Zayn is trying to be good, really. Sure, he had briefly panicked when he woke up today alone in a stranger’s bed, but he’d composed himself nearly enough to read Liam’s hastily scribbled note that’d he’d gone out for a jog. “The way to your Dom’s heart is through his stomach,” his mom had always reminded him, so here Zayn was, clad only in his boxers from last night and pottering around the kitchen trying to make an All-American breakfast, just like he’d been taught.
Liam may not think very much of him now, Zayn knows, but something about the other boy makes Zayn want to please him desperately, even more so than Yaser. And perhaps Zayn is some kind of a masochist, because the more aloof Liam acts, the more he wants to please him and prove that he can be the perfect Sub.
Liam arrives home just as Zayn is dishing out the scrambled eggs, still deep in thought.
“Something smells good,” Liam comments casually, startling Zayn and causing him to jump about a foot in the air.
Zayn looks up at the source of the voice, and takes in Liam, all sweaty and flushed from his jog, his shirt clinging to his chest and immediately drops his gaze, blushing furiously and shifting his feet.
“Is this all for the two of us?” Liam asks kindly, noticing that the Sub before him is nervously studying his floorboards as though they were the most fascinating thing in the world.
Zayn nods and mumbles a soft yes, still not looking up.
“Brilliant! I’m famished!” Liam answers and moves to sit as Zayn stands still, rooted to the spot. Liam sighs, “Zayn. Come, sit and eat.”
The morning jog had cleared Liam’s mind quite a bit from the confusion of the past day and the stress of having a total stranger taking up his bedroom. He knew nothing about taking care of a Sub like Zayn - his one and only relationship had fizzled out six months ago, and Danielle, his ex, was nothing like Zayn, other than the fact that they were both dark-skinned and exotic-looking. No, Danielle was like a hurricane, a Sub who knew what she wanted and just needed a little help sometimes - a little push in the right direction to continue chasing her dreams. Sometimes, Liam wondered if his little pushes might have been a little too helpful, for it sent her halfway across the country pursuing her dream to dance for the stars.
Zayn, on the other hand, seems nervous to even be in the same room as Liam. Those pretty hazel eyes can never seem to hold his gaze for long before dropping. It’s hard not to think of him in his head as a boy, though Zayn is technically older than him. There’s something about the Sub that makes Liam want to bop him over the head with a pillow to get him to loosen up and at the same time pull him into his arms and keep him safe.
Liam decides to do neither and instead looks up from his finished breakfast at Zayn, who’s just swallowing the last mouthful of his. Zayn makes a move to clear the dishes but Liam holds up a hand to stop him, gesturing for him to sit instead.
“I’m not... I’m not very good with Subs,” Liam begins, “But since you’re going to be around for the time being, we should at least talk about our... er... living arrangements. You know, I’m not technically supposed to have someone else in here, but that’s seriously the least of our problems right now.”
Zayn nods timidly, still not looking up.
“I think for starters I’d like very much for you to look at me. It’s a little strange for me to be making conversation with the top of your head,” Liam laughs awkwardly. “I don’t really know how this whole wedding thing is supposed to go, and I’m guessing you’re completely clueless too eh? It’s not like we can just throw together something in a month or something, my parents don’t know a thing, and I’m not exactly thrilled by the idea either.”
“Baba says it will be a traditional ceremony at home, with all our relatives and friends,” the Sub replies softly.
“So you knew about this since when?”
Zayn shrugs and smiles a little sadly, “All my life.”
“And whose idea was it to spring this on me now?” Liam asks incredulously, his voice rising a pitch. He almost regrets it when Zayn flinches away, eyes on the ground again.
Liam sighs, mentally kicking himself, “I’m sorry. Got a little agitated there. It really isn’t your fault, Zayn. Please, look at me?”
The Sub’s head jerks up again and Liam has to force himself to look away from those sad brown eyes before continuing, “Listen, Zayn. Let’s at least try to be friends, okay? I mean, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I know nothing about you, for one, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to do after I graduate college, let alone get married at this point in time. I don’t know how to be the kind of Dom you’re looking for, or whatever prince that you were expecting when your insane dad appeared at my door. I’m just regular Liam, barely making a 3.0 GPA, with crazy friends and a life I haven’t even begun to sort out yet. So let’s take this one step at a time, okay?”
“Okay.” comes the soft reply.
“For starters, is there anything I can do for you to repay you for the best breakfast I’ve had in months?”
The first genuine smiles cracks across Zayn’s face for the first time since Liam’s seen him and he answers, almost timidly as though he can’t believe it’s real, “Can you pick out my clothes for me please?”
One of the perks of being a senior is that Liam’s only got class three days a week, which leaves his Monday free to take Zayn around the city.
“I’ve grown up in Atlanta all my life, but I’ve never explored all these places,” Liam comments to Zayn over ice creams in Atlantic City, “It’s mostly school, practice and weekly trips to Target for food.”
“I should count myself lucky then,” Zayn smiles at Liam and for a moment there Liam swears the boy is subtly flirting with him, because there is no way anyone can be so effortlessly coy. But the Sub is all wide-eyed innocence and shyness - it’s like he walked out of a bad fetish porn scene - except Zayn’s for real, and Liam still has trouble believing it.
They finish their ice creams and Liam can’t help but sneak a few glances at Zayn sitting across from him - dressed in black jeans and a red tee that Liam had picked out from the few in his overnight bag. A feeling of warmth and pride wells up in Liam and he quickly tells himself to snap out of it, because Zayn is not an object or a pet, but a real live human being who just needs a little help adjusting to a new life.
Zayn continues to surprise him through the afternoon, revealing that he’d graduated college early after skipping a few grades, and had been teaching English to preschoolers pre-Liam. Zayn with children - Liam can barely resist smiling at the picture he’s painted in his head of little ones flocking around Zayn as he guides them through their ABCs and Dr Seuss.
Liam is almost sorry when he has to leave Zayn at home to go to Niall’s. They’re working on a particularly difficult paper due in a couple weeks for an Arts elective that they both absolutely need a pass in to graduate - though that prospect seems rather bleak now. Major American Authors really isn’t their kind of shit. But is it anybody’s, really?
“Be back in a bit!” Liam promises as he hands Zayn a set of spare keys and heads off to the other end of campus, completely missing Zayn’s hesitant wave. On second thought, it probably wasn’t a good idea to leave your apartment keys with a boy you’ve known for less than two days, but Liam figures it’s the less trying alternative to dealing with Niall’s reaction to his impending marriage, on top of Whitman and Plath and seriously,why do all these authors seem to be suicidal, depressed or both?
Between the two of them, they’ve cranked out 2,000 out of the requisite 8,000 words, and though it’s filled with mostly random quotes and phrases strung together from the three books they were supposed to reference, Liam considers it an achievement that 1)Niall hasn’t said “fuck all” and cracked out the beers and 2)he hasn’t lost his shit and thrown Niall’s Mac out the window.
After a night like this Liam usually just showers and crashes on Niall’s couch, but the thought of leaving Zayn alone in his apartment overnight makes Liam uneasy - and Liam does kind of want to make sure Zayn is safe, since he’s apparently his responsibility now. So he makes a quick excuse to a skeptical Niall and hurries on home.
What Liam doesn’t expect though, is the light coming from the kitchen and Zayn’s crouched form on one of the chairs.
“Zayn?” Liam calls out softly, “Why’re you still up?”
“Dinner,” the sleepy boy replies blearily, half-asleep.
Guilt hits Liam like a truck as he realizes that Zayn has laid out dinner on the table - his own share untouched as he’s waited for Liam for the entire night to get home. The food has gone cold by now, but Liam can feel the now-familiar warmth rising up in him again, and the impulse that makes him want to scoop Zayn up and twirl him around out of sheer fondness.
“You hungry, babe?” Liam pets Zayn’s hair and the Sub leans into the touch subconsciously, mind clouded with sleepiness. Zayn only shakes his head and it droops dangerously closer to Liam, prompting a chuckle from the Dom.
Liam gives in to his impulses and quite literally sweeps Zayn off his feet and carries him into the bedroom, tucking him in like how Geoff used to when Liam was still a child. He turns to head to the couch for the night, but a grip on his right hand forces Liam to turn.
“Stay with me please,” Zayn’s voice is a little more awake now, and Liam can hear the tinge of hopefulness in his voice.
So Liam stays.