

Zayn reaches forward to hug him and Harry melts into it, Zayn can tell he’s relieved. 

He doesn’t see Liam coming up towards them, he doesn’t see much of anything at that moment, until he’s right there. Honestly, he’s glad to see him. He doesn’t want to test how much longer he’ll be okay for, he’s pretty proud of himself so far.

Zayn doesn’t know what he’s thinking when he invites him out for a drink. It feels weird making new friends at this stage of his life, he was obsessed with that one Drake song for a while after all, but he wants to go out and get miserably drunk. He doesn’t think it through, he just knows he doesn’t want to be alone. He doesn’t want to ask Mirjana or any of his friends, they’ll make a big deal out of it, poor Zayn and his poor broken heart. He just wants to go for a drink.

Liam smiles at him and takes him up on it in an instant. Zayn’s surprised first and foremost, and then he’s completely disarmed by the softness of his smile and has to hurriedly rush around to finish his shift. 

It’s surprisingly not awkward. When he was younger, Zayn had a lot of trouble trying to talk to people who were outside of his family. It’s one of the reasons he’s so close with them now, his cousins and extended family. It’s improved a lot as he’s gotten older but to feel that instant connection with someone is still pretty cool. Liam laughs hard, resting his forehead against Zayn’s arm as his whole body wracks with giggles and Zayn starts to laugh along too. He doesn’t know why. He hasn’t laughed so hard in a while though, the pain radiating in his belly feels good. 

He wants to keep this good feeling going. Liam doesn’t make him feel like shit, he’s getting quite fond of the guy. He doesn’t pity him like everyone who saw him go through the breakup does. He just makes him laugh and it makes him feel thawed, a little bit less frozen in pain and terror. 

“Hand me your phone,” Zayn says and Liam does so immediately with no hesitation whatsoever. He leans over curiously to see what Zayn’s doing. Zayn unlocks it easily because ether’s no passcode, honestly, and types his number in. “Here,” he says, feeling silly.

“Sweet,” Liam says and puts his phone back into his pocket, as if it was just that easy. “I’ll text you. We should hang out again.”

“Yeah, bro, definitely,” Zayn says, throwing his jacket back on as they’re leaving. 

Liam hugs him outside the pub. He smells a day worn in and homey, incredible warm against Zayn’s body. His arms are solid and Zayn finds himself tucked in, warm, for a brief moment.

It’s chillier than normal on the way home, even if Zayn has a jacket and alcohol still strumming through his veins. 

He gets home and stumbles up the stairs to his room. He doesn’t even bother with taking his boots off before he’s falling into his big, cold, empty bed and his eyes slip shut. He wakes up in the middle of the night to Mirjana unlacing his boots and dunking them into the corner with the rest of his shit.

“You reek,” she tells him and Zayn looks at her blearily, annoyed.

“I wasn’t checking up on you!” she says defensively, pushing Zayn so he’ll shimmy up the bed. His face meets the pillow and he makes a sound of pleasure. She pulls the blanket up around the both of them. “I spilt orange juice all over my bed, shithead. I need to crash here for the night.”

Zayn makes a vague noise that could be taken as assent and falls asleep again. He wakes up with a pounding headache, his mouth dry and his throat sore. He’s hanging off the bed. Mirjana, on the other hand, is sprawled out on the bed, taking up most of the space and snoring in delight.

“Ugh,” Zayn says, letting himself down to the ground as gently as possible. He pulls and pulls until the blanket slips free from underneath Mirjana’s left leg. He wraps it around himself. He feels like a warm, safe, little burrito. He laughs quietly to himself - he might still be drunk. Well, if Mirjana’s going to insist on taking all of the bed, he’s going to insist on being warm.

~

Liam

“Seriously, what is with you and that Zayn guy?” Louis asks, his mouth full of hot chips.

He swallows hard and licks all of his fingers. He wipes it on the t-shirt he’s wearing - it’s actually Liam’s shirt and Liam knows he’s going to forget which shirt it was and end up wearing it out on a date or something. It’s happened before.

“You talk about him more than you talk about Mina. Remember Mina? The pretty adorable girl you’ve started dating?” Louis asks, going in for some more chips. 

Liam stops smiling down at his phone. Zayn set him a instagram picture of a little dog with a backpack, first day of school aha :) x. He kills him. 

“She is pretty adorable,” Liam says, leaning back on his elbows and staring up at the sky. She fits right under his arm and has to tilt her head up to talk to him. It presents him with the perfect opportunity to kiss her button nose sometimes. “Mina’s great.”

Liam and Louis have a rare break together. They should really be using it to do something more productive than lying around in the sun but it’s such a nice day out. They’re just sitting on the lawn, sharing some hot chips and trying to get the most they can out of the weather before it inevitably turns foul - probably before the day’s even over.

“I know! Why aren’t you going on about how sweet her earlobes are like usual or whatever the fuck else you usually drone on about," Louis says. 

Louis and Mina had met and it was a pretty big deal to Liam. Louis is his best friend, it’s only natural he wants Louis to like Mina. And he did! Hurrah! They got along just fine! Mina’s pretty goddamn likeable though, Liam can’t have imagined it going wrong (except in all the ways he could).

She stayed over the other night for the first time. She cooked breakfast for everyone in the morning, looking super adorable in his joggers (rolled up about fifty times around her waist), Niall was over the moon about it. He asked why Eleanor, as Louis’ girlfriend, never cooked for them and she tried to throw a spatula in her face. Niall only laughed, even if he got egg yolk in his eye and it was all gross and bloodshot, and walked over to her, trying to kiss her face and saying he was only joking. Eleanor can’t stay mad at Niall at the best of times.

“You’ve been talking about Zayn for the past half hour,” Louis says impatiently, tugging on Liam’s ear.

“We’re friends,” Liam says it’s like the most obvious thing in the world. “I made a new friend.” 

He lies down flat on his back, his head propped up on his expensive textbooks. He closes his eyes, smiling.

“Congratu-fucking-lations, buddy,” Louis says with a loud snort.

Liam opens one eye, squinting up at his profile. The corner of his mouth starts to quirk up into a proper grin. “Are you jealous?” he teases, poking Louis in the side.

No,” Louis says, as if Liam’s being ridiculous. He determinedly squirms away from Liam though, tapping away at his phone as if it’s the most important thing in the world. After a beat, he petulantly says, “why don’t you marry him if you love him so much.”

“Well, for one, he’s ridiculously out of my league,” Liam says very seriously to see Louis puff up in outrage.

Louis stops trying to act nonchalant immediately. He looks up from his phone in a huff and glares at Liam. “We’re fake marrieds! You can’t fake marry Zayn! You’ve never even said I’m out of your league.”

Liam starts to laugh because he knows Louis’ only half joking. Less than half probably. He’s so funny, Liam loves him.

Bro,” Louis says, squeezing as much offence taken as he can manage into those three letters. He shakes his head dramatically and grabs the chips and stomps off to sit somewhere else. 

“I paid for those,” Liam says in a mild manner after him.

Liam didn’t notice himself talking about Zayn at all. What would he have been saying anyway? That he’s ridiculously silly and funny and nice to all animals? It’s not like he wants to tell the world every little thing they do. He likes that they have their own thing that nobody else is a part of, not even Louis. 

He thinks Zayn’s one of those people, the ones you find by some brilliant stroke of luck, the ones you were meant to have in your life one way or the other. 

~

“Hiya,” Zayn says, kicking softly at Liam’s foot. It’s more like a nudge, to be honest. 

Liam looks up from the comic book he’s flipping through and smiles up at him, squinting a bit because the light’s just behind Zayn’s head. He smiles back.

“What’s up?” Liam says, closing the comic book and laying it over his thigh where his legs are outstretched in front of him.

Zayn shrugs, crouching down between his legs so he’s face to face with Liam. “What are you doing here?” he asks, reaching for the comic book. His eyes trail over the cover and then he looks back up at Liam, an impressed grin on his face.

“Class let out early, thought I’d catch up on my comics,” Liam says honestly. “You weren’t at the counter.”

He didn’t bother sitting at the tables, he just kept walking until he found a deserted aisle and sat down, leaning against the books. He’s not here to study, he doesn’t want to be a dick by taking up a table.

Liam lifts his backpack from besides him and nestles it between his legs instead. Zayn gets the hint and moves to sit down next to him, leaning against the spines of countless books as well. It hasn’t been comfortable but Zayn doesn’t seem to mind.

“I had admin stuff to do,” Zayn says flippantly, waving his hand like it’s not important. It does sound shit boring. He hands the comic book back to Liam and says, “I like that one.”

“Yeah?” Liam asks, grinning. He turns his head to watch Zayn tilt his head back against the books, baring the column of his throat.

“I love comics. Superheroes and that. I didn’t think you read them, I just thought you liked the t shirts,” Zayn says. “Or, y’know, the type to just watch the movies.” 

“Louis loves the movies, he doesn’t read any of the comic books,” Liam says, nodding. He finds himself frowning as he says, “I don’t think it makes him any less of a fan though? Just a different kind.”

Zayn lifts his head, tilting it to look at Liam for a moment. He finally nods like he agrees. “You’re right,” he says, nudging Lam’s knee with his own. 

“I didn’t know you liked comics. I thought you’d be, like, all into hard books and stuff,” Liam says, staring at Zayn’s glasses. He guesses it’s kind of a stupid thing to assume. 

“I do love reading,” Zayn says with a grin. “But I don’t know about all that hard books stuff. There’s the classics, I guess, but my favourites are still the Harry Potter books so.”

“Emma Watson’s well fit,” Liam says and it makes Zayn laughs. Liam grins in triumph.

“I read a lot in general when I was a kid. Comic books were always a pretty good distraction,” Zayn says and pulls up the sleeve of the plaid shirt to show Liam his forearm. 

Sick,” Liam says, looking in awe at the tattoos Zayn’s revealing to him.

Liam’s got eyes, obviously, he’s aware that Zayn does have a lot of visible tattoos but he’s never noticed them individually. They’re out in the open all the time but this time it feels like he’s been invited to take a closer look. Liam traces the outline of the ZAP! tattoo on his forearm. It feels just like skin, of course, warm and alive underneath his fingertips but for some reason Liam always thinks it won’t.

“Thanks,” Zayn says, smiling like he’s pleased. He keeps his sleeve rolled up.

“Did it hurt?” Liam asks curiously. He doesn’t have any tattoos currently but he wouldn’t be against getting one. He just hasn’t thought of a really good one and he doesn’t want to get something half arsed. His mum will also kill him.

“Not much, not that one anyway,” Zayn says with a shrug, his shoulders bumping into Liam’s.

He tugs at the collar of the flimsy henley he’s wearing underneath and tilts his head back again, showing Liam the one on his collar bone. “This one. This one was a bitch.”

Liam curls towards him, his hand hovering in-between them for a moment before his thumb meets the soft skin at his collarbone. He smoothes his thumb over the tattoo and a shiver runs through Zayn’s body. Liam can feel it where they’re pressed up against each other.

“What’s it say?” Liam asks, leaning back into his own space. He unzips his hoodie and starts to tug it off, elbows bumping into Zayn before he can get it rolled off his arms.

He watches Zayn swallow hard, licking his lips like his mouth has gone dry. “Be true to who you are,” Zayn says, grinning in a kind of self deprecating way. 

“You could actually be a superhero,” Liam says and Zayn laughs, lounging back against the bookshelves again. He tilts his head back against the books and his laughter turns hollow.

“Here,” Liam says, handing Zayn his hoodie. It’s just a dark blue one, soft and warm but it should be warm nonetheless. Zayn’s not wearing a lot of layers today and he knows it gets really cold in the library, especially if he’s going to be here all day.

“What’s this for?” Zayn asks in confusion, holding the bundle in his hands like he doesn’t know what to do with it.

“To keep you warm,” Liam says as if it’s a bit obvious. That’s exactly what a hoodie is for. He motions for Zayn to put it on, it’s probably still warm from Liam’s body heat.

Zayn just stares at him for a second and then down at the hoodie in his hands. He shakes his head in disbelief, the corner of his mouth tugging up into a lopsided side. He pulls it on top of his plaid shirt without argument. “What about you?” he asks.

“I’m always freakishly burning hot, feel,” Liam says, holding out his bare arm for Zayn to touch.

Zayn curls his hand around his bicep and Liam grins. “See?”

“Yeah,” Zayn says distractedly. He holds on for another moment longer and mutters, “uh-huh.”

Zayn has to get back to work but Liam bums around for a little while longer. He stops reading his comic books and manages to finish all his readings and get started on the assessment on exercise principles across age and performance. He doodles a lot on the margin of his textbook. He doesn’t think he can sell it after this year. He’s spilt vodka over half of it and there’s a bit of Niall’s vomit in one corner. He’s pretty much highlighted the whole book in varying colours anyway. At least he opened his textbooks this year, he really needed to start doing that. He startles embarrassingly when Zayn drops into the seat in front of him. 

“You don’t like The Blisters that much, huh?” Zayn asks.

Liam smiles because he didn’t think Zayn would remember that.

“You should try listening to some of their older stuff,” Zayn says. It’s like he knows exactly what happened. With the bees.

“Yeah, I just went on iTunes and listened to the previews of their newest album,” Liam says honestly. He never got the hang of using torrents, no matter how many times Eleanor explains it to him. Niall mostly downloads things for him.

“You can borrow my favourite album if you want,” Zayn says. He looks like he’s setting himself up for a rejection. Liam’s not sure of what.

“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks!” Liam says.

Liam doesn’t have a CD player but he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want to ruin this. Three full minutes later he’s glad he hasn’t said anything because he realises he very well has a laptop that would be very useful in playing music.

"I live five minutes away, just come over and I'll give it to you,” Zayn says, tapping his nails on the table. He looks back up quickly and says again, "if you want.”

Liam doesn’t want to give him time to reconsider. He gathers his stuff up, stuffing it all into his bag in a rush so his papers get all scrunched up. He doesn’t care though, he manages to zip everything up and stands up. Zayn looks surprised but then a pleased, easy smile spreads across his face, his nose wrinkling. He gets up after him, swinging his satchel across his chest. 

They stop at the store on the corner to buy some milk and the carton bumps into Liam’s leg through the plastic bag as they walk together. Zayn pulls out a packet of cigarette from the pocket of his jeans and shakes one out. He slides it into his mouth, offering one to Liam. Liam shakes his head. He doesn’t smoke unless he’s very drunk - it’s not good for you and all. 

“Are you asthmatic?” Zayn asks, finger stilling on his lighter. He pulls the cigarette out of his mouth again, holding it between his fingers.

“Nope, I don’t mind,” Liam says, waving at his cigarette.

Zayn shoots him another grin from underneath his fringe this time, lowering his head to light his cigarette. He takes a long drag and pockets his lighter again.

“Do you live by yourself?” Liam asks curiously.

Zayn shakes his head. "You'll see.”

They arrive at a fairly large house. Liam follows Zayn up the pathway, looking around the yard. Zayn gets his key out, shooting Liam another quick, wry grin before he unlocks the door. It’s chaos inside.

“Do you all live here?” Liam asks. He thought living with Niall, Louis and Eleanor got crowded. Louis is unnecessarily messy, Niall farts a lot and Eleanor always talks herself out of having to do the dishes.

He can’t imagine living with more than three people. It explains the size of the house, Liam thinks. There’s roughly a mini-mob sitting in the living room but then again they might not all live here. 

“Yep. It’s not that bad, though. I have my own room,” Zayn says, still talking to Liam when he hands over the milk to a girl with huge glasses.

She has her septum pierced and a dimple deep on the right side of her cheek when she smiles. She’s very tall and looks very tired. Zayn tilts his head to the side and she kisses his cheek.

“Well, it’s the attic,” Zayn says. “Well. It’s mostly my own room.”

“Hullo, I’m Mirjana,” she says, shaking Liam’s hand and hurrying off into the kitchen.

“Liam,” he says after her but it gets lost in the roar of outrage from the people sprawled across the couch. They’re all watching Australian rugby.

“She refuses to drink tea without milk and she can’t write her essays without tea,” Zayn says in explanation for his friend’s behaviour. He rolls his eyes after her but he still looks incredibly fond. “She’s my favourite but don’t tell her that.”

Zayn doesn’t bother introducing Liam to the group in the living room. They’re complaining about the beer and how it has nothing on Australia’s Carlton. Liam doesn’t want to get into it either. Zayn leads him up the stairs, sidestepping an abandoned laundry basket like it’s been there long enough for it to become a habit. 

He points his thumb at a door when they get to the first landing. “Christel, she’s like fifty something and come back to finish her degree. Mad respect, she knit me a scarf too,” Zayn says. Liam thinks he could be Christel’s favourite.

“That’s Kez and Jamie’s room, the Aussies. They’ve known each other since they were five, engaged now. Can’t believe they’re getting married next year,” Zayn says, shaking his head.

“I know what that feels like,” Liam says, nodding along. He’s thinking of Louis and Eleanor, of course. 

“You’re thinking of getting hitched already?” Zayn asks, stopping on the steps to raise an eyebrow at Liam.

“Oh, I mean, yeah, I’d love to but I was talking about living with a couple who were born for each other. I’m just - we haven’t really - but I just started dating Mina so,” Liam stops talking. “She’s really nice.”

“I bet,” Zayn says with another amused quirk of his lips. Zayn points at the last room before his and says, “That’s Mir’s.”

Liam follows Zayn into his room and closes the door behind them. It shuts out most of the noise, it’s not a bad deal at all. Except for the fact it’s terribly cramped and there’s barely any room to walk around. It could be due to the fact he has a proper king sized bed right in the middle of the room. Zayn falls into it immediately, on top of the array of freshly laundered clothes he hasn’t got around to folding for a week and a half now.

Liam drops his bag off onto Zayn’s chair, on top of another mound of clothes, and takes his time to look around the place. Every inch of the place is covered, from old movie tickets to shiny posters. There’s ripped up train tickets and newspaper clippings, a random assortment apparently, all over the place. It’s then that he realises that Zayn might not live here by himself. “Mostly my own room.” There’s a pair of pointed boots poking out from underneath the bed, strips of bandanas hung over the bookshelf and a printed Instagram screenshot of a banana. 

“You still live with Harry?” Liam asks, surprised. 

“Uh-huh,” Zayn says, folding his hands behind his head. “We weren’t living together, before, when we were, y’know. He was here all the time anyway, he might as well have. But he lost his accommodation and I said he could just stay with me for a bit until he found a new place.”

“Okay,” Liam says, taking a sit on the bed. There’s no where else to sit.

“He’s never here anymore,” Zayn says, shrugging. “Mostly my own room.” He closes his eyes.

“What’s it like living with so many people?” Liam asks. 

“There’s never a dull moment,” Zayn says, opening one eye to look at Liam. “But I do like my peace and quiet. I work in a library, remember?”

“Yeah,” Liam says with a huff of laughter. 

It’s how they met after all and now he's sitting on Zayn’s bed and watching him catch a five second nap. What’s weird is that it doesn’t feel so weird at all. 

“Oh, right, the album,” Zayn says and clambers out of bed. 

He’s all sleepy, languid, lazy movements. He doesn’t take Liam’s hoodie off as he toes his Vans off and flips them into the corner. He scrambles through a mess of clothes and books in the corner of his room and pulls out a CD in flimsy paper packaging. 

“Cheers,” Liam says, taking it from Zayn. He tucks it into his backpack immediately, trying to keep the mess inside hidden from Zayn. He gives up because he’s seen the state of Zayn’s room and he finds that he doesn’t really care either way.

“You wanna share a j?” Zayn asks suddenly, holding up a spliff in his hand.

Liam lights up, both figuratively and literally.

Zayn opens the only window in his room. It’s one of the old ones and the paint peels as he pushes it out with a grunt. He doesn’t have a screen guard, it’d be impossible to fit through the jutting latch, but he’s not bothered by the possibilities of mosquitos. 

They end up lying on the bed side to side, continuing on their conversation like it never left off.

“What about you, then? You live with Louis and them, right? I remember Haz telling me,” Zayn says. 

“Yeah, it’s just an apartment though. Nowhere near as big as this house,” Liam says. He’s glad he gave Zayn his hoodie because the wind is getting colder and he’s closer to the window.

“What’re they like?” Zayn asks, yawning.

“Well, I met Louis doing freshers week. I thought he didn’t like me at all but then again he hasn’t left my side since so,” Liam says, snorting. “I moved in with him and Eleanor, his girlfriend, in our second year. They’re my best mates. I love living with them - although I know it’s all temporary. They’re gonna get a place together sooner or later, do it all proper like, y’know?”

“Aw, he still loves you best,” Zayn says seriously, patting Liam’s knee.

“Shut up,” Liam says with a laugh, elbowing Zayn. Zayn squirms away and laughs too.

“What’s your other roommate like?” Zayn asks after a beat, Liam thinks he’s doing a great job trying to sound casual.

“Niall? He’s a legend,” Liam says, grinning up at the ceiling. “He’s the best kind of guy. Super kind and generous, I reckon he just makes everyone better, like he gets me to look on the brighter side of things all the time. The kid doesn’t have a spiteful bone in his body.”

“Yeah?” Zayn asks and he sounds hopeful and glad. He sounds sad.

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding in affirmation, like he’s reassuring Zayn. He nudges the back of his hand against Zayn’s and keeps it there, warmed.

“That’s good,” Zayn says.

Liam goes home when Niall texts him to say he forgot his keys and there’s no one home. Zayn’s falling asleep by that time. When Liam leans over to say good bye and thanks for the CD, Zayn pats his cheek and says, “come over any time, bro.”

Liam almost skips all the way home.

~

Zayn

 

After Zayn gave Liam his number, he went home, slept it off and woke up with no recollection of doing such thing. It’s not until Liam helpfully texts him hi zaynnnn its liam ;) that he remembers. Ever since then they’ve been chatting, sending each other stupid photos. Zayn’s favourite one is the one of Liam with a mysterious doughnut jammed to his head. 

Liam texts him in the middle of his class, sup bro! im can’t study zaynnn 

hi leeyummmm  

Zayn texts him back. He’s mocking his inability to ever write Zayn’s name with the right amount of consonants. Just a little bit, very very fondly.

hahah that’s not my name!,

Zayn’s eyes roll up towards the ceiling and he grins into nothing. Jaewon elbows him in the side and says, “Why are you smiling all goofy?” Zayn kicks him.

Zayn doesn’t pay attention for the rest of the hour, he’s too busy carrying on with Liam. He really should be paying attention but he’s too busy trying to goad Liam into getting some work done instead. Neither of them get anywhere. They keep going until Zayn’s afternoon shift starts at the library and finally Liam asks wat r u do inn’ 

Zayn texts back work :) 

can i come ????

Zayn reasons he doesn’t own the library, Liam doesn’t need his permission to come to the library. It would be more helpful for Liam if he came to the library to study. But. It’s entirely up to him. 

Liam comes over with his backpack and a water bottle, cheeks healthily flushed. 

Zayn takes him around the library as if he was giving one of the first year groups a tour. He feels a little bit ridiculous, a little bit proud of his library, and a little bit like he doesn’t care at all what he looks like when he’s around Liam. He takes the time to explain how the Dewey decimal system works, he doesn’t point out he’s pretty sure everyone went through this when they were in Year 2. Zayn shows him the aisle that’s almost always deserted, full of books that haven’t been opened in a long while, and how he likes to lie flat on the ground there sometimes when he needs a moment or two to get away from everything and find some peace. 

Then it kind of becomes a thing. Not a particular thing, Zayn reasons in his head, nothing to make a big deal out of - it’s just thing. The library is a place Liam is entitled to come around to whenever he wants. If sometimes Zayn happens to be working and they hang out while he goes through the motions, it just happens.

Zayn forgot what it was like to have a new friend. He doesn’t have a huge group of friends, he’d rather stick to the ones he really cares about. It’s fun, hanging out with Liam. They do a lot of stupid things together.

Once Zayn receives a bouquet of roses out of the blue during one of his shifts. He finds a cup in the staffroom and fills it up with water, dunks the stem in and hopes they won’t die. He puts it on the counter because it makes the shy first year who gave it to him smile like he’s done something worthwhile. They blush when he smiles back, Zayn thinks it might be his glasses that hits the hearts of all the shy, quiet ones who come through the library for some peace and quiet. 

He gives one of the roses to Liam for lack of finding them useful. Liam thinks it’s the greatest thing ever and wears it through the loop of his backpack until it withers away and dies. 

The thing is, Zayn has gotten very fond of Liam in a very short amount of time. It’s not unheard of but it’s rare and Zayn finds himself looking forward to the next time they’re going to hang out. He loves that he’s so kind, showing kindness without any sense of pity. He does stupid, simple things like give Zayn his hoodie, show genuine awe at his tattoos - it’s almost like seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes.

Liam was cautious when he first touched him, intimidated almost, like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to cross that boundary in their friendship yet. That disappeared fairly quickly because Zayn doesn’t like seeing him so unsure. It’s easier for Zayn to initiate affection, to nudge his cheek with the back of his hand when he’s too sweet for his own good or to guide him around with a careful hand at his waist when he’s getting in the way of Zayn’s meticulous shelving. It’s natural and easy, Zayn’s never been withdrawn with physical affection before and Liam has him pouring it out freely. Soon enough, Liam follows in his wake.

He doesn’t understand how his touches turn out to be so much more gentle when its Liam. It’s not like they don’t roughhouse, especially when Liam tells him he used to box a lot too and they get excited over another thing they have in common. Zayn tells Liam about his mates back home, Danny and his competitions and Liam’s eyes light up eagerly. It’s when Zayn’s not thinking about it that he goes soft, careful. It’s not like Liam’s made out of glass, he’s a big guy, all strong arms and core strength - he goes to the gym almost every day for shit’s sakes - but Zayn just wants to. It’s almost like he’s reassuring him, like he still maybe needs it.

It was easy for Zayn to offer him a joint, the ultimate handshake of friendship in his opinion. At the time, he didn’t have any ulterior motives but once they were settled on his bed, their sides warm and touching, he couldn’t help himself. He asked about Niall, the boy who had Harry’s heart flipped upside down, and consciously willed his heartbeat to drop back to a steady thrum again. It felt like Liam was reassuring him too, maybe it isn’t just a one way street.

Zayn watched Liam lick his lips as they talked, mouths dry and cotton-y but too comfortable and warm to try and move. Objectively, Zayn thinks, Liam is really fit. He has the whole plump, pink bottom lip thing going on and if Zayn has ever had a weakness, it’s a nice mouth. It’s not just his body, the muscle definition that Zayn knows he’s proud of, but the stupid things like what his face does when he gets really excited and smiles really hard. It makes Zayn happy.

Liam looks back at him curiously and Zayn realises he’s been staring at him for a bit. He doesn’t blush but lowers his gaze, smiling at nothing.

~

Zayn has his good days. Somedays aren’t so good. There’s an itch under his skin that just won’t disappear. Zayn optimistically thinks one more cigarette might do it and that’s how he always ends up chain smoking out of his window, shivering underneath layers of clothing as the cold wind blows in. 

He misses Harry so much sometimes. He misses coming home to his big goofy smile and the way his cold hands spanned across his back and he misses someone who loved him even when Zayn couldn’t quite drag himself up to do the same. He scrunches up his face, feeling sorry for himself and all too much pathetic about it. He stubs out his latest cigarette and paces his room instead.

He just needs someone.

He balls his hands up in his shirt in frustration. It occurs to him that he can go out. It’s a Thursday night but most of the students’ start their weekend on a Thursday and end it on a Monday anyway. He can definitely go down to a bar, not his favourite one, not the one he took Liam to because he has a strictly no pulling policy there, but any one, really. It isn’t anything he hasn’t done before.

He picks up his phone from the drawer instead. There’s a text from Liam about the ants invasion situation at his flat. Zayn flips back to his contacts and scrolls through it. His thumb hovers over the call button for a moment. He bites at his bottom lip, hesitation - he knows it’s such a bad idea. There’s no way this will end well. It doesn’t stop him, he ends up calling him anyway. 

Zayn takes a bus to his apartment, trying to decide last moment if he’s going to go through with it or just jump off the bus at a random stop. He could go back home. He could spend time with his friends instead, get black out drunk or just watch a movie and surround himself with people who like him enough to have stayed. He doesn’t get off the bus, his fingers twitching impatiently for another cigarette.

It’s just so easy. It’s easy with him, Zayn can do this, there’s no reason for it to get complicated. Except, Zayn is certain that’s all this will accomplish. 

He gets to his apartment, climbs the stairs and finally stands at the door. He stares at the peeling paint for a moment, taking in the one last chance he has to turn away before he fucks up his life monumentally. He finally knocks on the door, shoving his hands deep into the pocket of his denim jacket as he waits. There’s a lull and then the door opens cautiously. Zayn looks behind him and into the apartment, there’s no one else there.

Of course there isn’t, Mattie lives alone.

“Hey, bro,” Zayn says, not even bothering to pull his hand out of his pocket, raising his elbow in a half hearted gesture of a greeting.

“Zayn,” Mattie says, looking like he’s been waiting for this day to come. He looks all hopeful and smug at the same time. Zayn wants to kiss that look off his face right now.

“You gonna let me in?” Zayn asks, looking up and down the hallway. He knows for a fact Mattie wouldn’t appreciate it if Zayn did snog that look off his face in the hallway where his neighbours might be able to see.

Mattie stands aside instead of answering. He makes sure to look down the hallway to see if anyone saw before he closes the door behind him. He kisses Zayn first, before he can even get his hands out of his pocket or open his mouth to explain why he was here.

They don’t even make it to the bedroom. Zayn blows him on his couch, falling to his knees between his widespread thighs. Mattie keeps his hands in his hair, swearing with his eyes screwed shut. He gets Zayn off afterwards with a sloppy hand job, mouthing at his neck because he doesn’t like to taste his own come in Zayn’s mouth. It’s not until Zayn gets off and he blinks his eyes open that he realises Mattie’s slumped all over him. He pushes at his shoulder until he gets off. It’s only then he realises he’s left a massive lovebite at the side of his neck and it’s already bruising dark.

“Sorry,” Mattie says, he doesn’t look like he’s sorry at all. 

Zayn feigns disinterest, shrugging like it doesn’t matter. He zips up the fly of his jeans and excuses himself to go use the bathroom. He rinses out his mouth, splashes some more water on his face and tilts his head to the side to examine the lovebite better. It’s going to be so fucking huge and obvious. Zayn shakes his head at his reflection. There’s a voice at the back of his head that sounds suspiciously like Mirjana going I thought you were done with this.

“Fucking idiot,” Zayn says, wincing when he presses his thumb firmly against it. 

When he gets out of the bathroom, wiping the last remnants of water on his jeans, Mattie’s turned all the lights on again. Dead romantic, he is. 

“You want something to eat?” he asks uncharacteristically nice. But then again, Zayn doesn’t know him that well. They don’t talk all that much when they’re together, evidently. Mattie gesture at his little kitchen and says, “I can heat something up.”

“Nah, I’m good,” Zayn says even though he is actually quite hungry. He wants to get out of here as soon as possible. He grabs his jacket off from the ground and pulls it on, stuffing his hands into the pockets. He’s been here before, been in the bedroom too, it’s nothing new.

“Sorry about that,” Mattie says sheepishly, gesturing at Zayn’s neck.

He pushes his dark hair out of his face, blue eyes flashing. He’s really attractive, even more so with the flush still running down his bare chest. Shame about the everything else.

“No, you’re not,” Zayn says but he’s not looking to start a fight, not tonight. “I’m gonna head off. I’ll see you around, bro.”

He leaves with another nod in his direction and an almost smile. Mattie looks like he wants to say something else but he doesn’t, he just stands there behind his kitchen counter and watches Zayn leave. 

Zayn doesn’t know if he feels any better but it’s better than nothing.

Chapter Text

Zayn

“Mirjana, your concealer’s too fucking dark for me,” Zayn shouts out from the bathroom. He dabs it on the lovebite, focusing on covering it up. He’s worked with special effects make up artists before, he has no idea how they covered up his tattoos when he can’t cover up one fucking lovebite.

“I’m soooooo fucking sorry my fuck-expensive concealer is too dark for you, princess,” Mirjana shouts back from her bedroom. Zayn knows for a fact that half of her is currently underneath the bed, hastily fishing around for her favourite pair of shoes. She’s running late and as usual when one’s running late, not in the best mood.

“I’m just saying,” Zayn says mildly, trying to blend it in.

He’s just made it look worse than before. It looks even more bruised. Zayn knows he should’ve bought that black turtleneck when it was on sale.

“Maybe if you weren’t such a slag you wouldn’t need to borrow a concealer that cost eighteen pounds in the wrong undertone and shade for you,” Mirjana says, finally appearing back into the bathroom.

She looks frazzled, her hair’s gone all fizzy and her mascara’s smudged. She’s pulling on her tights but she’s put her shoes on first and it’s not working out.

I’m just saying,” Mirjana says, pulling a face. She sits down on the edge of the bathtub, struggling to get her boots off now that they’re all tangled up with her tights. “FUCK!”

“Jesus,” Zayn says, both at the cost of a tiny pot of concealer and Mirjana herself.

He has no idea what she’s doing spending eighteen pounds on a bloody concealer when they’re eating creative variances of ramen every third day. He kneels before her though, because he is a good friend, and helps her pull her tights off her shoes. He unlaces her boots again and pulls them off, handing her the tights.

She blows out a deep sigh. “Sorry. Thank you, you’re a babe,” she says, taking one more deep breath. She goes back to scrambling for her things in a second. “You still haven’t told me what happened. Or where you got that subtle monster of a hickey from.”

“Not much to say,” Zayn says with a shrug, fixing his hair in the bathroom mirror. 

“That means you’re ashamed and that means it was definitely Mat- “

“Aren’t you going to miss your bus? Dream job interview?” Zayn asks her, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Motherfucking shit wanking bollocks,” she says, grabbing her bag. She swings it over one shoulder and gives Zayn a quick kiss on the cheeks. “We’re talking about this when I get home. Try Perrie’s concealer, she left it here.”

“She’s like pink,” Zayn points out but Mirjana’s already turned away. “Don’t forget your portfolio!” Zayn calls out after her. 

She rushes back up the stairs for it and is gone again. She must bump into Jamie on the stairs, probably trodding on his bare feet with her Docs because he shouts, “Goddamit, Mir!”

Zayn laughs to himself. He gives up on the concealer, and grabs his jacket from the bannister on the way down. When he gets downstairs to head out, Jamie’s sitting on the couch with his feet in Kerryn’s lap. She’s poking at it mercilessly and laughing as he screws up his face.

“Aw, are you gonna cry?” she asks, her black hair swinging in her face.

“Cheers, love,” he says, shooting her the bird. “In sickness and in health, it’s supposed to be.”

“Not married yet, love,” she says but leans over to kiss him all the same, stretching out alongside him on the couch. 

Zayn sneaks out unseen, tiptoeing behind the couch. He doesn’t want to be interrogated by the love team about the "new man in his life". He slams the door sure when he’s sure in the clear. He’s going to meet Liam and his girlfriend for the first time today and he doesn’t want to be late. Liam was really keen on Zayn meeting her. Zayn can tell by the way he speaks about her that he absolutely adores her. He’s not going to say no to that face.

“Hey man,” Liam says, giving Zayn a hug. 

“Where’s the lucky lady?” Zayn teases, rubbing at his arms when Liam pulls away. It’s cold.

“Her class is running a bit late,” Liam says, sitting back down on the bench. It’s circular, goes all the way around, framing a tree in the middle of the campus. It’s a nice meeting spot. “Said she’d be about ten minutes.”

“Cool,” Zayn says, taking a seat next to him. He’s wearing so many layers he can barely bend his arms. 

“Whoa,” Liam says, taking a closer look at Zayn for the first time.

Zayn doesn’t know if he has a Shagged Mattie Again Fucking Oops written all over him but it would explain how everyone seems to just know. Zayn burrows himself deeper into his jacket, willing the collars to pop themselves up since he can’t do it without drawing even more attention to his neck. Liam pulls down one side of the collar and leans in closer. 

“What happened? It looks like a pretty serious bruise,” Liam says. Thankfully he doesn’t touch the skin, it would’ve rubbed all the make up off.

Zayn contemplates just running with it, saying he got mugged and somebody punched him with two knuckles right in the neck. Or that he ran into a pole with his neck bared. A tiny bird could’ve flown into his neck and breakneck speed. When he chances a glance up at Liam’s face, it’s clouded over with worry. Zayn sighs.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Zayn says, nudging Liam’s shoulder with his own. “I just tried to cover it up with Mirjana’s concealer.”

“Cover what up - oh,” Liam says, realisation dawning on him. He pulls down on the collar of his jacket once more and Zayn tilts his head to give him a better view this time. It’s quite embarrassing but Zayn finds he doesn’t really do embarrassed around Liam. There’s no judgement. “That’s a pretty epic lovebite.”

Zayn nods, willing Liam’s girlfriend to show up already so they don’t have to talk about Zayn’s terrible life choices. He scans the thinning crowd. He doesn’t really need to look for her at all because as soon as Liam sees her he’s out of his seat to meet her halfway. He folds her into a hug, different from the way he’d hugged Zayn, and holds her for a moment. He rubs his hand up and down her back in an attempt to warm her up and she laughs and hides into his unbuttoned jacket. 

Zayn feels a lump forming in his throat, the kind that sticks around whenever he sees a happy couple. He swallows, trying to force it down and makes his own way over. He dodges the swarm of students rushing to their next class and introduces himself. He produces a bright smile and extends a hand towards her. 

~

Liam

Liam’s very excited for Zayn to meet Mina. He adores the both of them and he’s hoping that they’ll adore each other too. He doesn’t see why they wouldn’t, they’re both immensely important to him. Zayn’s one of Liam’s best friends, he wants him to like her. It’s not like how it was with Louis though, there’s no pressure for approval, there’s never any pressure with Zayn. He makes him feel at ease in the best possible way, when someone likes you just for who you are and you can just let go and you never have to be afraid of what they’re going to think of you.

Mina’s so sweet and Zayn falls to her charms immediately. When she has to go off to her next class, she hugs Zayn goodbye and gives him tips on how to blend out the concealer so it doesn’t look so horrid. Liam smiles happily at the both of them and kisses her goodbye as well. 

“She’s very nice,” Zayn says softly, waving as she disappears into the crowd of students.

“Yeah, she’s the best. I think my mum would love her,” Liam says, smiling fondly at Zayn. 

Zayn looks away from Mina and back to Liam, his smile falters. He reaches out, touches Liam’s elbow with the palm of his hand. He pats his arm and then promptly drops his hand. Liam feels disarmed by the look on Zayn’s face. 

“I’m sure she would,” he says instead. “You want to come to the editing room with me? I just have to pick up some stuff to take home. I’ll be five minutes, tops.”

“Yeah, ‘course. I’ve never been to that part of the campus,” Liam says, falling into step with Zayn. He doesn’t have any classes today, he just came to meet up with Mina for the one hour break she had. 

“It’s my favourite worst nightmare,” Zayn says and leads him down there.

Liam looks around when they enter the room. It’s just like any other room but with a bunch of screens and technology stuff that Liam’s sure will break if he so much as sneezes.

“Hey, Jae,” Zayn says, swinging his bag over his shoulder, making sure to hit Jaewon in the head with it as he sets it down on the ground.

“Fuck off, bae,” Jaewon snaps back, righting his headphones again and focusing back on the screen. He’s hunched over, he looks stressed and miserable, surrounded by empty coffee cups and biscuit tins. 

“Hello,” Liam says inanely. 

Jaewon waves his hand impatiently, not turning around. Zayn smiles at the back of his head. 

“Sometimes I can’t wait to graduate and then other times I miss that this is the last time we’re going to be going batshit insane like this before deadlines,” Zayn says. He’s brought another packet of biscuits and he sets it down in front of Jaewon and jumps back before he bitches him out again for interrupting him. Jaewon rips into his biscuits and doesn’t say another word. 

“I know what you mean,” Liam says, getting started on the other packet of biscuits Zayn hands him. 

“You want to chill here for a bit? I’ll be right back. You can look at whatever you want on the computer in my account, it’s mostly unfinished shit though,” Zayn says, logging in. With that, he turns away and disappears into corridor. 

Liam takes a seat at the computer Zayn was gesturing at. His log in picture is Jay Z but the background of his desktop is a family picture. Liam thinks he can make out his sisters from the large group, the ones that look the most like Zayn. He clicks around aimlessly, playing a loud audio clip of what seems to be traffic. He jumps and turns it off at once, turning around to see if Jaewon has heard but he obviously hasn’t, his headphones on, eyes trained on his own computer screen. Madly clicking away every now and then.

There’s a video that’s titled ‘1st Year Final’. The thumbnail looks like it could be Harry - Liam knows it’s Harry. He checks to see if Jaewon is paying him any attention. He’s not and Liam doesn’t know why his heart rate’s speeding up all of a sudden.

Liam watches the video. It’s achingly intimate. It’s almost like he can see in every frame how deeper Zayn fell in love with Harry. It’s the way he’s filmed the way his lashes sweep across his cheekbone, the green of his eyes, the curve of his lips. He doesn’t hear the words coming out of Harry’s mouth, just imagining Zayn focusing on his slender fingers as Harry rambles on and on, his hands clasping and unclasping like he’s agitated. He’s talking about his work, Liam thinks, watching the dip of his dimple as his eyes flick behind the camera, at Zayn.

It’s the way Harry looks at him, the way his smile spreads slowly across his face, like he’s savouring every moment. It’s beautiful to see it like this, to see Zayn falling in love through the Harry on screen. It’s excruciatingly painful too. 

Liam stops watching the video. Zayn said he could watch anything he wanted on the computer but he feels guilty, like he’s intruded on something he wasn’t supposed to. When Liam turns around, Jaewon’s staring at him. He catches the look on Liam's face and shrugs.

“It’s okay. He had to show it to the whole class. It got picked to play at the Film Soc event - he wanted to share it, that’s why he made it,” Jaewon says. He goes back to his work.

Liam still can’t shake the feeling off. 

“You alright, babe?” Zayn asks when he comes back, gathering up his bag. He stuffs his things into it and swings it across his shoulders again. He grab Jaewon’s head roughly, making him swear and swat at him, and kisses him soundly on the head. He laughs when Jaewon reaches out to punch him, dodging him easily and motions for Liam to get up as well. He follows Zayn out into the corridor, trailing behind him.

“You’re both coming to my birthday thing next week, right?” Jaewon calls out after them. Zayn closes the door behind him without another word.

“What’s Jaewon working on?” Liam says in lieu of finding something to say, falling into step behind him. They walk out into the struggling sunlight and Zayn ducks into his jacket, pulling the beanie out of his back pocket and jamming it on his head. Somehow, it still looks artfully placed on his head by little baby angels. 

“It’s a big surprise, he’s not telling any of us,” Zayn says. “I’m secretly thinking it’s porn. It’s gotta be porn.”

“Can you do that?” Liam asks.

Zayn grins. “We’ll see, won’t we?"

~

Zayn mentioned that the shower head’s broken in the upstairs bathroom one day and Liam immediately offered to fix it. He texts him in advance and takes the bus with his little toolbox.

The front door isn’t locked and he walks straight in, taking his gloves off and shoving them into his pockets. Mattie and Zayn’s coming down the stairs at the same time and Liam just lifts a hand in greeting. The look on both their faces tells him exactly why Mattie’s there.

“I’ll see you,” Zayn says, walking Mattie out the front door. Liam stands awkwardly in the background.

“Yeah,” Mattie says distractedly. He walks down the two steps and starts walking along the foot path.

Zayn turns around to Liam, smiling sheepishly. Zayn doesn’t see Mattie darting back up the stairs quickly. He kisses Zayn on the doorstep, lifts his face towards him with rough fingers and presses their mouths together. “Bye,” he says again, looking embarrassed and disappears. 

“Huh,” Zayn says after a minute. He closes the door after him. 

“Aw,” Liam says.

“Shut up,” Zayn says, elbowing him in the side companionably as they walk back up the stairs. 

It barely takes him thirty minutes but Zayn sits with him the whole time with a plate of cookies. They talk and talk and talk but they don’t talk about Mattie. Liam figures he doesn’t want to share it with Liam and he’s fine with that. He finally turns the water on and water streams out from the shower head like it’s supposed to.

“You’re a fucking genius,” Zayn says, holding out a cookie in his hand. Liam takes it in his mouth. Zayn laughs and hugs him, kissing him on the cheek. 

“It’s not that hard,” Liam says but he’s incredibly pleased to be in the centre of Zayn’s attention like this. 

“Man, I gotta take a shower,” Zayn says, already stripping out of his henley. Liam’s mind briefly flashes back to Mattie walking down the stairs with Zayn, kissing him on the doorstep. 

“Tell me if it starts going wonky, yeah?” Liam says, taking the plate of cookies back to Zayn’s room. It’s not a far walk but he thinks he sees Christel for a moment before she disappears again. He was going to offer her a cookie. 

He goes back to Zayn’s room and sets the plate on his desk. He wishes he had something to cover it up because that’s how their ant problem started in the first place. Niall swears it wasn’t him and Liam believes him because Niall is undeniably tidy. He secretly thinks it might be Louis but they all agreed to let it go in favour of household unity against the ants. It’s been a process but Liam thinks they’re winning the battle.

Liam picks up one of the comic books on Zayn’s table and starts flipping through them. He sits down on the ground, leaning up against the bed. He’s extra careful with Zayn’s stuff, they seem to mean a lot to him. By the time he’s halfway through, Zayn’s running across the hallway and into the room. He’s only got a fluffy, discoloured towel wrapped around his waist. He supposes it was white once upon a time but now it’s got pink streaks all across it. Zayn closes the door behind him.

“Fucking hell, it’s cold,” Zayn says, shivering. 

Liam opens his mouth to tell him to put some clothes on but falters. His hair’s all slicked back from the water and there’s still droplets of water running down across his collarbones. Liam swallows, looking back down at his comic book. There’s another lovebite just underneath his collarbone, harder to make out against his tattoos. 

Zayn starts rummaging around for his clothes. He pulls out a pair of joggers and a thick hoodie. Liam keeps staring at the comic book, his mind buzzing distantly, unable to really take in any of this storyline. When he looks back up, Zayn’s stretching, fully clothed. He can see a bit of his stomach though, where the skin’s paler and almost pink from his scalding hot shower. Liam doesn’t know why his face feels so hot. Maybe he’s reverting back to not being comfortable around boys at all, like when he was younger.

“Aw man, that’s a good one,” Zayn says, padding over sleepily to where Liam’s sitting. He slips down next to him and he smells freshly showered and soft, his clothes straight out of a new bundle of laundry. Liam’s not exactly uncomfortable, that’s not it.

“You should dry your hair, you’re going to catch a cold,” Liam says.

“No, I won’t,” Zayn says petulantly and Liam snorts. 

They sit together like that until Liam finishes the comic. It takes him longer and longer to turn the page. Zayn falls asleep on him and it can’t be comfortable, lying like that on the ground. Liam doesn’t want to wake him, he looks so peaceful but he’s going to have an awful crick in his neck when he wakes up. 

“Wake up buddy,” Liam says gently, jostling his shoulder. 

Zayn murmurs something, probably cussing him out, and lifts his face. He tries to hide against Liam’s neck, nuzzling. Liam doesn’t push him away sharply, even though it’s his first instinct. Instincts be damned, he doesn’t think he’d be able to do that to Zayn, especially when he’s all soft and sleepy. He does push him away though, softly, and motions for him to get into bed.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Zayn says, yawning. He gets up. “I’m not tired.”

“Bollocks,” Liam says with a laugh, pushing him into bed. He can understand why he’s tired, he sees Mattie’s mouth on Zayn’s again. 

“I need to go home,” Liam says, tucking the covers around him. 

“I can’t fall asleep now! It’s too early,” Zayn complains but he’s already closed his eyes. 

Liam grins, shaking his head. Zayn honestly falls asleep anywhere. One time, Liam swears Zayn was sleeping propped up standing against a tree while he was waiting for Liam’s class to finish. 

“You’re going to Jaewon’s party, right?” Liam asks.

“He’ll sabotage my project if I don’t,” Zayn says mournfully. Liam touches his face briefly, just in saying goodbye. 

“I’ll see you then,” Liam says.

~

“Hey, when did you get a diary?” Louis asks, peering over his shoulder. He blows air into Liam’s ear, just to be a dick, and tries to read it over Liam’s shoulder.

“It’s a journal,” Liam says, elbowing him away. He’s busy trying to write down strategies. “I’m going to help Zayn find true love and happiness.”

“Okaaaaaay,” Louis says, giving up and sitting in the seat next to Liam at the kitchen table. He’s made himself a tea and he’s going to drink this tea and look contemplative about Zayn’s love life.

“Why’s that, then?” Louis asks.

“Because he deserves it?” Liam asks, looking up at Louis incredulously like he can’t, for once in his life, make the world make a little more sense to Liam.

“Yeah, sure, but what brought this on?” Louis asks, waving a hand vaguely. He eyes his journal dubiously.

“It’s just, Mattie’s kind of a dick. I think he really likes him but Mattie doesn’t want anything more to do with him,” Liam explains. That's what he's guessing.

“Uh-huh, right, what about Niall’s true love and happiness? Do you have a diary for him?” Louis asks snidely. 

"No, he doesn't need my help," Liam says, jerking his thumb towards the living room where Harry's wrapped himself all around Niall, kissing the milk moustache off him while Niall giggles.

"Maybe I can help him find another guy," Liam says. "How do I woo a boy?" Liam asks Louis. Louis shrugs.

"I used to throw pens at El when we were in Year 8," Louis says helpfully. Liam makes a face at him but he writes it down all the same, just in case it gets desperate. Louis and Eleanor are still together and madly in love. It must hold some power. 

"Why do you have a column about how great Zayn is? Why is his hair on there twice?" Louis demands, pulling the journal away from Liam and skimming over it.

"It's points I should mention while I wingman Zayn," Liam says. He screws up his face, “Mattie’s such a jerk."

"Because he doesn't love Zayn like he deserves?" Louis says with a derisive snort.

Liam makes a non-committed sound. "I can make this work."

"Alright, cupid. Don't do anything crazy," Louis says, slapping him on the back and getting up with his tea to sit in between Niall and Harry.

"That's rich," Liam says to his retreating back but Louis only gives him the two fingered salute before falling on top of the boys. 

~

Liam goes to the party with Niall. They have to catch a bus and then walk a fair bit but Liam doesn’t mind. They bring along a water bottle filled with vodka and Sprite and drink most of it on the bus. Another small bottle of vodka is for Jaewon’s birthday present. By the time they get to the party, they’ve got each other’s arms slung around their shoulders and are grinning in unison at Jaewon. They give him his present and wander in.

Niall finds Harry almost immediately. It’s not long before they’re hanging off each other, getting more and more drunk and hyped up. Liam busies himself with finding a familiar face in the crowd of people. He sees Jade’s wide smile and she waves him over, hugging him immediately. 

Jade and Liam knew each other before Liam started hanging out with Zayn. They were in the same class in their very first year, when Liam had chosen a Linguistics unit for the heck of it. He watched that Star Trek movie a couple too many times and developed a massive crush on Uhura in the red dress. All he remembers is that she did something to do with Linguistics. He barely passed and only because Jade was in the same tutorial group and helped him out a lot.

“You should definitely come with me to the gym sometime,” Liam tells Jade. They’ve been talking for a while, she wants to start going to the gym but doesn’t know where to start. She nods solemnly and flexes her bicep at Liam. He takes a moment to gather her to his chest and give her a hug. He can already tell it’s going to be a lot of fun having Jade as a gym buddy.

Jesy shows up and Jade runs off to say hello. As soon as she turns her back, Liam doesn’t know how it happens but his eyes get drawn to Zayn in the middle of any crowd. Liam thinks Zayn's doing a find job keeping up the facade that Harry and he’s fine, like they can go back to being friends so easily. They have the same group of friends, they go to the same events, it’d be harder to have it any other way. Except, sometimes Zayn stares at Harry for a beat too long and drops his eyes and Liam stares furiously at his eyelashes and feels like he's running out of time to fix this.

He sees Zayn disappear out onto the balcony for a cigarette. Liam’s quite drunk at this point, shots with Andrew who holds his alcohol a lot better than Liam, and he’s feeling protective and full of courage, like he can do something. He stares out through the glass sliding door, trying to put this feeling into action. The line of his shoulders looks so sad. Liam wobbles, staring out after him for a moment. He follows after him onto the balcony where it’s cold. He goes with his instincts and hugs him, pulling him in tight against his chest.

Zayn doesn’t turn around, holding onto Liam’s forearm across his collarbones. He tilts his head back a bit and says, “Liam?” as if he’s double checking.

“Yeah, babe,” Liam asks, leaning forward to smush his heated cheek against Zayn’s. He tightens his grip a little bit. He wants to make him smile again.

“You okay, there?” Zayn asks, rubbing at his arm a bit. Liam hums, nodding into his neck.

He rubs his cheek against Zayn in what he hops is a vaguely comforting gesture. Or at least says I'm Sorry Your Ex-Boyfriend Is Getting On With My Flatmate While You're Still In Love With Him.

~

Zayn

Zayn watches Harry dance with Niall and keeps his distance. He should go say hi but he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t think he can. He drinks a fair bit and talks to everyone else and goes out for a cigarette when it starts to feel like it’s too much. Zayn shuts the glass door behind him because he’s considerate and also because he wants to separate himself from everyone else for a little bit. There’s nobody else on the balcony and he takes a relieved breathe of fresh air. He’s aimlessly looking up at the stars, enjoying his cigarette, when he feels someone hug him from behind.

It’s clear who it is after a moment. He’s so familiar by now, he smells familiar, his body feels feel familiar against him. Zayn nudges his cheek against Liam, rubbing his forearm because it’s cold and Liam didn’t bring a jacket outside. Zayn feels pretty cozy in his leather jacket, he’s layered up pretty well. After a moment, Liam lets go of him and stays by his side, leaning against his side so he can stare up at the stars too. He watches Zayn smoke his cigarette and he doesn’t talk. Zayn can be grateful for that, he thought he wanted to be alone but he likes having him here.

“You want one?” Zayn asks, rummaging around in his pocket for his pack.

“Just a drag,” Liam says, licking his lips. 

Zayn looks up at change in his voice. His hand stills in its search for the packet of cigarettes and he leans forward into Liam’s space instead. He examines him for a moment, the way Liam’s biting on his bottom lip distractedly, the pink in his cheeks.  Zayn can’t help laughing, Liam’s fucked.

“Here, mate,” Zayn says and offers him his cigarette. Liam takes a long drag and keeps it, just like Zayn predicted. Zayn shakes his head, grinning as Liam sits down on the lone chair, looking for all intents and purposes like he’s settling in.

“Zayn, I think -"

“Hang on, sorry,” Zayn says, his phone vibrating in his pocket.

He fishes it out of his back pocket, almost dropping it in hurry. He looks down at the screen and smiles humourlessly. He debates with himself whether he should pick up the phone or not. He looks back at Liam who’s just patiently waiting, like they’ve got all the time in the world. He takes another drag of Zayn’s cigarette and the corners of his mouth tilt up. He shrugs and motions for Zayn to answer.

He answers the call. It’s Mattie. He wants to know if Zayn is “free to hang out”. Zayn can pretty much tell what this hanging out would entail. Like what hanging out turned out to be every other time.

“Sorry about that,” Zayn says, finally hanging up. “Mattie just wanted to know if I had plans tonight.”

Zayn doesn’t know why he’s explaining it. Liam was there the whole time, he heard the conversation. Zayn had said he might come over later. 

“What were you saying?” Zayn asks, tucking his phone back into his pocket. He lights another cigarette and leans against the arm of Liam’s chair. 

Liam opens his mouth and he stays like that for a moment, like he’s forgotten. Zayn nudges his face with his knuckles fondly. “Nothing! You want another beer?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Zayn says. He finishes his cigarette and Liam still doesn’t show any signs of going back inside. He grabs Liam’s arm and hauls him up, tucking him into his side so they can share his body heat. 

“C’mon, it’s fucking freezing, let’s go inside,” Zayn says, pulling him back inside. 

Liam’s agreeable against his side, wrapping an arm around Zayn’s waist. He’s quieter when they go back inside, staying close to Zayn and Zayn just wants to pull him onto the couch and wrap him up in a cuddle until the spins disappear for him. Instead, he leaves the party. Jaewon tries to get him to stay by holding onto his foot, already down on the ground for reasons Zayn doesn’t want to know, and refusing to let go. The prospect of his dick sucked is a lot more inviting than listening to him going on about Mirjana’s hair and how lovely it is. She would never in a million years go there but Zayn’s stopped pointing out, it’s futile. He says goodbye to all of his friends and gives Liam a second hug. He’s being so sweet, but Zayn thinks it might be all the drinks he’s had. He doesn’t mind particularly. 

He leans back from the hug, his hand cupping the back of Liam’s head. He rubs at the hairs, shorter and rougher than the strands at the top of his head, and frowns at the look on Liam’s face. 

“You alright?” he asks, his hand stilling. 

“Yep, everything’s great,” Liam says earnest, grinning quickly. He ducks his head and pulls away. 

Zayn makes a mental note, filing it away for a later point in time, and leaves the party. Liam always prioritises what everyone else wants from him before what he really wants, it kind of hurts Zayn's heart. He thinks of Liam telling him how his mum would love Mina and shakes his head, he wants him to do things without worrying about other people.

He's still thinking about Liam when he arrives at Mattie's flat. He doesn’t notice the candles or the dimmed light. He just goes straight for it, kisses him hard and pushes and pulls the both of them into the bedroom. 

~

Zayn thinks in a distant part of his head that he’s naked. He can tell it’s an unfamiliar bed because the mattress is way too hard and the sheets are too soft. Zayn’s blankets and sheets are soft through wear and tear, these feel luxuriously different. He finally decides opening his eyes might help him come to a conclusion about where he is.

He blinks blearily, lifting his head off the pillow to look around the pace. He rubs at his eyes, trying to get his vision to clear. He doesn’t have his glasses on him. He can still see how absurdly white everything is. There’s a huge sliding glass door on one wall leading to the balcony that’s letting in all this overcast light. It’s glaring, light reflecting off all the white sheets and pillows. Zayn squints through it. He closes his eyes, falling back onto the pillow because he knows where he is - he’s still in Mattie’s flat. Zayn can safely say that this has never happened before. He’s never stayed over for the night, neither of them have. It’s like they have an unspoken arrangement about the boundaries they’re not crossing.

“Fucking shit,” Zayn mutters to himself, rolling over onto his side. He sits up, glaring irritatedly at the room. He has a shitty hangover, nothing he can’t deal with, but he’d much rather be dealing with it at home.

“Morning,” Mattie says, walking into the room. He’s fully dressed and he’s holding two cups carefully in his hands.

“Shit,” Zayn says in lieu of a greeting. He immediately makes a face at himself and says, “I didn’t mean that - well - uh, sorry. Didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“S’okay,” Mattie says, looking at Zayn carefully. He reaches out to hand one of the cups to Zayn.

Zayn blinks in confusion like he’s never seen a cup before. He realises a beat later that Mattie’s made him acoffee and accepts it. Everything feels off, starting from the fact he’d slept over when he hadn’t meant to and the weird way Mattie’s acting. He’s being nice. Zayn is instantly suspicious.

“Cheers,” Zayn says, not being able to meet his eyes for too long. He blows across the top, curling his hands around the mug even though it’s hot enough to hurt a little bit. He still feels groggy and confused, maybe everything will make more sense after coffee. His eyes slip shut again in relief. 

His eyes snap open again and he stares up at Mattie. Maybe this is all a prelude to Mattie kicking him unceremoniously out on his arse. 

“Can you, like, sit down?” Zayn asks, gesturing at the way Mattie’s hovering around him, just standing leaning against the doorway. “Actually, I should probably be getting out of your way.” Zayn puts the coffee down on the bedside table and looks around for his pants.

“Hang on!” Mattie says hurriedly. He takes an abrupt seat next to Zayn. Zayn’s glad he’s put the coffee down or it’d be all over his white sheets by now. “Stay. You could stay for a bit.”

Zayn stops looking for his goddam pants and looks up at Mattie. 

“If you wanted to. You never stay,” Mattie says, taking a sip of his tea to hide his face. 

“I didn’t know I was invited to,” Zayn says, frowning on confusion. He thought they had an unspoken arrangement. This is why they should speak more, probably. 

“I’m just saying I wouldn’t mind…” 

Zayn knows a lot of things about Mattie at this point. Some of them are superficial stuff like the freckles he has across his shoulders and the rough feel of the hair on his legs. There are other things too, he knows what he’s like when he’s being spiteful and childish, he knows how he deals his low blows like a pro. He knows how he tastes after a night of drinking, the feel of his dark hair grasped in between his fingers. He didn’t know he could look so unsure.

Zayn must be staring at him for too long without an answer because he can practically feel Mattie rebuilding his guard against him. Just like when he used to snap at Zayn for the littlest things.

“Well, if you don’tmind,” Zayn teases easily, snorting. It seems to put Mattie into some form of ease again. He leans back against the headboard and Zayn follows suit. He reaches around for his coffee again, still completely naked, and finishes his coffee. 

~

It turns out that there was a reason for all the candles. Zayn only notices them when he’s on his way out, after the conversation he’s just had with Mattie. It brings everything back home.

Mattie said he wanted a relationship with Zayn. He said he wanted to try.

Zayn didn’t end up giving him a direct answer. He couldn’t, it was all a surprise to him. They’ve never exactly been friends, they’d never even gotten on that well before they started fucking around. Mattie was going through his phase of hating Zayn because he wanted to have sex with him, because he didn’t want it to be a boy he was attracted to. Zayn thinks he could relate, back home when he’d get madly jealous of Danny’s girlfriends until everything started to make a little more sense and he got over his stupid crush. It’s kind of in the same vein. 

He didn’t expect, from any of this, for Mattie to want to date him, to come out for him. It’s completely out of the blue, he didn't know Mattie even liked him. Except for all the times they’ve been hooking up, all the sex might have been some kind of indicator.

But that’s exactly what that had been, wasn’t it? Purely physical? 

Zayn couldn’t give him an answer. He didn't say no either. He knows it’s an asshole move to keeping him hanging on, but he doesn’t know what else to do. 

His head’s a complete mess. He wants to go home and desperately sleep in his own bed with his mess of quilts from home and hand-me-down pillows. He wants to talk to someone about it, he wants to talk to Harry. He doesn’t think he can. It feels like they’re not even friends anymore, they’re nothing. He wouldn’t even know how to explain how he’d only started fucking around with Mattie after Harry left because he needed someone, anyone, to try and fill the hollowness Harry carved out inside him. 

Zayn doesn’t want Harry’s last memory of him to be so fucked. 

~

Zayn goes back home for the Christmas break. He always goes back. Any chance he gets to go home and spend time with his family, he’s going to take it. It’s nice to live away from home, to have that kind of freedom, but he feels like he wouldn’t be able to do it if he couldn’t go back home every chance he got. He misses his mum’s cooking and his sisters and the friends he grew up with. He doesn’t see them often, his childhood friends, but every time he does it feels like no time has passed. It feels special because Zayn’s never going to be a child again, to be able to form that kind of instantaneous bond of friendship.

He goes around to Danny and Ant’s place, takes his sisters’ out, and hangs out with his cousin. He lets his mum fuss over him and goes for long walks around his neighbourhood because he’s still not allowed to smoke in the house. 

When he gets back, he barely has time to start and finish his essay before the first semester is over. He hasn’t had time to see anyone since, everyone’s too busy trying to figure out their own life before deadlines at the end of the semester. He’s typing away, sitting upright in bed surrounded by a billion books and sheets of paper, when there’s a knock on his door. Harry enters sheepishly, shuffling into the room as he’s not sure he’s allowed in this space.

“Hey,” Zayn says, surprised. The last person he expected to see was Harry.

“Hi,” Harry says, straightening up. He doesn’t sit down on his bed like he usually would. He doesn’t star fish onto it either, bellyflopping and sending bits of Zayn’s assignment everywhere. He doesn’t ask Zayn about his Christmas break. He doesn’t say anything else at all.

Zayn cautiously puts his laptop to his side, climbs out of his bed and walks over to Harry instead.

“You okay, Haz?” Zayn asks, eyes serious. He reaches up to touch his face, making sure he’s not hurt. It’s all he ever comes to Zayn for anymore, comfort.

“Yeah,” Harry says, his eyes huge and green. He ducks his head so he has to look up at Zayn through his eyelashes instead. 

Zayn hates it. He doesn’t want to see him hunched over like that, hiding all the time, like his heart’s concaving on itself. He doesn’t know what it is - maybe Harry feels sorry for him too. 

“Zayn, I’m going to go,” Harry says. 

“Go where?” Zayn asks, frowning. He knows the answer before he’s finished asking.

“I got a place with Nick,” Harry says, his hands fiddling with something in his hands like he’s nervous.

He’s moving out. It shouldn’t really come as a shock, they haven’t been doing anything close to resembling actually living together in a while now. It does though, Zayn feels a stab of panic. 

He remembers Nick from when they were dating. He irritated Zayn like nothing else, Zayn despised his smug face but he tried so hard for Harry’s sake. He just couldn’t understand him, they were the complete opposites. Where Zayn would seek time alone to recharge, Nick couldn’t seem to be left alone. It used to get to him when they were dating, Harry spending so much time with him, Harry choosing Grimmy and his friends over him. He should know better now but he realises it still does. 

Zayn takes a step back and looks around his bedroom as if he’s seeing it for the first time. He’s surprised. His eyes are searching out for Harry’s things strewn about the place, mingled with all his own shit until they couldn’t tell them apart anymore. He felt like they were always getting in his way, another reminder of Harry. In reality, there’s a lot less of his things left behind. He didn’t notice. Maybe Harry had been taking them back one by one so it would be gradual, wouldn’t hurt as much.

“That’s great,” Zayn says, his heart achey and sore. The back of his throat hurts when he swallows hard, trying to keep his voice level.

“Do you hate me?” Harry asks suddenly.

When Zayn looks back at him in alarm, his face is serious, almost unreadable in a way Zayn has never associated with Harry. He can see he’s worried though, he’s scared. Zayn wants to say yes - he wants him to feel guilty, he wants him to hurt like how he hurt Zayn. He doesn’t.

“I could never hate you, yeah? Never,” Zayn says, closing the gap between them again. 

He reaches for Harry’s face with both hands, cupping his jaw and leans in to kiss his dimple. Every single time he’s done this before, by the time his lips touched Harry’s face he would always be already smiling and his kiss landed on a dimple. If anything else, Zayn’s still glad that holds true.

Harry sighs in relief, his chest ballooning when he inhales, like he can stand with his shoulders straight again. 

“C’mere,” Zayn says, pulls him in close and hugs him hard.

Zayn closes his eyes and hides his face against Harry’s shoulder, focuses on breathing in and out. Zayn thinks he might be shaking a bit, or it could be Harry, he’s not sure which one of them it is. Harry’s arms are tight around his waist and Zayn wildly thinks about the possibilities of turning back time. It’s always moments like this when Zayn wants to make one last desperate stab at making things right. He doesn’t want to let go, he wants to climb into his skin. He loved him so much. He was the first person that he learned to love like this, he didn’t know he was capable of it, not like this. Zayn knows its stupid, he knows he’s not going to do anything at all. He knows better. He’s just terrified, the thought of starting from scratch again. The thought of being with someone else, the possibility of losing someone else like this. 

They stay like that for a while. It feels like Zayn’s been emptied out, pouring everything he has into it, the universe is exploding inside his chest. He doesn’t know if he feels any better but he feels more whole.

Zayn tries to pull away from the hug but Harry doesn’t want to let go just yet, he clings on tighter. “I’m sorry. I could’ve - should’ve done it better, y’know? I didn’t have to hurt you like that.”

Zayn knows exactly what Harry’s talking about. He’s talking about the night they broke up. Zayn can’t speak for a moment, he doesn’t know how to respond, he’s already thinking back to the night. He’s thought about it a lot of times.

They’d gone to one of the parties thrown by one of Harry’s many friend. Zayn didn’t mind hanging out with them initially, they were all very fond of Harry and he thought if they loved Harry, they couldn’t be that bad. Except Harry had ignored him the whole time they were there and Zayn was bitter and angry and drank much more than he could handle. He was so caught up being angry that when Harry did his round at the party and came bounding back to Zayn, all eager smile and hands, Zayn turned moody and sour and turned his back to him. Harry doesn’t take well to being rejected.

It wasn’t even one of their worst fights, in terms of severity. It was the most defeated.

“Because I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone before,” Zayn shouted in the middle of their argument, waking up half the house as Harry slammed the door behind them. Zayn unwound his scarf from around his neck, felt strangled with it.  

“I know!” Harry said, just as loud. He sounded panicked. “It’s all I thought I wanted. It’s why I’m fucking terrified, Zayn.”

Zayn was still amped up, blood pumping through his veins as he yanked the end of his scarf off and threw it on his bed. He stepped closer to Harry, still so angry. He hadn’t expected it at all. “What? Why does that scare you?” he asked, his voice dropping low.

“Because,” Harry finally said, following Zayn’s lead, speaking in barely a whisper. He looks Zayn straight in the eye, his own tearing up, “because I don’t feel the same way.”

Zayn had paused for a moment. He felt like he’d been run over. Or he was stuck in the terrifying ocean with the waves crashing over him, unable to make it back to shore for the life of him. “You - you don’t, but you said,” Zayn trailed off, confused, all the fire disappearing from him. He deflated, just like that, all his energy flatlining as he tried to make sense of what Harry’s telling him. 

“I love you, of course I love you,” Harry said, rushing to get the words out, like he knows he’s done irreparable damage. It was intentional, it had to be. The window of opportunity is shutting right in front of their eyes. “But. I’m so sorry,” he says and the crack of his voice broke Zayn’s heart.

“No, you were honest,” Zayn says and soothes a hand up and down Harry’s back. He wonders if he has a heart to be broken any more. “We had a good time, babe, yeah?” Zayn asks. He tries to keep his voice light but they can both feel it, the end of it all settling into their bones. 

Harry sniffles, his nose probably bright red, and nods against him with a watery laugh. “The best,” he murmurs. 

Harry finally lets go of him. 

He’s gone. 

He leaves his favourite Pink Floyd t shirt, the one that was in his hands, on Zayn’s bed. Zayn holds it in his own hands and sits at the edge of his bed for a long time afterwards. 

He takes a heaving breath, climbing back into his bed properly. He opens up his laptop again, sitting cross-legged. He finishes writing his essay. 

~

Liam

Louis decides to throw a massive end of semester party in their flat and Liam thinks they’re definitely not allowed this amount of people in their flat. Louis put a sign on Niall’s door that said ‘restricted access’ because he doesn’t like it when people move his stuff around and that was his only worry about the party. He doesn’t seem to be having any worries now, he’s tied the sign around his hips so it’s lying over his dick and laughing about it every five to ten minutes. 

Liam doesn’t care if they’re going to get complaints the next day, not when Zayn’s finally back. It felt really shit to say goodbye to him at the start of Christmas break, they’ve just been hanging around with each other so much over the past few months, it felt wrong to be separated. He’s really excited to see him again.

Liam called him while he was away and Zayn always picked up, he always makes time for Liam. Liam wished him an early Merry Christmas, still in bed and yawning. He was wearing his Christmas jumper, the one his mum forces him to wear when he’s home for Christmas that he secretly doesn’t really mind. It makes him feel like he’s spending Christmas with them too. The jumper made Zayn smile like an idiot. 

On FaceTime, Liam is telling Zayn about Louis attempting to jump into the frozen fountain on campus and almost breaking his tailbone when Zayn gets a concentrated look on his face. Liam quietens down as Zayn gets up off his bed, straining to ear something off camera. He sighs and rolls his eyes into the camera. He takes Liam with him down into the kitchen to break up the fight between his sisters.

“C’mon, Saf, it’s not yours. Give it back,” he says sternly, playing the role of the big brother. It’s like he’s seeing a different side of Zayn’s life every day. 

He looks thinner now somehow, or maybe that’s just because he’s shaved his beard and the hollows of his cheeks are more pronounced than ever. His cheeks have a hectic flush on them and his eyes are shining bright without his glasses. Liam’s just really happy to see him. He makes his way across the room straight away to give him a cuddle because it seems like the right thing to do. Liam himself was fresh out of Louis’ hug for doing a bunch of disgusting shots. Louis’ hugs are always so warm and Liam wants to share it with Zayn. Of course Zayn can get his own cuddle of Louis but he doesn’t think of this until he has a hand gently pulling at his leather jacket and he has his arms around him.

“Hiya mate,” Zayn says softly, leaning in close so they can hear each other over the music and the sound of people talking. He nudges their cheeks together and pulls back with a smile.

“How’ve you been?” Liam asks like they haven’t been keeping in contact this whole time.

“It was nice to see the family, reckon I needed that,” Zayn says.

Now that he’s closer, Liam thinks he looks rather tired. But then Zayn smiles at him, like he’s happy to see him too and it shoots right through him, from the tip of his toes to the ends of his hair and he can’t help smiling back at him dopily. It only makes Zayn smile harder, his tongue pressing up against his teeth as he hugs him again.

The rest of the night is pretty much a blur. It’s like time doesn’t slow down until he finally falls asleep, he’s back with all his friends and he’s having fun. When he wakes up, he has a very mild hangover, more like a light headache that can be fixed with a cup of tea. He’s in his own bed and he’s managed to take his jeans off too. He’s impressed. He turns to his side when he realises there’s someone burning hot next to him. He lifts his head to get a better look, lifting back the covers. Mina didn’t want to come so it can’t be her. He’s not scared that it’s a stranger dead in his bed, he didn’t black out, he can remember most of what happened - it’s probably just Louis. 

“Zayn?” he asks, immediately recognising the spread of eyelashes and dark hair. He gets no response, he seems to be knocked out. 

Liam tries not to jostle Zayn any more than he has to but the mattress dips under his weight as Liam tries to roll out of bed. Zayn makes a grumpy noise, scrunching his nose up. He doesn’t bother opening his eyes, his expression smoothes out in a second and he’s sleeping deeply again.

“Sorry,” Liam says, touching his hair in consolation and tiptoeing out of his room.

Liam meets Niall in the kitchen, staring in dismay at the total shitshow they’re going to have to spend all day cleaning up. Niall’s sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the hurricane, casually sipping something that is definitely not tea.

“Best cure for a hangover,” he says around the lip of the beer bottle. He takes a sip and tilts his bottle at Liam. Liam shakes his head. 

“It really isn’t. You’re going to make yourself sick,” Liam tuts, reaching up to get the remaining cups they have to make tea. He’s going to make Niall one whether he likes it or not.

“M’not,” Niall says happily and keeps drinking. He counts how many cups of tea Liam’s making, one for himself, Zayn and Niall. “Oi, did ya pull last night?”

“Nope. I have a girlfriend,” Liam says, his back to Niall as he tries to dunk all three teabags out of the cups at the same time. “Zayn’s passed out in my room,” Liam says as a way of explanation.

“Oh,” Niall says after a pause. He sounds odd when he asks, “Is he alright?”

“Dunno,” Liam says and it’s definitely gone weird between them just now. It’s weird - Liam and Niall don’t do awkward and weird. But Liam and Niall haven’t talked about Harry at all and now hiss ex boyfriend’s sleeping in Liam’s bed. Maybe it should be awkward and weird.

“He’s just been communicating in mono syllabic grunts,” Liam says, putting a cup of tea in front of Niall. 

“Oh-ho,” Louis crows triumphantly, padding into the kitchen in the chicken costume he used to have to wear for a job. He never returned it when he got fired. He scratches at his chin and says, “I bet he has.”

“You’re terrible,” Liam says. He tells Louis there’s enough hot water in the kettle for his cup of tea and disappears back into his bedroom before either of them can say anything else about the situation. 

~

Despite the fact Zayn seemed very much mysterious and almost untouchable to Liam when they first met, intimidating more like, he doesn’t think there’s that much mystery about him. He just doesn’t go around telling everyone he meets his life story. Liam’s realised that he’s quite selective when it comes to that stuff, more reserved about who he wants to reveal himself too. So when he starts talking about his sister to Liam in a quietened voice, Liam stops what he’s doing on his laptop to pay him his full attention.He shuts the laptop, leaning over to put it on the bedside table. 

Zayn still hadn’t left. He drank his tea and then went back to sleep. It didn’t occur to Liam that it would be weird to just leave him there, look at stupid stuff on the internet with Zayn snoozing peacefully by his side. He looks pale, Liam thinks, too tired for it to be normal. 

“I don’t get sick often,” Zayn says tiredly. 

He likes sleeping on his belly, Liam’s also noticed, with his face smushed into the pillow. He’s also a very deep sleeper. Liam fell off the bed a couple of hours ago and Zayn didn’t even stir. Not even when Louis came banging into his room to see if he’s seen his favourite pair of lucky pants before he left the flat for the day with Eleanor. There’s no one else in the flat but Zayn and Liam now, he hasn’t seen Niall since breakfast. The sky’s turning duskier by the minute.

“Once I got really, really sick but I was really quiet like and nobody noticed. I was new at this school I already hated everything and everyone just thought I was a moody little sod,” Zayn says, shifting on the bed, getting his arm underneath the pillow. He’s taken his leather jacket off but he’s still mostly dressed, it might not be the most comfortable way to be.

“Yeah?” Liam asks, looking down at the tuft of thick dark hair poking out of the blankets. Liam’s propped up against the headboard and it’s all he can see of Zayn anymore. He wants to reach out and touch it, it looks all soft. He’s sure it isn’t, he had his hair styled in a quiff the night before and he hasn’t washed it out yet. His hands twitch anyway.

“And Doniyah was trying at this school, y’know, she was trying her best to make friends and stuff. She couldn’t have her baby brother moping around. I didn’t see her until much later and then she just knew straight away something was wrong,” he says, pulling the blanket down over his chin so Liam can make out the profile his nose and mouth. “She always knew everything, two steps ahead of me all my life.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Liam says. “I always wanted a little brother. My sisters’ always seemed a lot closer with each other than they were to me. Your sister sounds cool.”

Zayn laughs, his body shaking. He stops and says in a muffled voice, “I think I’m sick.”

“Oh,” Liam stares at the flush of colour high on his cheekbones. He reaches out and touches his face carefully. He’s burning hot. “Shit.”

“Mmhm,” Zayn says, closing his eyes again. “I’m really sorry.”

“For what?” Liam asks. He tells himself that he’s been sick before, he’s had his friends fall sick before, this is not a reason to panic and google all the possible ways Zayn could be dying in his bed while Liam helplessly just watches him.

“I don’t think I can get up,” he says, opening his eyes to look up at Liam, his eyelashes doing that incredible fluttering thing.

Bro, that is fine. You can stay here as long as you like,” Liam says earnestly. He wouldn’t send Zayn home on a bus when he’s not feeling well. That’s mental. He makes sure Zayn eats his greens and wears thick jackets on a regular basis, he’s not going to kick him out when he’s sick

“Thanks. I like it here,” Zayn says, his cheeks still burning. He smiles up at Liam, eyes crinkling. Liam wouldn’t send him home for anything right now.

Liam almost doesn’t catch it. It’s after he’s told Zayn to get as comfortable as he likes. He'd shuffled his jeans off straightaway, kicking it off out from inside the blanket. Liam’s leaving the room to go make another cup of tea for him. He thinks Zayn says quietly, “I don’t want to go home.”

His heart feels awfully tight when he goes to make the tea.

~

Louis and Eleanor return late into the evening from their date. It must have been physically exhilarating or competitive or something weird because they’re both limping, giddy, and all over each other. Liam’s learned it’s better not to ask. It’s just how they are. Liam hasn’t spent much time with them in the past few weeks and he feels a bit guilty about it. He’s usually the third wheel though, even though they say they don’t mind (most of the time), it feels like he’s intruding. It’s not like they hang out as two couples on a double date anymore. Still, they’re his best friends.

“Zayn’s still here?” Louis asks, glancing down at the two cups of teas’ Liam is currently making.

“Yeah, he’s feeling poorly, he can’t go home,” Liam explains. 

“What are we? In the fucking 19th century?” Louis asks, trying to pull one of the teabags out to throw at Liam’s. Liam pulls the cups out of the way easily.

“I made him watch Pride and Prejudice with me every night for like two weeks when I was going through that hard core Austen phase,” Eleanor says in explanation.

Liam likes that he still doesn't know everything about the two of them. It doesn’t explain anything though. He doesn’t know what an Austen phase is. He shrugs at the both of them.

“What? Is Harry going to come around to nurse him back to health and fall in love with -“ Louis trails off. He’d started off in a ludicrous voice but now he glances awkwardly at Niall’s room. 

“No,” Liam says. He avoids their gaze and says, “I think I can handle it."

~

Harry comes over anyway. Liam wonders how he’d been able to know so fast that Zayn was sick but then quickly realises he’d come in with Niall. When he finds out Zayn’s in Liam’s bed, he heads straight for his room. Liam doesn’t anxiously follow him into the room to make sure he’s not bothering him because he’s unwell and he needs his rest and for some reason Liam just really doesn’t want Harry to be near him right now. But he doesn’t do anything because Zayn’s a big boy and he can take care of himself.

“Niall Horan,” Louis demands. Liam shoots him a panicked look, he really doesn’t want Louis to start this conversation right now. Not when everyone involved is in the goddamn flat.  

Louis is not even looking at him, he’s focused solely on Niall. “Where do you get off being so cute all the time?” he harrumphs, falling into the sofa next to Niall and trying to smother him. 

“Get off me,” Niall says, laughing. He tries to struggle out from underneath Louis but he’s grinning huge and his cheeks are all red. 

There’s a brief pause and Liam hears the bed creak and Zayn’s oof. Harry giggles and the bed creaks some more with a long drawn out, “Sorryyyyyy.”

“Harry and I went to an art show thing today,” Niall says because Louis is hugging him and saying he won’t let him go until he tells him about his day. Liam concedes that Niall is looking pretty cute today, he looks so happy. “It was dead boring.”

“You look like you had a good time,” Louis says, wriggling his eyebrows at Niall.

Liam doesn’t know where he falls in all this. Niall’s one of his best friends, sometimes it feels like he’s the little brother he never had. He wouldn’t have it if anyone ever hurt him. He wants him to be happy. He just wishes his happiness wasn’t causing Zayn so much pain. 

“How hard do you think it’d be to be an astronaut?” Niall asks. He’s changed his major three times. Liam isn’t surprised anymore. “Harry thinks it’d be cool to live in space,” Niall says, making a disbelieving face. 

Liam doesn’t know what to do.

~  

Zayn stays another night. He stays in bed all day again. He doesn’t say much but he responds when Liam touches his hair. He drinks the tea Liam makes him and takes his tablets even if he won’t eat anything. He’s only had chocolate that Liam managed to scrounge up from the depths of a cupboard. He cuddles up to Liam during the night. It’s not the best situation, Liam doesn’t want Zayn to be sick, but sometimes he talks late at night when they’re supposed to be sleeping and Liam thinks it’s nice having someone there again.

Chapter Text

Zayn

Zayn didn’t mean to get so sick. He’d ignored the symptoms, he thought he was just stressed out with the start of his last semester and feeling homesick like he always got after visiting home. He thought he was just a bit down after Harry left. So he went to the party because Liam had invited him and he hadn’t seen him in too long. He went because his friends were going and Mattie wasn’t. He thought drinking might help him relax.

He didn’t want to stay home while Harry took all his stuff to Grimmy and his new place. He wanted to be surrounded by people so he wouldn’t get lost in his own head, he wanted to be around Liam.

At first, Zayn thought it was an extremely severe hangover. It didn't make sense, he didn't have too much to drink. Zayn sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.

He wakes up to find it dark outside. He doesn’t know what time it is, he keeps falling in and out of sleep. He has difficulty figuring out how long he’s been here. He should really go home but he doesn’t want to move. Liam’s sitting besides him on the bed, propped up against the headboard. He’s kept the room dark for Zayn. His face is illuminated by the screen of his phone.

“Hey,” Zayn says, his voice all raspy.

Liam locks his phone and it goes all dark again. Zayn closes his eyes because it doesn’t make a different.

“Hey,” Liam says, scooting down the bed so their faces are closer together. His voice is low and soothing.

Zayn knows Liam said he could stay but he still feels like he’s imposing. He wants to care, he really does, but it’s hard when he’s feeling so terrible. He’s right where he wants to be.

“Harry’s moving out,” Zayn says. He doesn’t startle when Liam lays his hand over the side of Zayn’s head and sweeps his thumb against his hairline. He keeps his eyes closed. “Like, I know it’s been so long since he was done with me but this still feels like the end. I dunno, I reckon in the back of my head I thought things might work out? We’ll find each other again because that’s what it felt like, we weren’t like everyone else, we were...epic.”

Liam doesn’t say much but he puts his hand on Zayn, sweeping down his back and Zayn feels comforted. He goes back to sleep.

~

Zayn didn’t expect to see Harry. He guesses he should’ve, Niall lives here after all. He just thought of Liam, he felt safe here. Harry all but flops into the bed, landing half on top of Zayn. Zayn can’t help laughing, pushing at his face so he’ll stretch out alongside Zayn instead. He’s on top of the blankets, his boots hanging off the edge. He looks worried and guilty and terrible. Zayn’s the one that’s fallen ill but Harry’s the one who looks pale and sick. He palms at the back of his head, threading his curls through his long fingers as if he’s comforting him.

“I can take you home,” Harry says quietly, laying his cheek against Zayn’s palm.

“No,” Zayn says. “I don’t think you can."

~

Zayn has to say he feels a lot better after he gets it off his chest. He doesn’t know if he’s just recovering faster or if it’s something else entirely. He’s lying in the dark, trying to muster up the strength to gather the shit that’s piled up quickly in the last couple of days. Mirjana said she’d drag him back home and force feed him whatever she’s managed to cook herself. He doesn’t want her barging in here and scaring Liam.

He doesn’t startle but he opens his eyes when he hears noises coming from outside the room. He thought he would be by himself until Liam and Niall came back. It’s definitely Louis, he can hear his voice clear as day. He seems to be in an argument which doesn’t make sense because there’s no one responding. He gets out of bed slowly, creeping silently out of Liam’s room and towards the source of the noise.

“George, mate, let me just take a shower,” Louis says in a pleading voice. “Buddy, c’mon! It’s my fucking bathroom, I pay rent for this shit - AHH!”

Zayn bursts through the bathroom door and crashes into Louis who had taken a jump back at the same time.

“The fuck?” Zayn asks calmly, looking from the massive spider inside the shower cubicle to Louis. Louis is standing there in a towel a good way away from the spider. He thinks it might be George.

“Are you still here?” Louis asks, turning on him. He narrows his eyes but his attention is quickly turned back to the spider. He inches backwards for a moment before lets go of all pretence and flies behinds Zayn, hiding. He curls his fingers around Zayn’s shoulders and keeps him there.

“Are you talking to a spider?” Zayn asks, the thread of laughter spiking from his stomach. He tries to keep it down because Louis looks like he’s on the verge of taking his eyes out for witnessing this.

“No,” Louis says sullenly. He doesn’t let go of Zayn either way. “I was negotiating with a spider,” he says primly and Zayn does laugh this time. Louis pokes him in the back of the head, hard.

“Oi,” Zayn says, annoyed, and reaches back to elbow him. Arse. “Do you want me to get rid of him or not?”

“Don’t squash him,” Louis says promptly.

Zayn looks back at him, raising an eyebrow. Maybe he’s not all that bad, he’s got sympathy for a spider that’s not letting him take a shower. Louis lets him stare for just a moment before his defences go flaring again and he says, “What?”

“Nothing. Stay here,” Zayn says. Louis makes a disbelieving noise like he can’t believe Zayn is the one telling him what to do.

“You’re not giving me orders in my own bathroom,” Louis says, “only Georgie has that privilege.”

Zayn snorts at that, genuinely amused and not just laughing at Louis’ plight. Louis finally cracks a reluctant smile. Zayn leaves him there to go to the kitchen and find a plastic cup and cardboard. He comes back to the bathroom and easily manages to capture the spider. He’s not scared, he knows logically he’s a lot bigger than the spider and the spider’s probably a lot more scared of him. He think they’re cool, not in the have one as a pet and let it wander around my house kind of crazy way, but the way they look, the amount of detail that’s gone into them.

He goes to let it out and Louis comes with him, grabbing a jacket on the way out.

“It’s a girl, by the way,” Zayn says, as they climb their way back upstairs.

“Fuck off,” Louis says, astonished.

He made a speech as George scuttled away. Zayn thought it was pretty good. There’s a brief companionable pause as they climb back up the stairs.

“Is whatever you have catching?” Louis asks, unlocking the door again.

Zayn smiles to himself humourlessly. “Nope.”

“You want to play a round on Zombie Shooters?” Louis asks, holding the door open for Zayn.

“Alright,” Zayn says shrugging, sitting down next to him on the ground and picking up a controller.

He’s a bit alright, Zayn thinks.

~

Liam

“Morning, bro,” Liam says, setting another cup of tea by the bedside table on Zayn’s side. He pulls the drawer out and tries to get it to shut properly. It’s just full of all the pieces of papers Liam’s accumulated over the years, bits of his returned essays and syllabus booklets floating around. He never knows what to do with them. He should probably throw them away but he can’t be bothered sorting out what’s the important stuff and what’s not.

“Hi,” Zayn says, unearthing himself from the blankets.

“How’re you feeling?” Liam asks, sitting carefully in the middle of the bed, his legs crossed.

“Much better, thanks,” Zayn says, rubbing his hand across his face. His face is still rather flushed and he has a glassy look in his eyes. Zayn smiles up at Liam. He does look a lot better than he had been.

“Good,” Liam says firmly. “Mina said you’re not dying, you’re just conserving all your energy for the fever so you can get better.”

“I know, I’ve had a flu before,” Zayn says with a snort. His voice is still so quiet. “Did you ask Mina if I was dying?”

“No,” Liam says unconvincingly.

Zayn reaches out and touches Liam’s knee, like he does sometimes when he’s feeling particularly fond of him.

“There’s more flu tablets on the bedside table. Niall made you chicken soup if you feel like eating something,” Liam says.

“That’s very nice of him,” Zayn says, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“Yeah, he’s a really good cook too, he just doesn’t like doing it too often,” Liam says. He wants to reach forward and smudge away the frown line between his eyes.

“Then Harry won’t have to fight him for who gets to make dinner,” Zayn says, shrugging at the look Liam gives him. “Harry likes to cook too.”

Liam rubs his hand up and down Zayn’s back. The sheets have slipped down over his shoulders but he’s still burning hot through his t-shirt. At least he’s not as warm as he was before. He knows what it’s like to have all this information about a person only to have it all turn to dust.

“Are you going somewhere?” Zayn asks, tugging at the hem of Liam’s shirt. He has t shirts he wears at home, the one’s with ragged edges and loose threads, and he has t shirts he wears out. Zayn seems to have learned the difference already. And he’s also wearing his snapback.

Liam nods. “It’s me and Niall’s turn to go grocery shopping. I’ll be back in a few, will you be okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” Zayn says, turning around so he’s lying on his back. "I’m getting out of your hair tonight, anyway.”

He turns his face to look at Liam, he has pillow crease marks on his cheek. Liam touches them with his fingertips absentmindedly. “You don’t have to.”

“Harry should be done grabbing his stuff,” Zayn says but he shoots a grateful smile at Liam’s way.

He told Liam that he didn’t want to go back home, not right now, not while Harry was grabbing all his stuff. He said he knew he should’ve done it ages ago, leaving it this long just made it worse. He didn’t want to stay and watch it happen.

“It’ll be fine. I can take care of myself. Now go,” Zayn says, pushing at his knee.

“Okay,” Liam says, hovering around uselessly for another second. He grabs his phone and his wallet and closes the door behind him quietly.

“About time, Payno,” Niall says, elbowing him in the ribs.

It’s always fun grocery shopping with Niall. He’s not awkward and uncomfortable picking up Eleanor’s tampons like Liam is and he dunks things that shouldn’t be dunked into the trolley - like lube. They always find a way to get through it without it going terribly boring or slow. He makes good conversation with the cashier and makes her smile and she sneaks him a free chocolate bar. Niall lets him have a bite on the way home, their arms loaded with shopping bags. They stop to go slurpies from the convenient store because Niall has a coupon that expires today and they have a great time swirling the colours together. They shiver on the way home and Liam gives Niall his hoodie because he’s not wearing much at all.

“Leemo,” Niall says, slowing down from their mad race down the path. They missed the bus but it’s okay, they can just walk. The next one doesn’t get here for ages anyway.

“Yes, Nialler,” Liam says, sticking his tongue out to see if his tongue has turned blue from the slurpie.

“Would you hate me if I fell in love with Harry?” he asks bluntly.

Liam puts his tongue back into his mouth. He slows down to match Niall, taking his time to think it through. He doesn't want to speak before he thinks and give him a half-arsed, half-truthful answer. He realises he's been quiet for too long when Niall turns his head to look at him, eyebrows drawn together in worry.

“Oh, god no,” Liam says hurriedly. He bumps their shoulders together. “Why would you say that?”

“I know you care about Zayn,” Niall says simply, shrugging. “And I mean, I’ve never been in love, like, all proper and that - not like Lou and El, y’know?”

Liam makes an encouraging sound.

“Maybe I can stop myself. There are like warning bells, yeah?” Niall asks, “so you can stop it?”

Liam doesn’t respond for a beat. “There wasn’t for me.”

“Oh,” Niall says. “It can just happen like that?” he asks, clicking his fingers.

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding. He doesn’t think he’s being very articulate, he doesn’t know how to explain it. It could be different every time. But that’s how it happened with Danielle. He fell in love with her, he just knew she was the one. She was special. Just like that, she turned his life upside down, he didn’t know he could love someone so much, all her flaws and quirky habits and the weird birthmark at the back of her left thigh.

“Niall, you have to do whatever makes you the happiest, okay?” Liam asks worriedly. “It’s not going to help anyone else if you don't, it’s just going to make you miserable for no good reason.”

Niall doesn't reply. They walk home together in surprisingly companionable silence because it's Niall.

“Mate,” Liam says when they get to their apartment complex. He puts the groceries down carefully on the ground, he’s got the eggs, and nudges Niall’s belly.

“Hmm?” Niall asks curiously.

“Bring it in,” Liam says and pulls Niall into a hug. Niall returns it easily, his cheek warm against Liam's neck, his arms pinned at his side because of the groceries. He smiles at Liam when he pulls back. Liam hopes it'll be alright.

When they get through the door, Liam carrying a bulk of the groceries because Niall’s knee is still a bit sore and he has trouble walking up all those stairs in the first place, Zayn and Louis are sitting on the floor in front of the couch, controllers in each of their hands.

“Hey,” Louis says. “Did you get the Mars bars?”

“Yeah,” Niall says, fishing the box out of the bag and throwing it at Louis.

Louis doesn’t abandon his controller to catch it and just yells, “Niall!” when it hits him in the face. Zayn laughs, jostling his knee against Louis’.

Liam watches the two of them to try and process it. He knew Louis didn’t like Zayn all that much from the start, they've never held a conversation long to get to know each other better. The more Liam tried to win him over by talking about how great Zayn was the more Louis resisted. Zayn seemed entirely indifferent to Louis but then that’s just how he is, he’s lovely in an instant if you show an ounce of interest in him but he has no time for people who don’t. They seem to be getting along fine now.

Louis opens the box of Mars bars with one hand, his eyes still on the screen, his right hand tapping away. He offers one to Zayn. Liam may have gasped. Louis doesn’t like sharing his Mars bars.

“Fucking sick, bro,” Zayn says, his eyes never leaving the screen. He whoops when there’s an exploding sound and turns to Louis with a huge grin on his face. They both drop their controllers to high five, making a lot of unnecessary noise.

“I think he’s crying,” Louis says, pointing at his headphones.

Zayn laughs, throwing his head back. He doesn’t look so sick anymore, he looks great.

“Alright, I should be off,” Zayn says, getting to his feet. Louis doesn’t stop him or get up but Liam can tell he’s bummed.

He grabs the stuff he’s accumulated over the past three days, like the extra toothbrush and his favourite jumper of Liam’s, and bundles it under his arm. He tucks the chocolate bar in his back pocket, he's only been eating chocolate anyway. He walks over to Liam and gives him a hug. Liam, still dumbfounded over Zayn and Louis’ new found bond, melts into it easily. Zayn rubs at the back of his head and Liam always goes a bit stupid, holding on for too long.

“Thanks for everything,” Zayn says to Liam, pulling away. “I swear to god I will get your fucking Macbeth thing sorted.”

“It’s okay,” Liam says, shrugging. He didn’t do everything for Zayn just to get the fine waived. He just likes the guy. “Actually, well, it’d be really great if you could.”

Zayn laughs, patting his cheek. His hand slides down and touches his neck for a brief moment, his smile up close and pretty. Liam grins back. Zayn turns away, turning to Louis and holding up a fist for a fist bump.

“I’ll talk to you later, bro. Thanks,” Zayn says, shrugging. “You’re actually a massive teddy bear.”

“Fuck off,” Louis says, throwing a cushion at his face.

Liam notices he doesn’t throw the box of Mars bars which is a lot more sharp and pointy when he would’ve to just about anyone else. Louis respects Zayn’s face. It’s definitely a thing, Liam was totally right.

Zayn laughs again, deflecting it easily. He looks loads better, Liam touches his forehead to make sure he’s not on fire.

“You still gonna come skating with me?” Zayn asks Louis.

“Yeah, man,” Louis says, smiling up at Zayn. “Thanks for taking care of the spider.”

Niall comes out of the kitchen with a container in his hand.

“Left over chicken soup. You didn’t have any,” Niall says, giving it to Zayn. “Eleanor ate most of it.” Niall gives him a bear hug as a way of apology, Zayn can’t really reciprocate with his hands full.

“You’re a champ,” he tells him though. He waves at all of them for the last time before he’s gone.

“He’s a good lad,” Louis says distantly, back to playing his game as a single player. He chews on his muesli bar thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” Liam says, grinning. Everyone’s getting along. It’s brilliant. “Should I have walked him to the bus stop?”

“Nah, he’s fine,” Louis says.

“Louis, go put the groceries away,” Niall says, picking up Zayn’s controller and throwing himself on the couch. He pushes at Louis with his feet and laughs like he’s going to die when Louis pretends he’s going to bite them off.

“Alright, alright,” Louis says, getting up heavily. He sighs like it’s the worst thing he’s had to do. He tweaks Liam’s nipple on the way to the kitchen and Liam stops standing there like an idiot.

He picks up Louis’ controller and sits next to Niall.

“So Georgie’s gone,” Niall says enthusiastically. They’re not talking about Harry, then. “We can shower again.”

“What did Zayn do with Georgie?” Liam asks worriedly, shouting so Louis can hear him from the kitchen.

Louis sticks his head out and says, “he just grabbed him with a cup and a piece of cardboard, all zen like, and let her outside. It’s apparently a Georgina.”

“I’m just glad Eleanor didn’t kill him, I mean her,” Niall says.

None of them wanted to go near the thing but Eleanor had been the most game to smash it. She refused to do anything but squash it. She didn't want to get close enough to it to let it out, she kept dry heaving at the thought. It was an understandable reaction. The boys' main reaction was screaming and clinging to each other, unable to get near enough to set it free but unwilling to let it die.

~

Zayn

Mirjana is overly dramatic and has a thing about controlling everything because she demands Zayn bring his new friend home., regardless of the fact that Liam’s been hanging around their place for a while now. She’s been busy with her new job (she got the job) and working her arse off. She claims she hasn’t properly met him yet, just that one time with the milk. She’s acting like an overprotective mum trying to approve and disapprove all of his friends. Zayn pushes at Mirjana’s face as she tries to look at the text he’s sending to Liam.

She’s so goddamn nosy. He loves her to death and he’s come to know her very deeply in just under two years. It’s weird, recognising all the things about her that drives him up the wall but wanting to have her around all the time. He loves her too much.

“Is he coming?” Mirjana asks, hands on her hips. “I got everyone out of the house for this.”

“No you didn’t. Christel’s going to be in her room as usual, Kez and Jamie are out for their anniversary and Harry doesn’t live here anymore,” Zayn points out. He’s heart jolts lightly but it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Zayn takes a relieved breath.

“Shut up,” she says and uses his momentarily distracted loose grip on his phone to go lunging for it. “He said he’s on his way!” she crows. She looks back down, frowning in confusion. “Is he saying that?”

Zayn laughs, grabbing his phone back. Liam’s not that terrible at texting, surely, or maybe he’s just gotten used to it. He has a tendency to go rambling sometimes, Zayn wouldn’t have expected it from their earlier texts but once he gets into it, he likes to send a nice big chunk. It’s a lot more difficult to decipher what it’s saying when it’s a paragraph instead of one line because Liam doesn’t seem to know or care that backspace exists. He just runs with spelling errors.

Mirjana’s going to be the one making dinner. She wanted to and Zayn’s too lazy, he never learnt how to cook, he’s not going to say no. He doesn’t think they can have another take away night anyway. The sounds of pots and pans being moved about in the kitchen always makes him feel at home. Waiting for Easter break after the second semester starts is never easy.

Liam arrives at Zayn’s door in his best pair of jeans and a favourite hoodie. He shrugs it off as soon as he’s inside, balling it up anxiously in his hands. He’s bought a bottle of wine as well.

Zayn dies on the inside. Just a little bit because he’s actually bought a bottle of wine like they’re actual proper adults sitting down for dinner. Zayn considers praying but it might be too late for that now.

“It was like a tenner,” Liam says apologetically, handing it over to Mirjana shyly.

“The good stuff, then?” Mirjana says with a bark of a laugh. She gives him a hug and disappears off into the kitchen.

Zayn’s kind of worried she’s going to come out with huge love heart shaped cakes for Liam. She’s pretty fond of him already, he can tell. He sighs in relief when he remembers she can’t bake - it would usually be a sharp intake of fear when she tries. Something always goes terribly wrong and they have to live in fear of losing their bond and getting kicked out onto the street.

“Hey,” Liam says, rubbing his palm against his thighs distractingly. He puts the hoodie down cautiously on the sofa, looking around the living room like he hasn’t been here multiple times before.

“You didn’t have to bring wine, it’s not, like, a proper dinner or anything,” Zayn says.

“I just wanted to make a good impression,” Liam says earnestly.

“You’ve already met her,” Zayn mumbles under his breath but just shakes his head when Liam gives him an enquiring look, too quiet to have heard him.

“I’ve never seen this place so quiet,” Liam says and Zayn nods.

“Wish it could get this deserted when I have an essay due,” Zayn says.

Mirjana makes Korean ramen noodles. Zayn loves them, they’re spicy and she gets the water to soup ratio just right. It’s Mirjana’s speciality, she puts vegetables and eggs in it so they won’t die of malnutrition. It’s always a good dinner, just not too often or they’ll both be in trouble. She brings out two pairs of chopsticks and a fork for Liam.

The dinner is going pretty well. They drink their cheap wine with their cheap food and Mirjana and Liam seem to be getting along very well. Mirjana hasn’t asked any inappropriate questions and Liam hasn’t said anything bad about the food - that’s a surefire way to get on her bad side. It’s only halfway through the dinner when the conversation lulls to a comfortable stop that Zayn notices Liam’s broad shoulders hitching up and down. He looks like he’s trying to stop them from moving.

“You alright?” Zayn asks, watching his face carefully. He can see, now that he’s solely focusing on Liam, that his face is much more red than usual. He’s sniffling.

“I’m - hic - fine,” Liam says, gulping down more of his wine. He hiccups again, another little hic escaping his swollen, burning lips and Zayn realises Liam’s hiccuping over the spice.

He feels something stir inside and he’s helpless to stop it, his heart expanding in his rib cage as fondness overwhelms him. He grins at Liam, laughing as Liam tries to play it off like he’s fine. He grabs a tissue from the tissue box and leans over the table to wipe Liam’s mouth with it.

“Stop eating it!” Zayn demands, laughing as Liam forces himself to take another bite. Liam starts laughing to, taking another tissue from Zayn and blowing his nose.

“Oh god, I didn’t want to be rude,” Liam says, turning even redder so it spreads out from the tip of his nose to his cheeks.

“Oh shit, I didn’t even realise,” Mirjana says in sudden alarm. “We’re used to this kind of thing.”

“It’s very nice, Mirjana,” Liam assures her earnestly, “I’m just rubbish with spicy food.”

“I’ll get you some milk,” Zayn says, rolling his eyes. He’s still grinning, his heart feeling incredibly light at the sight of Liam at their surprisingly grand dining table (they found it on the street), holding his breath in an attempt to make the hiccups go away.

He shakes is head, breathing out a small huff of laughter as he enters the kitchen. He pulls the milk out of the fridge, pouring it into the glass. He pauses, leaning against the counter. An image pops into his head: leaning in, not to give Liam the glass of milk, but to kiss the swollen pout of his lips instead. Licking over them in an attempt to soothe them. He can almost feel the hiccups reverberating against him.

Zayn’s hands still on the glass, his eyebrows shooting up. His heart’s beating unfairly fast as he realises what he wants to do the most right now. He wants to kiss Liam.

He brings the glass of milk back to the table and couple slices of bread.

“Jesus, what took so long. We thought you’d forgotten about poor Liam,” Mirjana says with a snort. Liam grins abashedly and Zayn tries not to stare.

It’s like how it always is except everything’s shifted five centimetres to the right. It’s like seeing Liam in an entirely new light when he’s known him for months now. It doesn’t change what he knows or likes about Liam before that shift in his brain, in his body, it just adds on a whole new dimension. Zayn frowns into his noodles.

~

Zayn thinks, for a hot minute, that he’s capable of avoiding Liam completely until he gets his head sorted. The reason being, he’s wanted to kiss his friends before, his friends’ are lovely people. It’s just never been in this particular kind of way, the way he wants to kiss Liam almost seems…indecent. With his other friends, it was always just a passing thought like when he was overcome with affection for one particular person and he felt physically incapable of containing it. The only way to express it would be to plant one on their mouth. It’s almost like that because Zayn is so fond of him - but he can also imagine in the same strain of thought, Liam effectively bending him over the counter, his mouth hot and slick against the back of his neck.

He’ll get over it. It’s like his Johnny Depp phase where he’d paint his nails and wear kohl eyeliner. He got over that marvellously. 

He thinks he can just miraculously stay away from Liam until he does get over it. That’s until Zayn realises he’s being stupid and stressing out over something that could be nothing. He loves spending time with Liam, he doesn’t want to stay away at all. They’re friends. It feels weird to be pulled out of gravity when they’ve been revolving around each other at a near constant pace this whole time.

~

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” he says, albeit bitterly, when Zayn finally shows up at his flat.

“Sorry,” Zayn says and walks past the door.

He tugs his mittens off and shoves them into the pockets of his jacket. He’s still standing at the door, as if he expects Zayn to leave just as unexpectedly as he’d shown up. Zayn turns around to face him and says as sincerely as he can, “I’m really sorry.”

Mattie deflates and slams the front door shut.

“What do you want? I got the message loud and clear by the way,” he says, folding his arm and leaning against the door. He’s frowning at the bit of floor in front of Zayn’s feet.

Zayn feels like an arsehole but he says it anyway, “I just needed some time. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You’re a piece of fucking work,” Mattie says and Zayn feels exactly the same way about him.

He stares at Zayn for another moment and Zayn can’t do anything but shrug. He rushes forward in that instance and takes Zayn’s cold face in his palms and kisses him hard. Zayn kisses back just as fiercely, already struggling out of his jacket, walking them backwards to the bedroom.

“Get your kit off then, we’ve got to make up for lost time,” Zayn says, grinning shark-like as he pushes Mattie onto the bed. He stands between his knees and undoes his belt. Mattie’s eyes track his fingers hungrily.

He can do this. He can try to find happiness in Mattie.

It might not be the most selfless thing he’s done but Zayn’s trying really hard not to think about anything at all.

~

Liam

Zayn invites him over for dinner with Mirjana. There’s no food at home and Liam’s all too happy to take a bus and eat a full meal.

Liam likes Mirjana and he has no idea how to tell her he can’t eat her food without ripping his tongue out. So he endures it, taking smaller bites and constantly licking his lips. It doesn’t make it any easier but it’s a momentarily relief. He knows he can’t hide it anymore when he starts hiccupping. It’s too spicy.

After they’ve finished the wine, Liam disappears into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. He’s about to enter the living room but he overhears Mirjana and Zayn talking on the couch. He stays in the shadows, he doesn’t know why, he feels like he shouldn’t be intruding at this exact moment and time. Mirjana’s fiddling with Zayn’s hair, cuddling Zayn to her side. He has his eyes closed, chin dropping onto his chest. He tries not to listen.

“Babe, you need to stop falling for boys who can’t love you back,” Mirjana says.

Zayn doesn’t say anything, he keeps his eyes closed. He looks peaceful and Mirjana smoothes his hair back.

Liam frowns and takes a step back into the kitchen. He puts the glasses of water down and grips the counter. Why wouldn’t anyone want Zayn? It makes no sense to Liam. He doesn’t get it but he can definitely do something about it. He’s going to help Zayn woo his boy, whatever it takes, because Zayn should be happy. Liam’s sure of that much.

It’s got to be Mattie.

Liam walks back out into the living room and puts the glasses on the coffee table. Mirjana gets up immediately and gives him a weird little smile but she could just be drunk. She walks out of the room and leaves the two of them alone. Liam takes her place on the couch and strokes Zayn’s neck with his thumb, pulling him in close.

He’s warm and boneless and he squints one eye open to give Liam a smile. It’s off but still Liam grins back at full force. It’s going to be fine. He’s going to figure out how to get Mattie to see the light of day and realise just how lucky he is. It shouldn’t be that hard.

~

Zayn really likes dogs. There’s a lot of things Liam likes about Zayn and this is one of them, along with his cheekbones, hair and general kindness. Whenever they’re walking together outside, Zayn takes the time to try and pet almost every single dog that walks past. They like him too, always jumping up on him and getting his jumper muddy. Zayn doesn’t seem to mind though, he gets all crinkly eyed and wrinkly nosed and laughs like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Liam’s having a kind of shitty day and Zayn sends him a picture of a puppy having a wee on a tree on campus. It’s not the puppy per say, although the puppy kind of makes Liam happier too, it’s just the thought of Zayn standing there like a dork taking a picture of a weeing puppy to send to Liam. It’s his first smile of the day.

Liam heads to the library during his break. He knows Zayn’s schedule by now, he should be working in the library. He finds him easily, he’s right where he thought he’d be. He’s putting books away in the aisle farthest away from the main entrance.

“Hey, man,” Zayn says, slotting a book into place.

He turns around to give Liam a hug. Zayn always smells nice. Liam hopes he doesn’t smell as gross as he feels, he had to run to his morning lecture today because the bus was late and nobody sat next to him.

“What’s wrong?” Zayn says, touching his waist before letting go of him and turning back to the books.

“Do I smell?” Liam asks, feeling dumb.

“Why’s that?” Zayn asks with a laugh, tilting his head back. He drops the book back onto the trolley and walks over to where Liam’s standing. Without further warning, he steps in close and pushes his nose against Liam’s neck. Liam squirms, giggling and Zayn just shakes his head.

“It’s stupid,” Liam says laughing along. He unhooks his bag from his shoulder and dumps it on the ground. He winces when he remembers he has his iPad in there with all of his textbooks. He just hopes there’s not that much damage when he inevitably pulls it out during a lecture to play Candy Crush.

“Tell me,” Zayn says.

“Nobody sits next to me,” Liam says, still in a joking way even though he’s being awfully honest.

“Yeah?” Zayn says. He looks Liam up and down appraisingly, like he could understand why and says, “Did you know I thought you were going to be a twat when I first met you.” He doesn’t say it unkindly, gesturing at his clothes.

“Do I?” Liam asks, looking down at his shirt. “I like my clothes,” Liam says. He’s not defensive either, he finds Zayn gets it most of the time, whatever Liam’s feeling and trying to figure out how to say.

“I know, it doesn’t matter. I just thought you were like the douchey arseholes that come around knocking books off the shelves and trying to pick up girls when they’re trying to study. Or having sex in the aisles,” Zayn says, shrugging. “But you’re not, are you?”

Liam had turned quite pink at the last bit because he doesn’t consider himself a douchey asshole but he had been planning to have sex in the aisles that one time. He’s glad that wasn’t the first thing he ever said to Zayn, he remembers it was a close thing.

“What?” Liam asks, looking down at his hands. He fidgets with his fingers instead of looking back up at Zayn.

It’s stupid, not a big deal at all, but it’s still not exactly nice knowing that no one wants to sit next to him or think he’s an arsehole just because he dresses like the way he does. It pulls at the stitches closing the hurt at being picked last at every football game and having no one to eat lunch with.

“A douchebag,” Zayn says gently. He puts the last book in its place and takes a seat next to Liam, drawing his knees up and resting his elbows on them.

Liam pauses for a moment, trying to put his thoughts into words without rushing into it in a panic and saying something he doesn’t mean. Zayn usually understands what he’s getting at anyway but Liam wants to be sure this time.

“It’s like - I was the kid that nobody liked and so I tried really really hard but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Nobody ever told me and I thought if someone just told me what was so horrible I could fix it and I’d have friends. There was this group of guys who were a couple of years ahead and they’d always say stuff about my clothes, whatever I wore, and my hair and I remember they were all just bigger than me, it was intimidating. But, like, just because I go to the gym now and wear snapbacks and joggers, doesn’t mean…people shouldn't assume I’d be like them, y’know?” Liam trails off uncertainly. He shrugs, his shoulders bumping into Zayn’s in the process.

“They’re not even in the same playing field as you,” Zayn says quietly. He’s staring at Liam but Liam can’t find it in himself to look up. “They couldn’t ever begin to compare, Liam.”

He can hear the sincerity in his voice. But Liam doesn’t think he’s better than them either, he has the ability to be cruel like everybody else. The fact he doesn’t shouldn’t be celebrated in his eyes. That’s just being a baseline decent person.

“And, so, I decided I was going to wear what I like and just, whatever, y’know?” Liam says, plucking at his shirt.

“If only people knew, huh?” Zayn asks.

“Knew what?”

“If only people knew you fix your mates’ shower heads and let them crash in bed for days and try to wingman them wherever you go to get over a broken heart,” Zayn says with a small laugh, leaning into his side to talk into his ear.

“You knew?” Liam asks, his head jerking up from where he’d been staring hard at his fingers. Zayn’s lips brush against jaw at the sudden movement. Zayn moves back and Liam feels his stomach tighten, probably nervous that his plan has been outed.

“You weren’t being very subtle,” Zayn says with a laugh. “You asked the barista at the cafe if he thought my eyes were unreal.”

He hadn’t actually been trying to wingman Zayn at the exact moment and time. He just needed a second opinion on Zayn’s manga eyes. He has been trying to help Zayn by recycling all the steps Louis went through with him. He forgot how disastrous that had been. Besides, Zayn has Mattie, he doesn't need the coffee barista.

“Oh,” Liam says, swallowing hard. He looks up at Zayn, his eyebrows drawing together in worry, “are you mad?”

“No,” Zayn says after a moment. “I was at first but then I got it. You want your mates to be happy. You could’ve done worse, Mirjana wanted me to get a dramatic hair cut.”

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding. “I want to make you happy.” He's never felt so stunningly honest as when the words just fell right out of his mouth. Liam nods again.

Zayn leans forward, leaning on his elbows. He turns back to look at Liam and his eyes are huge and soft, the corner of his mouth lifted into the tiniest, crooked smile. He looks like he wants to say something but he doesn’t know what. Liam thinks it’s okay for them to be silent too. Zayn doesn’t say anything, he just turns back to the front and drops his head. Liam can see his tattoo at the back of his neck peeking out of the denim collared shirt.

“I think I could be,” Zayn says softly, his shoulders slumping.

Liam’s heart hurts all over again. He can guess he’s talking about Mattie. A-hole Mattie who couldn’t be bothered to give a fuck about anyone but himself. Liam frowns. He reaches out to touch the back of his neck but before he can try, Zayn pats him twice on the thigh and struggles up again.

~

It’s been a struggle but Liam and Mina are able to sync their lives together for once. They don’t have much time to do anything but to go for a short walk around the campus, both of them covered in head to toe in an attempt to battle against the never-ending cold. He’s holding her hand pushed deep into the pocket of his hoodie. They’re just on their way to the cafe to get a coffee to try and warm up when Liam sees it. It’s just a flash of hair, really, it makes no sense at all - but he feels a tug in his belly.

It wouldn’t make any sense, she only ever wore her hair like that when they first started dating. She doesn’t even attend this university anymore, she’s graduated.

“Dani!” Liam says, heart leaping in his throat.

Mina’s hand slips out of his pocket as he chases after her. When the girl turns around, raising an eyebrow, Liam realises it’s not her. He thinks he might’ve already known that before he went after her. He apologises sheepishly and she gives him a considering smile before walking away. He watches in regret, it’d have been nice to catch up with her. He hasn’t seen her in so long, he’s beginning to think he’s made her up.

“Did you think it was her?” Mina asks, shivering. She looks colder than ever even though she’s trying her best to keep her voice warm.

“Yeah,” Liam says honestly, disappointment evident in his voice.

They get their coffee in strained silence. Liam tells her he’s meeting Zayn afterwards. The wind's bitterly cold, when she leaves for class she’s got nothing on the wind.

“Why’s it so bloody cold out?” Zayn asks, his cheeks red from the cold wind. He gets into the seat opposite from Liam and tugs his gloves off. It’s where Mina had been sitting the first day Liam had met Zayn. He wraps his hands around Liam’s coffee, he’s only had a couple of sips and it's mostly full because Liam knows Zayn needs his coffee, and breathes it in.

“You alright?” Zayn asks when Liam doesn’t reply.

“I thought I saw Dani,” Liam tells him, shrugging. Zayn will understand. “Stupid mistake. But. I just wonder what she’s doing now, y’know?”

Zayn told him he didn’t think Liam would be the type of person who wouldn’t want to be friends with his exes. Liam explained it wasn’t up to him, Danielle didn’t want to be friends and he could understand that completely. He didn't want to be friends with himself after he managed to fuck that up.

“I always wondered, like,” Zayn trails off a bit, looking down at the coffee. He looks back up and says, “if it would’ve been easier to cut him out of my life.”

Liam immediately thinks I didn’t cut her out and it must show on his face because Zayn explains, “if it was a clean break.”

“I don’t know,” Liam admits. He thinks about it for a moment, talking to Zayn always makes him feel like he has the rest of his life to explain himself. “I don’t think so. It might’ve helped at the start but sometimes I just want to know the stupid stuff like if she’s doing okay and eating her greens.”

Zayn grins at him.

“She hated green beans,” Liam says.

“Fair enough,” Zayn says with a laugh. His phone buzzes on the table but he ignores it. It buzzes in three quick successions and he pulls a face, rolling his eyes and flipping it over on the table so he can read the screen.

“You’ve got an eyelash,” Liam says, reaching over the table and picking it off his face.

“Cheers,” Zayn says distractedly, tapping out a quick reply on his phone. He looks up, motioning for Liam to hold it up. He closes his eyes and after a moment blows it away.

“You want to come over tonight? Film night at my place," he says, tilting his head to the side. He points down to his phone and Liam can see who’s texting him. It’s under MIR with a poop grin emoji.

“Yeah, sure,” Liam says, smiling at him.

Zayn’s going to be late for work and Liam’s going to be late for his placement if they don’t get going. Liam stumbles as he gets out of the booth and Zayn’s there to steady him with a hand at his hip.

"Should I bring anything?” Liam asks.

"Just you," Zayn says, smiling again, his eyes creasing. It always makes Liam grin back at him, helpless.

~

Zayn

It slowly breaks out that Mattie and Zayn are dating, especially when Mattie starts showing up to a lot more things. Zayn knows he should invite him out, have him hang out with his friends and all that - Mattie’s his boyfriend, he should be trying to get to know him better when they’re not panting against each others’ skin. That’s what assuages Zayn’s guilty conscience anyway.

He guesses it’s kind of a big deal for Mattie. He’s never had a boyfriend before, he was in denial for such a long time and the fact that it centred around Zayn - he thinks it might be a very big step for him.

He comes over to Zayn’s house and this time they’re not going straight to his room. He finds it weird to have him in his living room, in his home. He sneers at the throw on the couch, the one Christel made, and sticks to Zayn’s side like glue. It’s not as much fun as when they’re meeting in other people’s bedrooms, the music still pumping downstairs, high on the risk of being caught at any given time.

Zayn invites Liam over to the film night as well because he feels safer now. He has Mattie, Mattie has Zayn. They’re going to be sufficiently distracted for the film night without Zayn thinking about Liam in strictly non-platonic ways. The first film’s already rolling before half the people from their Film soc have even arrived. Mirjana wanted to get things rolling as soon as possible, they have a lot of films to cover before the night was over. She’s set up the living room and there are bowls of chips and bottles of various spirits on the table. Kerryn is refusing to play the drinking game of choice and is drinking her beer instead.

“Her accent’s weird, where’s she from?” Mattie had asked, trailing after Zayn into the kitchen so he wouldn’t be left alone with his housemates.

Mirjana does not like him and whenever he lets something rude slip out of his mouth (it is a surprisingly large amount), she does not let it go. She makes a point of giving as good as she gets while Jamie politely pretends he hasn’t heard.

“Australia,” Zayn says, emptying his favourite flavour of chips, chilli, into a bowl.

“Are you sure?” Mattie asks, quirking an eyebrow and grabbing a handful of them straight out of the bowl. Mattie doesn’t have any trouble eating spicy food. “She doesn’t look Australian. Her boyfriend does, though.”

“You’re an arse,” Zayn says, matter of fact.

“I’m just saying she doesn’t,” Mattie says mildly defensive. He shrugs and says, “What I meant was, like, where is she from.”

“Her parents are from Laos, if that’s what you mean,” Zayn says, taking his bowl of crisps back to the living room, fuck if Mattie’s coming or not.

“Was that so hard?” Mattie mutters from behind him.

Zayn tries to let peace wash over him. He’s made his bed, now he has to lie in it.

~

Liam

Zayn said he didn’t have to bring anything but Liam brings two bags of popcorn and a bottle of off-brand soft drink that looks like it could taste semi-decent. Liam doesn’t drink soft drinks unless he’s drunk and it’s being mixed with vodka but he brings it for Zayn anyway. He forgets to invite Mina.

Jade opens the door at Zayn’s house with a shout of delight and reaches forward to envelop him in a bear hug immediately. Liam has his hands full so all he can do is grin helplessly into her hair.

“Come in!” she says enthusiastically, dragging him in bodily with a hand on his arm, as if he’s going to disappear if she lets go. She has a surprisingly firm grip for such a small person even if Liam is aware that she goes to the gym.

“How’ve you been, love?” she asks in a friendly way, the kind of friendly where there’s definitely a drinking game involved already and she’s definitely already losing.

“Alright, thanks. You?” he asks, following her out of the hallway, bypassing the staircase where he’d usually be running up to Zayn’s room, and into the living room. The living room is already full of people but then again, half the people invited live here. Liam doesn’t feel all that terribly late.

Jade leads him into the living room, linking their arms together. He kissed her once, after Danielle and he broke up. They were at a party and he was drunk and she was so sweet. She kissed him back for a moment before she pulled away with a gentle hand over his heart and said, “If I was into boys, you’d be on top of my list, sweetheart.” He felt like such a twat. She was his friend and he was acting like a selfish idiot, Liam thinks she was a lot more nicer to him that he deserved. He knows better now.

“Splendid,” Jade says with a beautiful smile. She wrestles the bottle of soft drink and popcorn off him and goes off into the kitchen. The dress she’s wearing makes her look like she’s almost fluttering.

“Hi,” Liam says as a general greeting, just a little bit nervous, and almost everyone choruses a greeting back.

Mattie gives him a sour look and goes back to his phone. Zayn’s not even here and he’s the one that invited Liam. Liam wonders if he should go find him first but Mirjana waves him over cheerfully.

Most of the couches and armchairs are full so Mirjana’s taken to sitting on the floor, playing the roll of the gracious host. It also means she’s the closest to the bottles of spirits on the coffee table, the bowls of crisps and popcorn, blocks of chocolate, and the remote. Liam goes to sit on the one seat left in the middle of the couch but he changes his mind instantly when he realises it’s next to Mattie and he’s kind of glaring openly at Liam at this point. He sits on the floor next to Mirjana, his back against the couch.

Mattie’s legs are besides him and Liam can’t help noticing the pair of crossed legs in fish net stockings to his left. She leans down and introduces herself.

“Hey babe,” she says, leaning forward with a smile. He tries to keep her eyes on her lovely face because he was raised better than this. “I’m Jesy, nice to meet you.”

"I'm Liam," Liam says in what he hopes is a saucy and dashing manner. His mouth has gone embarrassingly dry. He has a girlfriend. And dignity. She’s just really something, is all. It’s how he felt when he first met Zayn except in this context it makes surprising sense, he supposes because Jesy’s a girl. Liam frowns, confused, there’s a realisation at bay just waiting to break through. He clears his throat instead and says, “what movie are we watching?"

“A South Korean gore film where a man gets his kicks from chopping up a women’s body, complete with a lot of gratuitous female nudity and titty shots because what's a woman if she's not naked and being brutally murdered on screen, right?” Mirjana says, taking a drag of the joint being passed around. The point of this film night must not be to get stoned and stare blankly at the screen because Jamie’s favourite bong is stowed away.

Liam doesn't think he's supposed to agree.

"You chose it, Mir. I wanted to start with a gangster film," Zayn says, finally appearing out of the kitchen. He’s holding another bowl of crisps. He leans forward and places it on the coffee table. He climbs over Mirjana and sits on the sofa next to Mattie, careful not to kick Liam in the head. Liam’s sitting between his spread legs, fitting snugly and he pats Zayn’s knee over his shoulder in greeting. Liam reaches for a crisp, it's not the spicy one Zayn favours but Liam's own preference: original.

Mirjana opens her mouth to probably start a run down on why those were terrible too when Mattie cut in snidely, "keep it in your thesis."

Liam frowns up at him, about to not so subtly elbow his calf or something, because that was incredibly rude, but Jesy reaches behind Zayn and slaps Mattie in the back of the head. It’s hard enough that Liam imagines he can feel it.

"Don't be a twat, you're only here because one person liked you enough," Jesy says crossly and settles back.

Liam smiles warmly up at her.

When Liam realises Zayn might get upset about his new boyfriend not getting on with his friends, he turns around in his seat to look up at him. He doesn’t need to worry, he’s smiling down at Liam already.

“Hey, man,” Zayn says quietly, like they’re not literally sandwiched between people.

“Hi,” Liam says, whispering because Mirjana’s turned the volume back up and they’re all immersed back into the film.

“Did you want to watch anything? I forgot to say you could bring some DVDs over,” Zayn says, his fingers twitching in his lap.

Liam wants to say something like Iron Man or The Avengers. He really likes super hero movies. He doesn’t really know if that would fly with a big group of film studies students who hand picked out extremely old or extremely cult or extremely unknown films.

Pacific Rim?” Liam says.

Liam and Louis went to watch it three times when it was in the cinemas. They tried to recreate the scene where Raleigh and Rinko were sparring with their curtain rods. All their curtains are hanging crooked now and Louis had a bruise on his side for ages and Liam felt terrible that they weren’t drift compatible. Then Eleanor told them it was just a movie and to get a grip and it all seemed less terrible because she was the voice of reason in their lives.

Mattie makes a derisive snort at the suggestion, rolling his eyes.

“Sick,” Zayn says, ignoring it completely. He nods appreciatively and says, “that was a sick movie. I don’t think we have it tonight, though.”

“Next time,” Liam says, shrugging. He feels all warm inside because of course Zayn liked Pacific Rim, he’s got good taste in just about everything else, right?

(Except boys. Mattie is a grade A a-hole.)

Liam turns back to the front and Zayn’s hand pets his hair for a moment before it’s gone. When he chances a look back some time later, Mattie’s holding Zayn’s hand. Jesy’s turning her head back and forth between Zayn and Liam. She looks at Mattie’s scowling profile and makes an oh kind of face.

“What?” Liam whispers up at her.

She just shakes her head, covering her mouth in a unnecessarily dramatic way. Jade comes back from the kitchen with two bowls of popcorn and Jesy pretty much kidnaps her, sitting her on the arm of the sofa with an arm firmly around her waist. The both of them continue to destroy the popcorn together and whisper through the rest of the movie. They pay attention every now and then, Jesy magnanimously allowing Jade to hide her face in her boobs every now and then when they gore gets too gory.

Liam wonders what epiphany Jesy’s had, if it’s the same one he feels layered underneath in his own brain.

~

They finish up for the night and everyone starts to trickle out after saying goodbye. Liam stands to the side and watches Mattie kiss Zayn goodbye. He’d been skulking in the shadows on the doorstep, his hands deep in his pockets until everyone else had cleared out and Zayn was about to close the door. He managed to get in just in time, kissing him more tenderly than Liam thought was possible. He’s more confused than ever, Liam thought Mattie was that one that didn’t feel the same way.

He doesn’t know what it is about Mattie but he seems to despise Liam. He doesn’t want it to be that way, he wants to get along with him because Zayn managed to get along with Mina, didn’t he?

Liam stays behind to help clean up and it doesn’t occur to him for a second that could be a bit weird.

“Mattie doesn’t seem all that fond of me,” Liam says, picking up an empty bowl, being careful so the crumbs don’t tip out.

Zayn pauses, his fingers stilling around the bottles of Coronas Kerryn had polished off before she fell asleep in the circle of Jamie’s arms.

“I’m sure he does,” Zayn says but he’s avoiding Liam’s gaze, looking down at the empty bottles.

Liam can try harder.

“Does it matter?” Zayn says suddenly, looking up from the coffee table they’re clearing up. He’s frowning slightly.

“Of course it does. He’s your boyfriend, and you’re my friend,” Liam says. “I want to get along with him.”

Zayn doesn’t say anything for a moment. He keeps cleaning until all the rubbish around the coffee table is in a plastic bag.

“He was being a dick,” Zayn says, he sounds exhausted. He sets the plastic bag on the coffee table with a sigh.

“Well,” Liam says, trailing off because he is Zayn’s boyfriend now. He doesn’t want to badmouth him.

“Why is he such a dick?” Zayn asks, falling into one of the arm chairs and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “He seems fine when it’s just the two of us. He’s almost a little bit..sweet.”

“Maybe he’s just not used to it,” Liam says. “Used to having a boyfriend.”

“I don’t want him to have to get used to me,” Zayn says and he sounds a little cross and a little tired. “I’m not some parasitic bug.”

“It’ll be fine. You’ll fall into each other’s rhythms,” Liam says, pulling Zayn up immediately. He pulls him into a hug and Zayn slumps against him, lets the energy seep out from his body. It almost feels like Liam’s holding him up.

~

Zayn

It doesn’t occur to Zayn that his boyfriend went home and Liam stayed behind to help him clean up. It’s only when they’re talking about Mattie that it dawns on him and Zayn’s left stumped. He reasons it’s all too soon, Mattie and Zayn have only just started going out. It eases the strain in his mind and he melts into Liam’s hug. It’s hard to doubt Liam’s words when he’s wrapped around Zayn. He gives the best hugs.

“Go on, I’ll just put the rubbish out. Go to bed,” Liam says, gently pushing Zayn away. He motions for Zayn to get up the stairs. Zayn doesn’t have it in him to argue, he’s so tired.

“You had fun, right?” Zayn asks, worriedly. He invited him over for it after all.

“Yeah, I liked the movie with Ewan McGregor,” Liam says, picking up the plastic bags.

“Which one?” Zayn asks, cracking a smile.

Liam makes a vague shape with his hand. Zayn laughs and Liam nudges him towards the staircase again. Zayn doesn’t protest even if he feels guilty about it. It’s his house, Liam shouldn’t be cleaning up after him. He climbs the stairs slowly, his thoughts returning to Mattie again. Maybe jumping into it so fast was a stupid idea. Zayn hasn’t thought about Harry in a while now, it seems, he wonders if he should be feeling guilty about that too.

“Hey, bro,” Liam says, opening the door to Zayn’s room with a creak. He pops his head in and says, “didn’t mean to wake you, just wanted to say bye.”

“It’s late,” Zayn states, struggling to open his eyes. He yawns and falls back against the pillows. He’d put his head down on the pillow for a second while Liam was downstairs but the alcohol in his system as well as introducing his boyfriend to all his friends must have taken a toll on him because he’d dozed off straight away.

“I know, go to sleep,” Liam says, he sounds very far away. He sounds like he’s leaving. What a stupid thing to do.

“Just stay here for the night,” Zayn says nonplussed, frowning. He can't take the bus home when it's this cold and this late.

Liam doesn’t ask if he’s sure. He just says, “okay,” and closes the door behind him. He turns the light off and starts taking off his clothes, comfortable in his own skin, in the dark with Zayn. He takes it as a given he’d be sleeping in the big bed next to Zayn, it’s not like they haven’t done it before. He climbs into the bed, rolling onto his side and bouncing up and down, like an excited kid at a sleep over. Zayn smushed his smile into the pillow.

“Thanks, man, it’s so cold outside,” Liam says, snuggling under the covers immediately. The cold tip of his nose touches Zayn’s bare shoulder. Zayn feels bad about Liam having to take the trash out but the rest of him is still warm, he’s already warming up the bed for the both of them.

“Thought you were always burning hot,” Zayn says with a huff of laughter and Liam ignores him, pointedly poking him in the back of his calves with a toe.

Zayn keeps his back to him, facing the bookshelf instead. All of this is so easy for Liam, he’s never thought about Zayn as someone other than one of his close friends. He never wants to take advantage of that, no matter how important it might start to feel to him.

“How’s Mina?” Zayn asks, to ground himself.

“She got a new puppy! It’s a chow chow and she named it Henry,” Liam says, excitement turning into disappointment.

“That’s a shit name for a chow chow,” Zayn says, unable to help himself. Liam rustles around behind him, reaching for his jeans so he can get his phone out to show him pictures.

Zayn turns around to face him because he loves puppies.

“I know,” Liam says.

He swipes at the screen and images after images of Henry fill the screen.

“He’s so tiny,” Liam coos, showing Zayn a picture of where he’s cuddling him against his chest, a tiny little thing framed by Liam’s broad shoulders. He’s making a stupidly endearing face down at the puppy and Zayn has to force himself to see Mina holding the camera, the three of them a little family.

Because Liam is straight and he has a girlfriend.

“Cute,” Zayn says. “My grand had a beautiful dog, a mutt, but she was, like, the sweetest, kind old thing. She stayed with her for days when she was too sick to move.”

“I always wanted a dog,” Liam says, putting his phone on the bedside table and shuffling closer to the middle of the bed.

It’s like everything falls away when it’s just the two of them. How they should act and what they should be kind of fades away and it’s just the two of them. Zayn supposes it’s a good thing,

“So I wouldn’t feel so lon - so alone, I suppose,” Liam says. “But I had two turtles and they were great. One of the them ate the other one’s foot!”

Zayn laughs, his body curling towards him on its own accord. “How the hell?”

“I came home one day after boxing and it was missing a foot,” Liam says and Zayn laughs again. He reaches out a hand to ruffle at the hairs at the top of Liam’s head which have grown long and soft, curling already.

“We’ve always had dogs,” Zayn says, “stupid as it sounds, they do become, like, your best friends.”

“S’not stupid,” Liam says with a huge yawn, nudging Zayn’s hand with his cheek.

“Hmm,” Zayn says vaguely and they both fall asleep like that.

~

Zayn doesn’t realise how good of a cuddle he was in until he’s rudely woken up. He flails around for a moment, usually he wouldn’t have woken up if an earthquake had hit - or he’d have blinked and gone right back to sleep - but nothing wakes him up after than suddenly missing the warmth of a person.

“What?” Zayn asks the world, struggling to open his eyes. “The sun’s not even up yet, Liam,” Zayn says, flopping back in exasperation.

“I’m going for a jog,” Liam says, fumbling around in the dark. It’s so cold, Zayn buries himself deeper into the blankets. “Can I borrow some joggers?” Liam asks, standing at the foot of his bed in only his pants.

“Yes, whatever, please go,” Zayn says, closing his eyes again . He draws the duvet up over his ears because they feel the coldest. “God, you fucking early risers,” he mumbles into the pillow.

“Is Mattie an early riser?” Liam asks curiously, still moving around his room with joyous energy that’s making Zayn want to die.

“No,” Zayn says after a minute, he was thinking about Harry.

He pauses, thinking about the days he waited for it to not hurt as much. He feels oddly at peace right now. Maybe it’s just because it’s 6am and he’s not feeling anything in his body right now but righteous rage that’s transcended into being one with the universe.

“Harry does yoga at 6am every single morning without fail, rail, hail or hangover,” Zayn tells Liam, “blasting Robyn.”

“I know,” Liam says with a snort, grabbing his phone off the bedside table and shoving it into his pockets.

Zayn gives him an enquiring look over the edge of the duvet and he explains, “he’s slept over a couple of times.” The with Niall is implied.

Zayn’s..he’s not ecstatic, obviously, but he’s okay.

Liam looks slightly worried, getting the strings of his joggers all knotted up, not focusing on getting them tied but at Zayn’s face instead.

“Does he still do it naked?” Zayn says, a grin curling around his lips.

Liam breaks out into a laugh, “Yeah! Eleanor said if she saw his dick one more time she was going to snap it off and shove it up his goddam chakra. Other than that, they’re the best of friends.”

Zayn laughs and his heart feels lighter than it has in ages. Liam leaps up onto the bed without warning, flattening Zayn beneath him and laughs with him.

“I’ll return the joggers later, I’ve got to get going,” Liam says while Zayn still laughs, batting him away. He unexpectedly swoops in and kisses the bridge of Zayn’s nose, right where his nose wrinkles when he laughs too hard. He pulls back, the happiness on his face replaced with brief confusion before he’s bounding for the door like an actual human puppy dog.

Zayn doesn’t touch where Liam’s lips were moments ago and instead slithers underneath the covers again for much needed rest. Nothing makes sense at 6am.

~

Liam

Liam’s body is used to the routine of waking up every day at 6am, his bones pulling him out of bed like he’s been wired that way. Even when he has a hang over or collapsed into bed only two hours prior, he finds himself puttering around before eventually falling back to sleep or going for a run if he’s not feeling too shit. He doesn’t want to get out of bed today though, he has a vague feeling of being crushed, smothered, but it’s nice.

Usually, Liam can tell if he fell asleep somewhere that’s not his own flat. He’s not a particularly deep sleeper and falling asleep anywhere that’s not his own bed always feels a bit odd. He wakes up and he knows where he is. He also thinks they started out sleeping at the opposite sides of the bed. He supposes the dip in the middle of the bed must’ve rolled them closer together because Zayn’s all but curled into his side, Liam’s arm securely around him. He’s not used to waking up with arms full of hopelessly soft, boneless boy.

It’s Zayn and it doesn’t feel weird at all, is the thing. It doesn’t make much sense, he’s all sharp lines, the cut of his hipbones, cheekbones and shoulders, but at the same time he’s so soft.

He grins, running his fingers through Zayn’s hair a few times. It’s soft and thick with no product in it. Of course, that doesn’t do anything to wake him up, he’s still dead to the world. It’s fascinating how Zayn takes a hit and his limbs go all loose, like he doesn’t have joints anymore. The way he leans against Liam when they smoke up, wrapped up in a cosy hoodie, it’s like he’s trying to melt into him. It’s exactly the way he sleeps.

Liam doesn’t mean to wake Zayn up when he got out of bed but he does. It took quite a bit of manoeuvring to extract himself out of bed, shivering in the cold room. He’d been tempted to crawl back under the covers and hide his nose, quickly becoming colder and colder, against Zayn’s chest. He had to go home though, he has a lot to do today.

Again, Liam had no intention of kissing Zayn before he left but he does.

On the run home, he takes in the sharp, biting morning air with every breath and tries to make his brain make sense. It didn’t feel weird at the time. That’s the thing, everything with Zayn feels natural - like a progression of them. Maybe it doesn’t have to be weird, maybe Liam’s thinking too hard. Zayn’s one of his favourite people on this planet, what they have is unlike anything Liam’s experienced before.

He’s not going to worry about it.

Chapter Text

Liam

Liam has a date with his girlfriend. They’ve been together for a few months and Liam thinks it’s something to celebrate. He makes an appointment at a very nice restaurant and stresses about what he’s going to wear. He doesn’t really have anything that’s suitable. The only proper formal clothes he owns are packed away at home, even though his mum insisted he took it with him for these purposes. He doesn’t like that, they make him feel uncomfortable. He has a feeling they wouldn’t fit any more anyway.

He spends a whole hour trying to figure out what he should wear and finally settles on his nicest pair of jeans and the new button down shirt Eleanor got him for Christmas. He hasn’t worn it yet. He gets Louis’ approval, Eleanor’s approval and knocks on Niall’s door to get the final seal.

He opens the door cautiously. Niall doesn’t have a problem with any of them barging into his room, running in with water balloons declaring war or just going in for a cuddle, but he definitely enjoys having his own space. His room is always immaculate, no unnecessary clutter like everyone else’s room. Everything has a purpose, whether it’s for decoration or not. Liam’s a little bit in awe of it. His own room looks like the inside of his own brain. Maybe this is why Niall is so laid-back and easy going.

Instead of finding Niall watching something on his laptop, trying to teach himself quantum physics for the heck of it, or masturbating - all things Liam has walked in on him doing before - he finds Harry fast asleep on his bed. Niall has pale yellow sheets, Liam notes hysterically, because Harry is really naked. He closes the door behind him quickly and decides he doesn’t need the final seal of approval, he’s sure it’ll be fine.

He wears his clothes hours before he has to leave the house to go pick her up because he’s gotten used to wearing joggers and hoodies for so long now, he feels he has to break these in.

“Lookin’ sharp, Payno,” Niall says when he comes home, nodding at Liam’s clothes.

Liam feels a giant grin break out on his face, which is what usually happens when Niall enters a room, and goes for a swift fist bump. Niall acts like he’s going to stick around the living room and watch Liam play a game for all of five seconds before he’s legging it back to his own room. Maybe he went out for a condom and lube run. Liam wants to punch his useless brain sometimes.

Mina calls him just an hour short of the time they’re supposed to be meeting. Liam smiles down at his phone, looking at the picture of Mina cuddling Henry on his screen. He answers her call smiling.

She breaks up with him over the phone.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t see it working out,” she says and he can practically see her fretting, buzzing from one place to the next in a fit of anxiety. “We don’t see each other that often, we barely talk. It's not fair to me, I’m not the one you want. I don't know, all I know is that it's not me."

“Oh,” Liam replies, his voice rasping. He doesn’t want this to happen. “Alright. Can I come over? We can sort it out, we’ll talk,” he says and god he must sound so pathetic but he feels desperate. This can’t go wrong. He needs to stop it from happening. She cuts him off this time, she doesn’t sound like she’s close to tears anymore, she sounds angry. Liam still waits for her to hang up first before he throws his phone onto the bed and falls face first after it.

“Christ, I thought you’d left ages ago,” Eleanor says, jumping backwards when she sees his outline on the bed. The sun’s set and the room’s gone dark. She grabs the iPod Liam borrowed the other day and shoves it into her pocket. “What are you doing?” she asks, nonplussed.

Liam’s been lying down on his bed, face-down, this whole time. He knows he should’ve cancelled the reservation. He knows he should’ve taken his shirt off because he doesn’t know how to iron and it’s getting wrinkly as fuck. He knows he should’ve got up, turned the lights on and done something.

“Just lying down,” Liam says casually, his voice muffled into the pillow.

He feels Eleanor climb onto the bed next to him. She lies down on her stomach, propping herself up on Liam’s back and threads her fingers through his hair, messing up how he’s styled it for the date. It doesn’t matter.

“What’s up?” she asks.

“Oh, not much,” Liam says into his pillow. He shrugs. He doesn’t follow up with anything for a moment before he says, “Just Mina breaking up with me, I guess.”

What?” Eleanor says, her hand ceasing. She climbs off him and sits back on her heels. Liam finally unearths himself, he should probably explain.

“Yeah. It’s okay, I’m fine,” Liam assures her. “It’s only been a few months.” It must still show, how disappointed Liam is in himself, because Eleanor grabs his hand and hauls him up. It just hurts, that’s all, he thought he was doing okay. He thought she might've liked him enough to stay.

“Red wine,” is all she says.

When they’re in the kitchen, she pauses while pulling the wine glasses out from the cupboard. She turns around and puts her arms around Liam, letting him rest his cheek on her shoulder. Liam pats her back consolingly, it weirdly feels like their roles are reversed, Liam comforting Eleanor.

Louis walks into the kitchen, stretching his arms out after being hunched over his laptop and typing furiously away at some idiot on Twitter he was deadset on proving wrong for an hour. He walks towards them and hugs the both of them, resting his head on Eleanor’s other shoulder.

“This is nice,” Louis says, reaching around to pat Liam’s bum. “Why’re we hugging for?”

“Mina broke up with me,” Liam says glumly, letting go of the both of them. Louis’ face goes through a range of emotions before it settles and he gives Liam another hug. Surprise wasn’t one of them.

The three of them get terribly drunk and Liam thinks Eleanor and Louis are making sure he doesn’t feel like the third wheel, that it’s just the three of them hanging out. Louis says he never liked her and Eleanor hits him on the shoulder because that’s a lie, he clearly adored her. Liam smiles appreciatively at the both of them because he feels loads better than when he was lying down in his bed.

“Can you not tell anyone?” Liam asks quietly when their bickering has quietened down. “I just don’t want anyone to know.”

“I think people are going to start noticing sooner or later,” Louis points out although not unkindly.

“I’ll tell them when I’m ready,” Liam says, looking down into his empty glass. He feels like a failure, he’s failed Mina and he’s failed another relationship and he’s never going to love someone again. He doesn’t want to make any more people upset with his ineptness.

“Of course,” Eleanor says and hands him the last swivel of wine left.

~

Liam doesn’t know why it’s so important that Zayn can’t know. He doesn’t want to tell him. He doesn’t think it makes too much of a difference from when he was in a relationship with Mina, not in their friendship. A wave of guilt follows almost immediately because maybe he hadn’t tried hard enough, maybe he wasn’t good enough. He’s not used to keeping things from Zayn, he’s usually one of the first people Liam goes looking for when something’s bothering him. He thinks that at his worst it might be because he doesn’t want his pity. At his best, he doesn’t want Zayn to worry about him.

It was only a few months. Liam was incredibly fond of Mina and he really wanted to give their relationship a chance but it didn’t work out, but he finds he still misses her. He realises he’s not devastated when he gets out of bed the next morning and Niall gives him a long hug and some of his bacon. He can go and do his day to day activities, his world hadn’t been flipped upside down. He didn’t love her but he thinks he could’ve. He wanted to.

A lot of people don’t notice that they’ve broken up, not yet. Liam thinks he might be doing an alright job at this.

Liam takes the stairs two at a time as he races towards Zayn’s room. The trailer for the new Spider Man movie came out and Liam’s already watched it four times by himself and then another three with Louis but he wants to be there when Zayn watches it for the first time. He barely knocks on the door before he bursts through, already talking at full speed when he realises he really should start knocking.

It was fine before but now Zayn has a boyfriend and they’re currently both lying in his bed, looking surprised and put off, respectively, at the interruption.

“Oh my god,” Liam says, mortified, his hand still gripping the doorknob. “I’m so sorry.”

Zayn rolls off Mattie and the right corner of his mouth goes up, amused. They’re both wearing all of their clothes but Liam feels like he should avert his eyes, it’s indecent. Zayn’s all flushed, his eyes blinking bright, and his lips are so red. Mattie, on the other hand, only draws Liam’s attention when he covers his face with his hands, rubbing at his face before he removes them to glare at Liam.

“Fucking hell,” he mutters, not even reaching down to do his fly back up.

“I’ll..come back,” Liam says and reluctantly grins when Zayn snorts at him.

He closes the door carefully behind him and walks back down the stairs. Well, that was something. Liam feels weird, like there’s heat simmering under his skin, just waiting to burst out of him. He thinks about Mattie kissing Zayn like that and he finds something in his stomach harden, curdle. He doesn’t understand why but he realises he doesn’t like it one bit. It’s like a hot stabbing feeling in his stomach at the same time, and it’s irrational and Liam’s confused.

He walks into the living room to find Kerryn painting her toe nails.

“I was going to say Mattie was upstairs but you were going too fast, love,” she says breezily, breathing out against her freshly painted big toe.

Liam sits down next to her, careful not to jog her arm.

“You okay?” she asks when Liam doesn’t answer. “Did you see something traumatising?”

“I don’t like Mattie,” Liam says, surprising himself. He doesn’t want to be mean but he doesn’t. He really, really, doesn’t.

“Join the club,” Kerryn says with a snort. “He has his moments, though, otherwise Zayn wouldn’t be keeping him around.”

Liam makes a vaguely assenting noise. He’s fully committed to the idea of hating Mattie now.

Kerryn looks up at him with an amused smile on her face. “You’re practically green.”

Liam touches his face stupidly. Maybe she means he’s looking green, like metaphorically or whatever. Like he’s going to be sick because he just walked in on his best mate heavy petting with his boyfriend. That's a thing, right? Liam certainly doesn't want to think about Niall having sex. He can't help thinking about the line of Zayn’s back as he propped himself up over Mattie, the smooth skin above his waistband where Mattie had rucked his shirt up, the slick red of his mouth when he grinned at Liam. He wouldn’t exactly say he was going to be sick at the image.

“A bit,” he says anyway, just for something to say and watches her paint her nails for a bit.

Zayn comes down the stairs only five minutes later, rubbing at the side of his neck sheepishly like it wasn’t entirely Liam’s fault he got caught in his own bedroom getting busy with his own boyfriend. Liam blushes a bit and tries not to think about what they could’ve done in that five minutes. It becomes quite clear just what when Mattie stomps down the stairs after him, a fierce scowl on his face. He zips up his jacket harder than he has to, almost ripping the zip off.

“I’m heading off,” he says and naturally Zayn offers to kiss him goodbye with the tilt of his chin. Mattie looks at Liam for a moment, challenge written in his eyes, and strides forward to kiss him properly. He tilts his jaw with strong fingers and with a slide of tongue, he’s gone.

“Well,” Kerryn say, staring openly at them, her nail polish dripping steadily onto the sofa from where she has it held up for the next toe. Liam’s sat next to her, caught staring too.

Zayn ignores the both of them and falls into the couch, jostling Kerryn on purpose so a streak of nail polish goes over three of her toes. He takes a deep breath and sighs it out, leaning back against the couch and says very casually, “what’s up?”

“Not much, apparently,” Kerryn says with a snort, pointedly glancing at Zayn’s crotch. Zayn ignores her.

Liam laughs out loud, he probably shouldn’t be laughing but Kerryn shoots him a partners in crime kind of smirk. It seems stupid now that he remembers what he came here for. For Mattie to have to go home. He’s burning to ask if they were finished or he’s gone because of Liam but he can’t think of a reasonable, tactful way to say any of it. Eleanor’s always saying he has a tendency to say things without thinking. He thinks he’s doing a pretty good job today of keeping everything introspective.

“Have you seen the new Spiderman trailer?” Liam asks because he can’t go on ignoring Zayn’s question forever. He leans back against the couch to see Zayn from behind Kerryn.

“I forgot it was coming out,” Zayn says and grabs a laptop sitting on the coffee table. “Kez, what’s Jamie’s password?”

“I hope you washed your hands,” Kerryn says grimly. “It’s Kerryn.”

Really?” Liam asks incredulously and Zayn smiles, turning his face away so Liam can only catch a glimpse of it. For some reason, he doesn’t think he was meant to see.

“Yeah,” Kerryn says, shrugging and Zayn starts playing the video.

~

It starts out as a chat on Facebook and quickly escalates into a group event. Somehow it's decided that they’re all going out to dinner. It's to toast the end of the mid-sem exams and they pick a relatively nice restaurant that’s still affordable for all of them. Liam buys and wears a goddam waistcoat to wear with his button down shirt and soldiers through Louis’ good natured teasing.

Louis and Eleanor look like like a fetching couple, it’s the first time Liam’s seen Kerryn and Jamie in enclosed footwear and Mirjana, and Jade and Jesy look beautiful as always. Jaewon tries to grow a beard (and fails) for the occasion. Mattie and Zayn are holding hands when they meet outside the restaurant.

“Nice waistcoat,” Zayn says, tugging at the front of it when he sees Liam.

Liam feels his face warm unnecessarily and his heart rate go up. They haven’t made it into the restaurant yet so he can’t blame the temperature inside just yet. He looks through the glass, narrowing his eyes at the lights. Probably due to all the lights, yes, because that makes perfect sense.

Zayn looks great well, he’s wearing a nice jumper and he’s done his hair in a quiff. He’s wearing his glasses even though he doesn’t usually when they go out. Liam loves it when he wears his glasses.

“Hiya, buddy. How’s it going?” Liam asks Mattie politely, shoving his own hands in his pockets as his eyes flicker involuntarily down at their joined hands.

“Alright,” Mattie finally says when Zayn not so subtly steps on his toes with the heel of his boot. Zayn smiles at Liam like it was nothing and must do something else because Mattie says as civil as anything, “and how are you?”

“Good, thank you,” Liam says, still being polite. Just because he doesn’t like the guy, it doesn’t mean he has to be mean to him. Louis snorts behind him.

He told Louis how he didn’t like Mattie at all, how his very presence seemed to annoy him. It wasn’t just the things he did and said, he was a lot nicer these days, but the fact that he was just always there now and it felt like Liam never saw Zayn by himself anymore. What he didn’t tell him about were the hot stabs he'd recognised as some kind of jealousy whenever he touched or kissed Zayn in front of Liam. At first it was because it felt like he was putting on a show, shoving it in Liam’s face that nobody liked him enough to ever stick around, but he didn’t, couldn’t, know about Mina leaving him. And then it just kind of muddled into a general feeling of tenseness because Mattie stopped looking at Liam at all and kept his eyes on Zayn like he realised what he had.

Louis looked at him in a way that made Liam’s defences rise. He indignantly said, “what?” when he failed to quit looking at him that way.

“There’s some things you’ve got to figure out on your own, mate,” he said and blown his head off on screen.

Liam’s trying his best to be perfectly nice to Mattie. At the end of the day, Zayn’s chosen him. He’s got to be special in some way or another.

~

The dinner is great, everyone gets along fine and they all decide to go Zayn’s favourite bar afterwards to get spectacularly drunk. They all feel rather silly in their semi-formal clothes now that they’re well-fed and giddy on cheap drinks on a Wednesday night. Liam starts to drink early on.

He doesn’t know why but he’s not feeling his best. He can make a few guesses. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been surrounded by happy couples all night. It’s different now, Louis and Eleanor already went home after a few drinks because Louis had an interview tomorrow unlike Kerryn and Jamie who got caught having sex in the bathroom. They were kicked out, obviously, but insisted everyone stay and have fun. They disappeared with their hands all over each other and nobody asked them to stay.

Mirjana, Jade and Jesy had barely sat down before a group of guys had wandered over to them for a chat in the corner. That’s until Jade breaks off from them to go home with a girl she just met, the one that had been the life and soul of the dance floor just a few minutes ago, because she has hell of a lot more game than Liam.

And lastly, Zayn and Mattie. They were dancing together earlier on and then they were kissing. Liam stopped watching them and did a couple of shots with Jesy. Liam’s a complete lightweight and she could hold her drink far better than him. She was off dancing again in a second, spinning Jaewon around.

Liam doesn’t feel like dancing.

He doesn’t fall asleep at the bar, he knows if he does he’ll get kicked out before his head hits the bar, but he wanders off to the table they all started off at and sits there by himself instead with the mess of coats and purses. He doesn’t realise his head is on the table, supported by an arm squashed underneath, until Zayn sits besides him and his lovely face is tilted sideways.

“You alright, babe?” Zayn asks, reaching out with a hand to push back the strands of hair that have come out of Liam’s quiff. His hand feels like calming relief and Liam shuts his eyes this time, his hand cool against the rush of heat in his body.

“Yeah,” Liam says because he thinks Zayn’s waiting for an answer. “Just tired,” he says, shrugging. And possibly a bit drunk. Not the fun, happy kind of drunk either. The drank too fast and a miserable sod kind of drunk.

“Aw,” Zayn says, his voice soft as he leans in closer to hear him. He keeps doing the thing with his hand and Liam feels marginally better about the situation. “I’m going to take you home, m’kay?” he says, his hand on Liam’s cheek.

“Wait,” Liam says, opening his eyes.

Zayn goes to lift his hand away from Liam’s face. Liam holds onto his wrist. He’s going to walk away now and Mattie’s going to invite him to his place instead and Zayn will leave him because Liam’s nothing. Liam feels so sad, his heart hurts at the thought of it. He feels so selfish, he doesn’t understand how he can be so miserable when Zayn’s happy.

“Are you happy, Zayn?” he asks finally.

“Right now?” Zayn asks with a sweet little smile. He leans in closer so Liam can hear him better and says, “I reckon so, yeah.”

Liam lets go of his wrist. Zayn doesn’t pull away completely, he just traces his knuckles down over his jaw very carefully. Afterwards, he does walk away. Liam lifts his head up, slumping forward onto his elbows instead so he can watch what he’s predicted unfold.

Zayn walks up to Mattie in the middle of the crowd and Mattie immediately pulls him in with a possessive hand at his waist. Zayn talks into his ear, lips brushing against it. Liam thinks he can see the furious look of loathing Mattie shoots his way.

Zayn does he says, he takes Liam home.

~

Zayn

Liam’s not feeling well and Zayn’s going to take care of him. It’s only natural, it’s what they do for one another. Liam slings his arm around Zayn’s shoulder and pulls him in tight. He refuses to walk any other way. He’s not fucked enough to be stumbling or resting his weight against Zayn and Zayn’s thankful for that since he’s had a fair bit to drink as well and they wouldn’t have made it home in one piece. He does, however, nuzzle his face against Zayn’s neck. Zayn has to fight the stupid smile on his face from taking over completely because it tickles and he has a neck thing he doesn’t want to get into right now. His heart feels huge and he’s just terribly fond of this bundle of drunk boy at his side.

“You want a piggy back ride, bro?” Zayn asks, a hand resting on Liam’s chest.

“Yeah!” Liam says enthusiastically and climbs onto his back.

Zayn carries him all the way back.

By the time they make it to Zayn’s house, Liam seems a lot better than he was at the bar. He’s cheered up a bit, he’s cheered up a lot, and he won’t stop rubbing his stubble against Zayn. It must be the fresh air.

Zayn rubs his back when he lets him down. He sends Liam upstairs and goes to the kitchen to fetch a glasses of water for the both of them. By the time he wanders back up the stairs, ducking the shoe to his head in time, Liam’s already wriggled into his bed. He’s thrown his waistcoat off, it’s hanging off the edge of the bed, and he’s struggling to get his shirt over his head. Zayn laughs at the sight, putting the glasses of water down by the bedside table and jumping into bed next to him.

He jolts Liam who makes a miserable sound at being stuck in his shirt. He tries to help him unbutton it enough so his head will get through but Liam’s made a right mess of things. He ends up straddling Liam’s lap, it’s easier to get at them like this, he tries to reason. He’s not thinking, not really, just laughing along with Liam because they’ve both had enough to drink and their fingers keep getting tangled.

Liam sits up suddenly, his face inches away from Zayn’s. His face is scrunched up in laughter as he finally manages to get his arm out of the shirt. With a shout of triumph, he flings it over the side of the bed dramatically.

“You feeling better?” Zayn asks, staring down at him. He’s all lit up, grinning up at Zayn, shirtless and comfortable in his own skin.

“I feel great,” Liam says and he does sound a lot better. He reaches for Zayn’s face, plucking the glasses off his face and pushing it over the bridge of his own nose. He places his hand on Zayn’s hips when Zayn moves like he’s going to roll off. His thumb slips underneath his shirt in the movement, against bare skin, and Zayn stays where he is.

“Yeah? Good,” Zayn says in relief, grinning crookedly down at him. He looks good in his glasses.

His hands have a mind of their own. Zayn touches Liam’s face, at the stubble of his jawline. He said he was going to grow a beard because he really wanted to try it. Zayn hasn’t been able to stop touching it. His fingers follow the line of his jaw until he’s cupping the back of Liam’s neck, thumbing at the short hair at the back of his head.

“Yeah,” Liam breathes out, his face still tilted up towards Zayn, letting him.

He looks so fucking good, Zayn wants to kiss him so bad. It takes him a moment to realise Liam’s staring steadfastly at Zayn’s lips. Zayn’s heart skips a beat, he’s thinking it’s impossible, it’s not going to happen, it’s just a passing moment -

Liam takes the glasses off and kisses him. The thoughts in his head turn into white nose. Liam is kissing him, gently, like how he smiles at Zayn sometimes. Liam makes to pull away and Zayn makes a noise in the back of his throat, kissing him back urgently. His mouth opens easily under his, he’s been trying so hard not to think about Liam’s bottom lip and now it’s happening. Liam wraps his arms around his waist, pulling him in closer, rucking his shirt up in the process.

“What was that?” Zayn asks breathless when they fall apart. He’s looking down at Liam with hooded eyes, his hands clasped behind his neck.

Liam touches their foreheads together, eyes glancing up at him so tenderly Zayn feels like he’s floating. He leans forward, kisses Zayn’s cheek and then just hides his face against Zayn’s neck, holding him closer. Zayn thinks he can feel his heart beating. He runs his fingers through his hair and over the bare skin of Liam’s shoulders. Liam stays there for a moment, both of their hearts beating wildly. He presses a kiss to Zayn’s collarbone, over his tattoos and rests against his heart.

“You feel it too, right?” Liam asks against his skin, still holding on.

“Yeah,” Zayn says and tilts his face down so he can kiss him again, sucking on his plump bottom lip and licking into his mouth.

Liam removes his hand from underneath Zayn’s shirt and down over his arse, resting at his thigh. He lifts him up easily, flipping them over. Zayn lands on his back and he takes a moment to appreciate how smooth that was before Liam’s there again, kissing him stupid. Liam fits himself between Zayn’s legs, kissing him slow. He shoves his shirt up again, touching him all careful and wondrous, taking his time. They kiss and kiss until Zayn’s whimpering into it, slotting his legs between Liam’s and rocking his hips up.

“I really want to suck you off,” Zayn says against his lips, big eyes staring up at Liam.

Liam groans and kisses the corner of his mouth. He strokes his cheekbone with his thumb and touches the tips of his eyelashes when Zayn closes his eyes. Zayn pushes at Liam until he rolls onto his back and climbs on top of him. Liam goes easy as all that, trusting. Zayn mouths against his bare neck, breathing in the scent of him at his pulse point. He leaves chaste kisses all down his chest and rubs his face against the hairs against his flexing abs. He undoes his belt and splits the fly of his trousers open. He doesn’t bother pulling them down over his arse. He nips at his hipbone to get his attention and Liam’s hips jump minutely in response.

“Can I?” Zayn asks, his eyes dark, mouth inches away from his dick.

Yes,” Liam says in a broken voice, averting his gaze to the ceiling. “Please.”

Zayn smiles at his response. He leans down to kiss the head of his dick through the cotton of his briefs, letting his tongue flick out to get the material wet. He starts sucking at it, hard enough to taste his pre-come through his briefs and Liam whimpers, “oh fuck.”

Zayn rubs his thumb against the wet cotton, hard, and when he looks up at Liam’s face, his eyebrows are drawn together, his mouth open. He stops fucking around, his mouth watering at the thought of tasting him without the cotton in the way, having him fill his mouth. He was only teasing for a bit, himself or Liam he’s not quite sure.

He finally hooks his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and pulls it down enough to free his cock. He takes a moment to catalogue the dark pink tip and how smooth and hard he feels in his hand. He darts out a tongue to lick at another drop of pre come beaded at the slit and Liam abruptly comes all over his face.

“Jesus fuck,” Liam says.

They’re both surprised by it, it seems. Zayn gets over it quicker, overcoming the suddenness of it to get with the program. He wraps his fingers tighter around his cock and wanks him through his orgasm, taking the time to watch Liam’s mouth go slack, his abs flexing. His first load of come is still drying on Zayn’s cheek, across the bridge of his nose, at the corner of his mouth.

“I’m so sorry,” Liam says once he’s finished, his dick still fat against his hipbone. His face has gone bright red, he throws an arm over it to hide. He sounds like he’s mostly talking to himself when he says, “I can’t believe I just came all over your face. You didn’t even get your mouth on me, this is so embarrassing.

“Liam,” Zayn says, wiping the worst of it off on the shirt he’s still wearing. He climbs back up the bed, mindful of Liam’s sensitive dick. He’s grinning, it was a surprise, he did expect Liam to hold out a bit longer - he just wanted a chance to get his mouth on him, if he was being honest.

“That was so rude!” Liam says, still talking to himself.

Liam,” Zayn says and Liam finally peeks at him from under his arm. He pointedly licks at the corner of his mouth, smiling, and says, “it’s okay. It was really hot.”

“It’s just - your face,” Liam tries to explain, “so close to my dick - I just couldn’t-“

Zayn laughs, he’d been trying not to laugh this whole time because he didn’t want to make Liam feel bad about the whole thing but he’s so cute. Zayn rolls into his side and kisses his face and the underside of his chin and Liam finally drops his arm. He starts to laugh too when he realises it really is okay and Zayn’s not laughing at him. He’s not going to be kicked out of the bed.

Liam reaches out with a fond look on his face to wipe at the rest of his come off Zayn’s cheek, his own cheeks still a bright red. Zayn leans forward and sucks his thumb into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it and licking it clean. He’d have really liked to have sucked him off.

“Oh god,” Liam says.

“You gonna help me out, babe?” Zayn asks, rolling onto his back next to Liam so he can palm at the thick line of his cock through his trousers.

He breathes out unevenly, he feels so desperate. Liam doesn’t reply but leans over to kiss him again, slowly sliding his hand down his belly. He pushes his shirt up again, too impatient to get it off properly and just touches his skin, skating his fingertips across his rib cage. It should tickle but everything about Zayn’s body is so sensitive right now, he shudders instead. Zayn undoes his own trousers, because Liam keeps getting distracted, and pushes them down along with his pants halfway down his thighs. He curls a hand around himself immediately and it’s like pure relief, his mouth going slack against Liam’s.

Liam presses one last kiss to the bow of his lip. He pulls Zayn’s hand away and takes his cock in his own hand, large and warm and already fisting him in a loose grip, like he’s just getting the feel of it. Zayn looks at Liam’s face, his breath catching in his throat. He’s staring down at his cock with dark, dark, eyes, his lips shiny from how many times he’s licked over it.

“I didn’t think you’d be so into it,” Zayn says, eyes going heavy and lidded when Liam experimentally rubs his thumb under the head.

“Zayn, I’m into your everything,” Liam says quite seriously. He’s blushing again, belatedly realising what keeps blurting out of his mouth. He starts wanking him properly, tightening his group on his cock. “God, you’re so wet,” Liam says, smearing it over his length.

Zayn wants to kiss Liam again but he wants to let him watch what he’s doing to Zayn as well. He seems to be really enjoying it. Zayn settles for touching him, his shoulders, the crook of his arm, open-mouthed kisses to his other palm. He spreads his leg, tries to make it a good show for him since Liam seems to be drinking him in like water. Liam touches him everywhere, skating his hand up and down his thigh and between his legs, stroking feather light and looking endlessly delighted whenever he tries something new and another blurt of pre come appears at the tip of his cock.

“Faster, yeah?” Zayn says, feeling it building.

Liam kisses him then, leaning over him so he can muffle the near constant ah's against his lips. He does as Zayn says, he speeds his hand up, getting him off. Zayn comes all over his belly and Liam’s fist, body curling. Liam kisses him through the after shocks which is how he likes it best. He presses kisses all over his face, finally letting go of his cock and smearing the come across his belly instead.

“Fuck,” Zayn says, blinking hard. He feels like his eyes are wet and there’s spots of light in his vision but then again, he has done quite a fair bit of drinking too. Zayn distantly thinks he might’ve pulled a muscle in his calf from how hard his toes curled.

“Yeah, I know,” Liam concedes with a laugh, kissing him again.

They’re both wiped out after that. Zayn has just enough energy to pull his shirt over his head and wipe at the mess on his belly, handing it over to Liam to do the same. The both of them kick their trousers off properly, shoving it with their legs towards the end of the bed. Zayn lifts the covers over the both of them like it’s only natural. They fall asleep like that, exchanging soft kisses between them.

~

In between sleep and dreams, Zayn’s brain wanders. He drifts, he remembers.

Zayn was at Mattie’s apartment, sitting on his spotless, terrifyingly white couch and feeling like if he moved too fast he’d get dirt on it. He hasn’t been rolling around in dirt previously but he’s not exactly spotless himself, getting his load of laundry done when he lives with so many people isn’t exactly easy. Still, he remains on the couch, reading a paperback novel Christel thought he might like, his cold toes tucked underneath Mattie’s thighs. He’s not doing much, just going through something on his phone, and Zayn suspects, staring at him. It’s a bit weird and a bit unnerving but Zayn’s trying to get used to it.

Mirjana said he should probably spend more time with his boyfriend. Time when they weren’t fucking or with other people.

Zayn doesn’t remember how exactly they got to talking about it. Maybe it was the way Mattie suddenly touched his bare ankle, where his jeans had pulled up. He traced the bone with his thumb slowly, round and round, and it made Zayn look up from his book, arching an eyebrow in question.

“I’ve never done this before,” Mattie says and there’s something in his voice that makes Zayn listen. “Being with someone,” he says, his voice low.

Zayn’s surprised at the sudden change. He’s never been this serious with him. Mattie won’t look up at him, just keep staring at his ankle. He finally circles his whole hand around it, looking up to make eye contact with Zayn.

“Okay,” Zayn says.

He thinks about bookmarking his page before putting the book down, it feels like they’re on the verge of having A Talk. He’s nervous. He doesn’t know what to expect with Mattie sometimes.

“I don’t know how to be gentle and the like,” Mattie says quietly, shrugging. He reaches for him, leaning against his bent knees. He touches his hair, his touch is unpractised and rough but he’s trying. “But you make me want to. It’s almost easy with you.”

Zayn doesn’t know what to say so he doesn’t say anything. He looks into his eyes and lets the book slip away from his hands without a bookmark. He leans forward to kiss him. He doesn’t want him to say anything else. He won’t know how else to respond so he kisses him and kisses him and rides him slowly on the stupid fucking sofa. He closes his eyes so he won’t have to see his blue eyes gazing up at him like that.

Zayn will remember in the morning, it’ll be his first thought.

~

Zayn wakes up first. His face is smushed against Liam’s neck, he’s so warm. He vaguely registers that he’s hungover, the kind that feels like it’ll get better after another five hours of sleep. He wants to keep his eyes closed, cling onto sleep for another few moments but he can’t. He rubs his nose against Liam’s neck, skin soft and warm from sleep.

They both like cuddling, it’s not a big deal. Except they’re both naked. This isn’t like all those other times they’ve fallen asleep together.

“Liam?” Zayn asks hoarsely. There’s no use checking, he knows it’s Liam.

Liam doesn’t respond but for the hand he skates up and down Zayn’s back underneath the sheets. He keeps him in the circle of his arms and turns his face towards him, blindly nudging at Zayn.

“Liam,” Zayn says again, stirring.

He does open his eyes this time, smiling warm and sappy at the first thing he sees. “Morning,” he says hoarsely and winces at the light filtering in through the window.

Zayn sees his glasses thrown haphazardly onto the bedside table and blinks. The terrible feeling he’s had at the pit of his stomach, the thing that’s reminding him he should be anxious and panicking, kicks into full gear. It just hits him all of a sudden, what they did. He tries to will his brain to go blank but it’s all filtering through and it feels catastrophic in the moment.

There’s still a thudding in his head, the heart burn from how much they drank last night and the feeling of pure shit running through his veins. He doesn’t want to think at all, he wants to go back to sleep but it’s too late for that. He feels sick.

“Hey, hey,” Liam says, frowning down at him in concern. “What’s the matter?” he asks, thumbing at the corner of Zayn’s eye as he blinks hard and tries to focus.

“We - we fucked,” Zayn says, pull away from Liam.

Liam doesn’t hold onto him, just lets him go. He sits up after Zayn, starting to look worried.

“Why did we do that?” Zayn asks, scrambling over to the edge of the bed where it’s cold. He’s fucking naked and there’s a swirl of emotions that come along with it, shame being top priority.

He starts toeing around for his pants. He doesn’t want to be naked when he has a total breakdown. He doesn’t know how he let himself do that. He knows he wanted to do it, more than anything in the world, but that’s not a good enough reason. Not in this life. Zayn can’t go giving into his every wish and desire, he doesn’t get to. What the fuck was he thinking?

They’re with different people.

They can’t have - this isn’t - he didn’t want it to happen like this.

“Zayn,” Liam says. He reaches over and runs a hand down the line of Zayn’s back, warm and soothing. He doesn’t move any closer though, he can still read the tenseness in Zayn’s body. “Mina broke up with me,” he says quietly, almost as if he knows what Zayn’s thinking because he’s thinking it too. “Quite a while ago, now.”

Zayn recoils from him completely until they’re not touching at all. He reaches down for his pants and pulls them on, getting off the bed so he can start looking for his jeans and put some fucking distance between the two of them. His fingers fumble around for his cigarettes, feeling on edge, like he’s going to buck and run at any moment.

He feels sick to the stomach. He looks around him wildly, trying to pull his thoughts and feelings together into some sort of cohesive unit but they’re reeling away from him, dispersing and being replaced with another. He can’t hold onto any of them.

“What?” Zayn asks, his voice dangerously quiet. His throat feels awful and dry. “So. So what? You thought it’d be okay -“

Zayn breaks off. He’s shocked more than anything else, hurt follows very closely behind. He pulls on a vest lying on the ground and grabs the hoodie next to it, balling it up in his hands. He’s fucked up. He’s scared, he’s angry and he doesn’t know how in the hell to fix this. His mind’s still reeling, trying to piece things together. He just says what he’s thinking in the moment.

“She broke up with you and you thought I’d be, what, convenient?” he spits out, throwing his confusion and hurt at Liam like it’s a ball he’s expected to catch.

There’s a reason Liam didn’t tell him beforehand. Zayn knows him too well.

He doesn’t throw it back, he looks bewildered instead, still naked and rumpled in Zayn’s bed. He looks so completely surprised by this turn of events, his mouth parted silently. Then he finds his voice, “what are you talking about? What’s the matter?”

“I have aboyfriend,” Zayn hisses out in a whisper as if he’s scared Mattie could hear them. They didn't fuck up, Zayn fucked up.

He’s cheated on Mattie. He feels like he’s going to vomit his heart out. He can’t blame the drinking for this one. He wanted so much and he couldn’t help himself. He was a selfish fucking prick, he didn’t think about Mattie at all.

Liam looks like he’s been slapped in the face, like he’s just realised too.

“What did you think this was?” Zayn asks, running his fingers through his hair. “You were sad and hurt because Mina dumped you so you came to me. What did you think of me, to ask me for this?”

“Zayn, no, listen,” Liam says, frantically trying to find his own clothes from the mess on the floor. “It’s not like that, you weren’t convenient. I didn’t just, we didn’t just - it wasn’t because I needed comforting, okay? It’s been ages and it all just clicked yesterday. Like, it’s never happened like this with a bloke before - I didn’t realise -“

“Yeah? Well that much was obvious,” Zayn cuts in. He tries to be cutting, mean, but he suspects his voice is shaking too much. He feels like he’s going to start crying, his hands are shaking around the hoodie.

“Look, you can’t be alone, Liam. You’re fucking terrified of it. You didn’t want me, you just needed someone.”

Liam stops trying to pull his shirt on and stares up at Zayn with big eyes. He looks hurt beyond belief, displaying it all so openly on his face. Zayn tries to feel triumph. All he feels is guilt. He feels like a goddamn hypocrite saying it, that’s exactly how it all started with Mattie, wasn’t it?

“You’ve no idea,” Zayn keeps saying, shaking his head. Tears of anger well up in his eyes, Zayn lowers his eyes and they cling to his lashes. He refuses to look at Liam. He had no idea what this meant to Zayn, even Zayn didn’t know what it meant to him until now. “I thought we were friends, I didn’t think you’d hurt me like…like this. You used me.”

“If I used you, what were doing to me?” Liam asks quietly, still looking at Zayn like his world hasn’t come crashing down around him.

“I don’t know what I was doing,” Zayn answers him, voice cracking, “I don’t want to see you again."

He runs out of his own room because he can’t stand to be there with Liam for another second. It’s still cold outside. He pulls on the hoodie he brought out with him and pulls it on. The scent hits him abruptly as the realisation that it’s Liam’s.

He does start crying then, angry tears leaking out one by one as he walks. He pulls out his cigarettes like it could save him for it all and wipes them away roughly.

~

Liam

 

Zayn is warm and strong and Liam was slowly going crazy with his nose tucked against his neck, the smell of his cologne, the smell of Zayn underneath. He was still tipsy when they got home but the awful burn in his stomach had receded. It was all probably due to Zayn, all points of contact with him seemed to be leeching the pain away. Liam smiled into his skin, climbing off his back reluctantly. He wanted to be covered by him, head to toe, wrap around him completely if it was possible.

Before he could say these stupid, stupid thoughts out loud, Zayn’s pushing Liam up the stairs, fingers strong and gentle on the small of his back. He tells him to hush when he gets to the first landing in front of Christel’s door, when he'd stubbed a toe and made a hurt sound.

And then he leaves him to go get a glass of water. Liam grumbles to himself the whole way up to Zayn’s room, flopping onto the bed sulkily. Maybe he’s not as sober as he thought he was because he’s acting like a child for no good reason. Because Zayn stopped paying attention.

He rubs at his face, his head’s been a mess lately. Nothing makes sense, not the way it used to. He wishes it was all a bit easier. Liam takes his shoes off and throws it to the other side of the room. It narrowly misses Zayn’s head as he enters through the door, already drinking from his glass.

He doesn’t drop the glasses but Liam’s hand reaches out instinctively for him anyway, even if he’s all the way across the room. Zayn makes his way over, side stepping Liam’s other shoe and puts the glasses of water on the bedside table. He takes a running leap into the bed next to Liam, bouncing them both of them and laughs. He takes his shoes off and throws them across the room too, making Liam giggle uncontrollably. 

Liam feels hot, sticky just under his skin. He tries to take his shirt off, unbuttoning with uncooperative fingers. Zayn laughs as he watches him, his fingers feeling even more thick and clumsy under Zayn’s gaze. He climbs into his lap which just makes Liam delighted, really, and helps him out because Zayn is so nice and so lovely and the shape of his smile is one of his favourite things in the world.

He doesn’t know when he put his hands on Zayn’s hips but they’re there, keeping him from rolling off him and sleeping on his side of the bed. Liam really doesn’t want that. His thumb slips under his shirt and when the pad of Liam’s thumb touches his skin, he feels his own skin jolt. He looks up at him in wonder.

The moment Zayn touches his face, everything kind of makes sense.

All this time, he was just jealous. All this time, he wanted Zayn like this more than anything else. He wanted Zayn to fall in love with him because Liam had been for quiet some time now. He looks up at Zayn’s face, he knew he was insanely beautiful, he knew, but now it’s like the rest of his brain caught up with his heart and it makes sense. It thumps against his chest, reminding him it’s there. He stares at Zayn’s lips and it feels so natural, like they’re supposed to.

The feeling of something being off, his heart constantly burning through his shirts, the buzzing in his head, disappears as Zayn’s hands skate over his skin. Nothing’s made more sense in Liam’s life now than Zayn’s mouth, sweet then intense, the length of his body against his. Liam finds his pulse point with his lips and mouths the words again it, he thinks he might tell Zayn he loves him. He knew he loved Zayn, he just didn’t realise he was in love with him. Stupidly. Madly. Head over heels.

Afterwards, Zayn fits into his side like he wants to be close. Liam can’t stop touching him, even as his eyes are shutting closed. He wants to trace every part of his skin with his hands, his mouth. Every tattoo, the space between his fingers, the sensitive skin at the inside of his elbows. It’s Zayn. It’s Zayn and he’s here, inky black eyelashes splayed against his cheekbones, he’s here and he kissed him back and he’s here. Liam can’t stop smiling into his hair, running his fingers through his hair, leaving a kiss at his temple.

Zayn turns around, smiling with his eyes closed, shoving at Liam. Liam turns too, his body malleable in his hands and Zayn spoons up behind him instead, breathing out slowly and tightens his arms around. The tip of his nose touches the shell of Liam’s ear, his hand following Liam’s arm until he can twine their fingers together.

He guesses he can have his sexuality crisis at a later time, he can’t think of anything else when he has this.

And then he wakes up into a terrible nightmare.

Zayn slams the front door and it feels like the whole house shakes with it. Liam’s still looking for his clothes, trying to find anything he can wear so he can go after him. He can explain. He needs Zayn to know he wasn’t a convenient warm body. It stung, what Zayn said about him not being able to be alone, because it was true. But Liam doesn’t want Zayn because he doesn’t want to be alone, he wants him because it’s Zayn.

He hears Zayn’s words repeat over and over again.

I don’t want to see you again.

Liam’s hand still on his shoes, retrieved from all the way across the room from the night before. Liam feels like he’s entire world’s changed after last night, he felt at peace, everything made sense - and Zayn regrets the whole thing. He doesn’t now how he can explain if Zayn won’t believe him. He doesn’t think any amount of explaining can make it okay. It wouldn’t matter.

How is he going to be able to put into words everything Liam only realised last night? Liam looks down at the bed, at the rumpled, sleep-warmed sheets and the dirty t shirt as proof on the bedroom floor. He doesn’t want Zayn to regret him. He didn’t think it’d end up like this.

He’s done it now.

He didn’t think, he just went with his heart. It steered him into the right place before. He thought it would all be okay because he’s stupid and naive. He was so happy, he thought it’d be enough, somehow love would triumph and all that. Now he’s fucked everything up, Zayn’s gone, he’s furious and hurting and he doesn’t want to talk to Liam ever again. Liam wants to punch something, if he could he’d punch himself. He can't even think about Mattie.

In that moment, it felt like everything was right. He didn’t have to think at all, he didn’t process that he could lose Zayn, that fear didn’t even come to surfacing when he was with him. He’s always had the niggling fear at the back of his head, that people would realise all the awful things about him and pull out of his life just like that, leave him behind. That fear always faded when he was with Zayn, he made him feel safe in who he was.

Liam goes home and takes a shower. He makes a smoothie and drinks it in the kitchen, staring down at the sink aimlessly. He doesn’t get to sleep for another 24 hours, going over and over what happened, changing bits and pieces and thinking of things he could have said or done in that split second to make it all go differently. He tries to reconcile with the fact he won’t hear Zayn’s laugh again.

Zayn doesn’t want to see him, that’s what he wants, it’s the least Liam can do for him after this.

Liam only goes to sleep when Niall finally comes home to the quiet flat. He takes one look at his face and doesn’t say anything. They smoke a bowl and Liam tries his best to blank out.

Chapter Text

Zayn

When Harry and Zayn were over, Zayn tried his best not to feel it. He went three whole days of walking around like a zombie, acting like nothing had happened, that it didn’t hurt, thinking he could keep it up for the rest of his life. Then it all just came crashing down around him. It was worse, like that delay made him feel everything so much more deeply afterwards. He stayed in bed for a long time, couldn’t even get up to turn the lights on when the sun went down - there was no use, it would be the same tomorrow. He felt like he was being suffocated by the dark.

Eventually, he got out of bed. Eventually, he took a shower and he had something to eat and eventually, he told people about it. For a while, he refused to let the hurt heal. Every time it felt like it could scab over, he picked at it relentlessly, reminding himself of how much it could hurt so he wouldn’t make the same mistake.

He should’ve just kept picking. He could’ve saved himself some trouble.

~

Zayn manages to go for a whole week, guilt clawing at him from the inside out. He makes himself stay away. Christel says he looks sick and lets him sit in her room where no one, especially Mirjana, won’t dare venture in. She sits there and knits while they watch The Young Ones on her analogue TV set. They sit in relative silence. She tells him about her grand life sometimes and Zayn closes his eyes, drinks her herbal tea and tries to stay tethered to this earth.

The week goes by and then Zayn finally goes to see him. He’s afraid, not of him, he’s just afraid.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Mattie says when he opens the door, leaning against the doorframe. He crosses his arms and tilts his head, just staring at him.

Zayn enters his apartment cautiously. He hasn't entered Mattie's space so carefully since the very first time. He pulls his beanie off, tousling his flat hair, and stuffs it into the back pocket of his jeans. It gives him something to do with his hands and buys him some time before he has to speak.

“Hi,” Zayn says stupidly. 

“Hi,” Mattie says right back, closing the door behind him. He walks past Zayn and leans against the kitchen counter. He doesn’t invite him to sit down.

Zayn doesn’t know how to lead up to it, how does someone lead up to something like this? He jumps right in before his nerves get the better of him because this isn’t an option, he needs to do it.

“I messed up, Mattie,” Zayn says, his voice quiet.

When Zayn looks up from the ground to watch his face, he’s smiling humourlessly. “Yeah?” he asks, almost as if he’s been expecting it.

“Yeah,” Zayn says heavily. He lets the words fall out of his mouth, “I slept with Liam.”

It’s easier than he expected. He doesn’t feel any better about it. 

“I’m really, really, fucking sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen, we were drunk-,” Zayn starts to explain.

“When?” Mattie asks, still smiling that terrible smile. He looks frozen, or like he’s attempting to freeze his face into a mask. Zayn’s heart thuds painfully in his chest, he wants to reach out and touch him.

“That night I took him home after the dinner,” Zayn says. It should be obvious, Zayn disappeared off the face of the earth after that. He balls his hands at his sides like he expects Mattie to want to fight him. He doesn’t know what he expected, he didn’t think Mattie would cry or scream, but he didn’t expect this awful calmness either.

“Just that one time?” Mattie asks, crossing his arms and staring down at Zayn’s feet.

“Of course,” Zayn asks, perplexed. 

“You’ve only slept with him once?” he asks again, “that time was the only time you’ve cheated on me with Liam?” He sounds incredulous, disbelieving. His eyes flick back up to look at him, his eyebrows rising.

Yes,” Zayn says.

Mattie’s shoulders, tense and painful, fall down a smidgen of a fraction. He says, “I thought it was an ongoing thing.”

“What?” Zayn asks, feeling all hollowed out inside, like all the life’s been sucked out of him.

“The whole time we were dating,” Mattie says, shrugging. “I had a feeling.”

“Nothing ever happened before that night. Why didn’t you ever ask me, then? Why were you still with me if you thought I was -?” Zayn trails off. He doesn’t understand at all. Maybe it was some kind of joke, Mattie playing with Zayn as much as he was playing with him. 

“Because,” Mattie says, the ice slipping for a moment. He’s hauntingly honest when he says, “I had you. I thought it might be enough.”

Zayn can’t stand to look at Mattie for another second. He looks back down at the space between them, the widening gap he can feel coming up between them.

“That’s not right,” Zayn says, shaking his head. “Nobody deserves that. You deserve better than that.”

Mattie just shrugs again. He scratches his nose and his hand is shaking. “I guess it’s all over then,” he says and it’s evident in his voice, his heart is breaking but he’s trying so hard to cover it up. Zayn doesn’t want to ruin his illusion.

“I’m sorry,” Zayn says again, helpless. He looks up at him, makes eye contact, he deserves that much from him. He wants to hug him but he thinks touching Mattie is not an option at all.

“For me? Or for what it makes you,” Mattie asks. Zayn flinches at the hard look in his eyes.

Zayn doesn’t answer him. He opens his mouth and closes it again uselessly. He has nothing to say. He’s been so selfish, so consumed with his own pain, his own emotions, that he didn’t think about what Mattie could feel. Maybe that was his problem, he never cared for him enough. Zayn thinks that’s a bit fucked up.

He leaves the apartment complex. He vomits up the herbal tea and scones waiting for the bus and shakes like a leaf in the wind.

~

Zayn feels like he needs to cut himself off from the outside world, not because he wants to but because he thinks it’s the least he can do. He doesn’t think he can do it. He thinks about the person he wants to talk to the most and it’s Liam. He doesn’t know when that happened. It's obvious when he realises that he can't really talk to him at all. He can’t talk to Mirjana either because he just knows that she would detest him for what he’s done. Her dad used to cheat on her mum when she was younger. She hates it, always said there was no excuse.

Mirjana insistently crawls into his bed one day and pulls his head into her lap. He’s too weak and grateful to protest. She strokes his hair for a bit and Zayn closes his eyes and tries to pretend everything’s still the same.

“What’s the matter?” she asks patiently.

“Nothing,” he says, hiding his face against her soft stomach and wrapping his arms around her waist.

“Did you have a fight with Liam or something? I called him a few times to see if he could come over and get you out of your room but he said he’s been busy,” Mirjana says in a voice where she doesn’t believe they live in a world when Liam could ever be too busy for Zayn. 

She’s meddlesome and so goddam nosy. She cares too fucking much. Zayn holds on tighter.

“Something like that,” Zayn says, and breathes in shakily.

“You’re looking so pale,” she says worriedly, fussing with the tag at his collar.

“There’s not been much sun,” Zayn mumbles and it makes Mirjana laugh. Zayn smiles for the first time in days.

“You’re such a twat,” she says very fondly.

He doesn’t want to let her go. He doesn’t want to tell her what he did. At the same time, he feels like he’s fooling her by not telling her. He doesn’t deserve her comfort.

“Mir, I did something bad,” Zayn says, screwing his eyes shut.

“Where’s the body?” she asks, fingers stilling in his hair suddenly.

He untangles himself from her, leaning back out of her touch to stare at her deadpan expression. He doesn’t have the energy to roll his eyes at her. She’s dead serious.

“I cheated on Mattie,” he finally says, his voice wavering. He tries to be careful with his face but he’s got a shitty poker face and Mirjana always sees right through him anyway.

“Oh,” she says after a moment, neutral. He can’t read her face at all though, she can be good at that when she wants to be. “What happened?”

He wants to desperately defend himself, point out that she didn’t even like Mattie to relieve some of the guilt that’s been burning in his gut. He wants to be redeemed, he’s only human.

“Liam and I,” he says, pressing the heels of palms against his eyes. Then it all comes blurting out like word vomit, like he can’t physically stop himself from finally being able to tell someone what’s been going on. It feels like he’s lost a lot in a short amount of time, Mattie and Liam and everyone else.

“Is this why you’ve been like this for weeks?” Mirjana asks, pulling at his wrists. “Jesus, Zayn. This is a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation. You did a shitty thing, but it doesn’t make you a shitty person. You made a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. C’mere you big lump.”

She pulls his head into her lap again and he buries her face against the soft material of her jumper and tries not to shake apart. It’s such a relief. Mirjana can still quote Brokeback Mountain at a time like this. He’s grateful that she’s not pulling away, telling him what she really thinks, angry. She’s not repulsed by him.

“I’m really sorry,” Zayn says thickly.

“Good,” she says simply and keeps stroking his hair. Her big rings catch in the strands but he doesn’t say anything, he’s too relieved. In this moment, he loves her so much. “And, um. So - well.”

“Well what?” Zayn asks suddenly, unearthing himself so he can stare up at Mirjana in question.

“Um, Harry put two and two together - the fact that you were miserable and not eating and smoking too much - no idea how he got this information to be honest, I suspect someone in this house has been giving him updates, can’t think of anyone specifically - and the fact that Liam’s not coming around anymore…the boy’s got a protective streak that can wrap around the earth twice, you know that -“

“What happened?” Zayn asks warily, blinking heavily.

“He kind of went barging in and shouted a lot,” she says wincing. She pets his shoulder consolingly.

“Oh fuck,” Zayn says quietly.

~

Zayn thinks it’s time he met up with Harry. Putting this plan into action turns out to be a lot harder than he’d anticipated. It’s only then he realises with a flash of guilt that he doesn’t even know where he lives anymore. He hasn’t visited since he moved out once and for all, he didn’t go to his housewarming party, they haven’t hung out once. On one hand, Zayn thinks it might’ve been good for him, to put some distance between the two of them and try doing things on his own after battling with him by his side for so long . On the other hand, they’re supposed to be friends. Zayn still cares about him and he knows his silence would’ve hurt him.

He has to ask Jaewon for the address. Jaewon doesn’t make him feel shitty about the fact he hasn’t seen Harry one on one in a while now. He thinks some of his other friends might have a lot more to say about the matter. It’s hard for Zayn to see it that way but when they broke up, it left scars on the both of them.

He shows up at Harry’s doorstep, toeing at the welcome mat with the faded banana graphic as he waits for the door to open. There’s a loud noise, probably Harry bumping into the wall or falling over his massive feet, and the door opens. He looks cosy and warm in his jumper and pyjama bottoms. He looks surprised to see Zayn and then his face transform into a delighted grin.

“Hiiii,” Zayn says in imitation of Harry before he can say anything else. 

Harry laughs at that, throwing his head back and cackling like a deranged mad man. He pulls Zayn inside promptly.

Apparently Grimmy’s not here most of the time, meaning England, writing from all over Europe so Harry’s left mostly to himself. Zayn knows Harry can’t be enjoying that. Zayn thinks Harry leaving was for his sake more than it was for himself. Zayn needed to be alone when Harry couldn’t be alone and he’d made the sacrifice for the both of them.

He looks around the place curiously, he can definitely tell Harry Styles lives here. He walks over to the sofa, staring at the wall it’s up against. He has rows and rows of pictures on it.

He doesn’t expect to see himself in them. There’s one of him where he’s in bed, smoking a cigarette, chin tilted up to the ceiling, blowing out a stream of smoke. He doesn’t remember Harry taking it. There’s another one, just the two of them lying in the grass. It was a sunny day, Harry’s sunnier smile tucked under Zayn’s ear. He remembers taking this one, he had to hold the disposable camera up because Harry kept dropping it on their faces. He thumbs at the picture and turns around to see Harry watching him carefully. He remembers that day, it was a perfect day. He didn’t think it could get any better than that.

“Sorry, I took the photo,” Harry says with a sheepish shrug.

“It was yours,” Zayn says.

“I was going to leave it for you,” Harry says, “but I love that photo. I felt like it was important, y’know?”

It takes Zayn a moment but a slow smile spreads across his face. “Yeah.”

Zayn turns back around to see the rest of the photographs. There’s a bunch of Harry and his friends, lots of pictures of Niall. Zayn remembers why he’s here, he’d heard Harry got into it with Niall as well, all because of him. He’s about to turn around to start that conversation but he hears sudden movement and feels Harry up against his back. He wraps his arms around him and tucks his chin against his neck, pressing up against him.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Harry says, turning his face against his neck.

Years later, Anne will tell him how Harry cried his eyes out on her couch, thinking he’d made the greatest mistake in his young life. It won’t occur to Zayn until then that it affected Harry just as much as it hurt him. But then again, Harry doesn’t do things if he’s not absolutely sure it’s what he wants.

“You too,” Zayn says. He turns around to hug him properly. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been a bit busy,” Zayn mumbles. He didn’t mean for it to come out like he was too busy for Harry but Harry brushes the sting away like it’s nothing. Zayn feels like all he’s been doing lately is apologising. All he’s been doing is fucking it up.

“Your hair’s got so long,” Zayn says, touching his curls, threading them through his fingers gently.

He remembers that awful time he saw Harry on campus, his curls underneath another bandana. Harry had seen him and Zayn couldn’t do it. He pretended he didn’t see him and kept on walking, ducked his head so he wouldn’t have to see his face fall. He just couldn’t talk to him that day, it had been a terrible day, one of the days he knew if he met Harry on the street he would have asked for him to take him back, begged for it. There were days where he missed him so badly, it felt like he was never going to fit together whole again.

“I get it,” Harry says, his voice muffled. Zayn lets go of the back of his jumper, gently untangling his fingers from his hair. Harry steps away.

“You okay?” Zayn asks and Harry smiles again brilliantly, dimpling.

“I’m fine."

“Heard you went a bit Order of Phoneix Harry at Liam the other day,” Zayn says, sitting down on the sofa. Harry settles in next to him comfortably, stretching his leg out on top of Zayn’s lap.

Zayn expected Harry to look at him through his fringe sheepishly. He doesn’t, he looks up at him defiantly instead and says, “Yeah. I’m not going to stand by and let anyone hurt you like that.”

Once upon a time Zayn thinks he would’ve said, just you, then?

“It,” Zayn trails off. He was going to say it wasn’t his fault but he can’t make himself believe it.

Liam didn’t tell him that Mina had broken up with him, that he was sad and lonely and needed someone. If he'd known, if Zayn had known the reason Liam wanted him - he wouldn't have done anything. He’d have known better. He didn’t want to be that to Liam, someone to drown his sorrows in. He feels like he’s taken advantage of Liam as much as he feels taken advantaged of. It fails to equal out, it’s still not okay.

“I can fight my own battles, thanks,” Zayn says, trying to sound dry and coming up increasingly sincere.

“I know,” Harry says.

“Hey, I bet your hair’s long enough to be put into a ponytail now,” Zayn says casually. Harry’s eyes light up.

~

(Niall

He stands outside the door, clutching the takeaway in his right hand and trying to open the door to Harry's flat with the other. He gave him a key, it has a little bunny figure at the head because Harry's a shit, but it makes him smile all the same. He gets the door open but stills when he hears noises, he didn't know Harry had a guest.

“It’s too tight, I can’t keep all of it in, it keeps slipping out!”

“Owwww, it hurts, Zayn.”

“Stop wriggling so much, my hand’s cramping up too.”

Harry gasps. "I think you've got it."

"I haven't done this in ages, stay still."

Niall comes out of the short hallway, shoving the key back into his pocket, cradling the food carefully. His raised eyebrows are met with the image of Zayn sitting on the couch, Harry on the ground between his legs. He’s trying to comb his hair into a ponytail, failing because his hair’s just not quite there yet. 

“Hi,” Niall says, smiling.

The both of them look up at the same time. They have matching expressions on their faces, a deer caught in the headlights. Niall snorts.

“Hi,” Zayn says in surprise. 

Zayn settles for half a ponytail, tying it quickly with a elastic band, tongue between his teeth in concentration.

Niall invites him to share their takeaway. Zayn stays for dinner and the smile Harry shoots at Niall is blinding.)

~

Liam

At first Liam is glad that Louis isn’t home when Harry starts shouting. It’s just that, Louis can be brutal. He doesn’t take to a lot of people shouting at Liam, even when he deserves it. And then he realises it’s not that great to have Niall at home when it happens either, since Louis and Harry aren’t dating it might be a fraction better if he was here instead. He actually wishes there was nobody here so Harry could yell at him in peace.

“What the fuck did you do?” Harry demands, scowling.

Niall strolls out of his room, shirtless as always and carrying a packet of crisps. He looks surprised to see Harry but Harry doesn’t even acknowledge him. He didn’t come over to see his boyfriend, his gaze is intent on Liam. 

Liam opens his mouth but he has no idea what to say. 

“Hey, hey, chill out,” Niall says, cutting in. He tries to get in-between Harry and Liam.

“Why is he,” Harry starts to say, ignoring Niall like he’s not even in the room with them, “all broken?” His voice cracks and he looks heartbroken for a moment. He recharges, using it to fuel his anger.

“It’s between me and Zayn,” Liam finally says, his voice quiet. He’s unable to look Harry in the eyes.

“I don’t understand!” Harry explodes. His eyes are intense but he doesn't raise his voice. “He adored you. What did you do that was so horrible that he won’t even talk about it. He’s one of the kindest, most forgiving people I know and you fucked him over.”

“I know that!” Liam finally snaps.  He regrets it almost immediately. He’s had the worst fucking month and he doesn’t have to do this, he doesn’t need to lash out but he needs to release all this misery somewhere. He’s bursting out of his skin with all this pent up energy, his heart’s breaking a little bit more every day.

“Fix it. Fucking fix it,” Harry says and shoves him. 

It's not a very hard shove, Liam doesn't go anywhere but flower crown, child of peace, new born foal Harry shoved him. 

Liam’s seen Harry fall down over his very own daddy long legs multiple times, he’s seen him hit his own face with his gigantic hands all by accident. He expects him to kind of flop over when Liam pushes him back but there’s fire in his eyes. He’s sturdy against him and Liam can feel every inch of his height. 

"What are you coming at me for? You’re the one that fucked him over first, wasn’t it? You left him, you broke his heart,” Liam says and it just comes bursting out of him. He's been thinking it this whole time, he was the reason Zayn was so sad in the first place. The anger licking at his spine feels a lot better than guilt.He’s angry at himself, at Zayn, at Harry, at everything. 

“C’mon, you need to go,” Niall says firmly, successfully getting in between the two of them. He holds onto Harry’s shoulders, makes him look him square in the eyes. Harry doesn’t back down.

Liam can see the look on Harry’s face. It’s like he’s standing there and asking Niall whether it’s him or Liam, for him to choose. Liam can't see Niall's face but he turns him around and leads him out the door, closing it behind him. Liam feels triumph for about five seconds before all the good feeling's gone and he's horrified.

He looks at Liam and his voice is kind but his eyes are icy blue when he says, “he shouldn’t be talking to you like that but what you said wasn’t cool.”

Liam starts as if he’s going to say something, maybe if he just keeps at being enraged at the unjustness of his life - he feels so misunderstood by everyone and he wants to - he deflates instead. Liam abruptly closes his mouth, feeling all the strength leave his body.

“I can’t fix it,” Liam says warily, covering his face with his hands.  “I can’t, I can't, I can't, I don’t know how.”

“You’ll figure it out, you always do,” Niall says and wraps his arms around him in a bear hug. He pulls the both of them down onto the sofa.

“And now I’ve gone and fucked things up for you and Harry too,” Liam says, digging his fists into his eyes. He just seems to be fucking up everything nowadays.

He feels so pathetic and stupid and he misses Zayn so much it hurts.

“It’s alright, Leemo, just breathe,” Niall says, running his palm up and down his back. 

He should’ve told Zayn. It might’ve made a difference, that he was so head over heels in love with him that he could barely see straight. He didn’t know what he wanted was Zayn and he took without thinking because he thought it would be enough. He thought Zayn would understand, he always understands Liam without him having to explain. Maybe he should’ve said it out loud this time.

~

Zayn

Zayn can’t sleep. It’s a definitely a first. He’s had a shower and a cigarette and a hot cup of tea and he still can’t fall sleep. He goes downstairs and turns the telly on, flipping through the channels in disinterest. He picks up a console to play a game instead. He sees Louis online and shoves Jamie’s headphone on. They play.

“Dude, it’s 4am,” Zayn says in surprise. He’s been in he same position for the last four hours. He hadn’t realised so much time had passed. “On your six!” he says and shoots a zombie in the head, saving Louis’ arse.

“Cheers,” Louis says, swearing fluently. “I’m not tired at all, man. El’s gone down to her parents for a week. I can’t sleep.”

The without her is implied but Zayn hears it loud and clear. Louis doesn’t sound embarrassed about it at all. It’s hard to believe they’ve only met a couple of months ago, there’s something about the way Louis talks to Zayn that’s freeing. He shares stuff so casually with Zayn, things he keeps guarded next to his heart, the things not a lot of people have the privilege to see. It has him reciprocating naturally before he can even think about it.

“You want to go out?” Zayn asks, fingers stilling on his console.

“It’s 4am,” Louis repeats at him incredulously. There’s a lot of sound on his end and Zayn can imagine him grabbing his things. He grins and flings his console onto a cushion as well.

“Where do you want to go?” Louis asks and Zayn shrugs, forgetting he can’t see him. 

“Doesn’t matter, does it?” he says.

He struggles to get his shoes back on and grabs his skateboard on the way out. 

They end up on a quiet, dead street. Zayn on his board and Louis on his bike, the both of them wandering around aimlessly. They’re both restless, been sitting on all this energy for too long. It’s nice to stretch out their legs after sitting in the same position for ages, pausing now and then for toilet breaks and more doritos.

“You could’ve just come over,” Louis says.

Zayn shrugs again and doesn’t answer him. He couldn’t. He knows Louis is Liam’s person, he’s not trying to fuck with that. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

“You miss Eleanor, yeah?” Zayn asks in an attempt to distract him.

Louis turns his head to stare at Zayn, narrowing his eyes at him. He takes the bait. “Yeah,” he breathes out softly.

“It’s just a week, bro,” Zayn says, teasing. It comes out more consolatory than anything.

“Yeah,” he says in the same kind of voice. 

Zayn thinks Liam was right about the two of them. They’re going to do it all proper. They were the ones who were made for each other. The ones who found each other. They’re the ones who got lucky.

“She’ll be back tomorrow,” Zayn says. He looks down at his watch and grins, “Well, today.”

Louis perks up and speeds up like an asshole. Zayn shakes his head, a grin on his face as he follows after him. They stop for kebabs before getting back on their metaphoric road, watching everything slowly turn blue and then lighter and lighter, the morning air crisp in their lungs. 

Zayn’s legs get tired. He gets up on the front of the bike, sitting on the handles. It’s a very wobbly and terrifying start but Louis manages to pedal the both of them all the way to Zayn’s house. 

“I know you’ve been going through some shit with Liam,” Louis says, trailing off. Zayn doesn’t look at him. He gives his shoes an irritated look of warning instead. He doesn’t want to turn the night into talking about this. “He still hasn’t told me what’s going on which means he knows he’s fucked up. But, mate, from the first day he met you, he couldn’t stop talking about you.”

Louis gives him a look like he’s proving a point. Zayn knows he’s trying to help but he wishes he wouldn’t. 

“Alright, bring it in brother,” Louis says and reaches for Zayn. He ruffles his hair like Zayn’s his kid brother and Zayn shoves him off with a grin. 

“Go fuck yourself,” Zayn says softly and Louis smiles at him. 

“Not for long!” Louis says cheerfully, riding off with his middle finger in the air. He swerves dangerously and puts both hands onto the handles again.

Zayn goes inside, drops his board off and climbs the stairs. He falls into bed and goes to sleep. 

~

Liam

 

Liam gets a call in the middle of the night. He gropes around for his phone, resting on the empty pillow besides him, and checks the time. He rubs at his eyes, it’s2.35am and then he reads it’s Zayn calling him and he almost drops his phone in an attempt to answer it. He thinks he might be dreaming. He hasn’t talked to him in weeks, Zayn said he didn’t want to see him again - Liam was trying his best to keep away. Maybe the phone wasn’t off limits. Technically, Zayn wasn't seeing Liam at all.

“Please don’t say anything,” Zayn says just as Liam opens his mouth to say something. His voice is raw but soft. He can imagine him chain smoking out of his window.

Liam closes his mouth. He doesn’t know what he would’ve said. Maybe just a simple hello. Maybe he would’ve asked if everything was alright, there must be something wrong for Zayn to be calling him. Then again, he might not have been intending to call him at all.

Liam does as Zayn asked, he doesn’t say anything.

Zayn takes a big breath on the other side of the line. Liam relaxes, lets the tension leave his body as he settles onto his back. He stares up at the dark ceiling, tucking his phone between his ear and the pillow. He can almost see Zayn in his own bed, mirroring Liam after having another cigarette. Maybe he’s out, maybe he’s not home at all, maybe he’s with someone else. Liam closes his eyes.

“I miss you,” Zayn says so quietly that Liam almost doesn’t catch it. His heart speeds up, is palms starting to sweat, his eyes startling open. “I can’t go half a day without thinking about you.”

Liam wants to say something, he wants to tell him that Zayn’s been the only constant thing on his mind. He wants to apologise for hurting him, he should’ve explained, he should’ve told him about Mina. He wasn’t thinking. Maybe it wasn’t the best time for them to have spent the night together.

Zayn hangs up.

It’s not entirely fair but Liam will take what he can get. This has to mean something, it has to be a good sign. 

At the start, Liam optimistically couldn’t help imagining Zayn showing up at his door, sometimes it’d be raining sometimes it was sunny, and he would kiss him and it’d be just like that. Like in the movies where that would be enough, the hurt he’d caused would be forgotten because he didn’t mean it, it wasn't an accident, it was a misunderstanding. It didn't happen.

This feels concrete. Zayn’s still thinking about him even if it might be things that are not all that great. He can't get out of his head the look on his face when he said Liam couldn't be alone. 

It isn’t a miracle but it’s a step towards rebuilding what they had, into something where they’re not both punishing each other. 

Liam waits and waits during the week but he doesn’t get another call. Liam decides to initiate the call instead. He thinks he should be allowed this one small thing, Zayn did it first.

“I miss you too,” Liam says. He wasn’t expecting him to pick up, he’s as nervous as he was when he called him for the very first time.

What he really wants to say is I love youplease give me a chance. He doesn't know if it'd be even any better or painful to have Zayn back in his life, to salvage a fraction of their friendship and in return quietly be in love with him.

Zayn sighs like he’s relieved. “This is so fucked up,” Zayn says after a moment.

Liam doesn’t know what he’s referring to. The late night phone calls, too scared and angry in daylight, or the whole situation they’ve gotten themselves into. He thinks it might be both. He doesn’t sound so angry anymore, though.

“Does it have to be?” Liam asks tentatively, feeling his heart ball up in his throat, the achey feeling consuming him completely. He anxiously fists his hand in his duvet and closes his eyes, counting the seconds it takes for Zayn to answer.

“It’s not that easy,” Zayn finally says. “You can’t just decide that it’s not.”

Liam breathes out shakily. Maybe he’s going to say he’s done with Liam properly, to delete his number from his phone. 

“Give it some time,” Zayn says, “good night, babe.”

He hangs up.

~

They call each other at night sometimes. There’s no specific day that they call each other, or how many days they wait. They don’t take turns, it’s always random. It’s when things get a little bit unbearable, always under the cover of darkness. He thinks Zayn’s trying to forgive him.

~

“Are you and Harry still fighting?” Liam asks. It’s their turn to go shopping again.

“Nah, sorted it ages ago,” Niall says easily, shrugging. He reaches for the brand of soy milk Eleanor prefers. She's back and bought Louis new toys and Liam suspects they need the hydration. 

“Oh, good,” Liam says, nodding. At least that’s off his conscience.

“Yeah, we just talked it out and cried a bit. He tried to give me the world’s teariest blow job but his nose was all blocked,” Niall says fondly. He stops to read off a label of pasta sauce like what he’s said is completely normal and appropriate for conversations in aisle 6.

“Well, did he get far?” Liam asks because he can’t help himself.

“He tried,” Niall says like it’s all that matters. “We spooned and tried again later. We’re good.”

“That’s good,” Liam says again.

“Are you ever going to tell me what happened with Zayn?” Niall asks. He calmly puts the pasta sauce back and starts down the aisle without Liam.

“What good is it going to do?” he asks Niall. He’s sulking, he knows it, he’s even got his hands pushed into his pockets like a little boy. He follows after him anyway.

“Might help to get it off your chest, I dunno,” Niall says casually. He says it with all the care of a man who’s in love and incredibly happy.

“We slept together,” Liam says quietly. 

Niall’s head whips back to stare at him. He winces and touches the base of his neck. 

“And then everything sort of fell apart.”

“When was this? After he broke up with Mattie?” Niall asks, gaping at him.

“Zayn broke up with Mattie?” Liam asks, bewildered, stopping Niall with a hand at his shoulder.

Niall makes a face, pursing his lips like he doesn’t know if he was supposed to say that or not. Liam tries to look pathetic and pleading. It’s not that hard. “Yeah, man, weeks ago,” he finally relents, reaching out and shucking his chin.

"Oh," Liam says quietly.

“Is that why he dumped Zayn? And now Zayn doesn’t want to see you ever again?” Niall asks because that’s the bit he does know. 

That's the only bit Liam told him. It was usually after he'd dragged him out to play footie in the middle of the night, trying to get his mind off the mess he'd made out of his life. Niall got fed up with having to play so much footie all the time and often threw his shoes at Liam's head, telling him to just go talk to him - like that was even an option for him. 

“Jesus, Liam, are you that bad in bed?” Niall asks.

Liam squawks, turning red.

“I’m not - okay, I didn’t tell him about Mina breaking up with me,” Liam finally says. “It’s just. He said I used him. I thought we both wanted the same thing.” Liam doesn’t think this kind of conversation is most suitable to be had in the middle of the store, harsh fluorescent lighting wasn't what he had in mind when he usually thought about baring his heart out.

“I didn’t know you swung that way,” Niall says, shrugging again. “It doesn’t matter. But why didn’t you tell him about Mina?” Niall asks. He doesn’t say it shrewdly like Louis would’ve it, but casually, lightly. Sometimes Liam forgets how good Niall is at talking to people and more importantly, getting them to open up to him.

“But there’s the thing - I didn’t know I liked guys that way, okay? All I saw was Zayn. Everything, everyone, is just like...white noise when I'm with him.”

“Cheers,” Niall says.

“Shut up,” Liam says, elbowing him in the ribs with a smile. He’s had some time to adjust to it, he’s done some research and everything, but this is the first time he’s told anyone that he likes boys too, that he’s bisexual. He didn't think he'd be this anxious. He's glad it's with Niall.

“I didn’t know I was in love with him until that second, like, I’m so fucking stupid. I guess - I didn’t tell him about Mina because I didn’t want him to feel sorry for me. He’s such a giving person, I wanted him to want me for me. I didn’t realise until we were, y’know, in the moment.”

Niall snorts. “Is that an euphemism for balls deep?” he asks with a snicker.

Liam flushes so hard Niall has to take pity on him. He slings an arm around him fondly, presses their cheeks together very hard and lets the issue drop. The thing is, Liam has been taking his research into this new foray of his sexuality very seriously. Basically, he’s been watching a lot of gay porn, surprised that he’s not all that surprised when his body responds easily. Zayn’s been on his mind a lot, in more than just one way. Niall doesn’t have to know that.

“But I dunno, mate, you seem less mopey recently,” Niall says, starting to push the trolley down the aisle again so they’re not loitering around in one place for too long.

“Hmm,” Liam says non-committedly. He made Zayn laugh the night before and it felt like how it did when it was for the first time, fireworks exploding inside his chest.

Liam is so stupid. How could he have not known this.

“But, uh, how is it going with you and Harry, teary blow jobs aside?” Liam asks. He gets a scandalised look from a white-haired lady holding onto her cane. He hurries them further down the aisle. He ought to know more about what’s going on in Niall’s love life, he’s just unburdened his shit like word vomit all over him.

Liam knows he’s been very self absorbed in his own misery for a while now. He’s trying to snap out of it.

“He’s so fucking weird,” Niall says cheerfully. “I think I love him.”

“Dude, that’s…that’s great!” Liam says. “Have you told him?"

“Nope,” Niall says, “I’d hope it was pretty obvious though. I let him stick a -”

“Niall, no, we had this conversation, I don’t want to know the thing, you always think I want to know the thing,” Liam says. “But, maybe you should tell him. People like it when you tell them these things. Not the sticking things into things thing, the you love him thing.”

“Have you told Zayn?” Niall asks, like this is so easy, they’re just discussion the match or Louis’ new haircut. It punches Liam right in the chest, he can barely breathe.

“It’s different - he doesn’t want to hear it. That’s the thing, he won’t believe me now.”

“Apparently people would appreciate it if you said these things,” Niall says snidely, his eyes blue and kind.

Liam tries to push him into the yogurt section of the freezer. He helps him out eventually and shamefacedly apologises to the pimply kid who has to tell them off. 

~

It’s Louis and Eleanor’s turn to make their weekly dinner for the three of them. Niall’s gone out with Harry for the night and Liam considered going for a walk for a couple of hours to let them have a couples night but Louis had given him one look and Liam stayed glued to the couch. He’s waiting for them to be finished, flicking through his phone and paying no attention to the TV in the background.

He can hardly ignore their bickering though. It’s about whether the pasta is finished or not. Liam looks up from the stupid photo of Zayn on his cousin’s Instagram (they’ve talked on FaceTime once, it’s not weird for him to be following him) to see Louis backing her up against the counter. His arms are on either side of her and he kisses the tip of her nose lightly. The glare melts away but she still smacks him on the head with a wooden spoon for using dirty tricks to overcook their pasta and win an argument.

They eat in front of the television like always, the round table squashed into the kitchen is only for breakfast. Eleanor goes off to their room, after much grumbling and rubbing her face against Louis’ shoulder in protest, to finish her final essays. 

“Louis,” Liam asks, jogging his knee. He’s splayed all over his legs which makes it very easy for Liam to grab his attention. There's a hesitant pause before he asks what's been on his mind this whole time. “How did you know with El?”

“She’s the love of my life. I just knew it in my heart,” Louis says, quite serious, but then again he’s always dead serious when it’s about Eleanor.

Liam nods mutely, his heart a lump in his throat and goes back to the show they’re watching. Something to do with vampires, he thinks. 

He’s so stupid.

“It’s going to be okay,” Louis simply says. He reaches over and cups the back of Liam’s neck with his palm.

Liam ducks his head. Louis does a lot for him, always. Even if it’s just making sure there’s a banana left in the morning for Liam’s smoothie or taking him out for a night on the town. He’s always been there for Liam, whether it’s inside a club, getting smashed and rowdy, or walking the city streets at night, side by side, talking quietly about everything and nothing.

They always find a way through the dark. Liam trusts him, he can believe him.

~

Zayn

 

“You can’t eat in here,” Zayn says, just to be a dick. He contemplates slapping the celery stick out of Jaewon’s hands but he doesn’t want to be too much of a dick. Jaewon holds a grudge like no other.

“There’s a kid right there slurping fucking soup everywhere!” Jaewon says indignantly. “I’m trying to get fitter you twat, support me.”

Zayn ignores him and keeps scanning the everlasting books that are in the return pile. 

“I’m changing my diet and all that. Liam called it a lifestyle change,” Jaewon says, wrinkling his nose. “I said I’m just trying to get a six pack, mate.”

“You’re an idiot,” Zayn just says, brushing past the mention of Liam. He’s not going to ask. He knows Jaewon's baiting him.

“We’ll see who’s talking when I have abs of steel and you’re trying to cop a feel,” Jaewon says.

“You’ll still be an idiot,” Zayn says and Jaewon finally kicks his arse with the top of his foot. Zayn snorts, dancing out of reach.

He goes back to sorting out the books, keeping his back to Jaewon. He keeps munching away on the celery and Zayn can see the disgusted faces he's pulling without having to turn around. He hates celery, it's a feat he's managing to keep it all down. Zayn closes his eyes. He's not going to ask. He's not going to ask.

"You been hanging out with Liam lately?" Zayn asks. He grimaces at himself, still not turning around to face Jaewon's triumphant stupid face.

“Yeah. Jade and I are all in it together, we’re gym buddies,” he says. He sounds smug. Zayn doesn't know if it's because he's going to the gym or because he'd made Zayn break and ask about Liam.

Zayn turns around so Jaewon can clearly see when he rolls his eyes at him. "You've gone like twice, calm down."

“At least I went,” Jaewon says, chomping down on his celery stick with enthusiasm. “Liam says that’s what matters. And then he quoted something at me, I think it was Drake, I’m not sure."

“Uh, so, how is it?” Zayn asks, trying his best to sound casual. He turns back around and fiddles with the books again.

“Oh my god, I had to do squats the other day and right now I feel like my thighs are -."

“Alright, alright, how is Liam,” Zayn finally relents. He doesn't want to hear about Jaewon's thighs, Jaewon knows this.

“He’s doing alright,” Jaewon says vaguely, just to be a prick, even if this is what he wanted Zayn to ask from the get-go. “Very motivating, very earnest, very nice arms.”

Zayn turns back around to level him with a look.

“He’s good! He’s good! He has an app on his phone called Motivational Drake Quotes!” Jaewon says, jumping out of Zayn’s reach with his goddamn celery stick. 

Zayn huffs out a laugh fondly. He misses him so much his whole body aches with it. Jaewon looks at him like he can see right through him. And he’s judging him.

“What?” Zayn asks, trying to wipe his face blank.

“You looked like a kicked puppy, fuck,” Jaewon says and comes back over to give him a hug.

“Stop it,” Zayn says but Jaewon resolutely puts his hand on the back of his neck and pulls him in. “Were you the one that made Mirjana ban Lykke Li’s new album in my house?”

“Yeah, man, shit’s depressing as fuck,” Jaewon says, patting his back. “And it was passed on from Andrew."

“You guys need to chill,” Zayn says. His friends’ are crazy and not in the fun way people usually say their friends are crazy in the movies. He still loves them obviously but it’s really annoying. Zayn’s learned that’s what you get with friends.

“He asks about you. Not in a crazy-stalker I want to know what pants he’s wearing today kind of way but, like, how your project is going and stuff. If you’re getting enough sun and shit. He’s fuck-stupid head over heels, bro,” he says, letting go of Zayn. 

“You don’t know that. He just doesn’t want to be alone,” Zayn says, gnawing on his bottom lip. He turns away from Jaewon and sorts out the books unnecessarily, blindly moving them about.

“Who does?” Jaewon says in exasperation. “Do you? Wouldn’t you rather be happy? With him?”

“Is it too much to ask, not to just be an option but the option?” Zayn says and he sounds way too bitter. He doesn’t bother keeping it in check with Jaewon, though, he understands. 

“How long has it been? Don’t you think if he wanted someone, anyone, so badly, he would’ve moved on by now?” Jaewon says. 

He might as well have stabbed Zayn. Zayn stills, staring at the spine of the books unseeingly. He doesn’t say anything for a while, thinking so hard he’s afraid the universe as he knows it is going to explode. He thinks back to their hushed conversations. Maybe it’s not a matter of forgiving Liam but believing him.

Jaewon sighs heavily behind him and slaps him on the back, leaving his hand there and rubbing up and down. 

“Alright, alright,” he says, conceding. "You want to feel my biceps?” 

~

Liam

All he can do is try.

Liam goes to the library, making sure it’s not when Zayn’s there - he still hears Zayn telling him, I don't want to see you again. He can't help but feel now that there’s the lingering yet. It’s making hope balloon in Liam’s chest. He’s armed with colourful post it notes and pens and notions of grand romantic gestures that Louis is especially fond of. He wrinkled his nose at how bright neon Eleanor’s post it notes were, they didn’t seem like they realised the gravity of the situation, how much it means to Liam.

He sits down at a table, smiling at Delilah who also works at the library when she happens to pass by him. She turns a pretty shade of pink and waves, coming over to say hello. She’s really cute, curly honey-blonde hair and a beautiful smile, hilarious with an aura of sincerity Liam admires. 

“Hey, Liam,” she says. “Haven’t seen you around in a while.”

“You know how it is, it’s nearing the end of the semester and all. Placement’s been crazy this year, I’m not here all that often,” Liam says easily. It doesn’t matter that he would trek all the way back to uni from wherever he was working that week to see Zayn for five minutes all throughout the year.

“We missed you,” she says with a smile, touching his arm.

“Who else would take up all this space, huh?” Liam asks, trying to cram his pens back into his personal space. He brought extra just in case the some of them fell through and he needed back up.

“I’ve got to get back to work,” she says with a laugh, “but it was really nice to see you. Do you maybe want to go for dinner or something? I know a really nice place, affordable but still romantic, y’know?” 

Liam looks up at her expectant face. She’s so pretty and they get along fine, it wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world to do. 

“I’m sorry, you’re an amazing librarian but I’m in love with someone else,” Liam says. 

“Oh, well,” she says, going faintly pink, “was worth a shot.” 

She waves goodbye. Liam goes back to his post it notes and he starts writing. After he’s finished, he’s left with a bundle of colourful post it notes. He sets off in the library to start sticking them here and there. It’s not so that anyone passing might be able to read it, just the spots that Zayn frequents because he has to (and probably the other librarians). He’s blushing by the time he’s done, embarrassed but so damn determined.

He leaves just like that. 

He can’t stop thinking about it on the bus, his heart thudding in his chest, his palms sweating over the things he’d wrote. There were just very simple ones like I love your kindness and more specific ones like Your dedication to petting all the dogs you meet on the street makes me happy and I like how you flare your nose when you hear something you don’t like. Have you noticed?

All the things he loves about Zayn, not just anyone, Zayn.

He tried to describe this one face Zayn makes when he's particularly pleased, scrunched up nose and eyes and his soft close-mouthed smile. Liam buries his face in his hands, embarrassed that he’s poured his heart out on neon coloured post it notes and stuck them all over a public space. Louis is an enabler and Eleanor’s going to laugh and laugh at him. Zayn’s going to laugh at him. Oh god, he had to do something, he was going crazy.

~

Liam’s walking through the courtyard of his campus, enjoying the sunshine on his face. He’s taken his hoodie off, it’s too warm now, and tucked it into the arm of his backpack. He has in his hand the one last thing he has to submit before he’s taking off to see his family. He’s sweating even if he’s just in his vest. He has the plastic sheet clutched carefully in his hand so he doesn’t wrinkle the papers. His other hand swings freely until it doesn't anymore.

Someone’s hand slips into his own, warm and soft, edges rough with callouses from drawing on paper, a tablet, a napkin - anything, really. Liam turns his head in surprise and sees Zayn walking next to him, having appeared besides him like magic. He bumps their shoulders together, staring down at the ground in front of them. It’s so easy, how he falls into step besides Liam.

“Hi,” Liam says, surprised. He’s starting to smile because he really can’t help it. It feels like he hasn’t seen him in a year.

Zayn flicks his eyes up, looking at him through his eyelashes. He sees the smile on Liam’s face and the tension seems to dissipate from the hard line of his shoulders. He smiles back, tentatively at first, and Liam thinks his heart might explode if Zayn doesn’t talk to him in the next moment.

“How’s it going?” Zayn asks and squeezes his hand.

Liam thinks his palms might be sweating, his heart rate’s gone up but at the same time he feels oddly at peace. He takes in a breath and says, “I guess my day’s been remarkably improved.” His voice comes out incredibly silly and in the truly hopeless territory. He’s not sure how to get it back to normal.

“Oh, really?” Zayn asks, raising his eyebrows. His grin turns silly, his tongue pressing up behind his teeth.

“Yep, must be the weather,” Liam says, pointedly swinging their hands together in a way that definitely says the truth. 

Liam manages to look straight ahead for all of a moment before he breaks and has to sneak another side long glance at Zayn. He’s smiling down at the ground again, going shy, and Liam’s heart thuds painfully in his chest. He’s never wanted to kiss someone so badly.

“Can you think of anyone who might be tossing litter all over my library?” Zayn asks and he’s still not looking at Liam, smiling so sweetly at the ground. Liam doesn’t want to stop staring.

“I haven’t the faintest,” Liam says, resolutely pulling his gaze forward again. “And it wasn’t litter.”

Zayn laughs, leaning against Liam’s side a bit and the fluttering in Liam’s stomach is starting to become alarming.

“Did you mean them, then?” Zayn asks, trying to keep his voice faux-casual.

He’s not taking the piss out of Liam, however fondly, anymore. Liam stops dead on the pavement and pulls on Zayn’s hand so he has to stop as well. He back steps and faces Liam, the both of them standing in the middle of the court yard with the sweet smell of flowers blooming around them.

“Every last word,” Liam says, absolutely honest.

Zayn looks dumbfounded, like hearing the words from Liam’s mouth is like reading them all over again. He shoves his free hand, the one not currently in Liam’s, in his pocket and starts fumbling around for something.

“Even this one?” Zayn asks, grinning again at full force. He pulls a lime green post it note out. Liam thinks he might have all of them in his pocket right now. “Your eyelashes -“

“Give me that,” Liam says, reaching for the post it note so Zayn won’t be able to read from it. Zayn laughs, delighted, and pulls out of his reach. Liam doesn’t want to let go of his hand so he settles for turning pink and settling a lot closer to Zayn than he had been before. His breath catches in his throat. You never remember what home smells like until you’ve been gone for a while. 

“There’s this one about my cheekbones too,” Zayn says, he’s smiling so hard. It's the face he makes, the one he was trying to describe. It’s the best thing he’s ever seen.

“You know you’re bloody beautiful,” Liam says. He realises belatedly he’s doing the thing where he says things before he can think them through. 

Zayn doesn’t tease him about him like he expected him too. He doesn’t blush either but then again Zayn isn’t the type to blush. He’s doing a Zayn type of blushing instead, looking embarrassed and pleased all at the same time, his smile tender and his eyes bright. 

“You’re not too bad yourself,” Zayn says and lets go of his hand. 

Before Liam can complain about the lack of hand holding, Zayn puts his hand on Liam’s waist, the other tugging at the front of his vest impatiently. Zayn tilts his face up, going serious all of a sudden, his eyes dark and honest. He kisses him. Liam feels like he might die from happiness, his heart is going to stop in his chest - after thinking he’d lost him forever, to all of this. He gently slides his hand around his neck, up to cup the base of his neck. He wants to drop his stupid assignment onto the damp earth and pull him closer. He doesn’t need to, Zayn’s hand slides around his waist and does it for him, like he knows exactly what Liam's thinking. 

Liam kisses him once more, presses a last, lingering, tender kiss on his lips and pulls away.

“I love you,” Liam says, his hand sliding to his jaw, holding his face carefully. “Do you believe me?”

Zayn doesn’t speak for a moment. It’s not hesitation, more of a pause.

“Yes,” he says and kisses him again.

“Can you do anything about my library fine?”

“No,” Zayn says and laughs, kissing him again.