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we are the quiet ones

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The sky is a pale auburn, the early sun tucked behind feathery clouds and a calm wind brushing along Zayn’s arms from the open window. There’s mindless chatter in the small communal kitchen, parents whispering away to each other with hushed smiles and proud words.

Zayn sighs, slumping down into the chair by the window ledge. There’s a tree just outside, reds and oranges scattered in heaps underneath it’s heavy branches. He’s itching for a pencil, or maybe a cigarette – anything to calm the bundle of nerves twisted in his stomach.

He pulls Safaa into his lap, hiding a smile into the crook of her neck as she whines and scrunches her small hands in his shirt. Her fingers tug at the sleeve of his jacket, a cheeky smile spilled to her lips as she traces the tattoos lining his forearm, blacks and yellows stained to his skin.

He digs his fingers softly into her sides, chin propped on top of her head as she busies herself, watching his Mum from the other side of the room. A smile lights up her face, hand gestures illustrating her words as she talks to other parents in the room, Doniya at her side.

Fear washes over him, a sudden guilt at the thought of leaving them. He pulls Safaa closer to his chest for comfort, exhaling sharply and looking around at the other students.

He’s never been very good at this. Getting to know people and letting them into his life has never been easy, and his chest tightens knowing Ant and Danny are back at home, far away from this university and town, and –

“Nice ink,” someone says, a chair scraping across the floor beside him. Safaa shyly hops up from his lap and weaves herself across to the room to his mum, arms slipping around her waist.

Zayn’s head lifts as the boy slides into the seat around the other side of the table. Blue eyes meet his, fingers brushing away the hair that falls across his forehead. A black tee reading Skate Rough wraps tightly around his body, exposing the bold stag printed to his shoulder.

Zayn offers him a small smile and says a quiet “thanks.”

“Louis Tomlinson,” he says, stretching out his hand for Zayn to shake and revealing the cartoon-like images inked to his skin.

“Zayn Malik,” he replies, crossing his ankles under the table.

“Seriously, these are sick,” Louis tells him, finger pressing over the Zap! smudged over his arm. “’Have y’got a full sleeve?”

“Almost,” Zayn smirks, shrugging out of his jacket and leaving it sprawled across the back of the chair.

“Sick, bro,” Louis repeats; grin wide as his eyes trail along Zayn’s arm. “Where’d you get the designs?”

“I did them meself,” Zayn says shyly, eyes falling to his lap with a soft grin. Zayn bites away a laugh as Louis exclaims a loud ‘no fucking way!’ and gets shushed by his mum across the room.

“Bloody hell, mate,” Louis grins and Zayn shakes his head, shying away his smile behind his hands.

“S’just for fun, I guess,” he says quietly. “Are you in halls?”

Louis nods, licking at his lips.

“S’about twenty of us, I think?” He explains. “Spoken to Horan already – he seems ace. Apparently he’s got some mates here in second year, or something.”

Zayn tugs at his lower lip, running a hand through his hair as he nods.

Louis grins out a laugh, nudging his toes into the table leg.

“Nervous?”

“Fucking petrified, mate.”

“It’ll be okay, I think. Us bros have gotta stick together,” Louis says, leaning across the table with a welcoming smile that Zayn thinks feels a little bit like home. 

 

++

 

Louis is all noise and gossip.

He seems to know everything about everyone, leaving Zayn confused and astounded gathering they’ve only been in halls for less than twenty four hours.

His room is small but nice, a familiar comfort to it. The room is painted a pale beige, a single bed in the corner beneath a huge window overlooking the grounds. The light catches beautifully in a kaleidoscope of warm colours, flooding the tiny space with a soft glow.

There are a couple of pictures tacked to the wall above the old desk, quiet memories of back home that sit fondly in his mind. A box of books sits in the corner of the desk, several sprawled across the desk, his sketchbook placed carefully in the second drawer and paints and pencils in the third.

Little reminders of home that make him feel less distant and isolated.

Louis’ room is the exact same layout as his, clothes already draped messily across the furniture and a Man United poster hung proudly along the wall above his bed. There are already cigarettes tucked away in every nook and a considerable collection of Vans gathered under the bed.

The kitchen is claustrophobic, twenty boys crammed into a tiny space at lunch, a rushed frenzy to use the microwave. Louis and Zayn order pizza and hang in Zayn’s room, smoking cigarettes out the window and listening to Niall chat about life in Ireland.

It’s relaxed – chilled, and just what Zayn needs for a week before they start classes and lectures. He texts his Mum most days, little updates of what he’s up to and “Yes, Mum, I’m fine. I’ve made some mates, and – yeah, course’ I’m eating,” when he calls her up for a chat around a cuppa.

“See, you fuck me up a little, mate,” Louis says when they’re eating leftover Chinese around the kitchen table, Zayn sketching out the tree outside the window with charcoal smeared across his fingers. His brow crinkles in a questioning frown, wrapping his fork around a cluster of Chou Mein noodles as he throws a curious look at Louis.

“You’ve gotta kind of indie vibe about you,” he explains with a wide grin, Niall laughing in between bites of duck pancakes. “I mean, the whole arty thing, dude, and I swear I saw a bunch of records on your desk yesterday.” 

Zayn rolls his eyes, flicking a piece of chicken at Louis across the table.

“You’ve also got this bad boy thing going on, too. Leather jackets and boots and shit,” he adds, lip biting away the smile that spreads easily to his lips, heaving his legs up onto the table with a soft thud. “See what I mean? You fuck me up, man.”

“I reckon he’s a bit of a softie underneath the bad boy reputation,” Niall laughs out, mouth full of food. “I saw ‘im with his sisters.”

“Oh definitely,” Louis agrees. “You’ve got everything going for ya, no wonder I saw Cher Lloyd and half the girls on the second floor eyeing you up earlier.”

A soft crimson creeps up behind Zayn’s cheekbones, a huff leaving his lips as he flips them off and grins along Niall’s trail of laughter.

With Niall’s soft giggles as he watches some YouTube clip and Louis leaning against the back of a chair smoking a ciggy out of the window, Zayn feels content.

It’s an unfamiliar feeling –

(one that took him years to grasp, all though the years of name calling and bullying in school, up until he moved onto college and met Ant and Danny)

– but with the comfort of new mates and independence wrapped around every thought, he feels safe.

 

++

 

It isn’t much later into the afternoon when the kitchen door swings open and somebody springs into the room, gangly legs and arms and a tangle of russet, curly hair sweeping over the boys’ brow.  

“Fuck, Harold, ye’ almost gave me a heart attack,” Niall says, grinning as he clambers from his chair and engulfs the boy in a hug. Zayn watches as a fond smile is pressed over Niall’s forehead, kisses peppered to his cheeks and long arms curling around his waist affectionately.

He feels like he’s intruding, eyes flickering back to his page before he glances at Louis across the table, fingers smudging graphite over the bottom of the paper.

“This’s Harry,” Niall introduces, beaming as he turns to Zayn and Louis with Harry curled into his side. Zayn lifts his head, biting at his lip as he smiles shyly and watches Louis stab out his cigarette.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” Harry smiles, lips drawn wide as he runs a hand through his long hair. Zayn notices his accent, the way he drags out each syllable as he speaks, voice slow and sleepy like warm honey. He’s boots and skinnies, a chiffon shirt unbuttoned down to his stomach with a thin chain running down his chest, a cross pendant hanging above the antennae of an inked butterfly.

“Where’s Payno?” Niall asks, a frown creasing his forehead as he takes a seat and drags Harry down with him. “Thought you were coming up together?”

Harry shakes his head, curls bouncing along the bottom with the fast movement.

“Geoff’s bringing him up later, he’s stopping off on the way,” Harry says, eyebrows raised knowingly. Niall nods, tucking away a smile and there’s a beat of silence – something like understanding, until Niall encourages an arm around Harry’s neck, pulling him into a one-armed embrace. Harry rolls his eyes but there’s a fond grin clinging to his lips as he steals a chip from Niall’s plate and presses another sloppy kiss to his cheek.

 

++

 

Being in halls for three days, Zayn learns that the evenings are the loudest.

Back home he’s never been one for parties and drinking, but it’s strangely humbling with everyone packed into the tiny kitchen, Louis sprawled over his lap like they’ve been mates for years and Niall grimacing after doing a line of shots with Harry.

The Weeknd is playing in the background, soft behind the heavy chatter and cheers from drinking games. There’s tobacco stained to his taste buds, cheap beer licking over his teeth and laughter in his ears from Louis, eyes a little hazy from one too many vodka and cokes.    

Cups litter the counters, cards scattered across the table in a heated game of Cheat, with Louis slurring his words and cursing as he collects half of the pack.

“S’not cool, man,” he groans, a staged pout up against Zayn’s jaw. “I should be winning.”     

Zayn grins, shaking his head and swallowing down another sip of beer.

“You’re too obvious, bro,” he says and clucks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Your mouth twitches every time you lie.”

“Dick,” Louis hisses with a growing smile before announcing a change of game.

Before he can lay his first five of spades, Zayn hears Niall’s calling over the music and chatter and looks up to find him wrapped around someone, Harry squeezing in between the two and taking over the fond embrace.

The room is suddenly a hushed chatter, everybody greeting the boy with wide smiles and a shake of hands. Zayn’s eyes narrow, trying to see the boy’s face in the soft glow of light. All he can make out is the pale denim button up clinging to broad shoulders and a stain of black ink along his forearm where his shirt sleeves have been rolled up.

Louis quietly cries out in front of him, turning around to Zayn with wide eyes and a messy smile.

“That’s Liam Payne,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “I totally forgot he was in second year, of course. I should have realised when Nialler said Payno earlier, it’s so obvious – Christ.”

Zayn pokes Louis’ shoulder before he can turn back around.

“Who’s Liam Payne?” He asks, brow drawn tightly as his eyes flicker back to the boy chatting with Niall and Harry, the focus of everybody’s attention.

“He’s the captain of the footie team here,” Louis explains in a hushed whisper. “He was scouted for Liverpool but he turned it down.”

Zayn is about to ask why but a slightly tipsy Niall hauls Liam away from the chaos of greetings and pulls out a chair from beneath the table they’re sitting at.

Zayn’s lips part a little breathlessly as Liam takes a seat across from him and next to Louis, fingers brushing away the several strands of hair fallen across his forehead. His eyes are a soft brown, copper against cinnamon with crinkles pressed to the corners distinguishing a smile. A light stubble brushes his jaw, heavier underneath and a scatter slashing his cheekbones.  A coffee stain of a birthmark is carelessly placed to his neck, flushed lips pressed into a welcoming smile.

Louis excitedly introduces the two, Zayn offering a shy smile as Liam murmurs a warm “Hello,” and reaches across the table to shake his hand. A cold sting of metal strokes Zayn’s palm, a silver band marked with an M wrapped around Liam’s pinkie. Zayn’s eyes trail over the tattoos painted across Liam’s arm, a soft feather and a series of words that Zayn cannot quite make out.

“M’glad Nialler’s found someone to keep him sane,” Liam smiles, eyes crinkling even further around a soft laugh. Niall scoffs and Zayn grins behind the hands pressed to his chin, elbows propped up on the table.

“Define sane,” Louis teases and Zayn watches Niall wrap an arm around Liam’s shoulder, his gentle laughter loud against the noise of the party.

 

++

 

Zayn wakes the next day a little after twelve, a slight pounding to his head and an uncomfortable thirst deep in the back of his throat. A dull light fills the room, peeking through the blinds with a mellow breeze seeping from the open window.

He unlocks his door and pads down the corridor while tugging a jumper over his head. The corridor is quiet, usual for mornings, apart from a soft humming coming from the kitchen. Zayn pauses in the open doorway; Liam’s back turned to him as he makes a cup of tea and sings under his breath in a serene melody. A football shirt clings to his back, HORAN written across the top in bold, white letters.

Zayn considers turning back and hiding out in his room, but Liam turns and stops singing, a cheery grin quickly spreading to his lips.

“Hey,” he says quietly, smiling as he takes a seat by the window and places his mug on the table. “Zayn, right? We met last night but I’m pretty terrible at names,” he laughs, the effortless sound rolling off of his tongue.

Zayn nods, smiling apprehensively as he takes a glass from the cupboard and fills it with water.

“You’re Leeyum,” he smiles, curling into a seat across from Liam. “Football genius or summat.”

Liam laughs again, dipping a smile behind his mug as he brings the steaming liquid to his lips.

“Just Liam,” he corrects. Another smile chases Zayn’s lips and he pulls his knees up to his chest. “I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you last night.”

“Louis was too busy asking questions,” Zayn grins, taking another sip of water.

“Right, he’s trying out for the team this year,” Liam nods. His tongue sweeps across his lower lip, almost teasing. “Do you play?”

Zayn shakes his head, burying a laugh into the sleeves of his jumper, hands tucked into each other. Liam is still smiling, eyes focused on Zayn with a soft expression painted to his face. The morning light falls beautifully across his face with shades of red and yellow glittered across his skin, Zayn’s fingers familiarly itching for his sketchpad and watercolours.

“I’m not really into sports,” he says in a murmur, nerves scattering his stomach at the uneasy feeling of trying to impress this boy.

Liam shrugs and flashes another smile, bringing the mug to his lips and blinking away the steam flowing from the liquid.

“You’re studying English?” He asks when he places the mug back down, voice soft with interest. “Nialler was telling me last night, I crashed in his room.”

“Literature,” Zayn says, nodding. “The plan is to go into teaching after uni.”

“Me sister Ruth is a teacher,” Liam claims quietly and fondly, voice slightly muffled as he sips at his tea.

He opens his mouth to say more but Harry and Niall enter the kitchen and immediately drag Liam from his seat.

“Morning, Zayn,” Niall says happily, an arm curling around Liam’s waist as Liam rolls his eyes. Harry’s tossing a football in his hands, eyes watching the rise and fall. “We’re gonna muck about for a bit, d’you wanna come?”

Zayn considers declining; about to mutter something or other about reading around a cup of coffee but the hopeful expression painted across Liam’s face encourages him to nod.

“Sure,” he mumbles with a small smile, watching Liam’s soft grin as he slips out from his seat.

 

++

 

The sky is a filter of apricot and Cambridge blue, the grass a stain of green under the calming breeze and warm sun.

Zayn sits under the shelter of the small stand facing the pitch, watching the reflection of the light across the boys’ faces and the shadows following their feet as they run.

Sat cross-legged with his chin propped up on interlocking fingers, Zayn watches the sunlight glitter over Liam’s skin, highlighting the soft wrinkles smeared around his eyelids and the pull of his lips every time he smiles.

There’s something drawing Zayn to the tall, broad shouldered boy. He can’t take his eyes off of Liam, an unfamiliar want to know him, some strange curiosity.  

He pulls out a sketchpad when they’re taking penalties against Liam in goal, sweeping several pastels from his bag and ignoring the colours they paint to his fingers. He considers drawing Liam, a rough outline concentrated on the distinct marks, cheekbones, jawline, the messy birthmark splashed to his neck.

 Instead he settles for the sky, the orangey flares of light shimmering across a canvas of blue every time the clouds part their cover.

Mid way through smudging his fingers over the variety of warm colours Liam settles beside him, sweat matted into the curl of hair across his forehead and his breathing a little faster than usual.

“S’good,” he says in between short puffs of breath, nodding to Zayn’s sketchpad as he pulls off his goalie gloves.

Zayn shrugs, a smile catching at the corners of his lips.

“D’you wanna kick about?” Liam asks with a gentle smile, waving to Niall and Harry who are walking towards the gate to leave the pitch.

Zayn bites down on his lip, shaking his head and glancing towards Liam with nervous eyes.

“I’m shit.”

“So?”

Zayn looks down at his lap, thinking of the lads at secondary school who used to take the piss when he’d kick the ball and miss, or trip over his own feet. Horrible memories of not being picked for a team, his sports teacher yelling at him from the side lines.

Beside him, Liam jumps up, tossing his gloves onto the bench and dragging the sketchpad from Zayn’s lap with careful hands.

“C’mon babe.”

“I can’t –”

“Then I’ll teach you,” Liam tells him, smile soft as he wraps his fingers around Zayn’s wrists and pulls him up. “Just a couple of passes while you tell me about your literature course.”

Zayn wrinkles his nose, eyebrows pinching together as Liam leads him into the centre of the field. He looks hesitant as Liam kicks him the ball, only a short distance between them.

“There’s no one about,” Liam assures him, a smudge of creases around his eyes.

Zayn sighs, dropping the bag swung over his shoulder onto the ground. He makes a pass to Liam, the ball swerving towards the right.

He expects Liam to laugh but he carries on smiling, jogging back a couple of steps to retrieve the ball.

“Try using the inside of your foot,” he offers, kicking the ball back to Zayn. “It helps with control.”

Zayn nods, a shy smile brushing across his lips. He turns his foot so that his instep is against the ball, blinking up at Liam for guidance. Liam nods, grinning, and gestures for Zayn to try again.

There’s less power behind it but the ball rolls across the field directly towards Liam, who takes a step forward and stops it with his right foot.

“See,” he beams, lips pulled wide over his teeth. “You’re not terrible at all.”

Zayn shakes his head, a shaky laugh falling from his lips. Liam passes the ball to him, fingers sweeping through his hair.

“Tell me about you,” he says, a spark of light blinking over his face and highlighting every tiny freckle.

Zayn can’t look away.

 

++

 

Through the door, Zayn can hear the heavy bass of some Calvin Harris tune pouring from the speakers. Groups of people litter the staircase, cups grasped in their hands and a curtain of smoke hanging invisibly in the doorway.

Inside the apartment is packed, an overflow of sweaty bodies moving with the vibrations of the music.

Niall’s hands hook under the sleeves of Zayn’s t-shirt, dragging Louis and Zayn around a wall and through an open doorway into the kitchen. There are people everywhere and the room is a loud but calm chatter, students cluttered around the island in the centre of the small area.

The apartment is a blur of colours, reds, blues and oranges flashing amongst the heat of students dancing, the tremors of the speakers.

Zayn winces when Niall thrusts a cup into his hands, a dark liquid sloshing against the sides.

“Drink up,” he says, nodding to the drink and flashing a smile. “I don’t want either of you walking out of here sober.”

Zayn loses Niall and Louis half an hour in, somewhere between shots and watching Louis dancing with a pretty brunette.

He’s dizzy, flashing lights distorting his vision and dozens of people a blurry mess everywhere he looks. He wanders a little messily into the kitchen, the music now a whisper licking into his ears.

There’s a couple kissing against the counter, a group of guys chanting songs as somebody downs shots, a girl lying on the floor in a giggly state.

Zayn grins, reaching for a cup and the almost empty bottle of vodka on the side.

Fingers tap along his shoulder and he spins around, hands gripping the counter as he clumsily loses his balance and trips over his own feet. Liam laughs in front of him, one hand wrapping gently around Zayn’s wrist and the other pressed up against his hip, steadying him against the kitchen counter.

 “You made it!” Liam exclaims, a grin brightening his expression as he drops his hold. Zayn swears Liam’s gentle touches scar his skin a little. “And by the looks of things you’ve been here a while.”

Liam laughs, eyes crinkled around the edges.

He’s wearing all black; a simple t-shirt with skinnies and converse but Zayn is certain Liam is the most beautiful thing he’s ever laid his eyes on.

“I’m fine,” Zayn says softly, shaking his head and then cursing quietly at the blur of colours confusing his eyes. He turns to reach for his cup and offers to pour Liam a drink.

“I’m not drinking, but thank you,” he explains, smiling at a couple of guys who pass. “Somebody’s gotta make sure our place stays in one piece.”

“What about Harry?” Zayn asks.

A giggle spills from Liam’s lips and cold fingers tangle between Zayn’s.  

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

Zayn follows Liam through the apartment, Liam throwing him a smile over his shoulder. The music is louder in the living area, a deep bass running vibrations through the floor.

Liam pulls Zayn slightly closer and Zayn is suddenly very aware of the hand splayed across his lower back. The light touch spreads a warmth, different to the heat from a mass of bodies, over his skin, a tickle crawling up his spine as he leans into Liam’s side and smiles shyly.

Liam points across the room, a fond grin at his lips as he laughs.

Zayn’s eyes chase the direction to see Harry on the coffee table, hair a lively chaos as he dances wildly, beer bottle held in the air with several guys dancing around him. He’s singing along to the music, helping a girl onto the table with him before slinging an arm around her shoulders and tipping back the shot somebody hands him.

“You don’t fancy that?” Zayn yells over the music, watching Liam’s brow crease in confusion as he fails to make out Zayn’s words.

Liam moves his fingers in a beckoning motion; an eyebrow raised and lips a smile as if to say come with me? Zayn nods, tipping his head back as he gulps down the rest of his vodka and orange juice and shoves the cup to one side.

He follows Liam across the apartment, eyes blinking over the No Entry! sign tacked to the door. They stagger into the darkness of the room, Liam flipping a switch somewhere to Zayn’s left.

The room is flooded with a silky light from twinkly lights draped across the wall and Zayn closes the door behind them, the music now quieter and only a soft beat from the other room.  

“I haven’t finished unpacking everything yet,” Liam explains under his breath in a murmur, gesturing to the boxes stacked by the window.

The room is twice the size of Zayn’s in halls, a wooden double bed lying in the centre against the far wall, simple white sheets wrinkled and creased.  There are several posters arranged on the wall above the bed, a couple of football teams Zayn doesn’t recognise along with Batman and Green Lantern film posters.

Liam ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck when he sees Zayn looking, a sheepish smile pressing to his lips.

“S’kinda geeky,” he says shyly, eyes blinking up at Zayn. “I’m a huge DC fan.”

Zayn grins, head a little dizzy as he leans back against the door.

“S’all about Marvel, bro,” he argues softly. “Iron Man and Captain America over Superman any day.”

 “You’re into this stuff?” Liam asks, running a hand through his hair.

“Kinda obsessed,” Zayn admits with a nervous laugh, eyes brushing over the photos pinned to the wall above Liam’s desk.

There are a couple of Liam with Harry and Niall, all three dressed in footie kits and holding various trophies from years ago. Zayn identifies Andy in another, Liam laughing beside him with a thick fringe.

Zayn picks up a wooden photo frame from Liam’s desk, holding the rectangular object in his hands as his eyes scan over the scene captured in the photograph. He immediately recognises the child as Liam, a small boy standing next to a young woman. He has the same round, coffee-coloured eyes; the same crinkles running tiny lines close to his eyelids as he laughs. The smile is almost exact, fuchsia lips stretched into a delighted grin and a splatter of a birthmark on the centre of his neck.

The woman has Liam in her arms, the small boy rested on her hip with his arms wrapped around her neck. Her blonde hair is cut into a lengthy bob, fringe fraying over her forehead with dark eyes a similar colour to Liam’s.

Behind them is a field of bluebells, a sea of lilac below an afternoon sun, threads of light blinking behind feathery clouds in a rose-blush sky.

“Is this your mum?” Zayn asks as he places the photo carefully onto the desk.

Liam nods, fiddling with the collar of his t-shirt.

“She looks lovely.”

“She is,” Liam says quietly, smiling as he walks over to the desk and looks over the photo. “She’s my favourite person in the world.”

Zayn grins at the sheepish expression flooding across Liam’s face, the hint of embarrassment trailing a soft red along his cheeks.

Laughter lines run soft tracks along Liam’s chin, silvery sweeps of moonlight slicing his cheekbones and gushing over his skin. The gentle smile licking over Liam’s lips reminds him of home, welcoming and full of warmth like huddling into a blanket and sipping hot cocoa in the winter.

Zayn blames the vodka for the brush of his thumb along Liam’s jaw, a tickle of stubble against his palm and a wash of breath over his lips as he edges closer. A numb smile bites at his lip, a sudden pang of nerves over every atom in his body.

“S’okay,” Liam mutters softly, faint wrinkles around his eyes that put him at ease. “S’alright, Zayn.”

“I have a horrible feeling I won’t remember this in the morning,” he admits under his breath, a nervous smile chasing Liam’s laugh.

Liam’s nose brushes over his, fingertips drawing faint shapes underneath his chin.

“S’what uni’s about,” he whispers, tongue licking over his grin. Zayn blinks at the shadows flooding over Liam’s skin. “Taking risks and mucking about.”

The music from outside splinters under the door in sharp beats and Zayn hopes Liam can feel Justin Timberlake under his skin instead of the heavy stutter of Zayn’s heart in his chest.

There’s a blush crawling across his skin, his eyelashes fluttering and a nervous half smile brushing a dry kiss over Liam’s lips.

Fingers drag over the bottom of his spine bringing him closer, bodies pressed together and a gentle hand up against Liam’s neck. It’s slow, warm and lingering, a soft closure to the electricity sparking over every touch.

Zayn pulls away slowly, eyes blinking a quick glance over Liam’s face, a shy giggle pressed into the sleeve of his shirt. Liam grins, whispering a quiet 's’okay, babe' over Zayn’s mouth.

Another kiss, wetter, a tongue over Zayn’s bitten lips, a ghostly touch that has Zayn a little more confident.

 

His lips chase the feel of Liam’s tongue, fingers knotting into the back of Liam’s hair with a gentle sigh.

The taste of orange juice lingers on his tongue, a hint of beer as he licks along the roof of Liam’s mouth and kisses over his teeth.

He wants to taste everything, listen to the tiny gasps of breath and feel the fingertips along his spine and pressed over his neck.

In the middle of this huge party, Zayn kisses in the darkness, moonlight softly spilling over his skin.

It’s dizzying.

 

++

 

The football season begins as soon as lectures start up towards the end of September.

While the team trains Zayn busies himself in focusing on his classes, spending hours in the library meeting his deadlines for essays and coursework. He calls his mum whenever he’s watching a training session, sitting at the top of the stand and doodling across a pad or scribbling notes into his most recent Hemingway novel.

They go into town most Friday nights, the clubs packed with university students. Zayn’s learned to love the buzz of alcohol in his system, everything a hazy blur with drunken kisses and sloppy dancing until four am.

In between classes Harry and Liam stay in halls, Zayn reading his assigned novel sprawled across Liam’s lap in the middle of the messy confusion of whatever they are.

They’re unsaid words, giggly kisses and clumsy hand jobs after lectures and before a training session, Liam’s head pressed uncomfortably against the locker room walls as Zayn teases with his skilled hands.

The team is undefeatable, beating pretty much every other university they play and winning well-earned points for the league table.

They celebrate after every game, beer and cheap spirits a more affordable alternative to champagne that they gulp back before hitting the town.

Zayn feels invincible, in the midst of this small town with a couple of best mates and literature students who seem to get him. He misses home but as every day approaches these people feel less like strangers and more like family.

 

++

 

“I should be out there warming up.”

Zayn rolls his eyes, fingers snapping the waistband of Liam’s shorts like he’s trying to prove a point.

“I am warming you up,” he mutters, lips brushing over Liam’s mouth in a gentle kiss that has Liam keening for more.

“There’s fifteen minutes until kick off and the captain isn’t even on the pitch,” Liam adds, but he’s grinning. Fingertips trace Zayn’s hipbone, tongue a little quick to steal kisses as Zayn teases Liam through his kit, a hushed groan brushed over Zayn’s lips in case someone hears.

“Plenty of time,” Zayn reminds him with a smirk, lips wandering over Liam’s jaw and down past his collarbone.

Liam’s got his hands cupped around the back of Zayn’s thighs, hips rolling up against Zayn’s every time Zayn’s fingers trace over his cock through his shorts.

“So confident, Malik,” he says with a raised brow, a hiss tipping his head against the shower wall as Zayn’s hands dip below his shorts.

Zayn dismisses him with a lazy kiss, tongue tracing the roof of Liam’s mouth as he slowly jerks him off while running his thumb over the head of Liam’s cock.

“Shut up and let me blow you,” Zayn whispers, another wet kiss brushed over Liam’s mouth. “Gotta relax before the game.”

Liam nods with a hushed moan, throwing Zayn a cheeky grin as he slides to his knees while pulling Liam’s shorts with him.

“Better,” he mumbles, carefully wrapping a hand around the base of Liam’s dick.

There’s a hand threading through Zayn’s hair as he loosely wraps his lips around the head, a content hum from above. Zayn trails his fingertips along the trail of hair from Liam’s naval to his dick, gentle touches that he knows has Liam wanting more.

He slides his lips over his teeth and eases down all while slowly pumping the rest of Liam’s prick. He grins when Liam gasps as he sucks over the crown, a messy combination of spit and precome as he slides his lips further, Liam’s cock filling more of his mouth.

It’s so slow, languid touches and lazy caresses that have Liam moaning into his palm.

He can hear his own breathing, Liam’s muffled groans as he shifts his hips and grasps a tighter grip into Zayn’s hair.

“Fuck, babe,” Liam whispers through parted lips, a broken smile gasping for air as Zayn flickers his eyes up to watch, tongue heavy with precome.

He pulls back with a long breath, fingers stretching over the length of Liam’s cock with a thumb brushing carefully over the head to replace his lips.

“So good,” Liam moans out as Zayn takes him again, tongue sliding over the underside of Liam’s cock as his lips hollow out. “All I’m gonna be thinking of out there is your mouth.”

Zayn smiles around a whimper, fingers gently pulling at Zayn’s hair.

He moans as Zayn gets deeper, Liam’s cock pushing against the back of his throat as he hums and sucks on more skin.

“Gonna come soon, babe,” Liam breathes, eyes rolling back a little before they’re on Zayn again, watching.

Fingers brush over the back of his neck, one hand cupping the flushed skin with another tugging a little at his collar.

Zayn pulls off but brushes his tongue and lips messily over the crown, teasing Liam as he moans a 'baby, shit, zayn – gonna come' and spills over Zayn’s tongue, a familiar taste that has Zayn a little too hard.

Liam breathes a strangled noise as Zayn licks over his cock before grabbing the towel pooling at his feet.

They kiss as Zayn cleans them up, smiling over each other’s skin.

“You watching the game?” Liam asks into Zayn’s neck, arms wrapping around his waist and pulling him closer as he dresses quickly in between a rush of kisses along Zayn’s neck and over his mouth.

There’s a hopeful smile over Liam’s lips that Zayn grins at, a worry line creasing Liam’s forehead as he waits for Zayn’s answer.

“Dunno, babe,” Zayn mutters along Liam’s collarbone, smoothing out the wrinkles in his footie shirt. “Might have to stay and get meself off…”

Liam nuzzles a huff of discontent into Zayn’s hair, shaking his head before pulling away to cup Zayn’s cheeks with his hands.

“You’ll do no such thing,” he says softly, eyes wandering over Zayn’s lips before flashing back up to his eyes. “Gotta wait for me to come up to your dorm after the game, maybe eat you out -”

“Okay, okay,” Zayn cuts him off with a smile, squirming as Liam presses their bodies closer. “Don’t make this any more difficult, you wanker.”

Liam wriggles his eyebrows and Zayn thinks he’s the most adorable lad he’s ever seen, lips puckering into a silly pout for Zayn to kiss.

He melts against the wall when Liam licks over his tongue, fingers cheekily sliding themselves under Zayn’s jeans until Zayn pushes him away and mutters a giggly 'Go, babe' into a kiss.

 

++

 

Zayn likes to watch Liam play.

He loves the grin spread across Liam’s lips as he yells at Niall and Louis from across the pitch, attempted hand gestures hidden behind his goalie gloves and the same crinkles smudged around his eyes from a far distance.

He’s never enjoyed football, not interested like most lads growing up but here – here Liam’s passion and excitement rubs off on him.

He’s taken to watching Liam more than watching the game itself, even when he’s just standing in goal and observing the game from the other end of the pitch.

He wouldn’t dare admit it but he can’t seem to take his eyes off of the tight kit clinging to Liam’s body, shorts hanging a little low over his knees with his shirt pulled snugly over his chest.

Hair swept over his forehead, his toned stomach showing every time he saves the ball and his shirt lifts up a little.

His eyes occasionally flicker to Zayn when the ball is down the other end of the pitch, tiny waves and wide grins flashed to him from his seat on the bench.

He stands when they score, the team piling onto Louis when he shoots into the top right corner of the net and everybody rises from their seats, cheering and chanting.

He bites over his bottom lip when Liam lets in a goal, Niall patting him on the back with encouragement as he kicks at the ground and drags his brow into a deep frown.

They win seven out of eight games through November, the best and most consistent team in the university league in which Zayn rewards Liam with victory kisses and blowjobs after his matches, slipping back to Zayn’s room before the team and the rest of halls head out to celebrate.

When they’re out everybody recognises Liam, plenty of guys chatting to him and a fair share of girls cosying up to him in clubs. He holds Zayn’s hand through it all, a polite smile spread to his lips as he chats to everyone in between shots and kissing Zayn up against the bar.

It’s silly, but Zayn has never felt so alive.

 

++

 

He trades his Friday night out for a quiet evening in in front of the telly with Liam mouthing Bruce Wayne quotes up against his ear.

There’s Chinese spread across the coffee table

(Liam telling Zayn that he ordered everything without pork and asked the man over the phone three times to double check)

and two glasses of cheap red wine on the arm of the sofa.

Liam’s half in his lap, a leg slipped in between Zayn’s thighs, a hand loosely wrapped around the back of Zayn’s neck as he feeds him clusters of chow mein noodles.

He’s hardly watching the film, partly because he’s seen it seven times but mostly because Liam’s shirt is unbuttoned to his stomach and every time he breathes his abs flex almost teasingly.

There’s also this strand of hair sticking up towards the back of his head that Zayn finds pathetically cute, and he’s got Zayn’s glasses pushed across the bridge of his nose which is all too distracting in itself.

Liam rests his head onto Zayn’s shoulder, familiar breathing along Zayn’s collarbone and soft hair brushed against his neck.

“What’s Wolverhampton like?” Zayn asks an hour in, fingers knotted in Liam’s hair with careful strokes against his scalp.

“Boring,” Liam mumbles as he wrinkles his nose, nudging it over Zayn’s shoulder. “I dunno, it’s home, I guess.”

Zayn nods, brushing his toes along Liam’s ankles.

“There’s this park ‘round the back of my house,” Liam says quietly into Zayn’s neck. There’s a smile pressed to the curve of his jaw and Zayn grins across Liam’s temple. “S’got footie lines marked out and I grew up playing there.”

He buries his head into the nape of Zayn’s neck and sighs, softly.

“All my memories are down there. First kiss, first broken bone, first fight.”

Zayn can feel the smile pressed over his skin, Liam’s eyelashes stroking along his neck.

“You, fighting?” Zayn teases into his hair, a kiss brushed over his temple.

Liam snickers, stabbing at a piece of chicken from his plate and offering it up to Zayn.

“Got myself into a bit of trouble when I was young,” he hums, lightly kissing over Zayn’s jaw. “A lot of the kids bullied me because I was good at footie. S’stupid really…they must’ve been jealous or summat. I’d come home some days with a black eye and me mum looked like she was gunna beat up the kids herself.”

Zayn frowns, concerned lines running along his forehead. He strokes kisses into Liam’s hair at the quiet laugh falling from Liam’s lips. It’s soft, like a fond memory tucked away at the back of his mind.

The thought of anybody hurting Liam sends a wave of discomfort through his chest, a protective impulse beating around his body.

He watches Liam fiddle with the ring around his finger, a thumb pressing over the engraved letter.

“I’ll take you there one day,” Liam says after a while, smiling as Zayn brushes the fraying hair from his forehead. “There’s this huge tree that me nd’ my mates carved our names into. Think it’d be a bit silly if your name wasn’t there too, yeah?”

Zayn can’t help the grin that spreads to his lips, fingers turning Liam’s head to meet his.

“C’mere,” he whispers, lips ghosting over Liam’s in a gentle kiss. There are hands in his hair and Zayn can hardly hear the telly now, a familiar pounding in his ears whenever Liam kisses him.

He grins when Liam presses one leg the other side of his thigh, straddling his lap and sneaking a hand around his waist to the small of his back.

There’s a clattering of china and Liam giggles into Zayn’s mouth as the plate and cutlery scatter over the floor, a tongue licking over his teeth.

“I’ll clear it up later,” he says in between kisses, Zayn smiling at the impatient tugs Liam pulls into his hair.

His hands slide down Liam’s back, fingertips brushing over the knobs of his spine as he grins at the lazy kisses pressed over his mouth.

“Babe, wait,” Zayn mutters a laugh and pulls away, dragging the glasses away from Liam’s face. He places them on the armrest, thumbs padding over the wrinkles faded around Liam’s eyes. “S’better,” he smiles shyly.

Liam wrinkles his nose and brushes a kiss over Zayn’s lips.

“Dunno how you see through those,” he adds softly, hands firmly gripping Zayn’s waist with his thumbs stroking over his hipbones through his shirt.

Zayn rolls his eyes and wraps his arms around Liam’s neck, grinning as Liam trails wet kisses down his neck.

“S’alright for you, you don’t have fucked up eyesight.”

“Sh’up,” Liam smiles into the nape of his neck, more kisses pressed under his ear. “M’glad you wear them, gives me somethin’ else to think about when I’m getting meself off.”

Zayn feels the rush of blood to his cheeks, biting along his bottom lip to stop whimpering at the very thought.

Liam pulls away, a cheeky grin painted over his parted lips as he nudges his nose against Zayn’s.

“You think about me?” Zayn asks quietly, shyly stroking into Liam’s hair with nimble fingertips.

Liam snorts, one hand cupping Zayn’s cheek.

“Course I do,” he says, lips tracing over Zayn’s. “Who else would I be thinking about?”

Zayn shrugs, chewing on the inside of his mouth.

“I dunno,” he says quietly. “There are plenty of other lads nd’ chicks that are way –”

Liam cuts him off, a frustrated sound leaving his lips that Zayn laughs at.

“Don’t even finish that sentence.”

Zayn shows Liam a shy smile, humming as fingers brush over his hips under his shirt.

“You don’t see it, do you?” Liam asks, eyes a little wide as he stares at Zayn.

Zayn frowns. “See what?”

Liam makes the cute annoyed sound again and Zayn plants a soft kiss to his lips.

“You’re gorgeous, babe,” Liam mumbles, lips sliding over Zayn’s jaw. “You get me so fucking hot.”

Zayn’s lips part breathlessly and he wishes Liam wasn’t straddling his hips with his crotch pressed rather firmly against Zayn’s.

“I think about you getting yourself off, the little frown line denting your forehead here -” Liam says, words hot against Zayn’s skin as he drags a careful thumb over Zayn’s temple, “- you moaning my name.”

Wet lips drawl over his neck, Liam’s hands wrestling with the pyjama bottom strings at Zayn’s waist.

One hand grasps Zayn’s hip, the other teasing Zayn’s cock. Fingers work messily over the head, precome smeared down his shaft.

“More, babe,” Zayn hisses softly. “Fuck, I need to hear you…”

“Does that turn you on?” Liam asks, a smirk drawn over Zayn’s chest as Liam brushes kisses over the tattoos marked there. “Thinkin’ about me wanking off t’you?”

Zayn moans in response, fingers clinging to Liam’s neck.

“Wanna see you,” Liam grins out. “Wanna see you touch yourself f’me, babe.”

Zayn whimpers a little and pauses before he shyly wraps a hand around his cock, frowning a bit because it doesn’t feel anywhere as good as Liam’s.

He glances shy eyes up at Liam, eyelashes fluttering at the strained look on Liam’s face.

His eyes are focused on Zayn’s hand slowly pumping his prick, lips apart with his tongue swiping out over his bottom lip.

“Keep going,” Liam softly instructs as he climbs off Zayn’s lap and sits back onto the coffee table.

Zayn feels shy under Liam’s heavy stare, a whimper clinging to his lips when he carefully thumbs at the head of his cock.

His legs are spread a little wider, head resting on the back of the sofa as he blinks nervously across at Liam. He runs a finger over his hole, gasping a moan.

“Oh fuck,” Liam whispers under his breath, Zayn’s eyes snapping open as he hears the zipper of Liam’s trousers.

“What are you doing?” Zayn asks shakily, biting at his lip.

“Shh,” Liam tells him with a smile, shrugging out of his jeans. He kicks them to the floor and Zayn can see how tight Liam’s boxers are, the soft cotton strained over Liam’s cock. “Just keep playing with y’self, love.”

Zayn whimpers helplessly, toes curling as Liam strokes himself through the material before shoving his hand down the waistband.

He makes a pathetic noise when Liam pulls his boxers down. Liam leans back, one hand gripping the table to steady himself with the other sliding down his cock.

Zayn whines desperately, whispering Liam’s name like it’s a secret as he strokes at his shaft.

“So good, babe,” Liam hums, a breathless smile over his lips as he watches Zayn. “S’this okay?”

Zayn nods jerkily, eyes quickly glancing up at Liam’s.

“More than okay, Leeyum,” he says warily, words shaky through the short puffs of air leaving his lips.

His eyes travel down Liam’s body, palming himself off at the muscles tightening over his stomach as he holds himself up. There’s the trail of hair scattered messily, firm thighs pressed over the table, legs open as Liam wraps a fist around his cock.

Strands of hair stick up chaotically across his forehead, teeth picking at his bottom lip as fingers brush lightly over his balls, a content frown pinching his brows together as he watches.

Zayn squirms at the loud moans Liam grunts, heat crawling up his neck when Liam mutters something like 'so pretty, zayn, you look so fucking good for me.'

He wants to blame the wine for the flush he feels pressed to his cheeks, for the shy mumbles of Liam’s name as he wraps his lips around a finger before rimming his hole.

Liam seems to get off on the shyness of it all, head tilting back and mouth announcing a low moan whenever Zayn whimpers and a whine clings to his lips.

“S’this what you do when you’re ‘lone?” Liam asks with a smirk teasing over the smile he flashes at Zayn. “When ‘m not there to suck you off, finger your pretty hole?”

“Fuck,” Zayn hisses around a mewling cry, cock wet with precome that he smears over his shaft. “Yeah, babe, fuck Leeyum.”

Liam hums a soft sigh, tongue bitten between his teeth.

Zayn blinks over Liam’s arms, firm muscles tensed to hold himself up, familiar ink smudged down the underside of his forearm.

 “Babe,” Zayn whines and he tries to swallow but he can’t. He’s pretty sure the oxygen gets stuck in his throat at the low groan Liam murmurs.

“S’okay, sweetheart,” Liam says gently, a smile smoothing over his lips as his eyes wander down Zayn’s body.

They’re strained, blinking quickly with a pinch to his forehead. A hand is wrapped into a fist, his Adam’s apple swallowing as he gasps.

His eyes are this rusty bronze, lips a watermelon pink; sugary like cotton candy.

The flick of his wrist as he groans, low in his throat, the flutter of his eyelashes when he comes.

Zayn thinks he could look at him forever.

 

++

(Later, when Zayn is hanging over the stairwell with a ciggy drawn between his lips, Liam mouths a soft hum of 'your body is a wonderland' over his skin and fuck, he thinks he could stay here forever too.)

++

 

Liam disappears every weekend and returns home on Sunday afternoons, the same cheerful smile pressed to his lips as he wraps Zayn in a one-armed hug and wrinkles his nose at the cloud of smoke pouring from Zayn’s cigarette.

He’s always hushed grins, dimpled cheeks and needy kisses – and Zayn always reciprocates with the same ‘hey, babe’ pressed over Liam’s mouth, never asking where he goes.

It’s raining when Liam gets back late one evening, shadows of dark clouds hovering in the sky and a roll of thunder breaking every so often, flickers of lightening sparking light over the window pane, the mauve sky painting the room a silvery purple.

Zayn’s phone buzzing from the windowsill wakes him from a nap, a yawn capturing his lips and a groan deep in his throat.

He reads can i come over?? want a cuddle from Liam and a smile easily settles over his lips.

Tapping away at his phone he quickly types of course ((: before clearing away the paper spread over his bed.

There’s a hum of The Beatles from the radio on his desk, shouting from along the corridor. He knows there’s a game of drunken bowling going on, make-do bottles used as pins and a tennis ball knocking them over, – he can hear Louis and Niall cheering and swearing. 

There’s a knock on his door almost half an hour later, Liam peeking his head round before shutting it behind him, drowning out the laughter from outside.

He’s in a pair of navy joggers, an Adidas hoodie clinging to his chest. His hair is messy, wet from the rain, and a shy smile shifts across his lips. He looks tired, eyes a little bloodshot as he sheepishly wanders over to the bed and drops himself into Zayn’s lap.

“What’s wrong?” Zayn asks as arms wrap around his waist, Liam gently kissing his lips before he hooks his chin over Zayn’s shoulder.

“Nothin’,” Liam mumbles softly. “M’just tired and I miss you.”

Zayn opens his mouth to disagree but he changes his mind when Liam whispers into his neck.

“I just want t’be here with you,” he says quietly, eyelashes tickling Zayn’s skin as he talks.

Zayn nods, dragging his lips over Liam’s temple.

“Okay, babe.”

He frowns at the way Liam curls into a ball on the bed, limbs clinging to Zayn underneath the blankets. Warm breath washes over his neck, eyelashes feathery against his skin. Fingers clutch Zayn’s shirt, head hidden away into the nape of his neck.

Zayn curls an arm around Liam and bites over his lip as Liam cuddles in closer, a shaky breath dragged over his collarbone. He’s quiet, a shy posture curling into Zayn’s body in an unusually timid way.

It’s only eleven, but Liam looks like he hasn’t slept in days.

“Staying over?” Zayn whispers, pressing cold fingertips over Liam’s jaw.

Liam’s nearly asleep as he brushes a sleepy nod into Zayn’s neck.

 

++

 

November mock-exams slowly catch up with them and everything is suddenly a blur of handing in papers, revision sessions and cramming in between classes.

Zayn spends most of his free time in the library, his head in a book with notes scattered across the table in a spread of various colours. He places post-its everywhere as little reminders with additional pieces of information, hiding them in his cupboards, on the milk in the fridge, the kettle in Liam’s flat. Liam takes to writing his own, scribbling a messy u look fit today ;-) on a pink card and sticking it to Zayn’s mug of morning coffee.

After long hours of training and a hot shower Liam normally joins Zayn in the library, a science textbook tucked under his arm and two Styrofoam cups in his hands. Little things like forehead kisses and Liam nicking his pens make Zayn smile, a blush always crawling along his cheekbones when he realises Liam is staring at him over the top of his book. 

Group revision sessions start to take place on a Sunday, late in the afternoon when the sun is low in the sky and peppermint clouds clutter the grey canopy hanging lethargically over this old town.

There are seven or eight of them crowded round the kitchen table one afternoon, books and notepads and pens scattered everywhere. There’s a quiet chatter, Harry quizzing Niall on The Battle of the Somme and Andy writing out notes as Stan explains something or other in a hushed tone.

Zayn is writing a practice comparison essay, tongue poking out between his lips as he scribbles notes down into a ring binder on one of the few pages that isn’t covered in doodles and drawings.

Liam enters the kitchen just after five, when Zayn is curled up in the window seat in a pair of joggers and an unbuttoned shirt (Liam’s shirt, the denim button up that smells of mint and coffee) with a cigarette propped between his lips, the window cracked open and the seat a mess of books.

Zayn looks up with a lazy smile, humming quietly as Liam absently kisses his forehead and pulls up a chair at the table closest to Zayn.

He’s wearing a pair of ripped jeans, t-shirt plain black and wet hair falling over his forehead that he keeps brushing to one side as it spills over his eyelashes.

Zayn watches Liam exchange an understanding look with Harry, both frowning before Liam nods and encourages a small smile.

“When d'you get back?” Zayn asks quietly, licking at his lips to savour the sharp taste of tobacco as he stabs out his cigarette in the tray on the window sill. Liam looks up, eyes tired and cheeks flushed as he shyly brushes a fallen strand of hair from his eyes.

There are slight bags under his eyes, a dark bruise pressed into his lower lip that Zayn knows is from being bitten into.

“Just an hour ago,” he says, smiling softly. “I worked out for a bit.”

Zayn nods, biting at his lip as he pushes the papers in his lap to one side and drags the tethered blanket further around his shoulders. He carries his textbook over and climbs into Liam’s lap, pushing his feet in between Liam’s legs with his toes brushing against cold ankles.

“Hi,” Liam says in a whisper, his chin hooked over Zayn’s shoulder and a smile pressed up against Zayn’s jaw.

Warm, firm arms wrap around Zayn’s stomach, Liam’s chest pressed to his spine.

“Missed you,” he mutters quietly, pulled away from the chaos of chatter in the room. It’s just him and Liam, little touches everywhere that remind him how fond he is of this boy.

Liam hums, digging his chin into Zayn’s shoulder.

“Didn’t miss you,” Liam discloses with a grin pressed up against Zayn’s neck.

“Wanker,” Zayn hisses in a whisper, smirking as he cranes his neck to kiss Liam softly on the lips. 

“Twat,” Liam smiles into the corner of Zayn’s mouth.

“No PDA during revision!” Harry calls from the other side of the table.

There’s a draw of laughter from around the table, Zayn flipping Harry off while he blushes.

Liam’s lips stay softly pressed to Zayn’s shoulder, silent as he brushes his fingers over Zayn’s stomach under his shirt. Zayn reaches for his notes and drags out the manuscript from inside the marked pages, clicking his pen and pulling the lid off of a green highlighter.

He pretends not to see Harry and Liam mouthing to each other as he highlights sections of his manuscript in between smiles and Liam kissing his neck.

 

++

 

He wakes up miserable.

A dream of his mum humming an unfamiliar tune around the kitchen as she cooks pulls him from his sleep, a heavy ache in his chest as thoughts of home tug at the strings threaded over his heart. It’s so vivid, so familiar; Zayn sat at the kitchen table with his knees tucked up to his chin, watercolours spread across the table as he draws across a canvas of white.

Safaa is sipping at orange juice across from Zayn, rattling on about a new friend she’s made in class with eyes following every stroke of the pencil Zayn brushes over the page.

The curtains are the same beige, the fridge a collage of photos and memories. The vase of tulips next to the kettle (his mum’s favourites) and an old song whispering from the ancient radio sat on the windowsill.

He pulls the duvet up over his face to cover the streaks of light pouring through the window. His mouth is dry, eyes threatening to spill tears. He laughs at himself as he tastes salt upon his tongue, wiping his cheeks with the sheet of the duvet.

He misses them.

Misses moaning at Waliyha when she drags him out of bed when the sky is a pale lavender and the sun has barely lifted. He misses squabbling with Doniya over pancakes or eggs on a Sunday morning, his mum scolding him with a tight frown when he comes home with new ink. He misses the way Safaa curls into his side when they watch a film (her choice, of course, because he can’t deny the adorable little pout pressed to her lips when Zayn refuses her The Princess Diaries) and smiles into Zayn’s shoulder during all the funny bits, her tiny hands tracing the tattoos stained over his arm.

He twists his arm at an uncomfortable angle to reach for his phone, typing in the home phone number. It rings eight times before going to voicemail. He knows his parents are at work, the girls at school, but it’s a little comforting to hear his mum’s voice shrilling a familiar ‘We’re not home at the moment but leave a message and we’ll get back to you!’

He sighs and hangs up, burying himself further into the cocoon of a duvet he’s wrapped around himself. He spends the rest of the morning drifting in and out of consciousness, sulkily denying Liam’s three calls as soon as they ring and plugging in his headphones to block out the chatter along the hallway.

He ignores the knocks at his door an hour a later, hoping that whoever it is will go away.

He’s wrong, and he knows it’s Louis from the impatient banging against the wood.

“I can hear your obnoxiously loud breathing in there,” he hisses from outside, fist tapping noisily at the door. “Open up, you dick.”

“Go’way,” Zayn groans from inside, rolling onto his back and looking up at the ceiling.

“M’not going anywhere until you let me in,” Louis calls and Zayn is forced to get out of bed, knowing that he really won’t leave.

“Why’re you so broody this morning?” He demands once Zayn collapses back into bed, Louis yanking back the blanket covering his face.

“M’not,” Zayn mutters.

“Liam’s pouting like a fucking child in the kitchen and I can’t deal with it anymore.”

Fuck, he needs a cigarette.

“I’m just not in the mood to talk,” Zayn says quietly, biting over his lip.

“He’s leaving to go…wherever he goes, tonight,” Louis says, hands on hips. “I know you’ll be a miserable twat all weekend if you don’t see him.”

“Fuck off, Lou.”

Louis rolls his eyes and drags the duvet from the bed to a heap on the floor.

“You know he’ll cheer you up, you stubborn bastard,” Louis mutters, a soft clip to his voice.

“I know that you’re a vexatious git,” Zayn mumbles, throwing the shirt sprawled across the back of the chair over his head.

“What’ve I said about using big words, Malik?” Louis teases, and Zayn has to push down the smile threatening to betray his miserable mood.

++

He follows Louis into the kitchen and heads straight to Liam, who is leaning against the fridge talking to Harry. He hooks his chin over Liam’s shoulder and slips his arms around his middle, eyes closing at the surprised laugh kissed over his temple.

Arms wrap around his torso and Zayn thinks he feels a little more at home.

“Y’ okay?” Liam whispers into his hair when Harry leaves, fingers brushing over his neck.

Zayn nods into Liam’s neck. “Jus’ don’t feel very well.”

Liam pulls away and soothes his thumbs down Zayn’s cheeks, a pinch in between his brow as he studies Zayn’s face.

Zayn knows Liam knows he’s lying and so he whispers “I miss me mum.”

Liam nods, biting along his bottom lip as his thumb sweeps over Zayn’s mouth.

“Me too,” Liam says softly and presses a lingering kiss to Zayn’s forehead. “C’mon, babe.”

A hand placed gently to the small of his back guides him out of the kitchen and through the corridor. Zayn doesn’t bother asking where they’re going; he just lets Liam lead him outside.

It’s a little chilly, Zayn shivering into his shirt and pressing close into Liam’s side as he follows him onto the football pitch.

“What’re we doing?” He asks as Liam pulls him to the middle of the pitch, careful hands wrapped around Zayn’s wrists.

“It’s easier to think out here,” Liam explains softly as he lets go of Zayn and sits onto the grass, lying back onto the ground.

He squints up at Zayn, patting the space beside him.

“C’mere, love.”

Zayn chews the inside of his mouth, quickly checking nobody is around before he joins Liam lying on the pitch.

Liam turns his head to look at Zayn, a soft smile painting warm lines around his eyes.

He fishes out his pack of Marlboros and lights up a cigarette. 

“Whenever I miss home I come here,” Liam says shyly, head rolling back to look up at the canvas of cobalt above them. “The sky makes me feel a little more safe.”

Zayn watches as Liam talks, eyes studying the harsh softness of his jaw as he speaks, the way his eyes flicker over the few clouds painted into the sky.

“I often think that wherever you are, they’re always under the same sky as you, y’know? Mum or dad, or whatever,” he says quietly, eyes blinking across at Zayn before he glances back to the sky, a sprinkling of blush crawling his neck.

“It makes me feel a bit closer, I think.”

Zayn threads his fingers through Liam’s and subtly shifts a little closer.

“You’re quite clever, babe,” he mutters through a misty cloud of smoke. It hangs in the air for a millisecond before the wind blows it away.

Liam shakes his head and crosses his ankles.

He sighs and nudges his head a little closer until it’s resting on Zayn’s shoulder.

They’re silent, Zayn following the patterns of clouds floating across the sky and Liam stroking soft touches into Zayn’s palm and over his knuckles.

“Our world is kind of beautiful,” Zayn whispers after a while.

His body feels numb, the hand which isn’t wrapped into Liam’s icy, his cheeks flushed a cold red.

Still, he feels better than he did before and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be than right beside Liam.

“Mm,” Liam hums, fond eyes brushing over Zayn’s face. “It’s also a bit fucked up, though.”

Zayn swears he sees something a little like sadness concealed in Liam’s eyes but he nuzzles his body closer and squeezes his fingers more tightly around Liam’s.

“S’a metaphor,” Zayn mumbles with a grin, kissing Liam’s shoulder.

Liam flashes him a lazy smile and licks over his lips.

“A bit like you.”

Zayn watches as a confused frown appears on Liam’s face, his bottom lip taken by his teeth and a tiny pinch between his brow.

“You’re known for being Liam Payne: football captain,” Zayn says softly, eyes blinking over Liam’s. “You’re so much more than that.”

Shyness facades over Liam’s expression, a hesitant smile brushing over his lips as he hides his face into Zayn’s neck.

Zayn presses a kiss to Liam’s temple and looks back up towards the sheet of cerulean blue. He whispers a defensive ‘my Leeyum’ over Liam’s skin and shivers at the ‘yours’ kissed into his neck.

 

++

 

The rain is hitting the roof in tiny patters, thunder clouding overhead with cracks of lightning sparking light every few minutes through the open window. The room is painted a soft purple, water trickling down the glass and pooling at the bottom.

Zayn curls into Liam’s side, laptop balanced on one thigh with his notebook on the other, a styrofoam cup steaming with coffee slotted in between his legs.

Liam is restless beside him, knee bouncing and fingers tapping his pen against Zayn’s thigh in eager movements. Zayn grins, brushing gentle fingertips across Liam’s neck, lips at his shoulder as he inhales the scent that clings to Liam’s plaid shirt.

“Calm down,” Zayn smirks into the crook of Liam’s neck, ignoring the irritated mutters from Louis as tiny kisses pad across Liam’s jaw. The rough barrier of stubble between Liam’s soft skin and Zayn’s lips is almost addictive, a familiar taste that he doesn’t want to give up.

“I wanna be out on the field,” Liam huffs, a pout playing on his lips, Zayn biting back the laugh settled on his tongue. “S’like somebody taking away your pen when you want to write.”

“Leeyum,” Zayn grins, propping his pen underneath Liam’s chin to guide a soft kiss to his lips. “It’ll pass over soon, babe,” he says, Liam’s mouth silencing him as his tongue licks across his lower lip, a teasingly slow kiss melting away any other thoughts.

“Gross,” Louis sighs, rolling his eyes and closing the lid of his laptop with a sharp snap. “You two are sickening and I’m trying to finish this bloody med coursework.”

“Nobody’s forcing you to be here,” Zayn reminds him as he undercuts Liam’s jaw with his mouth, nose brushing across soft skin until he looks at Louis and throws him a pointed look, eyebrows raised and an evident smirk painting his lips.

“If I leave then you’ll shag, and these walls are paper fucking thin, lads,” Louis says, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth and reaching for his phone, “- as we all found out Friday night when Niall was going at it with that bird he brought back from Casino.”

Louis mocks a shiver and Zayn snorts, tossing a crumpled up bit of paper at his head.

“Wanker,” Louis hisses with a grin, standing up and walking over to the door, laptop wrapped in his arms. “Li, text me if we’re training later, yeah?”

“Course, mate,” Liam smiles, eyes crinkled and tongue poking out in between his lips. Zayn brushes off the books from his lap, reaching over and placing his coffee on the windowsill in a swift motion.

The door shuts gently with a clipped slam, Zayn straddling Liam’s thighs as he tentatively takes the folder spread in Liam’s lap and wraps his arms around his neck. Liam hums with a lazy grin as Zayn kisses him tenderly, lips pliable and soft up against Liam’s mouth. He tastes of warm tea, a hint of caramel spread across his tongue and a clash of mint against the strong zest of coffee splayed to his taste buds.

A spark of a smile shifts over Liam’s lips, fingers trickling down Zayn’s back, pressing at the bottom of his spine with careful and innocent touches.

“I really need to finish my science paper,” Liam hums out, a careful whisper biting at Zayn’s lips, tongue nonchalantly teasing. Fingers drag lazy patterns under the hem of his shirt, breath washing over Zayn’s jaw in delicate sighs. “But you’re so distracting.”

Zayn grins, lips idly parting as Liam’s tongue slips in between, licking a smile into his mouth. The grey light pouring through the window paints a gentle silver onto Liam’s skin, lips a soft pink. Zayn’s thumb strokes over the birthmark stained to Liam’s neck, fingers pinching along the tea stain spilled to the hem of his sleeve.

“You should wear your glasses more, babe,” Liam whispers along Zayn’s jaw, lips sucking kisses into his skin that has a whimper smudged to the tip of his tongue. “Because I can’t stop thinking about you in them wearing nothing else,” he presses, a smirk nestled into Zayn’s neck.

Zayn shakes his head, a giggle spilling over Liam’s forehead as he carefully presses a kiss there. Liam grins at the 'unbelievable, babe' kissed across his temple and grips Zayn’s hips underneath his jumper.

“Stay round mine tonight, yeah?” He asks. “Haz’s out and won’t be back ’til late.”

“I’ve got an analysis paper…”

“You can write while I cook you dinner.”

Zayn hums, whispering a laugh across Liam’s jaw.

“We both know that means takeaway.”

Liam grins, pouting before Zayn kisses it away.

“Fine, then I’ll go out to that little Indian place on the corner that you love.”

Zayn’s fingers trail over Liam’s stomach as he cocks his head to one side, a smile pressing over Liam’s lips in a lingering kiss.

“I’ll even stop off at the library on the way back and pick up the books you need for next week,” Liam suggests, eyes a hopeful smile that wash over Zayn’s face under the flood of light pooling through the heavy clouds outside.

Zayn rolls his eyes, tries to cover up the dramatic thudding of his heart that follows after Liam’s words. It’s useless, Liam knocks his nose against Zayn’s and brushes a gentle kiss with a knowing smile over Zayn’s lips.

“I would’ve said yes anyway,” Zayn whispers, thumb padding at Liam’s chin. The rough stubble burns his skin but he chases another kiss to take the sting away.

(Later on when Liam’s napping with his head curled into Zayn’s lap, he scribbles down the thought, a messy analogy that this fucked up world is burning his mind but Liam’s slowly easing away the pain).

 

++

 

Their first time is clumsy and poetic, irregular stanzas with no consistent rhyme.

It’s messy kisses and a giggly drawl of soft words, an exchange of gentle touches and whispered moans to keep from Harry hearing next door.

Zayn shies away as Liam unbuttons his shirt in between a tangle of kisses over his skin, head buried into the pillow as a wary blush wanders along his neck and crawls to his cheeks.

Liam clucks his tongue against the roof his mouth, careful fingers stroking over Zayn’s jaw to pry his face away from the mess of blankets. He shakes his head, a smile licking over his lips as he kisses Zayn’s eyelids, his forehead, his mouth.

Zayn hums under Liam’s affection, shyly smiling and arching his back to kiss him. Hands cling to his neck, pulling him closer as Liam’s fingers smooth over his hips after tugging Zayn’s button up from around his shoulders.

His eyes flutter closed as Liam’s lips wander over the foreign words stained to his collarbone, fingertips smudging over the ink patterned to his hips.

He can feel Liam everywhere, soft touches and delicate kisses all over his body.

“Babe,” Zayn mutters as a frown creases his brow, fingers tugging at the hem of Liam’s shirt while Liam presses a laugh over his chest.

Zayn’s too distracted by Liam pulling his t-shirt over his head to care about the loss of contact from his skin, a grin shaping his lips as he watches Liam’s muscles flex all over, Liam rolling his eyes as Zayn brushes a tongue over his lips and pulls him back down.

 Liam nudges his nose down Zayn’s front, wet kisses grazing teeth over the hair peeking out the top of his jeans, tongue sponging along his hipbones.

Liam’s eyes flicker up to Zayn’s as his thumb presses over the zipper, brows raised in a questioning glance with a careful smile softening his concern.

Zayn laughs as Liam awkwardly pulls at Zayn’s jeans, a mixture of a frown and a giggle painting his expression as he wrestles with the tight material clinging to Zayn’s legs.

“Help, love?” Liam laughs along Zayn’s palm as he breaks away from his struggle.

Zayn hooks his thumbs over the hem of his jeans, pulling at the fabric.

He flickers a glance of despair towards Liam when he fails, both laughing into the kiss Liam bites over Zayn’s lips.

“C’mere,” Liam mumbles in between muffled giggles as he climbs out of Zayn’s lap and pulls him from the bed, a hand pressed to the small of his back as Zayn quickly shrugs himself out of his jeans and kicks them off as they pool at his feet.

“Much better,” Liam grins as he brushes his lips over Zayn’s mouth.

Zayn rolls his eyes as Liam leans down to wrap his hands around the back of his thighs and lifts him up, a smirk brushing over his lips as Zayn whines but kisses over Liam’s mouth.

“S’hot,” Zayn whimpers a little pathetically as Liam lowers him back against the mattress, hands clutching familiar sheets as lips trail over his neck.

“Hm?” Liam questioningly murmurs, breath washing over Zayn’s skin.

“How strong you are.”

Liam’s lips twitch into a spark of a smile, his features suddenly very shy as he blinks down and knocks his nose against Zayn’s.

Zayn’s legs wrap around Liam’s waist as fingers paint his hips, face buried into Zayn’s neck as a wet kiss brushes over his Adam’s apple.

He moans at the 'gonna hold you up and fuck you against a wall one day' pressed over his shoulder with teasing lips, Liam grinning as he kisses his way down Zayn’s arms, lips gentle against his palm.

Zayn, slightly distracted by Liam’s fingers sliding down his boxers with hungry eyes, wonders how this boy can have such an innocent smile one moment with lips biting such provocative imagery the next.

Liam hums in response to the moans passing Zayn’s lips, mouth stretched around Zayn’s cock with heavy eyes flickering teasing glances up at Zayn.

A hand loosely works its way along the base, tongue soft and placid around the crown as Zayn whispers moans into his wrist.

“Leeyum,” Zayn mutters with fingers pressed up against his jaw, a hand sweeping through Liam’s hair as he blinks up with concerned eyes. “Babe, can you. Just come here, Li,” he awkwardly whispers, biting at his lip apprehensively.

“S’wrong?” Liam asks, fingers still focused on Zayn’s dick as he lets Zayn kiss him gently. “Do you want me to stop?”

Zayn shakes his head and cups Liam’s cheek with his hand.

“No, babe,” he murmurs softly. “Just, can we. Um, fuck. Babe, can you just fuck me?”

Liam blinks several times until a smile clings to his lips, nose brushing against Zayn’s as a wet kiss crawls over his mouth.

“Sure?”

“One hundred per cent sure,” Zayn shyly smiles under Liam’s soft stare.

“Then f’course,” Liam says in between messy kisses.

Zayn refuses to let jealousy diffuse his blood at the thought of Liam intimate with anyone else while he watches him search the drawer for lube and condoms. He feels shy underneath Liam’s touch as he pictures his previous shags, anonymous lips roaming over Liam’s body with unnamed fingertips pressing marks over his skin.

He shakes his head when Liam questions him, a silly smile brushing over his lips as he kisses Liam until his mouth is numb and the thoughts have melted away.

Liam watches as Zayn removes his joggers, thumb padding over the indents of Zayn’s ribcage. Straddling his waist, Liam lowers himself to roll a gentle kiss over Zayn’s jaw, whispers of 'you’re so pretty, babe' muffled along his jugular.

“Baby,” Liam murmurs, fondly with a soft smile, when he has two fingers inside of Zayn.

(Zayn’s eyes flutter closed at the intimate name and he’d be lying if he didn’t admit he wants to hear Liam say it over and over)

There’s a hand pressed to the small of Zayn’s back, fingertips stroking at his spine when he arches his back off of the mattress. Quiet, muffled whimpers cling to his tongue as Liam opens him up, careful fingers pushing deeper as he stretches out further on the duvet.

“So good f’me,” Liam tells him softly, eyes washing over Zayn’s naked body as he steadies his breathing. “So fucking pretty, Zayn.”

Zayn hums, a blush crawling over his cheekbones as he flickers a glance to Liam.

“Leeyum,” he mutters. “Need you, babe.”

Zayn whines when Liam withdraws his fingers, wrestling his hands into the scrunch of sheets slipping to the floor.

They’re soft gasps and whispered cries, Zayn breathing gentle whimpers with Liam grunting quiet groans into Zayn’s neck as he rocks into him.

A gentle roll of the hips, staggered breathing and Liam drawling kisses over Zayn’s jaw.

Zayn tips his head into the pillow as Liam’s mouth presses carefully over the lips inked to his chest. He almost laughs at the irony of Liam’s lips being the only pair to have marked the tattoo; a mocking foreshadowing.

Liam’s eyes widen as the headboard knocks against the wall, a giggle spilling from Zayn’s lips as he reaches to kiss the birthmark stained to Liam’s neck.

There’s one hand wrapped around the beam of the headboard, the other tracing every inch of Zayn’s body as he irregularly thrusts into the writhing boy beneath him. Zayn’s fingers trail over Liam’s shoulder blades, a loud moan betraying his quiet as he arches his back to press his hips to Liam’s.

“Fuck, Zayn,” Liam murmurs into Zayn’s neck, hot breath spilling over flushed skin. He hisses as Zayn’s fingernails press over his back, fingertips brushing over his spine and a smile pressed to his mouth.

There are quiet undertones of Zayn’s heavy breathing over Liam’s lips, intimate kisses tangled in between moans. 

“Harder, babe,” Zayn pleads into Liam’s mouth, a dizzying grin smoothed over Liam’s lips as he sucks on Zayn’s lower lip and slides his hands down the ink blemished to Zayn’s skin.

Fingers wrap around the back of Zayn’s thighs, encouraging the lift of his hips as Liam pushes deeper.

Zayn blushes at the awfully loud cry pressed over Liam’s jaw when a gentle hand wraps around his cock, thumb swiping over the head with Liam’s lips humming a smirk over Zayn’s neck.

“Such a good boy,” Liam purrs over his skin, more kisses, wetter.

“Fuck,” Zayn gasps, one hand scrunched into the sheets and the other clawing gently at Liam’s back.

“Sh,” Liam hums quietly, brushing a soft kiss over Zayn’s lips as he slides his hand down Zayn’s cock and knocks their hips together with another thrust.

Zayn’s eyelashes flutter, lips parted breathlessly as Liam whispers soothing words into his neck and over his skin.

“Gonna come, babe,” he moans, fingers clutching at Liam’s arms for support as he arches his back from the mattress.

“S’okay,” Liam murmurs in between kisses pressed over Zayn’s mouth. “So good f’me, baby.”

“Leeyum, shit,” Zayn blurts out, clenching around Liam.

He can’t keep quiet, not with Liam wrapping a sweaty hand around his cock and lips giggling over his skin as he tries to whisper the moans into his palm.

It’s sloppy and wet, and Zayn hides into Liam’s shoulder as he comes, teeth grazing over his neck that’ll surely leave a mark tomorrow morning. He whimpers as Liam slides out before easing the slippery head over the rim, a desperate groan pressed over his chest in between kisses.

Liam brushes a grin over Zayn’s lips, fingers tickling over the stubble crawling his jaw as he uses his shirt to clean the drying mess on Zayn’s stomach.

Their eyes meet with a contrasting laugh, Liam kissing Zayn’s cheek as he leans onto his side and nuzzles his head into Zayn’s neck.

Zayn smiles into Liam’s hair as the duvet is pulled over them, blinking away the tired ache in his muscles as he wonders if it’s all meant to be this easy. 

 

++

 

It’s a little after seven when Zayn blinks his eyes awake, squinting into the light seeping through the blinds and decorating a patterned kaleidoscope on the wooden floor.

He stretches out on the bed, limbs heavy and muscles bruised as he sinks into the mattress with a soft smile traced over his lips.

His mouth is numb, too many kisses brushed over his lips, bruised to his skin.

He can hear the whistle of the kettle, Liam’s gentle voice humming from the kitchen like every other morning.

It’s cold when he leaves the bed, body still naked from last night and so he moves over to the wardrobe and hooks out one of Liam’s hoodies. It’s warm and smells of Liam, a familiar scent of aftershave and the same flavour gum that Zayn always tastes when he kisses into Liam’s mouth.

Harry’s bedroom door is still shut when he walks past, Liam’s voice getting louder as he gets closer to the kitchen.

“Morning, sleepy,” Liam smiles when Zayn pads into the kitchen, the sleeve of Liam’s hoodie hiding Zayn’s yawn as he props himself against the counter and smiles languidly at Liam. “Cuppa?”

Zayn nods, brushing his wrists across his eyes and blinking sleepily as he wanders across the room and ducks under Liam’s arm, shying his body up against Liam’s and burying his head into the curve of his neck.

Liam laughs into Zayn’s hair, one arm wrapped around Zayn’s torso with the other reaching past his shoulder to put the kettle on.

“Come back to bed,” he whispers grumpily, lips brushing a dry kiss over Liam’s skin.

“Can’t,” Liam mutters back, another arm snaking around Zayn’s smaller body. “M’going for a run soon.”

Zayn groans, shaking his head into Liam’s shoulder and folding his arms around Liam’s neck.

Liam’s hoodie is two sizes bigger than Zayn’s, drowning his slim figure with the sleeves draping several inches over his hands.

“S’too early for exercise,” Zayn huffs quietly, eyes fluttering shut at the kiss pressed to the side of his head. “Get back into bed with me ‘nstead.”

Liam hums a gentle laugh against Zayn’s forehead as he presses Zayn up against the counter and draws him out from hiding, careful touches underneath his chin as he lazily kisses into Zayn’s mouth and grins at Zayn’s eager hands pulling him closer.

“Gotta keep up me fitness,” Liam whispers as he chases another kiss. “Big game next week.”

“M’pretty sure sex burns more calories.”

“Y’can shower with me when I get back?” Liam suggests with hopeful eyes, the coffee-stain birthmark too tempting as Zayn kisses over it with greedy lips. “And you can finish that essay on dystopanian societies, or summat, on me laptop?”

“Dystopian,” Zayn grins against Liam’s mouth as he kisses him softly.

Liam laughs a quiet “whatever” with his fingers knotting into Zayn’s hair.

“Sound good?”

Zayn moves his hands from around Liam’s neck to his middle, arms languidly wrapping around his waist.

“I’d rather we just shag in bed but it’ll do,” he smiles, his head pressed to Liam’s chest.

“Shower sex is a whole new dimension, babe,” Liam tells him with a smirk, mumbling a laugh into his hair as he rests his chin on top of Zayn’s head.

 

++

 

Zayn spends Christmas in Bradford surrounded by his family.

He feels nothing but comfort as he stretches out on the familiar, worn sofa, flames twisting flickers of red and oranges in the fireplace beneath the mantel piece, his mum’s baking humming a homely smell into the living room.

Cut-out snowflakes made by the girls stuck to the windows, twinkly lights draped down the curtains.

A fresh tree in the corner, brightly coloured decorations hanging from every branch, the same angel sat on top that Zayn has known since he was little. The musky scent of pine relaxes him; Safaa sprawled over his lap as they watch cheesy holiday films eating home-made mince pies.

He hugs his mum every day, a chin hooked over her shoulder with long arms wrapped around her waist, the same scented perfume as he breathes in and presses a kiss to her cheek.

Waliyha talks him through her English class at school, running upstairs to show him the A she got on her last assessment, the shy grin pressed over her mouth and it’s like he’s never been away.

He wants to stay like this, with his dad shouting at the football on telly and Don and Safaa playing cards spread across the floor while he jots notes into Frankenstein, something about outcasts of society – the rain tipping droplets down the window outside.

He secretly wishes for comforting fingertips brushing over his skin, lips leaving soft kisses to his palm as he scribbles thoughts into his ring binder, someone to drape a blanket over him when it’s late and he’s still writing while sipping at a mug of coffee.

He misses those copper eyes, the laughter lines smeared around his eyelids when he smiles, blushing lips mumbling close to nothing over his skin.

On Thursday night Zayn curls himself in a duvet and sits in front of the telly, reruns of Friends playing quietly in the background. He can hear Doniya messing about in the kitchen, his dad snoring upstairs.

He sends a text to Liam, a simple hey babe x typed out before he locks his phone and shoves it to one side, sipping at his tea before adjusting the volume of the TV.

His tea tastes bitter; a little boring without the hint of caramel Liam always stirs in.

His phone buzzes five minutes later, Liam’s name flashing across the screen. The smile that shifts over his mouth is pathetic.

Zaynnnnnnnnnn. (: Miss u babe!! xxxxxxxxxxx

Zayn hushes the giggle into his sleeve, pulling the blankets further around his shoulders. It’s so Liam-like and it pinches something unfamiliar over his heart.

Doniya comes in soon after, a sleepy smile clinging to her mouth as she squeezes onto the end of the sofa next to Zayn.

She dips her toes under the duvet, a content sigh as she tosses Zayn a Wagon Wheel and grins across at him.

“So who’s the lucky lad?” She says quietly during the ad-break, throwing a teasing glance across at Zayn.

Zayn freezes, biting along his lower lip as he stops typing and frowns at Doniya.

There’s a smirk pressed over her lips and he hates it.

“What’re you on about?” He asks.

Doniya rolls her eyes, gently smacking at his shoulder.

“M’not an idiot, Zayn,” she says softly. “You’ve been texting ever since you got home and smiling your arse off every time you get a notification.”

Zayn licks over his lips, choking back an uncomfortable laugh.

“S’just some guy at uni.”

Doniya raises her eyebrows, dipping her smirk into her mug. “Just some guy?”

Zayn sighs, rubbing at the back of his neck and nudging Doniya’s leg with his foot.

“It’s not serious, I dunno. I like him, yeah.”

“Cute,” she grins out and Zayn whines, glaring at her from across the sofa.

“Can you like, not –”

“Tell mum and baba?” Doniya asks, Zayn nodding with a blush crawling up his neck.

He feels immediately guilty, like Liam is some dirty little secret.

“Course, babe,” Doniya says, smiling softly. “S’nobody’s business – except mine f’course, I’m your older sister.”

Zayn grins, coughing out a laugh.

They fall into a comfortable silence, the hum of the telly drowning Zayn’s thoughts while he texts Liam goodnight before falling asleep.

 

++

 

He calls Liam on Christmas Day, late in the evening when he’s picking at leftovers and opening a fourth bottle of wine.

It’s quiet in the kitchen, Liam’s voice pressed up against his ear and the soft murmur of Waliyha’s music crawling down the stairs.

“I beat everyone at monopoly,” Liam tells him, voice bright through the phone. Zayn closes his eyes and can almost see the silly smile shoved over Liam’s lips. “M’now six hundred quid richer.”

Zayn laughs, biting over his bottom lip.

“Now y’ can afford to take me out for dinner,” he teases.

He grabs the pack of cigarettes on the kitchen side, zipping up his hoodie before he steps outside.

It’s cold, a chill running through his body as he shivers into the darkness, the grass a shimmer of silver from the lights weaved through the trees.

“S’fucking freezing outside,” he mutters to Liam, shaky fingers tugging out a ciggy and propping it between his lips. He fumbles for the lighter in his pocket, a spark of light shifting over the metal.

“Go inside,” Liam mutters softly and Zayn rolls his eyes.

“Sh’up.”

He hears Liam’s quiet laughter, voices chatting in the background.

It’s silly but he wonders what Liam’s family is like – if his mum has the same fond smile when he goes home in the holidays, whether his sisters are all gossip and chitchat like his.

He thinks it’s the wine talking but he wants the giggly, brown-eyed boy to be here, shivering into his side and telling him “those will kill you, y’know,” like he has done one too many times.

“God, I wish I could kiss you right now,” Liam says quietly, huffing.

Zayn bites over his lip, eyes fluttering shut.

“Me too, babe,” he whispers, smiling into a cloud of smoke that lingers like a shadow.

“Back for new years, yeah?”

Zayn nods, rolling his eyes as he realises Liam can’t see.

“Yeah.”

He hears Liam’s name being called down the other line, Liam hushing whoever it is. Zayn laughs, giggling into his sleeve at the complaints Liam mutters into the phone.

“S’okay,” he grins, smoke spilling from his lips. “Go, babe.”

“They wanna play scrabble,” Liam huffs. There’s probably a frown marking out his expression, an adorable pout on those candy coloured lips.

“Go,” Zayn repeats through murmurs of laughter, teeth chattering around his cigarette.

Liam sighs and there’s some shuffling about on the other end of the line.

“Happy Christmas,” he says softly. “See you soon, love.”

Zayn hums quietly, mumbling a gentle “Bye, Leeyum.”

There are three words lumped in his throat, clinging to his lips as he exhales a smoke of tension.

 ++

(An hour later when Liam texts Zayn U P V T E O R... helpppp!! he feels a four letter word wrap around every thought, something a little like comfort and fear.)

++

They go back when the frost still settles on the lawns, glittery lights tangled in the trees leading up the long driveway to the main building, the bleached sun settled over a cantaloupe sky.

Campus is like a ghost town as Zayn walks through, rucksack shoved over his shoulder, Doc Martens kicking through the mahogany leaves trailed along the gravel pathway.

There’s a blonde streak running through his fringe, hair pushed over his forehead and a denim jacket clinging to his frame.

He lights up a cigarette because there’s a raw anxiety scratching at his throat. He knows he’ll be fine, that everything will settle back to the way it was before they left for Christmas break – but there’s this lingering fear at the back of his mind, an uncertainty that there’ll be someone new. Somebody else kissing Liam in between classes, new hands threading soft touches through his hair when he’s sleepy after training, ungentle lips wandering kisses over his hipbones between the sheets.

He walks past the familiar oak tree, its skinny branches bare and exposed, a couple of students gathered at the fountain.

Halls is unusually quiet as he walks through the corridor although there’s a hum of a heavy bass getting louder as he nears the kitchen.

He pulls the key from his pocket, unlocks his room and shoves his bag on his bed before trailing down the hallway.

He pushes open the kitchen door and Louis and Niall are already inside leaning against the counters, Andy and Stan sat at the table.

A fond grin is tugged over his lips as he’s wrapped in a hug, the two boys either side of him as they laugh into his neck.

“Missed ye’ mate,” Niall mumbles with the same cheeky smile, pulling Zayn in for another hug as Louis leaves a sloppy kiss to his cheek before pushing himself up to sit on the kitchen counter. “Felt so weird having nobody around over the holidays.”

“S’ace to be back,” Louis nods, humming in agreement as he slings his arms round Zayn’s neck, fingers tangled messily in his hair from behind.

Zayn has this dopey smile clinging to his lips for ages all the while they talk through their break. He loves being in Bradford but this place has become more of a second home, and he sighs happily as more students arrive, the familiar buzz running through the kitchen like he was never away.

“Leeymo’s coming up a bit later with Haz,” Niall explains in a hushed tone when they’re in his room, Zayn sprawled across his bed while Niall flips through his clothes hanging in the small wardrobe.

His phone is plugged into the speakers on Niall’s desk, Zayn tapping his fingers against the wall to Michael Jackson.  Louis is spinning on the chair in the corner, eyes scanning over his phone like he’s not listening.

“I said we’d walk past their block on the way into town,” he says, holding up a black t-shirt and raising his eyebrows questioningly at Zayn.

“Y’ look ugly in everything you wear so what’s the point?” Louis asks, a brash grin smoothed out over his lips as he smirks across at Niall.

“Shut up,” he laughs, flipping him off and hissing out an amused “wanker.”

Zayn rolls his eyes, pushing himself up until he’s leaning on his elbows.

“S’nice,” he says with a fond smile.

“Yeah, Nialler, definitely going to pull tonight,” Louis adds.

Niall throws the coat hanger at Louis and it hits him in the chest, Louis scowling and throwing it right back.

“You two are insufferable,” Zayn groans, pulling a pillow over his face.  

 

++

 

Zayn waits in the carpark with the others as Niall buzzes up to Harry and Liam.

There’s this tangle of nerves deep in his chest, a cigarette slowly easing the heavy thud of his heart.

Louis must notice, because he curls an arm around his waist and gives him a careful smile, heaving Zayn’s body into his side before he nicks the cigarette from Zayn’s fingers and tugs it between his lips.

Tiny gestures to comfort him and Zayn’s so grateful for it.

Liam appears five minutes later and Zayn can’t help the smile shifting over his lips.

There’s a blue shirt clinging to his torso, one that Zayn hasn’t seen before, tiny white polka dots placed everywhere. His broad shoulders stretch the material so tightly over his chest that he kind of wants to cry. 

Zayn watches as he pulls Niall into a hug, whispering something into his neck. Harry springs onto him when he’s focused on Liam, a surprised yelp leaving his lips with Harry laughing into his shoulder.

When he pulls away his eyes flicker over the group in front of him, a frown tugging at his brow as he looks for Liam.

Arms suddenly wrap around his waist and he feels familiar lips at the back of his neck, above the collar his jacket. It scares him a little but he knows it’s Liam as soon as a chin is hooked over his shoulder, a quiet “hi” kissed over his jaw.

He knows everyone is watching so he turns in Liam’s hold, shy eyes looking up into Liam’s.

Liam chuckles and brushes gentle fingers over the blush creeping along Zayn’s cheekbones.

His stubble is thicker than when Zayn last saw him, hair a little heavier on top.

He grins at the familiar wrinkles around Liam’s eyes as he smiles, the little dip marked over his bottom lip.

“This is new,” Liam comments, a fond smile tugging at his lips as he runs his fingers through Zayn’s hair.

He’s sort of looking at Zayn as if he’s the most important thing ever, and Zayn feels shy under his praising stare, lips threatening to speak the three words he promised he wouldn’t.

Instead, he whines and pushes Liam’s hand away – it took him half an hour to get the bloody quiff right.

Liam brushes a giggle of Zayn’s lips, a warm, familiar mouth easing over his bottom lip as fingertips spill over his neck.

Somebody behind whistles at them and he reluctantly pulls away, an arm snaking around Liam’s waist as he momentarily rests his head up against Liam’s chest and enjoys the feeling of careful hands dipping over the small of his back.

“You look gorgeous by the way,” Liam whispers with lips kissing over Zayn’s earlobe, the arm wrapped around his middle gesturing him to the pavement as they wait behind everyone to start walking.

Zayn snorts and ignores the shudder running along each vertebrae of his spine as Liam’s fingers tangle with his in between them.

 

++

 

The club is packed.

It’s a sweaty heap of bodies pressed tightly to one another, the music loud in his ears and a murmur of excitement running through his veins.

He wants the burn of alcohol on his tongue, a scratchy throat from too many cigarettes.

(Or maybe he just wants Liam). 

Louis leads them to the bar, shouting something Zayn can’t make out over the music. A hand curls over his back as they walk through the crowd, Liam’s eyes heavy and cautious as he trails behind Zayn.

“Drinking?” Zayn asks up against Liam’s ear, fingers clinging to his shirt as he quickly moves to the empty bar stool after a blonde is dragged away with some friends to the dancefloor.

“Only if you are,” Liam hums a smile, his arm wrapping round Zayn’s waist as they wait for the bartender.

Zayn orders drinks and Liam slips a couple of notes across the bar, kissing over the frown pressing to Zayn’s forehead as he rolls his eyes. They all do shots until Zayn is mumbling kisses over Liam’s lips, fingers threading to his hair while dragging him closer.

Everything becomes a little slow and lethargic; the music now softer, his eyes a little hazy and a low burn in the back of his throat that he loves.

“You’re such a lightweight,” Liam says while shaking his head, but there’s this fond smile crinkling his eyes, fingertips brushing affectionately over Zayn’s jaw.

He orders another round and tips the glass to Liam’s lips, giggling at the grimace painted over his expression, his features wrinkling with a tempting pout clinging to his lips. Zayn pushes himself from the stall and wraps his arms around Liam’s neck as he kisses him, tongue familiarly pressing over the roof of his mouth, mapping out a soft kiss that has the strong burn of vodka pressed over his taste buds.

“Can we dance, jaan?” Zayn asks, a grin sweeping over his lips at the groan Liam moans over his mouth. He eventually nods, chasing back another two shots before being dragged into the crowd.

It messes with Zayn’s vision, the room a dizzy constellation of dancing bodies, the strobes blinking fuzzy flickers of light over Liam’s skin.

They pause once they’re entwined in the centre, the music running vibrations beneath their feet, a denser crowd of people surrounding them.

Zayn feels Liam’s arms snake around his waist, hands running over his hips. His fingers dig into the skin there, swaying to the heavy beat resonating through his veins. Liam’s hair is slightly matted from the damp air, shoved to one side of his forehead, his shirt unbuttoned over his chest. His eyes are running down Zayn’s body, his bottom lip taken by his teeth. Zayn’s hips move to the music, arms in the air, a whine deep in the back of his throat as Liam grinds against his hips.

Their movements are slightly out of time and it’s all a bit messy but he’s too lost in Liam to care.

He can’t look away. Liam is just so perfect in front of him, a grin tugged over his mouth as he holds Zayn’s waist, hands slipping a little lower. There are beams of light flashing over his face, the glow painting his lips a cherry-red, his skin tanned.

There are excited cheers as the countdown begins, a screen counting down a minute until the New Year. Zayn smiles lazily, slinging his arms around Liam’s neck and pressing their bodies together.

He whispers the numbers against Liam’s lips, humming as he feels Liam’s arms tighten around his waist, crossing over each other and resting against his lower back.

There are cries around him as the countdown reaches ten, an ovation of students shouting down the seconds.

Zayn’s too busy fixated on the way Liam’s eyes flash over his with a smudge of crinkles indicating a smile, lips brushing a ‘three, two, one’ over his mouth.

Zayn grins, flashing lights disorientating him as everyone screams, chaos erupting as people hug and kiss.

“Happy new year, Leeyum,” he mumbles before Liam’s lips are on his, a wet kiss pressed over his mouth, a tongue slipping over his bottom lip.

His arms tighten around Liam’s neck, fingertips easing into the back of his hair. It’s loud around them but Zayn can still here the satisfied noise Liam drags out as Zayn’s lips part and his tongue licks over his teeth.

Liam’s fingers are at Zayn’s jaw, one hand still secured around his waist. Liam smiles so fondly at Zayn when he pulls away with a giggle, chasing another gentle kiss to his lips.

“Happy new year, babe.”

 

++

 

It gets colder in January and Zayn finds himself wrapped in a scarf, hat and gloves as he watches Liam’s matches.

He sits on the sub bench next to the coach, a coffee cupped in between his mittens, a shiver running down his spine and over his skin. It’s icy, but the team is more energetic than ever, Louis sprinting down the pitch to set up a goal and Niall booting the ball into the net.

Liam bounces up and down in goal, trying to stay warm, when the play isn’t down his end.

At half time he manages to sneak away for a moment after giving the team a talk, taking the bottle of water from Zayn’s offering hands with a grateful smile.

He looks a little frustrated, cheeks flushed and eyes a little defeated as he swigs back the water.

“S’only two-one,” Zayn reminds him in between Liam pressing a quick kiss over his lips, fingers clutching onto the insides of Zayn’s coat for warmth.

“They’re the best team in the league,” Liam huffs, chewing on the inside of his lip. “A right cocky bunch and I can’t stand it.”

Zayn rolls his eyes and drags him in for another kiss.

“Anything could happen,” he says softly, eyes flickering to the team who are calling Liam’s name. “Go kick some ass.”

Liam grins, shaking his head fondly as he presses his hands over Zayn’s cheeks.

“You look adorable,” he whispers with tender eyes, kissing Zayn’s nose before jogging back to the pitch.

 

++

 

After a three-two win Liam drags Zayn into the changing room while the rest of the team are still celebrating.

He laughs all while tugging off Zayn’s hat and unravelling the scarf wrapped around his neck, giggling at the messy hair clinging to his forehead.

They strip while kissing, Zayn warming up to the gentle lips wandering over his skin, whispers of affection pressed over his neck and across to his shoulder.

“Fuck,” Zayn hisses as Liam presses him up against the wall in the shower, hands fumbling for the dial in between a mess of giggly kisses.

He shrieks when icy water falls over them, Liam swearing and tugging Zayn out from beneath the shower head with an apologetic grin clinging to his lips. He licks into his mouth and ambles his hands over Zayn’s back, thighs, stomach, until a billow of misty steam washes over their skin.

“Try again?” Zayn murmurs in a half whimper half groan as Liam’s fingers run over his cock, a smirk rushed over his jaw.

Liam crowds him into the corner of the room, the tiles cold against his spine.

The water spills over them, hot and rapid against his skin. He blinks away the droplets slipping into his eyes, beads of steam clinging to his eyelashes as he desperately searches for Liam’s face in the gloomy shadow of fog.  

Lips mark over his neck, teeth grazing against his skin and over his Adam’s Apple, head tipped back against the wall as Liam presses rough kisses over his collarbones and leaves behind messy blemishes.

A thumb swipes over the crown of his cock, a gasp choked off in his throat.

“Shit,” Liam says into Zayn’s neck, Zayn’s fingers moving into Liam’s hair.

“S’wrong?” Zayn asks, voice a little shaky as Liam’s hand wraps wetly around his shaft.

Liam kisses over his shoulder and mutters “condom, babe” as another hand wraps around the back of his thigh.

Zayn’s lips part and he tugs at Liam’s hair, indicating for him to come closer. Their foreheads press together, Zayn frantically blinking away the heavy water droplets.

“We could, y’know, without?” He mutters shyly over Liam’s lips, smiling at the kiss Liam steals over his bottom lip.

Liam is breathless, eyes rapidly shifting over Zayn’s face.

“Are you sure?”

Zayn nods, running a hand through the wet hair falling over Liam’s forehead.

“You haven’t –”

“No,” Liam whispers urgently, gentle fingertips crawling over Zayn’s jaw, his thumb padding out over prominent cheekbones. “Nobody since I met you.”

Zayn kisses Liam to stop the affectionate whimper rolling from his tongue, licking into Liam’s mouth gently.

There’s this soft chant of ‘Leeyum’ curled around his tongue as Liam strokes him off and wetly kisses into his mouth. Liam’s thumb is rimming the edge of Zayn’s hole and it’s almost too much.

The shower is pouring out too much heat and he reaches for the dial, fingers slipping over the surface.

“I’ve got it,” Liam tells him quietly, turning the switch until the water is cooler and Zayn feels as if he can breathe again.

Liam’s cock drags over his stomach, precome streaking over his skin.

He swallows a gasp as Liam’s fingers ease into his hole, slow and careful like he’s scared he’ll hurt him. His spine arches and he presses his hips into Liam’s, a grunt over his collarbones at the pressure strained over his cock.

He whispers out a whimper as Liam moves his hands from his prick to brace Zayn against the wall, fingertips brushing over the outside of his thighs in a gentle attempt to keep him from slipping down.

“C’n you take more?” He whispers over the flushed skin of his neck, lips grazing over Zayn’s earlobe. “Be a good boy for me?”

Zayn coughs out a noise in an attempt to mutter ‘yes’ but it sounds like more of a whimper with Liam’s thumb rubbing over Zayn’s hole.

Liam grins, twisting his fingers as he nudges them back and forth.

He moans, fingers gripping Liam’s hair until it’s almost painful.

“Baby,” Zayn exhales in a whine, eyes quickly shifting back up to Liam’s. He’s a little embarrassed over the name falling from his lips, but there’s a sudden look of fondness glazing over Liam’s eyes and his cheeks are lifted by a grin, - and he thinks, just maybe, that he wants to mutter it over Liam’s skin forever.

“Leeyum, please, c’n you –”

A gentle half kiss is brushed over his lips, a stutter of a moan pressed over his tongue as Liam’s fingers leave his hole.

There’s one hand steadying his hips, another spreading his cheeks as he cautiously nudges his dick up against Zayn’s hole, the wet head brushing over the surface, teasing.

There’s a familiarity of something uncomfortable, Liam stretching him out, an ache to his muscles, but Liam stutters out a complacent groan into Zayn’s neck and it’s enough.

“S’this okay?” Liam murmurs over Zayn’s skin, humming over his shoulder and kissing over the snake stained over his arm.

“Yeah, Li,” he breathes out, exhales a moan as he cards his fingers through Liam’s damp hair. “Fuck, babe, c’mere.”

His arms coil around Liam’s neck, lips smothering a soft kiss over his mouth. Liam presses one hand to the wall, the other gentle touches over the bottom of Zayn’s spine.

Zayn whimpers over Liam’s tongue and he’s pretty sure he mishears the ‘beautiful’ kissed over his lips.

“Y’ feel so, shit, wonderful,” Liam gasps over his mouth, pulling away with a half giggle to wipe the droplets of water from Zayn’s eyes with his thumbs. “I can feel all of you, babe.”

Zayn can feel his eyelashes flutter, his toes curling. Liam keeps his hips steady, braced against the wall in a firm hold with soft fingertips stroking delicate touches over his skin, over the block heart marked to his hip.

He swallows, holding back the moan choking his throat. He can feel the head of Liam’s cock brushing close to his prostate, his spine arching as Liam drags out before nudging another firm, slow, thrust into him.

 It turns blissful, his stomach muscles coiling tightly, his cock fattening up over every movement.

“C’n get a bit louder for me,” Liam murmurs a quiet kiss over Zayn’s jaw, before fingers drag his mouth back over his lips.

It’s needy but Liam brushes his sugary lips over Zayn’s anyway, smirking at the low whine pressed over Zayn’s tongue.

“Wanna hear you,” he encourages softly, fingers a little sharp digging into his waist, little crescents marked into his skin from Liam’s nails.

There’s a hitch in his voice as he tries to gather words, his throat dry and scratchy like chain smoking too many cigarettes.

“Oh fuck,” he whispers, a whimper clinging to his lips as he clutches Liam’s arm with shaky fingers. His muscles flex under his palm, a breathy moan kissed over the familiar birthmark in the centre of Liam’s neck.

Liam’s actions are so slow, his hips moving languidly, dragging out every thrust. It’s so intimate, with Zayn’s arms tangled around Liam’s neck, fingers carding through his hair in delicate touches, quiet kisses lingered over needy lips.

Whispered, soft moans through every movement.

There’s a groan deep in Liam’s throat as Zayn whispers a breathless ‘so full, oh my god Leeyum’ and grinds his cock over Zayn’s prostate, large hands gripping Zayn’s thighs as he whimpers and feels his legs buckle beneath him.

“Up, babe, c’mere,” Liam murmurs over Zayn’s jaw, lips soft against the rough stubble settled there.

He lifts Zayn with his hands wrapped around the back of his thighs, and it’s so easy that Zayn can’t help but whine into Liam’s neck, his cock achingly hard and brushing precome over Liam’s belly.

Liam grins, muttering a shy ‘sh, love’ over the foreign writing inked to his collarbone, tongue smudging a wet kiss over the dark bruises.

Zayn tangles his legs around Liam’s waist, toes dragging over the softly dented dimples at the bottom of his spine.

There’s this new angle, Liam easily slipping back and forth into Zayn, breathless gasps moaned over his lips.

Liam’s eyes are closed and his lips are parted, eyelashes fluttering as water spills over them, droplets rolling down his face. Zayn can’t look away, his fingers padding out every freckle blemished to his skin, the tiny frown line pressed between his brow, the wet hair scattered messily over his forehead. 

He’s so deep, his muscles aching, thighs sore as he relaxes himself into Liam’s hold, nudging his nose into the nape of Liam’s neck.

“Faster, Li,” he whispers, humming a sob as Liam gasps and pushes in further.

Something coils in Zayn’s throat, oxygen sinking into a desperate moan. His lips are shaky as Liam wraps a hand around his cock, his fingers smearing the precome leaking from the head.

They struggle to keep up, a giggle shifting over Zayn’s lips as they almost slip, Zayn clutching onto Liam’s arms for support.

“Gonna come,” Liam murmurs through a whispered moan, his voice a little rough and scratchy. “D’you want me to -”

“No,” Zayn bites off, smoothing a kiss to Liam’s jaw. “Stay right there, babe.”

A gasp trips over his lips as Liam comes, pulsing deep inside of Zayn, a breathless moan hissed over Zayn’s lips.

His eyes are screwed shut, fingers tight over Zayn’s hips, tongue pushing away the water pressing over his lips.

“Good boy,” Liam exhales, a wrecked smile moving over Zayn’s lips in a dry half-kiss.

It’s like a trigger, Zayn’s cock smearing long spurts over Liam’s stomach, a whine muffled over Liam’s mouth.

“Shit,” he mutters, gasping for air, trapping the whimper in his throat as he feels Liam slide out of him.

He cards his fingers through Liam’s hair, lazily smiling over the giggle brushed into his neck. He hooks his chin over Liam’s shoulder, pulling him closer, letting the water from the showerhead spill over them.   

“Fucking hell,” Liam says softly over Zayn’s skin, fingers drumming soft touches over the knobs of his spine.

Zayn sighs, pleased, a familiar thudding in his chest that he knows Liam can hear. His eyes are heavy, nearly blinking shut, smiling fondly as Liam presses a grin into Zayn’s neck.

They stay like it for another ten minutes, Liam mumbling kisses whilst humming a soft ‘grab my last request and just let me hold you’ before the water runs cold.

 

++

 

His phone wakes him at in the middle of the night.

He groans, eyelids refusing to open, lashes fluttering as he blinks up at the window through  blurry vision. It’s too dark to be morning, the silvery shadow of the moon reflecting onto the windowsill.

He reaches for his phone, holding it close to his face as he struggles to read the white font, a name typed across the screen.

“Hello?” He whispers, pressing it to his ear and scrunching his nose as he sits up, Harry’s voice filling the speaker.

“Hey, it’s me,” he says. He’s sleepy but Zayn can make out the worry in his voice, a rushed tone stumbling out in his slow, drawled accent.

“S’wrong?” He asks, rubbing at his eyes with the sleeve of his hoodie.

“Is Liam with you?”

Zayn frowns, biting over his lip, running a hand through his hair. “No, why?”

“Shit,” Harry mumbles, and Zayn hears shuffling on the other end. “He told me he was going out last night but he never came home, fuck. I’m so stupid to let him go out alone, ‘specially at a time like this.”

Zayn closes his eyes, the frown wrinkling his forehead deepening. He wracks his brains, ‘at a time like this’ running over every thought. What does that even mean?

“C’n you check the corridor?” Harry questions. “I’m gonna go drive around for a bit and see if I can find him.”

Zayn puts him on speaker whilst struggling to pull on a pair of jeans.

“He probably just crashed round someone’s after going out?” Zayn suggests, chewing on the inside of his lip.

“Just trust me, Zayn,” Harry says through the phone. “I’ve got this feeling, there’s something – I can’t explain it to you. I, is there anywhere you think he’d go? Like to be by himself, maybe?”

Zayn’s confused, nothing concluding as he tries to make sense of it all, but he thinks of the day on the pitch, Liam’s fingers tangling with his and ‘the sky makes me feel a little more safe.’

“Yeah,” he whispers to Harry, nodding even though he can’t see. “Yeah, I’ll go there, I’ll call you if I find him.”

 

++

 

Zayn blinks into the darkness, a single floodlight washing a pool of white light over the empty grounds. It’s a little misty and his eyes take a minute to adjust, walking across the grass to nowhere in particular, eyes desperate as he looks across the silent acreage.

There’s a shadow of a figure in the centre of the pitch, a body lying on the grass in the middle of the cold night.

He hurries over, dropping to his knees when he reaches Liam. He’s silent, eyes barely registering Zayn as he stares up at the sky, glazed over and almost unblinking.

 “Leeyum,” Zayn shivers into the cold, his breath a billowing cloud hanging in the still air. “Babe, what’re you doing out here?”

“Just looking,” Liam whispers, eyes flickering to Zayn before back to the sky.

It’s a blanket of dark velvet, a misty canvas with stars hanging in delicate glitters, not a cloud in sight.

Zayn shivers into his hoodie and crosses his legs on the ground beside Liam. There’s an empty Jack Daniels bottle lying in Liam’s shaking hand, his lips a shy blue, teeth chattering a little.

“Are you drunk?” Zayn asks, carefully removing the glass bottle from Liam’s hand and rolling it away. 

Liam shrugs tiredly, breathing out a sigh as he blinks back up at the sky.

“C’mere,” Zayn mumbles, shaky fingers softly running over Liam’s jawline, sweeping under his chin.

Liam sighs again, a little hazy as he allows Zayn to pull him up.

Gentle touches press over his face, fingers entwining with Liam’s. There’s a sharp sting of the freezing silver around Liam’s pinkie, Zayn closing both his hands around Liam’s numb ones.

“S’wrong, babe?” Zayn says softly, a couple of kisses brushed over Liam’s forehead.

Liam shakes his head, sad eyes blinking up at Zayn from behind hooded lids.

“Do you think she sees me?” Liam asks in another whisper, chewing the soft flesh of his bottom lip.

Zayn frowns, tiny wrinkles written over his forehead in confusion.

“Who, Liam?”

Liam remains silent and lies back against the grass with his head in Zayn’s lap.

“My head’s spinning,” he hiccups a giggle, laughing into the sleeve of his shirt.

Zayn almost misses the tear sliding over the smear of crinkles around Liam’s eyes, giggles wrapped around soft sobs that he begins to cry into his sleeves.

It’s the first time he’s seen him cry, breathless lips parted and something aching deep in his chest.

“Babe,” Zayn hushes, eyes wide and lips quivering as he brushes away the tears and softly kisses Liam’s eyelids. “Leeyum, s’okay. I’m here, babe.”

Liam nods, biting onto his smile. 

“Do you think she sees me?” Liam repeats, an arm messily pointing to the sky.

Another tear falls to the grass as he whispers a sad, ‘so many stars…I wonder if she’s there.’

Zayn can feel the blood pounding in his ears, a sickened feeling far at the back of his throat as he watches Liam cry.

“Who, babe?”

“Mum,” Liam whispers.

The icy wind cuts along his skin like blades, lips parted breathlessly with a craving for any words to surface. He’s lost, blankly looking down at Liam who clutches at Zayn’s shirt, hauling himself up and crawling into his lap.

“Leeyum,” he manages to whisper, eyes fluttering shut as his arms wrap safely around Liam’s torso with hands stroking over his hair.

“I miss her,” he mumbles into Zayn’s shirt, crying into Zayn’s chest as his muscles collapse and he becomes completely reliant on Zayn.

“She’s gone.”

Zayn blinks back tears as he cuddles closer to Liam, kisses scattered over his forehead and into his hair as fingers wander over the goose bumps patterned to Liam’s skin.

“She’s gone,” Liam whispers again, a shaky cry dragged over Zayn’s collar. “S’my fault. She’s gone and it’s all my fault.”

Zayn shakes his head, hugging Liam tighter and nudging his nose along Liam’s collarbone.

“No,” he refuses softly, almost silent against the harsh wind blowing around them. “No, babe. S’not your fault.”

Liam nods and Zayn can feel the tears soaking through his shirt.

“S’on the way to my football match,” he mumbles, voice messy and scratchy as he whimpers into Zayn’s neck. “Cup final, she. The car crashed.”

“No,” Zayn whimpers, words a tangle at the back of his throat.

Liam keeps shaking his head, lips wet up against Zayn’s skin.

“Harry,” he says in between gentle sobs, a hiccup cutting through his words. “Call Haz.”

Zayn nods, a heavy breath kissed into Liam’s hair.

“You’re going to be okay, babe,” he whispers, fingers trembling as he hooks out his phone from his pocket.

He’s reminded of his mum crying over an argument with his dad when he was twelve, her eyes trying to blink away tears before Zayn could see, before he’d hugged her and she’d broken down in his arms.

And in the moment, he feels so useless as he listens to Liam sob into his neck, an arm protectively wrapped around his torso as he tells Harry to come and pick them up.

 

++

 

He doesn’t sleep.

He spends the night curled up in the armchair in Harry and Liam’s flat, watching Liam sleep on the sofa. Harry is a bundle of limbs on the floor below, soft snores pushing through the hair spilling over his face.

All he can think of is ‘it’s all my fault, s’on the way to my football match’ and every time he feels like something is stabbing him deep in his chest. Compassion cutting him up from the inside as he watches the innocent boy sprawled across the sofa, heavy bags under his eyes and tear stains marked to his cheeks.

Messy hair, long eyelashes, broad shoulders that look so small curled up into a ball under a blanket Zayn tucked him into as he cried into Harry’s shoulder.

He wonders how many times he’s cried, how many times he’s felt like he’s drowning.

 

++

 

Sharp rays of sunlight seeping through the open curtains wake him, eyes blinking open as he adjusts to the brightness.

His stomach drops, butterflies swarming in their dozens. His lips are dry, tiredness stretching out over his limbs that he shakes off as he sits up in the chair.

There’s a blanket draped around his shoulders, spread out over his body, the same one he’d laid over Liam last night.

His eyes flicker to the empty sofa, Harry still asleep on the floor with a pillow propped up underneath his head. Zayn untangles himself from the covers and quietly steps over Harry, careful not to wake him.

He looks up to see Liam walking through the kitchen doorway, a hoodie clinging to his body with tired eyes shyly staring up at Zayn.

There’s a nervous smile pressed to his lips, fingers fiddling at his sides as he glances to the floor before quickly back to Zayn.

Zayn wastes no time in striding forward, arms thrown around Liam’s neck as he hooks his chin over Liam’s shoulder. He’s warm, careful fingers padding out over Zayn’s spine, his face nuzzling its way into Zayn’s neck as firm arms wrap around his middle.

Liam laughs, gently pushing Zayn away as if he’s trying to brush it off, but Zayn tightens his arms around Liam and stays put.

“Baby,” he whispers over Liam’s shoulder, nose pressing into his neck. “Don’t hide from me anymore.”

He runs a hand through Liam’s hair, pressing their bodies closer as he feels Liam’s hand tucked between his shoulder blades.

“You weren’t meant to find out,” Liam says quietly, lips brushing over Zayn’s collarbone. “Nobody was supposed to find out.”

Zayn’s eyes fall closed as he pulls Liam impossibly closer, lips smoothing a gentle ‘I’m here’ over his jaw.

Their embrace is desperate, Liam’s muscles and limbs reliant on Zayn to hold him up, body weak as he holds onto his waist.

“I don’t want anyone treating me like I’m fragile,” Liam says, voice a whimper as his eyelashes brush over Zayn’s skin.

He pulls away, Liam’s arms still wrapped around his waist as he cups Liam’s cheeks with his hands, fingers stroking over his cheekbones and jaw.

“This doesn’t change anything.”

He kisses him, lips gentle as they brush over Liam’s mouth.

“You’re still my Leeyum,” he says softly.

Liam smiles, eyes pinching crinkles around his eyes, a dimple pressing into his chin.

Zayn kisses him for it. 

 

++

 

Harry steps out for coffee and donuts after he’s peppered Liam’s face with kisses and engulfed him in a tight hug.

There’s no jealousy, Zayn looking away as they share their moment and he curls himself into the armchair, fiddling with the fraying threads of the throw pressed into his lap.

Liam wraps himself in the duvet when Harry leaves, tired eyes nervously flickering across to Zayn as he buries himself in the sofa cushions.

They sit in a comfortable silence until Liam whispers out a quiet “it happened six years ago last week.”

Zayn immediately shakes his head, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“You don’t have to tell me.”

Liam smiles softly, fingers sweeping the strands of hair fraying over his eyes.

“I want to.”

Zayn nods, chewing at the soft flesh of his bottom lip as he hesitantly looks up at Liam.

“My team won the league final,” Liam mumbles softly, nervously smiling as he casts his eyes down into his lap. “There were these scouts from Liverpool, they were specifically there for a couple of us lads.”

Liam pulls his sleeves over the palms of his hands and scratches at his neck.

“I was so happy about winning I hardly noticed mum and dad weren’t there, I just assumed they were at the back of the stand or summat.”

“Leeyum,” Zayn mutters.

“No, s’okay,” Liam shakes his head.

 “I was on this crazy high adrenaline rush from winning but this police officer showed up after we got the cup, with me coach.”

Liam pauses, sighing into the sleeves of his hoodie.

He looks so tired, exhaustion washing over every freckle.

“I was taken to the hospital and dad was on the floor crying outside the ICU. I’ve never felt so lost, y’know?”

Zayn bites on his thumbnail, sad eyes washing over Liam’s pained ones.

“Dad still blames himself even though it was some drunk kid messing about on the motorway. S’where I go most weekends – I go see him and visit her grave.”

For a brief moment Zayn’s eyes flutter closed, head shaking at the thought of the hole in Liam’s life.

He wriggles out from beneath the blankets sprawled across him, taking several steps across the rug to settle into Liam’s lap. There’s a small smile brushed over his temple as he wraps his arms around Liam’s waist and rests his head on Liam’s chest, a familiar flutter of a heartbeat pressed to his ear.

“I stopped playing for a couple f’years which was probably the worst thing I did. I hardly left the house ‘nd I shut myself off from everything, even Niall and Haz for a while,” Liam whispers into Zayn’s hair.

“Liverpool scouted me and said they wanted me to play for their under twenty-ones team but I couldn’t do it. Mum had spent her whole life saving to pay for me university fees.”

“So you came here instead,” Zayn says into Liam’s neck. He feels Liam nod and sighs over his collarbone.

“Football’s everything to me but my mum is more.”

He nods, eyelids falling shut as he cards his fingers through Liam’s hair. It’s like someone is twisting a knife deep in his gut, a shadow of anger and grief spreading over his skin, running through his veins, the thought of nobody humming The Fray while cleaning over the kitchen worktops. Nobody to crack open the door and check up on him at half twelve, even if he is nineteen and doesn’t need anyone to turn off the light. No one to cry into his shoulder when he gets home from uni, nobody to snap at him for leaving his room in such a state.

He listens to the sharp sigh Liam exhales into his hair, fingertips gentle as they brush over his neck and dip below the collar of his Henley. He stays silent and kisses over Liam’s skin as he tells him about her: the way his mum’s laugh would brighten a room full of miserable people, the way she’d cried through a smile at the end of Notting Hill and how he can no longer watch it without sinking into a puddle of tears. How she’d embarrass him at his football matches and how his dad would have to quieten her with kisses at the side-line, how she’d lift him onto her feet and they’d dance around the kitchen to Whitney when he was little.

Her favourite films, the songs she would sing while she was cooking, the teasing ‘don’t tell the others but you’re my favourite’ and the uproar that would follow from his sisters while his mum would watch with soft eyes and a fond smile.

How he dressed up in his best suit for her funeral, the speech he’d read and cried all the way through.

The ring wrapped around his little finger, the same one he bought his mum for her fortieth birthday, engraved with an M, and how he couldn’t bear for it to be buried with her so instead he wears it all the time -‘a little piece of her that’ll always be with me’.

Zayn sketches his fingers through the heavy scruff over Liam’s jaw, nudging his nose over Liam’s and brushing a dry kiss over his lips.

“I sometimes think about it,” Liam says, mouth buried into the crook of Zayn’s neck. “Being part of a big team like that, having thousands of people supporting you. It doesn’t change anything though, like, m’not helping anyone.”

Zayn whispers a kiss over his temple, listening.

“Physio is okay but what would you think about teaching football to kids?”

Zayn brushes his fingers over Liam’s chin to turn his head. Something stutters in his chest, electricity sparking something unfamiliar over his nerves.

“I think,” he says, lips pressed over Liam’s mouth, “that is the best idea you’ve ever had.”

 

++

 

It’s a Sunday afternoon, the sun painting a warm orange onto the windowsill, a couple of pine leaves brushed over the surface from the airy breeze picking up outside.

Zayn is sitting on the window ledge, a cigarette propped between his lips and To Kill A Mockingbird in his lap, a pen scrawling notes in between the lines.

He’s in Liam’s football shirt, the material draped over his thighs. A pair of socks warm his feet, and he’s almost certain they’re Liam’s because he can see the hint of a yellow Batman emblem poking round his toes from the bottom of the material. His glasses are sat across the bridge of his nose, wonky, and he has to keep pushing them up closer to his eyes every few minutes.

Liam stumbles in around six, when Zayn’s five chapters in and there’s the news bulletin droning from the radio on the desk.

He doesn’t bother knocking, slipping through the door with his eyes focused on his phone. He kicks the door shut with the back of his foot, and when he looks up his lips part, a half-whine clinging to his tongue.

“What?” Zayn asks, a laugh pressing over his mouth as he stubs out the cigarette and looks expectantly across to Liam who’s kicking off his shoes and sprawling himself over the bed.

“You’re wearing my shirt and I think it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” he says, unaffected, Zayn’s cheeks gathering a blush that crawls down towards his neck.

He pats the space beside him on the bed and smiles as Zayn bookmarks his page, climbing down from the windowsill.

“Hi,” Liam murmurs with warm eyes as Zayn lies next to him, cheeks lifting into a grin as he slings an arm over Zayn’s waist and drags him closer. “How was your weekend?”

“Good,” Zayn says softly, a little distracted by Liam’s fingertips pushing up the shirt and brushing over his thighs in gentle touches. “I finished my context essay on Frost and beat Nialler at beer pong. What about you?”

Liam laughs, a silly giggle smeared over his lips as he nudges his nose over Zayn’s and kisses him, quietly and softly and gently.

“Mine was okay,” he nods, and Zayn thinks there’s a shyness clinging to the faltered smile pushed over his lips, something wary behind his eyes. “I figured something out.”

Zayn smiles and strokes over the similar words inked to Liam’s forearm.

“S’that?” He questions, his eyes searching the cautious, caramel ones that are blinking a little frantically.

Liam pauses, biting over the soft flesh of his bottom lip as he drops his gaze down to his fingers tangled with Zayn’s.

“That I love you,” he says, quietly, shyly, a sprinkle of a blush pressed over his cheeks and across the birthmark stained to his neck. “And there’s no point in hiding it anymore.”

He chokes back the gasp in his throat, eyes flickering over Liam’s parted lips.

“You don’t have to say it back, or whatever, but I -”

Zayn kisses him, shoving back the words that spill over his lips. Liam stays for a moment, before he pulls back and looks over Zayn’s face with confused eyes.

“I love you, Leeyum,” he says softly, grinning over the breathless sigh Liam exhales.

It’s something like relief, the doubtful frown smoothing over as a warm smile, a giggly kiss pressed messily over Zayn’s lips.

Later, when they’re under the covers, Zayn’s mouth buried into the crook of Liam’s neck while he cards his hands through his hair and lazily kisses him between the sheets, Liam whispers a soft ‘they’re letting me change one of my courses to teaching and I reckon me mum would be proud of me for choosing this path’ and Zayn thinks he could kiss ‘I love you’ and ‘I think that you might be my path’ over his skin for as long as Liam will let him.