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Zayn stares down at the ad, thinking it’s too good to be true. There’s no way. He doesn’t have this kind of luck, or fortune.

Male, early twenties, seeking roommate and part-time animal caretaker. Is out of town 6 months out of the year, but covers half the rent all year round. Spacious, two bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer, utilities included. If interested, please call the number listed below and ask for Harry Styles.

“It’s perfect for you,” Louis says, sinking down onto the couch beside Zayn. “Perfect.”

Zayn looks up at him, shaking his head. “There’s got to be a catch. Maybe he’s a serial killer.”

Louis roles his eyes. “Come on, Zayn. The apartment’s all yours for six months, and you only have to walk his dog. Plus, Niall knows the guy well, apparently. Harry, or whoever he is.”

Zayn rereads the ad for a third time. “What’s he do, though? I mean, why’s he gone all the time?”

“Military man, apparently,” Louis supplies. “He’s always deployed somewhere out of the country.”

Zayn bites his lip, still hesitant. He’s desperate, though; there’s no way he can continue living in the University dorms. He needs more space - his own space- and this apartment sounds like the best he’s going to get.

“Should I go for it?” Zayn asks Louis.

Louis nods. “Plus,” he says, snatching the paper from Zayn’s hands. “You love dogs.”

--

Zayn calls him. Harry’s got a slow, relaxing voice, and Zayn likes him instantly. “You can come look at it, if you want,” Harry says after asking a few questions. “Niall’s already given you the go-ahead, and I trust his judgement.”

“Sure,” Zayn says quickly.

“Great!” Harry says enthusiastically. “Liam won’t be back for another month and a half, but-,”

Zayn cuts him off, frowning at the wall above his bed. “Liam?”

“Yeah, the guy - oh, wait, you thought- it’s not me. I mean, it’s not my apartment. I live next door. You’ll be sharing an apartment with Liam.”

“But I thought-,”

“I’m just dealing with his stuff for him while he’s gone,” Harry explains. “He’s pretty busy most of the time. Works his ass off. If you ask me, the only reason he even got the dog was so he’d have something to come home to, you know? Not - not that I said that, if he ever asks. In fact, let’s just pretend all together that those words never came out of my mouth.”

Zayn continues to stare at the ceiling of his tiny dorm room. There’s a footprint up there. An honest to god footprint. How the fuck?

“What’s he like?” Zayn asks finally. “Liam, or whatever.”

“He’s great!” Harry said quickly. “Really great. I promise. He’s not, like, psycho or anything. A bit of a workaholic, maybe, but that’s about as far as Liam’s issues go. I’ve known him for years. He’d be a great flatmate.”

Zayn snorts. “How much he paying you to say that?”

“He’s not,” Harry replies, and he sounds genuinely sincere. “I’m just helping him out.”

“Okay,” Zayn says. “I’ll come see it tonight, then?”

“Yeah!” Harry is all enthusiasm and, for the first time, Zayn is actually grateful that it’s not Harry he’s possibly about to move in with. He wasn’t sure if he could handle someone that upbeat all the time. Hell, he’s best friends with Louis. He gets on better with people who are as cynical as he is. “Just come around whenever and knock on door 11, that’s mine, and I’ll let you in.” He rattles off the building address and Zayn sits up, shuffling around the bedside table for a pen so he can quickly write it down. “See you, Zayn.”

“Yeah, see you,” Zayn says distractedly.

As soon as he’s hung up with Harry and he has the address written down, he calls Louis. “That nice, huh?” Louis asks, and Zayn can hear the scepticism in his voice.

“A bit overwhelming, to be honest,” Zayn admits. “But it’s a good deal, right? I mean, I can’t pass this up.”

“You can’t,” Louis agrees. “I’ll drive you over?”

“Sure. I’ll see you in an hour? And maybe Harry’ll rub off on you and you’ll stop being such a prick all the time.”

He can almost hear Louis rolling his eyes. “You love me,” he says.

“I do,” Zayn admits. “Don’t know how that happened.”

Zayn pockets his phone and changes his shirt, just in case. He doesn’t think Harry will say no to him, but still. He wants this place.

He ends up waiting for fifteen minutes outside. Louis is always late, though, so Zayn’s not really all that surprised. He pulls up with his music cranked, window open, and he’s belting along to the music when Zayn slides into the passenger seat. He doesn’t turn it down, either, but again, Zayn’s not surprised, and he just sings along with him until the song ends.

“This is it?” Louis asks, leaning forward in his seat to get a better look at the building.

Zayn does the same, staring up at the expanse of brick and windows. It’s nice, a hell of a lot nicer than the two places he’d looked at in the past month. There’s no graffiti on the walls, or homeless people living in the alley next door.

“It’s nice,” Louis supplies, turning off the car. “Ready?”

Zayn nods and pulls down the visor to use the mirror underneath it. He fixes his hair a bit and then shuts it. “Let’s go.”

The place is even nicer on the inside. The elevator actually works, which is more than he could say for the other buildings he’d checked out. The apartment is on the third floor, and apartment eleven is halfway down the hall.

“Go on,” Louis says, jerking his head in the direction of the door.

Zayn hesitates. He can’t help it. All the other places he’s checked out have been shit, and why won’t this one be any different? It sounded perfect, and he doesn’t want to ruin the fantasy by coming face to face with the reality.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Louis says, reaching forward to knock loudly on the door.

“Just a second!” Harry calls loudly. “I’m just - oh, shit, fuck, who put that there?” Louis raises his eyebrows and takes a step back from the door just as Harry pulls it open. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly.

Zayn’s a bit surprised. He expected someone a bit more like Niall; shorter, with blonde hair and a carefree smile. Instead, Harry is tall, with curly brown hair and wide eyes. He looks between Louis and Zayn and then extends his hand to Louis.

“It’s yours,” he says quickly, eyes raking down Louis’ body. “The apartment. You want it, it’s definitely, definitely yours.”

Louis gapes at him. “Is that your game? Offering apartments to the guys you want to sleep with?”

Harry shrugs, a wide grin on his face. “Is it working?”

“No,” Louis says, crossing his arms over his chest. “The apartment’s for Zayn.”

Harry frowns at then cuts his eyes to Zayn. “Oh,” he says. “Sorry. I get distracted by beautiful people.”

“No problem,” Zayn says, before Louis can slap the kid. He’s definitely considering it, Zayn can tell. “So, next door?”

“Right,” Harry nods and shuts the door to his apartment. He pulls out a set of keys and leads them to the apartment to the left. “Just a warning, okay? Jessie’s going to bark at you. She’s a bit intimidating, but I promise she’s a sweetheart. She just does that when she meets new people, you know?”

Zayn nods, but Louis looks hesitant. Harry opens the apartment door and is jumped by a giant. Louis shrieks - literally shrieks- and takes a step backwards.

“What the fuck is that?” Louis demands.

“Jessie,” Harry says, bending down to pet the dog. If that’s what it really is, because Zayn’s pretty sure that’s a polar bear.

“You said dog,” Louis tells him, eyes wide. “That is not a dog. That’s a-,”

“She’s sweet, I promise,” Harry says, looking up at Louis. “Come on, pet her. She doesn’t bite.”

Louis shakes his head wildly, but Harry cocks an eyebrow at him, a challenge in his eyes. Zayn has to hand it to him, he’s only known Louis for about a minute and he already figured out how to play him. Louis never backs down from a challenge.

He steps forward, arm extended far from his body, and gently rubs the top of the dogs head. She looks up at him with huge brown eyes and mouth open, but she just sits there as Louis gently pats her head. “I still don’t believe that’s a dog,” Louis adds.

“She’s a Great Pyrenees,” Harry explains. “Big breed. Aren’t you, Jess?” Harry asks her. “Aren’t you a big girl?”

Jessie barks once and Harry stands up. “Right, you guys can come in,” he says, and snaps his fingers. Jessie runs off somewhere in the apartment.

Zayn follows Louis inside, and he wants to cry. It’s perfect. There’s no hallway separating the door from the living room, and the living room is huge. There’s a comfortable looking black couch, and a wide screen T.V. Harry leads them farther into the place, showing them the kitchen. It’s big, too, with nice appliances and a good amount of cupboards. Next he shows Zayn the bathroom, which, again, is too nice to be true. And finally, the bedroom.

It’s bigger than his whole dorm room. There’s a queen sized bed, and a dresser and a side table. It’s empty besides that, no curtain covering the giant window. He’s in love.

“And I can have it?” Zayn asks, eyes wide.

Harry shrugs. “Sure,” he says. “I mean, you’re the least creepy person who’s called, so… you want it, it’s yours.”

“When?” Zayn asks, as Harry shuts the bedroom door and leads them back through the apartment. Jessie is on his heels the whole time, brushing against him like an oversized cat. The only issue Zayn can see, at that moment, is that she leaves hair behind on his pants, and Zayn happens to wear a lot of black. He doesn’t really mind, though.

“You get me the five hundred for this months rent, and you can move in tomorrow,” Harry tells him.

“Great!” Louis says loudly, clapping his hands together. “He’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You could call me tomorrow, too,” Harry says as he locks the apartment door behind them.

Louis snorts but doesn’t reply to that.

“Thanks,” Zayn tells him as Harry heads back to his apartment, and he and Louis head for the elevator. “It’s a great place.”

Harry nods. “Just - one more thing, yeah? Don’t go in his room. Like, ever. Seriously, he’ll be able to tell, and he’ll be pissed. Oh, and I’ll give you the instructions for Jessie tomorrow. Not that she’s really high maintenance.”

“Sounds good,” Zayn agrees.

“Later,” Harry says over his shoulder.

The second the get out front, Louis stops and turns to face him. He lifts both of his hands, one level with his waist, one held high. “Pros and cons,” he explains. “Perfect apartment.” He lifts the higher hand a bit. “Annoying neighbours.” He lifts the lower hand until it’s above his head. “One’s winning out over the other here, Zayn.”

Zayn laughs and keeps walking towards Louis’ car. “He’s not that bad,” Zayn says. “I liked him.”

“He didn’t hit on you,” Louis points out.

“You liked him,” Zayn counters.

Louis’ cheeks turn red but his eyes are narrowed. “I really, really didn’t.”

“Mhm.”

“Whatever,” Louis says as he gets into the car. “So you’re taking it, then?”

Zayn shrugs and pulls on his seatbelt. “It’s kind of perfect, isn’t it?”

Louis sighs. “Yeah. It is. Remember that last place we looked at? I’m pretty sure there was blood splatter on the wall.”

--

Zayn has work after class the next day, but he’d called in early and warned his boss that he was going to need someone to cover the second half of his shift. His boss doesn’t mind. He’s a good guy, and he’s pretty lenient about most things, because he knows that most of his employees are University students, and sometimes shit happens.

He doesn’t make a lot at the coffee shop, though. Minimum wage plus tips, and he doesn’t get nearly as many shifts as he’d like, but he’s got all he can handle. He makes more than enough to cover the apartment, though, and to feed himself. In fact, he’d budgeted rent to be over six hundred, so maybe he’d be able to get cable hooked up on top of internet.

Louis picks him up from work and drives him back over to the building. He doesn’t come in, but that’s less because of Harry and more because Zayn told him there was no point. He was just going to pay Harry, grab the keys, and then they were going to head back to his dorm and pick up his stuff. He’d roped Louis into helping him move by offering to order dinner for them.

“Hey, Niall,” Zayn says, frowning as he bumps into the other boy on the way into the elevator.

“Zayn!” Niall says loudly, and then he engulfs Zayn in a tight hug. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Zayn says, stepping back to let Niall through. “You visiting Harry?”

He nods. “Good guy,” he says. “Got a thing for Lou, though, eh?”

“Oh, really?” Zayn asks. “I didn’t notice.”

“He’ll be over it in a week,” Niall tells him. “He’s like that. Falls in and out of love in seconds. Anyways, I’ve got to run. See you later.”

Zayn nods goodbye to him and gets in the elevator. The apartment’s on the third floor, but he’s man enough to admit that he’s too lazy to take the stairs. When he gets to the third floor, he can hear someone’s fire alarm going off. As he gets closer to Harry’s door he realizes it’s Harry’s alarm.

“Fuck off!” he hears Harry shout through the door. “Come on, honestly? I’m not burning anything! I took a fucking shower. Can’t you tell the difference between steam and smoke? Damn it!”

Zayn knocks hesitantly at the door.

“Oh, shit,” Harry murmurs, and then he hears the scrapping of a chair across linoleum, and there’s a loud crash as something falls to the ground, and then Harry’s opening the door, hair dripping with water, in nothing but a pair of boxers. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Zayn says, and he figures his eyes are a bit wide.

“Um, come in for a sec,” Harry tells him, pushing the door open wider. “I’ve got to find the keys.”

Zayn slowly steps into Harry’s apartment and shuts the door behind himself. Harry’s apartment is the exact same as the one next door, but everything is flipped so that the living room is on the left, and the hallway to the kitchen is on the right. It’s a lot more cluttered, too. Liam’s apartment had been nearly bare, now that he thinks about it. Harry’s is filled with personal items. There’s a shirt thrown over the back of the couch, a single shoe in front of the door, pictures hanging on the walls, cups littering the coffee table.

“Sorry about that,” Harry calls over his shoulder from somewhere in the apartment. “Niall left and I thought I’d jump in the shower, but then I remembered you were coming, so I rushed, and I didn’t open a window and my alarm sucks.”

“No problem,” Zayn says, because it’s really not. Zayn’s a relaxed person, but he’s used to Louis by now, and Harry’s pretty tame compared to him.

Harry comes out of one of the bedrooms with a shirt on backwards, a pair of green sweat pants, and a set of keys dangling from his fingers. He grins at Zayn and hands them to him, and Zayn hands him the money.

“Oh, wait,” Harry says suddenly, ducking into the kitchen. He comes out with a piece of paper, which he also hands to Zayn. “You need to sign this. I forgot.”

Zayn takes the paper and Harry goes on a hunt through the apartment for a pen, which he finds stuck in the pot of a plant that’s situated beside the television. He wipes the dirt off on his pants and hands it to Zayn.

“My place isn’t always this messy,” he says as he points to where Zayn needs to sign. “I’m actually a neat freak, but Niall stays in the guest bedroom sometimes, and he’s kind of a slob.”

“You should see Louis’ apartment,” Zayn says as he scribbles out his signature for the third time. “I can’t even remember what colour his carpet is.”

Harry laughs and takes the paper from Zayn. “Okay, so one more thing. Or two, actually. Jessie doesn’t need to be walked that often. For a big dog, she’s actually really, really lazy. She’s not picky about what food she eats, either, so just get her whatever’s cheapest. And if you bring over strangers, she’ll probably bark at them at first.” Zayn nods, taking this in. He had a dog his whole childhood. He could handle it. “And Liam’s going to be back in a bit over a month.”

“Cool,” Zayn says, already looking forward to having his own apartment for a whole month.

“Okay, so, um, right,” Harry shrugs. “You can move your stuff in. And don’t hesitate to stop by if you need anything. A friend of Niall’s is a friend of mine, or whatever.”

As soon as he gets back in the car, Louis turns to him and asks, “Did he ask about me?”

Zayn raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, he wanted to know if you were a boxers or briefs guy.”

Louis slaps his arm. “Not funny.”

“I thought you didn’t like him.”

“I don’t,” Louis denies.

 

--

 

It takes them one trip to get all his stuff. He’s got a box of books, two bags of clothes, his blankets and pillows, and then another box of just random things, like posters and Cds. His dorm room was too small for him to have much more than that.

“We need to get you some stuff,” Louis says as he drops a box onto the floor in the living room. “This place is practically empty.”

Zayn nods and looks around with a bit more scrutiny than he had the first time he’d been in it. Jessie is laying on the couch, watching them with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. “It’s weird, isn’t it?” Zayn asks. “I mean, it looks like no one lives here.”

Louis shrugs, but he’s grinning. “So let’s change that. It’s your place now, too, right?”

“Yeah,” Zayn agrees, already itching to put up a poster or something, just to make it look less like a hotel room.

“Should we peek into his room?” Louis asks in a hushed whisper. “Just to see if he’s got, like, dead bodies in there or something?”

Zayn shakes his head. “Harry said not to touch the room.”

“Harry won’t know.”

“No way,” Zayn says. He respects other people’s privacy, and if Liam didn’t want anyone going in his room, Zayn wasn’t going to.

“Fine,” Louis sighs. He moves around the apartment. “But let’s at least figure out what his last name is so we can look him up.”

Before Zayn can protest, Louis is flitting around the apartment, pulling open drawers. He comes back from the kitchen empty handed, but says, “Liam Payne. His name’s on a bill in the drawer beside the fridge.” He’s already pulling out his phone and pressing buttons, and a moment later he tosses the phone to Zayn.

There’s a Facebook page on the screen and, while he feels a bit creepy, he look through it. It only takes him about fifteen seconds to hand the phone back to Louis’. “This kid’s, like, fourteen.”

“No,” Louis protests. “Look at his info. He was born in 1993, he just hasn’t got an up to date picture.”

“I’m not stalking him,” Zayn says.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Fine, fine. You’re no fun.”

“You want fun?” Zayn asks, ripping open one of his boxes. “Try next door. Harry answered without a shirt on earlier.”

Louis glares at him but helps him unpack. They’re halfway through when Jessie comes and stands in the doorway to his room and whines. Louis looks up at her. “Is she going to attack?”

Zayn chuckles. “I think she just has to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh,” Louis nods. “Right. You take care of that, I’m going to see if I can find a hammer.”

“Okay,” Zayn agrees. Before he heads out, though, he calls over his shoulder, “Don’t open that fucking door, Louis!”

“Prick!” Louis shouts back at him.

Jessie’s extremely easy to walk for a dog her size. Zayn’s a bit surprised. He figured she’d be dragging him down the street, but instead she walks at a slow, relaxed gape, pausing every once in a while to sniff at a bush, or a fence, until she finally does her business.

Zayn likes her already, and finds himself missing his old dog. Max died when he was sixteen, and he’d been heartbroken over it.

When he gets back inside, Harry peaks his head out the door. “What’re you two doing for dinner?” he asks.

“Um,” Zayn tightens his grip on Jessie’s leash, because she’s trying to break into Harry’s apartment. “We were just going to order something.”

“Let me get it,” Harry says quickly. “As a ‘welcome to the building’ present. What do you guys like? Chinese? Pizza? Italian?”

Zayn’s not sure how Louis’ going to react to this, but he says, “Pizza,” anyways. He’s not about to say no to free food, even if Louis would.

“Perfect,” Harry says. “Come by in, like, forty minutes.”

Inside his own apartment, Louis’ hung one of his sheets up over his bedroom window. “It’ll have to do until we buy you a curtain tomorrow,” he explains. “What took you so long?”

Zayn grabs a few pieces of folded clothes and shoves them in his dresser. “Harry invited us over for dinner.”

Louis freezes. “You said no.”

“I said yes.”

“Damn you,” Louis hisses.

When they get over to Harry’s, Niall is there, too. He’s sprawled out on Harry’s couch, beer bottle dangling between his fingers. “Hey,” he greets without looking away from the television.

“Pizza should be here any minute now,” Harry calls from the kitchen. “What do you want to drink? I’ve got Coke, beer, and some cheap wine.”

“Wine,” Louis says as he sits down beside Niall. Louis’ always easily fit into other people’s lives, barges in and makes a place for himself without shame. Zayn, on the other hand, is always more hesitant. That’s probably why Louis has about a hundred friends, while Zayn has two, both of which are sitting on Harry’s couch.

“Zayn?” Harry asks.

“Anything’s fine,” Zayn says, sinking down onto the single chair.

Harry comes out of the kitchen a moment later, three large glasses of wine in his huge hands. Zayn takes one and sips it. He’s not a big fan of wine - not like Louis, who drinks the stuff like it’s juice- but he doesn’t mind.

“Feet off the table,” Harry says, kicking at Niall’s ankle.

The pizza arrives soon afterwards, and by the time they’ve all finished eating, Zayn’s got a nice buzz going and Louis has his feet in Harry’s lap. Niall’s yelling at the T.V., some sport game that Zayn isn’t following playing out on the screen.

“I’m glad you’re going to be my neighbour,” Harry tells him, his voice even more of a drawl than usual. “I like you. Liam’ll like you, too.”

Niall snorts. “Obviously. Liam likes everyone.”

“It’s true,” Harry agrees, nodding solemnly. “Great guy, Liam.”

“Great guy,” Niall repeats.

“What’s he like?” Louis asks. “We tried looking him up on Facebook but we couldn’t really find anything.”

“How old is he in that picture?” Niall asks Harry.

“Fifteen,” Harry answers. “Took it myself.”

“So what does he do?” Zayn asks, leaning forward in his seat. “I mean, he’s gone almost all year round, right?”

“He enlisted in the army when he was eighteen,” Harry says quietly. “He leaves for six months of the year, and then comes home for six months. He won’t be there full time even when he’s home, though, because there’s a lot of training and stuff at the base.”

“Where’s he deployed?” Louis asks.

“Iraq,” Niall supplies. “Told him not to go for it, but Liam’s pretty determined. It’s what his dad wanted, you know? So he did it.”

“Huh,” Zayn says softly. He doesn’t understand how a person could do that. He couldn’t leave his home, his family or friends, for six months out of the year. Especially not when you know you might not make it back.

“Yeah.” Harry agrees. “Anyways! Karaoke?”

Niall groans but Louis sits up quickly. “Get me another glass of wine, Curly, and you’ll see what Karaoke really looks like.”

 

--

 

It’s so easy to settle into life in his apartment. He gets up early to walk Jessie. He has a quick shower before heading to class, and then he comes home afterwards and walks Jessie again before getting ready for work, if he has it that day. If he doesn’t, he walks Jessie, relaxes for a bit, and then ends up either at Harry’s with Niall or the two of them and Louis come over to hang out for a bit.

The apartment looks more like a home already. For one, there’s actual food in the cupboards, not just expired cans of beans. Zayn makes a habit of leaving tiny messes wherever he goes, just to prove that someone does live there. Like the cup on the coffee table, or the comb on the sink in the bathroom, or the plate on the counter. Little things that would be easy to clean up, he just doesn’t bother.

And he forgets about Liam coming home. Harry never said an exact date, and when Zayn had asked, he said there wasn’t one. Just a vague time frame of which Liam could arrive home. So on Thursday after class and a particularly bad walk with Jessie -- she pulled him into a giant puddle and then shook herself off afterwards, affectively soaking him from head to toe-- he jumps in the shower without bringing extra clothes to change into. He’ll just walk from the bathroom to his bedroom in his towel.

It’s almost like Liam doesn’t exist, in his mind. He’s just a person mentioned in passing, a friend of a friend who he’s never met, and probably never will. Someone who’s name you might remember, but who you never give more than a few seconds worth of thought.

When he steps out of the bathroom, steam billowing out around him, and sees someone knelt down on the floor near the hallway, petting Jessie, he doesn’t put the pieces together. He just doesn’t get it. At least, not until the guy stands up, his eyes slowly slipping down Zayn’s body while a blush rises to his cheeks, and says, “Hi. I’m Liam.”

And Zayn is so, so fucked. “Hi,” he squeaks out, too aware of the fact that he’s practically fucking naked, with only a towel tied around his waist. His hair is wet and water’s dripping down his shoulders, too, and this is not how they were supposed to meet.

“You’re Zayn, right?” he asks, and Zayn notes the way that, after that first time, his eyes do not waver from Zayn’s, like he’s making a point of meeting his eyes instead of looking elsewhere.

“Yeah,” Zayn says slowly. “I was just--,”

Jessie takes that moment to stand between the two of them, her tail wagging like crazy. She looks between Zayn and Liam and then sits down and barks once.

“Oh,” Liam blinks at her. “She probably just needs to go out.”

“I just took her,” Zayn says, frowning at Jessie, for a minute forgetting the fact that he feels incredibly awkward. “Pulled me into a puddle, didn’t you?”

Jessie looks pleased with herself, and continues to wag her tail.

“I’m so sorry,” Liam says quickly, eyes wide. “She gets like that when it rains. It’s her worst habit. I take her to the beach during the summer, and she loves the water.”

Zayn nods and then looks down at himself. “I should, um, go change.”

“Right!” Liam says loudly. “You should-- definitely-- right. I’m going-- I need to talk to Harry, anyways.” He’s already turning around. “I’ll see you after,” he call over his shoulder.

Zayn hears the front door close and he looks down to Jessie, who’s still sitting there, happy as can be. “You should have told me he was fucking gorgeous,” Zayn says to her. “Someone should have told me.”

Because he is. Zayn hadn’t given Liam much thought, but on the off chance that he did, he pictured Liam as some vague, faceless older man. Not someone his own age, with a buzz cut and brown eyes that crinkled in the corners when he grinned. Not someone with wide shoulders and thick fingers and a bright smile. Not someone whose clothes Zayn wanted to rip off, just to see what was underneath.

Fuck. He knew this place was too good to be true. He knew it. Of course he’d have a distractingly attractive roommate. That’s just how his life worked, damn it.

He grabs an outfit out of his drawers, just pulling out the first things his fingers touch. He’s not going to try and dress up or impress Liam. It’s best to just forget about how attractive he is, because Zayn loves this place. He loves this apartment, and Jessie, and even having Harry next door. He’s not going to screw it up by, like, hooking up with Liam and then getting kicked out. He’s not.

Liam’s back. He’s attractive as fuck. I hate my life. Zayn sends to Louis before he heads out of the room. Liam’s still not back yet, but Zayn realizes that his bedroom door is open.

Despite Louis’ whining, he’s never even touched the door handle. He might not think about Liam much, but he thinks about that room a lot. He’s pictured a lot of things. Animal heads hanging on the wall. Maybe a few My Little Pony figurines. Or maybe every inch of the walls were covered with Justin Bieber’s face.

He doesn’t mean to push the door open a bit more, but it’s just right there, and he’s curious. And again, Liam has surprised him.

It’s empty, the whole room, really. It looked exactly the way Zayn’s had before he’d put his stuff in it. A plain white comforter and white pillows on the bed, nothing covering the side tables, no pictures on the walls. The only thing that was different from Liam’s room now, and Zayn’s room when he’d first moved in, was that there was a curtain covering the window.

“What are you doing?”

Zayn spins around, eyes wide. “Sorry,” he says quickly, heat rising to his cheeks. “I was just--,”

“Don’t worry about it,” Liam says easily, reaching around Zayn to pull the door closed. “It’s just - can you-,” he reaches up and scratches the back of his neck, and Zayn notices how close they’re standing. “Don’t tell Harry, okay? He kind of worries about me, for no reason, and I’m sure he’d find something psychologically wrong with me because my room’s empty.”

“I was expecting dead bodies,” Zayn blurts.

Liam frowns at him and then unexpectedly lets out a loud laugh, the kind that comes from the stomach, real and not held back. But then the laughter dies and he takes a step back from Zayn. “Uh, no, I see enough of those at work,” he says.

Zayn’s eyes widen impossibly more, and he says, “Shit, Liam, I didn’t-,”

“Oh, god,” Liam says, shaking his head. “That was mean, I’m sorry. I was joking. That was a joke. I’m really bad with people. Crap.”

Zayn stares at him, mouth open, and then slaps Liam on the arm the way he would Louis. “That wasn’t funny! I felt like an asshole.”

Liam looks sheepish, and he winces at the look on Zayn’s face. “We keep meeting in really bad ways, don’t we?”

“At least I have pants on this time,” Zayn supplies.

Liam’s cheeks turn red and Zayn finds himself smiling at that. Not that he should be pleased about being able to make his roommate blush. Fuck, he was just digging a hole for himself, wasn’t he?

“I kind of liked you in just the towel,” Liam says anyways.

Now Zayn’s cheeks heat up, but he says, “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

Liam frowns at him for a moment while shoving his hands into the pockets of his uniform. “Neither can I,” he says quietly. “Um, anyways, Harry wants us all to have dinner. He told me to tell you to invite your friend, um, Louis, I think?”

Zayn tries to ignore Liam’s previous words and focuses on the question. “I’ll call him right now,” he says, already taking a step towards his room. He looks over his shoulder on the way inside and finds Liam staring at his ass. Liam realizes this, too, and he raises his eyes to meet Zayn’s and then blushes so hard Zayn can’t help but wonder if the pink in his cheeks will ever fully go away.

“I-- I wasn’t--,”

“Tell Harry we want Chinese this time, yeah?” Zayn throws over his shoulder. He doesn’t want Liam to feel any more embarrassed than he already looks. “Unless you’d rather have pizza.”

“No, Chinese sounds great,” Liam says tightly. “I’ll go tell him.”

Zayn watches him go, wondering how someone can be so fucking attractive and so completely awkward, at the same time. He couldn’t tell what he wanted to do more: hug Liam, or fuck him.

He calls Louis as soon as he’s in his room, but before Louis can answer he puts on his radio so that Liam won’t be able to hear their conversation. Louis picks up in the third ring with a distracted, “What do you want?”

“Harry wants you to come for dinner,” Zayn explains, realizing that Louis hadn’t read the text he’d sent.

“You can tell Harry,” Louis says, and Zayn can tell that he’s in one of his moods. He’s just thankful that it’s not directed at him, “that he can grow a pair and ask me on a real fucking date, instead of inviting us all over for pizza so he can fail to flirt with me all night.”

“Liam’s back,” Zayn says, ignoring him.

“Like, seriously, if he’s so into me, why can’t he just--,” Louis cut himself off. “What did you say?”

“Liam,” Zayn repeats. “He’s back.”

“And?” Louis asks. Zayn can hear the impatient note in his voice. Louis hates being the last one to know things.

“He’s brilliantly attractive,” Zayn admits. “Fuck-- Louis, I can’t live with him. He’s going to drive me insane.”

“Is he annoying?”

“No.”

“Then what’s the issue? He’s attractive, you’re attractive, I’m attractive. Maybe we should have a threesome. That would show Harry, the curly haired little--,”

“Louis,” Zayn hisses. “I don’t think you get it. I’m extremely fucking attracted to this guy, and I have to live with him.”

“Just keep it in your pants,” Louis advises. “Seriously, Zayn, you don’t want to ruin this. You love it there.”

“I know,” Zayn says, because he does.

“So that’s it, then. Do. Not. Fuck him. You hear me Zayn Malik? Show some restraint.”

“He’s probably straight anyways,” Zayn sighs.

“His sexuality is so not important because you’re not going there. Right?”

“Right,” Zayn says weakly.

He knows Louis’ right. There’s just not enough options in the city for him to do anything to risk his apartment, and if -- on the off chance that Liam really had been looking at his ass-- something happened there, chances are Liam would want him gone afterwards. Zayn wasn’t good at relationships, never had been, and he would find a way to screw it up. So it was best to just keep Liam at a distance and not think about fucking him. Because he wasn’t allowed to do that. No matter how good he looked in his uniform. Damn it.

“Anyways, I’ll be there in half an hour,” Louis says breezily, as if that whole conversation hadn’t just happened.

“See you in a bit,” Zayn says.

He ends the call and throws his phone onto his bed beside him, deciding to just leave it there. Niall’s probably at Harry’s, and Louis is on his way over, so it’s not like anyone will bother calling him.

He goes out into the living room to find Liam kneeling on the ground, trying to reach under the couch. He’s changed out of his uniform and is wearing just a pair of jeans. No shirt.

The first thing Zayn notices is just how muscular his back is. It’s wide and tanned and Zayn kind of really wants to dig his nails into it. The closer he get, though, the more the scars come into view. There’s so many of them, coating the tanned skin so it looks paler than the rest of him even though it’s not.

He doesn’t mean to. It’s an accident, it really is. He extends his hand and his fingers slide slowly up Liam’s back, tracing one of the larger scars. Most of them are thin and short, but there are a few bigger ones, ones that must have been the result of large, deep cuts. Zayn shudders just looking at them.

The thing is, Liam doesn’t pull away. In fact, Zayn watches as Liam ducks his head and he stays extremely still, the only indication that he’s still a living, breathing person is the subtle shifting of his shoulders when he breaths in.

Slowly, Zayn moves his fingers to trace another scar, and then another, and then, because he can’t freaking help it, he slides a finger up Liam’s spine, and Liam shudders.

“What happened?” Zayn asks, pulling his hand back, like Liam’s skin burned him.

Liam turns and falls onto his ass and stares up at Zayn with wide eyes. “Not what you think,” he says quietly. “Frag grenade, during training. One of our troops accidentally pulled it. He was standing about ten feet behind me. This is just from the shrapnel. The actual explosion killed him.”

“Shit,” Zayn breathes, because, until that point, he hadn’t really thought much about what Liam did. Sure, he thought about the uniform, because he kind of wanted to fuck Liam in it, but he hadn’t really thought about just how dangerous it was, Liam’s job.

“Yeah,” Liam nods. “It happens, apparently.”

He has no idea what Liam was originally looking for, but he knows that the search is abandoned. Liam’s just sitting there, on the floor behind the couch, staring down at his hands. And Zayn finds himself sinking to the floor in front of him. He crosses his legs and just takes Liam in, categorizing little details while Liam isn’t aware that he’s doing it.

His arms are thick, and his ab muscles are defined. There’s another scar on his chest, this one long and thicker than the ones on his back. He wants to trace it, too, wants to feel the difference between the texture of it and the rest of Liam’s skin, but he can’t.

He takes in the planes of Liam’s face, somehow soft and hard, at the same time. Round cheeks, sharp jaw. Wide eyes, thick eyebrows. Pink lips, faint stubble on his chin. He’s like a giant, walking contradiction. Looking at Liam’s size, you’d think he’d be strong and intimidating, but he has a feeling that Liam would be all gentle, hesitant touches.

“Why do you do it?” Zayn finds himself asking. He winces at himself the second the words are out. “Sorry. It’s none of my business.”

Liam looks up at him, and his lips are turned up in a small smile. “It’s fine,” he says, and then sighs. “I guess it’s because it was the only option for me, really. I wasn’t exactly a genius in school, and it was my father’s goal for me my whole life. By the time I was thirteen it was pretty much decided that I’d finish school and then join up. And I did.” He cocks his head to the side. “What about you? Harry never mentioned what you did.”

Zayn shrugs. “I’m studying to be a teacher. I took up a tutoring job a few years ago because my parents were struggling with money, and I guess I just really liked it.”

“Wish I had you around when I was in school, then,” Liam says, chuckling. “Then again, I doubt I’d actually learn anything.”

Zayn pretends to be offended. “Are you questioning my tutoring abilities?”

“No,” Liam tells him. “I just doubt I’d be able to pay attention to Shakespeare with someone that attractive sitting beside me.”

Zayn’s eyes widen a fraction but, other than that, he can’t think of a single way to react to those words. Liam’s grin slowly slides off his face, and then he coughs awkwardly and reaches up a hand to rub over his short hair.

“On a scale of one to ten, how inappropriate would it be for me to kiss you right now?” Liam asks.

Zayn licks his lips because fuck. “Seven,” he answers.

Liam nods, considering this, and then he leans forward to kiss Zayn anyways. It’s slow and soft and Liam’s hand is on his cheek, his thumb rubbing circles against Zayn’s jaw. Zayn doesn’t even move, for a bit, he just sits there, too stunned to react. When the initial shock wears off, though, he pushes back against Liam, turning the kiss into something a lot less gentle and a lot more heated.

He puts a hand on Liam’s shoulder and guides him backwards, until he’s laying flat against the carpeted ground, and he straddles him. Liam doesn’t push him off, or tell him to stop, but instead groans into his mouth and puts his hands on Zayn’s hips, holding him in place.

Liam’s tongue pushes against Zayn’s lips and he parts them, his own tongue reaching out to brush into Liam’s mouth, tasting him, feeling him. He tastes sweet, sweeter than Zayn would have expected, like he’d been sucking on a candy, and Zayn wants more. Liam does, too, apparently, because he lifts his hips just right, and their groins press together and it becomes obvious that they’re both freaking hard already.

That’s what makes Zayn pull back. He doesn’t get off Liam, he can’t, but he pulls back. “We shouldn’t,” Zayn says, and his voice is a lot more breathless than he’d like. “We-- we’re roommates, and this is only going to make things complicated.”

“It doesn’t have to,” Liam tells him, and his thumb is still rubbing circles on Zayn’s skin, only now it’s the sensitive skin of his hip, just under his t-shirt.

“We live together,” Zayn points out.

“I’m not looking for a boyfriend,” Liam counters.

“We just met.”

“People have casual sex all the time.”

“Not people who live together,” Zayn argues.

Liam raises his eyebrows.

“The way I see it,” he says, and Zayn’s starting to get that Liam has two sides to him: extremely bashful, and extremely forward. And he finds that he kind of likes them both a hell of a lot. “I want you, and I think you want me.” His eyes drop to Zayn’s crotch, where he knows it’s obvious that he’s still fairly hard. “Neither of us are looking for anything more than--,” he waves his hand, “--right?” Zayn nods. “So I don’t see the issue.”

Zayn stares down at him, Louis’ reminder to keep it in his pants playing over and over in his head. But Liam’s hard and solid beneath him, and his eyes are wide and dark, and he’s looking at Zayn expectantly and fuck it. Just fuck it.

His nails dig into Liam’s skin, sliding down his chest and over his abs, which are gloriously smooth and rock hard. He leans down and kisses Liam again, their slick lips sliding together. Liam’s lips part underneath his and he tangles his hands in Zayn’s hair as their tongues move together again, until his hands drop to Zayn’s sides, and he insistently pushes at Zayn’s shirt.

Zayn wants it off, too. It’s too hot, suddenly, and there’s not enough skin on skin. He breaks the kiss only long enough to pull his shirt over his head, not caring if it messes up his hair because Liam’s already done a fairly good job of that with his hands. And then he falls back against Liam’s chest again, and now that he knows what Liam’s skins feels like against his, there’s no turning back.

Liam grips his ass and grinds their bodies together as Zayn moves his lips to Liam’s neck. There’s a birthmark there, one he hadn’t noticed before, just beside his Adam’s apple. He sucks on it, and Liam fingers dig hard into his ass.

“Right here on the carpet?” Zayn asks against Liam’s skin.

He pulls back to find Liam grinning at him. “What’s the point of having your own apartment if you can’t have sex wherever you want in it?”

Zayn blinks at him for a moment and then his hands fumble on Liam’s jeans, struggling to get the stupid button open. He manages, and Liam laughs at his hurried movements, but he’s quick to lift his hips when Zayn gets the zipper down and tugs on the material. Liam is, apparently, a briefs guy.

Liam’s reaching for the buttons on Zayn’s jeans when someone knocks at their door. They both freeze, and Liam leans up on one hand to look at the door over Zayn’s shoulder. “Ignore it,” he says after a moment, reaching for Zayn’s jeans again.

He’s not going to protest, not when Liam’s got his hands so close to Zayn’s dick. He’s still fumbling with the button, though, and his eyebrows are drawn together in frustration. Zayn knocks his hands out of the way and undoes it himself, and lifts off Liam just long enough to slip the jeans off.

He kisses Liam’s neck again, but Liam puts a hand on his shoulder, gently nudging him downward. Zayn complies, if only because he really, really wants to lick Liam’s abs. He does just that, dipping his tongue into the creases between the muscles, and then he hooks his fingers under the waistband of Liam’s briefs. Liam’s watching his every movement with heavily lidded eyes and his lip caught between his teeth.

There’s another knock at the door, this one louder, but they both ignore it. Zayn’s too busy pulling Liam’s briefs off, and then he’s faced with Liam’s cock, hard and laying flat against his stomach.

Zayn usually hates having sex with the lights on, because it feels too intimate, watching someone while you both get off. But he’s glad they’re on with Liam, because Liam’s eyes widen when Zayn wraps a hand around him, and his breath hitches in his chest, and it’s possibly the hottest fucking thing he’s ever seen.

He wants to drag it out, though; wants to tease him. He presses his lips against Liam’s hip, and then kisses the top of his thigh, and then moves to kiss the inside, too, until Liam is panting and he’s dropped his head back against the carpet. Finally he moves his attention to Liam’s cock, but instead of wrapping his lips around it he just hovers above it for a moment, breathing heavy, watching Liam.

“Come on,” Liam groans, fingers digging into the carpet. “Zayn--,”

He can’t help it; he smirks at him. He complies, though, wrapping his lips around the head. He circles it with his tongue, first, and then moves down until his mouth meets his hand. Liam is breathing heavy, chest rising and falling, and Zayn keeps his eyes trained on him the whole time, watching his reactions.

There’s something kind of amazing about watching Liam come apart, because he really does. His body was tensed and tightly wound, and his eyebrows were scrunched up, and his fingers were curled into the carpet. The longer Zayn worked on him, though, mouth sliding up and down, tongue teasing the head at the right times, the looser Liam got. His head fell back, and his eyes fell closed. His stomach muscles relaxed, and his breath became shuddery inhales and exhales, instead of short, sharp pants.

Zayn wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of sucking dick, but, if everyone looked like Liam while he did it, he probably would be.

Every time Liam let out a quiet groan, or even whimper -- when he hit the back of Zayn’s throat--, Zayn felt his own cock twitch, but he was too focused on Liam to reach a hand down to relieve himself.

There was still knocking at the door, but this time it was quicker, sharper knocks, and Zayn heard Louis say loudly, “Are they still not answering?”

And then the sound of someone turning the door handle reached their ears, and Zayn pulls off Liam and asks quickly, “The door is locked, right?”

Liam’s eyes are like saucers and his mouth is open as he shakes his head. “I don’t know, I--,”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Louis demands, staring down at them.

Liam makes an embarrassed sound and scrambles to grab his clothes, but Zayn just flops onto the ground and stares up at the ceiling. “I hate you,” he tells Louis. “I hate you so much.”

“This is your idea of keeping it in your pants?” Louis asks.

Zayn groans and points to his boxers. “Still technically in my pants.”

Liam’s pulling on his jeans, but Zayn can’t even look at him, because he figures Liam will be blushing and fumbling and he probably looks adorable. He just can’t handle that right now.

“You’re an idiot,” Louis tells him before turning to Liam. “Hi, I’m Louis.”

“Um,” Liam’s voice is shaky. “Hi. I’m Liam.”

“I’d shake your hand but I have a feeling it was in close proximity to my best friends penis within the past five minutes, so I’d rather not.”

Zayn finally sits up then, if only to glare at Louis. “Go away.”

“Learn to lock your door,” Louis says right back.

“I’m going to, um-- get a shirt,” Liam says awkwardly. Zayn turns to watch him walk into his room and shut the door behind himself, and then he stands up and crosses his arms over his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Louis relents instantly. “But honestly.”

“I brought food,” Harry says quietly, and Zayn realizes for the first time that he’d followed Louis into the apartment. He looks completely unfazed by what just happened, with a bright smile on his face and a large bag of food in his hands.

“Where’s Niall?” Zayn asks, bending down to grab his jeans.

“Kitchen,” Harry supplies “Ran in there at the sight of you going down on Liam.”

Zayn glares at him, too. “I need new friends.”

“Well it looks like you made one today, didn’t you?” Harry winks at him.

Liam and Jessie come out of his room right after that, and Harry looks between Zayn and Liam for a moment. Zayn notes the way Liam’s shirt buttons aren’t done up right, he’s missed one, but he doesn’t say anything. Harry just bursts into a loud peal of laughter that he tries to stifle by putting a hand over his mouth.

“Let’s just not talk about it,” Niall says loudly from the kitchen. “Deal?”

“Deal,” Liam says quickly.

“Deal,” Zayn says, too.

“Yeah, deal,” Harry relents.

Everyone looks at Louis, who has his eyebrows raised and a hand on his hip. “Okay, fine, but I want details later.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Zayn mutters, as he passes Louis on the way to the couch.

“I said details,” Louis replies, following behind him. “Not tips.”

Harry snorts a laugh at that, and that pretty much sets the mood for the rest of the night. They all watch a movie -- Zayn, Louis and Harry on the couch, Niall and Liam sprawled out on the floor-- and eat while Louis and Harry make as many inappropriate jokes as they can.

Zayn is frustrated, to say the least. For one, he was still tightly wound, and Liam kept looking at him out of the corner of his eyes, and he’d bite his lip in a way that made Zayn want to jump him. But he was also pretty sure that, despite what they’d both agreed to, this was going to make things awkward. They barely knew each other, they had to live together, and they’d hooked up. That had to be a recipe for disaster.

He can’t help but wonder if they’ll pick things up where they left off after everyone else leaves, but they don’t. They just clean up the slight mess that was made and then awkwardly say goodnight to each other before heading to bed.

 

--

 

Nothing else happens between them for a week. And, weirdly enough, he settles into life with Liam easily.

Liam showers before he gets up in the morning, and he makes breakfast while Zayn takes Jessie for her morning walk. By the time Zayn heads out the door for class, Liam is sprawled out on the couch watching cartoons with Jessie sitting at his feet.

Liam doesn’t have much of a life, Zayn learns quickly. He’s there when Zayn leaves, and he’s there when Zayn gets home. Sometimes, he’ll go over to Harry’s, but most of the time he just camps out in the living room. Not that Zayn minds all that much, really, because Liam likes the same kind of movies he does, and Liam’s an expert at cooking microwavable dinners.

On Saturday, when he finally pulls himself out of bed, Liam’s in the shower. He stretches in the hallway and Jessie greets him with the usual rub against his leg. Instead of running off to the front door like she usually does, though, she bounds into the living room and flops onto the floor. Liam must have taken her out already, he realizes.

He heads into the kitchen, scratching at his stomach as he goes, and grabs the box of cereal from under the counter. Liam eats all healthy cereals, the kind with lots of fibre and shit. Zayn likes the sugary ones.

“Hey,” Liam says from behind him when he reaches for a bowl. He didn’t hear the shower turn off, but there he is, dripping water and standing in the kitchen in nothing but a towel. Zayn watches in fascination as he bends down to get his own box of cereal, admiring the way the towel hangs low on his hips and the water drips down his back. Maybe it’ll fall, he hopes.

It doesn’t.

“We should go out today,” Zayn blurts while pouring himself a bowl.

Liam frowns at him. “Out?”

Zayn shrugs. “You’re home when I leave, and you’re home when I get back. You need to get out of the house.”

Liam snorts and grabs a bowl for himself, too, and then pulls open the fridge and grabs out the milk. “Are you asking me out?”

Instead of getting embarrassed or defensive, Zayn says, “As a friend.”

Liam adds cereal and milk to his bowl and then passes the milk to Zayn, who fills his and then grabs two spoons from the drawer. He passes one to Liam and puts one in his own bowl, before passing the milk back to Liam, who puts it away.

“Okay,” Liam says, leaning against the counter. He spoons up a bite of cereal, chews, and then says, “What’re we going to do?”

Zayn stirs the contents of his bowl to make sure the milk is thoroughly sugary before he takes a bite. “Movie,” Zayn answers. “That shitty theatre downtown, you know the one they closed two year ago?” Liam nods. “They opened it back up two months ago, but they only play movies that are at least five years old. They’re playing Fight Club and Batman Begins tonight.”

Liam grins around his mouthful of cereal. “Sounds great,” he says after swallowing. “You work today?”

Zayn nods. “Until six, but we’ll go after that?”

Liam nods and they finish eating before putting their bowls in the sink. Zayn goes and showers after that, while Liam does whatever it is that Liam does.

He doesn’t tell Louis about it, for the same reason Louis doesn’t mention the fact that he went home with Harry the other night. They’d both make bigger deals of it than either of them would want, so it’s best just not to talk about it. Because it’s not a big deal. Liam’s his roommate and, yes, he may have gone down on him, but that was in the past. It’s good that they get along well. It’s good that they have a lot in common, and that they can just go out to a movie without it being awkward.

The thing is, Liam is like his perfect roommate. He really is. He’s not messy, or annoying. He doesn’t play music loudly or soak the bathroom floor when he showers. The only thing he does that doesn’t fall under the category of perfect roommate is hogging the television, but even then, he watches shows that Zayn likes, so it’s not even an issue.

Sure, he’s still completely gorgeous, and Zayn wants to jump him every time he’s shirtless, but he’s dealing with that. He’s happy that they’re just friends, actually, because it makes things easier. Why complicate what has turned out to be a really good thing by trying to hook-up again? Especially after the embarrassing disaster that was the result of them trying things the first time?

Zayn heads to work in a better mood than usual, which is a good thing because costumers are more likely to put extra money in the tip jar if he’s smiling at them instead of scowling. See, Zayn’s not stupid. He knows the reason he was hired is because he’s fairly attractive, and most of the people who come into their shop are women in their early thirties, ones who blush and stutter when he smiles a them.

He leaves work with the number of a tall red haired girl who he actually plans on calling tonight, after he gets home from the movies with Liam. Maybe they’ll go get drinks tomorrow, he’ll hook up with her, and he’ll stop lusting after his roommate. Or, says the voice in the back of his mind, Liam will get jealous.

He’s not sure if he’s dreading that, or looking forward to it.

He gets back to the apartment at about six thirty, and Liam’s not there. Neither is Jessie, though, so he must be taking her for a walk. He strips off the shirt he wore to work and heads to his room to change. He’s not dressing up, he’s going out with a friend. It’s not a date, so dressing up isn’t necessary. He just grabs his Boyce Avenue t-shirt and pulls it on and leaves on the jeans he’s been wearing all day.

He hears Liam come in a moment later with a loud, “Slow down, let me take off your leash!” but Jessie barks defiantly and she pushes into Zayn’s room, dragging Liam behind her. “Sorry,” he says as she jumps on Zayn and licks his face.

“It’s fine,” Zayn says, though he regrets wearing the dark shirt now, because there’s hair all over it. “Hey baby girl.”

Jessie falls to the ground and allows Liam to take off her leash before running out the door, probably to drink out of the toilet even though she has a fresh, cold bowl of water in the kitchen.

“How was work?” Liam asks, leaning against the door frame.

Zayn shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “Got some girls number.”

“Really,” Liam says, expression unreadable. “You going to call her?”

He was going to. He was. She was attractive, and he liked a girl who went after she wanted, instead of waiting for the guy to make the first move. But, looking at Liam, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, leaning casually against the door, she suddenly doesn’t seem all that attractive, in comparison.

“I don’t know,” Zayn says, frowning. “Probably not.”

Liam grins and pushes away from the door. “I’m going to change. What time are we heading out at?”

Zayn had checked the movie schedule on his phone earlier, and he knows that Batman starts at quarter after seven. “In about fifteen, if you’re ready.”

“Are we walking?” Liam asks from the hallway. “Because neither of us have a car.” His voice comes from his room then, and Zayn walks into the hallway to find Liam’s door wide open, and him pulling off his pants. His eyes move down Liam’s body, over the curve of his hip bone and down his legs, tight black briefs leaving little the imagination.

He mentally shakes himself and moves on to the living room. “Or we can cab.”

“It’s up to you,” Liam calls from his bedroom. “I don’t mind walking.”

“Okay,” Zayn agrees, sinking into the couch. He’s in Liam’s normal spot, the one he curls up on in the morning. The cushion sinks more than the others, making it obvious that it’s well used. The smell of Liam surrounds the area, too, a bit more potent than it is in the rest of the apartment. Like spicy body spray and the citrus shampoo he uses.

It’s sad, really, that Zayn’s already memorized that smell, but there it is.

Liam comes out of the room wearing a plain white shirt underneath a burgundy sweater. The stubble that’s usually on his face is gone, and he looks good, Zayn notes. Not that he really focuses on that, because friends don’t focus on that kind of shit, right?

“Ready?” Liam asks, twirling a set of keys in his hands.

Zayn pushes off the couch with a, “yeah” and puts his shoes on, and then they’re out the door. “Do you think we should have invited the others?” Zayn asks as an afterthought. Maybe it was a bit weird, just the two of them going out and not even debating calling their friends to come with them.

“Nah,” Liam says while locking the door. “None of them would want to see what’s playing.”

“True,” Zayn agrees, the ball in his stomach that he hadn’t even noticed until then unravelling a bit.

They should have gotten a cab, he realizes as they get outside. It’s nice out, and it’s not that long of a walk, but they stand close enough to each other that their hands brush on more than one occasion. They probably look like a couple, he thinks, not a pair of friends. They’re standing too close, and Liam’s smiling brightly, like he couldn’t imagine a better place to be at the moment than walking down the street with Zayn.

Zayn reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his pack of cigarettes and lighter. Liam pauses midstep and watches him light the cigarette and then blow out the smoke, a frown on his face.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Liam says tightly.

They live in a non-smoking building, so the only time Zayn lights up is outside. It’s why he never complains about taking Jessie out way more often than Liam does, because he voluntarily does it.

Zayn takes another hall and slowly releases the smoke this time, and then smirks at Liam. “Does it bother you?”

Liam looks away and shrugs. “A bit,” he admits. “It’s weirdly hot, though.”

Zayn chokes out a cough, but not from the chemical filled smoke in his lungs. “Really.”

“A bit,” Liam says again, and then he grins at Zayn. “You’ve got this whole bad-boy thing, with the cigarettes and the leather jacket, but I caught you watching Glee the other night.”

Zayn gapes at him. “I wasn’t watching Glee.”

“You were,” Liam says knowingly.

“It was the only thing on,” Zayn hisses.

“Sure.”

Before he can deny it again - he wasn’t willingly watching it! It really was the only thing on, except children’s shows- they stop in front of the theatre. Zayn tosses his half finished cigarette to the ground and steps on it to make sure it’s out, while Liam holds open the door for him.

It’s all very gentlemanly, but at least he doesn’t offer to pay for Zayn, who covers the cheap admittance with a quarter of his tip money from today. They’re just about to go up to the vendor to get popcorn and drinks -- and maybe a pack of peanut M&Ms too, because they’re Zayn’s favourite-- when Liam puts a hand on his arm, stopping him.

Zayn frowns but Liam’s busy watching people in front of them. “Is that--,”

Zayn follows his line of sight to see a familiar head of curly hair, and another familiar person tucked under his arm. They’re getting popcorn, and both of them are wearing black sweaters and black pants, like they were trying to be inconspicuous. Louis giggles at something Harry says, and then points to the rack of candy. Harry grabs a pack of something for him and then pays the teller for the both of them.

“Are they on a date?” Zayn asks, eyes wide.

“I think they are,” Liam agrees.

Harry and Louis grab their bucket of popcorn and single drink and duck into the theatre playing Fight Club. Liam looks down at his ticket with a thoughtful expression on his face and says, “Want to spy on them instead?”

“Absolutely,” Zayn agrees.

He’s so not letting this go. Not after listening to Louis go on and on about how ridiculous Harry was, and how he wouldn’t ever, in a million years, actually go out with him. And there they were, sneaking into an old theatre to watch a movie that Zayn knows for a fact Louis hates.

“Wait,” Liam says, heading up to the counter. “We still need food.”

Zayn nods and orders himself a bottle of lemonade, while Liam gets himself a large coke and a bucket of popcorn. He turns to Zayn and asks, “Do we want extra butter?”

Zayn hesitates. He didn’t know they were going to share, but then, he and Louis shared popcorn at the theatre all the time, right? “Sure. And can we get some peanut M&Ms?”

Liam makes a face. “You eat the ones with nuts?”

Zayn nods. “They’re the best.”

“You’re disgusting,” Liam tells him, but he turns to the cashier and asks her to get them a bag anyways.

When they’ve got their food and drinks, they head into the theatre that Louis and Harry went into, instead of the one at the back of the building where their movie was playing. He was kind of looking forward to watching Batman with Liam, because he knew Liam was a pretty big fan. Liam was secretly a big dork, Zayn knew, but then again, so was he.

It’s dark in the theatre but the light coming from the screen is enough for them to see Harry and Louis, sitting at the far left. They’re in a little world of their own, hunched close together and talking with each other.

“Let’s sit right behind them,” Liam suggest. “See how long it takes them to realize we’re there.”

Zayn grins and nods. He figures this is just payback for all the blowjob jokes the two of them have made.

Liam sits in the spot closest to the wall, the one behind Louis, while Zayn sits behind Harry. Neither of the other boys notice Liam and Zayn, and Liam looks close to bursting with laughter over the whole thing. He settles into his seat and offers Zayn some popcorn while Harry and Louis start kissing.

“Huh,” Zayn says, simultaneously watching the screen and his best friend swap spit with the guy he supposedly disliked. “That’s bad form. Lou’s mouth is open too much.”

Liam cocks his head to the side. “Harry’s pulling his hair a bit hard.”

“Yeah, but that could be a good thing,” Zayn contemplates. “Personally I don’t mind a bit of a rough kiss.”

“Really,” Liam says, turning to him. He can see Liam’s eyes in the reflection of the screen, and they get impossibly bigger the closer he gets. If Zayn leans in, just a bit more, their lips would be pressed together.

“Lou,” Harry says breathily, and Liam snorts loudly.

Zayn grabs a handful of popcorn and throws it at them, and Louis turns, a fire blazing in his eyes. Zayn knows he’s about to flip shit on what he thinks is some random, rude movie goers. The second he locks eyes on Zayn, though, he lets out a indignant squeak and buries his head in Harry’s neck.

“Go away,” Louis moans.

“Having a nice date?” Liam asks pleasantly.

Harry grins at them. “Yeah. What about you two?”

“We’re not--,” Zayn protests, but Harry smirks, letting him know that he’s so not buying it.

“It’s not a date,” Louis groans, still hiding his head in Harry’s shoulder. “I hate you.”

“It’s not?” Harry asks, pulling back.

Louis looks between Zayn, Liam, and Harry with wide eyes and then dramatically throws an arm over his face. “It’s a date. It’s a freaking date. Can you make them leave now?”

“Aren’t you guys supposed to be seeing Batman?” Harry asks, raising an eyebrow.

Zayn frowns at Liam. “You told him?”

“I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to,” Liam says, taken aback. He grabs the popcorn and his drink and stands up. “Come on. Let’s leave before your best friend stabs one of us in the face.”

“Listen to the man, Zayn,” Louis hisses.

Zayn snorts and follows Liam out of the theatre. When they get into the right one, they’ve only missed the first five minutes. They sit closer to the back of the nearly empty theatre. Liam is grinning widely and avidly watching the screen, which doesn’t surprise Zayn at all. Sometimes Liam acts far too mature for his age, and other times he acts like he’s five years old.

“I love this part,” Liam says quietly, putting his hand on Zayn’s thigh.

Zayn looks down at where Liam’s touching him, but Liam’s busy watching the screen. He can see the lights flashing in Liam’s eyes, but he’s not really paying attention to the movie at that moment. Liam’s hand is too warm on him to not be taking all of his attention.

Zayn shifts in his seat and Liam removes his hand so he can take a sip of his drink. Zayn rips open the package of M&Ms and shoves a handful in his mouth. When he looks back at Liam, Liam’s watching him with his nose wrinkled.

“Just ‘cause you don’t like them doesn’t mean that I can’t,” Zayn points out.

“They’re so crunchy, though,” Liam says, still grimacing.

Zayn shrugs and eats a few more before Liam steals the package from him. He watches as Liam carefully takes a single M&M out of the bag and chews it. “Nope,” he say after taking another large sip of his drink. “I still don’t like nuts.”

It’s so absurd that Zayn laughs loudly, causing a person a few seats in front of them to turn around and shush him. Liam shakes with suppressed laughter at that, but Zayn just sinks back into his seat with an annoyed huff.

Liam’s a fun person to watch movies with, because he gets really into them. He gasps at the right times, laughs at others, and is quiet during the serious scenes. It’s distracting, though, because Zayn finds himself paying just as much attention to Liam’s reactions as he does the movie. And Liam has a bad habit of grabbing his leg when he gets too into a part.

Liam ends up eating most of the popcorn, which is actually surprising. From what he’s seen, Liam eats pretty healthy most of the time.

When the movie ends the lights come on, and Liam yawns and stretches. “It’s still good, every time I rewatch it,” he says, grinning.

“Yeah,” Zayn agrees, grabbing his half empty bottle of lemonade when he gets up. “Glad you had fun.”

“Want to get something for dinner?” Liam asks as they walk out of the theatre. “There’s that food truck a few streets down.”

Zayn hesitates, because getting dinner too seems a lot more date-like than just seeing a movie. He’s hungry, though, and he’s been meaning to check out that food truck since Louis told him they sold the best chips. “Okay,” he agrees.

They don’t see Louis and Harry on their way out, but that’s probably because their movie is longer. It’s dark outside when they push open the doors, and Zayn feels like he just woke up from a long nap. That’s the one thing he always hates about going to the cinema.

It doesn’t take them long to find the food truck. When they do, Liam takes a full five minutes to figure out what he wants, even though he just ends up getting a burger and chips, just like Zayn.

Zayn lights up another cigarette while they walk home, and Liam starts eating his chips on the way. Zayn’s waiting for it to feel awkward, waiting for one of them to say something and ruin it, but that never happens. They just walk and chat idly about the movie, and make a few jokes about Harry and Louis, and that’s it. It doesn’t feel too heavy, it just feels light and friendly, like it’s supposed to.

Except the second they get through the door to their apartment, Liam puts the bag of food on the table and then pushes Zayn onto the couch and kisses him. It’s a hard, demanding kiss that tastes like salt from the popcorn and the chips, but also a bit sweet from the candy he’s eaten. Liam’s a heavy weight on top of him and he’s a bit caught off guard.

“Liam,” Zayn gasps against his lips. He puts his hands on Liam’s shoulders and pushes him back a bit, but not too far. “What are we doing?”

Liam cocks an eyebrow. “Last time I checked? Kissing.”

He moves his lips to Zayn’s neck and they’re just the right amount of slick and soft, and Zayn sighs into the feeling of before coming back to himself. “Wait-- wait. Liam--,”

Liam groans and pulls back. “I thought we already went through this.”

“We did, but--,”

“Just friends,” Liam assures him. “Roommates.”

“Who have sex.”

“Exactly,” Liam grins. “Unless you don’t want to.”

Liam is going to ruin him, he knows. “I want to.”

“Good,” Liam kisses his neck again and then whispers into his ear, “because I’ve been waiting over a week for you to make another move and fuck me.”

“Shit,” Zayn breathes. Who the hell even is Liam Payne, because sometimes he’s this innocent, sweet guy, and then he says things like that while grinding down against Zayn, and Zayn just can’t figure him out.

Their food is getting cold on the table, Jessie’s laying down at the end of the couch a few feet from them, and neither of them really give a shit, because they’re too busy scrambling for each other’s clothes. Zayn gets Liam’s shirt off quickly, and Liam’s pulling on his belt in frustration. Zayn cuts his eyes to the door and realizes that they’ve left it unlocked again.

“Just s second,” he says, stilling Liam’s hands. “We should lock the door.”

Liam looks at the door, and the back down at Zayn, and he makes an annoyed sound, like he really doesn’t to get off him, but he knows he has to. He slides off Zayn and locks the door, but instead of getting back on top of Zayn when he’s done, he heads for the bedrooms.

“You coming?” he calls.

Zayn watching him disappear into his own bedroom and then looks at Jessie, who’s watching him with judgemental eyes. “Shut up,” Zayn tells her.

He steps into Liam’s room to find Liam on the bed, naked. Liam is all tanned skin and toned muscles. He’s hard, too, and watching Zayn with heavily lidded eyes, not a single hint of embarrassment on his face. Zayn wonders what happened to the blushing boy he’d been when they first met, because this cannot be the same person.

It’s as he’s reaching to undo his own pants that he tells himself to man the fuck up. He’s been hesitating and cautious with Liam this whole time, but that’s not really who he is. He likes to be in control, knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it. Liam watches him like he’s the one in control, but Zayn decides, as he shucks his boxers, too, that he’s not having any of that.

He flicks off the light and heads over to the bed.

Zayn’s fairly good at manoeuvring around in the dark and he climbs into bed beside Liam and then manages to find Liam’s face. He kisses him once, chastely, briefly, on the lips, and then moves down his body. He wishes he could see Liam’s reaction, but he works better without someone intently watching his every move. He grabs Liam’s cock and moves down his body so that he can teasingly lick at the head. Instead of going down on him, though, he moves his lips to Liam’s thigh and gently bites the inside of it. Liam let’s out a surprised sound and his legs spread a bit more, just like Zayn figured they would.

He slowly strokes Liam’s cock with one hand, while the other one drops lower to cup his balls, and then even lower, and he gently slides a finger over Liam’s hole, so softly that Liam shivers at the contact.

“You have something?” Zayn asks, enjoying the fact that his voice sounds as low and rough as he wanted it to.

“Um,” he can faintly see Liam nodding his head in the dark. “Somewhere--,” he hears the sound of a drawer opening, and a bunch of things being moved around. “One second,” Liam says, sounding frustrated. “I can’t--,”

Zayn grins and moves up Liam’s body again. He reaches into drawer while moving his hips down against Liam’s. They’re not at the right angle, and the friction isn’t enough, but their bodies still move together in a way that has Liam putting a hand on Zayn’s waist, fingers digging into skin.

Zayn feels around blindly in the drawer and manages to produce a bottle of lube -- or he’s, like, ninety percent sure that’s what it is-- and a single condom from what had been a brand new box. He keeps them both in one hand and uses the other to hold himself over Liam. He shifts his hips a bit and then grinds down against him.

He hears Liam’s breath catch and leans down to whisper hotly in his ear, “You okay, Liam?”

“Y-yeah,” Liam answers shakily. “Just-- can you--,”

Zayn moves against him again and their erections slide together just right. He bites down a groan of his own so that he can hear Liam’s. “Can I what?”

Zayn,” Liam whines impatiently.

He’d be lying if he said that Liam saying his name like that didn’t do it for him, because it definitely fucking did. Friends, roommate, whatever they were, it didn’t matter; he wanted to hear that over and over again.

In fact, he wanted to see just how vocal Liam could get. Ignoring his own need, he moves back down Liam’s body, bottle of lube and condom still held securely in hand. He doesn’t use them yet, though, but instead pushes Liam’s thighs farther apart. Liam complies easily, willing to move however Zayn guided him, and Zayn groaned just realizing that.

He mouths at Liam’s hip again and, because he can, sucks a mark into the skin there. He can’t see if it stays but he figures it does. Then he moves to the inside of Liam’s thigh, kissing and nipping gently at the skin there. He knows it’s super sensitive, can tell just from the way Liam’s legs shake as he does it.

He finally pops open the lube container -- grateful that it’s not some of that artificial berry scented shit that some people have, because he can’t stand that stuff-- and coats his fingers. It’s cold, he knows, and he doesn’t bother trying to warm it up with the heat of his hands before pressing his index finger against Liam’s entrance again. Liam gasps in surprise and then pushes his hips down, trying to get Zayn to move.

Zayn’s full blown smirking now as he slowly circles his finger around the hole, not pushing in. He’s not going to, either, not until Liam asks.

It doesn’t take long for that to happen, because Liam’s squirming under him, trying to push down on his fingers, and finally gives up and says, “Fuck, Zayn, stop teasing me.”

He complies, pushing the first finger in. Liam’s tight and warm around him, but he’s relaxed enough that Zayn doesn’t wait very long to add a second finger. It doesn’t take him long to find that spot inside of Liam, either, because he crooks his fingers a bit, moves them just right, and Liam clenches around him and let’s out a huff of breath. He could easily slip another finger in. In fact, he figures Liam’s pretty good for prep, if he wanted to get things going. He doesn’t yet, though. He wants to see how crazy he can drive Liam with just his fingers until he’s begging for more.

He slowly moves his fingers inside Liam, spreading them wider at times, crooking them to hit that spot at others, pulling almost all the way out and then pushing them back in. Liam’s writhing, one of his hands griping Zayn’s bicep in a tight, painful grip. Liam goes to fist himself with his other hand, but Zayn bats his hand away and covers it with his own. He grips Liam loosely and moves too slowly for it to give him any kind of release, which is obvious by the groan of frustration Liam lets out.

He slides his thumb over the head while crooking his fingers, and Liam moans quietly, like he’d tried and failed to hold it back. Zayn is still painfully hard, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before one of them gives in and moves things along, but he’s trying his best not to be that person.

And he wins, too, because Liam gives in and tugs on his arm. “I’m good,” Liam says, voice rougher than usual.

“Are you?” Zayn asks, and, just to be an asshole, he finds that spot inside Liam again with his fingers.

“Y-yeah,” Liam says. “Just get up here. Zayn. Come on. Please.”

“What was that?” Zayn asks.

Liam flops his head back against the bed. “Zayn, please.”

“Yeah, okay,” Zayn agrees, because as much fun as it is teasing Liam until he’s begging, he really, really needs to fuck him.

Zayn fumbles for the condom, which he put somewhere on the bed to his right. His fingers find the little package and he tears it open with his teeth -- not because he’s trying to look cool or experienced, but because his fingers are too slippery to open it-- and he slides the condom on before slicking himself up.

Liam’s got his legs spread wide still, and Zayn settles himself between them and uses his hand to guide himself to Liam’s entrance. Liam’s holding his breath, and Zayn can faintly see him in the small amount of light slipping in through the window. He’s staring up into Zayn’s eyes with his lips parted. Zayn has to kiss him, so he does, blanketing Liam’s chest with his body as he slowly pushes in.

He nips on Liam’s bottom lip to distract him from any pain, and Liam digs his nails into Zayn’s back. Zayn let’s out shaky breath of his own as he pushes all the way in. Liam feels incredible, the perfect amount of heat and friction. He presses his lips to Liam’s neck as he bottoms out, and then waits for a moment.

“Move,” Liam orders, trying to sound firm but failing.

Zayn sucks another mark into Liam’s neck, right where it meets his shoulder, just because he knows it’ll be there tomorrow and that fill him with something that feels a lot like contentment.

He pulls out of Liam slowly, knowing that he’s still adjusting, and then pushes back in. He’s not a teenager anymore, and he’s not an inexperienced virgin; still, he has a feeling this is all going to end a lot faster than he’d like. He can’t help that, though, because Liam is tight and he smells so good -- like he always does, but mixed with sweat, which isn’t as gross as it should be-- and feels so good, and fuck, why did they wait this long to do this? Maybe a week isn’t all that long, but it sure as fuck feels like it was.

Eventually Liam’s hands drop from Zayn’s back to his ass, and he digs his fingers in, urging Zayn to move more. Zayn’s definitely not saying no, and he lifts Liam’s leg to curl it around his back so he can get better momentum.

Their bodies are slick with sweat everywhere they touch, and Zayn feels that familiar tightening in his lower stomach. He pushes himself up on one hand and struggles to jerk Liam off with the other. His fingers are still a bit slick with lube and he works Liam as quickly as he can. He doesn’t have to get Liam off before he does but he wants to.

Liam’s letting out a steady stream of soft, whimpering sounds, and Zayn’s not doing very good at holding in his own groans, either. They mingle with the sound of skin hitting skin and Zayn closes his eyes for a moment, letting himself get lost in it all. When he opens them again, Liam let’s out a low, shuddering breath, and then he’s coming over Zayn’s fingers. Zayn feels him clench impossibly tighter around him, and that’s pretty much it for him. He grinds his hips forward a few more times and then he grabs Liam’s thigh and digs his fingers in as he comes.

He wants to collapse on top of Liam afterwards, but he doesn’t think Liam would appreciate it. Instead, he carefully pulls out and falls onto the bed beside him. Liam’s still breathing heavy, but so is he. He feels warm and the right kind of tired, the kind of tired you feel after a good workout, or fuck.

After a bit, Liam sits up and Zayn sees him reaching around in the dark for something. He finds it-- a t-shirt-- and cleans himself off, and then hands it to Zayn, who wipes Liam’s cum off his fingers and then sits up, too.

“There’s a garbage can in the left corner,” Liam tells him.

“Right,” Zayn nods, and finds his way around in the unfamiliar room. He knots the condom and then throws it out before heading for the light switch.

When he turns the light on, Liam’s sitting up in bed in his briefs. Zayn locates his discarded clothes and pulls on his boxers while leaving his jeans in his hands.

“Goodnight, Zayn,” Liam says pointedly, reminding them both that this was just a casual thing. It wasn’t like they were going to fall asleep in each others arms. It wasn’t like they were going to cuddle and hold hands or anything.

“Night,” Zayn says on his way out the door. He closes it behind himself and then goes into his room.

 

--

 

It becomes a thing. It wasn’t decided, or spoken about. It just happened. They’d eat dinner on the couch, and afterward they’d watch a movie, and Liam would move closer to Zayn and put his hand on Zayn’s thigh. Zayn would end up fucking him right there on the couch.

They’d eat breakfast before school, and Liam would finish first, and then press Zayn against the counter until he put his bowl down, too, and then Liam would go down on him. Liam came back from the gym one night and fucked Zayn into the mattress. They went over to Harry’s to watch movies with him and Lou and Niall, and Liam teased him the whole night, which resulted in Zayn fucking him right against the door when they got home.

They manage to keep the whole thing casual, though. It’s just sex between two friends that live together. They still do normal friend things, like yell at football games, and eat microwaved dinners on the floor. They don’t go on dates, or hold hands, or kiss each other good night. They don’t ever sleep in the same bed.

Neither of them date anyone else, though. Liam says it’s because he doesn’t see a point in having a relationship. In three months time he’ll be heading back to the base for training, and then a few weeks after that they’re sending him back to Iraq. He doesn’t want anything serious, because he doesn’t want to have to deal with knowing someone is waiting back home for him, when he might not come back.

“That’s why my room is like that,” Liam explains one night when they’re watching Glee. That, too, has become a thing that neither of them speak about, but that happens anyways. “I just don’t see a point in decorating it, you know? I mean, I’m not here often enough to paint, or put up posters or anything. This isn’t really my life.”

Zayn pulls his eyes away from Darren Criss and frowns at him. “What do you mean?”

Liam shrugs. “This is like the detour, you know? The in between time. My real life is out there, when I’ve got my uniform on, and I’m sleeping on a cot.”

“Oh,” Zayn says casually, like he’s indifferent. Really, he doesn’t want to have this conversation. He finds himself avoiding thinking about Liam’s job as often as he can. Doesn’t think about the fact that Liam’s going to be gone in a few months, and he won’t be back for a while.

And that’s it, end of conversation. They sing along to Teenage Dream and snort at the stupid parts of the show, and they forget all about it.

 

--

 

“I think you need to go out,” Louis says to him a week later.

Zayn raises his eyebrows. “Go out,” he repeats.

“On a date,” Louis clarifies.

They’re at Louis’ apartment, the one he shares with Eleanor. The only reason Zayn and him didn’t share an apartment was because of her, not that Zayn was angry about that. He loved Louis, but he didn’t think he’d be able to handle living with him. He and Eleanor fit well together as roommates; he and Zayn would not.

“Why?” Zayn asks, flipping through the channels on the television. “I don’t really see a point. I don’t want a relationship, and I’m already having more than enough sex.”

Louis sighs. “Yeah, I know. But don’t you think that maybe that’s a bad idea?”

Zayn frowns at him. “Why would that be a bad idea? I told you. It’s casual. It’s good.”

“It’s good,” Louis repeats. “And when he heads back to Afghanistan--,”

“Iraq,” Zayn corrects.

“Whatever!” Louis says shrilly. “How are you being to freaking calm about this whole thing?”

Zayn shrugs. “Because I told you,” Zayn says with more conviction this time. “It’s not a big fucking deal. We fuck, we live our lives, that’s it.”

Louis stops berating him, but he moves closer to Zayn on the couch and puts his head on Zayn’s shoulder. “You might not realize it now,” Louis says quietly. “But it’s not as simple as you want it to be, and we both know it.”

“It is, actually,” Zayn says, pushing him away. “I’ve having the best sex of my life, and I happen to be sharing an awesome apartment with a great roommate. Just because I happen to be having said sex with said roommate doesn’t mean I’ve got feelings for him anymore than I do for you, or Niall.”

Louis sinks back into his side of the couch. “Fine,” he snaps. “Fine.”

“What about you and Harry?” Zayn asks, trying to change the subject. Louis’s just not going to let it go. He’s just not going to accept that it really doesn’t mean anything. Because it doesn’t. Zayn’s not that stupid.

And that sets Louis off on a whirlwind of a rant, one that ends with, “He’s not my type at all but I can’t stop thinking about him.”

“Then ask him out again,” Zayn tells him.

Louis glares at him. “I can’t just ask him out. What is wrong with you?”

“Why not?”

“Because-- because--,” Louis waves his hand. “He’ll think I like him!”

Zayn snorts. “You do.”

“Yes, but I can’t let him know that. Christ, Zayn, don’t you have any idea how relationships work? The first person to admit they actually care is the one who ends up getting hurt.”

Zayn doesn’t deny that because he thinks Louis has a point.

 

--

 

Zayn gives in to Louis’ pestering within a month. He invites Liam to come out with them, but Liam waves them off with a simple, “I don’t really drink often.”

Zayn shrugs and accepts that. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t come, because he has a feeling that Louis would flip on him if he went home with Liam instead of someone else.

There was a time when Zayn would thrive in this scene. Where the loud music would thump through him and he’d pull the first attractive girl -- or guy-- onto the dance floor and press their bodies together. Where he’d get impressively wasted and take a cab back to his dorm room with someone whose name he wouldn’t remember within twenty-four hours.

He’s just not into it tonight. Louis isn’t either, but he’s trying a lot harder than Zayn. He’s already danced with three guys, all of which he’d pushed away after a few minutes when he got bored with them.

Zayn just doesn’t see a point. If he wants to get laid, he can just go home. In fact, he’d have a lot better of a time doing that, because bringing someone home always had it’s complications. There was the awkward goodbye, and he usually ended up paying for their cabs. And then he’d have to fall asleep in a bed that smelled like someone else’s perfume or cologne.

At least with Liam, they’d just shower and watch television and Liam would make them something to eat. And plus, it wasn’t like the sex there was lacking. Liam knew what he liked, and he knew what Liam liked. The sex was fucking fantastic, actually.

“I think I’m going to head home,” Zayn says to Louis when he returns to their table. Louis’ cheeks are flushed and he looks annoyed.

“No,” Louis says firmly. “You haven’t even tried. Come on.”

“I’m just not into it,” Zayn admits.

“Zayn Malik,” Louis says loudly. “Either admit that you have a thing for your roommate, or get out here with me and prove that you’re not.”

Zayn narrows his eyes, reaches for his shot glass, and downs it. He slips out of the booth and, with one last contemptuous glare for Louis, he grabs a random girls arm and pulls her onto the dance floor.

Her name is Marie… probably. She’s got long brown hair and bright blue eyes, and moves her body gracefully against his. An hour -- and a lot more shots-- later, Zayn pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls Liam.

“Hey,” Liam says, and he can hear the television in the background. “What’s up?”

“Hey,” Zayn says slowly, dragging out the ‘y’. He opens his mouth to ask Liam if he’d mind if Zayn brought someone home, and then stops himself and rewords it. “Just letting you know that I’m bringing someone home.”

Liam’s quiet on the other end of the line for a moment, and Zayn holds his breath. Marie is watching him expectantly, but he barely even notices her. “Cool, I’ll head over to Harry’s. Just come let me know when it’s safe to come back. Have fun!” he says brightly.

“Okay,” Zayn replies quietly. “Bye.”

Louis heads home with a tall boy with curly brown hair and brown eyes, which Zayn does not comment on. Liam’s not there when he and Marie stumble into the apartment, her hands already groping him through his pants.

She’s too soft underneath him, smells too flowery. He’s missing the smell of citrus and the feeling of hard muscles beneath him, but he still fucks her, and then he puts a ten in her hand and sends her on her way afterwards.

He doesn’t head over to Harry’s straight away, but jumps in the shower first. He ends up reaching for Liam’s shampoo. It’s not on purpose. He’d drunk, his shampoo is on the sink, and he can’t be bothered to get out to grab it. And if he likes the way the smell of citrus surrounds him afterwards, that’s his own damn business.

“Did you have fun?” Liam asks when he gets out of the shower.

Zayn blinks at him. The room is still a bit blurry, and he’s not exactly steady on his feet. “Tons,” Zayn answers.

“Good,” Liam says, nodding. “She was pretty.”

“Yeah?” Zayn frowns. “I guess.”

Liam steps closer to him, until they’re pressed flush together. He’s waiting for Liam to kiss him, or say something. Instead, Liam raises his eyebrows. “Do you mind? I need to use the bathroom.”

“Oh,” Zayn steps out of the way. “Right.”

He falls asleep with the smell of citrus covering up whatever perfume that girl had been wearing.

 

--

 

The sex stops. Zayn tells himself it’s because they’re both busy. Zayn’s got exams coming up, and he spends most of his time either at work, in class, or working on important papers and studying. He spends all of his free time at home in the living room, camped out on the floor surrounded by papers and books.

Liam’s been out of the house a lot. He spends a lot of time at the gym, which really pays off, much to Zayn’s frustration. His ab muscles are more defined than ever, and he has a habit of coming home and stripping his shirt off when he’s stills sweaty. He’s usually showers right after that, though, and then heads over to Harry’s.

They’re just busy. It’s not like they don’t still hang out occasionally. It’s just that, when they do, they’re too busy catching up to fuck. When they’re both free on Sunday they spend the day curled up on the couch, catching up on episodes of Glee and The Walking Dead -- which Zayn introduced Liam too, and they’re both now addicted to watching.

He can admit that he cherishes those times a bit too much. Liam’s a chicken shit when it comes to the Walking Dead, and he usually sits closer to Zayn, with an arm around his shoulder so he can squeeze Zayn’s arm when something freaks him out.

He stars using Liam’s shampoo everyday, too, but neither of them talk about that.

It’s probably for the best, really, that they don’t hook up anymore. Louis was sort of right. Maybe it hadn’t meant anything but, over time, it could have. It was good that they nipped that in the bud before they fucked things up.

Liam’s got a calendar hanging in the hallway with May 19th circled in red. Every time he changes the month, a ball in Zayn’s stomach tightens. By May, that ball is so big he feels like it consumes him. It’s almost all he can think about. When he’s at school, when he’s curled up on the couch with a blanket and a plate of leftover pizza. It’s like a nagging sort of tugging on his insides. He can ignore it, if he tries really hard, but it’s still always there.

He doesn’t talk about it. Not with Louis, or with Liam. Not with anyone. He just keeps that to himself, because he doesn’t want to think about it, even though he can’t stop thinking about it. As long he doesn’t name it, he’ll be fine.

He feels like an elastic band, though. One that’s been stretched farther than it should be, and it’s only a matter of time before it snaps.

And it does snap. On May 16th, when Liam’s at the gym and he runs out of citrus shampoo. He’s in the shower, and he reaches for it and squeezes the bottle, and none comes out. He shakes it, pops the lid, and then tries again. Nothing.

He rips the top off it and stares inside, but it’s pretty much empty. The smell is still strong, but he can’t wash his hair with what’s left.

And that’s just it. He’s just so fucking done, at that moment. He gets out of the shower, not even bothering to dry off his hair, and wraps a towel around his waist. The shampoo bottle is still clutched tightly in his hand as he pushes open the bathroom door, steam escaping with him. He stomps through the apartment and out the front door, not caring that he’s pretty much naked.

He pounds his free hand on Harry’s door, to which Harry calls out a loud, “Come in!”

He does just that, and grips the towel tightly so that it doesn’t fall as he heads over to where Harry’s sitting on the couch. He looks up at Zayn, surprised, and opens his mouth to say something. Before he can, though, Zayn slams the empty shampoo bottle on the table.

“I don’t know where he buys it,” Zayn states.

Harry frowns at him. “Are you okay?” he asks slowly, like Zayn is a wild animal that’s going to attack at any moment.

“I don’t know where he fucking buys it, Harry!” Zayn snaps. “I use this shampoo every fucking day, and I don’t know where he buys it. What am I going to do when he’s gone?”

Realization flashes in Harry’s eyes and he stands up and puts a hand on Zayn’s arm, and gently guides him to the couch. He pushes on Zayn’s shoulder until Zayn has no choice but to sit down. Apparently Harry doesn’t care if Zayn’s wet ass soaks his sofa.

“It’s not about the shampoo, is it?” Harry asks quietly.

Zayn glares at him. “I know you’re taking psychology in school but don’t fucking analyse me.”

“Zayn,” Harry says calmly. “Just admit it. I’m not judging you.”

“There’s nothing to admit,” Zayn says fiercely. “I just don’t know where he buys his shitty fucking orange smelling shampoo, for fuck sake.”

“You’re worried,” Harry tells him solemnly.

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“How the fuck would you know?” Zayn demands, because he’s not worried about Liam leaving. He’s fucking not. He just likes the fucking shampoo, why the fuck does that have to mean something?

“Because,” Harry sighs. “I worry too. Every time he goes. You think I don’t? That’s my best friend,” Harry says passionately. “And if something happened to him, I’d be fucking devastated. And we all know something could happen. No matter how much he acts like it’s not that dangerous, or that it’s fine, that he’ll be fine, he might not be.”

“This is bullshit,” Zayn states, jumping off the couch. “Fucking bullshit.”

“Zayn--,”

“No,” Zayn shakes his head, not caring that water droplets are splashing everywhere. “I just wanted to know where he got his shampoo. If Liam wants to head off to a third world country and get himself blown up or shot or whatever the fuck he thinks he’s doing, he can go ahead.”

“Don’t be an asshole about this,” Harry says, and he stands up, too. “He’s heading out in three days, Zayn, don’t you dare put this shit on him before he leaves.”

“Put what on him?” Zayn demands.

“He’s been in love with you for fucking months now,” Harry hisses. “And you’ve been casual about the whole fucking thing, and he respects that. In fact, he’s happy about that, because he doesn’t want you to be upset when he leaves. So don’t you dare pull this shit now, Zayn. I don’t give a fuck if you’ve finally accepted the fact that you care about him more than you wanted to, you keep that to yourself.”

“Keep it to myself,” Zayn repeats hotly, rolling his eyes. Harry doesn’t have any idea what he feels, because he doesn’t really feel much of anything. Sure, okay, he can admit to worrying about a friend. He’d been terrified if it were Louis, too, or even Harry himself. But he’s acting like Zayn’s in love with Liam or something, which he’s not.

“Keep it to yourself,” Harry nods.

“Fine,” Zayn spits. “But there’s nothing to keep to myself. I don’t know why you and Louis have this ridiculous idea that there’s something more there than there really is, but it’s starting to get annoying.”

Harry glares at him. “Then why didn’t you just ask him where he bought the shampoo?”

Zayn stares at him for a moment, trying to think of a sufficient comeback to that. He can’t, so he just grabs the empty shampoo bottle off the table and stomps out of the apartment, slamming the door loudly behind himself.

Liam’s in the apartment when he gets back. “Hey,” he says from the couch. “Were you at Harry’s?”

“Did they run out of normal smelling shampoos at the store, or do you just enjoy smelling like a walking glass of orange juice?” Zayn snaps at him on the way to his bedroom.

Liam doesn’t reply, but he feels the other boys eyes on him as he pulls his bedroom door closed. He strips off the damp towel and lets it fall to the ground, instead of hanging it up somewhere like he normally would. He’s still got the stupid bottle in his hand, and he throws it at the wall in frustration.

That tight ball inside of him is burning, now, and he wants it gone. He wants to stop feeling like this, because it’s going to drive him insane.

“You okay?” Liam asks from the doorway.

Zayn whirls around to face him, eyes narrowed. Without another thought, he moves forward and grabs Liam roughly by the sides of his face and crashes their lips together. It’s too hard, too sharp, and he might have split his lip. He doesn’t really care.

“Come on,” he says, pulling Liam backwards.

Liam makes a surprised sound but doesn’t fight him, and he pulls Liam onto his bed and then rolls them over so he’s on top. “What the fuck are you even wearing?” Zayn demands, pulling at the buttons on Liam’s shirt. He’ll buy him a new one, he decides, because buttons are a stupid fucking idea and he doesn’t have the patience to undo them all slowly.

“Zayn!” Liam says loudly, but Zayn just grins at him and rips open the last button.

He hopes that shirt wasn’t a favourite, but he barely spares it another thought as he scratches his nails down Liam’s chest. Liam arches into his touch, and Zayn hesitates for a moment, watching the red marks bloom on his skin, contrasting against the white scar there. He shakes his head and continues down Liam’s chest until he gets to his jeans.

Unsurprisingly, Liam’s already hard when Zayn tugs his jeans off. He crawls off Liam’s body so he can pull off Liam’s briefs, too, and then he says, “Turn over.”

Liam frowns at him. “What?”

“Turn over,” Zayn orders. “On your knees.”

The lights are on, and he can’t be bothered to turn them off. He can’t look into Liam’s eyes right now, though, because for some reason that makes the ball in his stomach tighten even more. Thankfully, Liam obliges, even if he looks a bit surprised.

Zayn rips open the drawer of his bedside table and pulls out the lube and one of the condoms from the box that hasn’t been touched in months.

He’s as gentle as he can be in his hurry to get inside Liam. He’s not dragging it out like he usually would, isn’t looking to make Liam a writhing mess underneath him. Any other time he might have slowed down, really appreciated the sight of the gorgeous boy in front of him on his hands and knees, pushing back against his fingers and panting. He just can’t right now.

When Liam’s loose enough he slides on the condom and slicks himself up before lining himself up with Liam’s entrance. Liam groans as he pushes in, blanketing Liam’s back. He bites at the skin of his shoulder, his tongue swiping over the skin there, feeling the difference between the texture of his skin and the smoother texture of the scar there.

He pulls back after a moment and grips Liam’s hips too tight, but Liam doesn’t complain as he pushes into him, again and again, relentlessly. He’s waiting for that tightening in his stomach to go away, but it doesn’t, no matter how hard he pushes into Liam. No matter how loud Liam’s moans under him.

“Zayn,” Liam gasps, and it just gets tighter. “Faster. Please.”

Zayn complies, and he knows there’ll be bruises on Liam’s hips tomorrow. Liam falls onto his forearms and Zayn releases him and slips an arm around his stomach to grab Liam’s cock where it hangs heavy and hard and untouched between his legs. Liam whimpers at the contact and Zayn tightens his grip a bit and tries to jerk him off to the same rhythm he’s using to pound into him.

Liam comes not long after and he sinks farther into the mattress, the only thing holding him up anymore being Zayn’s grip on his waist. Zayn just fucks him through it. When he reaches the edge and comes, too, that tightening in his stomach doesn’t loosen, like he’d though it would. It’s still there, and it’s still all he can think about.

He pulls out of Liam slowly and then gets off the bed and throws the condom in the garbage. He grabs a fresh pair of boxers out of his dresser and grabs a pair of jeans, too, and a t-shirt. “I’m going out,” he says.

Liam’s still laying in bed, and he rolls onto his side, frowning up at him. “You’re leaving.”

“For a bit,” Zayn says, as he pulls his shirt over his head. “Don’t be in here when I get back, okay?” and then he’s out the door before he can see the hurt in Liam’s eyes.

He doesn’t go home that night. Instead, he ends up on Louis’ couch. Eleanor’s not there, thankfully, and Louis just sighs and makes him a coffee and brings him a blanket. He doesn’t want to talk about it, because there’s nothing to talk about. That’s what he tells Louis, too, numerous times, until Louis finally relents and heads off to bed.

It’s not on purpose. He’s just so busy with school and life, and he ends up sleeping on Louis’ couch the next two nights. On the nineteenth, he has no choice but to go home. Louis threatened to shave off his skin with a cheese grater if he didn’t.

Liam’s got a duffel bag at the front door, and he’s in full uniform again. His hair’s longer than when they’d first met, and he’s not got the stubble on his face, but he might as well be the exact same person, because he’s all hesitance and blushes when he turns to Zayn.

“Didn’t think I’d see you today,” Liam says.

Zayn shrugs. “When’re you leaving?”

Liam looks down at his watch. “Half an hour.” He smiles. “Jessie’s freaking out. Take care of her, yeah?”

“Obviously,” Zayn says dismissively. He can see her sitting on the other side of the couch. She’s got her head on her hands, and she’s just staring sadly up at the two of them. Zayn wonders if she’s realized by now what the uniform means, and if she’s really aware that Liam’s leaving.

“Good,” Liam says. “Um, I was just about to head over to Harry’s. He’s driving me out. I’ll, um-- I’ll see you in a few months, Zayn.”

“I’ll be here,” Zayn says, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans so he doesn’t do something really stupid, like hug him. Or something.

“Will you?” Liam asks, tilting his head to the side. “Never mind,” he says, shaking his head. “Bye.”

Zayn watches him go, because his life is not a fucking Nicolas Sparks book. He’s not going to run after Liam and kiss him, or tell him he’s in love with him or something. Liam’s going to go, Zayn’s going to stay, and that’s all there is too it.

Jessie comes over and barks at the closed door before laying down beside Zayn’s feet. Zayn sinks down to the floor beside her and rubs her head absently, while thy both stare at the door, as if Liam’s going to come right back through it.

He doesn’t.

 

--

 

The one rule Harry had laid down when Zayn moved in was not to go in Liam’s room. The first day after Liam’s gone, he breaks that rule. No, he fucking smashes it to pieces. He doesn’t just go in Liam’s room, he goes through Liam’s room.

He’s not sure why he’s doing it, except it’s better to do something instead of just sitting there and thinking about everything, or worrying at the knot in his stomach that he’s come to accept, in the few hours Liam’s been gone. It’s not going away. Best to just figure out how to live with it.

The first thing he does is pull open the dresser. Liam’s not a complete neat freak, but his drawers are perfectly organized with folded clothes. He’s got a drawer for shirts, a drawer for pants, a drawer for workout clothes, and a drawer for socks an underwear, which is mostly just a bunch of black socks and black briefs and one single pair of white boxers with giant red hearts that Zayn thinks were a present from Harry.

Next, he looks under the bed. There’s nothing under there. Not even a lost sock or something. He sighs and goes to the drawer beside the bed. The top drawer has a pen, paper, and a small notebook that Zayn opens and finds nothing but a bunch of phone numbers in -- including his own, written in sloppy writing that he knows is Liam’s. The second drawer has a bottle of lube, a box of condoms, a thing of hand lotion and, surprisingly enough, massage oil. Zayn shuts that drawer, because it just makes him think about having sex with Liam. The bottom drawer is empty.

Frustrated, Zayn heads to the closet and pulls it open. Inside there’s a bunch of sweaters, a single black suit, and a winter coat. There’s a shelf, too, and there’s a box on it. Just one. Zayn slams the closet door and flops onto Liam’s bed.

Jessie comes in a moment later and sits with him, and Zayn pats the spot beside him on the bed so she knows she’s allowed to come up.

He’s annoyed. There’s nothing, nothing, in the room that really screams Liam. It’s so fucking impersonal, there’s not even a picture on the wall. It makes him want to throw something, because Liam hadn’t been lying about what he said on the couch that day. This really was just his in between place. Liam’s life wasn’t really here.

“Fuck this,” Zayn says, sitting up quickly. Jessie watches him with questioning eyes, but he ignores her and pulls open the closet doors again.

He struggles a bit, because the box is heavier than he thought it’d be, but he manages to get it down without breaking anything -- including himself. He puts it on the ground and stares at it for a long moment before sinking to his knees and pulling it open.

The first thing he sees is the award. He pulls it out and scans it. It’s for running. He hadn’t even known Liam was a good runner, let alone good enough to get an award for it. He puts it on the floor beside himself and then reaches in and grabs the next thing. It’s a picture frame, one of a younger Liam with his arms around an older woman, with a man behind him. There are two girls sitting beside him, too, and Zayn knows they must be his sisters, even though Liam never mentioned any siblings.

He puts that beside him, too, and pulls out the slip of paper underneath it. It takes him all of about three seconds to realize that it’s the movie ticket from that night he and Liam went to see Batman. Why the hell Liam kept it, he has no idea. He doesn’t really know Liam at all, apparently.

There’s not much else in the box. A school diploma, another track ribbon, and a picture of Liam, Harry and Niall in graduation gowns with their arms around each other. He takes that picture out of he box, too, and then puts the award back and closes it. He leaves the pictures on the ground and puts the box away before setting the picture of Liam and his family on the bedside table, and the one of him, Harry and Niall on top of the dresser.

 

--

 

A month after Liam’s gone, Zayn realizes he fucking hates the apartment. It’s too big. There’s way too much space for just him and Jessie. Louis is over all the time, but he leaves every night, whether to go home or to Harry’s, Zayn doesn’t know, and doesn’t ask. Once he’s gone, Zayn feels suffocated by the amount of space.

By the second month, he admits to himself that he misses Liam. He misses watching shitty television programmes with him on the couch. He misses eating a rushed breakfast with him in the morning. He misses Liam’s calloused hands and his scarred back. He misses the feeling of his body underneath Zayn’s, misses the sounds he makes when Zayn pushes into him just right.

By the third month he admits to himself that the ball in his stomach is because he’s scared Liam’s not coming back. That’s the hardest one, and he ends up calling in sick to work three days in a row and camping out on the couch with Jessie until Louis comes over and snaps him out of it.

On the forth month he starts dating Perrie, and the ball in his stomach loosens a bit. She’s smart mouthed and sassy, and gorgeous. She cooks him dinner often, and Jessie hates her. Every time she comes over, Jessie barks relentlessly at her, until they just start hanging out at Perrie’s place instead.

They break up by the fifth month when Perrie tells him he’s just not putting as much into it as she is. “I juts don’t see the point in dating someone who’s already in a relationship,” she says harshly during their last fight. They make up afterwards and decide it’s best to just be friends. He likes Perrie, he does, but things never felt quiet right with her. There was always something missing.

The sixth month is the second worst, and the only word he can use to describe the whole month is anxious. He feels wired the whole time, and he doesn’t know exactly when Liam’s getting back, he just knows that he is. As long as he’s not, like, dead. Which he can’t be, because Zayn’s world wouldn’t make sense anymore if he was dead.

That’s the thing that makes no sense to him. When did Liam start meaning to much to Zayn? When did he become the biggest fixture in Zayn’s life, even over Louis? Probably when he was the first and last person Zayn saw every day. When he’d wake up to Liam getting out of the shower, and fall asleep after hearing Liam’s door closed.

“I’ve got a date tonight,” Louis says conversationally as they walk through the aisles of the grocery store. Zayn makes Louis take him because he has a car and Zayn point blank refuses to carry a shit ton of groceries on the bus.

“Really?” Zayn comments as he reaches for a new deodorant. “Someone I know?”

“Obviously,” Louis says casually. “It’s Harry.”

Zayn turns to him, eyebrows raised. “So you’re actually dating now.”

Louis shrugs. “Maybe. I don’t know. He’s the most confusing person ever.” Zayn snorts at that, because, really, it’s a bit hypocritical, coming from Lou. “I just mean-- he’s always making his little comments, and hitting on me, even after we hooked up. But after that first time he’s never made any attempts for us to actually, you know, be in a relationship.”

Zayn contemplates that for a moment. “He was probably waiting for you to do it. Giving you the say on whether or not something happens.”

“Probably,” Louis admits, reaching for a bottle of shampoo. Louis has a bad habit of opening and smelling every bottle. He refuses to buy something unless he’s sure he likes the way it smells. He wrinkles his nose at the bottle in his hand. “Who the fuck wants to smell like an orange?”

Zayn’s eyes drop to the bottle in his hand, and he examines the too familiar label before stealing it from him. He pops the lid open and inhales, and then tosses the bottle into his cart, and, for good measure, he grabs three extras. He doesn’t care if it costs five pounds a bottle.

“Apparently you do,” Louis says.

“It’s Liam’s favourite,” Zayn says casually, and Louis makes an annoying cooing sound that Zayn wants to slap him for. “Shut up.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Louis says as they head into another aisle. “How in love with him you are, I mean.”

Zayn nearly chokes on thin air. “I’m not.”

“Mhm,” Louis says with a roll of his eyes. “I bet you’re counting down the days until he gets home. No, the minutes.”

“Fuck off,” Zayn hisses, grabbing a few packs of ramen noodles off the shelf. “I don’t even know when he’s getting back.”

“Are you going to tell him when he does, though?” Louis questions. He adds a bag of chocolate chips to his cart and then stares at the shelf in deep concentration before grabbing a second bag.

“Tell him what?” Zayn asks absently. He’s looking on the shelf for a box of cereal, but he can’t decide which one he wants. The super sugary kind, or the kind of sugary kind? Or both? He grabs both.

“Everything,” Louis says, bumping his shoulder into Zayn’s. “Or are you going to just hold it all in like last time and then have a breakdown when he leaves again?”

“I didn’t have a breakdown,” Zayn denies, and he’s pretty done with this whole conversation.

Louis doesn’t seem to get that, though, because he continues on as if he’s not aware of Zayn’s growing irritation. “You didn’t leave your couch for three days straight at one point,” Louis points out. “And Harry told me about your freak out with the shampoo.”

Zayn glares at him. “It wasn’t a freak out. I’m not in love with him. I didn’t have a breakdown. And I wish you would just fuck off with this whole thing, Louis.”

Louis raises his hands defensively. “I’m just trying to help,” he says slowly. “You’re a very emotional person, Zayn, but you try to pretend like you’re not. Just like you pretend that you don’t like Glee.”

“I don’t like Glee,” Zayn says loudly. A few girls in their aisle look over at him and snigger. “I just like Darren Criss’s ass.”

“I don’t even know who that is,” Louis replies.

“He’s--,”

“Don’t care,” Louis says dismissively. “Just man up this time, yeah? It’s a little sad to watch.”

“Have you been reading Harry’s psychology books?” Zayn snaps.

Louis frowns. “Maybe.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“You’re emotionally constipated and in denial.”

“I’m going to slap you.”

“There’s witnesses.”

“I don’t care.”

“Want to fuck against the shelves?” Louis suggests, waggling his eyebrows.

Zayn pauses and gapes at him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Louis shrugs. “I thought that’s where this was going.”

“Why am I friends with you?” Zayn asks, because he really has no idea.

“Because,” Louis says, slinging an arm over his shoulder. Their carts scrape together loudly. “I’m wonderful.”

 

--

 

It’s six in the fucking morning on a Saturday, and the only reason he’s up is because Jessie whined outside his door for an hour. He never minded walking her, but this early in the morning, there wasn’t a single person he would be happy with for waking him up.,

He groggily pulls on his sweatpants and a sweater and grabs his lighter and cigarettes from his bedside table. Jessie’s tail is wagging like crazy when he opens the door, and she barks happily at him.

“Shh,” he tells her. “It’s too early for you to be this loud.”

Jessie, apparently, doesn’t care. She continues to bark at him until they get to the front door, and he puts on her leash with difficulty, because she won’t sit still. When they get outside, he lights up a cigarette and takes a deep hall. It’s that weird time of morning where it’s still half night, and the sky is navy blue but the streetlights are on.

A few people drive by them in cars, but mostly the streets are empty. Jessie drags him to her favourite spot at the corner of the block. By the time they get back to the apartment he’s finished his cigarette and Jessie is walking slowly instead of tugging him everywhere.

He falls back into bed and manages to pass back out, until the sound of the shower running wakes him up. At first, he dismisses it. Liam always showers early, because he’s a freak and actually enjoys getting up before the sun. He wakes up a bit more, though, and he realizes that he’s the only one who showers in his apartment, because he’s the only one there.

He jumps out of bed, not bothering to pull on pants or a shirt, and goes straight to Liam’s room. There’s a duffle bag on the floor, and his uniform is folded neatly at the end of the bed.

The sound of the shower turning off reaches his ears, and he hears Liam fumbling around in the bathroom. He’s still just standing their in Liam’s room when he comes in. He’s got a towel slung low on his hips, and Zayn just fucking stares at him, because it’s all he can do.

And that ball in his stomach? It’s gone. It’s gone, because Liam is right there, and he’s alive and fine and, fuck, Zayn is in love with him. He doesn’t just love the feeling of Liam’s body beneath his, or the way they move together, sweat slicked skin, panting into each other’s mouths. He loves their early breakfasts and the fact that he can count on Liam to have a pot of coffee ready for him when he gets up. He loves watching shitty fucking television with him, and eating microwaved dinners. He loves that Liam laughs when he manages to over-cook the ramen noodles until they’re a mushy, inedible mess. He fucking loves him. Totally, completely loves him.

“What are you doing in my room?” Liam asks, and Zayn realizes that maybe he’s alive, but Liam is not, in fact, okay.

There’s a bandage on his right arm, and he’s not smiling that crinkly smile. There’s no warmth in his brown eyes, either, and he’s just looking at Zayn like he’s a stranger.

“You’re back,” Zayn states, because for some reason that’s the only thing he can think of.

“Obviously,” Liam says, frowning at him. “Can you get out so I can get dressed?”

“Right,” Zayn nods and ducks past him. He pauses in front of the still open door but Liam doesn’t turn around. He just kicks the door closed between them.

He heads back into his room and pulls on his clothes, even though he’s still tired. He would have slept in for a few more hours, but he knows there’s no point in getting back into bed now. He’s not going to be able to get back to sleep.

When he goes back into the living room, Liam’s already standing in the hallway. He’s holding one of the picture frames in his hands, and he has a cold look on his face. “You went through my stuff.”

Zayn scratches the back of his neck. “Um,” he says. He hadn’t really considered the fact that Liam might be pissed at him for that. “Sorry.”

“You can’t just go throw my shit, Zayn,” Liam says, narrowing his eyes.

Zayn ignores him and takes a step forward. He puts his hand on Liam’s arm, just underneath the bandage, and asks, “What happened?”

Liam steps back. “Don’t go in my room,” he repeats, and then the door closes between them once again. Zayn thinks it’s not the only door, but it’s the only physical one.

 

--

 

Liam’s rarely home. Zayn doesn’t know where he goes, but he leaves at the same time as Zayn does for school, and he doesn’t get home until after dinner. When he does, he comes into the apartment in just a sweat soaked t-shirt and heads straight to the shower.

Zayn invites him to watch something on T.V. with him, but after the third time of Liam saying no, he stops trying.

That’s why he doesn’t expect it, when he’s fixing himself a bowl of cereal for dinner. Sure, it’s not the most balanced diet, but he can’t be bothered to make something more substantial.

He’s reaching for a spoon when he hears Liam come into the kitchen. Before, he might of offered Liam something to eat, but now he knows that Liam will just say no, so he doesn’t bother. But before he can even turn, Liam’s lips are on his neck, just below his ear.

“I missed you,” Liam whispers.

There’s a part of him that is really fucking angry at Liam for everything he’s done since he’s been home. There’s another part of him that’s just too confused by it all. But the biggest part of him is leaning into Liam’s touch and dropping his bowl on the counter.

“I missed you, too,” Zayn says quietly, while Liam’s lips continue to press against the skin of his neck and throat. His hand slides over Zayn’s stomach under his t-shirt and he drags his nails against the skin when he pulls back.

“Come on,” Liam urges, pulling him backwards. “I’ve been thinking about this for months.”

Zayn allows Liam to turn him around, and he waits for Liam to kiss him. He doesn’t. And he still has that vaguely cold, distant look in his eyes that makes Zayn feel shut out. He reaches up a hand and cups Liam’s cheek, thumb brushing against his jaw, trying to get that look to go away. It doesn’t.

“Come on,” Liam says again, pulling at his waist.

“What happened, Li?” Zayn asks.

Liam frowns at him. “What d’you mean?”

Zayn drops his hand. “I mean what the fuck has been going on with you?” Zayn asks, and it comes out harsher than he meant it to, but he thinks Liam deserves it, and he doesn’t feel bad. “Since you’ve been back you’ve been--,”

“Been what?” Liam demands, taking a step back.

“You’ve been gone,” Zayn states.

“I’ve been busy,” Liam counters.

“No, I mean-- even when you’re here, you’re not.”

“I almost died,” Liam says calmly, enunciating each word carefully. He points to his arm, which is still bandaged. “A few inches over, and I would have.”

“Liam,” Zayn says, reaching out a hand to touch him. Liam slaps it away.

“I just wanted to come home,” Liam says quietly. “The whole fucking time, I just wanted to come home. I just wanted to curl up on the couch with you and watch Batman and eat shitty fucking food and sleep in my bed because it smells like your stupid fucking mixture of colognes. And I told you didn’t want that! I didn’t want someone back home, because it’s too hard! I watch people every day, people who have pictures of their wives and kids, who sleep with them under their pillows. And I didn’t want to be that person! I didn’t want to have something to look forward to when I got home, because it makes it so fucking hard to be gone!”

Zayn just stands there in stunned silence, but that’s apparently what Liam wants, because he doesn’t look done yet. He lifts his hand to run over the short bristles of his hair, and Zayn notes a new scar on the back of his forearm.

“Do you know what you last said to me?” Liam asks.

Zayn frowns. “Goodbye?”

“No,” he shakes his head. “You said ‘I’ll be here’, and you are! You still are, and I just can’t deal with that anymore, Zayn. I can’t. I think-- I think--,” he turns around and splays his fingers flat on the counter. “I think you should move out.”

He doesn’t even think it through. He’s staring at Liam’s back, and he just reaches for his bowl of cereal and throws the contents at him before slamming the bowl back on the counter. Liam whirls around, eyes wide, hands clenched into fists. Zayn waits for him to throw the punch, to yell and scream or anything. He doesn’t.

“You should go,” Liam says very quietly.

“I’m fucking going,” Zayn snaps at him.

He steps over cold milk and soggy cereal, not caring that it soaks into his socks, and heads for the front door. Jessie is laying in front of the door, and she looks up at him with sad eyes. “Move,” Zayn tells her. She doesn’t. “Jessie!”

She gets up then, but she sulks away with her tail between her legs, and Zayn feels bad. He does, but he can’t right now, because he just needs to get out of there. He grabs his jacket and pulls on his shoes, not taking enough time to put them on properly. He’s going to ruin them, walking on the backs like that, but he doesn’t care.

He slams the door behind himself for good measure, because he’s not like Liam. He’s not hushed tones and serious words when he’s angry. He likes the loud noises, and the shouting. Hell, he’d probably be a lot happier if Liam actually had just off and punched him. But of course he wouldn’t, because that isn’t who Liam is.

He goes through half a pack of cigarettes before he finally ends up at Louis’. Eleanor answers the door, and she takes a step back at the sight of him. He can guess what his expression looks like, and his hair, too, for that matter, since he’s ran his hands through it enough fucking times.

“Come in,” she tells him, leaving the door open. “Louis!”

Louis comes out of his room and freezes at the sight of him. The thing about Louis is that he doesn’t really give a shit about anything, most of the time. You can count on Louis to lighten even the darkest of moods, but sometimes, when it really matters, he shuts it off and he’s the best person to go to with a problem.

“Shit,” he says before crossing the room and wrapping his arms around Zayn’s shoulders. “Come on,” he pulls back. “I’ll run you a shower, and then we’ll talk.”

Zayn doesn’t want to shower, but he nods anyways. Louis guides him to the bathroom and sits him on the toilet and turns the water up scolding hot, filling the bathroom with steam almost instantly. “Up,” he orders, and Zayn does so. He pulls Zayn’s jacket off and folds it carefully over his arm, and then tugs up Zayn’s shirt. He methodically undoes Zayn’s jeans, and slips them down his legs, and then pulls on his arms so he steps out of them. “Lift,” he orders, tapping on of Zayn’s legs, and he tugs off his sock, and then does the same with the next foot.

“I’ll be right in the living room,” he promises. “Okay? You need me, just shout.”

Zayn nods and Louis leaves. He pulls down his boxers with difficulty. He hadn’t realized his hands were shaking until now, and he’s grateful that Louis only left him with one item of clothing to take off.

The water is too hot, but Zayn reaches for the dial and turns it up a bit hotter anyways. Louis’ bathroom has always confused him, because Louis and Eleanor are both exceptionally high maintenance, and there’s about fifteen different bottles of hair care products lined on the tub alone, and there’s more in the compartment behind the mirror. There’s also an assortment of body washes and shaving creams, but Zayn doesn’t touch any of them. He’s not showering because he’s dirty; he’s showering because he’s cold.

When he turns off the water and steps out of the tub, he finds a navy blue housecoat waiting for him, and he slips it on. It’s soft and warm and he regrets laughing at Louis for buying it. He steps out of the room with it on, leaving the rest of his clothes on the floor. He’ll clean them up later.

Louis’ waiting for him on the couch, sipping a cup of tea. “Don’t worry,” he says when Zayn sits beside him. “Yours is coffee.”

Zayn reaches for his cup and takes a deep sip before wincing. “What’s in this?”

“Vodka,” Louis says with a shrug. “You looked like you needed it.”

Zayn nods and keeps sipping, until the contents burn his throat, both from the alcohol and the heat. “I threw cereal at him.”

Louis snorts and covers his face to hold back a laugh. “You what?”

“I threw cereal at him,” Zayn repeats, and he sees how that could be funny, distantly, but the emotion just isn’t strong enough for him to react to it. “He kicked me out, and I threw cereal at him.”

“He--,” Louis shakes his head and holds up a finger, signalling for Zayn to pause the conversation as he digs into his pocket to pull out his phone. He presses a few buttons and then puts it to his ear and waits. “Can’t talk long,” he says quickly into the phone, “but you might want to go see Liam. Why? Because he kicked Zayn out! And Zayn threw a bowl of cereal at him! Yes, that part is funny, but-- exactly. Right. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

“You called Harry,” Zayn guesses.

“I did,” Louis agrees. “Liam’s not my problem but I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that he probably needs his best mate, too.”

Zayn shrugs. “I don’t really think Liam needs anyone.”

‘That’s not true,” Louis says instantly, because that’s what you’re supposed to say to things like that. “Zayn--,”

“Do you have a newspaper?” Zayn asks abruptly.

“A-- what? Why?”

“Because,” Zayn puts his empty cup on the table. “I need to start looking for a new place to live.”

Louis sighs loudly. “You do not,” he says firmly. “You and Liam will work this out. Just give it a day or two. You can stay here until then.”

Zayn reaches for one of Eleanor’s cigarettes on the table and lights it without asking. He’ll pay her back if she asks. Louis lets him take a few drags before berating him with questions.

“What happened, exactly?” he asks. “I mean, why would he kick you out? Did you-- now, I’m not assuming that you’re the one in the wrong here, but -- do something to upset him?”

“Apparently,” Zayn says, letting out a breath of smoke. “I was there, and he didn’t want me to be there.”

Louis frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Fuck if I know,” Zayn says.

Louis sighs and stands up. “I don’t know why I thought talking this out would work,” he says. “You are the hardest person to get through to sometimes, Zayn, I swear to god. One day I’m going to run you over with a truck. Get your ass off my coach.”

Zayn frowns at him. “What?”

“Get up!” Louis says shrilly, grabbing his arm. He pulls Zayn up with a painful tug. “I’m bringing you home, and I will camp outside your door until you and Liam works this bullshit out.”

“Louis--,” Zayn protests.

“Not listening,” Louis says loudly, dragging him to the door. He tosses Zayn’s shoes at him with a look on his face that says he might want to put them on, or next time he’s throwing them at Zayn’s face.

He doesn’t want to go back, but he’s a lot more scared of Louis than he is of seeing Liam, so he pulls on his shoes, takes his leather jacket when Louis hands it over, and follows him out the door. The ride over is mostly silent except for the radio playing softly in the background. Zayn stares out the window most of the time until he looks down at himself.

“I’m in your bathrobe,” he says, frowning. “Louis, I’m still in your fucking bathrobe.”

Louis looks over at him, and then pulls the car carefully over the side of the road, gives Zayn another once over, and laughs so hard it looks like it hurts. His face turns red, his fingers grip the steering wheel, and he bends forward with the force of it. And Zayn can’t help it, a laugh bubbles up inside of him, too, until he’s mirroring Louis, bent over with laughter.

“Fuck,” Louis says, sitting up straight. He wipes a tear from his eyes. “How did we not notice that?’

“I was too busy following your orders, you fucking dictator,” Zayn says, lips still pulled up in an unconscious grin.

Zayn feels self-conscious as he and Louis run into the apartment building. How had he gotten all the way to the car without realizing he was pretty much naked?

When they get to the door, Zayn stands behind Louis, like Louis is his protector or something, huddled in Louis’ stupid bathrobe. Louis knocks loudly on the door, and it opens almost instantly. Harry walks out, grabs Louis arm, pushes Zayn inside the apartment, and then shuts the door between them.

Liam comes out of the kitchen and then halts, midstep. His shoulders are soaked with milk, and Zayn almost wants to laugh because he knows how ridiculous they both must look. Liam, with cereal dried to his shirt, Zayn with damp hair and a bathrobe on.

He doesn’t know what to say, exactly, but Liam doesn’t look like he’s going to say anything first, so he opens his mouth and the first thing he thinks blurts out of his mouth. “I didn’t want you to go.”

Liam crosses his arms over his chest. “You could have said that, but you weren’t even here the last three days before I left.”

Zayn reaches up and runs a hand through his still fairly wet hair. “I know,” he says. “I was-- I was kind of having issues. Dealing with you going. I guess.”

“You weren’t the only one,” Liam tells him.

“Yeah,” Zayn nods. “I guess I just couldn’t admit it to myself, so it was easier to just avoid it altogether. Like, if I wasn’t here, it just wasn’t happening.”

“Well, it still happened,” Liam says quietly.

“I should go get dressed,” Zayn says. “I’ll-- I’ll look for another place to stay, if you really want me gone.”

He goes to shoulder past Liam but Liam catches his arm. “I don’t want you to go,” he says, pulling Zayn against him. “It won’t make a difference.”

Zayn wants to punch him in the face and kiss him, but he does neither of those things. “Why not?” he asks.

“Because,” Liam sighs. “Whether you’re here or somewhere else, I’m still going to be in love with you. That’s not going to change.”

“That’s not fair,” Zayn tells him, pulling out of his grip. “You can’t just do that.”

Liam frowns at him, like he honestly has no idea what he did wrong this time. “Zayn--,”

“Fuck,” Zayn shakes his head, runs a hand through his hair, turns on the spot, and then faces Liam again, because he can’t stand still. “You can’t just kick me out and then tell me it’s because you’re in love with me. You can’t just do that and then expect me to fall into your arms and tell you that it’s okay because I love you back. That’s not how the real world works.”

“I’m sorry,” Liam says sincerely. And fuck, he’s giving Zayn those eyes, the ones that Jessie’s got down pat, too, the ones that make him want to apologize for whatever it is he’s done to put that look on their faces.

“So am I,” Zayn says. “Because you know how this ends for me? You know what happens now? I tell you I love you, and we date. And then in six months, you leave again. And either you die, or you don’t. But no matter what, my whole life just stops until you’re home. And then when you get home, we get, what, a four month honeymoon period? And then the rest of my time is spent worrying about you leaving again. And I can’t deal with that. I can’t. I didn’t sign up for this shit, Liam, and I can’t do it.”

“I didn’t expect you to,” Liam says softly. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.”

“You’re asking it right now just looking at me like that!” Zayn snaps. “I can’t just wait here for you to get home, wondering if this is the time that you’re not coming back. It drove me fucking crazy last time, and I can’t do that for the rest of my life.”

“Then what do you want me to do, Zayn?” Liam asks. “What am I supposed to do here?”

Zayn shakes his head and, because he can’t help it, he steps back in front of Liam and puts his hands on either sides of his face. “Nothing,” Zayn tells him. “I can’t ask you to stop doing what you love, and I can’t love you because it too fucking hard, Liam, okay?”

“But then--,”

Zayn shakes his head again and kisses Liam hard. His hands drop from Liam’s face to the bottom of his t-shirt, and he pulls it up easily. Liam winces when he pulls it over the bandage, but then he kisses Zayn again and pushes him backwards, pain forgotten. Zayn’s back aches when he hits the wall between his bedroom and the bathroom, but Liam just turns them around and starts walking backwards, pulling Zayn along with him until he hits the bed.

There’s a lot of fumbling and shaking hands, but somehow they get Liam’s pants off, and then his boxers, and Liam tugs on the tie holding the bathrobe closed, and Zayn throws it across the room. Liam moves farther up the bed, and Zayn follows him, kissing along his jaw and his neck and then his lips once more.

“Just let me have this one thing, okay?” Zayn asks. He can tell Liam doesn’t get it, doesn’t get what’s happening here, but he nods anyways.

He moves down Liam’s chest slowly, his tongue tracing the thick scar there. He takes extra time on his abs, because he’s always had a thing for them, and he still does. Probably always will. He kisses the indents of his hips, and scratches his nails over Liam’s ribs. He kisses over Liam’s thighs, and then down his legs. Liam squirms when he gets to his ankles, but Zayn just moves back up and kisses the insides of his thighs, too, for good measure, because he has a thing for them as well.

“Roll over,” Zayn says. Again, he sees Liam’s confusion. He completely bypassed Liam’s cock, but he’s not done memorizing Liam’s body yet.

Liam complies and gets onto his hands and knees, but Zayn pulls him up so that he’s kneeling on the bed instead. He runs his hands over the short bristles of Liam’s hair, and then kisses the back of his neck. He traces each of the scars on Liam’s back with his fingers, first, and then his tongue. He bites the soft skin at the small of his back, and then gently pushes Liam forward so that he’s on his hands again.

When he drags his tongue down the back of Liam’s thigh, Liam whimpers softly. He does it to both legs, nipping gently at the skin occasionally, because he likes Liam’s reaction. He bites the fleshy part of Liam’s ass and smirks when Liam cries out, but he just continues over the skin with his mouth and teeth and tongue until he gets to Liam’s hole. He runs the flat of his tongue over it, and Liam keens and falls forwards onto his forearms. It doesn’t take long for Liam to start pushing back against his tongue, and Zayn pushes it in a bit.

“Zayn,” Liam says, voice wavering. “Please.”

Zayn pushes a finger in along with his tongue, and Liam’s fingers curl into the comforter. Not long after he pulls back to push in a second finger, until Liam turns to look at him, a frustrated, wrecked look on his face. “Come on,” he urges. “I need--,”

“Yeah,” Zayn nods. “Okay.”

He finds the bottle of lube and the condoms easily, and Liam sits there and waits. Zayn puts a hand on Liam’s hip and gestures for him to turn back over. He kisses Liam once on the lips before sliding on the condom and slicking himself up. Normally he would have turned the light off first, but he doesn’t want to.

“I do love you,” Zayn says softly. “Okay? I don’t know how the hell it happened, but it did.”

Liam nods. “Trust me, I know.”

Liam is all wide eyes and parted lips when Zayn pushes into him. His fingers don’t dig into Zayn’s back like they usually do, though, but instead he fists his hands into Zayn’s hair and pulls them closer together, so they’re touching chest to chest. Zayn breaths against Liam’s neck while Liam wraps his legs around Zayn’s back, using the position to pull Zayn farther into him.

By the time he pushes himself up a few minutes later, Liam’s eyes are closed and Zayn has sweat dripping down his temple. He holds himself up on one hand and wraps a hand around Liam with the other. Liam’s eyes open at that, and they hold each other’s gaze the whole time. Liam comes with a shudder and Zayn comes while biting Liam’s shoulder. There’s a mark there, too, but he’s happy about that.

He falls onto Liam after that, blanketing his body, not really caring that there’s cum drying between them. Not for a few minutes, at least, until they both groan and sit up. Zayn heads to the bathroom and cleans himself off before brining a damp towel in for Liam. He tosses it to the floor afterwards, and Zayn turns off the light and crawls into bed beside him.

He falls asleep with his head on Liam’s chest and his leg thrown over Liam’s thigh, while Liam rubs gentle circles into his back with his thumb.

 

--

 

Zayn moves out. They don’t really talk about it, much. The night he fell asleep with Liam was his last one in the apartment. He spends a week at Louis’, which turns into a month, which turns into a year, when Louis moves into Harry’s apartment and Zayn takes over his old room.

He hates living with Eleanor. She’s messy and she watches annoying reality tv shows. There’s never any coffee left for him in the morning, and she has a habit of putting empty milk cartons back in the fridge, which makes him miss breakfast a lot.

It’s not like he doesn’t see Liam. With Harry and Louis getting engaged, he spends a lot of time with Harry who, in turn, spends a lot of time with Liam. They talk, sometimes, but it’s never about important stuff. He never asks about Liam’s work, or when he’s heading out next, and Liam never offers information on it.

It hurts. He can admit that. Every time he sees him it hurts, because he knows if things had just been a little different, if he could have just dealt with it, he’d fall asleep in Liam’s arms and he’d wake up to the sound of Liam showering.

He knows that there are millions of families where one member is in the military. They make it work. It’s possible to make it work. He just knows that he can’t do it. He’s too young to settle into that kind of commitment, and he just can’t hand his whole life over to Liam, which is what he’d end up doing if he’d stayed around.

He dates a bit. Not a lot, and never for long. No one holds his attention. No one smells just right, or feels like Liam, and so they’re not what he wants. He keeps waiting for it to go away, though. Keeps waiting for that ball in his stomach that came back full force to loosen, for him to move on. It just doesn’t happen.

Harry and Louis get married during one of the months Liam’s home. He looks different. His shoulders are wider, like he’s been working out more, and he walks with a limp. His eyes are tired, but no one comments on that, either.

Zayn gets his teaching degree and gets a job working at a public school where he makes more than enough to have an apartment of his own. Liam gives him Jessie and Zayn stops buying shampoo that smells like oranges.

 

--

 

Zayn kind of hates his apartment. It’s too big, and there’s just too much space for him and Jessie. He’s got two bedrooms, one that he uses for an office, even though it’s got so much empty space in it. It’s not even a conscious decision, he just starts moving things out of that room one day, and then two weeks later it’s empty and he’s putting in an ad in the newspaper, looking for a roommate.

A few people call within the first week, but after he tells them he has a dog, none of them want to come see the place, so he puts up a different ad, one specifically looking for a responsible male or female who doesn’t mind living with a dog.

He’s out with Louis when the call comes in. Louis’ buying a new couch because the white one he and Harry has is so stained with a mixture of different drinks and foods that Louis just can’t take it anymore.

“Don’t know why you’d get a white one in the first place,” Zayn points out. “I mean, honestly, look at your husband and tell me why you would even consider getting a white sofa.”

Louis glares at him. “It fit with the rest of our stuff,” he hisses. “How was I supposed to know Harry would get drunk and spill an entire bottle of red wine on it?” Zayn raises his eyebrows. “Okay, fine, I should have seen it coming. Shut up.”

“I’m going to get you a sign,” Zayn says, as Louis sinks onto a brown leather sofa while making a face. “And it’s going to say ‘Zayn is always right and Louis should always listen to him’ and you can hang it in your front hallway.”

“And I’m going to get you a sign that reads ‘I am a giant fucking prick’ and we’re going to attach a rope to it and hang it around your neck.”

Zayn laughs and tries out a black couch with seats that sink in too much. He’s just getting up when his phone rings. He doesn’t recognize the number, but he figures it’s just someone asking about the apartment so he holds up a finger to Louis and presses talk. Louis ignores him and stands up on one of the couches and tests the bounce on it, which earns him a glare from one of the store employees.

“Hello?” Zayn says into the phone.

“Um, hi,” says the man on the other end. “I’m calling about the roommate ad?”

Zayn covers his other ear with his hand so he can hear better, because Louis is now arguing with the sales person. “Awesome!” Zayn says enthusiastically. “It’s still available.”

“Right, good,” the man says. “It says you live with a dog?”

“Yeah,” Zayn nods. “Most people are a bit hesitant because of it, but I assure you that Jessie’s a sweetheart. She sheds a bit though,” he admits, because he might as well get that out there now.

“That’s fine, I love dogs,” the man tells him. “Should we set up a time for me to come see it?”

“Definitely!” Zayn says. “Any time. The address is listed in the ad, and it’s apartment fourteen.”

“Fourteen,” the man repeats slowly. “Is tomorrow at six okay?”

“Sounds good,” Zayn says.

“Okay. Goodbye.”

Zayn turns around to find Louis still arguing with the employee. “-- going to buy a couch if I’m not positive I can jump on it first.” Louis says hotly. “What if I bring it home and attempt to jump on it, and I just sink in through the cushions? Do you not see the dilemma there?”

“Yes, sir, but--,”

“He won’t jump on anymore,” Zayn says, coming up to them. “Right, Louis?”

Louis glares at him but says, “Right. I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

The man nods, placated, and leaves them to their shopping. He keeps an eye on Louis the whole time, though.

Louis doesn’t get a couch, but Zayn leaves with an armchair. He’s not sure why, because it’s not like his couch isn’t more than enough for him, but he wants it.

After work the next day, he spends most of his time cleaning the apartment. Not that it’s a huge mess, but he’s a single male who works full time, and it’s not exactly spotless. He takes Jessie out before six, too, just so that she won’t be too hyped up when the man comes. Best to have her on her best behaviour, because she’s prone to getting a bit excited when meeting strangers.

At exactly six, someone knocks on the door. “Behave,” Zayn hisses to Jessie.

Jessie doesn’t bark at all at the door, which is weird. Louis always says she’s way too smart for a dog, because she can tell who’s at the door just from the sound of them walking down the hallway. But she normally barks, unless it’s Niall or Louis or Harry.

Her tag is wagging like crazy when he opens the door, and it hits Zayn repeatedly in the leg, hard. And when he looks up at the person on the other side of the door, he gets why.

Liam doesn’t even say anything. He just walks straight into the apartment and kisses Zayn so hard his head swims. “I’ll take it,” he says against Zayn’s lips. “I can move in tomorrow. No, I can move in right now.”

Zayn pushes him back and gapes at him, ignoring the fact that he feels warm all over, like he’d just downed half a bottle of vodka and everything was hazy. “Liam--,”

“I got a job,” Liam explains, stepping closer to Zayn again. Zayn takes a step back. “On the base. I’ll be gone two months out of the year, but never back to back. They don’t deploy me. At the most I’ll be two hours away from here at all times, that’s it. The rest of the time I’ve got a job with Niall down at the factory. The pay is shit, but I like the work, and it’s close to home.”

Zayn gapes at him, because none of the words coming out of his mouth make any sense. None of them, because he can’t-- they can’t--,

“You told me that you wouldn’t ask me to stop doing what I love,” Liam says, and it’s like they’re playing a game of cat and mouse. Liam takes a step forward, Zayn takes one backwards. They just keep going as he talks. “But you did. You walked away from me, and you didn’t give me a chance to let you know that you’re what I love. Not my job. I hated my job! I just thought that it was the only option for me, and I never had any reason to fight for something else. But I do, and I want to. I want--,”

Zayn stops backing up and instead throws himself at Liam, kissing him the same way Liam kissed him when he walked in the door. “It never went away,” he says between kisses. “I kept waiting for it to go away, but it wouldn’t. I kept loving you, and it just didn’t stop.”

“Good,” Liam says against his lips. “I don’t want it to stop.”

“I’m not giving you the other room,” Zayn says firmly.

Liam pulls back, eyes wide. “I thought--,”

“You know what my least favourite thing about living with you was?” Zayn asks. Liam shakes his head, no. “We had separate rooms.”

“I kind of hated that too,” Liam admits.

Zayn just grins at him while Jessie sits at their feet, tail wagging. The apartment doesn’t feel too big anymore.